Sometimes I feel like Kassandra – tell truths but don’t be believed

no one loves me because google says so

The best conversations about online discussions happen face to face. Those with the most interesting things to say don’t say them online. They don’t want to. I’ve said it before but it needs saying again. We can’t assume everyone has the confidence to put themselves out there digitally or – dare I say – even wants to. Which leads to the question ‘is the choice to be digitally inactive a valid one?’ At a time when the university is implementing a digital education plan and its VLE procurement has resulted in enhanced Blackboard provision, how long can resistance to digital ways of working be condoned?

There may be trouble ahead. The causes of resistance are complex. Instinctual, intellectual, personal, political – there’s much to be learned from self-chosen digital divides. While one side forms cliques of tweets and blog posts the other relies on email and face to face meetings with coffee and biscuits. East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Resistance is mostly invisible. In the online world of RSS and social media-ness, like clings to like. Resistance through choice is interesting. Often it’s about being human in the age in the machine or in Lee Siegel’s words being Against the Machine; Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob (2008). Siegel continues the anti-internet diatribe of Andrew Keen in the Cult of the Amateur (2007). Both writers follow Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985 revised 2005) and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1993). Throw in Nicholas Carr with his 2008 question Is Google Making us Stupid? Add the JISC and British Library CIBER report into the research behaviour of young people and put all this alongside Jaron Lanier’s manifesto You Are Not a Gadget (2010) to be afraid, very afraid, of ever logging onto a virtual environment again – although of course we will continue to hook ourselves up, cyborg-like, for as long as the connections make it possible. It’s more than an addiction, it’s become a way of life, but within our mass of digitally enabled lifestyles there remain those who resist, who don’t have internet-enabled mobile technology through choice, who wouldn’t consider enrolling on TELEDA and who value their self-chosen non-internet lives.

Perhaps we’ve all been fooled by google. Persuaded by easy access to information and the duplicity of google+ hangouts. We’re all living in the negative utopia of Huxley’s Brave New World. The internet has become a digital Soma-like alternative where we communicate via a machine which monitors and records every interaction for ever. Unless of course we don’t have a digital identity in the first place. Sometimes I feel like Kassandra – tell truths but don’t be believed.  Once you’ve sold your soul to google it’s too late to do anything about it.  You can’t delete a virtual self. Even after death it lives on. Sometimes I’m afraid resistance may prove to be the wisest choice. But only time – and a google database – will tell.

google rules the world

Crap City Chav City City of Culture! Bring it on ‘ull @2017Hull

map of Hull c 1640

This blog post will come as no surprise. Hull won City of Culture 2017 and I’m feeling local and proud. Hull had an excellent chance. It has heritage and history in buckets and its solid working class tradition makes it one of the friendliest places in the world. It was unfair in 2003 when Hull was named number one crap town. The headline stuck, even when it had dropped out of the top 50. To gain City of Culture represents a turn in public opinion to be proud of – but no surprise for those of us who call it home. Hull has a lot to offer and it’s about time we got chance to show it off.

Hull is what it is. A town on the mid-north eastern edge of England. Geographically unique, situated in the basin formed by the Humber and Spurn Point, Hull’s history is the wool trade and fish, There isn’t much left of either. You have to travel to Grimsby to visit the Fishing Heritage Museum but it’s well worth the journey. You’ll find a mirror of Hessle Road and the docks which gave Hull its reputation and infamous smells. The trawlers have gone but Hull lives on. As the promotional video states, Hull belongs to everyone

I’m loving the attention. It makes a change to see positive reports after decades of negativity

I like these:

My favourites include:

The bottom line is – Hull’s unique. Our accent and dialect set us apart as much as our location.

Examples of Hull dialect

Crap Town, Chav Town, now we’re going to be Cultural town – and about time too. We can hold our own with anywhere else in the UK; we have the Museum quarter, High Street, the Deep, Town Docks Museum, Ferens Art Gallery, Fruit, the university, college and more. Bring it on and let’s hear it for ‘ull!

