Search results for "online learning "

Knowledge and privilege

Author: joe

Friday, 08 July, 2011 - 23:28

When I went to university, we still used quills and we paid maids to compile our bibliographies. There were privileges which accompanied being an undergraduate, such as the right to never attend lectures, or to study German philosophy when you were supposed to be studying economics, or to drink absinthe at orgies, or to take free aviation lessons from suffragettes, or to attempt world-record breaking states of inebriation for months on end and completely forget you were enrolled on a course with the cleverest academics who were the leading contemporary thinkers in their field.

I remember with shame, (and an admixture of triumph), being bored to death when my tutor came to a lecture on Thomas Hardy and read aloud a paper he had written for a conference. I had the arrogant young indifference to his standing as an internationally recognised scholar on the subject, and preferred to scoff at his lack of charisma on the day, rather than appreciate the magnitude of the privilege I had in actually hearing him say his own groundbreaking words. It is right that the stupid young should scorn the elderly and be restive against their authority. It is good to kick against the pricks when you're young, because the destiny of everyone who doesn't die is to become a prick against whom the young will kick.

There is something from that ancient privileged world that I do still believe in though: there is a shape to scholarship, which is generalisable: you are responsible for learning stuff yourself. My antiquated mentors were exemplars, not service-providers; they generated expectations, but they did not relieve you of your responsibility to boot-strap yourself into consciousness; you were already privileged by your admission into a system that gave you 3 years of autonomy and independence: why should you be also nannied into making something of yourself? They didn't need to teach me everything they knew, they simply needed to let me know that I should find it out. Hence I'm proud that I was almost 39 before I finally learnt what an oxford comma actually is, and I'm confident that my university masters would be comfortable with the time it took me to find it out, since their job was to encourage me to have an enquiring attitude, rather than to know any one specific thing.

Today, however, that system has been diminished to the extent that it must be subservient to the most prurient, Moloch-worshipping profit-driven coercion, and the mechanism that has achieved this has been under the the mendacious logic of "access", as though access to education is comparable to access to capital. When, o when, o when, o when, will the ideological link between knowledge and privilege be broken? Only when the link between learning and servitude is broken. Learning means thinking for yourself! It takes at least 3 years! if not 21!

Categories: knowledge, university, privilege, learning,
Comments: 1

The Internet as a public arena for research: how do we balance the pursuit of knowledge with care for those we want to know?

Author: joe

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011 - 14:13

Today I presented a brief paper to Bournemouth University's Postgraduate Research Conference. Not trusting myself to say off-the-cuff what I wanted to say inside the 12 minute allocation, I read this pre-written piece. I have obfuscated the sources I critique, for reasons which will become clear.

My presentation is about the ethics of Internet research, especially with regard to vulnerable people, and the problems that arise from the models we use to conceptualise the environment in which we carry out our work.

It seems easy to grant that aside from some edge considerations, there is a sort of equivalence between face-to-face and online interactions, between physical and virtual spaces - particularly in academia, where our textual outputs are intended to be sufficient for the advancement of our work. The trade-offs seem to be marginal: some loss of informal face-to-face contact is off-set by the advantages of efficiency, speed, cost-saving, and maybe even innovation.

Indeed, the fact that we successfully import metaphors from the real world into the online world is what enables many different walks of life to achieve in digital environments what they would also normally manage in the real world. These are metaphors that aren't necessary properties of the web, but that we use to make it manageable: models from the material world such as pages and buttons, activities like surfing and networking, and concepts like sites and spaces. We call it cyberspace, and it can feel very like the other spaces we inhabit with our bodies.

I want to suggest that the easy equivalence we make between online and offline, and physical and virtual space, is much more problematic. This issue has arisen for me through considering some of the ethical problems that arise from using the ever-expanding wealth of raw material on the web as evidence in research.

I'm interested in how people use the online world when they are bereaved. As time goes by, more of us are exposed to death on the web - what to do with the Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles of loved ones who have died, online commemorative websites, and so on. How do people who are mourning loved ones use online spaces to express their grief, or seek out support from others? Photo-sharing sites have groups dedicated to expressing grief through images; fashion sites find themselves hosting users who repurpose the site tools to discuss their loss; and forums dedicated to supporting bereavement through both informal support and professionalised services proliferate.

These phenomena raise questions about how seeking out online support might be helpful, perhaps through the chance to memorialise loved ones, or perhaps because sometimes the ambiguity of anonymous strangers on the web makes disclosure easier. Mourning is often a difficult subject to deal with in day-to-day life - we expect the grief-stricken to absent themselves from the office or social occasions until they are competent to cope with them. Unwelcome expressions of grief can be embarrassing or even seen as pathological. Do these questions of etiquette and emotion prevail online much as they do offline? Do online spaces provide therapeutic opportunities which might be more scarce in the fleshy world? Does the availability and peculiar permanence of online talk make mourning problematic - perhaps by extending the grieving period, or by exposing people to the trolls?

