Monday, December 31, 2012

Imagining the virtual

The idea that the virtual is constituted by the work of the imagination on tangible material phenomena only really started to take shape for me on the recent Las Vegas (!) trip. In the paper I gave with Julia Gillen, I think we brought the role of the imagination in virtual world gameplay to the fore. This came back to me on listening to the mathematician Robert Kaplan on this excellent radio discussion about virtuality. He talks about the thin line between the virtual and the actual and the constant acts of negotiation between the two. Kaplan also quotes from Midsummer Night's Dream - I only wish I'd remembered that in writing for the virtual literacies book. The passage, spoken by Theseus goes like this:

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Digital development

Over this holiday I seem to have been surrounded by electronic toys. It seems that nearly every present for babies and toddlers comes with batteries and chips - perhaps the same could be said of gifts for adults too. It appears then, that digitally-assisted development is part of the way we live, and certainly the major toy companies have cashed in on the phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, the toys produced as a result of this are variable in quality. For me, the best are engaging and participatory, whereas the worst seem to have been scripted by a would-be politician with a very limited view of education. Take, for example, those digital toys that purport to teach de-contextualized phonics routines on a model of rote learning - unlikely to be of any benefit to the enquiring mind, and probably not very good at preparing children for the embarrasing  non-word reading test, either. The worry lies is the ways in which these toy manufacturers construct parental pedagogy. Implicit in their scripted routines are notions of what parents should be doing. As Sue Nichols, Helen Nixon, and Jennifer Rowsell (2009) argued, they construct an idea of what the “good” parent does in relation to early literacy. Now I'm not a romantic advocate of all things natural in a mythical golden age of 'play with natural materials', but my simple comparison is with wooden building blocks (in fact they don't have to be wooden - they could be digital, I expect). The basic point is that simple construction materials are only very loosely scripted. They can represent different things and can be used to build just about anything that takes your fancy. Megablocks, Duplo and Lego are of course comparatively more scripted - particularly when they are 'themed'. In comparison, then, a lot of digital toys have a very narrow, linear script. Maybe you could apply the same scripting concept to more technical complex digital entertainment. Would it work, for video games? Someone may have tried that already, of course. And on that note, I found this piece on video-gaming particularly useful. For someone who has not really engaged with the key debates yet, I reckon they're all in here.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A story?

Oh hell, I'm stuck in The Room - or to be more precise I'm stuck on a puzzle in an impressive iPad app. It's enough to while away hours of one's life. Anyway, I had to break into that this evening to talk to some students online about research, or to be more precise about stories. I took the tack that good (social science) research is a good story well told. And, of course I didn't mean that it's fiction, but that it's a well-crafted account that has a 'story-like' arc or development. I also leaked the fact that I've been working with a colleague on the idea of storying as a research method. I'm quite excited by that. The idea is that producing multiple stories from different points of views helps to uncover new insights. Rather than trying to triangulate, or what Haraway (1988:581) called 'the god trick of seeing everything from nowhere', these stories stack up - interconnecting in unpredictable ways. I'm looking forward to seeing how that all shakes down. There will be a paper - soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mass personalisation

If the high era of industrialisation was driven by the logic of mass production, it could be argued that the digital age is driven by the logic of mass personalisation. In the former, Fordist model the single product was endlessly replicated as it expanded into new markets, whereas the digital economy depends upon hyper-personalisation, tracking the tastes and characteristics of individuals and niches. It sells multiple products to individuals rather than individual products to multiples. Popular music is a good way to think this through. The rise of the vinyl LP was a bundled package of music which, when things went well (as they did, for example for the Clash) albums like London Calling traveled well and reached diverse markets. In the era of iTunes, music looks different - it's unbundled and delivered direct to your playlist. And mass personalisation is helped along by services like Spotify, LastFm and BlipFm which help to feed you more of what you like. As education becomes increasingly marketised, we'll have to imagine what hyper-personalisation might mean for the knowledge economy. Two possibilities present themselves: niches and new levels of specialisation born out of what Gee & Hayes (2011) call passionate engagement; or, incoherence and fragmentation in which continuity is a chance occurrence. In my reading of mobile technology, I seem to be turning up stuff on the Tesco club-card, which I previously thought was a rather an innocent piece of plastic that I used to scrape ice off the car windscreen...but now I know it's track-and-trace technology that may be used for sinister purposes (persuading me to buy fairtrade butternut squash for instance). So now I'm wondering about the educational equivalent of the club card. What, I wonder would it do? It might give you feedback 'These were the courses you passed - here are some more at that level?'; 'Other people who studied Marine Biology also studied Plankton Migration'; 'Three of your friends liked Media Studies'....or maybe instead when you visited your university's treasured VLE it would only show you what you needed to do next, after that is, you'd swiped a pass on your student card!

Friday, November 23, 2012

All good for new books

It's still a thrill to get your hands on the book you wrote or edited. Last week we (that's me, Julia Gillen, Jackie Marsh & Julia Davies) heard that Virtual Literacies had been delivered from the printers. Although one contributor has already received a pre-ordered copy from Amazon, none of the editors have actually seen a copy yet, although the publisher has them on dispatch. Nonetheless it was great to get a celebratory email from John Potter who actually touched his book 'Digital Media and Learner Identity: the new curatorship' for the first time today. I was honoured to do an endorsement for John - it may have been edited, but I originally wrote: 'This book makes an original and important contribution to the study of new media. Based on a study of children’s autobiographical film-making, John Potter vividly illustrates the explanatory power of the metaphor of curatorship. Essential reading for those interested in new literacies and media studies.' But what is all this about holding our work? Is it just born of our print-centric upbringing, or is it more to do with the way in which its materialisation signals some sort of closure, or a sense of completion? Perhaps we believe that it is in some way more real, when it has become a physical object, when we feel its weight or reach it down from the shelf to share with someone else? I've written a fair bit digitally (and I'm not counting blogs, wikis, tweets, texts and emails here) - I mean in ebooks, open textbooks and the like - and they never have the same feeling of completion. But perhaps, underlying it all, the print-book still has some authority for us. For all we may read on Kindles or iPads, or surfing online, maybe the print copy is still the real deal.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Creativity and mobile technology

Sir Ken Robinson opened the day's business at NCTE 2012. His mixture of simple truths, stand-up comedy and tweet-able soundbites is quick to win over an audience, as he rolls out contemporary educational aphorisms. Waving the flag for diversity and creativity is so important in the face of widespread curriculum 'reforms'. Reforms that push students and teachers into a conveyor-belt mentality. Throughout the rest of the day, I followed sessions on using tablets in classrooms - well iPads to be specific - and there's certainly no shortage of these to choose from. Two things struck me. First of all, the sheer enthusiasm of academics and teachers for iPad apps. Indeed it's an enormous app-etite! Most presenters seemed happy to stick with describing 'really great' and, of course 'awesome' apps. I only heard one lone voice that tilted at the idea that these presenters might be inadvertently advertising Apple products to their colleagues, their students and their students' parents. Secondly, there seems to be quite a lot of confusion about the use of the idea of affordances. Partly this stems from slippages between thinking about the affordances of the tablet and the affordances of an app itself. Rick Beach even took it one step further by suggesting that affordances were really what educators could 'extract' from apps. I'm not really convinced by that idea. But all told there were plenty of examples of innovative practices - although few people were asking really searching questions about students, portable technologies and new literacies. Consequently my notes (in the NCTE app!) ended up looking like a shopping list of apps. Perhaps this shows that this is new territory. The massive take-up of i-Pads and the proliferation of apps has taken classrooms by storm. But I do think there is a pressing need for more considered and more research-based, reflective accounts to sit alongside the emerging how-to publications...and all those enthusiastic presentations. Advances in literacy, Ken Robinson suggested, are the product of an interaction between technology and human creativity. Perhaps we need to pay more attention to the human bit.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Searching questions

