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.