My research therefore is partly an investigation into the differences and similarities between virtual and real spaces. There are many comparable studies which ask this question through the lens of some specific issue, and there are guidelines as to how to deal with the ethics of this kind of research. After some reflection on some of those other studies, I have taken a somewhat hardline approach, and placed rather more burdensome ethical constraints on my research project than I might otherwise have done.

To explain these constraints, I'm going to mention a study from 2009 of an online space which is dedicated to the subject of gynecomastia - or the 'moob-job'. Men who are considering the procedure, undergoing it, or who are post-operative, regularly contribute to the site, which was studied by a group of psychologists in 2007, using interpretive phenomenological analysis to understand the experiences of these men. I wish to show that the ethical approaches and arguments they used, quite legitimately, are flawed in ways that force me to rethink the priorities at work in this sort of academic exercise. Perhaps even more than the bereaved, men with concerns about body image are a group who should not lightly be objectified by an academic project.

The authors cite the guidelines drawn up by the British Psychological Society for conducting research online. One might summarise them by saying that participants in Internet Mediated Research (IMR)

"can be identifiable or anonymous; they can explicitly consent to participate, or they can be invisibly observed without their knowledge."

The guidelines go on to state that strong justifications should be provided for covert non-participant observation - what we might in this context call "lurking" - and that consent should be sought unless the environment is such that "people would 'reasonably expect to be observed by strangers'."

Exactly what criteria qualify public spaces as those in which people would reasonably expect to be observed is not specified in the BPS guidelines, but left to be established in the body of work which grows around the discipline.

The authors of the gynecomastia support group study note that it is the contributors' expectation of their messages being visible to other anonymous users of the web which brings their content into the public domain. Content accessible without registration or password barriers effectively passes into public ownership. They also cite an earlier paper reporting about a website supporting anorexia nervosa which argued that study of content in the public domain is akin to "naturalistic observation in a public space" and that the openness of the web therefore "does not raise concerns of invading privacy."

The gynecomastia study also notes the possible disruption that disclosing the investigators' presence might cause to the integrity of the environment that they are studying. It is evident that they are trying to ensure that their work is ethically sound and demonstrates a care towards their subjects, and I don't wish to imply otherwise. But I do want to suggest that this implementation of research guidelines is flawed because it wants to accept certain equivalences between the open internet and public space (such as a supposed ability to undertake naturalistic observation without disturbing the phenomenon being observed), but ignore non-equivalences (such as the fact that covert observation of such intimate communications is ordinarily impossible in public spaces, not least because open discussion of sensitive topics is very rare).

The study in question makes further trouble for itself where it creditably seeks to anonymise sources. Obfuscating quotes is generally thought to be a sound tactic in protecting the individuals who may have made their own efforts to conceal their 'real-world' identity in their online profiles, but may have done so inexpertly. They may, for example, have chosen an obscure 'handle' or login-name, but have nevertheless signed off posts with their actual forenames. To avoid these individuals being found via search engines, the authors state that they performed identifiability testing by searching for direct quotes from individual posts were in Google, which did not retrieve the site in question or the messages that had been appropriated.

This test sadly demonstrates a poor understanding of the operation of Google's index: that it does not find sources at any given moment does not preclude the index being updated to include them at a subsequent date. Indeed when I searched Google for the quotations presented in the article, direct links to the original sources were listed. Again, this error does not show unethical behaviour: merely that an ethical guideline has been followed in letter but not necessarily understood in practice.

These critiques of the ethical approach take just some of the more obvious problems with abstract guidelines as they are implemented; and doesn't even start to address other problems with lurking and appropriation, such as the hit counts, visible to site-admins, that researchers contribute to sites; or the eye-balls they bring which may in some cases contribute to advertising revenue; or the general tacit deceptions they must engage in simply to carry out observation.

I want to suggest that importing the metaphor of "public space" into an intimate online discussion is problematic because it buys the researcher the ethical justification they require, but largely ignores the epistemological and ethical non-equivalences. I'd argue that people simply don't go online and talk to each other as though their words are being recorded and broadcast, and the permanent visibility of online discourse is a side-effect, rather than a primary concern, when it comes to a user's motivation to participate in online discussions or contribute their creative work to a community. I'd prefer to argue that the actual space that the user occupies when contributing to an online forum plays a much more crucial role in determining the level of disclosure they are willing to engage in, not to mention the level of trust and intimacy that the visible community creates. This may often actually be the workplace, or bedroom, rather than a public space.

