PhD Log

goodbye image from

October 2016 – The End

I’m leaving Lincoln and the PhD is coming with me. Over at the University of Hull they were surprised I was not carrying on at Lincoln but it was never an option. I gave in my notice and the funding was stopped. Last year’s sponsorship of £1734 was deducted from my final salary. I tried to challenge it but didn’t get very far. In the end it was easier to accept this was the price which had to be paid. A week before I left, Thesis Whisperer published Know Your Limits, a piece I wrote last year about my lack of doctoral supervision. The irony was not lost.

Since handing in my notice I’ve received three requests to speak about my research and had a paper accepted for the SRHE Conference in December. It seems there is interest in my work around e-teaching but not at Lincoln.

There are new beginnings ahead. New attitudes and practices with regard to VLE to work with. It has been increasingly difficult to manage a PhD on digital education when there was no longer any remit for the digital within my workload. This Blog and Log will continue but in a different format with a new URL.

I’ve begun exploring the concept of digital capital. How it emerges from the social and the cultural. One of my supervisors told me ‘Everyone does Bourdieu, I think oh no, not Bourdieu again, find someone different.’ It put me off yet I’d always been influenced by Foucault’s writing on institutions and power and when I recently read some Bourdieu it all fitted into place. I realised it was there all along but I wasn’t looking. It comes down to doing what feels right for you. Like leaving Lincoln. The future is digital and I’m looking forward to opportunities for getting digital again.

June/July 2015

PhD Progress during the last two months – zero

This past week, the last week in July, I’ve taken annual leave to work on my research but haven’t yet got there. These three blog posts explain how the week has passed.

Me and my hashtag – first #phdsummer and now #phdplan  summer will soon be over while the Phd journey won’t!) – have had a rough week. Having said that, there’s one more ‘essential’ work-task to complete then I should have cleared a space. So much for annual leave. My next time away is 25th Spetember – Oh Vienna! Until then, and over the next two weeks I must be research active.

The PLAN is to draw the journey of my conceptual framework development as a diagram which begins with the two fundamental research paradigms of positivism and interpretivism, with associated quantitative and qualitative methodologies, and finishes wtih Critical Realism and Action Research. In between will be the development of my reading and reflections on the journey. I reckon a sheet of A3 will be enough and the purpose of the diagram is to provide a snapshot of how I got to where I am with key citations and references. If I could draw it would look something like RSA Animate.

But I can’t – so it will be more like example of a mind map from Tony Buzan 

Tony Buzan mind map example from

This time next week a first draft of my diagram will be done.

This is my #phdplan challenge!

April/May 2015

There’s nothing like a few weeks away from the internet to clear your head. It takes being disconnected to realise just how dependent you’ve become. Then you come back and BANG! I’ve blogged about China and The next one is about food – it will follow on naturally from language and loos!

This is where the discipline of blogging is particularly useful. It’s encourages the extraction of the essence of an experience. China was busy, intense and amazing. My worry was I wouldn’t have time to either write up my note books or process my thoughts. I didn’t and I haven’t but blogging is a way to create a record.

Now I’m back and headspace is at a premium once more. It’s GS5 time and I’m delighted to announce progress. The only positive from my accidental trip last November was putting the doctoral-study hat back on.  I didn’t get to present at ASCILITE but I did get time to synthesise my progress – resulting in three draft chapters – Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology. The drafts are currently with my new supervisor and we’re meeting soon for feedback. The worry is I haven’t looked at it since. The PhD journey has been fraught with difficulties but the key one I think has been time. @3 out of 4 weeks I work from home on Fridays. Officially this is my research day. In reality it’s a desk-day for catching up with emails, writing reports, developing resources, marking etc. Fridays are days for organising the week that was in preparation for the week to come. The day job always comes first and its hard to find the time to dedicate my research days to doing any research.

It’s difficult to swap heads. I read through the drafts before submitting them and could feel a hint of the PhD way of thinking coming back. One of the drivers for writing them was to give the research a structure – define the literature and conceptual framework – and I’m hoping by doing this is will make it easier to step back inside when I next get the chance but I’m not sure when that will be. I don’t want any more breakages but without the last one I wouldn’t have made the progress I have

Am delighted with Section 15 of my GS: Statement by the Director of Studies on progress made by the research student both in research and professional skills acquisition.

I have recently taken over as Director of Studies, although I have been following Sue Watling’s work on her PhD research with great interest, since its commencement. It is evident to me that Sue has made significant progress over the past year. This progress has included expanding work on the review of the literature and underpinning theoretical perspective; continued data collection through action learning cycles; and writing early drafts of the first chapters of the thesis

Sue has recently submitted to me early drafts of the first three chapters for formative feedback. Supervision sessions are now focussing on this formative feedback and discussions about the timeframe for the final round of data collection, analysis and writing up. Supervision sessions have been planned and agreed in diaries for the next 12-months to ensure regular support and dialogue, whilst encouraging and monitoring progress

I am confident that (barring unforeseen circumstances) Sue will be able to submit her thesis within the required timeframe. 

The time frame for submission is April next year – yikes!

Bestest of all is the early supervisory feedback:

…am part-way through reading your draft work and just want to reassure you that overall this work is a really good start, your ideas are clear, accurate and appropriate.  When we meet, I will have lots of comments and suggestions, but as I am only part-way through, I need to read more and collate these into something that will make sense and be helpful to you as you progress this… just be reassured that you are ‘on the right lines’!

 Yay! This is such a relief 🙂

March 2015

Supervisor-less again 🙁 my new supervisor left the university before we managed to have any meaningful conversations. Looking back, supervision has been an ongoing issue. I’ve got through quite a few but it’s been more about changes in the supervisor’s role than through anything I’ve done! I’ve read about supervisory experiences on Thesis Whisperer It could have been worse. My biggest worry is three draft chapters in, with most of the data collected, this mainly solo DIY PhD might not be what it should be. I’ve read the self help PhD books and followed online guidance for dissertation structure. I think it’s the best it can be within the constraints of part-time study. If I hadn’t linked it to the development of the TELEDA course, I don’t think it would have been possible. As it is, it keeps slipping down the list and the hardest part becomes re-finding the PhD head. The bigger the final thesis gets, the longer it takes to get back into it. I have another new supervisor; one I hope will give me relevant critique. The three draft chapters are on their way to be read. This will be the first time I get any feedback. The first time my research has been viewed from the outside. Over the past three years, I’ve loved my PhD and I’ve hated it; all the cliches have come true including how it now feels like my child being put out there for scrutiny. I’m going away for a few weeks. When I get back it will be to find out how I’ve done so far.

February 2015

Following on from the research title, questions, aims, objectives, rationale and emerging themes from the literature review posted in January, I’ve drafted the first three dissertation chapters; Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology. These can be accessed via a google site

Data has been collected over three years from three iterations of TELEDA. These are:

  • 2012/13 TELEDA pilot
  • 2013/14 TELEDA 1 – online design and open educational resources
  • 2014/15 TELEDA 2 – social media and e-resources

I’ve structured the data collection into nine blocks. Each year contains three elements. These are

  • communicative interaction via forums, wikis, emails etc,
  • responses to course evaluations
  • interviews with participants

The deadline for assignment submission for TELEDA2 is 10th April and invitations for the final set of interviews will be sent out shortly after.

I’ve fallen behind with the data analysis, not having returned to NVivo since August, concentrating instead on writing the draft chapters. This has helped me frame the research and put my research  boundaries in place. Since returning to work, it’s been impossible to keep the momentum going. The PhD shaped part of my brain has shrunk back down to nothing again. The last thing I want is another accident but breaking my ankle and being forced to stay at home is the only reason I’ve progressed. I’m not too sure where I go from here 🙁

January 2015

Happy New Year!

Broken ankle = trapped at home = PhD!

A doctoral investigation into the influences on attitudes and behaviours of staff who teach and support learning towards their VLE. *
* The use of the acronym VLE refers to collective digital tools used for teaching and learning.  This will primarily refer to a single learning environment like Blackboard or Moodle, but does not exclude blogging platforms such as WordPress, MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite, subject or research specific software, library bibliographic databases and any third party tool or software available on the internet. All of these and more may constitute the VLE.

Research questions:

  • What influences the ways in which staff who teach and support learning interpret and give meaning to VLE?
  • In which ways do intra and extra institutional factors influence attitudes and behaviours towards VLE?
  • How does participation in a teacher education programme, delivered and assessed online, influence attitudes and behaviour with regard to future teaching practice with VLE?

Research aims:

  • increase the body of knowledge about
    • the influences on attitudes and behaviours of staff who teach and support learning towards VLE
    • reluctant or resistant voices with regard to VLE practice
    • the potential of VLE to enhance teaching and learning
    • how Education Developers can provide meaningful support for VLE users

Research objectives:

  • engage in collaborative working with staff who teach and support learning on the use of VLE within their own teaching practice through an ‘iterative and collaborative’ cycle of course development
  • to use a practitioner based ‘action research loop’ method of data collection,
  • to bring theory and practice with VLE together in order to grow meaningful knowledge about digital education,
  • to examine critical reflexivity as a tool for enhancement of teaching and learning,
  • to critically reflect on the professional practice of education development to produce knowledge which is useful and generalisable,
  • to generate theory with wider significance and value beyond the institution and demonstrate legitimate claims to new knowledge.
  • to disseminate findings through conference presentation and research publications.

Research rationale:

  • Research and funding focused on e-learning rather than e-teaching.
  • Voices of digital enthusiasts dominates the literature with an absence of voices from digitally shy.
  • In spite of a discourse of transformation and enhancement, there is a lack of meaningful evidence showing VLE can improve learning.
  • This research provides an opportunity to narrow divides between the digitally enthusiastic and digitally shy and demonstrate how VLE for teaching and learning can develop individual digital literacies and digital scholarship for both students and staff
  • Attempts to explain the ‘failure’ of VLE are high on critique but low on pragmatic ‘useful’ knowledge about good VLE practice; as well as generate theoretical knowledge claims, good research should also produce ‘useful’ knowledge, in this case with relevance to educational development, professional teacher training programmes, and ultimately the student learning experience.
  • Insider research which addresses both theory and practice is under-utilised at doctoral level

Themes emerging from the literature review:

  • Competing VLE discourses around transformation and failure
  • Emergence of underutilised space between VLE theory and practice
  • Proliferation of poor VLE research design
  • Disconnect between the VLE technologist and VLE teacher
  • Resistance to VLE is creating on-campus digital divides between the digitally enthusiastic and digitally shy
  • Lack of criticality/reflexivity regarding VLE function and form
  • Absence of voice from the VLE user in the literature


December 2014

I didn’t get to ASCILITE and this blog post tells the sorry tale. Out of every personal disaster a good blog title is born. Tripadvisor or how to miss a conference in one easy step.

Immobilised at home with a broken ankle instead of flying to NZ, not only for ASCILITE but to visit the teaching and learning centres at Otago Polytechnic and the University of Dunedin, I reflected on the anomalies of my unexpected Home Alone experience.

Once the pain started to settle and the shock subside, I began reading the research books I’d bought for the flight, trying not to make too many comparisons between what was and what should have been.

More recently, I’ve started to summarise the key issues which have come out of this enforced relationship with my front room and the shrinking of my life down to my settee and laptop.

To all those who’ve said ‘I wish I could break my ankle and have time off work‘ I can only reply ‘Be careful what you wish for‘. It’s winter, its cold and I can’t even walk to the top of my street. The only way I’ve got through is by living in the moment and taking it one day at a time. Yes, I’ve managed to read more than I would have done otherwise but I still wouldn’t wish this on anyone!

November 2014

The trials and tribulations of my p/t phd journey continue; I’m hoping December’s entry will be more positive because November again (like September and October) is more about what hasn’t been done than what has. Not all doom and gloom though because TELEDA 2 social media and e-resources has begun. This is the penultimate phase of the doctorate’s Action Research cycle. Things might feel neglected in terms of data analysis but the development of this second TELEDA course builds on everything which has taken place so far and is structured in response to colleagues’ feedback and evaluation. This is the nature of Action Research. Most of the work goes on behind the scenes. I’m tempted to treat 2 like 1 with full interview schedule etc – some participants are having their second TELEDA experience – the opportunity to talk to everyone is calling. But I have to stop. The process of drawing a line is part of the process. When does enough mean enough? I want to start writing up in the New Year. Realistically I have enough data. I’m still going to collect data from TELEDA2 but that can feed into future publications. The core dissertation doesn’t need it.

The plan to survey the institution has been put to one side too; this will be an EDEU shaped survey in the New Year. The final phase of the action research was the validation of both 30 credit courses as a PGCE in Digital Education – this has also been put to one side. EDEU are developing an MA in Higher Education Teaching and Learning to start in September 2015. It will incorporate existing programmes, including both TELEDAs, and is taking priority. Here’s an example of real world events impinging on and changing the research project plan. I wonder if action research method is maybe more at risk of changes in practice; in this case a new team, staff, office, role plus a remit to make impact – new everything –  are all having an effect.

So much for everything I’m not doing! There are still positives, some of which have come in from the sidelines and can be related to the thesis. Through EDEU I’ll be offering non-accredited mini-TELEDA online workshops. These will give colleagues the student experience of Blackboard with interaction through the tools like the blogs, forums and wikis.  Within EDEU I’m going to be chairing a working party to look at making recommendations for ensuring inclusive practice with digital educational resources. This is an opportunity to revisit academic digital literacies – revising and rewriting their criteria appropriate for 21st century digital university. There’s a sense the time of the VLE might have finally arrived Changes including increased internationalisation, reduced DSA support and interest in the principles of flipped learning are creating renewed interest in the role of the VLE in teaching and learning. Locally to Lincoln, the acquisition of Blackboard Collaborate, a streaming media server and site-wide licence for Camtasia Relay, with a Blackboard Mashup connection, is driving interest in the use of multimedia for teaching and learning.

Working with technology is a continual learning curve. The environment doesn’t stand still. Instead it races continually forwards. On one side the situation today is similar to 20 years ago with technology being seen as the answer to a series of social, cultural, political and economic problems. Yet evidence showing technology enhances learning is scarce. The sector now has 20 years of experience to draw on. We know it isn’t the technology, it’s how it’s used which has the potential to make a difference, but the number of people with the digital confidence to change their practice is still low.  We know students are not ‘digital natives’ who can seamlessly segue from technology for social and gaming purposes to technology for learning. We know there is a need for staff and students to engage with academic digital literacies which include critical attention to the validity of online resources and awareness of the processes of authentication and evaluation. ADL involve digital identity, digital safety, data protection and always attention to inclusive practice. This means greater awareness of the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet and understanding how digital environments which support access can also disable access if inclusive practice guidelines are not followed.

Attention to digital teaching is often missing and this is where my research is located in the divide between the innovators/early adopters and those less sure about online communication, tweeting, blogging or finding their way around a range of different virtual learning environments. Most VLE remain as repositories of electronic resources. Like the wider social impact of the internet, where those without the means of access to the digital platforms of the public sphere are silenced, so the digital university is led by the technically adept while those who are subject experts, excellent teachers and high impact researchers, can feel left behind in these new worlds of social media and user generated content.

With my trip to ASCILITE 2014 imminent, I’ve collected a host of UK HE sector policy documents and publically funded research outputs around virtual learning and digital pedagogy from the past 10 years.  Primarily government, HEA, JISC and OU publications, they include a range of HEI case studies and student voices. My Kindle is groaning under the weight of pdf’s to read while travelling. The trip includes a weeks research leave so the laptop with NVivo is accompanying me along with a couple of books on data analysis, critical discourse analysis and action research. I have plan. All that remains is to put this plan into action.

October 2014

The previous entry ended Notes on CDA to follow….but it hasn’t really happened. Since September 1 the PhD has slid into the shadows again. My books and papers are all where I left them on the floor and the last four weeks have been EDEU rather than PhD shaped. The plan to complete data analysis by the end of the year in under threat. This is the reality of part-time doctoral study. It’s difficult to prioritise time for research when  evenings and weekends are taken over with keeping up with the day job. September is always a busy month but there’s no sign of anything slowing down between now and Christmas. This is the new EDEU shaped world and I’m not yet sure how the PhD is going to fit itself in.

meaningful coincidence between ASCILITE banner and my Facebook header!

Similarities between ASCILITE 2014’s conference banner and my Facebook Header image. 

Apart from procrastination, all I can offer this which is PhD shaped this Sunday morning is soome existing thoughts on CDA and the prospect of a long flight to present at ASCILITE 2014. Flying is always a useful opportunity for some focused reading.  I have the second editions (2007 and 2009) of Barbara Johnstone’s Discourse Analysis (Introducing Linguistics) and Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer’s Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis plus Norman Fairclough’s Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research (2003). I also have some Foucault. For me, his work remains pivotal in altering interpretations 0f social reality. At least some of these books will be with me alongside my NVivo laptop and a pile of research papers on critical realism and digital scholarship. Forget clothes! This is a research trip and I’m determined to feed my data through NVivo not once but at least twice or more alongside some serious effort in the conceptualising department.

Here are some introductory notes on CDA in an effort to assuage some of the guilt at my doctoral neglect…

Knowledge derives from the communication of information i.e. language – a semiotic system of signifiers. We learn language in order to communication information. Language is a core method for interpreting and sharing an understanding of social reality. BUT Language does not exist in isolation – it derives from wider social structures. Discourse sits behind the words and sentences. It is the process through which language derives its authority.

Discourse is related to social practice for example the language of law, medicine, political spin, academia-speak (eg redefining the apparently self-evident as the cautiously empirical), poetry rap (Kate Tempest) and street culture.

The social practices are neither universal nor objective. Discourse analysts believe ideas about knowledge and truth are not fixed; they emerge from particular social and historical situations. Power and social control derives from a belief in authority and language projects and constructs this social reality or world view – at macro, meso and micro levels – where the social construction of ‘truths’ serves the wider political and economic interests of the time. Discourse is historical; Foucault was the first person to adopt an archaeology of history; uncovering the layers of institutional shifts and changes on areas like criminology, psychiatry, medicine and law.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is politically motivated. It examines text to see how language reproduces ideologies (eg privileging or disempowering elements of diversity and difference) and presents ‘fictions’ as ‘facts’.

CDA is like genetics. Language has chromosome markers – invisible on the surface but deep down they are determinist. Language is relative. It contains codes which give away clues about its origin and the blueprints of language mirror social and historical contexts.

CDA is not for the faint-hearted. It can leave you in a psychic mess.

On top of this, my research needs the mechanisation of information and communication – the digitisation of social reality – alongside theories of the social construction of technology (e.g. printing press, bicycle, computer) to be added to the discourse analysis pot. Sounds like fun 🙂

September 2014

At last I can get my research into a single sentence:

An investigation into influences on the attitudes and behaviours of people who teach and support learning towards virtual learning environments, primarily Blackboard but also other digital means of design and delivery.

September’s supervisory meeting was all about NVivo and data analysis.

Again I heard the phrases ‘The data needs to speak for itself’ and ‘Let the data surprise you.’

It’s early days but it is doing!

I’m surprised how different the reported experience of online learning is from the socially constructivist centred literature around communities of inquiry and practice. I thought TELEDA would challenge the loneliness of the long distance learner but while it’s been successful in generating collaborative learning opportunities, and the stress on critical reflection appears to have been helpful for most participants, early data analysis suggests e-teaching and e-learning are still fundamentally distant and lonely occupations.

P/t phd’s don’t have many opportunities for talking about their research and a key benefit of a supervisory hour is the chance to get a different perspective, in this case the emphasis on how ‘change’ is a core component of my research; how from my supervisor’s point of view it’s raising questions about people adopting different ways of working and an opportunity to explore what this tells us about institutional management of change.

Maybe I should look back to the literature underpinning the HEA Change Academy on Embedding OER PRactice in 2012. I hadn’t thought of that before.

It was also suggested I think about pedagogical theory. What is good teaching? What does the organisation of good teaching look like? For face to face this is linear; the weekly timetable, modules delivered sequentially. Early promotion of elearning suggested it can be circular and asynchronous; but in practice students need to be accessing the same resources at the same time otherwise activities can’t happen and without the collaboration there is less change of shared practice or inquiry.

How does good teaching happen online? In one of the interviews a colleague said how surprising TELEDA had been; they realised it wasn’t the learning environment of Blackboard which was a problem – just that teaching online is very different. So often people criticise Blackboard as though a different VLE would solve all their virtual problems yet the greatest used of technology like BB is an electronic noticeboard for information – not a generator of learning opportunities.

Here’s my thoughts on pedagogy so far…

Garrison writes about communities of inquiry, based on the theory of situated learning where legitimate peripheral participation (akin to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development) put forward by Lave and Wenger (1991) and later developed by Wenger (1998) into Community of Practice. Look up and see how this applies to TELEDA –which I call a community of shared practice and inquiry

There is Siemens writing about Connectivism – calling it a pedagogy for a digital age.

Laurillard about Higher Education being on the brink of transformation for some time and suggesting conversational frameworks; underpinned with principles of social constructivism, experiential learning, inquiry based learning via Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Gagné and Bruner.

Laurillard’s latest book addresses teaching as a design science – extending the conversational framework into building pedagogical patterns through the Pedagogical Pattern Collector for capturing and articulating good pedagogy and the Learning Designer for teachers to find, adopt, adapt, analyse,experiment, trial in practice, redesign, and share designs

Also in this meeting I’m reminded of the value of finding a hole in the literature, how the voices of those who teach and support learning, who are not technology innovators or early adopters but more reluctant and resistant to changing practice, is missing from digital education research.

I’m reminded I haven’t yet read much from Angela Brew and Monica Mclean.

It helped to identify the parameters of my data collection.  I have 17 signed consent forms – which gives me 17 x 5 sets of interview transcripts, plus journals and eportfolios plus anonymised evaluations and discussion transcripts. I’m also designing a survey to go to all staff who teach and support learning asking them about influences on their attitudes and behaviours towards virtual learning environments.

Talking about NVivo I explained how I’ve nearly completed the first read through and initial identification of themes. In this I seem to be following accepted practice i.e. having too many themes and overlapping topics. Apparently this is normal. The next stage is to collapse the themes then read through a second time. I’m using what Bazeley calls Broad Brush Coding approach. The plan was to drill down with line by line coding for the second read but there are a couple of transcripts which are problematic. The style of speaking is more akin to thinking out loud. They are interesting to listen to but more difficult to transcribe. For these I’ve adopted line by line coding which takes a long time but helps identify and extract the themes.

I’ve revisited my literary text deconstruction books from my MS Gender Studies and been reading Critical Discourse Analysis by Ruth Wodak and Michael Mayer. There is no avoiding Foucault when it comes to discourse analysis in particular the discourse around technology and education.

Notes on CDA to follow…

GS4 text: data analysis stage – three quarters way through first broad brush coding of interview transcripts. Need to collect together remaining sets of data and import into Nvivo, complete first read through begin process of collapsing nodes in preparation for second coding. Also distribute survey of all staff, read up on critical discourse analysis (Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer) and revisit writings by Angela Brew and Monica Mclean.

August 2014

August is the data analysis month.  The PhD process has speeded up. The interviews have taken place and been transcribed. I’m learning on the job for example test the volume, speed and microphone connection for every interview. Don’t offer biscuits – you can’t eat and talk at the same time! Allow for pauses – I needed to draw on counselling experience to stop feeling all the gaps were spaces for me to fill. For the transcription I slowed the recorder speed and typed up every repetition, deviation and hesitation. The sense of achievement at a set of MP3 files and transcripts was a touch sad but felt like progress. NVivo 10 was downloaded. I discovered Scrivener software for organising the thesis writing. It seemed a good time for reviewing the literature on qualitative research and data analysis.

As in all things ontological and epistemological there is a spectrum between the positivist/realist and constructivist/interpretivist standpoints. Having an overview of key theorists and theories is essential for identifying your own position. I began my review with a video lecture series from the University of Huddersfield (2010) based on Alan Bryman’s 4 Stages of qualitative analysis  These, and the Grounded Theory clips from the same series signposted some key texts.

  • Charmaz, K. (2014) Constructing Grounded Theory,Second Edition.London: Sage
  • Glaser, B. G. (1992) Basics of Grounded Theory Analysis: Emergence vs. Forcing. Sociology Press
  • Glaser, B. G and Strauss, A. L. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Transaction Publishers.
  • Miles. M. B., Hubermann, A. M. and Saldana, J. (2014) Qualitative Data Analysis;A Methods Sourcebook Third Edition. London: Sage.
  • Silverman, D. (2015) Interpreting Qualitative Data. Fifth edition. Sage: London.
  • Strauss, A. L. and Corbin, J. (1998) Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (2nd edition) Sage Publications: London.

I also watched Kathy Charmaz present The Power and Potential of Grounded Theory at BSA MedSoc 2012, at the University of Leicester The paper supporting the presentation is here

Since working through the interview schedule, I’ve downloaded NVivo 10, been reading up on textual analysis and looked forward to revisiting Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).

Texts for qualitative data analysis:

  • Bazeley, P. and Jackson, K. (2013) Qualitative Data Analysis with NVivo. London: Sage
  • Saldana, J. (2013) The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. London: Sage.

Texts for Critical Discourse Analysis

  • Wodak, R. and Meyer, M. (2009) Methods of Critical discourse Analysis. London: Sage
  • Fairclough, N. (2013) Critical Discourse Analysis: The critical study of language. Second Edition. Routledge: London.
  • Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing Discourse: textual analysis for social research. Routledge: London.

Since my last entry on this page, I’ve also revisited structuralism, modernism, poststructuralism and postmodernism, first encountered on my MA Gender Studies, and the post-postmodernist approaches of  Critical Realism and recent debates around Relativism, in particular Cultural Relativism, which led me to Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and Social Hope.

Notes on text analysis: 

Text analysis can be realist eg Procedural Analysis which views text a referencing an objective reality which can be measured, counted, relied upon etc. A positivist stance using deductive approach which uses the data to support or adjust existing theory. Nomothetic quantitative analysis.

The alternative approach is constructivist which views text as representative of individually constructed world views –transcripts are discourse and show people’s use of language. An interpretivist stance using an inductive approach where theoretical ideas emerge from the data. Ideographic quantitative analysis.

Grounded Theory 

GT is a tool rather than a method. and is often associated with constructivist, inductive approaches but initially it was a realist ontology with epistemology around objective truths, generalizable, testable and verifiable theory. GT has evolved into multiple interpretations since first developed by Glaser in 1960s, by Strauss and Corbin in 1990s, by Charmaz who adopted a more constructivist approach.

GT is interested in social actions and interactions. GT coding highlights processes not topics or themes – but Charmaz says most people don’t do this and code for topics and themes rather than processes. Grounded theory asks what is happening in this data and what are the actions on which the data rests. Two examples from Charmaz presentation show how the second one tries to get closer to the reality of the situation being described.

Demonstrating Thematic Coding

Demonstrating Grounded Theory coding

Charmaz says Grounded theory is a heuristic device – a method to speed up the process (eg rule of thumb, educated guess, intuitive judgment, stereotyping, or common sense). After defining the actions, a GT approach needs to identify the tacit assumptions – look for examples of what is being taken for granted.

GT coding is iterative; goes through processes of open, axial and selective coding to break the data up; Glaser says it fragments it. All text analysis appears to fit this three step model

1. Descriptive coding: first read through of text also known as Open or Initial Coding – identifying what the text describing.

2. Creation of categories/codes: common themes describing what people say and do – Nodes in NVivo – a broad code can contain subsets – Parents and Child in NVivo.

3. Analytical coding: finding connections between themes and linking these to theory, this is the researcher’s interpretation so issues of power, control and neutrality need to be addressed (see below).


Saldana says a code is ‘…a researcher generated construct that symbolises and thus attributes interpreted meaning to each individual datum for later purposes of pattern detection, categorisation, theory building, and other analytic processes.’ P4 (my emphasis – need to revisit Laurillard on patterns in learning design to see if there are any connections)

Saldana also says on p 4 the meanings codes give to data can depend on the researcher’s academic discipline, ontological and epistemological orientations, theoretical and conceptual frameworks. Time to revisit Foucault on top down bottom up discipline, techniques and institutions. 

Analysis of text should add value to the research story and not diminish it but coding is harder than I expected.  Kathy Charmaz says think about identifying what people are doing and saying. Look for what is being taken for granted to help the researcher explore what is going on in the background and how structure and context affect or influence attitudes and behaviour.  Jennifer Mason says look for examples where people are making sense of events; what their ideas and thoughts tell us about their world view and how attitudes/behaviours reveal how they’re interpreting their own reality.

Charmaz says there are multiple realities in the world and “generalisation are partial, conditional and situated in time and space” (p. 141).

Bazeley and Jackson cite Corbin and Strauss 2008:66 on codes as abstract representations of an object or phenomenon; they identify themes, can be descriptive (what happened) or analytical (researchers view of what the event signifies or represents). Coding helps make sense of the raw data, it highlights issues, indexes key points. It’s about sorting the mass – Bazeley and Jackson uses the example of sorting the washing – p71 🙂

P 74 calls coding Fracturing or Slicing the data

P 75 describes nodes as ‘…points at which concepts potentially branch out into a network of sub-concepts or dimensions.’

Both Bazeley/Jackson and Gibbs agree on ways to begin and continue the coding process. They suggest looking for the following:

  • Repetitions – because these suggest significance to the participant (maybe do this in Word before NVivo?)
  • Asking the who, what, where, when, how and why questions to generate codes and develop relational statements needed to develop theoretical models
  • Compare and contrast passages of text to see how are they similar and different – may reveal unobserved variables
  • Compare hypothetical or extreme examples will help identify different dimensions within the concepts
  • Don’t let a priori codes confine your thinking (I can see where my ideas resonate with the transcript eg not making assumptions, being inclusive, time troubles etc but have to be prepared for new ways of seeing – and my own ideas being challenged)
  • Keep a record of how In vivo or indigenous codes/typologies arose (In Vivo code is where the code is the same words of the participant – Saldana p 4)
  • Narrative mechanisms – (may need specific references to literature on narratives) metaphors, inconsistencies, silences, transitions, avoidances
  • Discourse – as in CDA – which reveals a social structure or specific way of seeing the world as natural/normal.


I transcribed first and visited the literature afterwards. As I adopted a verbatim method, this backwards way around seems to be ok – it was interesting to listen to Gibbs say not only does he always pay someone to transcribe, he also advocates not giving interviewees the opportunity to see the transcripts in case they want anything changing.

I wouldn’t support either of these views. Transcribing is like the first read through. There’s a connection between yourself and the participant which helps the process of reading and interpreting. Even though it’s a verbatim transcription, which should stand on its own as an accurate text representation of the interview, I still found the process of adding additional notes useful. Also, I asked everyone if they wanted to see the transcription and very few did. I’m not sure if this is because they were comfortable with what they said, if they trusted me to transcribe accurately, if they were familiar with the research process or just amazingly busy people – but not to give them the chance is an imbalance of power; I would expect social researchers in particular to be aware of this but I may need a broader perspective.

Steinar Kvale says beware of transcripts. They’re a change of medium from verbal to written expression and are not transparent, things get lost – taken out of context.  Kvale also says ‘Never pose the question of how to analyze transcripts after the interviews have been conducted—it is too late to start thinking when the interviewing is done.’ Oops!

The 1000-Page Question1 in Phenomenology and Pedagogy Volume 6 Number 2 1988

Kvale, S. (2007) Doing Interviews. London: Sage


Resarch Questions (July 2014)

Research proposal: an investigation into the influences on staff, who teach and support learning, towards the use of virtual learning environments.

Research sub-questions:

  • What influences the ways in which users interpret and give meaning to virtual learning environments?
  • In what ways do intra and extra institutional factors influence behaviours in respect of virtual learning environments?
  • What other concerns influence attitudes and behaviours towards the use of virtual learning environments?

Questions for interview

1. Please talk around your attitude towards of virtual environments for teaching and learning.

2. Which factors have influenced your behaviour with virtual learning environments?

3. How has your experience on the TELEDA course made a difference to your understanding of virtual learning environments?

The term virtual learning environment refers to Blackboard but colleagues can talk about any other technology used for teaching and learning so long as they are specific about which technology they are referring to.

TELEDA Diagram from the presentation ‘e-teaching; moving from digitally shy to digitally confident with Blackboard Learn’ at BbWorld14. 


July 2014

The absence of log entries isn’t how it looks! I’m reading, taking notes, reflecting and collecting data more than ever. This weekend I pulled together all the entries in my Action Research diary files – starting May 2013 when Mike suggested an Action Research method – for which I will always be grateful – I have 449 pages and 190,983, 4, 5… words.  There’s a year’s worth of general PhD notes prior to this but everyone says draw a line – so I have. I’ll also be forever grateful to Kelly Sission for her advice on not trying to do a perfect thesis. The concept of non-perfectness was such a relief. I’ve never been good with perfection in spite of continual striving. I tell myself there’s no learning without mistakes but being told it’s ok to go with what you have was bliss. I almost feel like ……actually…..I can do this 🙂 🙂 time and tide and all that stuff!

For my meeting with new supervisor Andrea Abbas this week, I’ve created a ‘raw-data’ folder in the Blackboard Content Store. So far it contains 17 interview transcripts, two sets of TELEDA evaluations, forums, journals and activity texts, all anonymised and constituting a huge amount of information. Plus the AR diary which will make no sense to anyone except me but constitutes a faithful record of the PhD path over the past year.

Presenting at the Blackboard International Conference #Bbworld14 was a useful opportunity to talk about TELEDA. For the 45 minute session, I produced Seven Top TELEDA Tips; a synthesis of essential advice for e-teaching. I also read Neil Selwyn’s new book Distrusting Technology – the irony was not wasted on me…

Reflections on the conference are here   and here 

I tweeted my way through the sessions, was quoted by Blackboard and favourited by Jay Bhatts (who probably favourites everything with Blackboard in but nevertheless demonstrated the connective power of social media).

Quote from Blackboard conference on supporting digitally shy to become digitally confident

I was presenting on e-teaching so recreated this quote and blogged about it here 

Digitally shy teachers need to be digitally confident before they can teach online

Lastly, the final #Bbworld14 reflections and synthesising TELEDA in to seven Top TIPS for e-teachers 

June 2014

June 22nd – here is the link to the paper accompanying the Abstract below – written, rested and revised. I’ve just read a paper by Liz Bennett and Sue Folley from the University of Huddersfield called A tale of two doctoral students: social media tools and hybridised identities – available here

This was interesting because it described what I felt was the opposite of my experience with sharing my phd progress in all its gore and tears – until today when I suddenly felt  uncertain about posting this paper in public. This is the most concise and up to date description of my research and written with publication with mind. I invite any comments or feedback with the caveat most bloggers blog for an audience of one – themselves! It’s called FINAL but there are some asterisks denoting reference checking required. The guidance was four pages including references with single line spacing, TNR 11pt  eteaching a pedagogy of uncertainty and promise 2014_FINAL

More details of this slightly scary experience will be in this week’s blog post 🙂


Another abstract for a conference presentation based on my PhD research. Looking at the collected data from the Pilot TELEDA, there are a number of themes emerging. These include the shift from a repository model of VLE usage to what I’ve called an Activity Based Community (ABC) Model and greater awareness of the potential isolation of teaching and learning online. This should not be seen as a negative but as an opportunity to build the learning experience around community and shared practice.  This abstract continues the theme of focusing on e-teaching for successful e-learning and introduces the suggestion for attention to a ‘pedagogy of uncertainty’.

Proposed Abstract This paper highlights e-teaching as a prerequisite for successful e-learning and calls for greater attention to the uncertain space between the theory and practice of online education. A teacher education programme at a UK university is the subject of the author’s action research based doctorate. Developed in collaboration with colleagues, the course relocates staff into a virtual community, exploring the social relations of learning online through engagement with OER, MOOC and digital inclusion via activity based content and reflective journaling. Incorporating a range of VLE tools, including wikis, journals and forums, with assessment by eportfolio, the course recreates the affordances and challenges of teaching online, in particular the unknown ‘other’ of the invisible student. This research into the challenges of e-teaching has led to the identification of a ‘pedagogy of uncertainty’, and suggests effective preparation includes wider adoption of this experiential approach to professional development.  

May 2014

In July I’m presenting on my research and bringing together the concept of eteaching with experiential use of Blackboard as a method for enhancing digital literacies. This expands on my Myths of Digital Competence presentation at the Durham Blackboard Users Conference in January. Conferences are challenging environments but they make you focus on the key points and in doing so help uncover new insights and linkages.

Approved AbstractThe expression ‘e-learner’ has become familiar but ‘e-teacher’ is heard less often. Yet reaching digitally-shy colleagues poses a challenge for whole institution initiatives aimed at the adoption of virtual learning. This presentation looks at how the Blackboard Learn™ platform has been utilised in a UK university to develop a teacher education programme, one which is proving to be instrumental in embedding new and emerging technologies into programme instruction. The postgraduate course, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age, is delivered and assessed entirely on Blackboard Learn™. Based on the experiential learning cycle, it uses Blackboard tools to create pedagogically sound activities which relocate colleagues as online students, supporting development of critical digital literacies and empowering them to become discerning users of virtual learning technologies. Evaluations show how this investment in realistic and meaningful online experiences is resulting in dramatic shifts in attitude towards adoption of Blackboard Learn™ in their practice.