When I started out in academic lresearch I learned about two important things: one was how to locate information and the other was how to keep my references. The first was, for the most part, achieved by cruising round the library stacks, finding where what interested me was to be found, and the second involved writing down the relevant details of what I'd read on index cards and stowing them away more or less in alphabetical order. I used journals a lot, but nearly always relied on the journals the University of Nottingham subscribed to. Inter-library loans were slow and cumbersome, and often involved a lot of form-filling and repeated trips to the library building. Rapidly, almost imperceptibly, that's all gone and most things are just a click away. For me the real decisions now are about whether stuff is worth printing out or not. And my greatest friend is Google Scholar, but often, and perhaps for more general things JFGI (ordinary googling) is the approach. And in all this my whole approach to information has actually radically re-organised without me having to spare it a thought. It's all so convenient, so quick. Yet, despite this - you might think bad/ mindless victim of technology - my general feeling is very positive. There are downsides to Google culture (some of them simply because it's Google, and hence corporate) but mostly I think its down to us to adapt, and to apply our critical faculties. As should be pretty clear to us, we've all been googled, and ‘we are all the Google generation, the young and the old, the professor and the student and the teacher and the child’(Rowlands, Nicholas et al 2008: 308). So good old Pew - despite all its well-rehearsed methodological shortcomings it regularly tells us what we already know, with authority. The scare headlines are now research=googling. But please, less of the hand-wringing. Look it up? Yeah, JFGI, we all do it: and maybe there's the solution to the problem - thinking about how expert-users or maybe simply ordinary users manage to avoid getting duped. The world keeps on turning, we're OK. That's the sort of apprenticeship needed by the young.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How open is open?

In 1996, when Peter Gabriel released the ground-breaking game Eve, he hit on a novel concept - players could remix, albeit in a rather basic way, some of the world music samples and accompaniments he had collected. The concept of interacting with, and then changing the music you listened to made the work more open and more playable. In a way, Brian Eno's app Scape does the same thing, combining all the wizardry of touch screen technology with Eno's characteristic creative flare. Scape is basically an album of 13 or so tracks of ambient music. But it's an album with a difference in which the themes and functions are open and playable. You quite easily become an active player of ambient music by rearranging the colourful shapes and abstract symbols against a background 'mood'. Here, Eno is developing the same sort of logic that lies behind his oblique strategies, in which you generate selections and combinations from limited sets of themes to create something novel. It's an appealing metaphor for openness. If a 'traditional' piece of ambient music is closed - closed in the sense that you have to listen to it in the way in which it was composed and recorded, then maybe Scape is open, because you have some creative degrees of freedom in how you play it. But of course, at the end of the day, it's always Scape and perhaps after the first half hour, breaking your ambient trance, you may decide that although it's pretty good, it's not really that open. What would be more open, then? A day in Eno's studio, perhaps. More realistically, more open would be working with the samples themselves - adding your own found sounds (using GarageBand?) or maybe working with the code behind it all. The capacity to customize, to alter, to modify, to remix or play the text is a key theme in new media, but it usually happens under certain constraints. Genuine openness must, by definition, be unconstrained and is perhaps creative at a more fundamental level. I don't want to belittle the advent of new levels of interactivity or the move towards openness with such a low entry cost, but I just want to suggest that there are some interesting subtleties in this whole debate; if indeed it really is an open debate.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Qualitatively funny

Academic re-mix, or what - I laughed at this! It's not of course that we want to draw hard and fast lines between quantitative and qualitative paradigms, but some of the lines rehearse very familiar conversations - conversations that I've found myself with colleagues and friends. It seems like 'scientism' can be very emotive topic, and that's where the mash-up hits home. The emotive tone combines with excellently timed sub-titles. Just a diversion from real work, of course, just like fooling around for hours on Gif Control or plotting your moves on Path.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Digital literacies pizza slice

In preparing the open textbook for DefT we want to avoid getting mired in the seemingly endless debate over definitions of digital literacies (see here for example). So the pizza model shown in draft form is just an explanatory model for the ways in which digital literacies has been operationalised by project participants. Partly because of the concentration of literacy folk on the project team, there is some sort of desire to hold on to a view of literacy practices to describe those social interactions and negotiations of meaning that occur with, in and around semiotic systems. In the central region, what is referred to as core is the most conservative rendering of this - that is practices that depend upon alphabetic representation. So that is intended to include not only basic decoding and encoding, but also the whole range of communicative practices, sense-making, textuality etc whether this is on screen, paper-based or both. Although it is core, we are not, of course, privileging it in any way, merely indicating that is the most simple definition. The second ring acknowledges the way in which practices - and particularly, but not exclusively, screen-based ones - are increasingly seen as being multi-modal. This constitutes an expanded view of literacies. Ever since David Barton drew our attention to metaphorical uses of the word literacy we have had a useful way to describe terminology like 'emotional literacy', political literacy, 'scientific literacy' and so on. This sort of language is generally used as a metaphor to describe a sort of competence - and it's clear that's how some people see digital literacy and that's what's represented in the outer ring. So in the light of these ways of thinking about the way the word literacy is used (core, extended and expanded) we are able to conceive of digitally-mediated practices as literacies in different ways. When related to the case studies in our project work we can then see that teachers located their work in one or another of the concentric rings. However, in so doing their activities nearly always included stuff in the other rings (as well as work outside of the slice).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Don't think twice (it's all right)

Ever since I came across this apparently innocent, 'off-duty' pic of our PM, I've been thinking about the issues it raises. You have to be of a certain age to connect it with the original album cover, but it's quite clearly a visual quote from Dylan's Freewheelin' cover which was released some 49 years ago. Visual quotes have become quite a theme in contemporary visual art and, of course, cinema too - Woody Allen is probably the leading exponent of this, but my personal favourite is Luis Bunuel's 'Last Supper' scene in Viridiana. (I'm not sure, by the way, whether to describe this as quote, parody or remix, but like citation, imitation and plagiarism in the written form, it's a phenomenon that is certainly worthy of academic scrutiny). But all this aside, what exactly is going on here? According to the Guardian newspaper, the photograph has been carefully set up by Tory party publicists as an explicit attempt to capture our leader in casual mode. That's the point at which all this becomes very subtle. So, assuming this is true - and there's no reason to doubt it - we have to begin questioning even the most seemingly innocent media image, that is to question its level of authenticity. The 'loving couple' in Dylanesque embrace may have just 'popped out for a curry' but the artifice suggests an attempt to create more....but more what? More of a sixties type counter-culture figure, surely not! Or is it trying to tap into something deeper, like a subliminal tilt at youthful romance by riffing off an iconic image deeply lodged in the memories of mature voters? If this is the case, then we might quite rightly recoil at an intention to subtley massage our political opinions. Actually, having said that, I'm not completely convinced  that is likely to alter my own attitudes to Cameron or to sway my anti-coalition political leanings, but maybe that's a different point. OK, well there's just one other avenue that opens up, and it's one that gives more positive credit to the photographer - a more innocent view. How clever, and how ironic to draw this visual parallel. All told, then, the image raises all sorts of questions; but of course the answer is blowing in the wind!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Screen panic