Disturbing directions; failure to recognise disability diversity

Oxford Internet Institute world map of most used software showing google as the highest choice

The Oxford Internet Institute world usage map shows the dominance of google. We’d all be shocked to see our online profiles.  Google makes Orwell’s Big Brother look simplistic. Like digital exclusion, no one talks enough about data protection and it’s probably too late. The damage is done. The Oxford Internet Institute’s Cultures of the Internet report suggests more than half of British people use the Internet ‘without enthusiasm’. They go online because they have to rather than choose to, reporting problems with privacy, frustration and time wastage with a decrease in the usage of social networking sites.

A government with Digital First policy and practice should take notice. Multiple public and private agendas drive us online yet an Office of National Statistics (ONS) report shows over 7 million people have no internet and 16 million lack the skills and confidence for effective use.  Digital exclusion has many levels from disconnection to disinterest. The primary issue with exclusion is it’s inherently invisible. Exclusion from digital platforms for discussion and debate makes you voiceless. Powerless. The silence is increasing. Research data is consistent. The ONS say of the 7.1 million people offline, the elderly and disabled are least likely to be connected with 3.7 million adults with a disability having no internet access. Barriers to access for users of assistive technology remain highest of all. Yet society has the technology. The latest SCOPE report Enabling Technology shows what is possible, but government enthusiasm and allocation of resources to make it happen are invisible too. Google domination is not complete but for all the wrong reasons.

The Cultures of the Internet press release contains the worrying suggestion digital exclusion is self imposed.  ‘In the past, academics studying the internet tended to focus on the digital divide, examining why certain people did not go online: whether it was to do with choice or lack of access. This study shows that a small percentage of the population (18%) still have not used the internet and it suggests that most non-users have made the choice that it is not for them.’  

Within the report (page 22)  this disturbing direction is partially countered with the statement ‘While disabilities…are a continuing source of digital exclusion, over half (51%) of people with a disability use the Internet. This is a rise of 11 percentage points from 2011 (from 40% to 51%). Unfortunately, 51% is still considerably less than the 84% of non-disabled respondents who use the Internet, leaving a major digital divide for the disabled.’ [my emphasis]

There are mixed messages here which fail to recognise the diversity of the category ‘disabled’. They fail to pull out the specific issues of inaccessible internet design which cannot be interpreted by a screen reader or navigated by a non-mouse user. The category ‘disability’ lumps sensory, physical and cognitive impairment together with no acknowledgement of the range of different access issues individuals face through costs and learning curves of assistive technologies as well as poor online practice which discriminates against anyone operating outside a narrow range of access criteria i.e. the ME Model. Mouse. Eyes.

Cultures of the Internet makes interesting reading. We should take time to pay attention to the consequences of the shift to online ways of working.  It isn’t being paranoid to highlight the social effects of a digital society, most of all the varying patterns of exclusion and engagement. If the higher education curriculum included critical reflection on internet implications rather than unquestioningly accepting changing digital cultures, it would be a start. If ‘digital’ graduate attributes were an expectation this would increase awareness of the social consequences of digital exclusion. Without this awareness attitudes which suggest it’s a life style choice rather than an act of discrimination will continue to be replicated and reinforced.

The automation of shopping – or why every apple has a sticker…

Stickers on apples are annoying and un-organic. They don’t decompose and sit in landfill sites for ever. As if the perfect shape and wax coated skin was not evidence enough of human interference in a natural process, they have to have a sticker on too! 

Why does every apple have a sticker? Once you know it’s obvious – but I didn’t  

It’s about the automation of shopping. About user-managed self-service checkouts with only one apple type on the screen. If you have a different apple then key in the user code which is on the label. Simples.

At 6.00 in Asda his morning there were no check-outs operating only the self service ones. How much money does Asda save by automating the shopping process? It still needs the human on hand to sort out issues but one person manages multiple self-service stations. This is the automation of shopping. DIY. Or don’t do it at all.

Is this also the future of the VLE? Choose your course, work through the onscreen instructions, interact where required, pay and walk away with the product.