The merry month of May means it’s GS5 time again.

I’ve tried to map my GS5 position. Love the way I forgot to remove the wriggly red lines! Here is a link to it as a separate file. PhD map May 2014.

PhD Map 2014

I’ve also made a diagram of the action research process and cycles underpinning the development of TELEDA.
Click here for  a full size version

Digram of the TELEDA Action Research Cycle

30th March

Why my research isn’t overtly political

My research isn’t a critique of the function and purpose of technology in a neo-liberal university. This would be akin to criticising Gutenberg. For me, Blackboard is a tool like the printing press and it’s determinist to blame the technology for how it’s used. Publishing supports the dissemination of knowledge, in itself a contentious commodity, but the printing press itself doesn’t discriminate about the nature of the knowledge, it merely enables action. If you couldn’t set type or mix ink then you’d be unable to take advantage of the affordances on offer. Books wouldn’t be printed and opportunities for spreading knowledge unrealised.

It’s the same with digital education. If you can’t use the tools to support online pedagogical practice, you are unlikely to utilise their potential.  Blackboard can be used to subvert and deconstruct as much as to maintain the status quo. What it’s used for isn’t the issue. Knowing how to use it in the first place is.

My research is about pedagogy not politics; where pedagogy is the construction of learning opportunities rather than content which is being taught. I’ve read Freire. I understand how education is a political tool. My research is a step backwards from the content. It’s about  creating the educational environment in the first place. It isn’t critiquing the ownership or control because once you have a vle, you can use it for whatever subject is your passion. My research is about people and their initial relationship with the vle not their discipline.

It asks how can I do what I do better.  Investigating attitudes and behaviours towards vle and examining influences on engagement may reveal better ways to support it.

My research isn’t a critique of the function and purpose of technology in a neo-liberal university. This would be akin to criticising Gutenberg. For me, Blackboard is a tool like the printing press and it’s determinist to blame the technology for how it’s used. Publishing supports the dissemination of knowledge, in itself a contentious commodity, but the printing press itself doesn’t discriminate about the nature of the knowledge, it merely enables action. If you couldn’t set type or mix ink then you’d be unable to take advantage of the affordances on offer. Books wouldn’t be printed and opportunities for spreading knowledge unrealised.

It’s the same with digital education. If you can’t use the tools to support online pedagogical practice, you are unlikely to utilise their potential.  Blackboard can be used to subvert and deconstruct as much as to maintain the status quo. What it’s used for isn’t the issue. Knowing how to use it in the first place is.

My research is about pedagogy not politics; where pedagogy is the construction of learning opportunities rather than content which is being taught. I’ve read Freire. I understand how education is a political tool. My research is a step backwards from the content. It’s about  creating the educational environment in the first place. It isn’t critiquing the ownership or control because once you have a vle, you can use it for whatever subject is your passion. My research is about people and their initial relationship with the vle not their discipline.

It asks how can I do what I do better.  Investigating attitudes and behaviours towards vle and examining influences on engagement may reveal better ways to support it.

Rationale for my research 

I’m claiming the current repository model of vle use, which I’m calling inaction, fails to realise the affordances of digital education which is communication across traditional boundaries of time and distance; an interaction between teachers, learners and content.

Venn diagram showing relations between staff, students and resources

VLE have dual potentialities. They widen participation in opportunities to engage in higher learning and can also enhance learning experience. But neither happen in isolation.  My interest is how best to shape institutional support for digital education in ways which are relevant to teacher education and continuing professional development.

The more we support engagement with digital ways of working and encourage virtual learning as a valid companion to other learning practices, the more we can embed digital literacies into the curriculum and in doing so help develop and support digital graduate attributes.  For too long digital literacy has been the proverbial elephant in the room. We know students are not all digitally competent and confident and the sector has been funding research into addressing the development of more digital student-focused ways of learning. What’s missing from the research and development is attention to those who teach and support learning in the first place. At a time where technologists (who use education technology) and senior management (who are less likely to use it for teaching and learning) make decisions about future use of the vle, it seems appropriate to investigate the views of staff who use it on a day to day basis, in particular those who are short of time and resources essential for the current DIY model of use.

I find myself in a strange place midway between the technology and the pedagogy, a foot on each side, balanced precariously in the middle. There is a divide between those who promote technology and those who use it. These are the missing voices. The views of colleagues who have the vle as part of their daily practice. There is little reference to those I’m calling e-teachers in the literature on digital education. At a time when digital graduate attributes have become integral to employability in 21st century, the question of embedding digital literacies into curriculum remains unanswered. There is still a sense that digital competence is something to be absorbed like osmosis rather than taught explicitly. Yet if staff are not supported to use the technology how can they be expected to build digital confidence and competence into their programmes and modules.


23rd March

On being ill and revisiting my PhD

I’ve no idea how I hurt my back but a side effect has been 48 hours this weekend revisiting my phd. What’s interesting is the value of doctoral pauses. Each time I return to the literature it’s with a bit more understanding. The mysterious process of reflection-on-action. I’ve blogged about the application of the day job to my research here. 

As well as applying lessons learned from Monday to Friday, I’ve spent time this weekend looking at the differences between Educational Design Research and  Action Research. A useful activity and another opportunity to reaffirm my choice of methodology. I’ve blogged about this too.

Blogging is my way of synthesising the key issues. It’s like skimming the surface of my reading and writing for the day or collating my experiences during the week.

The impossibility of a part time phd remains the stuff of nightmares, in particular those bad dreams where you have a set amount of tasks – like packing a suitcase or moving house – to do in a certain time and the job is too big – you know you won’t make it. You need to have had those dreams – or similar ones – to understand how it feels and it isn’t – by any stretch of the imagination – a good feeling.


Notes from the weekend – revisiting Action Research and research paradigms

Action Research as positivist;  Logical Positivism supports belief in an objective reality, where knowledge is gained from verifiable direct experience via empirical testing, inductive and deductive hypotheses, Research is quantitative with relationships between variables analysed through maths e.g. statistics.

Action Research as interpretivist, research paradigm emerging from social sciences, designed to challenge constraints/limitations of positivism.  Interpretivism  assumes social reality is subjective,  influenced by culture and history,  known/understood through discourse where meaning is subjective and variable. Research is qualitative and methodological approaches include phenomenology and ethnography

Action research as praxis, term used by Aristotle to describe acting upon the conditions of existence in order to change them. Praxis is an epistemology which shares aspects of interpretivism, and qualitative methods for addressing ethical and political lives of people.

AR is about thinking in loops; knowledge is derived from practice and practice informed by knowledge. Researchers researching their own practice can’t be neutral so need to examine themselves to identify personal bias.  AR takes time.

Recent critique of ‘elearning’ e.g.Feenberg’s automation of learning (in Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society Keynote to the Course on Digital Citizenship at the IT University of Copenhagen in 2011) suggests educational technology has failed to live up to its rhetorical promise of transformation, widening participation, cost cutting and efficiency. The imperative to ‘publish or perish’ has been blamed for the increase published educational research and the disconnect with the reality where technology has failed to make any noticeable difference.

The origin of the phrase Publish or Perish has been traced to a paper by Eugene Garfield titled What Is The Primordial Reference For The Phrase  ‘Publish Or Perish’? in The Scientist, Vol:10, #12, p.11 , June 10, 1996

The first paper I read which bought together educational technology, research and postmodernism, also blamed the publish or perish culture for an increase in educational research which was making no difference. ‘Sadly, it is extremely difficult to trace the impact on educational research to anything that really matters.’ p57 Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2011) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research.  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65

Reeves et al call for grounding future learning technology research in relevant theory; Educational Design researchers should adopt theoretical goals – theoretical, predictive, interpretivist, postmodern, design/development and action/evaluation goals are suggested.

I thought it might be useful to look at each goal more closely.

I’m not sure of the difference between theoretical and predictive goals; they both seem to be positivist scientific approaches? The examples given are Gagne’s conditions of learning and theory of instruction (which derived from his military background) and Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning,1002,cap.%203%20.%20Cognitive%20theory%20of%20multimedia%20learning.pdf

Interpretivist goals suggest methods from anthropology and sociology. The example given is Delia Neuman’s observational research paper Learning disabled students’ interactions with commercial courseware: A naturalistic study in Educational Technology Research and Development 1991, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 31-49

Postmodern goals are described as ‘…revealing hidden agenda and empowering disenfranchised minorities’ with the example being Ann DeVaney’s paper Can and need educational technology become a postmodern enterprise? in Theory into Practice, 37 (1), 72-80  I think the capacity of technology to enable and disable access and participation – with exclusion being increasingly invisible – makes this an appropriate choice for my research.

Design/Development goals are Educational Design Research which aims to produce theories of learning, the example being Sasha Barab’s Learning Engagement Theory which evolved from Quest Atlantis see Making Learning Fun:  Quest Atlantis, A Game Without Guns in Educational Technology in Research and Development, Vol. 53, No. 1, 2005, pp. 86–107 1629—Articles/making%20learning%20fun–Quest%20Atlantis%20a%20game%20without%20guns.pdf In this paper Barab describes how the theoretical framework goes back to early 20th-century writings of Vygotsky (1933/1978; 1934/1986) and how this also informs current theoretical discussions like ‘…activity theory (e.g.,Engeström, 1987), sociocultural constructivism (e.g., Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Rogoff, 1990), distributed cognition (e.g., Cole & Engeström, 1993), and situated learning (e.g., Barab & Duffy, 2000; Lave & Wenger, 1991).’ P88

Action/Evaluation goals are Action Research which Reeves et al say is ‘…similar to design research except that there is little or no effort to construct theory, models of principles to guide future design initiatives.’ P61. The authors also say ‘The major goal is solving a particular problem in a specific place within a relatively short timeframe.’ P61 but I would argue against this saying if it’s research into practice which needs to follow the an ‘action – reflection – re-action’ cycle then it’s unlikely to be short.

In this paper Action Research and Postmodern are given as separate theoretical goals. I think postmodernism is the ideological framework for my AR method.

It feels like time to revisit the big words.

Doctoral research comprises a holistic framework which encompasses the researcher’s  ontological and epistemological position and chosen method of contributing to the accepted knowledge base. This constitutes the research paradigm. Guba (1994) describes paradigms as being characterised through their ontology (What is reality?)epistemology (How do you know something?) and methodology (How do go about finding out?).  This is the academic language of the philosophy of research and about my fifth attempt to paradigm myself – in my own words.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 105-117). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ontology is the baseline, it’s about the nature of reality, about our being in the world. Ontological approaches can be separated into two opposing idea bases:

  • A positivist, realist, objective understanding of reality which sees the world as external to the senses, governed by the laws of nature and can be discovered, observed, measured, calculated.
  • A constructivist, interpretivist, relativist understanding of reality see the world as emergent, subjective, fluid, variable, multiple and open ended; it is created through cultural discourse and linguistic signs and signifiers and cannot be precisely measured because no two ways of seeing are the same.

Epistemology is the next layer; this is about knowing reality, about the nature of knowledge and validating truth claims. Positivist and Interpretivist ontologies have their own epistemologies:

  • A positive epistemology is empirical, requiring investigation of the senses through scientific experiment, hypothesis, quantitative methodologies of data collection and analysis etc
  • A interpretivist epistemology is  a constructivist one, requiring qualitative investigation though observation, conversation, discourse analysis etc


7th March

With Jack Whitehead in one hand and Jean McNiff in the other I’ve been collecting data. My Action Research journal is already registering tens of thousands of words. I have interviews and transcripts and emails, observations and reflections. Putting off the thought of analysing all the data is easy. I’m sure I could be doing it differently, betterly, more efficiently – and will look back and see ways of achieving this – but at the present moment I’m not sure how.

This is educational research. It’s pragmatic not political and my decision is reinforced by interviews with staff who teach and support learning. They can all see the potential of the vle but need also the time, space, reward and recognition to use it more effectively to enhance  their teaching practice.

Blackboard is not the enemy.

I love Blackboard #iloveblackboard

The enemy is time.

The Guardian carries a piece on the difficulties for staff in academia


….growing stress levels among academics prompted by heavy workloads, a long hours culture and conflicting management demands.
……academia promotes the blurring of lines between the personal and the professional – often described as “doing what you love”.
……poor work-life balance as a key factor, with academics putting in increasing hours as they attempt to respond to high levels of internal and external scrutiny, a fast pace of change and the notion of students as customers – leading to demands such as 24-hour limit for responses to student queries.

My interviews contain echoes of this Guardian article. Everyone is feeling the pressure to do more with less and in places where the technology can help, it also carries a learning curve which in itself is a deterrent. I agree the situation in higher education is far from perfect but my choice is to do the best with what we already have – last September thousands of new students started their first year at university. It’s the present which matters and finding ways to give them access to an educational experience which will set them up for the rest of their lives.

My literature review of technology enhanced learning suggests an absence of voices from the late adopters and laggards – to use Rogers unfortunate phrasing. My educational research aims to uncover some of these voices, do find out what influences their attitudes and behaviours with vle and the extent to which a teacher education programme might help – or not help – enhance their practice.

It’s pragmatic not political. My pedagogy is one of uncertainty. I don’t know if this will make any difference; every time TELEDA begins I don’t know who the students are, they don’t know me, none of know how the learning block discussions and activities will go. What I do know is working with colleagues is helping inform my practice. The aim is for my practice to help support and inform theirs. This is action research seeking actionable knowledge.


8 January Happy New Year

Pat Cryer’s The Research Student’s Guide to Success, guides students towards this maxim for realism. ‘A doctoral thesis is a piece of work which a capable, well-qualified [full-time] student, who is properly supported and supervised, can produce in three years.’ British Academy, 1992: para 12 Postgraduate Research in the Humanities.

Last year I was told my research proposal was good enough for a PhD but it could be better. Looking at existing workloads, I’m concluding achieving PhD part time requires the adoption of a ‘good enough’ approach. Although advised my research should not be about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology but be critical about the role of the university as a site of knowledge production and negotiation because higher education is accommodating new technologies but of necessity the process needs to be critiqued.’

I remain convinced ‘My research is less about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’ and more about how best the technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning – to heighten and widen the student experience.’ 

This has got lost. I’ve re-read my GS3, EA2 and GS5 – all approved documents – and realised how far I’ve moved from the original research proposal. It’s easy to want to do it all but a p/t PhD demands a strategic approach. My PhD has lost its way by trying to be something it isn’t. Not a critique of the university but an action research based investigation into online learning.

The attached file looks covers:

  • Research rationale, objective and questions
  • Research context
  • Theoretical and conceptual influences
  • Methodology
  • The researcher -to follow

Phd January 2014


18 December – picking up the pieces

I’ve written elsewhere how digital environments support postmodernist approaches to social reality. It intrigues me how we have a digital reality which postdates and mirrors postmodernist theory.  During the TELEDA discussions and readings I’m finding examples of how digital pedagogic theory supports a postmodern lens. This reassures me and reaffirms the validity of situating my research within a postmodern paradigm.

  • …historians have to access original documents because:  ‘If I translate the work for the new generation, then the students are only able to access my translations, when the significant factor is that they should come at the documents with their own mind-set and make their own interpretations, which will be different from mine.’
  • ‘All meaning is negotiable and not fixed.’
  • ‘We are never finished in terms of learning and we are never the ‘finished article’ in terms of our knowledge.’
  • ‘Different people learn in different ways.’
  • Lea, M. R. and Jones, S. (2011) Digital literacies in higher education: exploring textual and technological practice. Studies in Higher Education, 36 (4). Pp 377-393 shows how the boundaries of digital text students and staff engage with are fluid and unstable
  • A postmodern lens values diversity and difference in education, it raises awareness of social inequality and provides new impetus for inclusion work, it supports the value of the individual not as a consumer but as contributor, creator and constructor of their own world view. Shostack in Radical Research says research which addresses diversity, difference and multiple voices is postmodern in its principles.

My methodology began as participatory action research but I’ve found an approach which fits digital education more precisely; Educational Design Research.

Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2011) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research.  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65

The authors of this paper suggest educational design research should adopt one of six possible research goals; one of which is the postmodern.

‘Although educational design has a twenty year history going back to 1992, most educational researchers confound research goals and methods… Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programmes and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among researchers with multicultural, gender or political interested, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology.’ (Reeves et al 2011:60)

Rationale for Educational Design Research (EDR)

  • EDR is about Research AND Development
  • EDR addresses problems in the real world (not laboratories – therefore social) in particular where problems have been identified in educational practice  – eg learning is being hampered and the root cause of the problem needs to be identified
  • EDR is dynamic – flexible – adaptable – realistic – because its based in real life situations
  • EDR supports opportunities to empirically/rigorously study and reflect on teaching practice
  • EDR aims to uncover credible findings which can be reviewed in journal articles (egALDinHE – on discovering EDR) and useful solutions for sharing with others to enhance their own practice
  • EDR has two primary goals – to develop knowledge and develop solutions. Aims to gain theoretical understanding (pedagogy of learning online and not face to face) to discover practical and effective technologies addressing real problems
  • EDR has three phases – analysis, design and evaluation
  • EDR process – review the theoretical knowledge relevant to the problem, collect innovative possibilities for resolution, creates designs
  • EDR is detailed – which suits my reflection on practice approach
  • EDR uses quantitative and qualitative methods but often mixes them
  • EDR addresses real life problems and generates ‘usable’ solutions and knowledge for the future
  • EDR question examples – why is there a problem? What can be done to make this innovative practice effective? How can this new innovative practice be embedded?  What design principles have been learned? How can this work inform the work of others?

3rd December

It seems every year I go through a Phd crisis. Here comes another one. Since 9th October I’ve been suffering Phd meltdown. I’ve also been tutoring on Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) and realising how much scope there is for central support for digital education at Lincoln, in particular the use of Blackboard and the learning which can be supported through the Blackboard tools. To support TELEDA and my action research methodology, I’ve been reading:

  • Eubanks, V. (2012) Digital Dead: Fighting for social justice in the information age. MIT
  • Greenwood, S.R. (2005) Learning out of the box : perceptions and use of a VLE at an HE institution
  • McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2010) You and Your Action Research Project London: Routledge
  • McNiff, J. ( 2013) Action Research; Principles and Practice. (Third edition). London: Routledge
  • Garrison, R. (2011) e-Learning in the 21st Century. New York: Routledge
  • Salmon, G. (2013) e-tivities: the key to active online learning. (Second edition) London: Routledge
  • Salmon, G. (2011) e-moderating : the key to teaching and learning online. (Third edition) London: Routledge

A colleague recommended ETHoS; the electronic thesis database;jsessionid=75686E279BA078A952D59FD3FD49FB90 where I’ve found these.

Also I’ve been looking at Continuing Professional Development in Higher Education: Voices from Below by Karin Crawford (2009)

I still haven’t:

  • conducted my pilot TELEDA interviews – failed
  • found my ontological or epistemological position – failed
  • got the habit of using RefWorks – failed

I’ve begun a daily log of all activities connected to teaching and learning in a digital age. This includes meetings with staff teaching and supporting learning, unplanned conversations around teaching and learning, my telephone and email contacts with staff with queries about teaching and learning, ongoing reflection on TELEDA, now seven weeks into the course and in week one of learning block two. The data collection guidance in the action research literature all suggests this is the way forward. It’s a huge task and I worry about the amount of data this is generating; it’s difficult to keep up with it. I am exhausted. I hope is it the reality of qualitative research and not simply me misunderstanding what keeping an action research log is all about.

I’ve blogged on my latest PhD crisis here


9th October

Notes on Radical Reserach by John and Jill Schostak

blog post link

Chapter One – Kuhn showed how positivist research mapping the world was the dominant paradigm – legitimation of knowledge through scientific method – deriving from the enlightenment – Descarte and the privilege of reason and rationality etc. Dominant world view was god as creator (divinity) or the king.state (soveriegnty) or scientific method (rationality). Take your pick. Challenging dominant worldviews is dangerous  – (Spinoza was excommunicated  for saying god was nature and Galileo imprisoned for saying the earth went round the sun)

Intellectual impostures; postmodern philosophers’ abuse of science. Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont 1998 – physicists attack on post structuralism, postmodernism and relativism etc (relativism –  a statement’s truth or falsity is relative to an individual or social group). The book grew out of Sokels parody article in the American postmod journal Social Text, ‘Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity’, Also Comsky’s recent diatribe on PM  as inflated polysyllabic truisms I need to find firm ground which cannot be attacked as intellectual posturing – this is why I like Shostack’s references to  radical research for addressing diversity, difference, multiple voices etc – where a postmodern lens is useful.

Other examples of the state hitting back include the flattening of feminism through lack of appropriate/affordable childcare for working mothers, media cult of celebrity with renewed emphasis on appearance and thinness, diatribes against obesity, losing baby weight etc plus the invisibility of disability and digital exclusion – rise in consumer culture – the demonisation of welfare claimants as work shirkers – benefit cheats etc – all part of the construction and reinforcement of dominant world view

Reason links to behaviourism – reason was subject to the will – so people could be moulded into any rational state of mind – and social control achieved through control of the body – and mind – here is the rational argument as to why you should change behaviour – Higher Education promoted as fitting people for the workforce – business studies – nursing – social work – science – engineering – cut back subjects which teach critique – attack the social scientists who are revolutionary Marxists, political sociologists, prioritise skills over knowledge

Reason and God combine to form a rational creator of the world – truth through reason – or separate out into reason v faith where faith becomes the driver of action –  and truth is a priori – pre-existing – revealed through the church rather than discovered through science – also mind body – ideal and material –

Schostack uses Spinoza’s conflation of God and Nature where the body is not tainted by original sin – not inferior to the rational mind – ‘the power in nature is identical with the power of god’  p21 there is no possible difference between everyone – whether endowed with reason or whether reason is unknown …’nor between ‘fools, madmen and sane people.’ Reason is one of many aspects of nature and cannot be privileged  – the binaries of sanity/insanity – wisdom/foolishness – thereby challenging the solid shared consensus of linguistic labels  – individuals are ‘naturally’ equal.

Certainty about method does not begin with the rational I think therefore I am basis to knowledge but with a priori knowledge – pre-existing in the way nature pre-exists. This is there the phd gets philosophical and involves the study of truths.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

I think Van Gogh demonstrates a priori/priori knowledge. Starry Night offers Van Gogh’s way of seeing. The viewer has a priori knowledge of a stars in the night sky – can see van gogh’s portrait is interpretative rather than a direct copy  – but will also bring a third layer which is their own personal knowledge of night skies which derives from their life experience – and is unique.

Spinoza, Descartes and Hobbes were contemporaries –Schostak says they all looked at keeping things together rather than blowing them apart. Where power and authority are taken for granted (whether sovereign, divine, state etc) reality is held together through structures which carry the mechanisms of power and control – these can be imaginary, symbolic or physical – they work because people believe in them. Radical research questions the status quo.

 Schostak on Radical Research 

Researchers need to decide if they will adhere to the system and structures of the state to create social change affecting the lives of individuals  or if they challenge/subvert  the system and structures? This decision affects where data comes from and how it is collected.

Research needs to identify a tension – the push to enhance quality of teaching and learning with technology – elearning – and resistance from staff to use machines for T&L – bigger picture is drive to save money – do more for less – automate higher education.

Radical research ‘….asks different questions, or at least poses the same questions differently, adopts a view that frees itself from any single dominating position.’ P34

Researcher needs to decide if their research is ‘…designed to address and reinforce the aims and interests of a dominating group in order to bring the rest into harmony’ or ‘…designed to be inclusive of all the viewpoints of the multitude of individuals and this accept diversity, difference, disagreement and conflict.’ P 34

Schostak says research is about either the state or the individual. Radical research is about exploring and engaging with the problem  of freedom for the individual and defining their problems in a way which undermines the state –calls this keeping it together or blowing it apart – my research derives from the push to deliver T&L online – at the risk of automating the process of higher education – reducing critical reflective practice to skills acquisition

Schostack says research is about the state or the individual – for me the institution or the staff – it’s the staff every time – but where is the evidence to substantiate my belief in the power of experiential learning to enhance engagement??? Need to collect references together

Radical research narrative needs to situate the participant in the world  – though their eyes – need to set boundaries – frame context – For me this might start with

  • why did they enter higher education –
  • how they identify themselves in their teaching role  – what do they call themselves –
  • the extent to which they use the VLE (or ask them to name the technologies they use in their practice) –
  • any difference they feel this makes to a) their teaching practice and b) their perception of themselves
  • what can the university do to support them (do you know what you don’t know???)
  • for teleda students = what difference has the course made?

2nd October

We understand the world through stories/narratives…and discourse.

Action Research aims to effect change.  This implies a problem exists. AR is inherently critical of practice and/or the wider landscape in which that practice is situated (in this case, the shift to machines for teaching and learning). AR is about the participant experience. This is uncovered through interaction between researcher and participant; an interaction which seeks to diffuse socially/historically constructed power boundaries and is situated within a broader theoretical framework within which these are understood and vocalised.

Critical Theory assumes current social reality is problematic in some way. Max Horkheimer says critical theory seeks “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” CT’s goal of social transformation is laudable/commendable but the ambition can be self-defeating; it may be more practical to re-translate this into something achievable at individual level.  My research doesn’t claim to change the world but my method incorporates opportunities for critical reflection which may well lead to attainable practical steps for reframing attitudes and action.

I’m looking at an interpretative methodology; one which enables and encourages reflexivity and critique – out of which might emerge a more personal and questioning voice. Postmodern approaches encourage reflexivity through narratives and life histories. A postmodern narrative approach pays attention to the wider historical-socio landscape and encourages critical reflection on subject position. A postmodern lens challenges the modernist view of identity as pre-existing in a humanistic/existential paradigm; it questions the subject as truth-teller and identity as pre-existing – suggesting instead identity is produced rather than revealed. Subject and subjectivity are constituted through historical-socio discourse/ideology but these processes are always open to change and resistance; hope lies within the human capacity to resist dominant structures of oppression and control. Narrative accounts – structured within a critical reflective framework – contain within themselves opportunities to uncover the workings of discursive practices/influence – enabling the participant to review and reframe their subject position – thereby offering emancipatory potential. revisit Foucault’s model of identity construction.

An invitation to participate in this research will be set against the institutional embedding of technologies into higher education and expectations of enhancement of the quality of teaching and learning/widening participation versus the digital diploma mills approach of David Noble. I’m specifically interested in how staff understand the shift to online practice – teaching by machine – and how this has been supported and managed but I’m primarily interested in the identity-effect of digital education.

How is the identity of the academic framed and presented online?

How can the relationship between academic and virtual learning environment be articulated? 

Questions to frame the research might include:

  • How does teaching online impact on identity – how is the shift perceived?
  • What is the dominant discourse surrounding the lecture/seminar?
  • How is the identity of the university lecturer produced and constructed historically and socially?
  • Is the role and expectation of the university lecturer strengthened or diluted by virtual learning environments?
  • How do individual describe themselves – face to face and online – lecturer, tutor, teacher, facilitator?
  • How do they describe the virtual learning environment which isn’t a lecture hall or seminar room?
  • Does digital education equate with machines for teaching; replacing staff  with virtual avatars/simulations?
  • Do VLEs privilege/disadvantage some subjects/disciplines more than others?

early morning thoughts…

Modernism/Enlightenment – privileged Reason and Science  and suggested control over the material world through acquisition of scientific knowledge could be applied to human nature. Social control through Weber’s Iron cage of reason. The ‘techniques’ of reason –  in a Foucauldian sense (eg institutional controls through techniques of  medicine and discourses of insanity – the prison, hospital, school – the home/family – did Foucault acknowledge these as institutions?). The science of social control developed via industrialisation/market based economies, dependent on want rather than need. ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.’ Bernays 1928: 37

Is it possible the ‘techniques’ of reason – the technical frameworks of social control – the mindset and philosophy of modernism – which repressed non-conformity through difference – and postmodernist theory with its stress on binaries – see Hegel’s master/slave analogy – combined with the virtual reality of the internet and world wide web – offers a powerful lens for interpreting social reality in 21st century. Is it possible the academic dismissal of postmodernist thinking is in itself an act of repression, an attack on individualism in terms of difference, and on principles of social justice and equity of opportunity/resources? Isn’t post-modernism and a post-modernist reality (destabilisation, fragmentations, unfinished subject positions etc) the logical conclusion of  ‘all that is solid melts into air‘ ?

24th September

At the mid-point of my paper ‘Asking the right questions; rethinking research into digital education’ (see 18th September below) I wrote:

Postmodern research offers a location where the elements in this paper can come together. Where redesign pedagogy for a digital age includes recognition of how digital education can be exclusive and biased towards a ‘digital diploma mills’ approach rather than online communities of inquiry which address inequality of access and social justice.

As I complete marking the TELEDA eportfolios, reflect on the Pilot evaluations, arrange applications and HoD approval for TELEDA Two beginning at the end on October, I’m feeling the pressure of deadlines. I can’t wait another year to begin my data collection. I have to get organised.  The impossibilities of part time PhD research are daunting. Even allowing it to take over my life doesn’t seem to create enough time. My reading will continue to bring together the elements in my paper, but I must look at the application of all this theory to practice and record it in some way. My focus has to shift back to the action research methodology and how to manage the reflexivity and rigorous attention to detail it demands.

In my half-paper I wrote how Scheurich (1997) suggests research in the postmodern attempts to erase the distinction between research practices and the subjectivity of the researcher. I thought this fitted well with a participatory action research design which draws attention to the power balance between researcher and participant and requires it to be blurred. Scheurich adopts a postmodernist approach to the interview as a data collection method which I found interesting. He calls for ‘new imaginaries of interviewing’ but without detailing what these might be. This is always a problem. It’s easy to critique but less easy to find workable solutions. I had already thought about ways to soften the interview process like tea, coffee and cake; maybe some background music and alternative seating arrangements. I’ll be looking at the literature around alternative interviews e.g. Qualitative Researching with Text, Image and Sound by Martin W Bauer and George D. Gaskell (Sage 2000), continuing to read Research Method in the Postmodern (Qualitative Studies) by James Scheurich (1997) as well as Educational Research Undone: The Postmodern Embrace by Ian Stronach (1997) and The Postmodern Turn (Critical Perspectives) by Steven Best and Douglas Kellnor.

Research is a social practice. It involves identity or the ‘presentation of the self’ as an ‘aesthetic and ethical’ project, which Foucault (Bernauer and Rasmussen, 1994) refers to as a ‘practice of the self’. The experience of the researcher is considered to be as important as what happens to the participants of the research. PAR stresses critical thinking and recording reflection on practice and I need to consider how best to lay this out. Virginia Ewbanks in Digital Dead End includes details of her research methodology which – much as I would like to work at that level of detail – to replicate it would be a full time occupation.   Another example of the limitations of a p/t phd. The classic texts for educational reserachers – Action Research Principles and Practice by Jean McNiff  (3rd edition 2013) and You and Your Action Research Project by Jean McNiff and Jack Whitehead (3rd edition 2010) recommend four headings for organising a reflective diary; What I did, why I did it, what I learned and the significance of my learning. A bit Kolb-like. They also suggest a number of questions you need to answer before considering yourself ready to plan a research project (pp55-56).

  • Can you use the terms ontology, epistemology and methodology and social intent in speech and writing? Can you explain to other people what they mean and show their meanings in your practice?
  • Are you clear about the main features of action research? Can you explain what they are?
  • Can you offer your accounts to show how you are realising these features in your action research?
  • Can you ground your explanations in your values? Can you say what your values are? Are you clear about how your values inform your practices and come to act as your criteria and standards of judgement?

The short answer is No. The middle answer Not yet. My intention in my research is to surface how meanings are ascribed to a ‘reality’ (Scheurch says researchers risk inscribing rather than describing) which is produced or constituted through social conventions, discourse, conversations and negotiations within communities of practice or inquiry. I’m interested in the discursive nature of language and the limitations/strengths of verbal, written and digital texts as forms of educational communication. I want to explore the potential power of virtual learning experiences – through the construction of online communities of inquiry – to further critical reflective practice which is directed towards inclusive and equitable practice.

But I’m still not sure I can explain ontology and epistemology and show their meanings in my practice as McNiff and Whitehead suggest 🙁 I need some help with this!


18 September

Second draft of a paper which synthesises my current position; reading the literature, establishing my participatory action research , grounding in theory.

Asking the right questions; rethinking research into digital education

This paper explores the current research into digital education and suggests a postmodern approach, one which focuses on participation and reflection on practice, may offer a way forward to rethink pedagogy for a digital age. 

Digital education is in an interesting place. The rhetoric attached to elearning in the late 20th century has subsided. It is being recognised the promise and reality have not converged.  Laurillard says higher education is on the brink of transformation, but has been there for some time. Feenburg (2011) says ‘the promise of virtual learning in the 1990s has come to nothing and elearning within the university has failed’.

The virtual learning environment is most commonly used as a repository of text documents and presentation slides (ref). Tutors say I set up a discussion forum but no one used it, so I didn’t bother again.(personal email) There is a need for a better understanding of the relationship between staff, students and educational technologies. As much can be learned from resistance as from engagement.

Across the sector there are calls for a more critical approach to the development of digital education. Selwyn (2007) identifies the emergence of a consistent theme; namely how the use of computer technology does not reflect the creative, productive and empowering usages envisioned and promoted by learning technologists. Wider social relations result in a lived student experience which is constructed in linear, rigid and ultimately limited terms. Selwyn suggests existing social power structures may be influential and calls for a more critical perspective, one which addresses the shaping influences of a number of vested interests which result in deep-rooted, often invisible drivers.

‘There is danger therefore that the recent haste to ‘implement’ computer technologies in higher education teaching and learning has caused many educationalists and technologists to lose sight of the guiding principles and underlying purposes of university education… continuing to pursue the implementation of computer technologies in higher education settings, educators are not making technical choices but ideological and political ones ’ p90  

Building on the social construction of technology model put forward by Bjiker, Feenberg (2010) describes technologies as being social, determined by the meanings we give them, with development and use being influenced by existing cultural and ideological structures and frameworks. Also calling for a critical theory of technology, one which offers a philosophical widening of the debates over online education through emphasis on the dynamics of technological design and development as social and political processes (Feenberg 2005).

Freisen also calls for more a more critical approach saying the theory of the relationships between technology, media, education and social change have not been recognised in eLearning research. Freisen calls critical theory a ‘philosophy and a research methodology that focuses on the interrelated areas issues of technology, politics and social change.’ It’s central purpose is the destabilization of ideology in order to ‘…generate alternative knowledge forms, specifically, those shaped by social interests who are democratic and egalitarian.’ (Friesen 2008:1)

For Freisen the rhetorical promise has gained mythical proportions. The Knowledge Economy, Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime and Technology Drives Educational Change myths have become embedded into culture. The relationship between technology and society is recognised by Facer who’s research into learning futures suggests education has become a site for interconnections between human, cultural and technological resources.  ‘…the need to work towards the creation of an educational encounter that makes visible these diverse resources and works actively to overcome the inequalities and injustices they may cause, is increasingly urgent.’ (Facer, 2011:55)

While there is some agreement among academics over the gap between rhetoric and practice of digital education, there are conflicting suggestions as to the best approach. The application of critical social theory competes with calls for greater attention to research design or the construction of effective pedagogy for virtual learning. Reeves et al suggest too much attention on evaluations and case study approaches has led to a weakening of reliable and robust research into education design concluding  ‘…it is extremely difficult to trace the impact of educational research to anything that really matters.’ (p57)

As educational design research offers a direct link between research and practice, it has the potential to have a meaningful impact, in particular when applied to social issues such as poverty reduction, climate change, environmental responsibility and digital divides. In reality, over emphasis on computer aided instruction rather than the broader and more meaningful models and principles which support virtual learning environments and opportunities to address the broader social issues.  Reeves et al. suggest educational design research should adopt one of six possible research goals; the postmodern theoretical goal appearing to hold most promise of critique and alignment with principles of social justice.

‘Although educational design has a twenty year history going back to 1992, most educational researchers confound research goals and methods… Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programmes and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among researchers with multicultural, gender or political interested, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology.’ (Reeves et al 2010:60)

Closer attention is required to the relationships between the users and their machines in particular social memory and the performative nature of learning. For some researchers the technology of the internet rather than individual computers or institutional networks is the predominant change agent. Saljo calls for learning technologies to have ecological validity ‘…[digital] technologies do not merely support learning: they transform how we learn and how we come to interpret learning. The metaphors of learning currently emerging as relevant in the new media ecology emphasise the transformational and performative nature of such activities and of knowing in general.’ (Saljo 2009:53)

The gap between the rhetoric and the practice is wide open for questioning. It is clear new questions need to be asked.  With hindsight we have not paid enough attention to rethinking approaches to teaching and learning, to managing access to digital information and knowledge, to reinventing the lecture for online delivery or taking advantage of asynchronous communication affordances for sustaining educational discourse and debate. We need to find new ways to engage students in critical discourse – online. We need to re-evaluate the purpose of higher education, be critical about the technology – explicit about its affordances and limitations in particular the risks of exclusion and inadequate digital literacies.