Journalists have latched on to Aric Sigman's polemic about the health risks of screen time on young children with gusto, even though it's widely acknowledged that negative effects are only 'possible'. The best response is buried in this report, in which Dorothy Bishop observes that 'His comments about impact of screen time on brain development and empathy seem speculative in my opinion, and the arguments that he makes could equally well be used to conclude that children should not read books.' So, maybe this isn't the end of civilization as we know it, we're not all going to hell in a hand cart. Let's here it for Peppa Pig!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The reading hands

The Effect of a Book, Extending Beyond The Form from João Machado on Vimeo.

This little video that draws attention to what our hands do when we read re-kindled my interest in the topic. It was shown yesterday by Doug Belshaw at the DefT conference, and it reminded me of when I tried to map out some of the new motor skills that constitute emergent literacies 2.0 (in 'Barbie meets Bob the Builder'), an interest I've shared over the years with Margaret Mackey. At that time I was just drawing attention to tapping keys, pointing and clicking and so on. But now, as our attention begins to shift to touchscreen technology, and in particular that associated with iPads and iPods we see a changing repertoire that includes pressing, tapping and swiping. As I've discovered, watching my 2 year-old grandson, these are quite nuanced movements. If you don't cleanly tap the icon of an app, you'll end up with a swipe - and a different result. I'm not suggesting that this is at all problematic, but it just underlines the fact that different literacy tools require different kinds of movements. I'm always getting my iPad gestures mixed up with my Kindle ones! 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

DeFT OER conference

I've been on leave for a while, but back in time for the DeFT project conference which was a raging success! I'm sure there'll be more about the day on the project blog, but this is just to give a preview of Jack's excellent video record of the day and to capture a few things that might otherwise be forgotten. For me, an important message was the imperative to change practice in an environment in which changing policy might be more challenging. At the very heart of what we've been doing is encouraging active learning in which pupils and students produce and consume new meanings with technology. I've observed that the extent to which old or new literacies were used in project activity varied enormously, but was always there as teachers and their pupils merged the online/offline, teacher/learner, home/school, in-classroom/out-of-clasroom spaces. And they all exemplified safe, ethical and advantageous practice which invariably opened opportunities for critical digital literacies. OERs seem to me to have an important part to play in taking this work forwards. There are two important aspects of this: firstly, OERs foster the kinds of participation that are intimately connected with the 'mindset' and practices of web2.0 and digital literacies in that they enable us to personalise, remix, and add to knowledge and secondly,  in a rapidly changing environment in which resources and practices are fluid and ephemeral, they offer the possibility of regular updating and new forms of sharing. But beyond all this, there may be a deeper, political edge - in a time in which education is increasingly marketised, constrained and reduced, the open participative ethos of these environments may assist grassroots connection between teachers who are all too often separated by sector, by region, and by national boundaries.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Legendary Mr Santos

Mr Santos. I hope it's not his real name. We heard about Mr Santos on Wednesday afternoon, and I've been thinking about him, on and off, ever since. He's a familiar figure in work on digital literacies in education - maybe we all know, or have heard of a Mr Santos. His (or her) story begins in school, as a fairly conservative classroom teacher, dependent or even over-dependent on face-the-front didactic pedagogy. Computers, ICT training and so on have arrived, passed and left no lasting impression. Mr Santos isn't particularly techno-savvy in his leisure time, too - or so it seems. But then, with just a little help and encouragement, everything begins to change. He feels the need, usually as the result of an external force, to produce something digital - and being rather challenged by this he hands it over to the kids. They get fired up, they work things out, they use resources and learning from home, they work together and produce creative stuff that surprises Mr Santos. Their enthusiasm and the way they approach the task so impresses him that he begins to re-evaluate his practice. More collaborative work ensues, and more digital stuff is allowed into the mix. It's not that technology itself has changed anything, but perhaps a combination of external encouragement, pupil motivation and the softer side of Mr Santos. And so it goes. Well, I don't think anyone has really got to grips with the story of The Legendary Mr Santos and his companions - those who crop up in digital narratives in all sorts of different contexts. He is popular, I think, because his 'change' chimes with some basic liberal-progressive educational discourses (pupil autonomy, collaboration, creative production, non-ICT-ICT etc) and of course his story is positioned against the dark forces of neo-liberal reform (lock-step individual progress, prescriptive curricula, accountability, direct teaching etc etc)...but there's probably other stuff going on here, too. I suppose, and in fact I dearly hope that Mr Santos is not the only story we hear. We need more about the doubters, the knock-down enthusiasts and all the others, too!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Visitors can bring something fresh, or even something familiar seen from a different perspective. I suppose both seemed to be true listening to today's seminar, in which Christine Edwards-Groves spoke about the multiliteracies project in the Riverina, New South Wales. It's nearly a year since I was over there, and I was interested to hear again how the digital was locally inflected. It was good to be reminded of the work of Hutchby and Moran-Ellis and the role that technology plays in mediating the relationship between the user and others. So visiting and being visited is a sort of trading relationship in academia - long may it thrive!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

On books

In writing about popular literacies and digital culture there is often a need to underline the ways in which the dominant discourses and practices of print literacy are privileged by schools and wider society. Quite specific adult-child interactions with picture story books have been normalised in the literature of early literacy, and because of this some educators (myself included) have emphasised the importance of other ways of meaning-making and other kinds of literacy. By adopting broader and newer definitions of literacy it may sometimes seem that we are against traditional forms - but this is actually not the case. With a new project on the use of interactive storybooks on iPads, some of these misapprehensions may clear. Here we'll be looking at young children doing book-sharing with adults - differently mediated of course - but arguably the same thing. Last year I worked with colleagues evaluating a Booktrust project based on book gifting for 11 year olds. The evaluation of this, the Booked Up project, is here. And currently I'm working with a team who are looking at Bookstart (aimed a younger children). So these conjunctions between new, traditional, narrow and broad definitions of literacy are very much on my mind. Although the study of children's literature sometimes seems to be a bit of a rarefied discipline, it continues to make an important contribution. Perhaps there is a need for more discussion between some of the factionalised camps of literacy educators. Reading Michael Rosen on Sunday, I was struck by how his idea that what we call children's literature '... are interventions in society's debate about bringing up children' would be an excellent starting point. What other literacies make such interventions? Critical literacies, digital literacies, multiliteracies....

