Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Formal learning too important to be left to...

Found this quote from Robin Goodfellow and had to share but even the highlighted bit is too long for twitter so, while I'm here... you get the context a bit too - Thanks Robin!
By the time the Internet, in the form of the World Wide Web, burst on the educational scene in the 1990s, however, I had discovered enough about distance education to realize that formal learning is too complex and too important for learners to be entrusted to engagement with materials or technologies, however ingeniously they may be designed. I had also begun to realize that this was not a view necessarily shared by governmental and corporate drivers of educational policy servicing the ‘knowledge economy’, and that debates were emerging, among students and between students and teachers on the courses I worked on, and among my teaching, research and development colleagues, over the proper role of electronically mediated practices in the shaping of the learning experience. My own research began to focus on an examination of the institutional realities behind pedagogical practices which were being constructed as ‘innovatlve’ and transformational’ by the e-learning community of which I was part, but which seemed to me to be as likely to involve their participants in struggles over status and voice almost as intense as those I had experienced as a secondary school teacher (Goodfellow 2001, 2004b, 2006; Goodfellow et al. 2001).
This is from the biographical sketch on page 3

Goodfellow, Robin, and Mary R. Lea 2007 Challenging E-Learning in the University: A Literacies Perspective. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill

Monday, August 22, 2016

Networked Learning metaphors #23432: The Synapse

It seems like a classic ivory tower pursuit.... a bunch of academics coming up with metaphors for networked learning, and especially getting whimsy about it. But this was one of the memorable aspects of the conference back in May. However, as ideas, metaphors can spawn insights, hone analysis or enhance practical organisation of learning and teaching. Perhaps it is something we need to do more of...
I want to publish some work I did last year but I have lost access to a book I need to refer to. It was an expensive library acquisition from Lancaster. I guess, for a small charge, they'd send it to me again as a distance learner. But I thought I would see if I could get it at home. Apparently not. This would be best done through an inter-library loan, so I was told. This conjures up the horrible chain of events that is the British Library's secure download system. It is the information management equivalent of traveling by slow-motion train crash.
At the networked learning conference I cheekily added some bits to my presentation that were not in the 'full' paper - especially the postscript:

I think I mentioned 'chain of weak links' back in 2008. In this slide though, I've likened the network in networked learning, to a neural network, especially the aspect of neural networks that sees a weaker messages fail to arrive due to synapses. In my 'resource' example, the library has proved to be a synapse too far, for now... In competition with everything else I have going on, the added hurdle to access the resource I need, although only requiring a small further push, is crowded out. I found time to write this instead of submitting the ILL request!
For me, motivation is one of the things that strengthen the signal, allowing it to traverse synapses. Motivation is a key aspect of learning, and the intentionality which actor-network theory is said to lack, by the way.

I should just add that the other two points on this slide refer to the following:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rubbish and link-rot