Dewey identified the process of transaction between the student and environment; where the inert as in new facts or information is reconstructed and understood in relationship to this individual construction. The challenge of online learning is how this knowledge construction takes place when the insert is accessed in a virtual reality. In what ways can online tutors prepare and facilitate the process of re-construction or co-construction of knowledge.  There are many questions to be asked and explored; the only surety is what has been done so far can be done better.

Learning online may be as much about the pedagogy as the need to better understand the relationship between humans and machines, to examine ways to personalise the learning environment. This can be challenging with a corporate, institutional network and it maybe educators need to recognise the importance of the ‘personal within the virtual’ for learning to take place. Greater attention to Web 2.0 labelled tools like pininterest, tumblr and flickr may contain answers but engagement with these demand digital literacies which are always assumed within higher education, rather than taught. Current research into online learning refers to digital resilience, ecology, myths, codes can calls for critical theory but underneath it all is performativity; the ways we represent ourselves and are represented online. Digital identity or the presentation of self online. Knowledge constructed through transactions suggest we may need to pay closer attention to the nature of those transactions in virtual environments constituted by machines. If the pedagogy cannot be separated from the personal in terms of reconstruction or from the community in terms of co-construction, maybe more attention needs to be paid to the environment which mediates these processes. A student who is not comfortable in their classroom or lecture theatre; who is too hot, too cold, too tired, feels ill, cannot understand the teacher, will not learn. A student who is uncomfortable online, unsure about contributing to discussion, reluctant to engage with unfamiliar tools, nervous about an unfamiliar environment, will not learn. Similarly with staff who take on an education programme because they seek promotion, need to change career directions, are anxious to demonstrate their cpd, are unlikely to be positive about being told the technology has blurred the relationship between themselves and the tutor. In the strangeness of their new online learning environment and experience, they are likely to want more guidance, direction and support than be told this is student centred learning and they need to get on with it.

In (Re)Inventing the Internet (2012) Feenberg and Freisen describe how the internet has remained a contested technology between utopian and dytopian rhetoric, but which supports agency and enables challenge and change through connection, interactions and recipocracy. ‘If technology is neither a realm of rational consensus nor is it a mere tool of its owners and managers’ it cannot be seen as an ‘…independent variable’ but one ‘co-constructed’ by the social forces its organises and unleashes.’ (Feenberg and Freisen, 2012:3)

The problem with attributing qualities and characteristics to the internet, which is an insert collection of connections and networked cables, is these attributions derive from the researchers subjective relationship with the technology. Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (2000) and Salmon’s Five Step model (2002) are digitally literate approaches to creating online communities. The gap between the experience of the learning technologist or the educational researcher and the reality of many online students is not only vast, it is unacknowledged. So long as the capacity of the internet is theorized in isolation, based on a limited position of privilege, it is unlikely learning design or institutional strategic approaches to digital education, will make a difference to poor retention.

‘What is most innovative and politically significant about the internet is its capacity to support collective reflection on participant interests.’ (Feenberg and Freisen, 2012:15)

The capacity recognised by Feenberg and Freisen derives from a privileged position. One which has access to the affordances of higher education and the means to distribute knowledge through virtual places.   Unless research is focused more on the student experience, rather than a reflection of the researcher – whose choice of digital education as a topic suggests an affinity with the digital environment in the first place, the capacity of the internet to do what it does best – connect people – is unlikely to be realised.

In e-learning for the 21st century (2011 second edition) Garrison calls for doing things differently. To look at what technology enables us to do which couldn’t be done before, to move away from transmission models of education towards the construction of communities of inquiry and the ability of elearning to foster higher order learning. The greatest mistake he suggests, is to integrate communication technology into existing models of education. Instead, we should revisit elearning to better understand how it can enhance a worthwhile educational experience. Rather than dystopian visions of digital diploma mills, the real challenge and benefit is to ‘…understand the nature and potential of elearning and its implications for a collaborative and constructive educational experience.’p6. First, this requires a theoretical framework within which to rethink pedagogy, one which is focused on shared practice of the student experience of their individual relationship with the technology. A community of inquiry is one where individual experience and ideas are recognised and discussed iagainst the background of social knowledge, norms and values.

‘An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.’ P2

A community of inquiry can take advantage of the affordances of the internet to exist independently of time and location. Its educational roots lie in computer conferencing and collaborative constructivist approaches to learning but its construction and facilitation should be viewed as less an ‘industrialised form of distance education’ and ‘first and foremost about providing a quality educational experience.’ P2

Links can be made between inquiry based learning and Boyers models of scholarship; discovering knowledge, integrating knowledge, sharing knowledge and the scholarship of education. A community of inquiry will contains the means for generating intellectual inquiry and research aimed at extending knowledge. The digital nature supports the making of connections across disciplines and global networks and enables working on common causes and shared interests rather than working in isolation. The scholarship of application; social responsibility and citizenship which in the paper Scholarship of Engagement ,Boyer describes as the common good aligns with current calls for a critical theory approach to digital education, one which engages with the public good and through attention to civic, social, moral and economic problems. Boyer calls the scholarship of application an attribute of reflective practitioners and references Schon. Critical reflective practice is a key element of higher education and there are clear parallels between Schon, Boyer and Garrison’s Community of Inquiry. A CoI fits the scholarship of teaching and learning; it involves a systematic study of teaching and learning processes and Boyer says this scholarship differs from in that it requires a format that will allow public sharing and the opportunity for application and evaluation by others; something the internet enables.

A community of practice as an approach to educational research and design offers a practical option for further investigation.

Research questions designed to uncover attitudes and perceptions to a COI will provide a framework within which to discover ways forward to enhance learning experiences through technology.

The asking of questions also requires a theoretical approach. My reading suggests the need to take note of postmodern theory with regard to individuality and the presentation of self. The nature of virtual environments fit well within a postmodern  lens. This also aligns with the calls from Reeves at al for educationalists to adopt postmodern theory base if their interest lies in equity of access and social responsibility (see reference above)

(Baudrillard, Butler etc) and Mats Alvesson and Kaj Skoldberg (2000, pp.194-5) suggest ‘four central elements’ informing ‘pragmatic postmodern methodological principles’:

  • research work and texts capture a plurality ‘of different identities or voices associated with different groups, individuals, positions or special interests’
  • single participants may convey multiple representations
  • phenomena can be presented using a variety of modes and media, including ‘the use of different sorts of descriptive languages’
  • ‘Command of different theoretical perspectives’ and ‘strong familiarity with the critique of … these’ on the part of researchers (reflexivity). This leads to the possibility of ‘openness and different sorts of readings to surface in the research’ (flexibility)

Scheurich (1997) suggests research in the postmodern attempts to erase the distinction between research practices and the subjectivity of the researcher. This fits well with participatory action research design which seeks to blur the power balance between researcher and participant.  Research practices are social practices with involving identity or the presentation of the self as an aesthetic and ethical project, which Foucault (Bernauer and Rasmussen, 1994) refers to as a ‘practice of the self’. The experience of the researcher in the social practices of research is considered to be as important as what happens to the participants of the research and PAR, with its stress on critical thinking and recording reflection offers a medium within which this attention to self can be situated.

Modernist research assumes that there is a reality ‘out there’ waiting to be investigated, described, and catalogued. Research in the postmodern demands practices of ‘reflexivity’ and understanding of the possibility that ‘reality’ is socially constructed. Theories of the social construction of reality do not deny an external world which can be investigated. The intentions is to focus on how meanings are ascribed to a ‘reality’, thereby producing or constituting reality through social conventions, discourse, conversations and negotiations within communities of practice or inquiry.

Postmodern research offers a location where the elements in this paper can come together. Where redesign pedagogy for a digital age includes recognition of how digital education can be exclusive and biased towards a ‘digital diploma mills’ approach rather than online communities of inquiry which address inequality of access and social justice. A pedagogy of hope (Giraux et al – need to include this above) for a postmodern and virtual society.

to be continued……

9 September

I find blogging helps consolidate my reading and surface key connections. A blog provides useful evidence of the process of applying theory to practice. I wish there were another name for it. Graceful posts are diminished through the descriptor blogging while to blog sounds heavy and cumbersome. This word gazing is a deviation from the task in hand. I wonder how much the blogging itself is little more than an avoidance technique 🙂

2 September

Through August I’ve coordinated Getting Started and continued to read, write and reflect on my PhD. This series of blog posts traces the journey:

A number of papers have stood out this summer – details below.

Saljo, R. (2009) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (2012) 26, 53-64

Refers to ecological validity – taking into account the importance of the relationship between the user and the technology (reminds me of cyborgs – I am permanently connected to the machine of the internet)

No longer need memory – but have technology acting as external memories – broader theories of information society, global village, virtual communities – all influencing our attitudes to communication and information (although never enough said about exclusion to new ways of working),

Paper is school based and moves into a different space – ‘…technology does not facilitate or improve learning in a linear sense, rather it is currently changing our interpretations of what learning is and changing our expectations about what it means to know something.’ P 56

Technologies are being transformative in they are changing how we interpret learning – (also changing access to learning) Saljo says change ‘…creates dilemmas about how to teach and what to teach.’ P54 but ‘Digital curriculum materials and multimedia resources have not been able to assert themselves as part of regular educational practices to the extent that some predicted they would.’ P54 and ‘Solid evidence that the introduction of computers produces significant improvements in academic performance seems to be hard to find….In other words, computers and digital technologies in their own right do not necessarily improve educational practices, and if they do, this will not be in a uniform manner.’ P55

Suggests institutionalised learning methods are too fixed for educational technology to be effective. The gap between established institutional beliefs and pedagogies and the affordances of technology is widening. Technology use can only become significant where we allow it to transform our conceptions of what learning is.

Refs Wolf – Proust and the Squid (2008:7) on Plato 360 BC who records Socrates concerns about the dangers of writing destroying memory as people come to rely on written words – texts and alphabets ‘…will create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls, because they will not use their memories.’ P57 as similar to concerns about computers and the internet today and says ‘…perhaps in this new ecology, what we need to learn and remember, and how we do it, will be different from what we are used to.’ P57

Refs Dewey on the ‘…tendency in instructional practices to confuse the product of learning with the activities which produce insight and understanding.’  P 58

Communicative ecologies have to recognise ‘Schools no longer have control over information and the information sources that people encounter and find relevant.’ p58

Technological affordance requires education to change institutional metaphors of learning – make technology a partner in learning and knowing.

The strength of this paper is how Saljo is close to both social shaping of technology and calls for increased attention to the appropriate digital literacies to manage new ways of being and learning. Much of the work in this area appear to have come from within Media disciplines eg Kellner– rather than through education research, which supports the need for cross disciplinary and departmental collaborations. Education technology affects and influences everyone – there must be much to learn from a teacher education environment like TELEDA which brings people together from across a range of awards types, subjects and backgrounds.   


Critical Theory

Calls for critical theoretical approaches to educational technology. Notes on Critical pedagogy (Amsler, Lambert, Giroux) below this section.

Immanent critique = questioning myth (as Friesen does) and comparing ideology to reality. So is identifying the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of elearning an example of immanent critique?

Feenberg, A. (2005) Critical theory of Technology: an overview. Tailoring Biotechnologies 1(1) pp 47–64  

Calls the relationship between technology and society the technical codes – these describe the social and/or ideological interests inherent in technology.

Feenberg identifies technology design and development as a social and political process – so if design is deliberately inclusive then it recognises the exclusive nature of technology as  a technical code?

Refs Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences by Edward Tenner Vintage Books; Vintage Paperback edition (1 Oct 1997) which looks at the interaction between society and technology but more from user standpoint than philosophical/intellectual approach. Tenner also wrote The Paradoxical Proliferation of Paper by Edward Tenner – Harvard Magazine, March-April 1988, p. 23-26.

more notes to follow….

Feenberg, A. (2005) The Technical Codes on Online Education. E-Learning vol 2 no 2 2005

A critical theory of technology offers a philosophical widening of the debate over online education and university restructuring through its emphasis on the dynamics of technological design and development as social and political processes.

In late 1990s online education emerged as a solution to economic, pedagogic and organisation problems within higher education and an object of political contention. The ‘virtual university’ stood as a technological destiny, the logical replacement for the cumbersome, rigid and anachronistic ‘traditional’ institution.’ P104

more notes to follow….

Friesen, N. (2008) Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of e-learning.  Ubiquity. Vol 9, Issue 22 (June 3-9, 2008)  

Says critical theory is relatively unused by researchers into education technology.

Thre myths are The Knowledge Economy, Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime and Technology Drives Educational Change

more notes to follow…

Facer, K. (2011) Learning Futures: education, technology and social change. London: Routledge

In learning futures – Kerrie Facer presents future possibilities for education. A digital society which requires multi-literacies demands new pedagogies. Increasingly blurred boundaries between actual and virtual have consequences for those without easy access to essential resources. The nature of knowledge is being challenged, as are notions of autonomy and individuality. Schools will need to change if they are to support children to manage effectively in new digital worlds, to know what it is to remain human in the age of the internet machine. Future building for schools has implications for the university. Schools will be nurturing prospective higher education students. We also need to rethink what is means to learn and to teach in a socio-technical age where students are no longer ‘…clearly defined and bounded by their biology, but intimately embedded in and interconnected with their tools, their environment and their social networks.’ P 55

Most crucially, if education is no longer about autonomy but has become a site for interconnections between human, cultural and technological resources then ‘…the need to work towards the creation of an educational encounter that makes visible these diverse resources and works actively to overcome the inequalities and injustices they may cause, is increasingly urgent.’ p55

Selwyn, N. (2007) The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: a critical perspective. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2007), 23, 83-94

Rhetoric of educational technology is not matching formal academic use – suggests wider social relations and lived student experience show  emergence of a consistent theme – ‘…computer technology use is constructed in limited, linear and rigid terms far removed from the creative, productive and empowering uses which are often celebrated by learning technologists.’ P 83

SCOT – technology development and use is influenced by existing cultural and ideological structures and frameworks – power relations of political, economic and social drivers.

21st century capitalism = shift to knowledge based economy  requiring information literate gradutates with digital attributes.

References Clegg and Emperor’s new clothes – institutional hardware and software design supports hierarchical and linear information flows which are neither creative or empowering but represent business world ethos of provision of information rather than creative interaction or critical challenge.

References Slaughter and Leslie – Academic Capitalism as HEI’s turn into businesses with new managerialism, focus on efficiency, effectiveness and reduction of spending costs.

References Daniel Noble – Digital Diploma Mills (2002) Monthly Review Press Book

Selwyn is careful so write in the middle. Not advocating either contemporary capitalism nor wider social relations as sole determinants of use – but existing social power structures may be influential and worth research. ICTs could be said to shaped by a number of vested interests resulting in deep rooted often invisible drivers.

‘There is danger therefore that the recent haste to ‘implement’ computer technologies in higher education teaching and learning has caused many educationalists and technologists to lose sight of the guiding principles and underlying purposes of university education… continuing to pursue the implementation of computer technologies in higher education settings, educators are not making technical choices but ideological and political ones ’ p90

References Feenberg Questioning Technology and Kellner’s response re the opportunities  for reconstructing technology use within HE.

Mentions open source as a possible examples of ‘radical reworkings of educational technology (published 2007) but these reworkings along more emancipatory lines assume a political reworking of HE beyond the scope of activist educators.

I consider myself an activist educator in my promotion of inclusive practice and OER – my practice working with staff suggests their resistance is complex – it includes attitudes to technology, digital literacies, digital scholarship, multiple levels of confidence and competence, lack of central support, no training, no resources for content development, no minimum standards, no reward for engaging or innovating with digital teaching and learning, no digital education strategy or implementation plan, no time, space or place to change practice. Resistance is deep rooted, often a product of individual and ideological conditioning which is in the majority of cases impossible to change.

Selwyn, N. (2009) Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010) 26, 65-73

In this ‘Looking beyond learning’ paper Selwyn suggests objective and realistic accounts of technology use in situ need to be developed. Context rich analyses of the social conflicts and politics underpinning use of tech in educational settings need to be produced. Academic researchers and writers need to show greater interest in issues of democracy and social justice surrounding educational technology.     Selwyn stresses no one intellectual approach is more privileged or correct than any other  and adopting a critical approach should be seen as complementing existing the learner centred approaches which have dominated over the past 25 years.

Selwyn points out the ‘…disparity between the ‘rhetoric’ of educational technology scholarship and the ‘reality of educational technology practice.’

Similar to Feenberg’s statement – virtual learning has failed

Key themes are emerging – the influence of social relations on computer use in 21st century capitalist knowledge economy, how technology for teaching and learning follows transmission of information models rather than ones which support creative interaction and empowerment, need to be critical rather than focus on learning practice, less what technology could so and more how it is used.  Critical theory commonly has Marxist roots – when concerned with pedagogy it refers to Friere.  Other key people emerging include Feenberg, Kellner, Noble.


Included two critical approaches to distance learning from 2011 and 2000 for comparison

Summer, J. (2000) Serving the System: a critical history of distance education. Open Learning vol 15 no 3 2000

Quotes Freire refs Literacy and the possible dream: ‘It is impossible to deny, except intentionally or by innocence, the political aspect of education.’ 1976:70. Substitute education for digital exclusion –exclusion and innocence? No further reference to Friere or critical pedagogy = status quote.

Written in 2000 – pre Web 2.0 by a PhD student, this paper is useful for history of distance education and a Habermasian world view where rationality consists of two modes of action; instrumental (influences on the external world – system) and communicative (influences on the individual – lifeworld). Paper suggests computer conferencing offers opportunities for distance education to serve the lifeworld rather than the system (DL traditionally served the system) and be used for social good – educators need to choose whether they reinforce and replicate existing social conditions or challenge them. Knowing there is a choice is the first step to taking action. Also says Habermas viewed new communication media as either shaping the public sphere for communicative action or limiting it in order to serve the system.

Ref to Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (1969) on computer technology being likely to become means of control serving the system – but institutes new more effective and more pleasant forms of social control.

Selwyn, N. (2011) ‘Finding an appropriate fit for me’: examining the (in) flexibilities of international distance learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education vol 30, no 3,  367-383

Online distance learning driven through rhetoric of flexibility; paper examines flexibility from a learner perspective and uncovers tension between individual agency and social structure concluding academic policy assumptions about ‘the ‘freedoms’ of globalised distance education’ be adjusted. As well as the institutional expectation of programme delivery being expanded to blended and distance learners, with insufficient resource to manage the additional work required to adjust content and moderate learning, there is an expectation learners themselves will adapt and manage their lives to incorporate blended and/or distance learning. Reflexivity, increased self-awareness/self-evaluation and adaptability are all promoted as features of a liquid life (Bauman 2005 Liquid Life), Selwyn calls for educational research to produce a better understanding of individual lived experiences of distance learning. ‘To what extent has the role of the individual learner shifted from one of passive recipient of learning instruction to one of actively (re)constructing the nature of the place, pace, time and nature of the learning event?’ p269

Data shows how difficult distance learning can be – to find the time to focus before the issue of resources and online collaboration. When students choose distance learning, they may already be managing busy, demanding lives, multiple commitments and uneasy political situations. Selwyn says the reality is very different to ‘…the ‘anytime, anyplace, any pace’ rhetoric that surrounds popular and political descriptions of such [distance learning] courses.’ P379 The potential flexibility was diluted through ongoing challenges of the same time, place and pace which were promoted as advantages – lived reality suggests more disadvantages and inflexibility.

If you are developing blended/distance learning courses you need to understand the reality and loneliness of the long distance learner.  

Look up ‘It’s Taking Me a Long Time but I’ll Get There in the End’: Mature students on access courses and higher education choice Diane ReayStephen Ball & Miriam David   British Educational Research Journal Volume 28Issue 1, 2002


Critical pedagogy

Amsler, S. and Canaan, J. (2008) Whither critical pedagogy in the neo-liberal university today? Two UK practitioners’ reflections on constraints and possibilities. ELiSS Vol 1 Issue 2, November 2008

Paper is about moving outside of the university to create critical connections between academic practice and social knowledge

‘…we consider the effects of our efforts to realise the ideals of critical pedagogy in our teaching to date and ask how this might go further if we more fully link classroom and activist practices as we have tentatively begun to do.’ P 2

Says critical pedagogy also encompasses  critical literacy, feminist and other anti-oppressive philosophies of learning…

Freire supported popular education (of the people and a metaphor for transformatory political action) rather than referring to academic education

Amsler, S. (2010) Education as critical practice in Amsler, S., Canaan, J. E., Cowden, S., Motta, S. and Singh. G. (eds) (2010) Why critical pedagogy and popular education matter today. C.SAP: Higher Education Academy Subject Network for Sociology, Anthropology, Politics.

Educational practice more often serves as mechanisms of social discipline and control than expansion of human freedom and autonomy. Theories of critical pedagogy have emerged from ‘a need to name the contradiction between what schools claim they do and what they actually do.’ Ref Giroux, H. (2003: 123) Critical pedagogy and cultural power: an interview with Henry Giroux in Giroux, H, Border Crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. New York and London: Routledge

Says there are multiple and diverse theories of critical pedagogy which are united in the belief that ‘autonomous critical thought, open dialogue and social action are vital conditions for the defence of social justice and educational practices which neglect, repress or devalue these capacities diminish the possibility or recognising and resisting domination.’ P20

Unless they are ‘articulated in practice’ neither criticality nor pedagogy is evident. The form of critical pedagogy is not pre-given or transferable – it is shaped by articulation in practice. Critical pedagogy ‘…may refer to anti-capitalist education, anti-racist pedagogies and feminist pedagogies; training in social activism and mastery of social theory; individualised education in critical thought and community problem-solving; studies of language and of social structure; education for raising consciousness and for dismantling social boundaries; and pedagogical work inside the classroom and in other public spheres.’ P21

Lambert, C. ‘A location of possibility?’ Critical pedagogies in the classroom. in Amsler, S., Canaan, J. E., Cowden, S., Motta, S. and Singh. G. (eds) (2010) Why critical pedagogy and popular education matter today. C.SAP: Higher Education Academy Subject Network for Sociology, Anthropology, Politics.

Students sit in a box listening to the teacher providing their version of information – critical pedagogy ‘…does not privilege one form of knowledge or the voice of one knowledge provider.’ Instead, knowledge is recognised as made not given ‘..and must always be subject to debate and contestation, making room for alternative or marginal perspectives.’ p 33

refs Leitch, S. (2006) Prosperity for all in the global economy – World class skills, The Staionary Office, London

Also Readings, B. (1996) The University in ruins. Precis – Universities are turning into transnational corporations through the discourse of “excellence.” – driven by market forces, more interested in profit margins than in thought – “excellence” is an empty qualifier for administrative decision-making, using it provides a bureaucratic rationale for managerial decisions – it is not a criterion for judgment, but an empty qualifier, (Lyotard and PM Condition) and can be used rhetorically in any situation to provide what looks like a justification for any decision. Without purpose, managerial decision s are essentially arbitrary exercises of the power of the administrator or of market capitalism. Universities have become branded enterprises where consumers give them money because of their brand name and the consumers’ desire to associate with the brand name. There is, otherwise, at present no other purpose of universities.

Also refs Ranciere – The ignorant schoolmaster: five lessons in intellectual emancipation

Students as consumers affects the balance of relationship between students and tutors – Lambert says this can be negative and return to Friere’s banking framework of education.


Giroux, H. (2004) When Hope is Subversive. Tikkan. Vol 19, No 6

No mention of Marx but references Judith Butler questioning what it is to be human and Zygmunt Bauman on the open endedness of human possibilities. Giroux describes hope as more than politics, it is a pedagogical and performative practice and the belief better futures are possible. ‘Hope is the precondition for individual and social struggle.’ P 38.

Hope has to be grounded in a project that has some hold on the present. Education which promotes social transformation offers a pedagogy of hope.

Giroux, H. (2013) The Necessity of Critical Pedagogy in Dark Times.  Truthout. Global Education Magazine. 6 February 2013

‘Critical pedagogy is a movement and an ongoing struggle taking place in a number of different social formations and places.’ P1

CP is an ongoing political and moral project, not a method or technique, in itself it has postmodern fluidity. ‘Pedagogy is always political because it is connected with the acquisition of agency.’ P 1 It ‘illuminates the relationships among knowledge, authority and power.’ – ‘draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge’. Giroux says it is ‘a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what knowledge and subjectivities are produced within particular sets of social relations.’ This is the opposite to the learning which comes out of TELEDA where I don’t know what will be produced – which is why I call it the pedagogy of uncertainty.

Critical pedagogy is about the link between education and social agency and responsibility; it is the outcome of struggle and ‘…is always related to the specificity of particular contexts, students, communities, available resources, the histories students bring with them to the classroom an the diverse experiences and identifies they inhabit.’  P1 How does critical pedagogy fit with online learning design – Reeves et al (2005) called for socially responsible learning design but meant inquiry based learning set on real world problems. In 2011 Reeves et al  called for education research to have a theoretical goal; one of these being postmodern assumptions of hidden power agendas. Feenberg (2002) called for critical theory and Freisen (2008) says critical theory is still relatively unused by researchers into education technology.

Giroux on controls over the production of knowledge – power, politics and knowledge connect in creating the conditions for the production of knowledge, values, subjectivities and social relations in both the school and the classroom. While power is never uniform either in its constellations or effects, it is true that within particular historical formations some modes of power dominate over others and often constrain the types of struggles and modes of governance involved in decisions regarding what counts as knowledge.’  Knowledge, values, desires and social relations are always implicated in power. Sounds Foucauldian.

‘Freedom is no longer about equality, social justice, or the public welfare, but about trade in goods, financial capital, and commodities.’

The production of knowledge in a market driven economy substitutes training for education and ‘…reduces the obligations of citizenship to the act of consuming’. Giroux later says democratic education has been devalued in favour of a pedagogy of commodification and repression. Education now takes place within culture – a public pedagogy circulated through commercial sites of newspapers, tv, cables, mobile phones and the internet Postman and Lasch??

Giroux, H. (1994) Slacking Off: Border Youth and Postmodern Education. Journal of Advanced Composition. Vol 14, no 2 pp347-66

 ‘A resistant or political postmodernism seems invaluable to me in helping educators and others address the changing conditions of knowledge production in the context of emerging mass electronic media and the role these new technologies are playing as critical socializing agencies in redefining bot the locations and the meaning of pedagogy.’ P3

Giroux, H. (2004) Critical Pedagogy and the Postmodern/Modern Divide. Teacher Education Quarterly. Winter 2004.

Difficult paper – verbose – unnecessarily wordy. Is this trying to prove you are an academic, or symptomatic of postmodern posturing. This difficulty is what gave postmodernism a bad name.


Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research.  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65

Reeves and Herrington update their 2005 paper for Ascilite 2010 (this was the conference I withdrew from) and won the outstanding paper category.

Says the increase in educational research only benefits individual careers, institutional status and the research publishing industry – there is no evidence of educational improvements while research shows education is failing and students under-achieving (sounds similar to the diet industry where maintaining weight loss is not in their best interests!) Calls educational research hypocritical – saying it claims to improve but makes no difference to anything which really matters.

Suggests educational design research has dual objectives of developing creative approaches to improving education while constructing a body of design principles for guiding future educational research.  Educational research which improves practice must identify significant teaching and learning problems, must base solutions on existing design principles, must test solutions and design principles. Educational design has a twenty year history going back to 1992 but most educational researchers confound research goals and methods – the six theoretical research goals are theoretical, predictive, interpretivist, postmodern, design/development and action/evaluation. No mention of critical social or educational theory but this appears to fall within the postmodern category.

‘Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programmes and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among researchers with multicultural, gender or political interested, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology. ‘P 60

Suggests this might be because there are ‘relatively few educational technologists capable of mentoring graduate students or young researchers in this approach.’ and there are problems with finding scholarly outlets for papers taking this postmodern approach (but what about Selwyn, Seale, van Dijk, Steyeart etc being critical about digital exclusion? – I get nervous about postmodernism being misused or misunderstood because it is already contentious and doesn’t need errors – in terms of a lens to view digital landscapes and ways of working – the impact of the internet on identity etc postmodern approaches can be enlightening see )

Issues of hidden agendas and empowerment constitute a critical approach and this suggests not all critique needs to derive from a Marxist tradition; the overarching narrative where class struggle and the logic of capitalism provides a singular explanation for all social inequality can be contested by other axis including race, gender, disability, age and religion.  

The authors seem dismissive of researchers with ‘action/evaluation goals… sometimes called action research or evaluation research’ saying research with action goals can be similar to design research except that there is little or no effort to construct theory, models or principles to guide future design initiatives. (My understanding of action research – especially participatory action research – which this paper doesn’t mention – is closely aligned with critical theory which seeks to uncover and challenge unequal power structures; and awareness of this is part of the ethical approval process.)

I’ve selected this paper because it aligns with others which identify the gap between the rhetoric and practice of elearning and call for greater attention to educational design – if the design approach includes a social dimension and addresses the changes bought about through digital ICT then I think that’s a valid option worth exploring. Lack of support for digital pedagogy is evident and investing in appropriate research design could well be beneficial.


Following on from the paper above in 2011

Bennet, S. and Oliver, M. (2011) Talking back to theory: the missed opportunities in learning technology research. Research in Learning Technology. Vol 19, No3. November 2011, 179-189

Theoretically informed research in learning technology is in the minority which limits opportunities to advance knowledge. Calls for the development of a scholarship of learning technology which engages with theory to advance practice. Technology for learning had been subject of practical implementation and design, assumptions, hype and excitement with investment in hardware and software rather than the pedagogy of teaching and learning in virtual spaces. Incentive for research and development in education technology has been fashion and markets rather than principles or theory.

Refs Conole, G., Smith, J. and white, S. (2007) A critique of the impact of policy and funding. In Contemporary Perspectives on e-learning research, ed : G. Conole and M Oliver, 38-54. London: Routledge.

And Selwyn 2007 paper – a critical perspective. Look up Rethinking e-learning research – By Norm Friesen British Journal of Educational Technology Volume 40, Issue 6, pages 1143–1144, November 2009

Freisen draws on Habermas – suggests research into educational technology is technically rather than theoretically oriented.  Theory offers opportunities for wider knowledge construction which includes critical questioning – eg is this the best research approach and who benefits?

Paper describes how the history of learning technology developed along behaviourist principles of objectivist, scientifically-based instructional design – automated teaching – founded on industrial and military use of systems analysis etc Instructional design theory was privileged and prioritised. ‘While design research works well for investigating the effectiveness of a particular design in practice, and so helps inform instructional design theory, it has little relevance to non-design problems.’ P181

Look up Thorpe, Mary (2001). From independent learning to collaborative learning: new communities of practice in open, distance and distributed learning. In: Lea, Mary and Nicoll, Kathy eds. Distributed learning: social and cultural approaches to practice. London, UK: Routledge.

Thorpe – constructivist accounts which celebrated student independence and autonomy can be critiqued as leaving students isolated and unsupported. Indicative of growing awareness of a shift from a design and instruction to social and cultural practice was needed – from behaviourism to social constructivism and beyond.

Refs Czerniewicz, L. (2010) Educational Technology – Mapping the terrain with Bernstein as Cartographer. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 26, no. 6: 523-34

Not sure was Czerniewicz is saying – I think it’s the theory exists and can be bought in from multiple fields – but without being critical – it used derivatively.  If educational technology research is restricted to a problem based solution finding and instructional design focus it becomes limited and Czerniewicz says this is ideological – it legitimates one research agenda at the expense of others.

Paper goes one to look at three examples from multimedia (how empirical work can develop theory – Richard Mayer), gaming (how theory can undermine claims – Oliver and Pelletier plus others) and international chinese students experience of online learning (how theory can change understanding – Chen).

Theory can provide ‘…an orientating framework to shape data collection and analysis by providing a lens that determines which aspects of the context should be attended to and why they are important to understanding the phenomenon.’ P185 Without theory the focus risks being purely pragmatic (Mike would say this means neutral rather than political) with no way to ‘speak to a wider body of research’ Drawing on theoretical constructs can shape research lens and focus, connect the research to broader concerns and provide opportunity to test the theory with new data – with possibility of developing and extending it.  I guess this shows you are producing knowledge which ‘fits’ within what has gone before thereby giving it authenticity and credibility rather than being based on personal opinion. 

Theory makes research coherent – gives it boundaries – focus – frames it correctly – situates it within wider context. Theory requires the researcher to take up a position – they need to engage with the theory, challenge and develop not just apply it. Paper refers to Boyer’s categories of scholarship of discovery, integration and application (says teaching is less direct)

‘A scholarly approach to research in learning technology should build knowledge, including new theories; integrate work from different disciplines in a thoughtful way; and apply it to practical problems and concerns.’ P 186

Bennett and Oliver conclude – based on theories from Freisen and Czerniewicz – research into educational technology would benefit from application of theory to practical, pragmatic issues. Theoretical informed research – which is interpretive, critical or emancipatory are under-represented alternatives [which] need valuing and encouraging so as to counterbalance the increasingly dominant position of theory-free or theory-applying work.

It is not enough to apply theory – the theory must be developed and extended – I can see why you need a solid theoretical base in order to give your research credibility – this is a threshold concept – my PAR is about challenging my position of authority and giving away my power – but underpinning this is critical pedagogy which recognises how education is an ideological tool used by the state to further and extend dominance and control. Critical theory is critical of social and cultural conditions which repress and create inequality. Education is the opportunity for resistance and awareness raising – so is fundamentally key to human development. Now I am looking for theory I’m seeing how much it’s missing the educational technology literature eg The Alison Littlejohn 2002 paper on sustainable elearning through reusable Learning Objects,  JISC Effective Practice in a Digital Age (2004) and Preparing Learners for a Digital World (2009)


Gunn, C. and Steel, C. (2012) Linking theory to practice in learning technology research. In Research in Learning Technology, vol 20, 2012.

A case to ‘…reposition theory’ as having a pivotal role in learning technology research and build an ecology of learning. (Ecology is the study of the interaction of people with their environment – maybe this should be a digital learning ecology?)

Review of articles in ALT and ASCILITE journals between 2005-2010 found scant reference to theory – paper proposes educational design research as a theory focused methodology.

Ref to Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J. and Oliver, R. (2005) ‘Design research: a socially responsible approach to instructional technology research in higher education. In Journal of Computing in Higher Education, vol. 16, no. 2, pp 97-116

And Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research.  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65

Examples of researchers promoting educational design research as a socially responsible methodology and valid form of scientific inquiry. (see notes below on both papers)

Pioneer of calls for design research seems to be Edelson, D. C. (2002) ‘Design research: what we learn when we engage in design.’ The Journal of the Learning Sciences, vol  11, no. 1, pp 105-121

Edelson says if design research is to be productive it must be informed by prior research and linked to research findings and research perspectives – researchers must draw on theory  so their work is ‘…guided by an informed understanding of the gaps in current understanding in order to…make a  useful contribution to understanding.’ P116 quoted in Gunn and Steel p 9

Edelson says design research needs to be adopted for educational research because it engages researchers in the direct improvement of educational practice. Says ‘Design is difficult and costly’ p 118 – BUT it

  • ‘…provides a productive perspective for theory development’ and ‘…the practical demands of design require that a theory be fully specified.’
  • ‘…the process of design reveals inconsistencies more effectively than analytical processes.’
  • It is goal-directed so ‘…provides a natural focus for theory development.’
  • It addresses research aimed at improving teaching.
  • It involves researchers in the improvement of education. Edelson says ‘Because researchers have the freedom to explore innovative design free from market considerations that drive traditional education designers, they have the opportunity to create truly innovative designs.’ (is this idealistic or naïve?)

Gunn and Steel suggest a case for educational Research Design – reference  Nieveen, N., McKenny, S. and van den Akker, J. (2006) Educational design research: the value of variety in Educational Design Research, eds J van den Akker, J. K. Gravemeijer, S, McKenney and N. Nieveen, Routledge, London and New York, pp. 151-159 available

In contrast to Edelson, Gunn and Steel says research is limited by tradition and the newness of educational research design as a methodology – in particular where… ‘The parameters set by funding bodies and editorial standards define norms that both limit what researchers can do and, in the former case, set somewhat arbitrary timeframes they must work within.’ P10


UK calls for attention to the gap between the rhetoric and the practice with elearning

Conole, Grainne (2004). E-Learning: The Hype and the Reality. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 11

The reality is elearning is still marginal in the lives of most academics, with technology being used for little more than acting as a content repository or for administrative purposes.’ P 2

In the next ten years we are likely to see the area [elearning research] diversify…academics working in this area need to demonstrate that the research is methodological, rigorous, building appropriately on existing knowledge and theories from feeder disciplines and feeding into policy and practice.’ P3

Identifies issues with elearning research. ‘As a young field it suffers in a number of respects. Firstly, it is still eclectic in nature, not yet clearly defined and scoped. Secondly, much of the current research is criticized for being too anecdotal, lacking theoretical underpinning.’ p6. Conole calls for rigorous research methodologies to ensure valid and meaningful findings and more detailed critique of the methodological issues of elearning research and its epistemological underpinnings.