Monday, September 03, 2012

In print

Finally, the Virtual Literacies book is going to press. It's been a delight to work so harmoniously with co-editors Julia Gillen, Jackie Marsh and Julia Davies as well as with a talented bunch of contributors. I know it sounds decidedly old-school, but it'll be great to get my hands on the hard copy! And, to add to the flow of publication my paper 'Mobile Practices in Everyday Life' is now online with BJET. That's the second of my forrays into what I see as the world of ICT. Now it's probably time to regroup with my literacies colleagues!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Peppa Pig pedagogy

The first word my grandson said was 'Peppa'. An inveterate fan from 18 months, the Peppa Pig series is available to him on TV, a choice of iPhones and iPads, and on his own DVD player more or less on demand - and he demands quite a lot! And of course there are Peppa Pig toys, interactive books, and magazines at his disposal too. For his birthday, his mother plans to make a Peppa Pig cake. So Peppa and George are available across media platforms and his everyday experience is mediated (sometimes in advance) through Peppa Pig. Yesterday he did 'jumping in muddy puddles', and as is the way with popular narratives, his family were quick to cross-reference this to a pig episode he was already familiar with. The animated pig family sits at the centre of a web of meaning-making practices through which very young children are introduced to their social world. The self-aware pig family features Peppa, her younger brother George, the over-confident and often inept Daddy Pig and the can-do Mummy Pig who regularly flies the flag for competent women. Social and cultural values are woven into the fabric of the Peppa narratives, and alongside parents and caregivers, they are the young child's first teachers. But its not a single-track road. Dylan, my grandson, has appropriated the word 'peppa' so that it stands for a range of things. Prior to his mastery of 'herro' it worked as a greeting, and more recently it has started featuring as a term of approval: something is 'peppa' if it is cool (just as 'go' is not good at all, and usually accompanies separation from his mother). Some may bemoan what they see as the corrosive influence of popular media culture, but actually it seems to me that Peppa Pig is a pretty sophisticated teacher. Meanwhile Dylan's mother won't need a cookery class to make that cake, she's already found a YouTube tutorial. And Dylan's early years teachers may face some pretty stiff competition in the coming years!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Psychogeography again

I haven't written about psychogeography for a while, but my interest was rekindled by the recent broadcast of walking with attitude which included segments from favourites (Iain Sinclair in particular) as well as some learned commentators. Referencing back to Guy Debord was carefully done and the presenters did a thorough job of underlining the political nature of these ramblings, connecting up with magico-marxism (he! he!) in interesting ways. Using the map of one place to explore another, or adopting an algorithm like first left second right may seem a little bit left field at first sight, but what it actually enables you to do is to make new connections, to trespass, to chance upon an otherness and eventually to see how the landscape is patterned by power, ownership, neglect and erasure. If that sounds is!

Friday, August 24, 2012

On hold

The phonebox, or public payphone, is quickly becoming a historic trace, an archeological remnant of earlier patterns of communication - of a time before the mobile phone. Gleick's book 'The Information' draws our attention even further back, to a time of telegraph stations and semaphore masts. In a similar way, they left their mark on the landscape. But because 'the phonebox that works' still exists in living memory, we can watch its slow slide into redundancy. The modern phonebox is like a scar on the urban landscape. A scar that has not yet healed. And yet we can still remember the strange social space that was defined by the phonebox: a place to queue, a place to wait, a place for teenagers to congregate, a place to shelter from the rain. The unique aroma; the opportunity for vandalism; the forgotten purse; the cryptic message scrawled on the damp directory and so much more. And of course, in the real world as well as the world of the imagination, the phonebox became the way to connect with distant places. The phonebox became the tardis, Dr Who's gateway to other worlds. Attempts to revive the phonebox have failed, because it has had its day. This one, discovered on a recent derive, is a hopeless case. All the windows are smashed. The door was removed a long time ago. Even the graffiti is sun-bleached. It promises 'text', 'email' and so on in a lost hope to move with the times. Perhaps an earlier version was a hub for the local community, but now there are better places to hang out, easier ways to communicate.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Return of the Trashmaster

I'm putting the final touches to my paper on the The Trashmaster machinima, and its been fun returning to this. There's a delicate balancing act between writing about The Trashmaster and referring to GTA IV. I had to underline the moral panic surrounding the latter and in researching this found the following - in a recent case it was suggested that a 19 year old convicted of a number of attacks on women ‘may have been influenced by the virtual reality game’. The Sun newspaper reports how ‘A copy of Grand Theft Auto was found at his home by police’. Just take a look at the report (spare a few minutes to stare at The Sun) and you'll see how the report is interspersed with a number of images from GTA game series as if to highlight the media effects, rather than the actual suffering and the complexities involved.

Monday, July 30, 2012

No success like failure

Over the last fifteen years literacy education has been marked by two contradictory influences. On the one hand attempts to conceptualise significant social changes have led to an opening out of what we mean when we refer to literacy and literate behaviour, and on the other attempts to implement wide-reaching education reforms based upon simple and measurable pupil performance have led to a narrowing down of what constitutes schooled literacy. Of the first, the work of educational theorists and researchers with a sociolinguistic orientation has been particularly significant, whereas in the second the influence of neo-liberal politicians has been notable and often notorious. At its most extreme the former move has led some to question whether literacy itself might have ceased to become a useful term to describe sophisticated acts of meaning-making, as its boundaries with other semiotic practices begin to fray, whereas the latter may have reached its apogee in the idea that pupil progress can be successfully measured by a ‘non-word’ reading test administered to children at the end of their first year of compulsory schooling. There has, of course, been much useful negotiation between these two extremes, witnessed in the accounts of creative and innovative teachers and close studies of the literacy practices of children and young people. But such discrepancies in the ways in which we see literate students throw definitions of success and failure into disarray......

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Digital competence

In some ways last week's Digital Literacies meeting at JISC confirmed my suspicion, that our current terminology is reaching the end of its shelf-life. Nobody seems sure whether to yield to Paul Gilster, who probably has the longest standing definition, whether to go for a new definition (which one?), or whether to find a new term altogether. Predictably, I thought the literacy folk held the trump card in returning to fundamental questions about meaning and representation. Anusca Ferrari, with the European Commission perspective, explained how digital competence has become the key concept for them - partly because digital literacy has become tied up with issues of inclusion and exclusion. So once again literacy associates with a deficit! Reading some of the documentation (the JRC work and the latest JISC leaflet), I'm struck by the ways in which digital literacy/competence is constructed as: a) a constituent part of employability - enhance your CV, get a job, contribute to the economic future and b) an ingredient of new knowledge practices (much vaguer in definition but suggesting that the way we access, use, create and disseminate knowledge has changed). Ideas that are found in other iterations of digital literacy, such as creativity, participation, social change and citizenship are not so much in evidence here. What happened to the fun? Of course, that has to be excluded....

