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.

Sunday, March 04, 2012


I've been re-reading Donna Haraway's 'Manifesto for Cyborgs' as background for a chapter I'm writing. I was struck by what she had to say about minituarization, and how in some ways it prefigures the widespread diffusioon of mobile technology. I quote: 'The silicon chip is a surface for writing; it is etched in molecular scales disturbed only by atomic noise, the ultimate interference for nuclear scores. Writing, power and technology are old partners in Western stories of the origin of civilization, but minituarization has changed our experience of mechanism. Minituarization has turned out to be about power; small is not so much beautiful as preeminently dangerous, as in cruise missiles. Contrast the TV sets of the 1950s or the news cameras of the 1970s with the TV wristbands or hand-sized video cameras now advertised.' (30) phones, ipods, tablets...AR. Drones....?

Friday, March 02, 2012


Having been confined to quarters with a wretched stomach bug, things have ground to a halt. All I've been able to do is sleep and read (and all the other things, too). So I finished Murakami's 1Q84 (volumes 1 and 2). When you're immobile and lying flat, a 620 page hardback can really sap your strength so this morning I decided that I'd get Volume 3 on the Kindle. I've no idea how heavy it is in print, but I knew right away I'd made the right choice. Amazon talk about the Kindle as a platform for selling content - and yes, I paid about the same as I would have done for the print copy, so more profit to them - but for me delivery is faster, the thing is easy to hold (I only need one hand) and it won't take up any of the space in the house that is no longer available for books. What's more 1Q84 is printed in a really small font which I can't adjust on the print version. That's no problem at all on the Kindle. So that's how I followed up World Book Day, and everybody's happy as long as they believe that a book is a book even when it's not a book!