Identifies a comprehensive elearning research framework,  which supports ‘real insight into the ways in which technologies can effectively support learning and teaching, and an understanding of how they can be used to improve organisational processes.’ P17

Although the paper begins with identification of elearning as failing to fulfil the promises of its rhetoric, it appears to be framed within the rhetoric – and designed to find ways of achieving it – rather than being critical of the rhetoric itself.

P 5 – heading – The impotance of e-learning research. At first I thought this was a pun on impotence – then realised its most likely a missing ‘r’ – should be importance. elearning research is impotent if it doesn’t critique the role of technology as an automating principle within higher education or the complex social structures which influence adoption and use.

Mayes, T. and de Freitas, S (2004) JISC eLearning Models Desk Study Stage 2: Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models

A useful synthesis of approaches to eLearning research in the early part of 21st century. Like the Conole paper on hype and the reality of elearning, it is about the potential and possibilities of elearning. It sets out to offer a pedagogical design framework for elearning; one which identifies the underlying assumptions about learning in order to provide a rationale for the technology.

Like the Conole paper above there is no critique

Conole, G. and Dyke, M. (2004) What are the affordances of information and communication technologies? ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology vol 12 no 2

Refers to evaluation research – to learning technology as an emerging research discipline – but with over emphasis on case study approach rather than the development of underpinning theories or explorations on a theoretical basis. Refers to use being based on common sense rather than being theoretically informed by pedagogical theory.

Ref to Britain, S. and Liber, O. (1999) A framework for pedagogical evaluation of virtual learning environments, JISC Technology Applications Programme, Report no 41 – an early attempt to analyse low adoption of ICT, The report calls attention to ‘…the lack of a coherent framework within which to evaluate both the pedagogical benefits and the organisational changes required to effectively implement it. [ICT – check]

Conole’s paper sets out to build a taxonomy of affordances of ICT – built on Gibson’s concept of affordances (1979) and Beck’s understanding of risk (1992) with the future intention of assigning affordances to specific technologies in order to have a system for identifying strengths and weaknesses.

‘Firstly relevant current social theory and critique were analysed to establish the key features of modernity and, where relevant, to map this specifically to ICT.’ P 116. Refers to Giddens (1990/91) on late modernity, Castells (1996) on networked society and Engestrom et al (1999) on critique of activity theory – need to check this out –

The advantage of educational research into ICT is it understands the impact of information, the speed of access to sources of conflicting and changing information, the need for information literacy to determine authority and authenticity, the need for critical reflection – all required to support deep rather than shallow learning.

Refs Boud, Cohen and Walker (1993) Using experience for learning (look up Boud on experiential learning for TELEDA) Boud – learning is a holistic activity which needs to connect to people’s life experiences (TELEDA – personal for each participant) and how learning is constructed in social, economic and cultural contexts. Also refers to potential disjuncture between the mediated ‘reported’ experience and the reality of lived experience. ‘It raises questions about how one distinguishes between what is real and what is rendered real via the technology.’ P117 (Another reference but no depth. Eg Baudrillard’s – eg statement on the Gulf war not existing because our only experience was via media – and confusion between the Real and the Simulation – in a world of digital images and communication how do we know reality?)

The paper identifies as affordance as exposure to diversity and difference – to the Other. Refs Habermasian idea of ideal speech situations (See Jennifer Summer – Serving the System: a critical history of distance education which uses Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action 2002) and the risk of lack of identity with ref to Bauman’s Life in Fragments (1995) and how we step into separate houses and close the door then into separate rooms and close the doors.

In this paper research is learning design and pedagogy. (See Conole et al 2004 Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning in Computers and Education, 43, 17-33) The JISC Learning Design Toolkit is about pedagogical grounded use of tools and resources, how people learn and how this can be applied to ICT. Refs Laurillard (2002) on how ICT can be used to transform information into knowledge. Refs Dewey (1933) on need for critical reflection upon experience to create knowledge. ‘Dewey’s (1933) pragmatic approach to experiential learning is more characteristic of non-linear learning achievable with ICT than that of the more prescriptive learning cycle of Kolb (1984).’ Not sure I get this – I though Kolb was cyclical.

‘Many e-learning packages are built on behaviourist principles of atomised experiences that need to be completed in a specified order before the individual is positively reinforced and permitted to move on – a form of electronic page turning.’ P119 Useful to reflect on how much has changed over the past decade?

Identifies risk as an affordance of ICT– eg the unknown eg unintended consequences of individuals using it in ways which were not predicted eg plagiarism, junk email and how institutions and state use it eg surveillance and monitoring (refs Foucault’s Discipline and Punish 1979)

Although the paper makes broad brush reference to wider social and cultural environment and claims current social theory and critique were analysed, there is no mention of critical theory or pedagogy – the focus is on the application and potential of ICT to improve learning, to justify the promises of transformation. Educationalists devoted time and energy to making ICT work – rather than asking critical questions about access and use.  Reference is made to learning being constructed in social, economic and cultural contexts, key issues raised in  Selwyn’s 2007 (submitted 2006) call for a critical approach to explain low take-up and success rates with ICT for education – Noble, Feenberg etc already saying this

Educational research which overlooks inequalities replicates an reinforces existing frameworks of oppression, exclusion and disempowerment – therefore does not represent what education should be

Conole, G., Smith, J. and White, S. (2007) A critique of the impact of policy and funding. In Contemporary Perspectives in e-learning research, ed : G. Conole and M Oliver, 38-54. London: Routledge.

Relationship between government policy and technology for learning.

DfES (2005) DfES e-learning strategy: harnessing technology – transforming learning and childrens’ services.’

UKeU – e-Universities Worldwide Limited – Conole’s evaluation showed disjuncture between policy and its rhetoric with practice – suggesting elearning policy needs to reflect the reality of higher education (including its broad disciplinary based cultures, teaching and research practice, staff student mix, institutional objectives and the policy of funding bodies etc) plus the human as well as technological aspects of elearning implementation.  Authors recognise the promise rarely reflects the reality. P 40 – refers to widening participation driver for adoption of learning technology and highlights how vles might ‘exacerbate inequality’ as WP learners might not have prerequisite experience for online distance learning plus how many  claims for the advantages of elearning derive from personal and/or game based technologies rather than those which specifically support learning.

Chapter reviews policy for eLearning over 40 years and comments how TQEF triple layer pf funding (national, institutional and individual) promotes the idea of funded activities being seen as valued ones. Says elearning has a ‘catalytic’ nature and adoption involves management of change – elearning demands a collaborative approach (eg educationalists, technologists, subject specialists, support staff) and refers to Gosling (2001) and the educational development unit. Suggests staff are comfortable with face to face practice and do not have the technical knowledge to shift to virtual environments –  my experience suggests those with knowledge of the technology rarely understand the individual and personal attachment academics have to their subject and practice – the role of the educational technologist remains more ‘e’ for electronic than ‘p’ for pedagogic

Resistance is also complex; the monitoring machine, the power and control of surveillance. See Conole, G. and Dyke, M. (2004) What are the affordances of information and communication technologies? ALT (J) 12(2) 113-124

Concludes how technological initiatives have been criticised for failure when the initial goals were more rhetorical than realistic; in particular the promises of widening participation which assumed a confidence and competence with technology for learning that was missing. Authors refer to growing digital divides, cultural changes in flexible e-working patterns (people preferring to have social contact than work in isolation) and the shift from subject-expert lecturer to facilitator of mediated online learning – all as challenges to policy promises of a universal on-demand access to education (see DfES trio of documents)

‘In reviewing policy and funding arrangements, one thing has crystallised: research has a tendency to follow policy directives and technological developments, rather than informing them…developments take little notice of the socio-cultural elements that, in recent years, have proved to be crucial in terms of creating learning communities.’ P53

Time shows evidence of ‘knee-jerk policy, which does not take account of evidence emerging from research’ with the UKeU being a publically visible example. Is a parallel FutureLearn – set up in response to the MOOC phenomena which burst in less than a year.

Dyke, M., Conole, G., Ravenscroft, A. and de Freitas, S. (2007) Learning Theory and its Application to e-learning. In Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research ed : G. Conole and M Oliver, 82-97. London: Routledge.

Critiques behaviourist approaches, advocates experiential reflective social constructivist and socio cultural approaches – refs Mayes and de Freitas Review of elearning frameworks, models and theories

Philosophical background quotes Aristotle – Kant – Dewey – learning as transformation of experience – no reference to origin of what is learned or construction of the curriculum – quotes Castells and Kumar on shift to and implications of an information society and Giddens on ‘reflexive monitoring of the self’ p83

Reflection, experience and engagement with others are key dimensions of learning in late modernity where an unprecedented mass of available information needs to be transformed into knowledge and learning.


Selwyn, N. and Facer, K (2007) Beyond the Digital Divide. Rethinking digital inclusion for the 21st century. Futurelab.

Not sure anywhere in this report is there mention of the divide between content creators – web designers and individuals uploading materials – and the user of AT – or simply awareness of the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet. Usage is being narrowed down to a MEE Model and based on assumptions of access criteria. Digital exclusion is linked to social exclusion. No mention of how exclusion is replicated and reinforced through content creation.

Authors see the digital divide as a ‘…serious and significant threat…’ to the establishment of a digital society and ‘…it should be possible for policy makers, technologists and other concerned stakeholders to develop a revitilised policy agenda which builds upon and moves beyond previous digital divide policy-making.’ P3

Awareness digital divides are about more than hardware provision and support – and solutions require collective thinking and action – ‘Although the digital divide is often seen as an individual problem, it undoubtedly requires collective solutions.’ P 4

Quotes Giddens 2000 book title Runaway World (based on series of BBC Reith lectures 1999 – Globalisation, Risk, Tradition, Family, and Democracy).

Suggests social change in post modernity is underpinned by ICT (refs Harvey, D (1989) Condition of post-modern world (postmodernism/postmodernity – cultural, social and philosophical shifts from modern to postmodern – book Includes analysis of Blade Runner and Wings of Desire – Harvey – committed Marxist geographer concerned with city space, issues of social injustice and the nature of capitalism, been credited with restoring social class and Marxist methods as methodological tools in the critique of global capitalism, argues capitalism annihilates space to ensure its own reproduction)

Quotes Castells (Castells, M (1996) The Information Age; Economy, Society and Culture. Vol 1 The Rise of the Networked Society. Oxford: Blackwells) on shift from physical boundaries to networks – the ‘space of flows’ rather than ‘space of spaces’ – Castells links technological development with restructuring of capitalism and rise on nation states (autonomous independent countries)

Castells  view of networks sounds similar to Seimens Connectvism

ICTs can be said to be ‘…firmly at the heart of the interconnected logic of 21st century life.’ Selwyn and Facer p5

Social changes include ending of the job for life – employability has become about adapting for different circumstances – ability to operate within digital as well as physical environments – education is seen as a process of lifelong learning – bolstered with online opportunities – reflexivity is promoted as a means of coping with change and reacting and adapting to new situations – the distance between knowledge and action has decreased as ICT becomes embedded in social interactions – digital literacies involve the consumption, production and management of multiple media – while the internet is promoted as revolutionary – transformatory – need to ask in whose interest are these social changes – who benefits from shifting human activity to digital formats – what is being done to ensure equitable access – and effective use.

Van Dijk identifies the essential aspects of digital inclusion – says access combines the material and motivational alongside essential skills and appropriateness of content. Calls for attention to excluded groups and ensuring there is investment in designing for their needs – p214 in the Deepening Divide

Content is as important – unless the user perceives the content as relevant they will not engage p13 – need to take into account wider social issues and subject differences – as these influence engagement ‘If the wider cultural context of use (such as the workplace, school or home) does not fit well with the culture of the ICT application, then use will not easily follow.’ P 14

‘..the digital divide continues to be one of the most important social issues of our time.’ P 16

Pew survey (2003 p41) concluded ‘demography is destiny when it comes to predicting who will go online.’ P 16 In the UK a number of government reports – Digital Britain – Digital Manifesto – highlight likelihood of existing social exclusion aligning with digital exclusion – ‘most commonly delineated in terms of gender, age, income, race, educational background, geography and disability.’ P 17 associated

Liangzhi Yu (2006) comprehensive analysis of digital divide literature – 192 English language research reports – identified common factors associated with non-use of ICTs p18 where is disability and users of AT???

Selwyn and Facer conclude with the need to reimagine the digital divide as social rather than a technical or economic issue – the admit to raising more questions than answers – highlighting more problems than offering solutions – suggest a social digital divide requires collaboration between education, social policy, industry, community and public sector.


22nd August

Just because the last entry here was 22nd July- and this is 22nd August-  it doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy on the PhD front. Oh no. On the contrary I’ve been very busy. The challenge is to distil all the reading, writing and thinking from a ramble across the moors into a brisk jog around the block.  Watch this space – or look at my blog page instead 🙂


22nd July

More thoughts on power and the start of a paper about resistance to virtual learning


Resistance and Exclusion; two states of being but the consequences are the same


Technology seeps in. Usage evolves. Change is a slow process in particular in institutions like the university with a long history of tradition. The virtual learning environment (VLE) is a prime example where usage has not matched availability. THE VLE has been embedded but remains largely unpopular. A utility rather than a tool for learning.  A repository of documents rather than a shared community of collaborative practice where teaching and social presence combine.

Over twenty years since the Dearing Report heralded a greater use of Communication and Information Technologies in higher education,  it is now possible to be brave, to look back and ask what went wrong. What happened to the promise of equitable online learning opportunities? Where is the predicted transformation promised by government and the HE sector? How did we get to the current situation where

the formal use of computer technologies in many areas of higher education could best be described as sporadic, uneven, and often low level’ Selwyn, N. (2007) The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: A critical perspective. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(2), 83–94.

Or a position where:

Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now. Laurillard, D. (2008) Digital technologies and their role in achieving our ambitions for education

This paper suggests the need for a critical approach to the history the virtual learning university; one which steps back from the potential of learning technology and instead examines more closely the possible causes of ‘sporadic, uneven and often low level’ practice and how either resistance or exclusion have similar consequences. Beginning with the aftermath of Dearing and reactions to the shift to digital ways of working, this paper will suggest the promises of appropriate support and the vision of equitable access for all have failed. The full consequences of resistance and exclusion for the future are not yet fully understood but it is clear the lines between those who choose to resist and those who are excluded are becoming blurred. Those with low or no-access are relegated, shut out from the online chatter and conversations while digital engagement is privileged and the digitised platforms of the public sphere effectively silence voices of resistance and exclusion.

The hidden nature of digital discrimination indicates the extent of its domination. The power lines of digital access have become firmly located within the wider social landscape and rooted in individual attitudes towards the design and delivery of digital media. Those with the technical ability constantly redraw access parameters in ever decreasing circles, creating a different language with which to change working practice. In 21st century, exclusion from digital environments constitutes new forms of social and cultural distinctions with problematic access to a broad range of goods and services.  As an institution for the public good, with a remit to identify and challenge social injustice, the university finds itself caught up in the shift to digital education and paying insufficient attention to its non-digital cohorts of staff and students. While the current politics suggest its future role and identity is uncertain, digital divides on campus increase as ‘digital first’ strategies are adopted and graduates pushed towards digital ways of learning and earning. Those who resist or are excluded are becoming invisible. An improved understanding of the unequal power balance between the technology and the user experience is essential. This paper suggests such an understanding could be achieved through a closer examination of the history of the virtual learning environment as an example of a technology where resistance and exclusion are insufficiently addressed but underpin unacknowledged digital divisions which are widening and deepening at the same time.


At the turn of the 21st century, the VLE was a symbol for all the rhetoric of the internet and world wide web. The monolithic electronic system was promoted for its potential but previous experience of computerised learning across the subject range was limited in scope. Computers had been used primarily for maths and language teaching, with growing interest in the role of simulation in the sciences, all under a range of titles including Computer Aided Learning, Computer Aided Assessment, Computer Aided Instruction and Computer Assisted Language Learning. Experience with learning by computers was greatest in the compulsory education sector rather than higher education with its stress on critical thinking and reflective practice. There was also limited experience in the application of digital technology for teaching more creative studio-based subjects or those with higher levels of interpersonal skills and components of practice placement. As a result, the possibilities for research into digital pedagogy represented a vast open landscape, one well primed for learning developers and learning technologists as well as those with an existing interest in the mechanisation of teaching, learning and assessment opportunities to move into.

It is clear drivers for embedding the VLE were never influenced by altruism.  Technology for education has always been a lucrative industry; teaching and learning affects everyone at some point in their lives. The development of the VLE was an inevitable consequence of the shift from industry to information as the primary mode of labour. The increasing digitisation of society in the last decades of the 20th century had pushed inexorably towards the automation of processes (ref Castells and/or Webster?). The lack of effective models for reinventing the digital university was glossed over; instead the VLE arrived on wings of promised transformation. The vocabulary of electronic learning was heavy with words like transform and revolution.

E-Learning has the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and how we learn…people are finding e-learning can make a difference: to how quickly they master a skill; how easy it is to study; and, of course, how much they enjoy learning. IT is important because to can contribute to all the government’s objectives for education – to raising standards; improving quality; removing barriers to learning and participation in learning; preparing for employment; up-skilling in the workplace; and ultimately, ensuring that every learner achieves their full potential.’ P 4  Charles Clarke (2003) Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy. Department for Education and Skills.

Annex Four of the government’s consultation document Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy, offers guidance to academic staff on the affordance of adopting strategic approaches.

‘For academic staff, a strategic approach to e-learning helps keep them in touch with relevant technological  advances, while identifying and sharing best practice in curriculum design, teaching, learning and assessment, helping to manage innovation and technological risk. Effective e-learning enables interactive, independent student learning and supports traditional teaching methods. Online technology offers unprecedented, and managed, access to learning materials and research resources, enabling sophisticated collaborations with a diverse range of partners.’ P 51 Charles Clarke (2003) Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy. Department for Education and Skills.

By the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, HEFCE decided the phrase Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) best bought together the range of terms being used to describe the process of automating teaching. The first HEFCE elearning strategies (2005, revised 2008) described TEL as leading to

  • efficiency (existing processes carried out in a more cost-effective, time-effective, sustainable or scalable manner)
  • enhancement (improving existing processes and the outcomes)
  • transformation (radical, positive change in existing processes or introducing new processes).

The VLE was born a decade earlier when the National Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education (1997), chaired by Lord Dearing, was specific about the advantages of virtual learning. In the most far reaching set of changes for the university since the Robbins Report (1963 documented the ways higher education in a learning society would take full advantage of the advances in communications and information technology (C&IT) and by doing so would radically alter the shape and delivery of learning throughout the world (Report of the National Committee of Inquiry in Higher Education, 1997, Chapter 1.18

‘…we believe that the innovative exploitation of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT) holds out much promise for improving the quality, flexibility and effectiveness of higher education. The potential benefits will extend to, and affect the practice of, learning and teaching and research.’  (Report of the NCIHE, Chapter 13.1)

The report promoted the potential affordances of new technologies, clearly stating how technology had the potential for inclusion. At the time of the NCIHE, the development of internet technology supported universal access to new digital formats.

“…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.” (Dardailler, D. (1997) Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Available at

Recognition of the potential for inclusion with digital information was reflected in the Dearing Report which also referenced the affordances of virtual learning environments for overcoming traditional barriers of time and distance as well as improving participation opportunities for students who were studying part time and/or at a distance.

‘C&IT will overcome barriers to higher education, providing improved access and increased effectiveness, particularly in terms of lifelong learning. Physical and temporal obstacles to access for students will be overcome with the help of technology. Those from remote areas, or with work or family commitments need not be disadvantaged. Technology will also allow the particular requirements of students with disabilities to be more effectively met by institutions.’ (Report of the NCIHE, Chapter 13.4

At the same time as listing the potential for educational technology, the report recognised the need for substantial shifts in behaviour and practice with investment in terms of time, thought and resources in the short term.

13.10 While the effective adoption of C&IT in higher education requires appropriate technology, adequate resources and staff development, success depends on the effective management of change. (Report of the NCIHE, Chapter 13.10)

With hindsight, the reference to ‘short term’ investment was unrealistic.  The adoption of the VLE has been fraught with barriers and these will be more closely examined in a later section of this paper. First it is useful to be reminded how history shows new learning technologies have often taken time to become embedded and for educators to suffer varying degrees of culture shock over change in accustomed practice.

Adoption of the new – the long slow process of change

The relations between society and new technologies are not always smooth. (Luddites – neo Luddites????)

Shifts from human to technological ways of working often create tension and resistance. It is worth remembering how the invention of writing caused pedagogic controversy in ancient Greece. In the Phaedra, Plato writes of the concerns of Socrates who believed text was a remote tool which could only repeat the same words and content, so was powerless to engage the reader as an individual.

“If men learn this [the art of writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks…by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”

Socrates believed without discussion there could be no teaching and learning; an argument with echoes in early debates around virtual learning environments; in particular the common belief if lectures are put online students wont attend (needs reference)

Following the mass production of text through the printing press similar reservations around the social impact and potential cultural crisis of these new technologies were expressed (find quote from medieval scholar – quoted by Keen or Carr – about loss of memory etc)

Reference Elizabeth Eisenstein (The Printing Press as an Agent of Change 1979) plus Elizabeth Eisenstein and the impact of printing at

In some environments there were more positive approaches – education could move on from backward looking attempts to preserve the text of old wisdom contained in rare collections of parchment but – now the wisdom was preserved in books – attention could be given to discussion, debate and development of new knowledge and understanding.

Something here about linking to attitudes to scholarly innovation in the past to the instigation of the VLE in the present…

Shifts to digital pedagogic practice – support for change

The disjuncture between traditional and digital approaches to pedagogic practice has only been part of the problematic history of the VLE.

There is no avoiding the academic culture shock over the digitisation of lectures or the time it takes to produce effective online learning activities and collaborative group work. Higher education is not short of pedagogic theory for virtual environments. Beginning with Gange’s early work on instructional design, through the reconstruction of Kolb and Bloom for virtual learning and the specifically digital Five Step Model of eModerating from Gilly Salmon, there is the Conversational Framework from Diana Laurillard, Garrison and Anderson’s elearning for a digital age with its tripartite social, cognitive and teaching presences and the theory of connectivism from George Siemens, described as a new pedagogy for a digital age. Add Martin Weller, Helen Beetham, Rona Sharpe, Sara Frietas and Jane Seale in the mix, stir with JISC, the HEA, JORUM, COURSERA, MIT and CreativeCommons, and an eclectic blend of advice and guidance on approaches to the design and delivery of digital learning emerges.

The literature on embedding  innovative practice well precedes the internet and world wide web as does the history of staff development in higher education. The need to support innovation with central policy and planning, as well as appropriate resourcing at local level which is sympathetic to the requirements of individual subject disciplines (Kirkpatrick 2001). However, digital information and communication technologies touched on issues which has not been addressed before, issues which still pose concerns today such as the permanence of digital activities, data management and security, copyright, plagiarism and academic practice, authentication of resources and most of all the disparity between the technologist who were the gatekeepers to these new ways of working with academic and professional services staff,  in particular those with neither prior knowledge nor interest in new digital ways of working.

15 years on from the Dearing Report,  resistance to the VLE continues. The adoption of technology for teaching remains patchy, engagement is often reluctant and the cultural shift from the classroom to computer has not happened. The lecture and seminar remain the primary mode of transmission and the commonest response to moving discussion from face to face to online environments from staff is I set up a discussion forum but no one used it so I didn’t bother next time. It is worth looking at resistance in more detail.

Resistance to change

Unless expectations of change are contextualised they are unlikely to be effective. Research around digital literacies suggest they are more individual reflections of character and personality rather than a set of generic tools which can be picked up as and when required. (Belshaw.  Subject disciplines also fit with digital ways of working in different ways; math, science and languages have traditionally been subjects aligned more easily than arts and humanities while teaching methods themselves are also personal; invested with time and emotion, fine-tuned and honed through experience.

In the aftermath of Dearing the general belief/conception was the management of organisation change would be achieved through a realistic and coherent strategy for learning technology implementation. In 2003 Clegg was describing the ‘messiness on the ground’ (2003: 51) and Timmis referred to ‘pockets of activity and innovation’ from a ‘small but precious minority’ (2003: 2).

The extent of the change in cultural practice required for the shift to the VLE may have been underestimated. Driven by senior management and educational technologists, the former had no need to change their own practice and the latter were already able to demonstrate confidence and competence in virtual worlds. Integrating new technologies within the academic curriculum involved a re-engineering of the university (Brown, 2002) through a combination of technical and cultural change in an environment containing a rigid separation of disciplines described as tribal by Beecher and Trowler (2002). The organisational culture of the university was a democratic one which accepted individuality. The need to create more flexible learning opportunities, achieve greater efficiencies and face competition from other HEI’s alongside increasing student expectations around information and communication technologies created a problematic situation.  The multiple and mounting pressures for creating and implementing effective elearning strategies, which took advantages of the affordances of new technologies such as the VLE, positioned the institutional context against traditional pedagogic practice and individual response to behavioural change. Concerns the role of the academic, and their control cover their individual practice and curriculum, were being marginalised (Becher and Trowler 2002:12) competed with the rhetoric of the possibilities and potentials of innovative use of learning technology. Liseiski  (2004) identified the need for creating time and space for innovation, having effective consultation and communication with more emphasis on staff development and negotiation as essential requirements for an effective elearning strategy.


The question of developing sound academic approaches to elearning or TEL has always been contentious. The nomenclature of the tools of digital pedagogy has in itself has demonstrated uncertainty over what it is and what it should be called. Virtual Learning Environment has jostled with Managed Learning Environment and Learning Management System. Linguistic criticism of the concept of a web enabled university where technology manages the learning process maybe considered to be based on pedantic associations but the concept of managing or automating the learning process in a higher education environment where the learning is student-centred and unreliable – in the sense of its dependency on deep reflection and application of new knowledge to existing practice and experience – is a deterrent rather than encouragement.

Digital literacies and scholarship

Focus across the sector was engagement of various groups of stakeholders across the institution. The issue of non-engagement was less considered. Layers of answers were continually offered for example the need to include administrative staff in training procedures and to focus on pedagogical as well as technical issues when seeking engagement (Bell and Bell 2005). Early models of elearning included the Five Step Model of Emoderating (Salmon, 2000), the Conversational Framework (Laurillard, 2002) and Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry based on the triple social, cognitive and teaching presences (2003), but these assumed a higher level of digital confidence and competence than often existed. The disparity between those promoting solutions for elearning or technology enhanced learning has continued.

An early publication on digital literacies by Paul Gilster (1997) adopted a positive attitude; one which assumed without question the new internet enabled ways of working were to be welcomed. Referring to past media as ‘passive’ Gilster calls for users to transcend its passivity and to go beyond “electronic print” into truly dynamic networks. In order to do this users must operate the Web as dynamic thinkers no longer content to have information and entertainment merely presented but to interact with it online.  David Buckingham also examined the benefits of the internet and digital literacy but as well as focusing on younger children in school, he presented access as an ambition to be achieved rather than inaccessibility being a state which was already problematic.


Situate this against the broader social shift to digital ways of working where an email address is a necessity, it’s easy to see how communications and information technologies are promoted and prioritised over traditional non-digital practices.  What is less easy to see is the uneven distribution of participation and access parameters, both on and off campus.



Jane Seale

Simon Ball

EA Draffan – LexDis

In the push for creating new digital ways of seeing and being, not only has resistance to the adoption of digital lifestyles been marginalised, but support for effective and equitable digital access has become diluted.

The power of digital data to be flexible – to enable a diversity – to support alternative formats – is one of the greatest yet seldom discussed achievements. There is no technical reason why anyone should not be able to use a computer and access the internet for information and communication purposes.

The world wide web today has not fulfilled the hope of its early pioneers.

 “As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities. The W3C is committed to removing accessibility barriers for all people with disabilities – including the deaf, blind, physically challenged, and cognitive or visually impaired. We plan to work aggressively with government, industry, and community leaders to establish and attain Web accessibility goals.”  (Berners Lee, 1997)

Berners Lee, T. (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. Available at

There are assumptions here – either entire population wants to be online or government, industry, and community leaders will take steps to encourage or coerce everyone to be online. Exclusion is considered but resistance is not. Although they have different roots, in a digital society the consequences are strikingly similar.

While the mechanisms of content creation and file sharing continue to offer democratic potential there are continually developing darker elements including officially mandated mechanisms of tracking and surveillance, illegal activities of the deep web, the permanence of digital footprints and blatantly exclusive practices, all reflecting social, political and economic frameworks of power and control. The Internet is the biggest single creator of profit on the planet. We have been politically coerced into being online and the necessary internet connections, their hardware and software, are expensive commodities. The potential for balance remains; the philosophy and practice of open education has challenged the corporate control of provision but resourcing is the ultimate key to success. The owners of the means of resourcing a digital society are those with the ultimate control over engagement and use.

This paper suggests technology does not arrive from nowhere and cannot determine change. Instead it is produced – more often adapted – from existing social conditions which themselves are the key drivers of change (reference SCOT). HEFCE’s first elearning strategy adopted a tripartite view of the affordances of technology. Existing processes and their outcomes would firstly become more efficient through cost and time savings, secondly be enhanced through the improvement of ways of working and ultimately be transformed through radical and positive change in practice. Of course, the technology cannot do this on its own; it is ultimately the users who are required to make the shift and both Dearing and the HEFCE elarning strategy are specifically looking at the implications of virtual learning for those who teach and study at university.

Resistance can take the form of disinterest. Often there is pride in not being connected any more than is essential. A view validated with the statement I’m not a Luddite –inevitably followed by the word But…


References so far…

Lisewski, Bernard (2004) Implementing a learning technology strategy: top-down strategy meets bottom-up culture. Association for Learning Technology Journal, 12 (2). pp. 175-188

Becher, A. and Trowler, P. (2002)  Academic tribes and territories. Buckingham, SRHE/Open University Press.

Bell, M. and Bell, W. (2005) It’s Installed…Now Get on with It! Looking beyond the Software to the Cultural Change British Journal of Educational Technology, v36 n4 p643-656

Belshaw, D. (2012) A Never Ending Thesis: Digital Literacies.

Brown, S. (2002) Re-engineering the Univeristy, Open Learning, 17, 231-144.

Gilster, P. (1997) Digital Literacy. John Wiley & Sons

Kirkpatrick, D. (2001). Staff development for flexible learning. International Journal for Academic Development, 6(2), 168-176.

Latchem, C. (2005) Failure—the key to understanding success.  British Journal of Educational Technology Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 665–667

Clegg, A., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) The Emperor’s New Clothes: Globalisation and e-Learning in Higher Education. British Journal of Sociology of Education. Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 39-53

Timmis, S. E. (2003)  Embedding Learning Technology Institutionally: JISC Senior Management Briefing Paper.


17th July: Power and Politics

I have to learn to listen to what people are saying. The TELEDA negotiated assessment involves conversations. I wasn’t sure how this would work online. The idea of TELEDA is staff find themselves in the position of their students. It isn’t quite the same when I bump into a course participant on campus and they start to talk about their assessment. Here is an area where the theory and practice collide. I don’t mind at all – but I’m conscious of the discrepancy when the online and face to face collide.

Negotiated assessment makes sense. It’s part of the learning process. Testing under exam conditions doesn’t necessarily assess understanding – it privileges memory recall. Working on the structure of an assessed piece of work together involves opportunities for checking understanding of the learning outcomes, supporting the gathering of appropriate evidence. It’s about learning to ask the questions which guide without directing.  But with questions come answers and I have to listen to what is being said, note it down and take it away for reflection.  This is part and parcel of the PAR methodology. Observe, listen, reflect.

I’ve been reading Doing Action Research in your own Organization by David Coghlan and Teresa Brannick. It’s ok but the Business School environment sets in within a different paradigm. There are still notes to write up. I don’t know whether to complete them or ditch it. I hate leaving things unfinished. Is this part of a phd? Learning to let go of something when it doesn’t quite fit? Knowing when to stop and move on? I’ve started reading Action Research Principles and Practice by Jean McNiff (third edition). This is much closer to where I am at the present time.

I liked the advice to focus on change from within an organisation – McNiff says you can ‘…contribute to changing wider systems by focusing on a smaller piece within the system, as a participant. You can understand and modify that piece of the infrastructure that constitutes you working with others, and you can influence others on an increasingly wider scale by producing accounts of your work and showing how others may learn with and from you. You cannot expect the world to change immediately, but you can contribute to your piece of it, and you can influence others to contribute to changing theirs.’ P120-21.

Here is what I’ve said from the beginning – I can’t change the world but I can change my bit of it. Part of the process of change is not speaking but listening.

As part of the negotiated assessment on TELEDA I’m involved in discussions with participants and they are telling me what has worked well and less well for them on the course. This is the start of the PAR process. It’s like a practice run because even though the decision to adopt PAR was taken halfway through the course, I’m still able to apply the principles of reflection on action. As a reflective person I like to think I would have done this anyway. As a PA researcher, the process is heightened. The first lesson is how the same action is perceived in so many different ways; proof if it were ever needed of how the construction of social reality is personal. Everyone has liked the continual email summaries and reminders of where they should be within the Learning Blocks. But those who have fallen behind were also irritated by them – perceiving them as additional pressure – they already knew they were behind and my emails were reinforcing the lack  rather than achievement. I wonder how much I don’t or won’t get told. I need to know what I’m doing wrong as well as what works. To draw that out of conversations will take skill and when the negative stuff arrives I need to listen and deal with it. I have to remember PAR is about collaboration and partnership. When my EA2 was returned with the comment there wasn’t much reference to issues of power, I can see how I really do have to hand the power over to the participants to tell me what I’ve done wrong and how I could have done it better.


EA2 approved

Sarah Amsler’s comments about power on my EA2 were useful and formative – I’ve blogged on this at pasted the text below.

My Ethics approval (EA2) was resubmitted and conditionally passed with comments to be addressed. One was about the issue of power. There was not enough of it.

image of text from EA2 comments saying there is not enough discussion of power!

Power is not often on my mind. I know my place. I don’t manage – I scaffold. I liked participatory action research (PAR) as a methodology because it enables collaboration. PAR will test my theories around online learning; namely the student knows themselves best. When it comes to finding ways to support staff engagement with technology for education, the students will be teaching me. I have a toolkit of online learning activities but without participation they won’t get used and learning will be limited. Virtual learning is a partnership. Without communication and collaboration it simply won’t work. Online tutors need to be skilled in creating opportunities for learning at a distance when all the evidence suggests successful teaching is fundamentally a social activity. It’s a challenge and this doctoral research will aid the development of teacher education at Lincoln. So what did I need to say about power?

I’ve had to reflect on this. The Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) course is heavy on reflection. It’s a teaching tool in itself. Revisiting Freire, I was struck again by the fundamental simplicity of critical pedagogy. The ancient greeks had it sussed. From Socrate’s the unexamined life is not worth living to the words above the Delphi Oracle ‘know thyself’ – politics is and always has been ultimately personal. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we teach? Is it to replicate and reinforce or to challenge and change?

The move towards incrasing blended and fully online courses has the potential to widen participation but also reduce the quality of the experience. Retention figures evidence the difficulty of engaging learners online. Who talks about MOOCs these days? It took less than a year for the bubble to burst.  There are important lessons to learn from MOOCing. Back to power.

I have a problem with the idea I might in some way be disempowering. I’d interpreted PAR as willingness to give power away – after all, it’s inviting critique of my practice. Then I thought about TELEDA’s resources. As well as critical evaluation of the philosophy and practice of open education,  I’m insisting on a critical awareness of digital exclusion. TELEDA is my platform for drawing attention to alternative ways of being and raising awareness of excluded voices.

In an increasingly digital society, to be shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere is to be marginalised and excluded. Higher education has a responsibility to seek out and challenge exclusion rather than replicate and reinforce exclusive attitudes and behaviours. The subject of digital access is challenging and uncomfortable. I’m asking participants to examine their own practice for barriers, knowing they will find them and perceive removing them as additional, often unnecessary, work. Who provides audio and video content in alternative textual formats? No where near enough!

I believe inclusion is an essential component of effective digital scholarship and integral to teaching and learning in a digital age. If higher education doesn’t address the causes and mending of digital divides it is failing society. TELEDA is my way of making a difference. I can’t change the world but I can change my part of it.

I can see myself and my PhD may be more political than I realised.



 10th July

No meeting this week but I’ve been busy!