Academic culture shock; the VLE and resistance to learning online

I’m still reflecting on the issue of power, since the lack of it was commented on in my EA2 (see politics and power) This weekend I revisited ‘All Watched Over by Machines of  Loving Grace’ (Adam Curtis, 2011).  The 3-part documentary examines how power is perceived and distributed. I’m writing about resistance to virtual learning. Both are connected to the 1990’s. Curtis revisits late 20th century dreams of a cybernetic utopia with freedom from social controls and conventions. Dearing’s  1997 landmark report into the future of higher education claimed the internet would transform the university. There is more…

Underneath, I’m interested in the social construction of identity; how society controls gender expectations opposed to how we interpret ourselves and ways of resistance. The commodification of gender expectations is a powerful and invisible social control. I’m drawn to Edward Bernays application of his uncle Sigmund’s psychoanalytic ideas to public relations and marketing. I also like postmodernist ideas on subjectivity, in particular Baudrillard on simulation and social manipulation of  confusion between the Sign and the Real. Power is the thread which pulls this altogether and digital media the channel where power operates most persuasively. In Propaganda, Bernays describes PR as the ‘conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses’. He claims this is an important aspect of democracy and ‘‘Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.’

It’s a small step to social controls through corporations and governments. These excursions into power soon encounter Foucault who explored the power and authority of institutions and the state, how it became anonymous and embedded in bureaucracies. For all his ideas have been supported or critiqued, the Foucaultian view of hierarchical surveillance is alive and well and living in Google.

We have become accustomed to digital ways of working, but resist digital pedagogic practice. The lecture and seminar remain the most popular form of transmission and debate. The virtual in learning environment remains largely invisible.

Visions are rarely neutral and with technology they are mostly utopian or dystopian. In 1999 Daniel Nobel wrote Digital Diploma Mills attacking the distribution of digitized course material online, seeing this as a regressive trend towards mass production and standardization in the favour of commercial interests. In 2005 the HEFCE first elearning strategy promoted technology enhanced learning as leading to transformation through radical and positive change. In 2011, Feenburg (author of Questioning Technology, 2001) claimed the promise of virtual learning in the 1990s has come to nothing – and ‘the automation of learning has failed’ 

The embedding of the university VLE affects everyone who works or studies there but it is not universally loved; more tolerated or even hated. It’s possible the sector is still in a state of transition. Socrates complained the written word would damage education if people no longer needed to meet up and discuss philosophical ideas. After Gutenberg, there was concern the book would harm the educational imperative. Resistance to teaching and learning online may be an extension of academic culture shock. Or resistance may run deeper, indicative of caution from critical thinkers and reflective practitioners.

a rose is a rose is a rose etc

Of all the arts, poetry suffers from dependency on personal opinion. I’ve been re-reading Saussure for my phd and reflecting on its application to poetry. Early 20th century Structuralists suggested meaning derives from subjective interpretation rather than any externally fixed truth. Semiotics , the science of signs, was key to Structuralist belief in the possibility of uncovering  the multiple ‘truths’ of social reality. In a ‘Course in General Linguistics’, Saussure challenged realism (the world can be known) with linguistic relativism (the world can only be known through the structures of language). Structuralism revealed language as a system of signifiers (the word) and signified (the idea the word conveys) where connections between them are cultural and arbitrary rather than innate or fixed. Single meaning is replaced with multiple possibilities or references eg roses have become associated with cultural images of love, passion, beauty, valentines, romance, gardening etc. None of these describe the flower but are all part of the agreed consensus of meaning around the signifier Rose.

Death of the Author cartoon by Donald Palmer 1997

This stress on referential reality complicates the challenge of poetry to create maximum resonance with minimum words. Resonance is personal and subjective. Barthes  understood this when he challenged modernist notions of authority and knowledge production by suggesting the author is dead. In his 1977 essay Death of the Author, ( Barthes says the author no longer has authority and there is no such thing as a singular narrative. Instead the interpretation of text becomes a collaborative process between author and audience: ‘…a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue…but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader’   Barthes concludes ‘Classical criticism has never paid any attention to the reader…the writer is the only person in literature…it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author’. The poet has to work twice as hard to find the words. Not only must they say what they want but will also say something similar to reader. In a world where truths are subsumed with multiple possibilities, the challenge is irresistible

Cartoon by Donald D Palmer 1997

On libraries, books and touch screens…

This weekend I visited the John Rylands Library in Manchester; a beautiful building in multiple ways. There’s the soft red brickwork, slim gothic vaults and arches, venetian glass windows and unexpectedly genuine Victorian plumbing and tiling in the basement facilities.  The Burning Bright William Blake exhibition was a bonus, as was the visiting group of Steampunk enthusiasts. Their Victorian costumes blended with the environment so well it was those dressed for the 21st century who looked out of place.

