A new academic year is the time for new year resolutions. These are like the promises you make for January 1st only more work focused; in theory at least. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. They still involve lifestyle changes. Drink less coffee. Take the stairs. Make a packed lunch. Alongside organise email. Maintain the tudo list. When asked if ok say ‘Fine’ and smile. Don’t even begin to list the 101 reasons why you might not be fine that moment, day, month or year.

One resolution is to return to blogging. Regularly. Blogging is an art. I’m not sure if I do it well. A poor blog is easy to spot but it’s harder to apply the rules personally. The Triple S of blogging is Short, Sharp and Succinct. There are times when a blog is the only way to get the message across  yet the message  fits poorly into the Triple S framework. Therein lies the skill. And herein lies the resolution.

This is work blogging. As opposed to project  ( or fun ( blogging. It’s also my research blog but not much has been happening there. I link to other online places – a central station sort of approach. But the reality of maintaining an up-to-date social media presence is loss of the face-to-face dimension to your life. They run contrary to each other. As one increases so the other decreases and vice versa. There’s a name for that sort of balance. I can’t think what it’s called. All comments welcome.

Social Media = LEO. Life Experienced Online. A premonition of the future but not one I fully buy into – contrary to what family and friends seem to think.

So welcome to a new academic year and good luck to everyone in the months that lie ahead

Mental illness diagnosis widened to include ‘uncertainty over gender’

The celebration of diversity and difference continues to be erased from social history. The new edition of the DSM-5, Psychiatry’s behaviour classification manual, suggests the parameters of social control are continuing to remove responsibility for behaviour from the individual to the state. The DSM has always been controversial, not least because of the relationship between naming behaviours as symptomatic of mental illness and drug production; ADHD and Ritalin being a prime example.  New labels in the DSM-5 (due out in May 2012) include shyness in children, loneliness, grief and serial rape. Each one of these deserves attention, not least because of their un-holistic nature, but the one which horrifies me the most is the possibility that uncertainty over gender could be labelled a mental illness.

Sex and gender identity is still informed by a cursory glance towards the genitals at birth. There is no routine testing for chemical imbalances such as complete or partial androgen insensitivity syndrome in spite of hormones being the key triggers of foetal development from female to male. Intersex is an established medical condition and any search on ‘Gender Dysphoria’ will evidence the medical acceptance that individual ‘uncertainty over gender’ deserves scientific attention not any drug induced ‘normalisation’ process.

The movement towards acceptance of transgender identity, e.g. the lobbying group Press for Change, has empowered transgendered individuals to live authentic lives. This is how it should be. Identity is a fundamental component of our lives and history is full of horror when this clashes with social imperatives for order and control. The disjuncture between internal and external gender perception needs support. The worry is labeling gender dysphoria as a mental rather than a physical condition will mean it becomes a process of ‘normalisation’ rather than one which addresses its physiological roots.

Psychologists fear US manual will widen mental illness diagnosis. Mental disorders listed in publication that should not exists, warn UK experts.

Tesco Online Shopping ‘The Saga’ Part 1.

It began in a small Yorkshire town with a 30 inch monitor and large screen magnification. The intention was to register with the Tesco Online Shopping site  The expectation was half an hour maximum to work alongside Marian who has limited vision and is new to using the Internet.

Step 1 the registration process: enter the email address, postcode and clubcard number. We’re using the clubcard number on a card and will be coming back to this later. At this point I would like to say to Tesco that the link entitled ‘Need Help Registering’ sounds like it is offering ‘real’ help not just a couple of lines of text explaining email means enter your email  address.

Step 2: lots of drop down menus with red asterisks marking compulsory fields. The explanation is in tiny letters at the bottom of the page. Easy to miss especially if you are new to online forms. Name ok. Address not ok. The screen should look like this.

tesco registration form 1

But with high magnification it looks like this

tesco online registration 2

Unable to read the text, or access the drop down function at the end of the form field, this is the point where the mission to register fails – or would do without someone to provide support – which sort of misses the point of accessible online environments enabling personal independence.

There are elements of this page which I like. The text resizes well. The forms fields change colour when active. This is useful and more sites should offer it. I liked how we were sent back to the spot where content had been incorrectly entered and the form fields were clearly highlighted in red with red text instructions. However, the choice of red is unfortunate. I genuinely felt I was being told off for getting it wrong.