I’ve read this paper Insider action research doctorates: Generating actionable knowledge by David Coghlan in Higher Education (2007) 54:293-306

Coghlan says ‘First person inquiry can take individuals ‘upstream’, when they inquire into their basic assumptions, desires, intentions and philosophy of life. It can also take them ‘downstream’, when they inquire into their behaviour, ways of relating and action in the world. First-person inquiry-practice typically finds expression in autobiographical writing: diaries, journals…First person executive learning in actions [involves] engaging in self-learning in action, learning to reflect, to engage in deep inquiry about their selves, their assumptions, their practices…’ P 299

Also ‘Undertaking an action research project in one’s own organisation is political and might even be considered subversive because it examines everything. It fosters courage. It incites action. It abets reflection and it endorses democratic participation. Any or all of these may be threatening to existing organisational norms.’ p298

This all sounds familiar – I need to contextualise my research, be critical, political and reflective.  I think it’s time to focus on the action research literature itself; see if I make better progress than wandering off in different directions.


2nd July – Summary of all blog posts since 19th June

I wrote on 19th June (part one) how Mike is talking from a different position; one of political sociology and revolutionary Marxism. I suspect he feels I’m not political nor critical enough – he says my reflection is from the edge not the centre. I suspect he’s right to say I’m not grounded in theory like I need to be. This research is about teaching and learning so revisiting Friere may be one way to go – Mike says this is the best starting place for critical pedagogy.

I’ve got side tracked into the issue of text as a political tool; how text production replicates and reinforces social and cultural positions.  If we replicate oppression without realising it this suggests truth in the Marxist position of it not being the consciousness of men that determines them but their social being that determines their consciousness.

Can this be challenged by writing myself into my narrative – I’ve started to do this by contextualising the rationale for this research – following the example in Digital Dead End by Virginia Eubanks.

WB (see below – Author as Producer) would say it is the responsibility of an intellectual/academic to produce text which raises political awareness. I’ve got published papers and book chapters  which set out to raise awareness of digital exclusion and social inequality of digital discrimination but on their own they’re not enough. I can’t change the world. Mike says my research should not be about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’ but be critical about the role of the university as a site of knowledge production and negotiation – HE is accommodating new technologies but of necessity the process needs to be critiqued.

My research is less about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’ and more about how best the technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning – heighten the student experience – by incorporating the philosophy and practice of open education and paying attention to digital inclusion – this is my way opening up opportunities to critique the process of using of technology for teaching and learning – through raising awareness of the principles of openness and inclusion which are in diametric opposition to the narrow marketisation of online education.

AR is about practitioner research which aims to generate actionable knowledge and this doctorate aims to enhance teaching and learning online – but from the direction of pursuing openness and equality when operating in digital environments. The technology and the internet isn’t going to go away – I agree their use needs to be critiqued –  but as well as challenging their limitations the process should at the same time exploring their potential.


2nd July

Revisiting Author as Producer by Walter Benjamin (1934)

Notes on tendency and technique

[1] Benjamin uses the word Tendenz throughout to mean the general direction a writer or his work takes, whether political or literary. It combines the notions of political line or group with literary school or movement.

This reminds me of the need to have a (critical) theory or a style/format to follow; like it isn’t enough to produce – to be creative – you have to have a reason for doing it – so my research needs to be grounded – and at the moment I’m not sure it is.

[2] Benjamin uses the word Technik to denote the aesthetic technique of a work, but with considerable scientific and manufacturing connotations. Thus it is also close to ‘technology’—the technical means by which a work is produced, its means of production.

I’m not sure if he is saying the ‘technique’ influences the work – like McLuhan’s medium iinfluencing wonder if there’s something in here about shifts to digital text – the permanent but falseness of the simulation which never the less passes as real – Baudrillard etc)

WB advocates progressive literary technique. Text can either reflect existing social relations of production or they can become a site of struggle – actively uncovering, challenging and critiquing SR of P in order to make a difference.

p 5 WB says if writers took up photography  they’d write captions for pictures which would give them revolutionary value, not reproducing images but transform them – saying ‘Here to technical progress  is the basis of political progress for the author as producer.’

WB talks about the ‘literization of the relationships of life’ p 5 Writing is labour – therefore writing is a political act – it confirms or conflicts – reaffirms or challenges – existing ideology through which the SR of P are culturally transmitted. Writers can reiterate existing SP of P or produce new ones. Through  writing the system can be reproduced or subverted/destabilised.

I liked the line from Brecht about the art of thinking what is in the heads of other people – this is what makes a difference in politics – what grounds and informs processes of decision making  – not the thoughts of the individual – but to find ways to collectivise the thoughts of many. This reminds me of Edward Bernays and the ‘Century of the Self’films by Adam Curtis where he says Bernay’s genius was to move people from needing to consume items to wanting them plus Postman’s focus on the population only caring about being amused and not engaging with political thought. So many links and networks – like Siemen’s Connectivism paper – a new pedagogy for a digital age.

WB is saying you should recognise and use your view of the world to change it. On p6 he writes ‘…the best opinions won’t help if they don’t make something useful out of the person who holds them.’  WB demands writers adopt a political attitude in their work – using the word tendency – ‘The [best political] tendency is the necessary but never sufficient condition of the organizational function of a work.’ WB says this tendency should be demanded of all writers P6 and in italics for emphasis is ‘An author who teachers a writer nothing, teachers nobody anything.’ So if you write – produce – you have a responsibility (social, moral, ethical etc) to support and encourage other writers to see their responsibilities as changing the world – giving them an ‘improved apparatus’ for their use and making ‘co-workers out of readers or spectators’ (eg Brecht’s theatre – stripping out the stage scenery and complex plots to produce a new relationship between actors and audience)

A writer has power – and should use the power not to amuse or entertain but to raise awareness, raise consciousness, (I think this is a forerunner of the sociological imagination – Sociological Imagination: The application of imaginative thought to the asking and answering of sociological questions. Someone using the sociological imagination “thinks himself away” from the familiar routines of daily life. Mills, C. W.: 1959, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, London.

WB says the ‘single demand’ of the writer is to reflect – reflect on his position in the process of production – this will lead to the writers who are essential p 7 – who have a ‘trustworthy solidarity with the proletariat.’

WB quotes from a Commune questionnaire ‘For whom do you write?’ (This is a question for all phd researchers???)  René Maublanc – French Communist philosopher and author of La Philosophie du Marxismset l’Enseignment Official (1935) and Le Marxismeet la Liberte(1946) – replied he wrote for bourgeois because that was who he was and where he came from and how he was reproduced – but he recognised ‘Today the proletariat needs allies  who come from the bourgeois camp…’  

(I think he is saying you are always a product of your upbringing and the cultural social environment – personally and politically – micro and macros – Bourdieu and social location)

The revolutionary has to shift from reproducing the apparatus of production (the SR of P) to adapting that apparatus to the aims of the worker’s revolution – this frees the intellectual from reproducing inequality and capitalism and oppression – instead he chooses the best activity – according to his ability – for subverting and destabilising – reorganising the process of production eg the Social Science Centre.

‘The more he is able to orient his activity toward this task, the more correct the political tendency, and by necessity the higher the technical quality of this work will be. And in addition: the more exactly he knows his position in the process of production, the less he will be tempted by the idea of passing for an ‘intellectual’….[my emphasis] ….the revolutionary struggle does not take place between capitalism and the intellect but between capitalism and the proletariat.’ p 8

WB is saying to be an intellectual is to have social responsibility – and text is a tool for challenging and subverting the social order. It helps to contextualise the paper. It is written during the rise of European Fascism and at a time of Modernism and Structuralism – both rising from the aftermath of WW1. Twenty five years later Roland Barthes is moving from his structuralist identity to a post structuralist one and writes The Author is Dead – I need to revisit this next.


Revisiting The Death of the Author – Roland Barthes (1968)

Modernist concept of Intentional Fallacy is similar to ideas contained within Death of the Author.

Intentional fallacy noun (in literary criticism) an assertion that the intended meaning of the author is not the only or most important meaning; a fallacy involving an assessment of a literary work based on the author’s intended meaning rather than on actual response to the work.

This reminds me of Mark Twain

‘There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.’ Mark Twain, a Biography 

Barthes tells us the author’s interpretation is only one of many potential sets of meaning (although this should preclude poor interpretations which are not valid because they demonstrate misreading/misunderstanding).

Saussure had already claimed language does not reflect or refer to a reality but creates it, and this structuralist approach to language was challenged – not least by Barthes who shifted from Structuralism to Poststructuralism – showing language is not stable and the categories it describes (Author – Subject – I) are relative and fragmented – they cannot be fixed within a structure of meaning.

Barthes claimed what is perceived as ‘natural’ is the product of ideology. Meaning is established through culture – the product of ideology – and the author is also a product of ideology – their text reflects the world they inhabit. (WB says this). We need to analyse the text – not the author who Barthes says dies in the moment of writing. Text cannot document – it can only perform (reminds me of performativity of gender – Judith Butler). Text cannot be pinned down, anchored or closed. Text is destined to be discovered by a reader and in the process of engaging and deciphering the text – the author dies and the reader is born.

Like WB, Barthes also needs to be seen in context – against the background of  political unrest of 1968 and poststructuralist philosophy which claimed the world contains multiple pluralities of meaning – far removed from the baseline SR of P of Marxism. Michael Foucault also had ideas on the question ‘what is an author?’  In a lecture on literary theoryhe examines the relationship between author, text, and reader and concludes the author is an ideological figure and text contains a proliferation of meaning, mirroring Barthes.


28th June

This was the week of the Student as Producer Conference. No PhD meeting but lots of conversations around Student as Producer philosophy and practice, reaffirming the strength of Student as Producer is its layers:

  • The classroom layer where Student as Producer has influenced the curriculum and its delivery, changing the ways new knowledge is created.
  • The institution layer where Student as Producer challenges and critiques the purposes of the institution in order to develop and progress an alternative vision of what a university should be.
  • The broader layer where Student as Producer is a political movement,  protecting and defending the university as for the public good; Student as Producer is an act of resistance to students as consumers and the pedagogy of debt.

Three blog posts cover some of my thoughts and experiences over the two day

I haven’t posted my comments/reflections on the previous meeting – this is because I’m still processing and reading around them (now done – 29th June – see below Notes after meeting 19th June).  The plan is to move from reading to actioning but I’ve got caught up the concept of authoring and the uses of text – in particular creative non-fiction – and the concept of creative social science.  Watch this space – it will be filling up fast! (see 19th June Part Two below) 


19th June part two

I’ve gotten side tracked again – this time into narratives and authorship. When I’m supposed to be finding theory, I’ve got lost in the function of text as production of social reality and the tensions between who controls the message – is it the responsibility of the author – or does the reader bring their own interpretation and is the author dead?

After 19th June, I looked at Carla Cappetti’s (1993) book on the Chicago School of Sociology and her examination of the links between sociology and literature in the 1920’s/30’s. Carletti suggests the Chicago School ‘openly competed with and even imitated the creative writer and literary critic in their study of society.’ P 16  Modernism in the arts reflected post-WW1 society, when traditional philosophical and scientific ideas of reality were being challenged by psychoanalytical theory. Modernist authors experimented with innovative styles and techniques eg stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue and the use of multiple points-of-view. Objective realism gave way to subjective imagination, influenced by broader modernist views of alienation and existentialism. Using the example of Richard Wright who wrote himself into his fiction (early unintended ethnography?) Cappetti says these literary techniques demonstrate sociological imagination, as does the way Chicago sociologists incorporated literature into their courses. I didn’t read much of the book – it’s outside my research – but was interested in the concept of Socioogical Imagination (SI), a phrase credited to C. Wright Mills in 1959 which appears to predict the later development of critical theory in 1980’s. SI identifies the ways social structures interact with and influence individuals. It’s not creative thinking as in creative fiction but is creative ways of seeing and describing the social world.

Mike offered the idea and example of the author inserting themselves into their text; a form of creative social science. This original thinking intrigued me but was ‘troublesome’. I’m ok with creative non-fiction as in The New Journalism where fact are presented using literary techniques like use of scene, dialogue, first-person point of view and the recording of minute details of everyday life (Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer ect 1960’s and 70’s) The concept of putting yourself into academic text – if I’ve understood it rightly – or being creative with academic writing – challenges traditional practices – so maybe replicates the early 20th century use of modernist techniques to challenge traditional forms of representation.

Reflecting on the role of the author to reproduce social reality – either through using fiction as a way of raising awareness/consciousness or inserting fictional techniques in to non-fictional academic writing, it seemed apt (synchronicity?) to listen to references to Author as Producer by Walker Benjamin during the Student as Producer conference. I decided to revisit this paper.


Notes after meeting 19th June – part one

I continue to be surprised at the personal in a phd. The standard guidance like Phillips and Pugh’s How to Get a PhD (gifted by the Graduate School) says it’s a process of learning to do research. But it’s turning into much more. In my first draft (see 12 June) I described my ICT experiences as having multiple layers, created from a life lived against a background of changed ways to access information and communicate. This week I talked to Mike about having analogue roots and the need to archive old ways of doing things –  like the fishing industry in Hull (I live on Hessle Road) less we forget. Digital ways of working make it easy to both preserve and wipe out memory. (1984 anyone?) The duality interests me; as do all dichotomies. Is anyone talking and writing about digital dualism; the virtual and non-virtual lives we lead? I’m now tutoring my own online course and am hugely aware of the significance of digital communication. The power and weakness is much more than the technology – it’s about individual skill with text – in online tutoring words matter. They take on a new significance. In online tutoring the point of power is digital – first the connection and secondly the word. Duality always takes me back to my first experience of linguistics and Saussure which was hugely influential on me. One night a week I paid a baby sitter and drove a 70 mile round trip to Hull University to discover how language was constructed through signifiers of difference. Things weren’t what they were – they were what they were not 🙂  I loved the stretching of the world as I knew it. Pre-digitally. Would this opening of consciousness be possible to recreate online? Is the technology which makes online learning possible a loss or a gain? What are the roots of resistance to digital ways of working? Is my faith in its power for widening participation simply naïve?  I need to go deeper. I’m being invited to put myself into this research but first I have to find my theory.

On talking about analogue roots, Mike explained formal and real subsumpion (Marx) Formal subsumpion = workers remembering when work was organised differently in an older previous time. Real subsumption = work has become subsumed by the nature of capitalism, social relations have been transformed and the memory of old ways of doing things has been wiped out. Mike says it’s a powerful idea to be in both places – to have memory – he called it a cyborg biography. Says ICT has led to the redesigning of work and people are resistant. I’m thinking Arts and Crafts; William Morris and John Ruskin and noticing I make sense through art and literature – not economics or politics. Mike has highlighted this paragraph in my rationale – saying this is my phd.

This research should not be about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’ but being critical about the role of the university as a site of knowledge production and negotiation. HE is accommodating new technologies but of necessity the process needs to be critiqued.

Mike is talking from a different position; one of political sociology and revolutionary Marxism. I suspect he thinks I’m not political nor critical enough – I’m not grounded in theory like I need to be. He says my reflection is from the edge not the centre.

So I’m going to spend some time thinking about my theoretical position. Alongside learning about the philosophy and practice of PAR, I have to put myself into this phd. I know what I’m not but I don’t know what I am – yet.

* Phillips E and Pugh D L (2000) How to Get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and Their Supervisors 


12 June

Mike says my thinking is enough for a phd but needs another layer of social political context; action research assumes you can detach yourself in order to reflect critically but you can’t (revisit Berger’s Ways of Seeing).  We are not free individuals but are all trapped within a system. Critical reflectors are on the edge; they have no effect on anything substantive.  I need to push my thinking further, situate it better. At the moment it is all psychology and sociologically weak – enough for a phd but only looks at the surface. It needs tension and friction. I need to think about technology in society; the automation of teaching, the academic labour process, how new technologies represent oppressive techniques where staff are forced to use technology but not supported.

Mike says I need to write 3-4000 words describing where and what the problem is. If I uncover the beginning, middle and end, the action research will evolve.

This is my first draft – 4000 words written in haste – including spaces – and without the majority of my blog posts – which I will try to incorporate for next week – and revise and edit. Here is the beginning of constructing a rationale and situating myself within the research process.  PhD first draft of rationale for research 18 june 2013

11 June

This week is Ethics Approval week. Since first submitting an EA2 proposal my research has changed and is now more firmly embedded in my practice. There are lots of things I like about action research. As Coghlan and Brannick (2010) say, it subverts the normal practice of science and in the words of Reason and Torbert (2001) the purpose is not just to describe and understand the world but to change it. I like how it’s about empowerment. I was never comfortable with positivist approaches in the same way quantitative research wasn’t going to be an option. I don’t do numbers – or at least, not very well.

Finding a methodology is more important than I realised. Discovering action research feels a bit like Althusser’s concept of interpellation. Action Research hailed me, it fitted like an identity. I knew about the cycles of action, evaluation, reflection, re-action – repeat etc but I don’t think I’d fully appreciated its power for validating change in practice or its collaborative and potentially democratic nature.

It won’t be easy. There are issues. Denscombe warns of trouble ahead, saying not only does the action researcher need to be prepared to combine an already high workload with systematic and rigorous research, but it will take time before any benefits or improvements resulting from the process are incorporated and become effective. I have to admit I don’t feel anywhere near ready. There are so many books on action research where I want just one. I’m trying to keep it simple – closer to Lewin’s (1946/77) spiral steps of planning and fact-finding – described by Stinger (2007) as look, think, act (tho I’d replace ‘think’ with  ‘critical reflection’) rather than  French and Bell’s (1999) complex organization framework. Ultimately Action Research seems to be Kolb meets Schon – or at least I hope so. Kolb meets Schon


2 June – reading weeks 16/17

Blogging every two weeks means twice as much to fit in – sounds obvious but it does reinforce the value of weekly posts – if only to collect all my thoughts while they’re still containable.  My first attempt to capture the past two weeks reading and reflecting is here.

The time available for reading and reflection is narrowing. I can’t fit any more hours into the days and find myself panicking – spending time skimming across surfaces, many visited before – rather than focusing. This past two weeks I’ve revisited Feenburg (see blog post response to his comment about elearning having failed) while still exploring the concept of digital/technological citizenship. This interests me but my focus remains digital scholarship and how best to support staff and students develop those digital literacies essential for a digital age.

Last time I wrote:  I have funnelled down the social impact of the internet to its effect on the university – and packaged that to digital scholarship – narrowed down to teacher education programmes.

Digital Dead End by Veronica Eubanks

This week I’ve tried to get a sense of what the thesis should include. The value of adopting a participatory action research methodology is continually being reinforced – I know this the most appropriate direction and am trying to make the mental shift from the wider literature.  I’d still like to read Virginia Eubanks’ Digital Dead End but haven’t finished the Denscombe chapter on Action Research yet. I need to funnel down.

This week has also included Lockwood and Colley’s Cloud Time as recommended by Mike. I haven’t read the book but have searched for reviews and endorsements. It appears to be a creatively written account of cloud computing; useful for highlighting the negative side of digital inclusion – the potential risks of living our lives online – all part of what I believe it means to be a digital scholar. I wanted TELEDA to be a vehicle for raising awareness of the breadth and depth of digital identities and inclusion/exclusion paradigms but there was so much else to fit in – it’s become squeezed out – which in itself is relevant!  Another short course on Digital Scholarship/Literacies is needed, maybe as well as informing future development of TELEDA this could be another research outcome….?????

There is an urgent need to look at the process of constructively using the pilot TELEDA course – part of the methodology chapter??? Any research into VLEs will need grounding in wider educational theory –  another chapter???? This week I’ve revisited Donald Schon; evidence of critical reflective practice is key to online assessment, in particular via eportfolio construction, which is the chosen assessment for TELEDA. Unlike Feenburg who says elearning has failed, I still think there is hope for a resurrection of interest and use. I remain optimistic the VLE can support and enhance the learning process; it depends on how it is used (see blog post  TELEDA is based on the premise staff benefit from being online learners in order to experience the positives and negatives and includes a learning block on pedagogical theory. For the thesis I don’t think it’ll be enough to start off with pedagogy for a digital age eg Siemens theory of connectivism. I need to select pre-internet theorists which might have relevance for distance/virtual learning. I’m thinking Schon (reflection), Kolb (experiential learning), Illich (learning webs) and Freire (oppressive learning practices). This raises more questions – how many should I look at? Is one enough?  Is this the right direction? Help!

And there’s more. As well as Literature, Digital Pedagogy and Methodology, I think the thesis needs to include the background to the VLE, in particular because I’ve been part of its history – showing how it was embedded into systems but not supported pedagogically.

Underneath is always the politics of digital inclusion/exclusion – these are permanently relevant because as Eubanks says Technology is ‘…such a powerful force in our lives, but often our thinking about it is not very sophisticated.’   However, the focus of this research is about making a difference to practice – the politics is for the future – in order to manage the PhD process I need to make it relevant my work and this feels like a manageable shape. It’s a bit like starting out again – reviewing a different set of literature around pedagogy and VLE history – but this time there is more clarity about direction – also it will be relevant to the consultation around the university’s digital education strategy as well as reinforcing the future developments around TELEDA.



22 May reading weeks 14/15

I’ve been reading around Delanty’s notion of technological citizenship and discovered Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age by Virginia Eubanks (2011)  Eubanks research uncovers the realities of the information age for poor and working-class women and families in New York and demonstrates how IT can be both a tool of liberation and a means of oppression. This reminded me of my first year of the PhD with Social Policy and my plan to use participatory research in the community to show how people with vision impairment were being marginalised in an increasingly digital society. Needing to refocus on education, I switched to CERD and the issues around embedding digital scholarship in teacher education programmes but the issues of technological social divides have not gone away. It’s reassuring to know research is still uncovering digital exclusion. I know from my preparation for sessions with students on the social impact of a digital society- little is changing. In the UK in particular it is getting worse.  Government schemes to support inclusion have shifted their emphasis from the 8 million without access to the 16 million in need of basic computer skills – while digital literacy is critically important this move has made invisible those without internet access in the first place.

In Reading week 13 I blogged about Delanty and his suggestion for the university of the future to link technology with citizenship. I interpret as including raised awareness of the exclusive aspects of technology in a similar way my sessions with students  aims to equip them to recognise and challenge exclusion in the wider society – but I find Eubanks a useful reminder of how little has changed since Delanty was writing at the turn of 21st century. Mike’s suggestion to revisit the notion of technological citizenship in 2013 was appealing. Reading around the subject of citizenship, technology and the university, I revisited Andrew Feenburg’s Questioning Technology in 1999. Writing at a similar time to Delanty, Feenburg offered a philosophical analysis of the role of technology in society – similar to the earlier work of Mike Cooley in The myth of the moral neutrality of technology AI and Society 9 (1):10-17 (1995)  and Architect or Bee? The Human / Technology Relationship 1999 which called for technology to be directed towards more socially useful and environmentally desirable ends.

More recently Feenburg presented a paper on Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society to the Course on Digital Citizenship at the IT University of Copenhagen in 2011   Feenburg concludes society of the future needs to adopt a different conception of wealth – one which is less destructive of the environment and more easily shared – this requires ‘citizen participation in determining the direction of progress’ – with technology being used to give citizens a voice which can be used for influence and pressure. It seems little has changed from Feenberg’s earlier 1999 call for using technology for social good other than exclusion has increased while paradoxically becoming more invisible. The issues of social justice remain.

Where is the role of the university in all of these issues? While Delanty is now quiet and Feenburg raises more questions than answers.  I also read Feenburg’s paper Distance Learning: Promise or Threat (1999) which offers a useful reminder of the promises associated with the technology at that time, and parallels with the current MOOC phenomena – now showing symptoms of failure. See Mooc completion rates ‘below 7%’ and The MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity

Feenburg claims in his 2011 paper, the promise of virtual learning in the 1990s has come to nothing and elearning within the university has failed. The statement ‘the automation of learning has failed’ had resonance for me. I entered higher education at a time when the first VLEs were being installed. The Dearing report on the future of higher education (1997) highlighted technology as a ‘transformational force’, which determined opportunities and outcomes and the impact of new technology on teaching, learning, research and administration were a key issue for the committee of inquiry  My career within HE has run parallel with the increasing automation of learning which Feenburg claims has failed.  As someone with an adult and community education background, with a decade of experience teaching ICT in the 1990’s, I have always been interested in the human aspect of technology; its affordances and potential for exclusion and my intention in this Phd is to explore more closely the reality of teaching and learning in a digital age.

The current pilot of the online course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age sits between Dearing (1997) and Feenberg (2011). The experience makes this a promising time to refocus and reflect on how a participatory action research methodology could usefully uncover the staff experience of virtual learning and their interpretation of digital scholarship. We need to develop a way forward to maximise the opportunities technology (in particular that used for education) has to offer but also find ways to listen to those staff with a non-technical background who have been most affected by the imposition of digital ways of working. So far, their voice has been mostly excluded from the debate but the pilot run of TELEDA could offer an ideal opportunity to capture and surface what they have to say about their own practice and experience.

Questions for consideration – based on the past four months of reading.

  • In what ways does educational technology empower or disempower staff and/or students?
  • Who are the decision makers with regard to embedding virtual learning environments and how can users challenge iven expectations of how technology should be used?
  • Is the role of the technological expert being subverted by the local amateur (See The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy by Andrew Keen, 2008)
  • If technology does not connect everyone – only a narrow band of users – is the university and Delanty’s concept of technological citizenship the best way to raise awareness of exclusion? Or are other more participatory and emancipatory approaches more appropriate?
  • Do programmes and initiatives designed to increase digital access perpetuate existing problems rather than solve them?
  • To what extent to ICT systems within universities perpetuate or resolve existing inequalities of access and participation?  

For next week – revisit Action Research methodology and consider how this might be applied to existing cohort of TELEDA students. Revise and submit EA2. GS5 and TNAL already submitted. 

‘How to Write a Lot’ by Paul J Silvia – where creative and academic writing meet  – scope for exploring and developing an online course supporting the writing process

7 May Reading week 13

Challenging Knowledge by Gerard Delanty 2001

Delanty says the contemporary condition of knowledge is being transformed by communication. Knowledge, historically situated within the university, has become diffuse (Delanty is writing in 2001 – prior to development of web 2.0 styled user-generated content and file sharing plus the  open education movement – how much would these have expanded this diffusion?)  In spite of the upheavals of 1960s (leading to increased student representation and democratic processes within the university) and 1970s discrimination awareness and activism, the production of knowledge remained virtually unchanged. The shift from industrial to an information and communication society, and the rise in cultural studies as an academic subject, promoted attention and questions about the social nature and production of knowledge. Delanty suggests the university has to respond to this democratisation of knowledge production outside the university – and alternative ways of seeing and being (Berger and Luckman? The social construction of knowledge.reality?) through attention to technological and cultural forms of citizenship.

‘The all-powerful mass media tends to trivialize debate and contribute to the weakening of the cognitive capacities of society ‘ p 7 (This is the argument Postman was putting forward in 1980s in Amusing Ourselves to Death with regard to US mass media – TV culture – also Marshall McLuhan in 1970s.) A contemporary communication and knowledge society needs direction and structure and Delanty says the university must cultivate responses and occupy the space of the redundant public sphere. ‘…the university is a key institution for the formation of cultural and technological citizenship.’ P 7

There are four types of knowledge and producers in the university in the age of cultural and technological citizenship – research, education, professional training and intellectual enquiry and critique. Education and intellectual inquiry and critique relate to cultural citizenship while research and professional training relate to technological citizenship.

In the Conclusion: Knowledge, Citizenship and Reflexivity. Delanty suggests the university role is enhanced in a knowledge society as a centre or hub or network for multiple discourse p152 (written pre-internet explosion of user generated content – is there a link here with Connectivity and Siemens? digital networks along side traditional face to face or postal ones?) Knowledge is becoming linked to reflexivity – through its links with communication p153 (again, how would Giddens reinterpret his writing on self reflection – monitoring own actions and behaviours – creating narratives – constructing personal realities in an internet age and would Delanty re-write this to emphasis the contemporary affordances of an internet society?)

Delanty’s reference to technological citizenship is about the social effects of technology, about linking culture and technology. Technological citizenship is a new set of rights and obligations which universities have the responsibility to develop:

‘… technology is shaping the world according to the dictates of capitalism and global markets. As a global force it is not linked to citizenship, which has predominantly been confined to national contexts and has been historically linked to the welfare state. Universities have an important role to play in linking technology to citizenship. Technological citizenship concerns a new terrain of rights relating to the forces unleashed by technological rationality in the media, the environment, the internet and information technology …’ (pp 156-157)

Question: does this focus on ICT and the influence on knowledge production (and consumption?) reinforce the need to define and practice digital scholarship? To do this we need to be explicit about what it means to be a scholar/academic in a digital age?

Digital Scholarship

This is the subject of the next block of learning on Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age where no specific definitions are provided – instead students are asked to discuss amongst themselves interpretations on what digital scholarship means to them.

For me, an appropriate starting point is Ernest Boyer (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorship, which offers four categories of scholarship:

  • The scholarship of discovery – includes original research which advances knowledge;
  • The scholarship of integration – involves synthesis of information across disciplines, across topics within a discipline, or across time;
  • The scholarship of application (also later called the scholarship of engagement) – involves the rigor and application of disciplinary expertise with results that can be shared with and/or evaluated by peers outside the university
  • The scholarship of teaching and learning – the systematic study of teaching and learning processes which differ from scholarly teaching and require a format which allow spublic sharing and the opportunity for application and evaluation by others.

The element of public sharing in category 4 aligns with early use of the phrase digital scholarship which was adopted by the open education movement and defines DS as awareness of issues around ‘digital copyright, digital curation, digital repository, open access, scholarly communication, and other digital information issues.’ (Charles Bailey

Maybe the JISC definition of digital literacies (with regard to embedding them into the curriculum) can be applied to digital scholarship. JISC says ‘By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society: for example, the skills to use digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; as part of personal development planning; and as a way of showcasing achievements.’

This could be rewritten as those skills which fit an individual for intellectual practice and add a digital dimension to each of Boyer’s categories of scholarship.

Different disciplines might need different interpretations of digital scholarship. Is this is an example of Delanty’s democratisation of knowledge – where there is no single answer but multiple definitions which all have validity? (Delanty includes references to postmodern pluralities and multiplicities (Lyotard – Postmodern Condition and Readings – University on Ruins) – I see digital ways of working and constructing identities as potentially reinforcers of the bricolage of postmodern interpretations of reality.)

Also digital technologies which enable digital scholarship are more than tools – if technologies are socially constructed and bear the imprints of the culture in which they were developed, maybe a digital scholar should also be aware of the history of the tools they are using, their potential affordances and social influence?

It’s not technologically deterministic to suggest the prevalence of digital ways of working are changing expectations about speed of communication, response times, production of information and the need to develop cognitive capabilities to distinguish knowledge from information and personal opinion. If we are looking for ways to embed digital scholarship into teacher education should it encompass these wider issues?  I think a digital scholar needs to be aware of the provenance – but how many scholar’s include the social, cultural and political influence of Gutenberg when they read books? Is digital scholarship is the application of digital technologies to traditional academic practice or should it be broader and includes the implications of a digital society which is creating new discriminations and forms of social exclusion?

 Afterthought: digital scholarship is an element of the digital divide – it is also the opportunity to speak out about the social changes eg the, the implications of digital surveillance (Google glasses anyone?) and government ‘digital by default’ policy and practice, cyber crime, cyber bullying and the need for professional boundaries on personal use of the internet. Maybe digital scholarship/digital citizenship should be a mandatory module for all students as well.

How much more digitally literate do we need to be since 2007 when this video was made?

Reflection four weeks on…30th April

It’s always good to look back and reflect; I still agree with the piece below written four weeks ago. Sometimes you have to depoliticise the political and simply look for ways to manage the best you can with the tools at your disposal. No one likes Blackboard – or any other VLE – but rather than expend energy on criticising its limitations, it’s a far better use of time to support using it effectively  to enhance the quality of teaching and learning.

I’ve written and am tutoring the pilot of Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA)  – a 24 week short course validated at 30 M Level CATS – 12 weeks taught and 12 weeks allocated for the construction of an e-portfolio demonstrating critical reflection, and the application of digital pedagogy to practice. My phd is an investigation of how teacher education programmes support the development of digital scholarship. TELEDA aims to embed scholarship and literacies for a digital age into the university’s teacher education programme. Mike has suggested adopting action research as my methodology and I am attracted to the idea of building my doctoral thesis around my practice – because TELEDA is offering something unique and it would be a valuable opportunity to capture and build on this experience (see preliminary notes on Action Research – To ADD)  

While TELEA is underpinned with relevant theory, it is essentially practical. It is designed to replicate the student experience so staff gain first-hand knowledge of what is feels like to be a student online.

We’re half way through the taught element. A summary of Learning Block One discussion is here and Learning Block Two here  Learning Block Three on OER and MOOC has just finished and students are now on  Learning Block Four: Online Communication and Collaboration.  Evaluations are positive but it is clear how difficult it is to maintain time for professional development in the face of ever increasing workloads and responsibilities.

The majority of staff are DIY VLE users; managing on a need to know basis and picking up whatever is needed to accomplish the task in hand. Adopting appropriate digital literacies for virtual pedagogy involves a considerable investment of time; reading, reflecting, engaging in the sharing of practice, building in the application of new knowledge to existing practice, evaluating, reflecting, making changes – the key message I’m getting from this course is staff want to use virtual learning environments more effectively and they’re prepared to work evenings and weekends to achieve this – but at the end of the day their primary first commitment is their existing work load and there is only so many minutes and hours in the day.  Something has to give.

It is clear there is demand for the sort of experience TELEDA offers but the challenge is going to be to blend it even more closely with existing practice.  To use this as a core element of my research might offer just such an opportunity to look at pragmatic ways to enhance teaching and learning within virtual environments, promote and reward digital scholarship and prioritise the development of those literacies essential for higher education in a digital age.


Response to Zombies, Technology and Capitalism at March 26th

‘VLEs are being used as a tool for social control by post industrial capitalism’. Discuss.

I get protective about Blackboard. As a system administrator and advocate of the potential for VLE to cross boundaries of time and distance, I’m easily irritated with comments like ‘VLEs are being used as a tool for social control by post industrial capitalism’. I was given this blog post  Zombies, Technology and Capitalism in a phd supervision meeting; I guess to see my response. Here it is.

Grounds for the statement? It seems VLEs ‘…replace face-t0-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching….have rapidly spread across the sector (virally?) without being explicitly demanded by either teachers or students….the embedded pedagogy of these VLEs is restrictive and they offer a level of social control and conformity not possible with more traditional teaching practices’.

Mmmm….quite an indictment of my role as Learning and Teaching Coordinator, supporting staff to make effective use of technology to support their students. The author is writing a book chapter for an interdisciplinary anthology Zombies in the Academy: living death in higher education which seeks to offer ‘critical accounts of the contemporary university as a living dead culture.’ So, extending the referential signifier of a cultural trope into a previously unused location? Or alternatively, finding a new way to package and sell a product?

I hope our chapter doesn’t fall into a lazy F2F good/ online bad dualism.’ writes the author in reply to a comment supporting VLEs.

Me too. I hope the language of technological determinism is used to praise as well as condemn.  I hope it recognises the problem is less about how VLEs weren’t ‘explicitly demanded by either teachers or students’ and more about how we were simply expected to know how to use them. From the start, priority was given to embedding the systems. The poor practice, which gets dragged out repeatedly, derives as much from insufficient access to specialist learning-technology resources, and support for the shift from f2f to digital pedagogy, as any desire to impose social control and conformity.

We need to be reminded of potential affordances alongside over-publicised failings. People are quick to criticise and slow to praise. Focusing on the ‘level of managerial control afforded by VLEs over F2F’ is to miss their opportunities for flexible and distance learning, widening participation, crossing boundaries of time and distance, sharing practice and creating networks for knowledge collaboration and exchange. The blame is unfair. Saying the VLE replaces ‘face-to-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching’ is to criticise the daily reality of thousands of academic and professional service staff across the sector, making the best of the tools in their hands to enhance learning opportunities for their students. Effective online learning is a specialism yet staff are expected to  demonstrate competence regardless of their own subject expertise. There are answers such as embedding digital scholarship into teacher education programmes, offering small amounts of development funding for digital enhancement, treating digital literacies as equal to text literacy and numeracy. What doesn’t help is to replicate and reinforce the same old tired arguments.  Alignment with zombie culture is neither clever nor witty; it’s discourteous and unkind.


Here are some useful reminders of how it all began.

Flying not flapping: a strategic framework for e-learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions by Gilly Salmon (2005)

Implementing a learning technology strategy: top–down strategy meets bottom–up culture by Bernard Lisewski (2004)


Conclusions on week 8 reading

This week has reinforced the possibilities of multiple truths!  It shows there are a multiplicity of ways of reading and writing the same world and how consecutive alternatives exist side by side. I like the pluralities; it broadens opportunities for participation while still maintaining agreed consensus on new knowledge production ie reviewing the literature, engaging in critical reflection, collecting data and analysing it to support a theory or proposal.