I dont like litter (thus a picture of a spring tree instead without any litter in sight for a change) and broken links are a kind of litter of the internet. 
A student kindly pointed out a link I'd created was now giving it the big '404'. This was to the Virtual Training Suite tutorial on finding online images. I have referred students to this for many years.
But, sadly, it seems that VTS ceased a while ago. I read that the resources were being parked somewhere but who really wants to use something that's growing mold before your eyes. So I headed off to find an alternative in JISC Digital Media's excellent site. Ah. Except that their funding's been pulled too it seems. Grim. Well. I thought, I cant believe at all this rich information is so useless to everyone in this age of trying to promote 'the digital' - it must be that JISC are just having a re-org. I'll head off there. is a very different animal though. Much more aimed at researchers, with a sideline in L&T - just my perception anyway. Over at I'm offered to go to 'JISC Digital Media'... er  no. Nice for now, but not for something I want to create a link to.
So I search the guides. I scan through the 'Refine' topic options on the left. Who came up with these..? The closest I would get to what I'm after is in 'Content' or 'Blended Learning' but that judgement is reliant on my obscure knowledge of what might lie behind these terms. 'Creating blended learning content' apparently only takes 5 mintues to read so I dont think I'll bother....oh, go on then. At least it was updated 16th March. According to our experts, Alistair McNaught, Lynnette Lall and Scott Hibberson, I can make my content engaging by 'reading our guides on finding the best content that the web has to offer'. Snag is, this points to #ironynoted So, now my options are... build it myself, check whether Nottingham have been kind enough to put some effort in this direction. Nope. Pay more tax? Too long term and fraught. Perhaps another country has a nice resource... likely candidates: Canada, Australia. However, both of these operate on different legal footings to the UK... Anyway, perhaps JISC will have to link to them soon too so, after a quick search, best options seem to be Laura Gibbs resource at: and Sarah Christensen at Thanks both!
Oooff! Just found another reference in something I wrote to JISC Digital Media... this time it's their very nice tutorial about Making and using Clinical Healthcare Recordings at JISC Digital Media. I wonder if that will get ported and/or maintained. 
So there are two take-homes for me here (both raised in Chris Jones' 2015 book on Networked Learning).
  1. Who pays for this kind of thing - a 'guide to finding and using digital images'? The government, the institution or the keen kind skillful individual scholar? I think this relates to a debate about digital scholarship that I was reading in Robin Goodfellow's 2013 chapter, 'The literacies of Digital Scholarship' where he compares the free-and-easy Edtechie Martin Weller's book with Christine Borgman's more 'traditional' scholarship. The latter is concerned with curation and knowledge building. As Goodfellow says, 'Borgman is trying to make digital scholarship more scholarly, Weller is trying to make it more digital'. Out of interest I was pleased to read a bit of Borgman's book and found she was homing in on this key question of information being a public good, borrowing an economics term for items like street-lighting, refuse collection, litter picking. 
  2. Posthumanism. Bear with me. In the same edited collection as Goodfellow's chapter, Sian Bayne and Jen Ross set out, 'Posthumanism in heteroscopic space: a pedagogical proposal'. I'm too dull to get the real point of it but... Anyway, some of the chapter is given to describing students' responses to assessment in Edinburgh's MSc in E-Learning. Jeremy Knox produced what looked like a traditional essay but each of the 2000 words had been carefully hyperlinked. This was a text "'full of 'holes', of material routes out of the formal academic essay and into the vast network which functions here as materially co-authoring the final piece of work. It is an apparently simple, but in fact deeply critical piece of work which challenges academic literacy norms by using the conventional essay form as merely a facade, a permeable front and interface to the digital network which is both its theme and its object of critique. The essay gathers, assembles, links, connects, and pushes well beyond the tight association of the stable authoring subject with the stable print text; it equally discusses and enacts a posthuman moment" p109. Except that, I couldnt help wondering how many of those 'holes' were not at all networked any more, given the speed of link-rot. Unless Jeremy had used DOI links or something like that... Try as I might, I also couldnt find this essay anywhere. Anyway, the moment has passed and in order to do digital scholarship we really do need the infrastructure, very broadly defined, even including a resource on 'how to find images', even to facilitate the kind of 'less scholarly' digital scholarship as advocated by Prof Weller and certainly to accomplish the kind of scholarship that enables knowledge building, the architecture of productive learning networks must be insulated from linkrot so as to endure longer than 'posthuman moment' and let us all get on with our jobs instead of wasting time hunting down (worse building) alternative, likely inferior, resources and then taking the trouble to actually moan about it on a blog. At least I gave the world a nice picture without litter or (at least for a bit) linkrot.
Bayne, Sian, and Jen Ross. ‘Posthuman Literacy in Heterotopic Space’. In Literacy in the Digital University: Critical Perspectives on Learning, Scholarship, and Technology, edited by Robin Goodfellow and Mary R. Lea, 95–110. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013..
Goodfellow, Robin. ‘The Literacies of “Digital Scholarship” - Truth and Use Values’. In Literacy in the Digital University: Critical Perspectives on Learning, Scholarship, and Technology, edited by Robin Goodfellow and Mary R. Lea, 67–78. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013.
Weller, Martin. The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Changing Academic Practice. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2011. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Pundit's Folly