Thursday, July 19, 2012

All about phonics

The phonics screening test is one of the absurd initiatives brought in by the current government in the UK. Teachers involved have been invited by UKLA to complete an independent survey. There have been nearly 450 responses so far, and the survey is open for one more week. If you're involved, or know anyone who's involved, it only takes a few minutes and can be found online here. Michael Rosen has been a vociferous opponent, and you can read about what we've learnt on his blog. His open letter series in the Guardian has also focused on the test (here). Rumours that Gove will be moved from education in a government re-shuffle are rife, but it's probably unlikely that there will be major shifts in policy. In the meantime it's always worth following #govemustgo on Twitter - often entertaining and up-to-date, complete with comments on creationist teaching in new free schools. And for my next blunder...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I was drafted in at the last moment to the Writers Panel at this year's UKLA International Conference. The star attractions were the writers Patrick Ness and Meg Rosoff, and I was there to give my views from the perspective of academic writing and blogging. As it turned out I didn't talk much about blogging, which is probably just as well because it's been a bit infrequent of late! Apart from that, though, it was fun looking at the similarities and differences between narrative and academic writing - particularly with respect to process. There probably aren't as many differences as I imagined, particularly around the composing part, although there do seem to be some different attitudes to editing and revising. Sometimes I find it difficult to cut the pieces I like but don't fit (other academics seem to share this), whereas the authors are more ruthless, less attached to stuff that doesn't fit what they're trying to do. With two more offerings about to go live - a piece on mobiles for BJET and the Virtual Literacies book - it was useful to reflect on all of this. The Writers Panel was nearly the end of a whirl of activity (hence the poor posting record) which also included a very enjoyable joint presentation with Cathy Burnett at the CSL conference on our virtual worlds work. We hope to be writing this up soon! These things often seem to clash with the Old Whittington festival and wells dressing. Now I'm not a traditionalist, but I am quite interested in the flower art that's a local folk-art. So the picture shows an example of this (I'm not a monarchist either, I hasten to add) which picked up the jubilee theme.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Nodal events

In trying to analyse the latest tranche of virtual world data, the challenge of capturing and documenting complexity without reducing it is a constant theme. On Saturday at the Sheffield CSL boutique conference, Cathy and I tried working around what I'm provisionally calling an event node. We chose 'the missing castle' as one node. That enables us to trace the fractal literacies that seem to us to diverge from that node in multiple ways - resulting in individuals (both children and adults) constructing different meanings and communicating them in various ways, through speech, note-taking, blogging or within the world itself. Of course, this is just work in process but it's interesting to test out the idea in other contexts. So, in the pic, you can see the proofs of the Virtual Literacies book that arrived by snail mail on Saturday morning. It's in a sort of self-opening envelope. An envelope which at least reduces some of the reader's labour (it is, I hasten to add, undamaged). The node might be the emailing of the MS, but that event has provoked a whole chain of conversations, jottings, postings and so on. A moving thread of activity that pauses briefly in this reflexive moment. Work in progress....I know.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gaming for learning

I listened to a spirited talk on the cultural and educational benefits of videogames on Wednesday. Mitu Khandaker (University of Portsmouth) made a solid case for the possibilities for problem-solving and managed to dismiss the moral panics around shooters and 'the dark side'. Perhaps the claim that videogames are 'the culmination of all previous artforms' is a little strong, and certainly premature, but her overall explanations were helpful and delicately shaded with first-hand experience. She had an interesting take on immersion, which resonated with what is often said about fiction-reading - you are both 'in it' and simultaneously aware of the artifice. There was also a welcome acknowledgement that some games are more powerful (better? educational?) than others. The BBC is not supposed to be a platform for advertisement, but the description of her own game Redshirt, set me googling. It looks good, and I now know what a redshirt is! Double whammy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Method allegory

After spending several hours in a virtual world on Friday I again found myself reflecting on the way in which the virtual provokes me to re-think the actual. Influenced by John Law's 'After Method' I realized, perhaps for the first time, that these reflections are in a sense methodological in character. Law offers 5 assumptions about reality. They are; 1. what he calls out-thereness, 2. independence, 3. anteriority - it was there already, 4. definiteness, and 4. singularity. Well, you can examine each of these assumptions with respect to a virtual world - one like Barnsborough or Second Life. For instance, do such places actually exist 'out there' and in what sense? When we click on the shortcut, does the existence of that world, that point of view in virtual reality precede our experience of it? ....and so on. Well, I can almost see how one might use Second Life as a learning environment for a methodology course - maybe such a course might actually be conducted in Second Life, who knows? Might an investigation of the virtual, then, provide some sort of allegory for other kinds of work: an allegory that we simultaneously create and inhabit?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Do you love your book?

To my mind the main contribution of the multimodal movement has been to turn our attention to the broader terrain of meaning-making and to caution us against becoming obsessed with print and what print literacy can do. Some people have interpreted this as a turn away from print (or alphabetic) literacy, but the more intelligent commentaries accentuate how semiotic systems co-exist and interweave. Although this phenomenon is well-illustrated in digital texts, it has a much longer history. In fact you could argue that multimodal communication must by definition predate the advent of literacy. An interesting thought. But you need a socio-historical perspective to chart the rise of the influence of print literacy and particularly the ways in which this has translated into phrases like 'the power of reading', 'a love of books' and the whole notion of reading for pleasure. That particular configuration of power-love-pleasure is particularly influential in the discourses of literacy learning. Is alphabetic literacy powerful? I think you have to concede that it is, and that is likely to continue being so. Do you have to love books? Well not really. I've been brought up in that way, but I love lots of other things, too. I can think of things that might be a lot more useful and enjoyable on a desert island. And what about reading for pleasure? This is an idea which I find rather irritating. Not because reading isn't pleasurable, but because when I hear people say it, and particularly when I hear people talking about 'getting' children to read for pleasure, it seems to have an evangelical ring to it. It almost sounds as if pleasure in reading is a salvation - a turning away from the grosser pleasures of watching TV, playing videogames, supporting a football team and so on. Watch people reading - trains are good places to do this - they don't look as if they're being transported by pleasure (particularly noticeable on East Midlands trains!). No, I think when people talk about reading for pleasure,what they mean is what I call immersive reading. Immersive reading, like being in the zone in a video game, or 'lost' in a role play game is a rather special phenomenon - a sort of absorption in which one is in-between the narrative and the real world. It is socially and culturally significant (and it may also be psychologically important). It is what hooks us into virtual worlds, into good movies, into WoW, live drama and much more. It is our connection with the narrative universe and it just might be an essential part of being human, a way of imagining how things might be different - at different times, for different people, in different places. So I may just have transplanted narrative pleasure in the place of reading for pleasure....well at least that's a start. Let's acknowledge that the book is just one of many ways to get this absorption in narrative. But let's also keep open the question that narrative immersion may not be universal, too.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Looking forwards, looking backwards