I’m reading more negative views of technology in society than positive ones. Cyborg Manifesto has been one of the few to examine the benefits of virtual environments. I’m relating social theory from pre-internet times to 21st century – to see how internet developments reinforce earlier knowledge claims. I still need to revisit the writings of early internet pioneers to see how their ambitions have been realised or thwarted. At some point I need to focus specifically on education – but feel there’s broader reading to be done around the relationship between society, culture and technology. My research focus is on support for individuals to use educational technology effectively ie digital scholarship and literacies but I don’t think this can be separated from broader issues around the social shift to ‘digital by default’ practices and ways of working plus the implications of exclusion.

Final thoughts and questions on week 8 reading

There are multiple reasons for embedding digital scholarship and literacies into teacher education programmes and the curriculum eg making better use of the tools to hand and enabling staff and students to use technology more effectively for CPD, UK PSF, graduate attributes etc, using technology to widen access to effective online education creating a fairer more equal future, and understanding how to make the most of professional identity in digital cultures. All this comes under my interpretation of ‘Digital Scholarship’. I’m also interested in the disembodied ‘language’ of social media and the multiple possibilities and interpretations of online identity – it seems as though poststructural/postmodern otherness and difference may have found a new home where the internet machine enables reinvention. Moving on from the personal to the political, I want to understand how much individuals have the power to contest, subvert and rewrite reality or if traditional forms of ideology and discourse dominate. Can the internet challenge consumerism or is it being taken over by the pressure of advertising? Does the internet still have the power of democracy as believed by its founders (Berners Lee etc) or is being manipulated as a socially divisive technology with deliberate parameters of exclusion? Should we take the internet for granted in the way books and text literacy an be take for granted or should we all be more politically and critically aware of its use for social control (cctv, surveillance, permanence of digital footprints etc). Is it possible to have effective online education or is that an oxymoron – (is resistance is more to do with the technology than its affordances). Does this all comes back to digital scholarship, digital literacies and the need for institutional support for their development – I think it does – but maybe part of the research is to ask the question – is all this necessary or is it enough to understand how to use the technology to enhance what you already do – is that enough?

Notes from Week 8 reading

Over the past seven weeks my reading has taken me back to the critical theory and literary criticism I encountered during my first MA in Gender Studies in 2000. I thought it might be relevant to revisit some of these materials with technology rather than gender in mind. In particular, I wanted to revisit Barthes essay on the Death of the Author and see if the shift from print to digital text might have significance in terms of interpreting user-generated content plus Baudrillard’s work on simulation now the internet has become as much about virtual pastiche and parody as a reliable source of – and site for – the production of knowledge.

I need to formulate my own epistemological position. It may be too early but I think it will be useful to remind myself of the major social theories of 20th century and revisiting cultural studies seems a reasonable place to begin.

Part of the attraction of cultural studies is its focus on language to critique social practices, analyse political context and expose relations of power, in particular the construction of social inequalities. Culture emerges from communication and the linguistic principles which organise communication systems. I remember how useful it was to look at semiotics where meaning is produced through relationships of difference between referential signs where they refer to what they are not – something ‘other’ than themselves – suggesting interpretation is always subjective and can never be fixed or relied upon.

Structuralism, the linguistic theory of the sign, was influential in 1950s and 60’s and based on earlier work of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) In his Course in General Linguistics,  language is offered as a product of culture and a tool for production of knowledge – but with limited capacity for universal truths. Saussure challenged Realism (the world can be known) with linguistic relativism (the world can only be known through the structures of language or Semiotics – the science of arbitrary signs) Words themselves are signs but they name ideas rather than things. Ideas cannot exist prior to the words used to produce them. Signs consist of signifiers (the word) and signified (the idea(s) the word conveys) but connections between the signifier and signified are not innate or fixed; agreed consensus of meaning is always cultural and arbitrary. Different people have different interpretations and all of them culturally valid. All meaning depends on location with a structured system of similarity and difference – a tree is a tree because it is not a bush, shrub or flower – it has ‘tree’ characteristics and culturally agreed consensus of meaning leads us to recognise ‘treeness’ See Daniel Chandler’s web essay Semiotics for Beginners

Ideology (social/individual ideas and ideals on which social structures are based) are expressed through language (language of image as well as text?) Examination of linguistic structures uncovers social frameworks in which the ideology was formed (identifying patterns of social control). Where individuals are ‘shaped’ by ideology, semiotics claims this derives from linguistic structures rather than an external single truths. Discourse (written/verbal – what about images?) represents communication of ideology. Discourse contains structures of knowledge and power; is used to create culture but through discursive analysis the structures are revealed and located within wider social relations.

Structuralism was challenged by Poststructuralists claiming investigation would always be biased through the social subjectivity of the investigator so it was impossible to be neutral.

Michel Foucault (philosopher/historian) said power was discursive rather than structural. Individuals and society were governed by ‘systems’ but these could not be examined objectively – we are all ‘trapped’ inside them – power is distributed bottom-up so we comply with our own oppression/control (panoptican etc). For Foucault, discourse emerged from the institution eg prison, asylum, hospital, schools etc with stress on deviance; individuals internalise new subjectivities in order to avoid being labelled as deviant.

Jacques Derrida suggested multiple meanings/truths could be uncovered through deconstructing text. This showed how there was no single truth or conclusive meaning; instead knowledge consisted of pluralities; all meaning was subjective.

Post-structuralists maintained frameworks and systems (Structures) are themselves constructs so cannot be trusted; there are no unified singular truths, no single scientific pathway to knowledge production, only multiple paths and multiple truths. When deconstructed, power (hegemony) reveals hierarchical mechanisms of control which cannot be examined objectively because we are trapped inside. Perceived truths and realities such as those promoted through ‘science’ are also unstable because it is impossible to escape constraining structures in order to study without bias (interesting to note how semiotics presents itself as a ‘science’ of signs).

Roland Barthes denied the existence of essentialism and truths, saying there were no single unities, only a multiplicity of possibilities (pluralities). Where an ideological discourse appears to naturalise cultural norms or expectations, it could be deconstructed to reveal the arbitrary nature of signs. In Mythologies (1957) Barthes examines common elements in French culture for evidence of hidden ideology claiming a myth is a form of discourse which attempts to make cultural norms appear natural. Words can be used for political/revolutionary purposes (writers = ecrivants) or to produce texts capable of multiple interpretations (authors = ecrivains). Barthes challenged the modernist notions of authority and knowledge production by suggesting the author is dead and no longer has authority; 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’ (final page). In his 1977 essay Death of the Author, (  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’ (final page).

Postmodernism is more associated with arts. It is said to have developed from surrealism/dada movement in 1920s with Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Lee Miller, and represents a shift from Modernism (the Humanism and Rationalism of the Enlightenment) and the scientific method where rationality was privileged. Knowledge itself was rational, could be identified and controlled with single knowable truths.

Postmodernism rejects this certainty and any overarching grand narrative explanations, claiming there are no truths; everything is a ‘text’ which is open to deconstruction. Postmodernism has its origin in America in 1950s, merging with French post-structuralism through Jean-Francois Lyotard’s ‘The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge’ (1979) where as a French post-structuralist, Lyotard adopted the phrase postmodernism.  Jean Baudrillard, looked to the rapid development of media and overloading of information which made it impossible to have a single truth (competing claims of authority are the essence of advertising) or even any historical significance (challenging historical materialism). Social meaning was a multiplicity of possibilities and simulations – models of a ‘real’ without origin – a hyperreal – in which it is impossible to distinguish reality from the simulation of reality therefore creating confusion (are we unaware of this or do we willingly believe?). In the hyperreal, physical reality has merged with virtual reality. We cannot ‘know’ anything and have lost sight of what is real in a world of media images and pastiche. Here is a connection with Postman’s ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ (1985) where the tv presents ‘trivia’ rather than serious public affairs or social issues – and culture is diluted into mass popular entertainment. Baudrillard wrote ‘Simulacra and Simulation’  in1981 and ‘Simulations’ in 1985 – all still prior to internet and world wide web. The danger of hyperreality – according to Baudrillard – is where the sign signifies something which doesn’t exist like Father Christmas – but is taken as being real rather than fiction (also theme parks like Disney World and World of Harry Potter).

In a consumer society the sign is deliberately shaped to point to a desired set of signifiers (see Edward Bernays influence on PR and Marketing using techniques from Psychoanalysis). Products are advertised to create associations which are unconnected – eg reflecting status or attractiveness. 21st century media has created a celebrity culture where people are famous for being famous rather than any value associated with human achievement. Celebrity culture offers a collection of images which are removed from reality but presented as  (mostly unobtainable) ideals eg body image/appearance etc

It’s a small step from Baudrillard’s claim we live in a world of simulation, where the media creates an alternate reality generated from ideas and ideals which we confuse with physical reality, and developments in digital technology e.g. computer generated animation; gaming graphics and the media, Reality TV etc. As culture shifts from real to virtual ie text, music, film etc, and consumerism/advertising infiltrates the virtual internet, we need to know how to decode digital media, separate the real from the unreal, develop criticality to distinguish between knowledge, information, advertisement, personal opinion and make judgements about online identity. How do we know anyone is who they say they are online?

no one knows your a dog online cartoon        on the internet no one knows you're a cat photograph

How much is digital data shifting culture towards empty signs – where meaning has become diluted and distorted – and pointing towards constructed ideologies framed by government and designed to misconceive (the Islamic extremist, benefit scrounger, asylum seeker, single mothers etc). Reality is recreated and reinvented through language as well as being used to persuade changes in behaviour; often presented in ways which disguise the intention (Edward Bernays)

Edward Bernays- The Ultimate Propagandist – National History Day 2009 (includes promtotion of Lucky Strikes, Bacon and Eggs and Beer)
Direct link

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition at the British Library (17 May to 17 September) may be worth visiting How the battle for your hearts and minds has been fought with posters, films, cartoons, textbooks, tweets and sounds.

Three synchronous pieces in the online news this week

Stop the Cyborgs Campaign to limit augmented reality of Google glasses Stop the Cyborgs Manifesto ‘We are not calling for a Government ban on wearable tech like glass. Rather we want to encourage individual people to think about the impact of new technologies, to set bounds on how technologies are used proactively negotiate their relationship with the future.’

BBC News article this week asks if google Maps is changing the way we behave. As people increasingly rely on Street View the articles says, they can find themselves experiencing the real world through a screen – instead of by looking around them – and begin “thinking about it as a digital environment” Street View users can “lose that experience of where they are….it becomes a routinised mechanistic way of behaviour” Is this another examples of how the machine of the internet is taking over our lives and substituting virtual for real – hyperreal of Street View?

Removing your online profile from the internet is not easy to do – digital footprints are permanent and often we don’t realise just how impossible it is to erase them. The Guardian is asking for reader experiences of deleting themselves online.

The Simulacrum – Gilles Deleuze (1990) writes about the simulacrum saying “the simulacrum is an image without resemblance” (p. 257) (The internet consists of digital worlds which are partially, or entirely simulated. How much are we moving towards being confused and starting to believe in virtual reality?)  Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia  by Gilles Deleuze  and Félix Guattari.  Chapter 5 Machines and Anti-Oedipus analyses the relationship of desire to reality and to capitalist society saying desire “is a machine, and the object of desire is another machine connected to it.” p28 (Desire and commodification are integral to consumer society – and if Edward Bernays persuaded people to spend on materials goods via the TV how much more prevalent is the internet as a machine for influencing individuals and having the potential for  controlling behaviour?)

This video about Bernays describes how he aimed to shift people from needs to a desire culture in order to sell products and boost consumerism.

Edward Bernays and the Art of Public Manipulation
Direct link

Also need to revisit Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Where philosophy meets Marxist critical theory, first published in 1967 in France, traces development of modern society where authentic social life has been replaced with its representation. In a spectacular society, quality of life is impoverished, with lack of authenticity and degradation of knowledge through lack of critical thought. SofS is a critique of contemporary consumer culture. All that was once directly lived has become a representation. (this is 1967 – long before the internet whereonline communication through social media is replacing lived experience? See the prevalence of mobile phones in public places even when people are with other people in cafes and restaurants they are also using their phones )The image is of central importance in contemporary society. Images have supplanted genuine human interaction but “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” (the internet bombards us with images which are products of a consumer society and semantically designed to persuade us into buying the product – using techniques first introduced by Edward Bernays – we need sophisticated attitudes and understanding to not be persuaded by virtual promises)

Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.

Following reading around the machine and technology in society I revisited the Cyborg Manifesto a socialist feminist view of women in a technologically dominated postmodern world. The machine of the internet has the potential for offering alternative identities. Haraway says traditional tools of analysis – Marxism, psychoanalysis etc – are inadequate for technological society – the world is changing and the cyborg offers a new way of being and thinking about how individuals and society interact with machines, in particular how women can find alternate non-oppressed identities. Language and culture are machines of society and reinforce dominance and oppression. Language is embodied. Women need a common language which exists outside gender as a form of social control. To escape the binds of language is to find non-bodied ways of communication. Cyberspace and digital identities may offer these freedoms. Technology offers opportunities for rewriting the body. Previously women have been trapped in a hierarchy of privileged binaries seen as essentialist and naturalist – male/female, objective/subjective, public/private etc. Cyborg identities are constructed – there is nothing essential about them – they exist beyond naturalism – beyond binaries – cyborgs subvert the binary of natural/artificial. They can be plural, unstable, playful – all the language of postmodern and poststructural reading and writing of the world. Cyborgs offer opportunities to escape from historically constituted realities like gendered social relations which are fixed and move towards Postmodern identities constructed from otherness and difference, bricolage and pastiche.

P 149 A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.

P 150 – the cyborg is our ontology

P 151 – the cyborg is….utopian (or dystopian?)

“Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction” (150)

P163 – the cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled postmodern collective and personal self.

P 161 – Some differences are playful; some are poles of world historical systems of domination. ‘Epistemology’ is about knowing the difference.’

P 175 – Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.

P 181 – I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess


  • What has changed since this was written in 1991? A cyborg is human/machine organism – have we all become cyborgs without realising it – like when I go out forgetting my mobile phone and feel disconnected and incomplete?   
  • How is culture produced and reproduced in a digital age? Is this the ultimate postmodern environment where nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say they are and the tools with which we interpret the world are themselves unstable?
  • What are the social relations of technology? 
  • How are digital bodies inscribed?
  • What does it mean to be embodied in technology
  • Does internet fracture identities? Are different faces for different spaces a good thing? I talk to students and advise them to have separate online identities for professional and private – is this adding to the confusion? Identity is fixed within social practices; as soon as we name something we risk exclusion – eg gender/religion/race/age. The internet is a different place. We can be fragmented, keep parts of ourselves invisible -is this a good thing or does it further the potential for disorientation?

Herbert Marcuse (1964) One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society

A ‘one dimensional’ man is only capable of one dimensional thought; this is controlled through the relationship between capital and technology in high capitalist societies which represents new forms of social control through consumerism. Everything is turned into a commodity, both ‘true needs’ (the things people need) and ‘repressive needs’ (things people don’t need but want). Capitalist governments use technology as propaganda but Marcuse suggests communism also uses technology to control people and increase profits.  One dimensional man is about the loss of critique; about the single dimension of mass culture (Postman – Amusing Ourselves to Death – I wonder what Marcuse would say about the internet?) Art and higher culture have become the institutions of one-dimensional realities. Art should challenge social norms, be political and highlight injustice and oppression rather than be propaganda. Marcus calls this the flattening of discourse within organised capitalism through the loss of artistic critique of the prevailing order eg narratives of frustration with the present world (We, 1984, Brave New World, Handmaids Tale).  The process is replicated and reinforced through government where people deliberately speak a different language to exclude the general public. This language is rhetorical eg use of freedom and communism (this would now be terrorism, war on terror, Islamic extremists, single mothers etc) which have multiple interpretations and the use of acronyms obscure meaning (examples of the arbitrary signifiers within semiotics). Governments practice sociological and psychological controls through the workplace eg HR offering statements so vague and general they have no real meaning  and SM meetings are constructed to look effective but achieve nothing in terms of improvement ie deliberately useless. The logic of government cannot be trusted; it is always oppressive and seeks total control, its elected officials are ‘stereotypical representatives’ so unable to act in the people’s best interests.

In a one dimensional society, history is presented in a way which fits current ideology and discourse and science does not present neutral reality – instead it represents a political discourse which is rarely questioned because it’s presented as being too complex for people to understand (eg the media habit of referring to ‘the scientist’ or ‘science’ as though it is superior and can be trusted – the white coat of a scientist means something different on hessle road – here it is the fish factory!)

Democracy is a disguised totalitarian rule. An example of this is the social use of technology which has the potential for equalising social participation but is used to further capitalist structures instead. Marcuse is writing in a similar time to Mike Cooley writing on the myth of morally neutral technology and about technology which is socially useful (see Week 4 phd notes)

Marcuse writes of the gaps and spaces between concepts and their uses, the separation of worker from production or between ethical values and existing realities. (For Saussure these spaces were indicative of the arbitrary nature of language where the reality signified by the signifier is never fixed but offers a multiplicity of meanings – therefore always open to different and new possibilities). For Marcuse, the gap represents the possibility of social change, of alternatives. It is the space in which resistance or subversion can exist. The role of government is to close the gap so the only alternative is the repetition of existing social relations with no possibility of challenge. (Socially useful technology would fit into this gap).  

Consumerism and bureaucracy have closed the gap. Consumer culture (originated in PR through Edward Bernays techniques of persuasion based on Freud) is now mediated through the private sphere via tv etc (proliferation of advertising on the internet and move to premium rate serivces– eg Kindle fire charging more for ad-free home page) Advertising and capitalism are the tools of a totalitarian state. (example of propaganda is cctv where we are told surveillance is for our own safety) People are pressured into conformity through mass media and mass consumption. Social control is about satisfying needs but without people realising these needs are artificially created (again – the capitalism of advertising creating want).Language is used to persuade through rhetoric – people are persuaded if they are discontent with the system or their lives then they need to change the ways they think – it is never the system – always the individual – (eg food is individual choice – its up to individuals if they choose cheap processed foods, high in fat, sugar and horsemeat rather than tackle the problem at source ie the food industry’s drive to increase profits at the expense of health) Marcuse says western democracies prevent critical thought and choice is an illusion as all alternatives are manufactured.


  • Marcuse looked to organised working class as agents of social change; he seems to be saying change is no longer possible but was writing before 1968.
  • Is the future as bleak as he says or do spaces (beyond conformity to consumerist lifestyle) for resistance still exist?
  • Are the opportunities for choice broader than he suggests?
  • To what extend can individuals practice refusal or be critical of the system and society?
  • If enough people shared the same view is there still the possibility of new social orders?
  • Marcuse says no matter what type of society you live it – an imaginative mind is key to protecting rights and freedoms are protected. (we can all imagine alternatives – but this is not the same as having the means to realise them)

WEEK 8 Meeting notes

Threshold concepts; HE continually emerging and transforming (MOOC an examples of change) universities occupy liminal space between old and emergent understandings where the present form is not sustainable and adapting to new ways of working is essential to survive. (Better to be a part of that transformation than get left behind?) The staff and student relationship with machines/technology is one such example, especially where academics don’t understand the technology they work with and need to catch up with the machine; learn to cope with digital ways of working, with new constructions of social identity and new forms of institutionalised knowledge production.


Questions around machine logic – example of being used for positive or negative intentions?  (literature, science fiction) Where is the humanness in the machine logic of 21st century? What form does that humanness take? Is machine logic the same as AI?  Do I need to read more around machines replicating humans – will this conclude human creativity can never be replicated by technology?  Does this limit the capacity for educational technology to be effective and enhance practice?


After thoughts

Young children are taught in primary school about using the internet (plus student wanting to work for CEOP = new digital ways of being) How does the university support staff and students to ensure safety online -not just personal data protection but online identity and the boundaries between personal/private and professional/public practice? I don’t think they do.

We talk about means and ends but not beginnings – need to pay more attention to the environment in which the technology was developed and who funds and controls that development.

Social media enables user generated content whereas early web environments required programme coding – how different is this to early books requiring literacy – nothing is new – everything is an extension of what has gone before.

Methodology: Action Research where methodology emerges out of practice plus conversations with supervisor. Surveys, questionnaires etc too positivist (don’t uncover truths – statistics never lie but liars use statistics) Action Research in own institution  based on the TELEDA course would address digital scholarship. Need to find the paper critiquing research in own institutions used on EdD 

Notes on action research

Reflective inquiry based research working with people as active agents rather than passive subjects. Working together to make sense of the world, to create new ways of reading and writing the world. Researcher as Practitioner follows reflective practice learning cycle (ie Kolb). Rather than fixed hypothesis, action research begins with an idea and the research is the process of following through this idea.

Kurt Lewin developed action research in US in 1940s in context of human relations in industry, guided by belief knowledge comes from problem solving in real-life situations.  In UK in 1970s action research developed through Lawrence Stenhouse and teacher-as-researcher movement.  See Artistry and Teaching. The teacher as focus of research and development by Lawrence Stenhouse (1988)

Qualities of action research:

  • Deductive
  • Deals with individuals as members of social groups
  • Context specific
  • Problem focused
  • Future orientated
  • Cyclical (like Kolb) linking research, action, evaluation
  • Aims to improve
  • Participatory research – participants actively involved in the change process

Adapted from Hart, E. and Bond, M. (1995:37) Action-Research for Health and Social Care: A Guide to Practice, Open University Press. Assesses the usefulness and distinctiveness of action-research over other methodologies; much of the guidance can be transferred to educational development.

Action research cycle

  • Identify area of practice to investigate
  • Imagine a solution, Implement and evaluate the solution
  • Change practice in the light of the evaluation – repeat implementation and evaluation

Value set of action research

  • People are in control of their own work
  • Need for democratic practice – equality of participation
  • Care and respect for individuals – humanist approach
  • Need for disciplined enquiry

To look up

Jean McNiff series of lectures is about action research and its pasts, presents and futures.

Jean McNiff (2013) Action Research: Principles and Practice (third edition), Abingdon, Routledge, Chapter 1 of earlier edition available online  

Whitehead J and McNiff  J (2006) Action Research: Living Theory

Jack Whitehead’s Action Research website at

Strengthening Action Research for Educational Development by Glynis Cousin in SEDA Journal 1:3 August 2000

Introduction to Handbook of action research, Participative Inquiry and Practice by Peter Reason and Hilary Bradbury (2000) (latest edition by Sage £66 – how does this match with open education?)



Week 7 Reading

Looking at the broader role of technology in society through a cultural lens in particular the relationship between machines and depictions of dystopia/utopia. Man v Machine discourse of late 19th/early 20th century is evident is art and literature as well as academia. Technological determinism has been challenged by the flexibility of post-structuralist theory,  influence of semiotics and emergence of equality politics with their stress on unequal power distributions and relationships. Challenges suggest technology cannot determine – rather it is existing social structures of power which determine how technology is used – and where unpredictable and unexpected outcomes emerge, these are not as a result of the technology itself – but from the human potential for creativity.

Sometimes I wonder about the effect of the internet and digital connections; it does sometimes feel like logging onto a ‘machine’ every day where social status is increasingly measured through virtual identities as much as real ones (in particular through social media); is there a point when the balance will shift to virtual identity being privileged?  Developments in 20th/21st centuries show how the line between fiction and science is thin; the technological determinism of fictional futures may be more predictive than we realise and the internet becoming the tool with which social control is realised.

Plurality is a chilling reminder of the possibilities. The Grid is promoted as a system of security where people feel safe – everyone is identified through touch (like eye scans) through their dna – the reality is the ultimate form of social control and and means of conformity.

Plurality direct link (14.15)

Notes from We

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921) (forerunner of Huxley and Orwell’s dystopian worlds)Banned in Russia till 1988. Written in 1920s against a background of Taylorism and scientific management. The controlling factor is maths and numbers; people’s names are letters and numbers, the day is controlled by the Table of Hours which is the order of behaviour (work, exercise, eat, sleep etc) for all but two hours of personal time. Freedom is called ‘disorganised wildness’ and being original is to violate the principle of equality p30

  • I’ll be completely honest with you – we haven’t yet solved the problem of happiness with 100% accuracy p13
  • Dreams point to serious mental illness p 33
  • The only thing that is beautiful is the rational and the useful p 48
  • The remotest hint he might have an imagination was quite insulting to him p80
  • You’re in bad shape. It looks like you’re developing a soul….That’s….very dangerous, I murmured p86
  • That doctor of yours says I’ve got a soul….says it’s incurable p95
  • Self-consciousness is just a disease p124
  • Inside each of us Numbers is a metronome, we don’t have to look at a clock to know the time…but now my metronome has stopped. P127
  • Can never be a final revolution, only the next one, like there can never be a final number, only infinity p168– then at the end someone claims to have discovered infinity does not exist p222
  • You are sick and the name of your illness is imagination 172
  • Last words – we’ll win – because reason has to win p225

Thoughts on reading We; model for futuristic society of Brave New World and 1984. I am reminded again of the pervasiveness of digital connections and their potential for social control. Michael Wesch (Vision of Students Today and the Machine is using us videos) presents on The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity.

Direct link

Wesch uses Postman’s technology determinist ideas on US television in 1980’s (Amusing ourselves to Death) and suggests the concept of media ecology – media are environments – not just tools and means of communication – when media changes our conversation change. New media create new ways of relating to other and new ways of knowing ourselves – therefore media changes culture. Much current thinking around YouTube is negative –shallow, self-absorbed etc– but Wesch says there are positives – quotes McLuhan on re-cognition and new forms of self-awareness through replay which offers deeper levels of awareness than first play. Says YouTube encourages self-reflection, new and different ways of connection without social constraints – which may be better, deeper and more meaningful with communities of people connecting globally through sharing common experiences. Where isolated and private space becomes public space through the webcam there is potential for taking the positive affordances and working together for common causes for good. Wesch is being optimistic but selects only two out of all the billions of videos to demonstrate this – says we have to be positive but the faceless anonymity of user-generation appears to support the potential for realising the fictionalised dystopian societies of Huxley et al. However, these are still determined through humans rather than the machines – both positive and negative outcomes are possible within the human potential.

For my co-authored book Social Work in a Digital Society we looked at online cognitive behavioural therapy programmes; these are increasingly sophisticated and offer useful examples of ‘machines’ and their algorithms passing themselves off as human! 

Reading We suggests we might underestimate the cultural impact of Taylorism and the science of management (original Taylor principles of SM available here Archive film footage on Ford, the breaking up of skilled labour into unskilled parts, introduction of the assembly line, mass production, low costs and high wages, how what initially appeared to benefit the worker turned into oppression and increasing powerlessness through rise in managerialism. 

Ford and Taylor Scientific Management (Edited)

Direct link

In dystopian landscapes where machines control of society and individuality – humans fight back through creativity and self expression – but the machine/system wins (1984, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, Postcards fron the Edge etc) Machines became an analogy/tool for social conformity but the Ship of Fools (Foucault, Asylum) shows society has always separated out difference (Greek custom of placing disabled babies in clay pots or exposing them on mountain sides) From 20th century mechanisation of work by machine robots we now have the ‘machine’ of the internet. Once logged on, we leave permanent digital footprints. Travelling this w/e I noticed people in public places are connected via their phones more than ever including while eating and socializing in coffee shops and bars. Where this is a voluntary obsession with communicating with virtual worlds and people, I’m reminded of Foucault and the bottom up nature of discursive power structures – if an extreme of scientific management is workers behaving (and thinking?) like machines (as machines the ‘I’ becomes ‘We’ and individuality is lost) then the shared digital world of social media (Facebook/Twitter/location based Foursquare etc) contains the potential of a dystopian landscape – raises issues of choice – at which point within HE can staff/students choose not to shift to online design and delivery plus privileging online forms of communication, information etc? Has that point already passed? What are the social implications of dependence on cloud computing as a machine in the clouds – are we already too trusting with giving away our memories (photographs), lives (personal data) and work etc????

In February Coursera/University of Edinburgh ran the MOOC Elearning in Digital Cultures The course examined ‘…how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology’ through dystopia/utopian scenarios – searching for explanations for social, cultural or educational change. This began with technological determinism; technology as driver of social change. Reading included Technological or Media Determinism by Daniel Chandler (1995) a critical examination of attempts to explain social change through the single determining factor of technology.

Introduces a range of theories suggesting technology determines cultural systems. Chandler says reductionism is similar to theory of historical materialism (Marx/Engel) where institutional superstructure (education/family/politics/culture etc) rests on economic base with change proceeding bottom up either determining or influencing historical change (depending on the Marxist theory followed). Reductionist/Mechanistic/Positivist explanations are underpinned with cause and effect functionality of behaviourism – this contrasts with human identity for ‘…the mechanical definition of human life misses the point because what is human in man is precisely that which is not mechanical.’ Biologist Rene Dubos (1970).

These are the same elements I picked out in We; the creativity, imagination and dreams which were socially constructed as mental illness and perversion but in reality are what separates us from machines.

During 20th century, technology has been perceived as autonomous and ‘out of control’. Chandler quotes Postman on the Frankenstein Syndrome where machines change our habitual ways of doing things and also our mental habits, often in ways which were unanticipated. McLuhan quoted as eg of media technological determinism (media changes not only the way we do things but also the way we are). Both McLuhan and Postman were interested in language as technologies – and the potential for social control through language. I’m interested in the effect of the internet and digital language on the self – the presentation of self online – the contemporary ‘differences’ which Welsch describes in how people communicate and the purposes of that communication.

Postman refers to the invisible technology of language – which can function independently of the system it serves – and I wonder about a) semiotics and the poststructural emphasis on plurality of language with multiple meanings with can be de-coded and deconstructed and b) how this deconstruction might be applied to new digital languages – in particular their duality as tools for monitoring behavior/location and subverting dominant control structures. On an individual level, this links with Welsch and the Politics of Authenticity video (above). When language has become digital and we communicate primarily through digital devices – separately from the purpose for using the media – at which point do we lose our ability to perceive ourselves independently. Our digital extensions/avatars are rated, liked and shared – at which point does our online personal become more important/greater value than our physical one? Maybe the ‘I’ has already become the ‘We’ of/with our media which connects us. (See Bleeker’s Internet of Things)

Chandler writes about machines having purposes – anthropomorphic – the purpose being greater than the sum of its parts (like a 3G wifi mobile phone?)  McLuhan is quoted as saying new goals are contained in new means but doesn’t seem to be looking beyond the media to its source whereas Postman presents technology as non-neutral – saying the uses made of technology are largely determined by the structure of the technology itself. The medium contains an ideological basis with five identifiable biases (writing in 1979 – this sounds much like later writers calling for more awareness of structured inequality and disadvantage)

  • intellectual and emotional biases (the symbolic forms in which information is encoded)
  • political biases  (accessibility and speed of information)
  • sensory biases (their physical form)
    social biases (the conditions/context in which we use them)
    content biases (technical and economic structures) Postman 1979, p. 193

Media are metaphors through which we conceptualise reality (as Welsch says – media create new ways of relating to other and new ways of knowing ourselves therefore media changes culture.) therefore we only see reality through the systems used to decode it (eg Orwell’s Newspeak). Technological determinism only goes back to the construction of the technology – it doesn’t look at the construction of the society in which it is produced. Technology cannot be separated from its social context therefore it cannot be neutral – it has to be used and have a function – and these are socially defined and located. (so within education, digital literacies are essential in order to decode and validate content – and understand how to challenge and subvert)

Chandler finishes  with a quote Stuart Hall saying media reproduce the structure of domination and subordination which characterises the social system. Theory and debate around structural inequalities has been primary challenge to TD ideas.  Chandler gives useful definition for identification of TD positioning.

The assumptions of technological determinism can usually be easily in spotted frequent references to the ‘impact’ of technological ‘revolutions’ which ‘led to’ or ‘brought about’, ‘inevitable’, ‘far reaching’, ‘effects’, or ‘consequences’ or assertions about what ‘will be’ happening ‘sooner than we think’ ‘whether we like it or not’.

Thoughts on Chandler – digital media represent new ways of communicating and accessing information. These can produce new ways of seeing, learning and living – which can produce new realities – but this is not the same as technology determining social reality – determinists miss the positioning of technology production within its social landscape. However, one consequence which is less easy to explain through social construction is unpredictability; technology/media can be used in ways which might not have been anticipated, these can be negative or positive. Once the technology is in place/been adopted, and if existing structures are being reproduced (replication is often reinforcement) I wonder if the replication becomes in itself a determining feature – one which disguises any deliberate social and political manipulation – and offers opportunities for theorists to claim TD ideology.

Found 1996 interview with Neil Postman His  solution is to give students an education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, so they may become adults who ‘use technology rather than being used by it’. This is similar to saying we need digital literacies embedding into the curriculum and teacher education practices so users can be aware of the issues (digital identity, social justice etc)

quotes from interview

‘I don’t think any of us can do much about the rapid growth of new technology….However, it is possible for us to learn how to control our own uses of technology. The ‘forum’ I think is best suited for this is our educational system. If students get a sound education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, they may grow to be adults who use technology rather than be used by it.’

‘…everyone seems to speak about the advantages technology will bring. Someone needs to mention what may be lost.’

‘The internet may be a solution [to the decentralisation of information distribution] but of course, like any solution, creates new problems for example the absence of ‘gatekeepers’ who are useful in separating the irrelevant from the relevant and even the true from the false.’

(gatekeeping = control and censorship – useful to go back to Berners Lee on original ambitions for WWW and internet) 

Wesch video The Machine is Us – Using Us – still relevant today. Presents itself as technically determined rather than looking further back to uncover the structural origins. The contemporary relevance is the recognition (in 2007) of how internet affordances mean we need to rethink privacy and identity (amongst other issues like commerce, governance, ethics). Wesch cites copyright and authorship but doesn’t say we need to rethink education – which is an interesting omission from an educationalist.

Direct link (4.34)

Also found this example of early digital technology prediction from 1926 interview with Nicolas Tesler reported in When Woman is Boss by John Kennedy in Colliers magazine, 30 January1926  ‘…through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face. Despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.’ I think this shows how what we imagine – which may seem incredible at the time – can still be realised and the technological determinism of fictional futures may be more predictive than we realise.

Julian Bleeker  (2006) A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things.  increasing potential for objects connected to the Internet, the so- called Internet of Things, to interact with each other and with humans by blogging (Bleecker calls these objects ‘blogjects’).. Bleecker stresses that it is the networked, communicative nature of Things that is important – what they say, and to whom – not their technical ability to store and transmit data.  I struggled with this paper; I think Bleeker is describing the systems which gather information (like rss and google analytics) and out of this garnering/harvesting comes new ways of understanding which become realities – Bleecker seems to see this future as utopian – to me it sounds dystopian and like AI which science is working towards.  If you link AI with Bleeker’s Internet of Things  it would seem there is the potential for a semantic web which not only ‘knows’ you in the way retail companies try to match like with like, but which ‘controls’ you too. 

The term Internet of Things was first used by Kevin Ashton in 1999 ‘In the real world, things matter more than ideas.’

From imaginary dystopia to utopias

On Utopias and imaginary lands eg Huxley’s Island Pala – utopian life is unsustainable; the people have no army to defend themselves and give themselves up to the dominant militarism and capitalism of a neighbouring island.

Thomas Moore useful for early depiction of a social Utopia in 1516. See metaphor of sheep eating people in Pasture destroying Husbandry, Utopia book 1

Utopia from Greek ou-topos meaning ‘no place’ or ‘nowhere’ plus almost identical Greek word eu-topos meaning a good place. British Library guide to Utopias

What are utopian and dystopian visions of education today? What is a utopian vision of the future of HE at a time when HE is becoming commercialised (fees, textbook costs, essay writing services etc) and what prevents access to free quality higher education? Open education appears to offer open access to information and communication – epitomised in the MOOC – here are learning experiences but are they academic ones? What constitutes academic accreditation?  What are the limitations of educational technology? (Prensky on What Technology is not good at – empathy, passion etc plus critical reflective practice and human aspects of f2f T&L conversations.

Are MOOC pushing on regardless? David Wiley (Flat World Knowledge, commissions academic textbooks free online – or at print on demand cost) says the technology is already here – we need to capture its potential to lower costs and improve learning for all ‘If universities can’t find the will to innovate and adapt to changes in the world around them [they will be] irrelevant by 2020.” Anna Kemenz (2009) How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education  Can education be remodeled taking advantage of free online resources to reach more students at lower costs than ever before possible. Jim Groom Edupunk is DIY education through technology for those disenchanted with existing educational systems.

If technology is not determinist then how can we identify the structures supporting choice and strategy within HE? If HE is embedded within broader social and cultural structures, their influence will dominant decision making processes. How does this connect with shift to virtual learning environments and digital ways of working without putting in place the support for appropriate digital literacies and scholarship?