The University of Lincoln Library is getting an extension as part of the University’s Estates Masterplan. This will provide more space for computers, laptops and bookable rooms – but not books. The idea of a library build to house books appears to be a dying one, if not already dead. Excepting the British Library, there can’t be many new library builds being planned these days. Amazon says sales of its Kindle e-books overtook those of printed books in 2012, although they’re unlikely to say anything different. There were a few lucky souls working in the John Rylands building this weekend, but the majority of people were visitors. The atmosphere was much more museum or church than library. For most of us, the faceless internet has become our library and it isn’t a beautiful place. Dominated by advertising, we can’t be far from being offered a premium rate ad-free service. Those who can afford it will get a clean, improved experience while those who can’t will be reduced to searching in an environment looking more like the pages of a shopping catalogue than anything meaningful.

I travel with a kindle but never use it at home. They’re probably easier to read but it’s not the same. A book is a kinaesthetic experience as well as a cognitive one and there’s something symbolic about opening the covers, turning the pages and releasing the memories contained within them.  To reinvent libraries as museums or churches would be to acknowledge their social and cultural importance but it loses the lived experience. In these days of keyboards and touch screens, this is what we need to hold onto, less we wipe out from history the sensory reality of books.

Revisiting Prensky’s digital native/immigrant debate

Prensky’s polarisation of students and teachers into digital natives and immigrants was simplistic, but the KIS (Keep It Simple) approach can be an effective stimulant for debate. Prensky has been responsible for a lot of debate. Dig underneath the surface and the core of Prensky’s polemic remains relevant. The question of how can the social shift to digital ways of working best enhance teaching and learning remains unanswered.  Prensky was right. Those with Britannica feet are being replaced by generations whose only reference source is Google. The image below is simplistic but contains a valuable message for anyone wanting to see digital literacies and scholarship embedded into the curriculum.  How can an institution manage change and adapt to the digital impact of technology?

Prensky - what children should learn in schools

Neil Selwyn* offers a realistic appraisal of Prensky, usefully reminding us of the social shaping of technology and how usage mirrors existing social structures. The  literature of digital divides should underpin all policy and strategic approaches. In the meantime digital technology is becoming more pervasive. Soon won’t need the T in ICT; it will be taken for granted. It’s ironic how the strata of digital engagement has ‘shallowness’ as the deepest and widest layer.

The key problem is the solid curriculum. It seems unable to flex enough to incorporate essential requirements for the century, namely individuals who can tell the difference between knowledge, information and personal opinion – online. The skills to manage vertical searching and differentiate between authenticity and conspiracy theories are the core basics of digital literacies, alongside the presentation of self and parameters of access.  However, embedding all these into the curriculum, and focusing on digital graduate attributes, is only part of the answer.

It isn’t only about student education, it’s about teacher education too. In 2001 Prensky was saying ‘today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach’ but a decade later no one is saying today’s education system is no longer training the teachers it needs for a digital age. Calling people natives or immigrants drew attention to digital technology for education, but as well as redesigning the curriculum for students, we need to revisit support and resources for the teachers who are implementing it, something  Prensky, Selwyn  and other contemporary commentators appear – so far – to have missed.  