Even where forum users are in public spaces, there may be a huge mismatch between what they will willingly write in the context of a post from a mobile phone, and what they will say to the person sitting next to them. To discard these sorts of considerations is, I would argue, to make epistemological errors, as well as ethical mistakes, and ultimately is a consequence of prioritising the academic generation of knowledge over the well-being of subjects.

The consequence of these concerns for me is to adopt an alternative approach, which does not solve the problems raised, but swaps one set of challenges which I find ethically unjustifiable for another set which I am more willing to defend. So I will be making full disclosure in any online spaces I enter before I undertake any observation; I will not be using material without the full informed consent of the original contributor; and in the event that any community feels my presence as a researcher to be intrusive enough to ask me to leave, I will promise to do so. This strategy at least offers the hope that the research process will be a consensual collaboration with participants, rather than a deceptive objectification of them: when dealing with communities of people we might class as vulnerable, this must surely be the preferable option.

So the project is now such that it makes no claim to be objective in a positivist sense, but rather is a fully-blown form of participative and ethnographic phenomenology. This brings another set of epistemological challenges and ethical quandaries, but I'd also suggest that Internet research which does choose to use covert observation may need to find alternative justifications.

Categories: research, paper, grief, bereavement, academia, knowledge, epistemology, ethics, online, internet,
Comments: 0

Media & The Body

Author: joe

Thursday, 16 December, 2010 - 22:36

This week I finished teaching a new unit - Media & The Body. As is often the case when I teach a new unit for the first time, there's some openness and uncertainty about where exactly it will go. I've just written up the essay questions - taking topics which the students themselves suggested they'd like to write about and agreed in the final session, and I've firmed them up into nice academic-sounding words. As I did so, I noticed just how much material we managed to cover and the breadth of ideas the participants brought to each session. The questions tell the story really. Thanks to all students for making it so stimulating!

In games, websites and other online spaces, complex psychological relationships evolve between computer users and their avatars. Discuss these relationships, and the way that the body features in their development.
Contemporary commercial developments in the creation of virtual realities, video-game worlds, and other digital environments are striving to push the limits of verisimilitude and naturalism. Discuss ways in which a consideration of embodiment can inform or explain these developments.
Futurists and other commentators on advances in human sciences speak of transhumanism - the human who is a hybrid of biology and technology. What are the consequences of self-directed evolution for humans and their bodies?
Humans augment their bodies in cybernetic ways. Discuss the nature of cyborg bodies and the practical and ethical challenges they present.
A body is both something that we have, as well as who we are. In what ways are our bodies integral to our identities?
The disembodied performances of identity that online media permit open up questions of authenticity and fantasy. Discuss the issues that are called into question by identity play.
In what ways are the spaces, architectures and environments we produce and inhabit extensions of the body?
By casting humans into a universe of alternative and alien species, science fiction offers a imaginative space for us to meditate the limits and possibilities of our bodies and minds. Discuss.
Contemporary consumer electronics, alongside locative social tools, are fostering a hybrid or augmented experience of public spaces. Examine the nature and significance of these phenomena.
The human, their body, their mind and their technology are fundamentally entwined, and as humans evolve, so do the relationships between each of these aspects. What do past examples of technological, cognitive and embodied change tell us about future possibilities?
The body is a canvas on which meanings can be inscribed - from self harm, through tattoos, to body paint, make-up and adornment. Consider the body as a medium for coping and self-expression.

Categories: media, body, embodiment, learning,
Comments: 3

Academia vs Practice

Author: joe

Wednesday, 13 January, 2010 - 22:28

A thought experiment around practice-led research in academia.

A practice-led PhD is normally assessed on a body of evidence which consists of an artefact - the product of the 'practice' in question - accompanied by an extended piece of writing in which the questions, world-views, investigative approaches and methods, disciplinary concerns and interim self-diagnoses are made explicit. So for example we might see paired materials such as: a piece of sculpture, accompanied by an articulation of the traditions within and against which the process of making the object has worked; a film, along with an essay exploring the disciplinary innovations and concessions that were revealed in its making; a networked set of documents, and some accompanying long-form text drawing attention to the conventions of mediation and aesthetics which are either challenged and rejected or accepted and extended in the pursuit of innovation in the production of such works.

So I wonder aloud what would such a submission look like if my practice were poetry? I write some words (in the form of poetry) and I write another set of words (in the form of academic explication). On the surface, it might seem that an assessment of the value of either of these sets of words is dependent upon the other. So, it is not enough to write poetry: in order to be judged expert enough for doctoral status you must translate the importance of your poetic output into academic language - the purpose of which is of course to ensure that you can articulate in a suitably neutral language what your non-neutral, poetic language has achieved. But note that the reverse is not the case: one may be recognised as doctorally qualified, wholly on the basis of an academically articulated thesis. Thus the primacy of academic language is established.