Meeting week 7

Reference at start of DyerWitherford – the Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990) alternative fictionalised history of Victorian England/early Steampunk literature genre.

Machines emerge out of work – work does not create machines – and out of relationship with machines, human nature changes into a different form. See connections with early 20th century Futurist Art (originating from Italy with emphasis on concepts of the future, including technology and machines eg cars, planes and industrial cityscapes) and cultural landscape following WW1 – the first war to utilise killing machines on a massive scale – Modernism in art, architecture, literature and poetry – Joyce, Eliot etc. dealing with loss of landscapes and lives, adopting pessimism of the human condition as primary theme, exploring alternative forms of expression and meaning which were non-commercial, not what people wanted or were used to so in terms of art, literature and poetry were most often ultimately misunderstood.

Historical materialism – human existence depends on production of the material requirements of life. Marx – production and exchange requires production relations – a form of social relations. Relations are unequal – private ownership of the means of productions and the workers exchanging labour for wages but creating surplus value etc

Historical materialist view – society went through profound change as work became a social issue, the urbanization of the countryside, Fordism, Taylorism, scientific management etc. As capitalism took over western world so humans became part of its machine logic (materialism, consumerism etc) but humans are not determined by the machines – the process is determining – but humans have the capacity to create, resist and subvert. There is something about being human which is about NOT being a machine (eg Hope).

Technological Determinism (subject of Week 7 reading – see above)

Powerful ideology – how machines and technology changes us. Deterministic views of Marshall McLuhan were popular in his day and then dismissed but are frequently referred to in the light of digital technologies and the internet. Renowned for the expression ‘The medium is the message’ which describes the power of technology to determine behaviour and social relations.  The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man 1962  McLuhan –  history broken up into 4 eras – Oral tribe culture, Manuscript culture, Gutenberg galaxy, Electronic age. McLuhan popularized the term global village, mass communication reduces the world to a village with village mindset. Marx had already predicted globalized markets as capitalism sought to expand ‘…the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’

McLuhan said technology is the means by which people are re-invented.  “the world of visual perspective is one of unified and homogeneous space. Such a world is alien to the resonating diversity of spoken words. So language was the last art to accept the visual logic of Gutenberg technology, and the first to rebound in the electric age.” McLuhan 1962, p.136 ‘Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. Gutenberg Galaxy p. 32. Book is designed as a mosaic Part 2, “The Gutenberg Galaxy”, 107 short chapters 1-3 pages long.

Technological developments of industrial revolution era associated with capitalism which has agrarian (not industrial) origins. Ellen Mieskins Wood (2003) Origins of Capitalism

Commodification and privatisation of land through enclosure of common land benefiting the wool industry and creating eviction of peasant leading to unemployment and poverty. Textile capitalism in 16th century led to intensification of labour and work prior to industrial capitalism of 17th and 18th centuries. Discourse of ‘improvement’ (from French for ‘to make value’ or to increase profit) and the creation of value for employers/land owners.

Capitalism has ‘…nothing to do with whether production is urban or rural and everything to do with the particular property relations between producers and appropriators, whether in industry or agriculture.’ P2

Origins of capitalism lie in the relations between producers and appropriators being dependent on a market driven by competition and accumulation. English state in 16th century had distinctive foundations of road and water networks and system of land ownership empowering landlords to seek means to increase agricultural production. ‘Landlords and tenants alike became preoccupied with what they called ‘improvement’, the enhancement of the land’s productivity for profit.’ P 8 this saw rise of scientific farming techniques and agricultural improvement. Custom in England was for common land with common rights for grazing, collecting firewood etc therefore was neither productive nor profitable under new drive for ‘improvement’ which led to ‘…new capitalist conceptions of property…as not only ‘private’ but also exclusive, literally excluding other individuals and the community…’ p9 and the redefinition of property rights through enclosure – ‘…the extinction (with or without a physical fencing of land) of common and customary use-rights on which many people depended for their livelihood.’ P10 (hence More’s reference to the practice of dispossession as sheep devouring men’). Mieskins Wood refers to enclosure as the birth of capitalism. P11.

Capitalism is not natural or inevitable. ‘It is a late and localised product of very specific historical conditions’, Capitalism ‘…is born at the very core of human life, in the interaction on which life itself depends’ and leads to ‘…a great disparity between the productive capacities of capitalism and the quality of life it delivers. The ethic of ‘improvement’ in its original sense, in which production is inseparable from profit, is also the ethic of exploitation, poverty and homelessness.’ P 16

Research proposal by Ana Cecilia Dinerstein: Beyond Capitalism: Hope movements in a Pluriversal World. Proposal references Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope. Bloch (1885-1977) close friend and colleague of Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Berthold Brecht, made major contributions to socialist thought, although the ideas were regarded as heretical by orthodox Marxists. The Principle of Hope was written 1938-1947 in the “Public Library” in Manhattan at the 42nd street , where Bloch was in exile from Nazi Germany. Printed by MIT in 1997. Bloch influential in 1968 student protest movements and in liberation theology. Original title Dreams of a Better Life. Attempts an account of mankind’s and nature’s orientation towards a socially and technologically improved future. Bloch “the greatest of modern utopian thinkers”  Kovel, Joel (1991). History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 261. Introduction to The Principle of Hope here

Sociology should be about ‘subjecting the present to critique and imagine human communities that do not yet exist. Knowledge is always socially constructed, culturally situated and diffuse (flexible and subjective?) influenced by means of production and location. Dinnerstein writes about pluralities. This always reminds me of postmodern theory – multiple subjectivities or bricolage, deconstruction of language (Derrida) to reveal underlying ideology and discourses of power, language as semiotics (Saussure) a set of binary opposites where something is what it is through what it is not – no grand narratives, no absolute truths only pluralities – claims to objectivity can be taken apart to reveal paradoxical self-referential logic etc.

Dinnerstein describes then necessity to release western conceptual subordination to categories that naturalise capitalism.  Agree how society/education should be working towards equality and freeing oppression plus see how HE is moving out into worlds where capitalism is taking advantage of higher profit margins. Was struck by reading Dinerstein on the replication of UK calls for emancipatory research into disability – giving voice to the voiceless – involving participants in research design. Dinnerstein’s use of minorities could easily read as disabilities. Disability research and action has not fulfilled its early promise; benefits cut, mobility allowances taken away,  educational and employment opportunities reduced etc, the state is not protecting the most vulnerable. With regard to equality of internet access, digital exclusion is increasing – assistive technology with the potential for equality of access and participation is increasingly difficult to obtain plus the internet itself is being designed and delivered in exclusive ways. Government policy for digital inclusion is now driven by commerce rather than social justice and misses the critical differences ie people with disabilities have different needs and preferences so making a mainstream service available for them is not always appropriate. Participatory and emancipatory research in HE has become diluted almost to extinction. The future does not look bright – but humans are able to dream future possibilities and envisage hope for a better life (is ‘hope’ more realistic than utopianism because it may be more achievable?) Utopias are expressions of the desire for a better way of living or being. Buen vivir ‘living well’ plentiful life, peace and harmony within natural order.

TO READ Ruth Levitas – inaugural lecture THE IMAGINARY RECONSTITUTION OF SOCIETY or why sociologists and others should take utopia more seriously.

TO READ Open education: Common(s), commonism and the new common wealth by Mike Neary and Joss Winn Ephemera volume 12(4): 406-422




Returned to SCOT this week as the Clayton paper critiquing SCOT arrived through inter library loan.  I’d read the Russell  paper claiming SCOT needed to be situated within a more political framework and was looking for other critiques.

Clayton, N. (2002) ‘SCOT: Does it Answer?’ Technology and Culture, 43(2): 351-60 

Clayton (specialist bicycle historian) suggests the original bicycle study is historically inaccurate and flawed therefore  SCOT is based on a misconception of the relationship between theory and empirical evidence. Quotes Steven Gould (with no reference) on  how facts become ‘immortal’ once they pass from primary documentation to text books because ‘Nobody ever goes back to study the fragility of the original document’, p354. Clayton’s paper examines the base foundation i.e. the history of the bicycle as being incorrect. This is synchronous with Mike saying the problem with social constructivism is it ‘pre-supposes the social as natural and uses that assumption as a starting point for explaining other things, but doesn’t explain how the social itself is constructed. As an approach it is too thin.’ (Week Six meeting 06/03/13 notes).

Pinch, T.J. and Bjiker, W. E  (2002) SCOT Answers, Other Questions. A Reply to Nick Clayton. Technology and Culture April 2002 vol 43 pp 61-370

Technology and Culture printed a response to Clayton from Pinch and Bjiker which defends their position saying a) Clayton was not in possession of the full body of their literature (which included applying SCOT to other artefacts plus a more in depth study of bicycle development) so the theoretical approach of SCOT therefore does not rest on one example and b) how Clayton ‘misunderstands what constitutes SCOT’ p362 and misunderstands the character of historical research and interpretive analysis. They suggest ‘…teachers continue to use our text to teach students about doing interpretive history, and that they add Clayton’s critique and this response to warn students of the corruptive power of naive empiricism.’ p368  Clayton’s postscript says he has no space to defend the charge of naive empiricism and challenges the historical evidence instead, which seems to be primarily his area of expertise rather than sociology or science.

The debate between P & B with Russell and Clayton, demonstrating contrasting interpretations from different disciplines, shows the challenge of establishing consensus or world view (Weltanschauung). This has relevance to my research where I need to establish an epistemological position which describes my views on how I think knowledge is created and shared and how truth and reality are defined. 

SCOT has been background reading around technology and society. My research is around technology in higher education and this is a theme of the online course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age, now in week two, which has been introducing some of the work around the impact of technology on education and how best to design for learning online. Learning Package Two (weeks 2/3) includes a brief resume of pedagogical theory (using a signposting approach whereby participants are encouraged to be self directed and explore links to freely available online resources if appropriate). CORE reading is the paper by George Siemens on Connectivism which critiques traditional behaviourist, cognitivist and constructivist learning theory as being inadequate for a digital age. My notes on the paper are below.

Siemens,G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2 (1).

Society continually changes and evolves – but the past decade has seen an exponential increase in access to information and communication technologies – with inevitable implications for education. Learning theory was designed for non-digital environments.  Education trends are changing as employment patterns shift away from long term permanent contracts – workers need to be prepared to change fields and be trained/educated accordingly, often alongside work and online/virtually. Siemens says the ‘Know how’ and ‘Know what’ of learning is now supplanted with the ‘Know where’ as increasing amounts of information are available online and the skills needed to evaluate and authenticate this mass of content are vital. Technology has made external the cognitive processes of information storage, retrieval, thereby challenging traditional theories of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. These situate learning internally as do the epistemological traditions of Objectivism, Pragmatism and Interpretivism.

A digitally networked society represents such a massive social change that traditional learning theory is no longer appropriate. ‘The natural attempt of theorists is to continue to revise and evolve theories as conditions change. At some point, however, the underlying conditions have altered so significantly, that further modification is no longer sensible. An entirely new approach is needed’. P 3

Siemens asks about the impact of chaos and complexity theories on learning (chaos theory eg butterfly effect in weather systems; currents of air from wings on one side of the world has potential for hurricanes on the other.  Complexity theory eg where expectations are determined by relatively simple rules but outcomes cannot be predicted esp when participation is on a global scale. It’s seemingly random – yet predictable patterns emerge out of the potential complexity suggesting a level of self-organisation at work).

Decisions are made based on underlying conditions – and if these change then we need to alter the decision making process – ‘the ability to recognise and adjust to pattern shifts is a key learning task.’ P4. We also need to make sense out of randomness and chaos – in a knowledge economy the ability to make connections and sense – to be self-organised – is in itself a learning process. Networks are fluid; dependent on connections which can increase or decrease depending on their function or owners (here the mirroring of status and popularity in the non-digital world is evident – this can directly relate to connection size)

‘…the connections which enable us to know more are more important than our current state of knowing’ p5 (this is the principle design of teaching and learning in a digital age where content is signposted and participants encourage to select according to individual knowledge and practice while engaging in activities to introduce tools which enable organisation and sharing)

Seven principles of connectivism: suggest learning involves new ways of working and being which reflect the massiveness and messiness of digital information sources which are flexible and fluid.

Quotes John Seely Brown on how the internet (digital networks) ‘leverages the small efforts of many with the large efforts of the few’ p6 (Maricopa County Community College system linking older people with younger in a mentoring system). Seely Brown also author of ‘Growing Up Digital’ (2002) which includes the story of the Xerox photocopier engineers and their informal support systems for sharing expertise, ‘The Social Life of Learning’ (2002), The University in the Digital Age (1996) with Paul Duguid ) Links with Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki  and crowdsourcing).

If connectivism accurately describes the way in which people access information in 21st century there are implications for learning design. ‘When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill.’ P7 and ‘As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.’ P7.

Thoughts on connectivism

 Siemens adopts a technologically determinist approach suggesting: ‘Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking.’ P 2 There is an assumption within this paper this is for good and everyone is using the tools in the most appropriate and effective way – for positive ends.

The paper fails to acknowledge individuals who are disconnected – through choice or not – but the implication is they are excluded from those learning experiences essential for a digital age. It also fails to address the issue of acquiring the most appropriate digital literacies; the assumption is people have them by some magical process of osmosis.  In the barrier free digital world there is potential access  to everything and anything (I think it would be useful to revisit the original web documents by Berners Lee) and it feels like society is continually racing to put boundaries in place but the genie is already out of the bottle.

Siemens appears to be  saying someone somewhere has done your thinking for you and put it in the public domain so take advantage of it – you no longer have to reinvent the wheel – just understand which wheel is most appropriate for your journey. This is done through connections – with existing channels of information and communication. But the internet mirrors society and those with the highest proportion of resources create the dominant online platforms. The internet has capacity for resistance and subversion but that requires prerequisite skills and there is a risk this is over-rated as a mechanism for equality and social justice. The connections you make in the digital world require the processes of validation and authentication – without this there is a risk of accepting bias and personal opinion as fact. 

I agree we need to adopt new ways of filtering and selecting information which is timely and relevant and accept the knowledge base is continually shifting. I no longer try to remember data which I know I can access online.  I let the technology do the work for me. Even so, it is a continual learning curve and challenge to keep up to date. My interest is how do people acquire the digital literacies and scholarship practices to enable them to manage effectively within digital environments in higher education. A typical example is Turnitin at UL. For months the software manufacturers have been saying they will no longer support the use of Turnitin for IE 7 from 15th March (ditto youtube, googledocs, wordpress etc) yet UL runs IE 7 and expects staff to use the Run Advertised programmes to change their browser software – most staff don’t know a) there is more than one browser or b)what run advertised programmes is or how to find/use it. Another example is the limitations of the BB text editor but the answer from ICT  is to use html).  Digital literacies are increasingly necessary but are divisive; in same way some people are musical, artistic etc and some are not, so some people can manage the technology and others are less confident.

Connectivism raises important questions about the future of HE. Should the curriculum not only embed the essential digital literacies for graduate attributes and professional practice? should it also be fundamentally redesigned with regard to content and assessment?  Where do the skills come from to manage education for a digital society? Questions like these need to be answered – alongside dealing with the politics – because as well as principles of social justice and equality, HE also has to support staff and students to make the best out of what the tools they already have and work within the constraints of the environment they are located in.

Siemens and Steven Downes set up a 12 week open online course (the first MOOC) in 2011 to explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge, and their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. The course content is at 

Downes has also written extensively on connectivism as a challenge to existing theoretical approaches to learning, presenting arguments against cognitivism, calling for PLEs to replace VLEs and a network pedagogy which recognises the community as the site of learning (again, these approaches assume access and effective digital ways of working)


Week six meeting 06/03/13

Thoughts on methodology (method = framework of social science). Aim of research – to speak to staff in HE with experience of HE Teacher Education programmes to explore how well programmes equipped them for teaching and learning in a digital age (eg digital literacies/digital scholarship in relation to teaching, learning and research). About more than the use of technology, this is about access and social/cultural attitudes to technology. Want to conduct research online and make use of social media as recommended by Research Information Network (check Twitter documents). Need a framework for methodology, (Action Research, Case Study etc), need to establish theoretical position eg positivist, constructivist etc and link method and theory together.

Recommended Alan Bryson’s Social Research Methods for acknowledged frameworks before moving on to more critical approaches (eg within CERD) eg Anna Dynastine social movements of hope in Latin America (Mike to send the link).

Recommended Paul Freyerband (1975) Against Method. Challenges widespread ideas about scientific methodology, scientific reasoning and the nature of knowledge, truth and technology.

Challenge to social constructivist assumption which pre-supposes the social as natural and uses that assumption as a starting point for explaining other things, but doesn’t explain how the social itself is constructed. As an approach it is too thin. Imminent critique – philosophical or sociological strategy that analyses cultural forms by locating contradictions in the rules and systems necessary to the production of those forms. i.e. criticism of ideology  Associated with Marx and Frankfurt School. Consciousness is determined by the social – we are all ‘ensembles of social relations.’ Ideology arises from discourse (Foucault – bottom up power structures) therefore can and should be analysed and/or deconstructed to reveal what is hidden/unsaid (Derrida – pluralities). Critical theory asks people to think outside of the box, look beyond  existing conditions, and uncover the structures in order to be better equipped to challenge and change them. 

Robert J. Antonio (1981) Immanent Critique as the Core of Critical Theory: Its Origins and Developments in Hegel, Marx and Contemporary Thought. The British Journal of Sociology Vol. 32, No. 3, Sep., 1981 pp 330-345

Social constructivist approach to learning challenged by Siemens in paper Connectivism, described as a learning theory for a digital age.

Siemens,G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1).


Summary so far 04/03/13

This research will investigate the extent to which digital scholarship/digital literacies are embedded into the curriculum and teacher education programmes in HE. It will examine the impact of the shift to digital ways of working for HE and how HE supports the development of expertise in digital scholarship and digital literacies and the extent to which they are perceived as integral to graduate attributes and professional practice.

The research needs a broader perspective than the role of technology within HE. These five weeks have been spent exploring some of the theoretical approaches to technology beyond a pedagogical one e.g. the literature of social theory where production and use of technology has been a long standing issue.  Reading has been broadly within the discipline of critical sociology, political science and policy studies, locating the social processes which produce technologies within a Marxist paradigm, which offers an established framework of radical social analysis and critique already extended and adapted for a sociology of technology. Looked at Deskilling Theory and the consequences of social shifts from manufacturing goods to manipulating information and how the subsequent rise in new markets eg leisure and domestic service industries suggests appropriation of an information age by Capitalism  (Braverman, Webster and Dyer-Witherford). Also early literature on the Social Construction of Technology (Pinch and Bjiker) and responses calling for the need to understand knowledge itself as a social construct, controlled by dominant power structures of Capital. Bringing in previous reading around the social impact of digital information networks in particular their effect on education; the university as an EduFactory. Noble’s Digital Paper Mills suggest radical changes in the nature of HE with interesting parallels with current growth in MOOC in particular EPIC 2020 and Tipping Point 2012.  Also Selwyn’s papers which call for a more critical approach to technology for education; one which addresses the parameters of exclusion. Broader reading has also included bringing in the strengths and weaknesses of peer production  – a key feature of contemporary digital environments and reinterpreting Weber for a digital age has highlighted the dual nature of technology to enable/disable, control/subvert.  Which returns to the social construction of technology for education and knowledge – and the potential of the internet for subverting it and how HE equips students and staff for working within a predominantly digital society.

Reading week 5

Pinch, T.J. and Bjiker, W. E. (1984) The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or how the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science, 14: 399-441

Paper calls for a social constructivist approach towards study of science and technology whereby facts and artefacts are understood as social constructs. Written in 1984, this is now a historical piece, a useful reminder of how scientific knowledge was understood pre the internet and prevalence of digital ways of working. Begins by identifying three areas of literature re science and technology: Sociology of Science – attention paid to the context in which the scientific research is located and knowledge constructed had led to ‘…widespread agreement that scientific knowledge can be, and indeed has been, shown to be thoroughly socially constituted.’ P401 (socially constructed/social constructivist) Science-Technology Relationship – early thoughts ‘…science is about the discovery of truth whilst technology is about the application of truth.’ p 402 have evolved into seeing them as both socially produced in a broad variety of social circumstances. ‘…science and technology are both socially constructed cultures…’ and ‘…the boundary between science and technology is…a matter for social negotiation and represents no underlying distinction…’ p 404  Technology Studies – divided into three; Innovation Studies (linear models which focussed on economics and process of technology development rather than the technology content), History of Technology (determinist approach focussing on success rather than failure and ignoring the influence of context e.g. Bakelite only became successful as low cost production of synthetics), refs David Noble (1979)  ‘Social Choice in Machine Design: the Case of Automatically Controlled Machine Tools in A Zimbalsit (ed) Case Studies on the Labor Process regarding systems approach to technology and the effect of labour relations on technology development as examples of valuable steps within history of technology in US leading towards – sociology of technology), Sociology of Technology – more examination needed of artefacts in context – refs Noble again as important contribution to social constructivist view of technologies (from Marxist tradition) which gives equal importance to failure as well as success plus Bjiker, W E Bonig, J and van Oost, E C J (1982) the Social Construction of Technological Artefacts paper studying six innovations but mostly the bicycle.

EPOR approach (Empirical Programme of Relativism) an established programme examining the sociology of scientific knowledge. ‘EPOR represents a continuing effort by sociologists to understand the content of the natural sciences in terms of social construction.’ P409. EPOR has three stages: 1) scientific findings can have more than one interpretation (social world is as relevant as natural world) – 2) it is social mechanisms which limit scientific controversies to single explanations 3) further work is needed to relate ‘closure mechanisms’ to wider cultural context.  Scientific controversies reveal ‘…the interpretative flexibility of scientific results.’ P410 as interviews with scientists reveal conflicting opinions which offer insight into social/cultural influences

Pinch and Bjiker suggest a comparison between EPOR and SCOT (Social Construction of Technology) describing SCOT as an embryonic field of research with no well established traditions, and adopting a social constructivist approach to the three EPOR stages of interpretative flexibility, closure and stabilisation.

SCOT calls for multi-dimensional models of technical innovation/technology history rather than linear ones (example given is the Penny Farthing Bicycle). Social groups make decisions about design and development of the artefact but as well as involvement with ‘consumers’ and ‘users’, resistance (the ‘anti-cyclists’) also contribute to the process. Social groups can be subdivided as cultural attitudes (eg gender – ‘the weaker sex’ needing tricycles and reasons for use eg work, leisure, sport etc) all influenced development.  There is no single way to design an artefact – all design is flexible and interpretively influenced – depending on the social context within which the design process is located – and agreement and adoption of new designs are socially dependent on meaning given to technological artefacts via sociocultural norms and values. The social construction of scientific knowledge can be understood by following the Core-Set (dominant social group of leading scientists therefore a limited number of individuals to research) but the social construction of technology requires the study of a much larger variety of social groups with vested interests in adoption or rejection.

Stewart Russell (1986) The Social Construction of Artefacts: a Response to Pinch and Bjiker in Social Studies of Science, Vol 16, no 2, pp 331-346

Critiques SCOT. Advocates situating social processes which produce technologies within an established framework of radical social analysis – an emerging critique within political science and policy studies – a Marxist paradigm – which can be extended and adapted for sociology of technology. As well as process, attention should be paid to the content of arguments over technology – the need to understand knowledge as a social construct – and how debate is influenced by social context (and how the awarding of research grants is culturally influenced?) Need to start ‘…from a political commitment to demonstrating the possibility of alternative technologies for alternative goals, and to opening up the process of technological development to sections of society denied access to it…some of the most valuable and analytically satisfying critiques of technologies and their justifications have come from movements opposing them and putting forward alternatives.’ P333

Social groups must be located within a structured and historical context; it is not enough to map their relation to technology (as in SCOT) it is necessary to look at the inter-relations ‘…to other sections of society, the economic, political and ideological constraints and influences on them…’ p335 as well as the divisions within social groups and to include those invisible marginalised social groups with no voice.  Need to look at parameters of access to public sphere and to the necessary information required to make an informed choice. Russell says P & B treat technology as a knowledge system (implied by term constructivist) ignoring the difference between science and technology as activities and products. Without showing links to social interests and exclusions, the arguments remains technologically determinist.  Also P & B pay scant attention to labour theory and social analyses of other spheres of social life whereas a Marxist labour process theory provides a ‘…framework for understanding general changes and characteristics of a society’s technology…’ p339 in particular the ‘…continuous and rapid nature of technological change’ and ‘the periodic surges of significant innovations related to economic cycles.’

Marxist labour process theory (post Braverman) useful for analysing social relations (eg gender, class etc) and economics of production/exchange in particular the use of technology in capitalist manufacturing industry (eg new products, ways of working, time controls, deskilling etc), and in the home (consumption patterns – here is Edward Bernays again!) plus analysis of intellectual labour.

Policy processes, and interactions between groups, must be situated in a structured and historical social context and the processes be reconstructed and argued. To understand technologies as social products (and provide a theoretical underpinning) requires bringing technological change into ‘…an established, broadly Marxist, form of social analysis…[which] shows promise of providing a powerful critique – not only explaining technological development, but also demonstrating possibilities of  changing its course to suit different objectives.’ p 343

Clayton, N. (2002) ‘SCOT: Does it Answer?’ Technology and Culture, 43(2): 351-60 

Clayton (specialist bicycle historian) suggests the original bicycle study is historically inaccurate and flawed therefore  SCOT is based on a misconception of the relationship between theory and empirical evidence. Quotes Steven Gould (with no reference) on  how facts become ‘immortal’ once they pass from primary documentation to text books because ‘Nobody ever goes back to study the fragility of the original document’, p354. Clayton’s paper examines the base foundation i.e. the history of the bicycle as being incorrect. This is synchronous with Mike saying the problem with social constructivism is it ‘pre-supposes the social as natural and uses that assumption as a starting point for explaining other things, but doesn’t explain how the social itself is constructed. As an approach it is too thin.’ (Week Six meeting 06/03/13 notes).

Pinch, T.J. and Bjiker, W. E  (2002) SCOT Answers, Other Questions. A Reply to Nick Clayton. Technology and Culture April 2002 vol 43 pp 61-370

Technology and Culture printed a response to Clayton from Pinch and Bjiker which defends their position saying a) Clayton was not in possession of the full body of their literature (which included applying SCOT to other artefacts plus a more in depth study of bicycle development) so the theoretical approach of SCOT therefore does not rest on one example and b) how Clayton ‘misunderstands what constitutes SCOT’ p362 and misunderstands the character of historical research and interpretive analysis. They suggest ‘…teachers continue to use our text to teach students about doing interpretive history, and that they add Clayton’s critique and this response to warn students of the corruptive power of naive empiricism.’ p368  Clayton’s postscript says he has no space to defend the charge of naive empiricism and challenges the historical evidence instead, which seems to be primarily his area of expertise rather than sociology or science.

The debate between P & B with Russell and Clayton, demonstrating contrasting interpretations from different disciplines, shows the challenge of establishing consensus or world view (Weltanschauung). This has relevance to my research where I need to establish an epistemological position which describes my views on how I think knowledge is created and shared and how truth and reality are defined. 


Having spent some time exploring theoretical approaches to technology beyond the pedagogical ones e.g. the literature of social theory where production and use of technology has been a long standing issue.  Reading has been broadly within the discipline of critical sociology, political science and policy studies, locating the social processes which produce technologies within a Marxist paradigm, which offers an established framework of radical social analysis and critique already extended and adapted for a sociology of technology. I thought it might be useful to revisit Webster’s paper on Information, Capitalism and Uncertainty from 2000.

Webster, F. (2000) Information, Capitalism and Uncertainty in Information, Communication and Society, 3:1 2000 69-90

In spite of Postmodern stress on difference and uncertainty the grand narrative genre is not dead and during times of great change (ie ICT in the late 20th century)  is still a useful mechanism for collecting together common features of change (Barber, Castells, Fukuyama, Giddens). Webster decries suggestions of revolution; change should be seen instead as a continuation, consolidation and extension of existing social relations. ICT is integral to change rather than the cause.

Capitalism has changed (19th century laissez faire market, early 20th century corporative capitalism, 21st century globalisation and multinational organisations) but maintained distinctive features including competition, commodification, profit/loss, private ownership, wage labour chief mechanism for organisation work and ability to pay determining provision of goods and services. These underpin stimulate rapid growth in technology innovation to maintain essential information flows and markets for domestic entertainment.  Capitalism is global and Webster parallels the social change with the effects of the Enclosures Acts (move from country to town, agrarian to industrial employment, rural to urban etc) Capitalism is a hegemonic system where the market prevails. Society is dominated by business (There is No Alternative) and neo liberalism. ICT was promoted as a force of change (IT revolution, Information Superhighway etc); with potential social consequences. This shifted in late 20th century to focus on information. (Dearing referred to technology as C and IT) and the economy was portrayed as being knowledge driven rather than technologically determined. Informational capitalism requires informational labour with a premium on education for equipping the workforce. Webster suggests this does not signify a new Information Age but a continuation of existing continuum which requires a workforce to be appropriately educated at a time of great changes in social relations (eg equality movements of 1980/90s) and shifts in work through closure of industries like coal mining.

Quotes Communist Manifesto (Marx/Engels in McLellan 1977:224) ‘…constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation…All fixed, fast frozen relations…are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air.

Webster says the shift to information in late 20th century ‘…represents the unhindered expansion of capitalism across the globe and deeper into the private realm, taking with it a dynamism – constant innovation, competitive pressure, unrelenting demand to make profit, search for new market opportunities – that is destabilising all settled forms.’ P78  with implications for HE (Readings (1996) The University in Ruins) through marketisation and debates around academic IP (Slaughter and Leslie (1997) Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University). Information and media become commodities, with entertainment winning out over information e.g. public service broadcasting (inform, educate and entertain) shifting to commercial ownership based on customer preference/consumer ratings and associated with a decrease in quality (Bourdieu (1998) On Television and Journalism, plus Postman again). The gap between rich and poor increases on a global scale; between the Fukuyama’s Last Man (The End of History and The Last Man where  the future is pessimistic because of an inability to control technology and liberal democracy is the final form of government for all nations with no progression to an alternative system) and the economic abandonment of the poor; (Hobbe’s Leviathan: Life of man in the state of nature, lacking culture and knowledge, is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short).

Conclusion: the information society is about the triumph of capitalism on a global scale, threatening the identity of the university for the public good and commercialising information media with rapid decrease in public service provision – the future is uncertain.

Thoughts: Webster writing pre Web 2.0 software enabling file sharing and user generation content; with potential for further decline in distributed content – eg cats and babies phenomena of YouTube – but without awareness of the potential of online environments for subversion.  The need to engage effectively with media distribution channels, in particular the internet, raises issues of digital literacies as a high priority for educationalists.

Webster, F. (2005) Making Sense of the Information Age: Sociology and Cultural Studies in Information, communication and Society Vob 8, No. 4, December 2005, pp 439-458

Response papers to Making Sense of the Information Age by Christopher May, Nicholas Gane, Steve Fuller and Roger Burrows plus response to these from Webster. 




Week 5 meeting – 27 February

Research needs a perspective which can only be reached by moving beyond theories of education/pedagogy and exploring broader theoretical approaches eg social theory where role of technology is a long standing issue.

How relevant is Braverman’s Deskilling Theory to higher education? Can the university be seen as a factory producing students with degrees? See EduFactory For three decades now, the neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary education has sought to implant market logic and corporate-style management into the academy. The systematic defunding of public education that enables this process has only intensified in recent years with the global financial crisis and the austerity measures imposed in its wake. The resulting transformation of public university systems has brought us corporatized administrations, rising tuition, departmental closures, expanded class sizes, noxious corporate food, offensives against academic workers, and ethically dubious corporate donations…..In its current form, one could argue that the academy produces little that extends our collective social capacities and much that diminishes them: hierarchy, exploitation, debt, individualism, precarious employment, and cynicism. At a time when knowledge is increasingly seen as a commodity to be produced in accordance with the demands of profit, and public education is decried as an unjust fetter on the ruthless pedagogy of the free market, the private sector has turned its attention to the university and is fervently dedicated to its transformation.

Marx and Technology – The Grundrisse (in fullOutlines of the Critique of Political Economy) covers all six sections of Marx’s economics – only one of which, first volume of Das Kapital, ever reached a final form. General intellect = combination of technological expertise and social intellect, or general social knowledge – as information technologies and cybernetic machines have become more important as means of production, general intellect has become increasingly not just a direct force, but the primary force of social production. “Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry….the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it.”

Literaries – Paolo Freire – critical literacy is reading both the world and the word. Those with control of the word (literacy/media) have control of the ways we see the world  so we need to understand the world – ie the socio-political cultural historical conditions – in order to understand the context in which the word was produced. Links to literary deconstruction; examining what is unsaid in order to uncover the role of ideology and domination in people’s lives. Reading is not passive transfer from author to reader but active construction of meaning from the position of the reader – e.g. Barthes The Death of the Author and postmodern pluralities and bricolage.

Marshal McLuhan

The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) suggests communication technology affects cognitive processes which has social implications

Understanding Media (1964) suggests media effects change not only through the content (the message) but also the  was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but also the characteristics of the medium itself.

The Medium is the Massage (1967) different mediums produce different effects on the body/human senses

McLuhan predicted a global village of digital connections and networks 30 years before the internet and his work on the effects of media/medium is continued through contemporary internet commenters and research  eg Nicholas Carr – Is Google Making us Stupid, Maryanne Wolfe Proust and the Squid and the CIBER Report into the research behaviour of young people.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (French philosophers) authors of Anti Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, writing about flows of human energy behind machines – also developed concept of the Rhizome which has been used as analogy for digital networks.

Peter Drucker; management consultant, educator, author, writings contributed to philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation, leader in the development of management education predictions include the emergence of the information society with its necessity of lifelong learning and introduced phrase ‘knowledge worker’ in 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow – one whose capital is knowledge because they think for a living. See for list of key ideas and quotes including ‘the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said’

Constructivism in Art; evolved in Russia as Bolsheviks came to power in October Revolution (1917. Borrowed ideas from Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism, but looked to replace traditional art with focus on composition, creating objects not to express beauty, or artist’s outlook, or to represent the world, but ‘…to carry out a fundamental analysis of the materials and forms of art, one which might lead to the design of functional objects.’ Constructivists sought a new form of art – Art for the Revolution –  reflecting democracy and Modernism. ‘Constructivists were to be constructors of a new society – cultural workers on a par with scientists in their search for solutions to modern problems.’ Influenced Architecture, Cinema and Bauhaus School not sure  of the pathways where Constructivist Art directly links with Constructivist Learning Theory and Social Constructivism of Vygotsky (ZPD to explain relation between children’s learning and cognitive development – at one end the child works independently at the other ZPD is the level of potential skill the child could reach with teacher providing scaffolded support which is gradually withdrawn etc) may need to come back to this.

Invisible committee

The Coming Insurrection…written by the anonymous Invisible Committee in the vein of Guy Debord….has been proclaimed a manual for terrorism by the French government (who recently arrested its alleged authors). One of its members more adequately described the group as “the name given to a collective voice bent on denouncing contemporary cynicism and reality.” The Coming Insurrection is a strategic prescription for an emergent war-machine to “spread anarchy and live communism.” Written in the wake of the riots that erupted throughout the Paris suburbs in the fall of 2005 and presaging more recent riots and general strikes in France and Greece, The Coming Insurrection articulates a rejection of the official Left and its reformist agenda, aligning itself instead with the younger, wilder forms of resistance that have emerged in Europe around recent struggles against immigration control and the “war on terror.”….The Coming Insurrection formulates an ethics that takes as its starting point theft, sabotage, the refusal to work, and the elaboration of collective, self-organized forms-of-life. It is a philosophical statement that addresses the growing number of those—in France, in the United States, and elsewhere—who refuse the idea that theory, politics, and life are separate realms. Paperback | $12.95 Trade | £9.95 | ISBN: 9781584350804 | 136 pp. | 4.5 x 7 in | May 2009

The Coming Insurrection (2007) hypothesizes the “imminent collapse of capitalist culture” through a) a diagnosis of the totality of modern capitalist civilization, moving through “seven circles” of alienation: self, social relations, work, economy, urbanity, environment and b) a prescription for revolutionary struggle based on the formation of communes, or affinity group-style units, in an underground network that will build its forces outside of mainstream politics, and attack in moments of crisis – political, social, environmental – to push towards anti-capitalist revolution

Mike says a digital society is a form of capital; it commodifies so is another form of labour process and a system which is always exclusive – but I’m not sure how ‘invisibility’ in relation to self-exclusion – and a way of critiquing a digital society – is subverting technology.

Need to start to think about Methodology – need to consider alternative non-digital forms of data collection. Produce a 4 week summary of progress for next week. 

Week 5 Reading: Pinch, T.J. and Bjiker, W. E. (1984) The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or how the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science, 14: 399-441 Technology is neither neutral nor transformative; its usage reflects the context and how it is used may be unpredictable – technology is always imbued with the  conditions of users and their practices.