For most of the work I've been involved in over the last ten years, the words 'technology' or 'internet' have seemed far too general. That's what prompted me to settle on the digital, particularly as it seemed to combine as a useful descriptor in such ideas as 'digital practice', 'digital communication', 'digital writing', 'digital media' and yes, of course 'digital literacy', in which familiar ideas - practice, communication and so on - were changed or re-interpreted with digital and connective technologies. Some terminology has a limited shelf-life for me; I notice I have pretty much dispensed with CMC and online communication because they don't seem to me to tell the whole story. Then of course there are terms like 'new media' (which I still like), 'Web 2.0' (which now seems rather old school) and 'social media' (which I use, but don't like - after all media is always social, isn't it?). Along with all this shifting is my own engagement or experimentation with digital spaces - chatrooms, blogs, virtual worlds and, yes, social media! I've written about all of them, and most recently with Julia Gillen on Twitter (here). What drives all this activity? Well I suppose I'm genuinely interested on how we shape and are shaped by our communicative environment - how we mean, and how we might negotiate new meanings about our lives, in the world, in the current context - which after all is a context that is infused with what Latour would call the non-human agents of digital technology. Since this is turning confessional I'd have to concede that this is my overarching interest. And since I happen to have spent most of my working life in educational institutions, I've always had a keen eye for what this might mean for children and young people. Drilling down further into curriculum stuff and the whole tangle of learning, well that regularly slips through my fingers. I feel there is so much in that whole arena that I either don't know or simply can't believe. At each turn, though, I've had an implicit tactic. First I try to understand what's going on in popular practices, and that always seems to work best by immersing myself in them, and then I start asking what that means/or might mean for education. Is that a method? I don't know, but it's what I do. Working on blogging with Julia Davies, the only way we could explain this reflexive insider approach was to call it a 'dual autoethnography', and that rather awkward term crops up again in the Twitter paper. But that's only half the journey; the second half is asking the questions. I suppose that's the buzz in the DefT project: asking those questions with a varied group of colleagues. In a way (and this might sound to them like heresy) I hope there isn't an answer, because that always seems to force premature closure. For me it's the question: what's going on and what does this mean for children and young people that propels us forward.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The contradictions of Gove

Michael Gove, the Secretary of Sate for Education, is either completely confused about reading and learning to read, or else he is poorly advised. On the one hand he is spear-heading a pointless and inappropriate phonics screening test and on the other publicly claiming that 'the more books we can get in the hands of children, the better'. Yet the more books argument actually means a £370,000 scheme to send copies of the King James Bible to schools. Not very likely to address some of the gaps in reading attainment in our schools I would suggest. Might it have been better to use the money to support a book-gifting scheme one wonders? A scheme liked Booked-Up for example, which has proven worth? Whilst the Gove Bible, with it's gold-lettered inscription, finds its way into schools, the Booktrust are obliged to turn book-gifting into book-buying with Bookbuzz (see the commentary from the Schools Library Association). It's the little details that really grate - in interview Gove denied all knowledge of the inscription: 'I have to confess that I didn't know they were going to say 'presented by the secretary for education' until I actually saw the first Bible' - careless I'd say. And presumably he meant the first of this particular version of the Bible.... Anyway, it could have been worse, think of multiple copies for group reading, or the Big Bible for shared reading. Wake up, this is 2012 in multifaith Britain!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


There may be something in the idea that we are moving away from an era of discipline and punishment into an era of control and security. Certainly the technologies that are deployed in order to keep us in check are ever more apparent, and the sanctions (at least in everyday life) are more about being denied access or incurring small fines or penalties. A good example is the way in which our pathways through the urban environment are channeled and regulated. Driving to work certainly isn't an unfettered expression of free choice, and most of the time I'm thankful for that. But nonetheless my progress is carefully regulated by stop lights, my speed of progress monitored by cctv and police speed-guns, and should I be tempted to stray into the bus lane before 9:30, my registration plate will be photographed and traced, and a penalty notice will rapidly be dispatched to my home address. And then there's parking. Plenty of choice there, but without the right kind of permit or ticket, or if I outstay my welcome, hey presto another fine! This all happens before gaining access to the workplace, controlled by the obligatory swipe card, and letting myself in with the rather old-fashioned technology of lock and key - and at that point I have finally arrived! Then work - work, as we seem to know it, is regulated by any number of log-ins and passwords - fine if you remember them, impossible if you don't. To get a drink I need a door code to access the kitchen, and of course to buy anything inevitable involves a pin number at the very least. I could go on...and on. Of course, it all contributes to safety and order, and the alternative could be chaos. But still, we are controlled and the technologies of control are agents of the powers that be.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gaming and learning

Two recent sources cast some doubt over the educational benefits of videogames. Young and colleagues (2012), in an extensive literature review, were able to find little empirical evidence of impact on student learning, whereas Tobias & Fletcher (2011) suggest that the state of games research is not particularly robust and that work on the affordances of videogames is far more advanced than evidence of how those affordances lead to learning. This is interesting given the growing interest in gaming and the widespread claims about children and young people's involvement. To add to the confusion, evidence on the latter is not straightforward. Many researchers, myself included, regularly quote from Pew, but as Warschauer & Matuchniak (2010) point out Pew and other frequently cited sources are limited and sometimes methodologically questionable. I was surprised to read that the average gamer in the US is 37 (Entertainment Software Association, 2011) - although, of course, averages themselves give limited information. Despite all this, there's nothing wrong with being positive about popular pursuits, particularly when they have suffered from such bad press, as videogames have. But these debates made me think about an incipient scientism in the study of digital literacy - one in which percentages and averages masquerade as the truth. Anyway, I got a nice email asking me to show this stuff, below. What do you think?

Little Games Big Business
Created by:

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


In a relatively short length of time, ways of thinking about digital technologies in schools seem to have shifted. When we started up the DeFT project last September it was pretty clear that the ICT curriculum was the last place to look for interesting digital practices. The team we assembled were from the start more interested in the literacy part of digital literacy than the technological bit. Indeed some of us had already started to use the idea of literacy as digital practice to describe our work. But as the academic year has unfolded, competing conceptualizations of digital literacy have surfaced - some of them not too far from Glister & Rlister's (1997:290) original definition: 'a set of skills to access the Internet; find, manage and edit digital information; join in communications; and other wise engage with an online information and communication network. In simple terms, digital literacy is the ability to properly use and evaluate digital resources, tools and services and apply it to their life long learning process.' But in the project team there is also an awareness of how work in fields such as media literacy, popular culture and information studies informs how we see things. In January, when Gove addressed the BETT conference, two things were quick to emerge: firstly that the ICT curriculum in England was officially moribund, and secondly that computer science and coding were in the ascendancy. No surprise about the former, and of course the latter simply plays into the myth that education has a direct link to some imagined future economic salvation. So now we have a consultation on 'disapplying' the ICT programmes of study. The summary will soon be published. Meanwhile, as always, interesting work is going on in the schools. In our project schools, for instance, the work is not exclusively digital, but of course it always contains that element. It plays into all sorts of kinds of learning - in the classrooms and outside the classrooms, in art projects, community projects, writing projects, English and media projects and with pupils of different ages and from different backgrounds. It's not so much a case of a digital curriculum, more a way of exploring the digital in the curriculum - the sorts of practices that might work, the kinds of barriers that might need to be overcome. If disapplying a curriculum helps this sort of creative exploration that's good. My worry is that it will be replaced by something worse. The NextGen report referred to coding as 'the new Latin', and for me that conjures up the idea of a very worthy but largely irrelevant and poorly taught curriculum (with high symbolic value) that simply reproduced social division. But the DeFT project isn't that, it's about open-minded teachers involved in a creative exploration of technology and learning.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Where am I?