This primacy is predicated upon a number of assumptions:

I hope that the logical sequence as I have described it here demonstrates well enough the shortcomings in such assumptions. Certainly, if, like me, you are persuaded by the Latourian and/or Deleuzian notion that translation is transformation and production, then you will quickly concede that neutral articulations which permit mediation between two discrete fields of practice without distortion, problematisation and transmogrification are impossible and illusory. If you are not persuaded, then at least consider the possibility that academic language, rather like the poetic language produced by practice, has no claim to being anything other than a genre of writing, any more than other accepted genres such as journalism, prose fiction or drama. Academic writing is a non-neutral genre of language, constituted by a set of arbitrary conventions, no less than drama is convened through dialogue and performance, prose fiction is enacted through narratorially organised text, and journalism is constructed through the signs of format, voice and a reference to some convenient form of accepted reality.

All of which is to say that the requirements of the practice-led researcher are currently that they must make explicit in academic language what is implicit in their practice; and yet those who are not educated or indoctrinated into the conventions of academia are no more able to comprehend what is supposed to have been made explicit in that academic account, any more than competent academics with no expertise or experience in poetry might be expected to uncover the implicit value in poetic discourse. Another way of stating this is to say that if it is necessary to translate the implicit innovation and disciplinary excellence in poetry into academic language in order for it to be made explicit to a wider community of interest, there is no less need for the excellence implicit in academic language to be made explicit in yet another (meta-generic?) language for the benefit of a wider community of lay people. Indeed the irony here is perhaps that a wide community of lay audiences might be equally competent to grasp and appreciate the practical outputs and artefacts of practice-led research (if not more adequately equipped by virtue of the disinterested yet loving enthusiasm of the amateur) as is the proponent of academic discourse. This becomes especially true when one considers that the academic's livelihood increasingly depends upon a specialisation which moves ever further away from easy access by a lay audience, and further into obscurity and jargon.

At the risk of repetition I'll restate this once again: the notion that innovation and discovery in practice must be re-articulated in academic language, as though that academic language is an adequate meta-language for the communication of such innovations and discoveries, is no more or less true than the notion that academic language must be re-articulated in a third language, accessible to lay (or other) audiences who are not academics. The constant striving to establish the academic norms of language and writing over other forms is simply the will to power of the academic institution as a necessity in the social order. Excellence and sensitivity in the domains of practices can be achieved without recourse to academia.

Academic experience is not a necessity for excellence in the practices I pursue. There. I said it. It is a watershed for me, personally. I rather wish I had discovered this (in hindsight, rather obvious) truism a good deal earlier.

Categories: academia, practice, research, language, genre, translation, learning,
Comments: 3

Communities of Practice: intersections between learning, fan-fiction and the institution

Author: joe

Friday, 27 March, 2009 - 10:38

Yesterday I was in two unrelated seminars which struck me as having interesting resonances with each other. The first was a Learning & Teaching seminar I led about Communities of Practice and the challenges of pursuing a 'participatory pedagogy' in the constraints of an institution. The second was led by Richard Berger and Bronwen Thomas in the Narratives Research Group, who both talked about fan fiction and slash fic.

In the first seminar which I was leading, one of the I was key ideas I was trying to articulate was the issue of domains of knowledge: academics work within specific disciplines and subject areas; common sense tells us that those disciplines and subject areas are generally stable and fixed; and students expect teachers to act as gatekeepers or transmitters of that body of knowledge. In Situated Learning (1991), Lave and Wenger suggest moving away from a conventional understanding of such bodies of knowledge as stable and external, objective entities which can be transmitted unmodified from tutor to pupil; instead they suggest thinking about disciplines and the engagement with them by a scholarly community as a set of socially reproduced practices. Disciplines are continually constituted by the practices which communities engage in: reading, interpreting, discussing, participating, negotiating and renegotiating. Far from having a constant and fixed set of axioms which teachers repeat to students until the students have learned them, rather, the social practices of academic life are continually transforming the individual and intersubjective meanings that participants construct.

In the second seminar, Richard presented a historical overview of fan fiction, noting the features of intertextuality, variation, and the evolving nature of the participants; Bronwen conducted a "bottom-up" analysis of some of the activities and conventions which characterised the online fan fiction communities. Popular source texts become the site for participatory adaptations; the tensions between the 'authentic' text - that produced by the original author - and the variations produced by the fan community, are resolved in myriad ways: in some cases through legal means (copyright holders try to close such communities down), but more often through mechanisms which start to look much more like master / journeyman / apprentice relationships. New fan fiction authors contribute their efforts, get feedback, rework and improve their work, and in the process of doing so, become recognised and increasingly 'senior' members of the community. Mechanisms are evolved for deciding what is permitted - i.e. what variations are allowed to to be included, and what contraventions of the source 'storyworlds' are proscribed. Original authors (such as Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy) often give their blessing to these communities and sometimes even allow the 'authorised versions' of their work to respond reflexively to new variations in the ever-evolving fan canon - or what Jenkins call the 'fanon'.