Educating the ‘Digital Natives’ (2011) from Neil Selwyn’s Education and Technology, London: Continuum –available from Continuum (now Bloomsbury) Companion website

Down – but not defeated…OLDsMOOC Week 4 summary

In Week 4 we’ve been sharing pedagogical patterns, engaging with the BOTWOO concept (Building On The Work Of Others), been patronised (‘This is what we all do as researchers, but do much less as teachers. Teachers don’t find it that easy’) and partially ignored (many in the DIY Multimedia group and in Cloudworld are learning designers external to education; I’m in HE but not a ‘teacher’. The diversity of participants seems unrecognised yet we’ve agreed on the importance of designing for your audience and learner context in week 3. It’s been a good week – honestly – but maybe not in terms of MOOCing.  I don’t mean to be grumpy – but OLDsMOOC is reinforcing some of my attributions and I never like it when that happens. In Week 4 I investigated the PPC Pedagogical Patterns Collector using the Pedagogical Patterns Collector guide  but didn’t get very far – other than finding myself here in Week 5 and looking at making prototypes of my learning activities. Now we have moved into the realms of fantasy. I don’t know how to access to a programmer but I know I want one!!!

As if this were not enough cause for frustration, then the Wk 5 video transcript simply depressed me. I wanted to capture the part of the Week 5 video where DL compares ‘...something you can do yourself like a PowerPoint or sequence in Moodle‘ to how you communicate your idea for a digital design to a programmer. I thought this was a useful reminder of the digital divide between technologists and the day to day experience of most academic staff, but got sidetracked on finding the transcript is an image and this defeats the objective of providing one. Week 4 transcript was pdf. Not ideal but it could be copied into Word albeit with inconvenient line breaks. Text as an image is useless and misunderstands the potential of digitally inclusive practice.  

In DIY Multimedia we’ve stressed the importance of alternative formats from the beginning and it’s been reassuring to share awareness of the importance of this element of learning design.  Providing digital content in a single fixed format assumes the MEE Model of computer access where users work via a Mouse for navigation and their eyes and ears for images and sound. This fails to reflect the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet but the MEE Model underpins 99% of digital content.  Learning designers have a critical role to play in challenging the limitations of single formats while championing the inherent flexibility of digital data to be customised to suit individual requirements.

One of my many problems with MOOCs is the divide between their potential and the reality. I blogged last week on the EPIC 2020 and Turning Point 2012 videos which present the threat posed through mass education by MOOCs. Back in the late 1980’s, the founders of the internet heralded the internet’s potential for democratic access. This isn’t happening and some days trying to keep inclusive practice high on the agenda feels like hard work.

More wrong than right with MOOCing so far…

At first it’s difficult to tell if EPIC 2020 is a promotion of MOOCs or a warning. Ultimately it may be both.  The message is represent a one way direction with irreversible impact on higher education as we know it.  EPIC (Evolving Personal Information Construct) 2020 offers a vision of a future where academia is no longer the gatekeeper of knowledge, tuition obsolete and degrees irrelevant. The reason is the MOOC.  The shift has already begun with MOOC giants Udacity, Khan Academy, Coursera, MITX and TedEd supported by Mozilla Open Badges as alternatives to accreditation.

Like conspiracy theories the video offers a powerful argument but via a limited view of educational transformation, one which only sells a single side of the story. Bill Sams is behind EPIC 2020 and Tipping Point 2012 its partner video. Sams is a Commissioner on the eTech Ohio Commission and an Executive in Residence at Ohio University. He operates a locked down Twitter account but has publicly commented on the online universities blog saying ‘My objective in producing EPIC was to create a piece that would cause people to consider and discuss that there are dramatic alternatives to the traditional education system’

‘Traditional’ education is continually facing alternatives; not least digital technologies and affordances. The move to Open Educational Resources (OER) through the open education movement is one such inevitable product of the internet. The rationale for OER is strong; in particular enabling students to make appropriate choices of HEI as well as supporting the widening participation and life long learning agendas.  MOOCs have been tried but are less tested.

I’ve been engaging in MOOC behaviours for a few months; initially thinking it was a bubble ready to burst but also watching the increase in MOOC collaborations become media headlines. Currently on Week 4 of OLDsMOOC, I’m confident (at the present time) there is more wrong with MOOCs than right. They are massive, open and online but with no ‘one size fits all model’ they can only suit some types of learning and student preferences better than others.

What MOOCs are good at is stimulating debate around the wider issues of learning design and the role of higher education in the 21st century. It’s time to be more critical about MOOCs, and some of the possible drivers behind the MOOCing phenomena. EPIC 2020 and Tipping Point 2012 offer useful places for these debates to begin.