Finally we had to agree to the terms and conditions. This posed another problem. The only visible button said No.

tesco online registration 3

You might not think this is a problem but it is. Firstly, how can you tell there is a Yes button hidden on the right. You can’t know what you don’t know. Plus the scroll bars are tiny and merge into the task bar with insufficient colour contrast. Both buttons closer together would be a small step which makes a big difference to the usability of this page.

Having located the button we get a message saying Sorry we are unable to process your registration. We are having a problem with the site and are hoping to fix it soon. Or words to that effect. Unfortunately, there is no way of saving the information so at some point it is all going to have to be keyed in again.  It was a disappointing to say the least.

Next:  Tesco Online Shopping ‘The Saga’ Part 2.

Death is very likely the single best invention of life…

Lots of free publicity for Apple this week, and divided opinions on Steve Jobs

I was more interested in the observation of how Internet traffic about your death has  become the new measurement of your life worth. It seems bringing down Twitter  has become the ultimate accolade. 

I have an iphone. It’s been an interesting experience. I wouldn’t have another. Apple is all about design, if you are into that sort of thing. They must be the only company to produce  packaging you really don’t want to throw away. The ultimate in cardboard and consumerism.

Apple’s phones, pods and pads all look special but there is an unpleasant gap between the cost of making them and the price of buying them. Whatever they offer in terms of technology, they are also about elitism and status.

If you have 15 minutes to spare. you can watch Steve Jobs deliver a speech to students at Stanford University  or if you are pushed for time you can read the full script here. Alternatively here’s the essence of his talk.

  • Everything that happens in your life is a series of dots; you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future
  • Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle
  • Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new….. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The arguments about the technology will continue but there’s no arguing the potential inspiration of these statements.  Now that’s what I call a legacy.

Dismantling the National Programme for IT (NPfIT)

Government moves to a single point of delivery of its ‘digital by default’ public services (see previous blog post) will not be followed by the NHS. After nearly a decade, the National Programme for IT has failed in plans to provide NHS patients with an individual electronic care record transferable across the UK. In a step which is either backwards or forwards, it’s difficult to tell, local hospital trusts will be able to choose their own systems. Either way, it’s back to square one. A good moment to re-publicise the System Error  report, crucial reading for anyone interested and concerned with government plans for Universal Credit due to rolled out online next year.

Also worth reading is the recent report by Ellen J Helsper (London School of Economics and Political Science) called The Emergence of a Digital Underclass: Digital Policies in the UK and Evidence for Inclusion. Highlighting links between social exclusion and the potential for digital exclusion, a key message is ‘Those who need access to services most, from where the biggest cost savings through the digitisation of services are supposed to come, are the least likely to take these up even when access is available.’  Focusing on quality of access, the report raises issues around literacy, skills and motivation. As if that weren’t enough reasons for exclusion, it fails to mention users of assistive technologies who face additional barriers of cost, support and exclusive design. But the message is clear. The move to digital by default services will inevitably damage the welfare of those who need support the most.

Quality issues around off-campus delivery learning – getting the foundations in place…

Off-campus delivery has had something of an identity crisis.  So many names have been used to describe distance learning; collaborative, distributed, flexible, blended, E for electronic, TE for technology enhanced, web-based, open, the list goes on…

The QAA have updated their Code of Practice (CoP) Section 2 (October 2010). If you didn’t know it, this is ‘Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including elearning)’ and addresses distance education. The document has not been blessed with the catchiest or most intuitive of titles and the QAA have further named it an ‘amplification’; the first time I’ve seen the word used to describe an update or revision. You wouldn’t think of the QAA as a trend setting organisation but there again, nothing can be relied upon these days. 

Part B of the CoP Section 2 addresses flexible and distributed learning; not part of the amplification process. To see the latest thinking in this area you need to look at the Commentary and Critique produced by the (deep breath) Quality Assurance and Quality Enhancement in e-learning Special Interest Group (June 2010). Appendix 5 provides the outcomes of the consultation survey carried out on members of the QAQE SIG, including suggestions for change.

At last, it gets interesting. Opinion is divided between those who see the use of technology for education as pervasive, with no need to disconnect the e from the learning either on or off campus, and those who want to separate out the message from the medium and treat them independently. 

I’m not sure mergence is the answer. There are too many different issues involved. These are less around the learning technologies and more around the different nature of the learning experiences. Creating stimulating interaction with content, collaborative group work and formative and summative assessment opportunities are all very much dependent on their context. Then there’s transition support, induction, support mechanisms and the processes of evaluation.  Add core issues around critical thinking and reflective practice, numeracy, literacy and competence with a range of digital environments, and you have an eclectic mix of requirements. Higher education is a complex art. What works well on campus is no guarantee for effective off campus delivery and vice versa.