In both of these domains there are some crucial features: the notion of canonicity (whether in terms of a clearly defined academic discipline, or in terms of a source text or storyworld) and the participatory practices and conventions which characterise the continual reproduction of that canon.

So, participation, and the learning and adoption of the norms of the community, generate the necessary social capital for participants to become trusted members of the community of practice. It would be interesting to see what sorts of commonalities and differences emerge in comparisons between the two different domains: do fanfic journeymen and masters have to be good at writing fanfic themselves, or can they acquire their position of trust through expert knowledge of the canon, or through the continually respectful and constructive writing of feedback? May academics rely on their past achievements of qualification or recognition, or must they continually reinforce and reproduce their status through continuous participation?

What seems more problematic, though, is how the respective canons in each of the domains are viewed. Lave and Wenger note that a community of practice is characterised by the often antagonistic processes of participation and reification. One might understand the pressure to maintain the integrity of the 'authentic' canon in the face of variations produced by fans as a contest between reification and participation - indeed L&W note that there is inevitably a competitive tension between long-standing members (refered to as 'old-timers') and the newcomers; the latter are destined ultimately to replace the former. Hence the 'old-timers' seek to maintain the integrity of the body of work they have striven towards, while newcomers exert an evolutionary pressure on that work which inevitably undergoes transformation and contestation.

In academia, however, I sense that the reverse is often the case: newcomers in the form of students, raised in the behaviourist hot-house of secondary schooling, and forced to commit to large investment and future debts, are resistant to the idea that academic disciplines might be reflexive, unstable, and more importantly, open to modification and reconstruction by their inexpert selves. Indeed, why would they be asked to pay such a lot of money for 'tuition' fees when 'tuition' is not the necessarily the high-road to the valuable commodity of knowledge? They expect lecturers to transmit considerable quantities of information and distrust the idea that they might learn as much from each other as they might learn from an academic expert. Those same lecturers themselves recognise the pedagogy of situated learning and actively encourage students to question and challenge the handed-down-ness of academic authority, being fully aware of the constructedness of their own expertise and of the discipline as a whole. Meanwhile, the institution itself imposes upon those teachers and students yet more behaviourist assumptions and structures. These take the form of VLEs into which tutor-created resources are fed for students to consume, the minimisation of social and embodied tutor/learner contact in favour of income-generating activities, and locking up contemporary knowledge advancement in the closed-access academic publishing industry which in turn perpetuates itself by persuading scholars that they must lock their knowledge up in the pages of their journals in order to acquire 'esteem'.

Lave & Wenger's model of situated learning makes clear that learning transforms not only the learner but also the subject to be learned. It seems ironic then, that this profoundly liberating and politically significant insight is often lost on learners and ignored by learning institutions.

Categories: learning, pedagogy, Jean-Lave, Etienne-Wenger, situated learning, communities of practice, community, practice, fan fiction, participation, canon,
Comments: 3

On blogging

Author: joe

Thursday, 12 February, 2009 - 16:39

I was recently invited to say a few brief words about the value of blogging. The event was a conference of uni staff who are taking part in a 'research-enhancement' programme of activities with a view to developing their research careers.

Not that I know much about research careers - I have cunningly managed to avoid disturbing anyone at the uni who keeps track of people's research activity. No journal papers, no conference papers, nothing that carries any esteem indicators whatsoever. I earn no esteem.

But anyway, I do write a blog, but more importantly have used blogging in teaching for four years now, so did have a couple of things to say about it. We ask students to start a blog when they begin the course, though we don't make it compulsory via assessment. I think it is important to make things elective, since incentivisation usually encourages instrumentality. (And only a cynic would note that this is the story of HE generally...)

Since the blogs aren't compulsory, you quickly find that the 'participation pyramid' (the imbalance between contributors and lurkers) which we see on sites like Wikipedia also characterises student participation. I increasingly think it is important to accept and allow such inequalities in uptake. By making things compulsory you infantilise the activities and the participants, and so those who would have contributed anyway get less benefit (who benefits from being infantilised?) and those who are compelled to join in do so in a tokenistic way. Ultimately, we want to encourage responsibility and independence, and micro-managing everyone's participation in various activities undermines that very aim.

Those who do participate voluntarily go on to experience many of the useful outcomes of writing in public. Of course, sometimes the writing is a whinging stream of consciousness, but actually this is a tiny part of it. More often, students write about the progress of their group work, or they articulate their desire to be better organised; sometimes they mull over the consequences of postmodern thought on their own dearly-held beliefs. I have read students link their own ideas to the Zapatistas, or share design ideas with clients. They write commentaries on oddities they have found in the wilds of the web, or they talk about the distresses and calamities of everyday life in eloquent ways. The range of subjects are fantastically kaleidoscopic, and it is, dare I say it, a little patronising to suggest it is simply an opportunity to whinge.