Jugend 1898 42
I know a great little book by Sinclair Ferguson, 'The Pundit's Folly' - the cover is as good as the contents... It's an adaptation of (from my searching) a cover of a magazine printed in 1898. The basic thing is that a masked clown is seen to dangle a crown above a crowd of people all trying to grasp it. This is reflecting on the way that we keep chasing that illusive 100% uptime whereas it is quite hard to achieve. I'll bet someone has done a curve plotting server uptime. The crowd in this case is the learning technologist (broadly defined, whether academic, 'para-academic', management or nobly propping up systems). Each one believes. But do their beliefs in or about technology (for automation or enhancement) take attention away from the 'irreducible distinctiveness' of all human beings? (a phrase attributable to Jeremy Knox ). For me, this is one of the important aspects of Bennett et al's new article in the BJET. We chase automation and/or enhancement but at what cost?
Bennett, S., Dawson, P., Bearman, M., Molloy, E. and Boud, D. (2016), How technology shapes assessment design: Findings from a study of university teachers. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12439

Monday, March 7, 2016

Book Review: Chris Jones "Networked Learning" 2015

So I review books occasionally for the British Journal of Educational Technology. Last year I put my hand up to review Chris Jones' new book and they sent me my copy. I am a busy guy and things do not always get the right priority. By some happenstance, Springer also sent a copy of the book to a scholar in Iran who has clearly got his act together better than me because when I eventually sent my review in (having actually read the book - it's a conscience thing) I was told by the reviews editor that BJET had already published a review on it!! So I thought I'd look elsewhere. Seems not many learning tech journals bother with book reviews now. I found one that did and I'm giving up on emailing them a third time. I have a blog. That'll do nicely. Here it is...

I was excited to see that Professor Chris Jones had published a substantial contribution to this topic. He was my personal tutor in Lancaster from 2002-2008 and I have since followed his published work with interest. He is one of the only scholars I would trust or expect to take this project on and carry it off. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Reviews, and being either side of the fine line

As I grapple with the submission system, awaiting a tweak by Jane, I've taken the moment to reflect on the reviews and the decisions about them which led me to not really do an awful lot of changes to the paper. The reviewing system is pretty grown-up really. You submit your full paper and hope that people like it. They give you feedback and it's up to you whether you take their advice. Then you submit finally and that is that. You're in the proceedings. In 2013 my paper was rejected, which was upsetting because it seems like they did not really read or, still less, understand the paper. But, hey-ho, I got over it quickly and attended the conference anyway. So it was a considerable relief when my submission was accepted this time around. The reviews were fascinating. The more positive one was keen for me to make clearer links with my theoretical frameworks, and, come the conference, I should give more of an introduction to activity theory for an audience, they thought, which might not be familiar with that tradition. In fact, I'd not mentioned activity theory at all anywhere in the paper, not even a hint of a triangle anywhere to be seen. And is there anything wrong with leaving theory more implicit, more light touch? It's a bit like a kids movie where there are gags for the kids and gags the grown-ups will get. I dont want to be a slave to any particular theory. I hope I've moved on from wearing my frameworks on my sleeve... with the exception of networked learning of course :)

The second reviewer was more penetrating...
I should have worked harder to take up the analysis of textual practices rather than being taken up with the technology. This one vexed me because I know they're sort-of right but I cant ignore the fact that the technology was up to something here - semiotically or just from the sheer affordance of sharing information that would have otherwise remained locked away in cabinets or inboxes. Was a claim to be saying something about learning here spurious? Have I, by discussing user engagement, just caved in to the curse of technological determinism/myopia, again... ?

Indeed, and I get really sanguine now... Probably my paper gets no where near depicting 'learning'. So I admit defeat - learning is truly an illusive phenomenon and it's got the better of me again. If you're coming, feel free to politely slip out before I 'die' more at its hands. The only thing I can say by way of excuse is that this was originally designed as a doctoral paper and so there is, of necessity, 'too much on the plate'. I happen to like my nachos that way... Perhaps the thesis will help wean me off that when I'm writing.