I've been experimenting with GPS - doing my homework for the DeFT project, and I must say I've always been impressed with the whole concept. I think I first heard of it in connection with marine navigation. The idea that satellites might replace the compass, map and chart, or the night sky as ways of plotting a journey is interesting in itself. More modern magic. I've been rather dimly aware that there are 2 sides to the GPS coin - track and trace. Not only can I see where I'm going, other people can see where I'm going, too. But who exactly? In idle moment I found myself reading the manual, the small print as you might say. There I learnt, what I assume most people already know, that GPS is owned and maintained by the US government. That's interesting, and I expect those social geographers have written all about the topic. Anyway, I'm sure there are checks and balances, I hope so. That a government might one day change the map would be nothing new, but that our position on the landscape and our direction of movement might be modified is a chilling prospect. Overnight respect for friends who pursue the noble art of orienteering has increased!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Google is rubbish

I've been keeping a Blogger blog for nearly 9 years now, and it suits me down to the ground. When Google bought out Blogger it didn't really make much difference to me. Gradually they've developed features and changed things around a bit, but all to the good. Then a few weeks back they just completely changed the posting and editing layout. And I must say it was much worse. Yes it was perhaps simpler, but it was certainly more of a straight jacket. I thought long and hard about migrating to Wordpress, but decided to wait awhile. And now, at the weekend I think, they send a stupid email about terminating 'legacy accounts', without really specifying what a legacy account is. I dutifully followed a link in the email, that then required me to log on. I tried this using my standard Blogger log in, but that was no good. A helpful link directed me to a forum - God, I hate them - where a very unhelpful Google statement tried to explain what a 'legacy account' is. A 9 year-old could have done it better. By the time I'd wasted 20 minutes I decided the easiest thing was to email back, asking for clarification. Guess what? You can't do that, you get a gmail error message. I suppose that happens when the big guys move in. The web changes; it loses its appeal. I think I'll move on.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Digital Bloomsday

I'm drawn to looking at the cross-cutting layers of our literacy practices and what these look like in an era of digital communication. Thursday provided some rich material for this, so I'll give a chronological account. First, though, I must explain that I'm working with Julia Gillen from Lancaster on a number of joint projects including a paper on Twitter, an edited book on virtual literacies and a development project funded by JISC. So, back to Thursday. Soon after getting up, I checked my email to see if I'd received an invoice from Julia. I couldn't find anything, but I did note a couple of other messages from her on other matters. About an hour later she was scheduled to take part in a meeting via Skype. In the few minutes before the meeting started, I was able to check up on some details with her in an informal way. The meeting began. Julia was passed round the room in tablet form, on my iPad. Five of us were sat round the table, Julia was a couple of hundred miles away in her office. We looked at the same project wiki. In the room the wiki was projected onto the whiteboard; Julia watched it on her office PC. Throughout the meeting those in the room talked in fuller, more explicit utterances than normal, and at a slightly higher volume, conscious perhaps of performing to the absent presence of Julia. When she spoke we all leaned in and nodded attentively. Anyway, later in the afternoon, I was back on email, and began to attend to other business. This included checking some documents that Julia had left on Dropbox. When I was eventually done, I emailed her with comments, and then wrote a cheque for her (associated with a completely different matter). I put the cheque in an envelope with her work address on it, ready to take to the postbox. Before doing this, I emailed her, listing all these varied strands of communication as a bit of a joke.......end of story. So what interests me here is the way in which all these strands overlap, whilst at the same time each having quite distinct trajectories defined by processes and projects that take place in different communicative spaces along quite varied timescales. Perhaps there is nothing new here, apart from an amplification of complexity, a density, and a pace that would have been impossible to achieve in a previous era.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Literacies and complexity

On my idiosyncratic pathway through informal meetings and programmed events at AERA 2012 I became interested in how becoming literate with technology is now being conceptualised and investigated. Researchers I have a close affinity with see digital practices as hard to pin down, difficult to describe and often associated with disrupting assumptions about literacy, pedagogy and curriculum. As the simple attractions of the iPad capture the attention of early years researchers, they raise similar issues to those of their colleagues working with older children and youth - both in school, and out-of-school contexts. Issues of varied experience, questions of what is age appropriate, and re-considerations of the processes and products of meaning-making recur. I seem to have come down firmly on the side of embracing complexity, and resisting simple frameworks and accounts, and search for this in the work of colleagues. At the moment I can see three reasons for upholding this acknowledgement of complexity. Firstly, it seems to me to be the stongest theme in my own empirical work. Secondly, it is in sympathy with post-modernism's rejection of grand narratives. And thirdly, from the educational perpective, it defies the sort of reductions that make learning seem measurable and something to assess and therefore a subject for numerous attempts to monitor and control - to render it as a mechanism that holds those institutions and individuals responsible through the vice-like grip of accountability.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I'm back in the UK, after the annual pilgrimage to AERA, which this year was in beautiful Vancouver. As always it was great to meet up with people and learn new things from the sessions - more on this later. This year I decided to travel in a technologically lite style - with just iPad and flash drive for presentations. Apart from a few teething problems this really does seem to be the way forward. AERA's phonebook of a programme is usually problematic on at least 2 counts. Finding stuff in it can be a challenge, and unless you rip the page out, finding it again is difficult. Then you've got to lug it around multiple venues. Well after some experimentation with the online version, this year we had the conference app. An excellent innovation. You could search the programme, favourite specific schedules and then they would appear on your calendar. Furthermore you could also make notes attached to that particular session and then email them on. If that appears tp privilege the techie, it's not at all like that, because you still have the print version if you prefer it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The shock of the new?

Sifting through some old books I came across an almost pristine copy of the 'Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers' released by the Board of Education (HMSO), 1938. It contains some fascinating material, including this on new technology: 'The films and wireless have already begun to play an important part in education and there is every prospect of their becoming even more important. It must be remembered that they do not so much introduce us to a new kind of education as provide additional opportunities for making existing forms of teaching more concrete and more interesting and for linking up the work of the school with what is going on in the outside world. Certainly, the teacher who is able to employ films or wireless as an aid to instruction may find in one or the other of them an instrument for infusing fresh life and purpose into his syllabuses.' Fairly transferable statements, if you think about it.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Talking about a digital revolution