Just the act of writing (and especially in public) has many meta-cognitive benefits. Formless ideas are given form through writing. Feelings find expression. Thoughts which struggle to make sense become more sensible when we force ourselves to interpret them through language. There is something transformative and risky about writing ideas down and sharing them with others.

Jeremy Crampton, a Foucault scholar who keeps a blog, writes about Levy Bryant, a philosopher and author, and his blog, Larval Subjects, a blog I enjoy hugely. These thoughts capture the relationship between articulation and actualisation.

Larval subjects. Larvae are creatures in a process of becoming or development that have not yet actualized themselves in a specific form. This space is a space for the incubation of philosophical larvae that are yet without determinate positions or commitments but which are in a process of unfolding.

Larval Subjects

This captures the spirit of not knowing where you're going when you set out, a kind of lostness. [...] But there is something experimental to blogging, as a technology of the self. recall Foucault's comments about the pointlessness of writing a book if you already know what you're going to say.

Foucault Blog

Writing moves our ideas along, and develops them, determines and exposes their form and offers the potential for them to be further shaped and worked. This is true even if you write your diary in an underground cave, burn it and lock the ashes in an iron vault which you sink in an abyss (or write it in Blackboard). It is even more true if you do it in the open, out in the wild, and use the writing of your ideas to send out taproots seeking out people with similar interests, who can respond to you constructively, or people who couldn't disagree more, who will tell you exactly why your ideas stink. It is the ultimate in peer-review.

The objection raised to this is often that you shouldn't write about your research publicly in a blog because people will steal ideas from you, or you'll struggle to publish it in a journal later because it will already be in the public domain. I think both of these objections highlight the two main things that are wrong with academia. There are no ideas that can't be improved by being exposed to criticism, and the desperate need to retain ownership and exclusivity over ideas is, it seems to me, antithetical to the premise of education.

So, in the 30-or-so seconds I spoke at the mini-conference, I didn't manage to say quite all of those things, but those are the things I meant.

Categories: blogging, writing, meta-cognitive, articulation, learning, education, research, pedagogy,
Comments: 4


Author: joe

Thursday, 04 December, 2008 - 08:53

I have been given the Bournemouth University Award for Oustanding Contribution to Student Learning, alongside another 31 members of staff. It comes with the benefit of a cheque, but also the cost of receiving undeserved reward for my work.

I see it as undeserved since I have colleagues who are pushing further and doing better with the kinds of thing I was recognised for. On the other hand, the cheque does at least scrape the surface of the huge amount of unpaid overtime I put in. It's unfortunate that everyone else who puts in the extra effort can't also be recognised and remunerated. Even then, the cheque equates to about two weeks' pay. I do more overtime than that every single term.

And there is also the string, that in the new year I'll be expected to deliver learning and teaching seminars about why I got the award. The sad truth is that all I can really say is that the university's policies and efficiency drives all impact negatively on the potential for student learning, and that being engaged and trying to innovate costs a lot of time and effort, often for little reward and sometimes even attracts student resentment. Is that what they want to hear in a seminar on learning and teaching from an 'outstanding contributor to student learning' I wonder?

Categories: learning, teaching, award,
Comments: 2

Broken university

Author: joe

Thursday, 01 May, 2008 - 17:49

I have a lot of other stuff to write about, and I will get around to it. In the meantime, I just want to note an observation which occurred to me recently. A moment of realisation.

I've been delving into writing code for collective intelligence, and as I worked through some of the intellectual ideas behind the various algorithms and principles, it occurred to me that universities are exactly the sorts of place where collective intelligence does not emerge.

Despite the fact that universities form a hub and focus for people who value intelligence, and sometimes, even creative thinking, actually the entire tertiary education system is set up to discourage collectivity, and incentivise secrecy and competition.

Universities do not exist for the benefit of learners, they exist for the benefit of researchers. Reward systems recognise research and publication, exercises which demand 'originality' and 'novelty' - which discourage people from sharing their ideas - and scarcely notice pedagogy. Researchers talk more about whose ideas are whose rather than what those ideas are.

The minor army of people who are there because they want to help people to learn are invisible, unrecognised, overlooked, ignored, tolerated. How have we managed to have such broken universities?

Categories: university, education, learning, collective-intelligence, irony,
Comments: 0

Old audiences, new producers

Author: joe

Wednesday, 21 February, 2007 - 15:25

MA Radio Production Seminar, Bournemouth Media School, 12 Feb 2007: Old audiences, new producers

In a time of hypermediacy, in which forms and genres are in flux, and experiments can happen, it's worth considering, what is radio, what is sound, what is art, and what is / might be the intersection? What happens when you hand your schedule over to the wisdom of the crowd? What are the people we used to call the audience now making and doing? What is the difference between amateur and professional? Here are some links to get you thinking...