The pre-amplified version of CoP Section 2 is from 2004. As we face the start of 2011/12 there is a real need for sector guidance which focuses on the quality issues around online delivery. For too long staff have been ‘left to get on with it’ when it comes to virtual learning environments often without the appropriate resourcing and support. This is a call for revisiting the issues around the validation of distance courses and in doing so addressing the need for quality assurance and ensuring the appropriate digital literacies are embedded into both the student and the staff experience.

Festival of Learning 31 March 2011

Student as Producer Festival of Learning took place on 31 March 2011. A mixture of student led events took place across all Faculties with a closing Keynote by Dr Monica McLean. In the Science Building, I met students Sam, Kirby, Francesca, Kathryn and Emma, was fingerprinted, had my cells stained with Methylene Blue dye, visited the Blood-Spatter room and Lancelot the skeleton.

Festival of Learning Festival of Learning  Festival of Learning

Up Steep Hill at Chad Varah, with my colleague Andy Hagyard, we met students on the Conservation and Restoration course including Robin, Georgina, Josh, Caitlin, Jess and Benedict who between them were working on a fascinating mixture of objects including an 18th century military helmet, a fragile early 19th century Japanese doll, an early paper map of Saffron Walden, a lacquer and mother of pearl cupboard door and a 1930’s King from a nativity scene at All Saints Church on Monks Road in Lincoln. I also encountered a fully restored 18th century statue of St Dunstan from Goldsmiths Hall London and saw how a wall sized covering from the Beaumont Chapel Hotel in Windsor was being conserved an repainted and mustn’t forget the nearly completed Victorian model boat which will be on display at the student exhibition on 21st May.

Festival of Learning  Festival of Learning  Festival of Learning

Finally, Andy and I called into Thomas Parker House where we met Emily, Mike, Jack and Sam, Creative Advertising Students, and sat in on a Sonic Sound Spaces session with students from Graphic Design. Thanks to Chris Robinson at Chad Varah and to Gyles Linguard and Tim Fabian at Thomas Parker House for making us feel so welcome and taking the time to introduce the students with all their brilliantly creative work and ideas.

Festival of Learning Festival of Learning Festival of Learning

To see all the photos from Conservation and Restoration at ChadVarah,  Creative Advertising and Graphic Design at Thomas Parker House and Forensic Science and Bio-Medical Science in the Science Building visit the Student as Producer website

48 GO GREEN is an avant-garde Festival that gives the opportunity to speak up against the ecological destruction taking place on our planet.

48 GO GREEN is an avant-garde Festival that gives the opportunity to speak up against the ecological destruction taking place on our planet.  Their 48 hour film competition took place last weekend; entrants had just 48 hours to produce a short video. Take a moment to watch this entry. To vote go to where it only takes a minute to register and support local creative talent.

testing, testing, testing….

Don’t know why I’m blogging instead of revising – probably because I accept the futility of cramming 20 weeks of study into the next 2 hours – and Facebook has gotten boring. I’m so not ready. It’ll take more than a wing and a prayer – I’ll be needing a 737 and a full house at Lincoln cathedral to get me through this one. Exams are so false. It’s not an assessment of my ability to understand the concepts of poststructuralism; the rethinking of the essential and the innate into the fluid and uncontainable, how knowledge is power and discursive practices replicate culturally specific control mechanisms not only through state and institution but how as individuals we reproduce our own repression through processes of monitoring, surveillance and self-regulation. No, it’s purely a memory test – and my memory is currently engaged – with other things.  We need to address assessment. Reducing learning to recall by rote is not what higher education should be about. I’m being judged on my ability to memorise enough content to write (pen and paper???) for three hours in an exam room that’s horrifyingly like being back at school and I’m not happy 🙁

testing testing live writer (1 out of 10)

First impressions are that Live Writer isn’t going to be very helpful,

There’s no zoom facility that I can see, the browser size controls make no difference and the ctrl
+ mouse-wheel combi doesn’t work. The menu options are tiny and the only font size choices are headings 1-6 or paragraph. Most annoyingly the text wraps about half way across the screen where you don’t expect it too.

I was disappointed to see the alt-text option hidden behind the Advanced image tab; it should be a basic requirement not an added extra!

 the inside of a giant white poppy  inside of a red poppy

All in all I’m not impressed. At least WordPress responds to enlargement although not without creating different problems. I do like the watermark facility on the images though 🙂

blog posted via Windows Live Writer