I have a lot of respect for academic and Guardian columnist John Naughton, who regularly contributes measured responses to debates about technology. However, I think he is misguided in jumping on the coding bandwagon and turning it into a big deal in last Sunday's Observer. So the editorial leader of that paper has some fiery talk about a digital revolution (in the classroom). Here's a quote: ‘For more than a decade, the teaching of information technology in schools has focused on using software rather than understanding systems; and on treating computers more like magical boxes than tools to be programmed and critiqued. With the government's recent decision to throw away this old syllabus and replace it with something better fit for 21st-century purpose, we have an opportunity to rectify a dangerous imbalance and set a new standard.’ It's true that ICT is dead in the water, but across the sectors there have been some highly creative uses of software in just about every subject area. Don't knock it! There have also been some very important moves in critique, but I'd be the first to argue for more in this area. But Naughton's manifesto hangs far too much on coding. He says 'every child should learn some computer science from an early age because they live in a world in which computation is ubiquitous' - well that's not really a justification, and anyway a lot hangs on what he actually means by 'computer science'. The devil is in the detail. He argues against the economic rationale (I'm not convinced that government ministers would go along with this) and suggests that the real issues are moral. He fears that children will 'grow up as passive consumers of closed devices and services, leading lives that are increasingly circumscribed by technologies created by elites working for huge corporations such as Google, Facebook and the like.' Well, there are probably worse things, but actually I think he is dead right. It's just that computer science and coding are unlikely to deliver anything more than the sort of divisions that already exist in classrooms. I'd put my money on the sort of critical media literacy that colleagues have been writing about for some time now. That comes from the best work on digital literacy and the best of media literacy. Yes ICT in schools is 'a toxic brand', but computer science and coding could go the same way. There are parallels in language education and English teaching. Despite the hours spent on grammar teaching, and reviving grammar teaching for the 21st century, its impact on students' language and literacy is very hard to demonstrate, and it mostly ends up showing that some kids are better at grammar than others. Attempts to show how we can be manipulated by grammar (see Hodge & Kress, 1988) were impressive, but despite the best efforts of the LINC project, they had little purchase in schools. Structure may not always be the best way to critique meaning. I happen to believe that meanings are negotiated and critique comes when meanings are contested - and that should be at the heart of the enterprise of public education. If new media are about the meanings we make, then I think that this is a more productive place to begin than coding.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The fashioning of the new consumer

OK - I really like the New iPad, and I'm glad I indulged myself. Like my last purchase, the Kindle, it demonstrates how slick digital technology is becoming. That's the enthusiast talking, of course. But the Kindle is nothing without a few books, a newspaper or two....and then maybe some more books. So, it is just a platform for selling digital content. And the iPad? Well you're going to need some apps, after all, and they're not all free. More digital content. Then, of course, the iPad works very well with iCloud and that's the big sales push. Can that work with my laptop? No. I need to upgrade the Leopard, and that comes at a cost, too. Ah well, there's a cold snap on the way, and it may even snow again, but no need to worry, there's no need to leave the house, I can do all this from home. Who needs shops? They seem curiously old-fangled, now. I'll get a couple of books on the Kindle - click, that's twenty quid out of my bank account, and when I get bored, then what? Well I'll go to the app store and buy a bit more....maybe, I'll do the nostalgia thing and buy some music from the early 70s (iTunes springs to mind), or watch a movie (downloaded from LoveFilm). OK, I made the point. You click, you get - they've already got your card details. No need to leave the sofa. I have become the new consumer.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

In Second Life

There were some pretty strange goings-on in Dasein (that's my place in SL) last Thursday night. The course participants had some very basic virtual orientation in the previous session, and then they had been given some Lindens and asked to work in pairs to furnish Dasein as a social space for us. So they brought furniture, decor and gadgets -some attached to their avatars and some in a more conventional (?) way. That must mean they all had some kind of collaborative shopping experience. I put up the big-screen TV and we watched a short film and then ended up listening to music and dancing for a while. We had rum and cocktails, but I wasn't aware of anyone actually drinking. I find it very interesting when we make the transition from the VC environment into SL and back again. Dasein certainly feels like a place and the 3D representation accentuates this. The interaction between avatars is definitely more social, and also quite a bit more random. Back in VC mode we're like talking heads, like TV, but still quite definitely mediated. It's very tempting to think that VC is more real; but then SL feels like a reality. It feels much more like going somewhere and meeting people. From a pedagogical point of view it seems, at the moment at least, as if we have some routines in the VC environment - routines that appear to be recognisable as learning and teaching. In SL, a bit like in a non-formal setting in real life, learning happens but it's completely interwoven with the experience of being there and doing stuff.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Completely booked up

We've been evaluating the Booked Up programme (to a rather tight timescale), and that's rather distracted me from blogging of late. The programme is a book-gifting scheme aimed at 11-12 year olds on school transfer, and it's organised nationally by the Booktrust. It's not exactly digital practice, then, but the Booktrust are open to the idea of reading in other media. Part of our design was investigating students' reading habits, using both the perceptions of adults in school, and the students themselves. As you might expect we tried to work from a broad conception of reading. As it happens I was intrigued by the fact that there was little reference to digital practices in the data. Students seemed to prefer reading print. This could be accounted for by a number of contextual factors: the study was about Booked Up, interviews took place in the school setting, and the Booked Up selection was used as an elicitation prompt. It may also be the case that digital literacies are so embedded in students' everyday life that they are not actually seen as a kind of reading. We clearly need to look at this in more detail.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pleasure or inclusion?

Frank Cottrell Boyce has a good piece in today's Observer in which he is critical of our national obsession with testing and educational competitiveness. His argument is a valorisation of the imagination and of the pleasures of literature. But although he aligns himself with Plan B (above) - the articulate voice of the underclass, Boyce has a mainstream message. Literature is so easily absorbed into education and into the curriculum, continually generating and regenerating cultural capital. But what of Plan B, this is a harder message - to pun on his name, we don't have one, do we?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Synthetic phonics

It could be said that the biggest irony in our current obsession with phonics teaching is in the naming of the brand - 'synthetic phonics'. For most people, unless they happen to be Hegelian philosophers, the word synthetic connotes with an artificial imitation of the real thing. In fact the Oxford Online Dictionary has 'not genuine', 'insincere' as well as 'imitation' in its definition. Of course, when that's paired with the word 'phonics', now synonymous with the direct teaching of sound-letter correspondence, we might end up with teaching routines that lack a genuine sense of what reading is all about. The current interpretations of synthetic phonics are an interesting illustration of how a particular interpretation of evidence-based practice impacts on policy and how this policy gets translated into training and eventually plays out in the classroom. Knowing the creativity of teachers, I suspect that some are making the best out of this - and all credit to them. But I've also been hearing some of the concerns. Here are just two. Firstly, there is the notion that in order to make progress in sound-letter correspondence children have to learn to speak 'like Southerners' - ie: imitate the accentual features of RP. This, of course, simply recycles the old North-South divide, replays the old asymetrical power relationship, and subtely undermines the way many people speak English. Let's hope the regional features that give distinctivenes to the voices of Jarvis Cocker, Tony Harrison or Arthur Scargill (to name but a few), and their future successors, are not compromised! Secondly, and this a much more fundamental classroom concern - it seems that success in synthetic phonics, as it is currently conceived, may not necessarily transfer into authentic reading and writing contexts in the classroom - and if this is the case the whole synthetic phonics bandwagon might come off the track. The whole initiative could well end up being a costly error in policy implementation. Only time will tell. My contention is that skill-teaching routines will always look as though they are synthetic (not genuine) unless they are fully integrated into an informed model of reading and learning to read.