Our last session is on Monday 26th, and it would be great to know what things you'd like to know how to do. Post a comment below for suggestions :)

Categories: podcasting, radio, MA Radio Production, seminar, learning,
Comments: 3

Hypermediate Radio, part 2

Author: joe

Monday, 29 January, 2007 - 15:06

MA Radio Production Seminar, Bournemouth Media School, 29 Jan 2007: Hypermediate Radio, Part 2

Again, unedited rushes of the second part of our seminar - remix, re-use, re-mash, redistribute, re-purpose, re-send...

Show notes:

Direct Download for MA Radio Production Seminar podcast part 2 mp3

Duration: 39:46; Size: 10MB

Categories: MA Radio Production, BMS, radio, learning, podcasting, seminar,
Comments: 0

Hypermediate Radio, part 1

Author: joe

Monday, 29 January, 2007 - 14:55

MA Radio Production Seminar, Bournemouth Media School, 29 Jan 2007: Hypermediate Radio, Part 1

Here's the recording of the first half of our seminar. Unedited rushes... feel free to remix, re-edit and re-purpose, and post back what you made if you like :)

Show notes:

Direct Download for MA Radio Production Seminar podcast part 1 mp3

Duration: 44:38; Size: 11MB

Categories: MA Radio Production, BMS, radio, podcasting, learning,
Comments: 0

Reflective pedagogic practice

Author: joe

Tuesday, 10 October, 2006 - 21:53 a big way of saying that it pays to stand back and think about what you're doing when you're teaching - or more properly - creating environments in which people learn.

I recently started as tutor on a brand new MA course at BMS, which is delivered entirely online. The course is work-based, so the students are all professionals in their field, using their professional practice as a vehicle for reflection, learning and development.

Since everything happens online, I've been thinking quite hard about how to approach it. Normally when I'm in a forum, I can be quite argumentative and provocative, and I particularly like trolling people for reactions. Yes, I know, I'm a child. When I read /. I go for the funny comments, by and large.

However, as a tutor in an online environment, I'm trying very hard to hold back, so I don't end up dominating conversation, or closing off conversations with statements that mark closure rather than aperture. Poor me, having to engage in rational-critical discourse, eh? Which of course makes me wonder whether I oughtn't to do that in the other online environments I visit...

In f2f teaching, I found it fairly easy to develop a practice of balancing tutor-led activity with creating spaces in which learners can argue, conjecture, discuss and explore - but of course a lot of that is mediated by body-language, tone of voice, and physical presences.

More significantly, though, it has made me think hard about how and why I write at all. For me writing is transformative, because it is often how I actualise my understanding of something. Putting something into words changes it from a nebulous idea to a concrete perspective, even if the perspective is subject to constant shift thereafter. Hence I realise my writing style has become very positive, statement-based and argument-driven.

So, all in all, I guess standing back and forcing myself to be more reflective is probably, um, a good thing. No, hang on, that's not right: is it not a good thing that I am standing back and forcing myself to be more reflective? Mmmm, maybe need more work on that :)

Categories: e-learning, reflection, teaching,
Comments: 1

Blackboard can...

Author: joe

Wednesday, 02 August, 2006 - 20:39

...suck my balls.

Blackboard has just been awarded a patent on educational groupware.

I used Blackboard in the last place I worked, and it sucks balls badly. Nasty interface, clunky functionality, seemingly designed to make otherwise intelligent people despise computers and feel stupid. Employs a 'closed garden' model in which educators have to enrol you onto their courses in order for you to access material. The opposite of open learning. My current employer is also panning to move to it.

Stephen Downes provide a great roundup of critical reactions to the decision.

I'm particularly arsed off about it because I'm currently building some modules to provide 'educational groupware' functionality. My guiding principle throughout development is: whatever Blackboard does, do something else because Blackboard blows. Now, it's also evil.

Here's my favourite slashdot comment on the subject :)

Blackboard can suck my balls.

Categories: blackboard, e-learning, patent, evil, education,
Comments: 2

Solar simulation

Author: joe

Saturday, 08 October, 2005 - 18:44

Well it's been a pretty hectic couple of weeks, what with the start of term and all.

I have, however, managed to launch a pet project I have been developing for a while, which is a 3D simulation of the solar system. The idea is to explore using interactive simulations or tools for learning.

At the moment, the simulation has only basic interactivity, but in time I expect to add in info about the solar system, and interactive responses to actions such as altering the planet size, spin speed and oribtal period.

It's both an experiment in interaction design, and an expression of my nerdy enjoyment of space science and Lingo programming :)

3D Solar System simulation

Categories: learning, interactivity, planets, space, simulation, science,
Comments: 1

Science week part 8

Author: joe

Friday, 22 July, 2005 - 18:35

Final podcast from the OU Practising Science residential school, wherein the author returns, exhausted, to the real world, head full of rigourous knowledge found through well-established methodologies.

Science week part 8 podcast mp3

Duration: 6:21; Size: 3MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 0

Science week part 7

Author: joe

Friday, 22 July, 2005 - 10:35

The end of the last full day, and the world is full of decay...

Science week part 7 podcast mp3

Duration: 19:18; Size: 10MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 0

Science week part 6

Author: joe

Thursday, 21 July, 2005 - 08:24

Biology and Titan day. In Life Sciences we looked at mitosis and the effect of radiation on chromosomes, and then I went to a seminar about the latest data from Titan...

Science week part 6 podcast mp3

Duration: 17:46; Size: 9MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 0

Science week part 5

Author: joe

Wednesday, 20 July, 2005 - 18:55

Last night was karaoke night at the OU residential school. Fortunately I was spared the humiliation of singing, but one of the girls in my tutor group has was fantastic, so you can hear Faye sing...

I'm not very with it in this podcast ;)

Science week part five podcast mp3

Duration: 8:42; Size: 5MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning, karaoke,
Comments: 0

Science week part 4

Author: joe

Tuesday, 19 July, 2005 - 17:13

Group research project today and a very brief post and podcast :)

Science week part four podcast mp3

Duration: 3:51; Size: 2MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 1

Science week part 3

Author: joe

Monday, 18 July, 2005 - 23:40

Today was field trip day - a trip to Birling Gap and Newhaven on the south coast, to study the geology and ecology of the area and their relationship to each other.

Fantastic day if long and tiring... But really good experience of acquiring raw data and using it.

We looked at the geology of the chalk cliffs, the flint seams and the other rocks and soils at the top, and figured out what they tell us about the history of the area. We also examined the kinds of vegetation on the cliff-tops and figured out how the geological history has shaped the kind of plant life that exists now.

Almost too shattered to speak...

Science week part three podcast mp3

Duration: 16:50; Size: 8MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 1

Science week part 2

Author: joe

Sunday, 17 July, 2005 - 23:16

Wow. Today was chemistry day. We put samples of metal salts into a bunsen burner flame and compared the colours of the flames. Then we did spectroscopy to get a more precise measurement of the different metals' spectral fingerprint. Once you can do this, you can tell what distant stars are made of. How cool.

Then we mixed up different reagents into metal nitrates, and saw which ones produced precipitate and how they changed colour. Then went on to use these techniques to assess the amount of aluminium present in drinking water. Hands-on practical stuff.

Chemistry was always my least favourite part of scince at school, but the stuff we did today was really engaging. The activities are brilliantly constructed and prepared, and the tutors are great.

Tomorrow we do the field trip on the South coast. Early start...

Connecting via mobile is WAY expensive, so sod that, I'm off to find some free wifi hot-spots in town :)

BTW - thanks to 5511 5305 in Brighton whoever you are for letting me stowaway on your broadband wireless!!

Science week part two podcast mp3

Duration: 7:48; Size: 4MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 1

Science week part 1

Author: joe

Saturday, 16 July, 2005 - 23:50

This is the first of a week of podcasts from my science practise residential school with the Open University.

I've come to the University of Sussex at Lewes near Brighton, UK. The course is SXR103 Practising Science. I'm going to use these podcasts to keep notes of what we do, and see where using podcasting as a learning support will take me.

The first thing I've learnt is that while Sussex Uni doesn't have wireless internet access, I can use my mobile to connect to the internet!!! So these podcasts will be short and sweet, cos its slow and expensive :(

Science week part one podcast mp3

Duration: 3:06; Size: 2MB

Categories: podcast, science, learning,
Comments: 1

Podcasting and online learning

Author: cath

Monday, 11 July, 2005 - 22:17

I've been thinking about how podcasting can add a new dimension to the learning experience, especially in the realm of distance/online learning. Some quotes and highlights from an online article published by the Univeristy of Illinois:

"Audio blogs can add an element of humanisation to an online course through voice. by way of diction, word stress and inflection, one gains a richer understanding of the enthusiasm or passion of the speaker... Some stories are told better orally than with text alone."

In summary...
- Great for students who have an auditory preference.
- Great for students with visual disabilities.
- Great for learning in the car - portable professional development which completely knocks the balls off "Learn French in 22 separate tapes which you have to rewind and forward wind without any fun element or personality at all".
- Great for totally up to date info. Online courses are generally written months in advance. They can't capture what's going on right now and relate today's news with learning. "Contemporizing course content" means that the learner is more likely "forge a more memorable bond with the content"

Categories: podcasting, online learning,
Comments: 2