Clayton, N. (2002) ‘SCOT: Does it Answer?’ Technology and Culture, 43(2): 351-60  critique of SCOT – plus look for other other examples.


Week 4 Reading notes

Harry Braverman’s Labour and Monopoly Capital (1974) reaction to theorists advocating the end of the working class (Marx – ‘pessimistic’.) 1. Marcuse (German Social Philosopher/Frankfurt School) One Dimensional Man – Marcuse argued working class was diluted by the mass consumerism of advanced capitalism – therefore no longer the drivers of revolutionary action – these were those marginalised  by capitalism eg ethic cultures and students. 2. Becker (Theory Chicago School) Human Capital – working class diluted through technology automating manual labour which was creating a Service Economy/new working class requiring training and education.  Braveman – Deskilling Theory –  technology/automation alientating workers from processes of production. Factories replaced by increased service sector work but this could be degrading, routine, alienating etc therefore within advanced capitalism the labour process was no different to that described by Marx in 19th century. 

Cyber-Marx, Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (1999) Nick Dyer-Witheford

Marxism in an information age where new technologies for information and communication are changing working practices. On one hand maintaining and renewing the structures of capitalism while on the other offering networks for resistance and subversion with the potential for reinventing “autonomist” Marxism.

Chapter 3 – Braverman on managerialism and deskilling – technology as an extension of  Taylorism  with production being controlled by the owners and not the workers (links to David Noble and the ‘workerless factory’ – less about efficiency and more about control and deskilling). Marx saw the machine taking over the means of production but also saw technology as enabling and widening communication and transfer of information. Marx suggests ultimate consequences of technoscience in the labour process is the undoing of capital (through the potential for global networks of opposition and subversion???)

Marx’s technology has been interpreted in different ways – it seems you can shape it this way and that – but the duality is constant – technology can enable or disable – it is socially shaped – (but no references in Dyer Witherford to Bjiker et al)

Martin Weller Digital Scholar Chapter 1 Digital Networked and Open

Book about the possibilities and potentials of digital technologies to change scholarly practice. Scholarly activity in 21st century requires digital competence/literacies. How the potential for accessing information and networking is key to digital scholarship. A digital scholar is ‘…someone who employs digital, networked and open approaches to demonstrate specialism in a field…’p4 Academics need to develop appropriate digital competencies but this requires institutions to recognise and enable this. (CORE THEME why are digital literacies not seen as social practices and why is support for their development not embedded into curriculums and teacher education programmes)

Access to the internet has blurred the boundaries between traditional containers of knowledge – books and journals – research is more shared, more pathways for dissemination through social media, public engagement is extended to virtual platforms and teaching enhanced through multimedia.  Transformation of practice arises from the intersection of digital, networks and openness.

Digital formats challenge traditional restrictions – content can be made available and distributed across global networks – often more cheaply – at any time and people choose how and when they interact with it – construction of social networks support communication across time and distance boundaries – while openness (Tim Reilly’s ‘architecture of participation’) offers opportunities to contribute and collaborate both content and ideas to anyone with access.

As well as digital networked and open Weller suggests the most appropriate technology underpinning change should be fast, cheap and out of control (Brian Lamb 2010 ‘Open Contempt’  closing keynote at the JISC Open Educational Resources International Symposium – Friday 23 July 2010, London, Available at  Clip from 1976 movie, Network with Peter Finch “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Keynote supports open education, edupunk, and includes Miguel Brieva’s poster INTERNET WILL NOT BE ANOTHER TV from 

the Internet will not be another TV poster

Also  it needs to be good enough Robert Capp The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine in Wired 2009

Says ‘Technology related viewpoints tend to be dystopian or utopian in nature.’ P10 (CORE THEME -this duality has been reiterated since Marx). Calls Social Construction of Technology a direct response to technological determinism.  Pinch, T.J. and Bjiker, W. E. (1984) The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or how the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science, 14: 399-441 is neither neutral nor transformative; its usage reflects the context and how it is used may be unpredictable – technology is always imbued with the  conditions of users and their practices.

Cites Clayton, N. (2002) ‘SCOT: Does it Answer?’ Technology and Culture, 43(2): 351-60 as critiquing SCOT but no other examples. Need to revisit Pinch and Bjiker paper.

Mike Cooley The myth of the moral neutrality of technology AI and Society 9 (1):10-17 (1995)  Scientists and engineers lack the equivalent of an ethics committee (such as the medical profession has for dealing with ethical dilemmas). US aerospace workers campaigned for a Technology Bill of Rights and UK has vigorous movement around the concept of socially useful and environmentally desirable technology.

Architect or Bee? The Human / Technology Relationship 1999 Mike Cooley Introduction here

From Introduction to Architect or Bee – Cooley (critic of Taylorism) a proponent of ‘new technology networks’ and machines for ‘socially useful production’. Factory work can be made interesting; new technologies contain potential for deskilling plus improving the condition of the worker – its how they are used which determines their effects but they are not inherently or inevitably machines of subordination and control. New technology can be used to increase the skill of workers and give them control over the way they do things without decisive loss of productivity. Cooley advocated fighting deskilling through automation; challenging the use of computer-controlled machines because they replace skilled workers and deskill those who follow. Factories can be organised differently – the division of labour altered – craftspeople with skill and experience have the knowledge to know how best to reorganise rather than decisions (eg about structural redeployment) made by managers with no experience of the reality of factory working (links to Seely Brown and zerox engineers who established mechanisms for sharing practice and expertise)

Cooley (1981) Joint winner of Alternative Nobel Prize donating $50,000 to Lucas Aerospace but they still refused to listen to his ideas and he lost his position as Senior Design Engineer and the redundancy plans he’d been fighting went ahead. In 1981 Cooley was taken on by Ken Livingston as head of the technology  division  of  the  Greater London Enterprise  Board and set up new technology networks,  initiating a Europe-wide, EEC-funded £3. million ESPRIT project to develop  a  computer-integrated but  human-centred manufacturing system. 

Socially Useful R & D by Mike Cooley in R&D Management Volume 10, Issue Supplement s1,pages 159–164,October 1980 page 1 here Thrift (VC Warwick)To MOOC or not to MOOC in the Chronicle of Higher Education

From Socially Useful R & D 

Four contradictions of technology

1. Science and technology are not being used where they would be most useful; gap between what technology could provide for society and what it is used for eg Lucas Aerospace works on generators for Concorde while old people are dying from hypothermia because they don’t have effective heating systems or makes cars stable at 120 mph when roads have speed restrictions below this.

2. Society increasingly wasting human skill resource; high unemployment when services are urgently needed 180,000 builders out of work yet schools and housing need renovation, repair and replacing

3. Technology which takes on repetitive mundane work is perceived freeing people to engage in more creative pursuits when ‘the human being is reduced to a mere machine appendage acted upon by the machine rather than acting upon by it

4. Lack of interest in science and technology by young people, who perceive it as ‘dehumaising’ and ‘irrelevant’

Coolie aays socially responsible research and development should resolve some of these contractions and lead to products which help rather than harm humans – and develop technology which ‘…enhance human skill and creativity rather than diminish or replace it.’

Week 3 telephone tutorial

Conversation with Mike – re the Kriess et. al. peer production paper (applying Weber to a networked society) I need to revisit and look at the ethics and values; the discourse around peer production is about more than quality and accuracy, it is also a political project with ethical and moral implications. Need to keep morality in mind with OER and MOOC.  See #foemooc  and about Coursera course “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” collapsing through student dissatisfaction with technical issues. 41,000 students were enrolled. The blog How Not to Design a MOOC contains useful information for MOOC designers Looking at student comments on this blog it appears to be the design and the choice of inappropriate technology which were the primary problems. Many students were satisfied with the course claiming students unable to operate within the digital environments were disadvantaged. The model followed was for students to structure their own learning with peers; similar to OLDsMOOC where the difficulties of self grouping and establishing self-learning projects have been evident. The MOOC model excludes those without the appropriate digital literacies in the way VLE’s have the potential to exclude.

On open education Mike sent a link from the LSE on Open Library of Humanities ( a community-grounded approach to academic publishing involving Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards in the School of Humanities at Lincoln This ‘vision of building a low cost, sustainable, Open Access future for the humanities’ is a long way from being realised.  See Mike Taylor’s ‘PeerJ leads a high-quality, low-cost new breed of open-access publisher’ in the Guardian

Like MOOCs, the ideas are there but ideas are a long way from the application of theory to practice are rarely take into account broad enough range of diversity and difference in the user base.

Relevance for digital literacies: institutions are not equipping staff to operate effectively within digital environments or supporting them in the digital enhancement of teaching, learning and research.  Technology mirrors the wider social, cultural, economic and political environment  both in terms of access and use; those already marginalised and disadvantaged are likely to be those who are digitally excluded so it is likely the move to MOOCcing will also only advantage those with existing access and ability to utilise it – as can be seen with the failure of the Coursera course ‘Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application’

Also continually broadening definition of digital literacies; already includes digital exclusion and digital identity, critical thinking regarding validation and authenticity of online content – needs to also include use of social media in lectures and seminars, appropriate/inappropriate behaviours and online learning design. Will need to funnel down at some point; phd is opportunity to focus on one or more of these areas, to survey/interview on all of them might be too complex.

For next week, read first chapter of Digital Scholarship by Martin Weller. Digital, Networked and Open and Selwyn’s critiques on the use of technology in education.

Week 3 notes from Tutorial

Early enthusiasm for user generated content (e.g. Wisdom of the Crowds by James Suroweiki (2005), Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2009) We-Think: Mass innovation, not mass production by Charles Leadbetter, 2009) challenged by work which questions the quality (and ethics and values) of peer production (e.g. Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen, The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr (2011) and Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf (2008) plus Kreiss, D., Finn, M. and Turner, F. (2011) The limits of Peer Production, Paul Duguid Limits of selforganization (2006) andShay, D. and Pinch, T. Six Degrees of Reputation (2006))

Revisiting ethics and values of Kriess et. al. peer production paper (applying Weber to a networked society) which raises question of whose needs a bureaucracy best serves – the individual of the state. Authors quote Benkler and Jenkins who claim peer production (user generated content) enables social participation and well-being therefore has positive benefit and is utopian with the power to transform society. Authors then contrast this with view that bureaucratic structures are not only state-serving but have positive effects on individuals;  their regulatory rules and customs can support equality of access more than openness which can replicates and reinforces broader social patterns of discrimination and power.

Technology can be discriminatory but the exclusion made invisible by the enthusiasm and hype for new ways of working; in particular where the rhetoric is led by state and corporate media channels.

Berners Lee and Dardailler, early internet/WWW pioneers, genuinely appear altruistic in their aims for social democracy.  These two quotes are important because they are in danger of being forgotten.

“Worldwide, there are more than 750 million people with disabilities. As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities. The W3C is committed to removing accessibility barriers for all people with disabilities – including the deaf, blind, physically challenged, and cognitive or visually impaired. We plan to work aggressively with government, industry, and community leaders to establish and attain Web accessibility goals.”  Berners Lee, T (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997.

“The users in our project are the Web users with a disability, like visually or hearing impaired people. The needs for these users are to access the information online on the Internet just as everyone else. The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  (Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) 
The earliest conception of a digital divide was along parameters of access. This was simplistic and failed to look at broader reasons for non-engagement. Mark Warshauer in Reconceptulalising the Digital Divide in First Monday Volume 7, Number 7 - 1 July 2002 ( was one of the first to say digital divides are not only about physical access to computers and the internet but also access to the additional resources that allow people to use technology. Digital inclusion requires with social inclusion.
This links with the broader social shaping of technology theories of Wiebe E Bijker:
  • Bijker, W. (1995) Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Socio-Technical Change. MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • Bijker, W. (1994) Mass Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change. MIT Press, Cambridge.

Which in turn link to Neil Selwyn’s critiques on the use of technology in education.

Week 3 blog post – Prensky and the issue of teacher education plus digital literacies

Week 3 Reading

The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: a critical perspective by Neil Selwyn (2007)

Paper suggests the potential of ICT is promoted in policy documents but academic use remains limited and it’s time to critically examine the wider social relations underpinning peripheral usage. In pursuing ICT in HE, educators are not making technological choices but political and ideological ones. Typical claims for ICT include accelerated learning, widening participation and enhanced access through interactive and collaborative online environments but the ‘enthusiastic rhetoric’ does not match the ‘mundane reality’ of ICT use for teaching and learning. Refs Keller, D, (2001) Feenberg’s questioning technology. Theory, Culture and Society, 18, 155-162

Low adoption often attributed to lack of individual capability rather than political, social, cultural or economic influences of a capitalist society which would be better surfaced through Critical Theory (eg Frankfurt School to Feenberg). References MacKenzie and Wajcman 1985 book on social shaping of technology (SCOT) approach.  Social relations determine scope of individual aspiration and behaviours so to achieve and sustain change requires identification of underlying structures. Selwyn identifies 4 shapers of ICT use in HE (Selwyn says pedagogic practice and faculty concerns have dominated debate on ICT in HE so he is focusing on influences outside of the classroom and excluding the staff perspective – although the lived experience of staff can influence students engagement)

The economic concerns of government: knowledge based economy + global competitiveness driving need to equip workers for 21st century capitalism and information-literate labour market. A ‘learning to use technology’ model has dominated over ‘learning the affordances of technology’ – employers also prioritising social and interpersonal skills as area needing attention.

Commercial interests of profit making ICT companies: private sector shapes the use of ICT in HE through promoting capabilities of the technology over the essential training needed to utilise its functions. Private companies less interested in public good of ICT than profit from a lucrative market of institutions and their students.

Managerialism within HE: massification of HE aligns with managerialist discourse and focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Funding reductions give rise to ‘academic capitalism’ e.g. transferring IP from individual to employer. References Slaughter and Leslie’s 1997 book on Academic Capitalism and Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills. ICT systems seen as reducing costs/increasing efficiency through reducing direct labour and space with less concern for pedagogical enhancement; risk ‘factory model’ of HE (refs Hamilton and Feenberg  2005, The technical codes of online education. E-learning 2, 104-121 )

Lived experience of students: degrees seen as career moves and flexible learning patterns increase; rise in strategic, pragmatic student base prioritising summative assessment and grades over extensive use of ICT for teaching and learnin, ICT not considered essential graduate attribute.

Conclusion: education technology has a social dimension whereby usage patterns replicate and reinforce wider power relations and structures. Critical analysis of ICT agenda reveals centralised controls shaped by vested strategic interests of policy stakeholders/managers e.g. economic growth, global markets etc. ICT ‘site of intense conflict and choice’ (p90) where usage is politically, ideologically and socially shaped. HEIs relationships with ICT products = commodification inherent in capitalism. Refs Clegg et al (2003) The emperor’s new clothes. British Journal of Sociology of Education 24, 39-53. Selwyn says ICT should be utilised as a tool to reinvent the university; create networked decentralised form of HE and follow the interests of the academy rather than the economy, e.g. greater use of open source and examining emancipatory potential of ICT, but accepts this would require a radical wholesale restructuring of HE which ‘…may well be doomed to fail given the dominant overarching structures of global capitalism which so define higher education in contemporary society.’ P93

Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology by Neil Selwyn (2010)

Similar ground to that covered in Selwyn’s paper ‘The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: a critical perspective’ (2007). Disparity between rhetoric and reality of educational technology – quotes Diana Laurillard in Digital Technologies and their Role in Achieving our Ambitions for Education…education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technology; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’ (2008:1)

Calls for a critical social science approach to the study of ET, one which shifts attention from ‘harnessing the potential of the technology’ to how it is actually used, acknowledging the socially shaped nature of ETand barriers to engagement. Critical approach addresses issues of democracy, social justice and empowerment, seeing ET as a ‘…profoundly social, cultural and political concern.’ (p67) Rhetoric of ET is determinist; ET will enhance and improve so if this is not happening then the technical impediments need to be found. Critical approach suggests considering the ‘…organisational, political, economic and cultural factors which pattern the design, development, production, marketing, implementation and ‘end use’ of a technological artefact.’ P69. It involves a context rich analysis which includes the forces which shape and define ET, the conditions under which it is generated and experienced including the ‘…social interests, relationships and restrictions that are associated with the formal and informal provision of education.’ P79  Critical analysis recognises ET is not inclusive or equitable but reflects wider power differences and imbalances; seeks to give voice to the views of outsiders, the marginal and excluded, to find ways to overcome inequalities and hegemonies, examines the social roots of ET to better understand how it replicates and reinforces wider social relations.  References Webster (2005) Making sense of the information Age. Information, Communication and Society 8, 439-458

Degrees of Digital Division:  Reconsidering Digital Inequalities and Contemporary Higher Education by Neil Selwyn (2010)

Paper calls for more sophisticated understanding of digital divides and presents review of contemporary research into digital exclusion. Digital divides have become increasingly invisible in age of cyberstudent born into a networked generation with easy access to Web 2.0 tools for file sharing and user generated content. Yet digital literacies/multi literacies have become increasingly complex requiring ‘a set of creative and critical skills and understandings to productively engage with technology use…’ p35. Quotes Warschauer (2003:46) Demystifying the Digital Divide ‘the key issue is not unequal access to computers but rather the unequal ways that computers are used.’ Recognition of social variables of age, socio-economic status, education, family, gender, geography, race etc led to Pew ‘Internet and American Life Study (2003:41) to conclude ‘demography is destiny when it comes to predicting who will go online’. Selwyn says not only is access socially determined but the ways in which the internet are used (deep/surface, software choices etc) are also related to social relationships and status.

Neil Selwyn, (2009) “The digital native – myth and reality”, Aslib Proceedings, Vol. 61 Iss: 4, pp.364 – 379

This paper is focused primarily on young people rather than students in HE. Prensky one of the first to identify and label young people as being rewired through the prevalence of digital technology in their lives. Selwyn suggests the notion of DN is a myth based on the potential of digital technology rather than its reality; it is the reality which needs to be uncovered to better understand how teachers/librarians/information specialists can support learning. The DN/DI myth has led to three areas of assumptions.

Empowerment – digital technology will make young people into questioning, challenging, critiquing individuals who will think and process information differently; this offers neurological and cognitive advantages and their learning will be situated ‘within authentic contexts and webs of knowledge’ p 5 (all positive and determinist)

Disempowerment – growing concern of physical, cognitive, emotional and sexual risks to access to unlimited information. Quotes Andrew Keen in Cult of the Amateur (2007:93) saying search engine results being taken as gospel and social media encourages unhealthy obsession with self expression. (reminders of Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism and Neil Postman’s Amusing ourselves to Death, both works written 1980s pre-internet. Interesting that a section on disempowerment contains nothing about digital divides or digital exclusion)

Implications for adults – emphasises a divide between DN and DI, one where any attempts by educationalists to cross it and incorporate social media into T&L is seen by students as inauthentic. Suggestions include 1. Keen (2007) we should depower DN usage of technology. 2. Adopt more conciliatory approaches and adapt education to take into account the collaborative affordances of digital media eg Prensky (The role of technology in teaching and the classroom in Educational Technology, 48, 6, November/December ) who suggests a ‘new pedagogy of kids teaching themselves with the teachers’ guidance’ 3. Look at shifting teaching role to facilitating role with students as producers not consumers etc. Tapscott (1999) Educating the net generation. Educational Leadership, 56, 5, pp6-11 suggested ‘give students the tools, and they will be the single most important source of guidance on how to make their schools relevant and effective places to learn.’

Sewym suggests the rhetoric of DN constitutes a contemporary moral panic (Cohen, S. 1972 Folk Devils and Moral Panics eg Mods and Rockers, skinheads, video nasties, designer drugs, bogus asylum seekers and hoodies etc) one which supports crisis accounts of the role of public institutions

(ref Bennett, S, Maton, K and Kervin, L. (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39, 5. 775-786 )

See Also – Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences S. Bennett K. Maton Journal of Computer Assisted Learning Volume 26, Issue 5, pages 321–331, October 2010

Selwyn suggests DN debate assumes ‘essentialist biological reading’ p9 as young people as naturally digitally skilled with a technologically determinist view of social change – both regardless of lived experience and context. Need to look at how patterns of access remain socially defined – connected to age, gender, location, income etc and examine the quality of access as in the CIBER research (early ref to Williams and Rowlands 2007 Information behaviour of the researcher of the future work package II London: CIBER-UCL) DN are more likely to be passive consumers than active producers. Concludes with reinforcement of David Buckingham in Beyond Technology 2007:144 Cambridge: Polity Press) who call for promoting digital media literacy as basic educational entitlement and for effective policymaking and practice to be based on actualities and balanced, objective perspective not rhetorics. Overall need to be critical and examine the real use of technology rather than perceptions of how it could or might be used.

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

This chapter is based on the paper “The digital native – myth and reality” and further seeks   to deconstruct the myth of the digital native as perpetuated by Prensky, Tapscott, Tapscott and Williams, Palfrey and Glasser, Montgomery etc etc etc. Sets out the myth and the implications; firstly that DN are empowered by technology to effectively take control of their learning experiences, secondly the DI is disempowered by their web illiteracy and facing the need to alter their teaching to suit new digital technologies, thirdly the institution is out of date and incompatible with a digital society. The reality is we should look at patterns of digital exclusion and the quality of digital engagement which follows modes of consumption rather than production. The chapter offers nothing new from “The digital native – myth and reality” 2009 paper even though this is 2011. The chapter calls for recognising the need to support and guide young people’s use of technology, for critical digital literacy (new media literacies of Buckingham) which includes critical understanding and informed decisions around the use of media and information  but nowhere does it call for recognising the need to support staff in the digital enhancement of their teaching and learning.

Selwyn, N. (2011) Education and Technology; key issues and debates. London: Continuum

Book deals with social and technical aspects – the people, practices, processes and structures – behind the use of digital technology in education and asks if technology improves learning, does it make learning fairer and what impact it has on the role of the teacher. More school based than HE but still relevant for broader picture. None of the  issues and debates appear to be how best to support staff in the digital enhancement of teaching and learning. Rather it is about how best they can support students to use technology effectively – there is nothing about how teachers get into the position of confident, competent, digitally literate educationalists in the first place.

In chapter 5, Will Technology Replace the Teacher, Selwyn warns against a determinist view of technology changing the status from teacher to facilitator; calling instead for a ‘need to consider how digital technology interacts with the labour processes and work of being a teacher.’ A restricted use of technology has been blamed on teachers with multiple reasons cited, too old, disinterested, incompetent, digitally disadvantaged (quotes Prensky 2001 on digital immigrants unable to adopt new ways of working) and reluctant to give up traditional teaching behaviours and status. Quotes Feenberg (2003) ‘humanistic opposition’ to educational technology through emotional or moral responses to the welfare of students or integrity of learning p126 (Feenberg, A. (2003) ‘Modernity theory and technology studies: reflections on bridging the gap’ in Misa, T., Brey, P. and Feenberg, A. (eds) Modernity and Technology, Cambridge: MIT Press.)   Rather than blame teachers, Selwyn says we need to examine how best digital technologies fit with teaching and examine reasons why teachers may or may not choose to use them. Reasons for resistance include strategic use – only adopting where they’re perceived to be useful – needs to be seen as a reciprocal relationship, and issues around time, discipline, authority and performativity.

Selwyn recognises technology  ‘…sometimes intensifies rather than reduces pressures of time.’p129, how technology is withheld to be used as a reward for ‘proper’ work, teachers resist engagement through fears of deprofessionalisation and alienation and degradation of teachers as a profession p 130 in HE the shift to online courses is seen as digital automation – once the teachers work is online it can then be taken and used by others, other resistance stems from fears of education becoming rationalised and standardised (digital mills etc) and teachers being deskilled (Braverman 1974 Labour and Monopoly Capital) on digital technologies being used as means to control the workforce). Selwyn then moves onto the role teachers have to play in guiding the use of technology, instilling critical digital literacies etc but nowhere does he suggest where staff learn to be digital scholars with digital confidence and competence.

In the final chapter Looking to the Future, Selwyn says the voice of the teacher needs to be heard in the negotiations and struggle overs the ideas, values and beliefs of the future of education. Teachers have a key role in making suggestions for addressing the inequalities, inefficiencies and inconsistencies produced through DT for education. Teachers should be involved in the commercial production and development of technologies to ensure they’re fit for purpose in contemporary educational environments education resources (but ignores the sophisticated level of digital literacies this requires). The language of DT for education needs to beome less technical so it is not exclusive and debates over concepts like the Edgeless University – which Selwyn calls nebulous – should include teachers rather than just policy makers who are too far removed from the classroom.  Selwyn offers a range of valid reasons for failure to engage with DT but seems to suggest the answer lies in understanding the importance of their role in equipping students to be digitally literate – throughout it all is the missing question of who prepares staff for these new roles and how they upskill with hardware/software and their affordances.

Selwyn is useful for calling for a critical approach but doesn’t go far enough. He shows how the rhetoric of transformation is determinist where the reality is usage mirrors broader social structures of exclusion. The need for embedding digital literacies in the curriculum is key to developing students with a sense of social justice who will neither replicate nor reinforce exclusive practice. Selwyn is correct to suggest what is missing from the curriculum is a culture of critical digital literacy but even more important is its omission from education programmes for teachers.

Prensky 2001 says todays students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach – no one is saying today’s education system is no longer training the teachers it needs for a digital age. I’ve blogged on Prensky and the issue of teacher education plus digital literacies here

With regard to the lack of support for staff managing with virtual learning environments I’m reminded of these two papers on the ‘Here’s the VLE Get on with it’ approach

Bernard Lisewski Implementing a learning technology strategy: top–down strategy meets bottom–up culture ALT Vol 12, No 2 (2004)

Malcolm Bell Wendy Bell  It’s installed … now get on with it! Looking beyond the software to the cultural change British Journal of Educational Technology Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 643–656, July 2005;jsessionid=BA599DD3E267BA6F02DA5E2E075449BF.d03t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false


Martin Weller Digital Scholar

Chapter 1 Digital Networked and Open

Book is about the possibilities and potentials of digital technologies to change scholarly practice.

Digital technologies have increased the amount of information available – and enabled the emergence of networks of people. How all this is accessed and managed is key to effectiveness. Scholarly activity in 21st century requires digital competence/literacies. Academics need to be digital scholars but development of appropriate digital competencies requires institutions to recognise and enable this.

Access to the internet has blurred the boundaries between traditional containers of knowledge – books and journals – research is more shared, more pathways for dissemination through social media, public engagement is extended to virtual platforms and teaching enhanced through multimedia.  a digital scholar – ‘…someone who employs digital, networked and open approaches to demonstrate specialism in a field…’p4

Transformation of practice arises from the intersection of digital, networks and openness.

Digital formats challenge traditional restrictions – content can be made available and distributed across global networks – often more cheaply – at any time and people choose how and when they interact with it – construction of social networks support communication across time and distance boundaries – while openness (Tim Reilly’s ‘architecture of participation’ – an environment where the community helps build the system) offers opportunities to contribute and collaborate both content and ideas to anyone with access.

As well as digital networked and open Weller suggests the most appropriate technology underpinning change should be fast, cheap and out of control – Brian Lamb 2010 ‘Open Contempt’  closing keynote at the JISC Open Educational Resources International Symposium – Friday 23 July 2010, London, Available at

Finally, it needs to be good enough -Robert Capp in Wired 2009 The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine

Social construction of technology (Pinch, T.J. and Bjiker, W. E. (1984) The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or how the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science, 14: 399-441

Technology is neither neutral nor transformative – usage reflects the context  – how it is used may be unpredictable – always imbued with the  conditions of users and their practices.


Kreiss, D., Finn, M. and Turner, F. (2011) The limits of Peer Production: Some Reminders From Max Weber for the Network Society. New Media & Society13(2): 243-259, 2011

Since DMM was written, the internet has hosted a shift to what was retrospectively called Web 2.0, characterised by user generated content and file sharing, now more often referred to generically as social media. It has also seen the development of open education, primarily through open educational resources (OER) and massive online open courses (MOOC). Wikipedia pioneered peer production of knowledge (crowd sourcing) while semantics made it possible for commercial sites like Amazon to predict and match user preferences. This paper by Daniel Kreiss, Megan Finn and Fred Turner offers a challenge to the rhetorical hype of peer production with echoes of earlier warnings from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows ; What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains (2011). The issues of authenticity and quality are echoed in the current MOOC phenomena and are integral components of digital scholarship.

From this paper I took two references regarding the quality of online content.

Paul Duguid Limits of selforganization: Peer production and laws of quality First Monday Vol 11, No 10 , 2 October 2006

Duguid shows how the model of open source software production has predicated open projects dependent on peer production like Wikipedia and Gutenberg although open source users need a high level of coding ability to participate and quality is controlled from the top by developers. Duguid examines examples of peer produced content (Tristan Shady in Project Gutenburg and Daniel Defoe in Wikipedia) to show their flaws, concluding there exists a significant and problematic gap between contributors and users; open source inclines towards experts which discourages non experts from participation while Wikipedia’s tendency towards non-experts discourages those with expertise even though they are most needed – therefore quality controls and/or competition generates greater accuracy.

Paul Duguid, co-author of the The Social Life of Information, with John Seeley Brown (2000). This book was an early call not to forget the social aspect of technology – derived from the the rank xerox maintenance engineers who created their own informal networks for solving problems. Written pre Web 2.0 and social media, 13 years on it could be argued social media is now replacing social life e.g. the ongoing and visible connections between individuals and their mobile in public places.

David, Shay, and Trevor Pinch. “Six Degrees of Reputation: The Uses and Abuses of On-Line Reputation Systems.” FirstMonday 11(3) (March 2006)

Using Lessig’s model of regulations (four norms of law, markets and code), the authors show how human practices are regulated with regard to online reviews and recommendations. They claim it is essential to understand how long standing interests influence individual freedom and online environments mirror off line  behaviours. Their research uncovered plagiarising reviews, giving positive reviews in order to receive similar comments, using reviews to advertise, to make personal attacks and reviewing own materials favourably (See Orlando Figes story

Digital literacies issues – authenticity and credibility of user generated content

Notes from reading The limits of Peer Production Some Reminders From Max Weber for the Network Society by Daniel Kreiss, Megan Finn, Fred Turner: 

This paper challenges scholarly assumptions that social media (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia) represents a utopian landscape with the potential for new digital democracies through crowd sourcing and web based peer production.

The authors examine the work of Yochai Benkler and Henry Jenkins, analysts of the social impact of digital collaboration.

Benkler suggests social forms of information production are cheap to produce and distribute; existing outside market regulations, individuals cooperatively ‘gift’ their knowledge and informational labour in return for ‘psychological well-being and gratification’ and ‘social connectedness (p245) which existis outside formal management structure ‘….the economics of information production have shifted, and everyone with acess to the internet can become information n and cultural producers simply by pursuing their own individual interests.’ (p246) also claims the absence of formal rules leads to a ‘hierarchy of meritocratic respect.’ P246 and peer production is gratifying socially, ethically and psychologically – working in a decentralised manner lessens the alienation of the industrialisation. There is nothing here about the consequences of digitally exclusion, how access replicates and reinforces existing social inequities or the quality of peer produced materials.

Jenkins also adopts a utopian view of peer production seeing only positive social benefits of a converging, participatory culture. Rather than passive consumers, peer production encourages networked practices and creates platforms of ‘oppositional, libratory spaces’ (p247) ‘…peer production epitomizes free association and free expression. It is an inherently anti-authoritarian, pro-democratic mode of cultural and informational production’ which ‘resolves the key social and psychological problems of the industrial era.’ (p247) and has the potential to transform society.

As people become active producers of culture, rather than mass consumers, they will adopt flexible and egalitarian interpersonal relationships – distributing wealth and power rather than hoarding it in the style of industrial bureaucracy.

Max Weber put two approaches to bureaucracy in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Economy and Society and there are recent re-interpretations by Paul du Gay. The authors present the contrast between bureaucracies as privileging the needs of the state over the individual (an iron cage enslaving humanity, fragmenting the soul and constraining autonomy) and being organisational structures with ‘substantial social benefits’ (p248). By overseeing social order and the structures of law, ‘a state bureaucracy promotes individual autonomy and equal protection for citizens.’ (p249)   A key argument is around the separation of private and professional selves – whether this divide represents alienation by capitalism or a catalyst for discouraging nepotism and self promotion at work. ‘Many scholars argue the fusion of public and private selves increases the agency and social power or those who participate in networked collaboration’ (p249). Weber argued individuals who separated the two and adopted an ethos of service contributed to rational organisation and improved efficiency.

Peer production promotes egalitarian distribution of power and expertise versus the specialisation, professionalisation and credentialing of bureaucracies (credentialing = systems of social recognition of merit – does this include academic or professional qualifications or is it just being ‘good at your job’?) This is the opposite of the wisdom of the crowd where people contribute small amounts of expertise or knowledge to create a gestalt effect. The authors suggest a large part of the perceived effectiveness of crowd sourcing/peer production is through participants already holding academic qualifications or working within environments supporting knowledge acquisition and higher order skills like criticality and political awareness. They then examine peer production through the lens of Weber and suggest without the regulating forces of bureaucracies, peer governance systems become skewed towards dominating personalities ‘…without the law of a clear mechanism of accountability those injured by or excluded from peer production processes have very limited recourse. The only alternative for these individuals in not to participate…Gatekeepers can subscribe to opaque governing norms and all too often these norms reinforce broader social patterns of discrimination and power’ (p252).

Without the organisation inherent within bureaucracies, or access to professional staff and stable operating procedures, informal peer production networks have limited social effect. (This echoes the current situation with MOOCs existing outside formal university structures of quality control and assessment and reliant on a Mozilla badges as recognition of competency; they are of necessity better suited to some subjects than others eg computing over art and design.) The authors suggest quality requires resources which sit within formal bureaucratic organisations such as human as well as subject expertise, money and a culture of professional practice.

Reference to a conference paper by Louber and den Besten (2008) on Wikipedia turning to ‘administrators and bureaucrats’ to manage and sustain peer collaboration.

Conclusion – peer production has undoubted power this is not necessarily revolutionary and may in in some respects be taking us in the wrong direction (p256) Peer production without bureaucratic values such as ‘inclusion, explicit rule making, accountability and institutional persistence’ opens the way for ‘charisma driven clans’. We need to ask questions about the ideology behind the illusion everyone can benefit equally from peer production and examine how they fit within existing institutional life.

Noble, D. (1998) Digital diploma mills: the automation of higher education. First Monday, Volume 3, Number 1 – 5 January 1998

Noble, D. (2002) Digital Diploma Mills. Toronto: Between the Lines

David Noble offers an analysis of the impact of the Internet on the future of higher education. In a one sided and negative polemic, it’s suggested online education offers opportunities for investors to make profit from course materials and course designs while lowering the cost of producing them. The paper (1998) and book (2002) predate OERs and MOOCs . Both based on his experience at York University in Toronto, where Noble says staff were forced to digitise their teaching, then hired to teach their own materials at a cheaper non-tenured rate. DDM claims the internet is automating education in the way industry has been automated with online education taking control of curricula and removing intellectual freedom. Investment in education technology is “a technological tapeworm in the guts of higher education (23) and computer technology is an effective virus for carrying the ideology of privatisation e.g. efficiency, cost cutting, doing more with less – into higher education. Correspondence courses gave rise to the expression Diploma Mills (from Robert Reid 1959 study for the American Council on Education) but now educational technology is driving online distance learning to create a ‘degraded product’ produced by a ‘degraded labor force’ (4) The internet is having a ‘Taylor’ effect on higher education, the large corporate technology providers (like Blackboard?) commercialising the production/consumption of knowledge producing commodification and alienation. Writing from a Marxist standpoint, Noble predicts the digitisation of intellectual labour as a commodity to be resold to students and how new electronic media copyright relationships will need to be negotiated (Noble says  through HE administration whereas voluntary alternatives are now provided through Creative Commons). He also predicts the vle will create a class struggle between campus and internet based education as digital education is sold on by profit driven corporations (Blackboard aligned with Pearson, CUP, Wiley ect). This argument is reinforced in EPIC 2020 and Turning Point and while like DDM – they offer a limited view, one full of rhetoric and hyperbole, they share recognisable points of concern in particular where MOOC platforms are offering access to content and (allegedly) being paid by employers per student.

Reading DD Mills, I’m reminded of early internet pioneers who promoted the potential for democratic access. Twenty years on the internet mirrors society; replicating and reinforcing structures of social exclusion and dominated by commercial consumerism. Yet the same environment can support networks of resistance as well as offer genuine opportunities to widen participation in knowledge production and collaboration. DDM and EPIC only tell one side of the story in the ways government white papers on harnessing the power of technology only tell the opposite side. The way forward is to learn how virtual environments can support the development of critical reflective practice, awareness of the parameters of social justice and develop the most appropriate learning design and delivery expertise to make this happen.  HE is well placed for embedding this into the curriculum and into Teacher Education. How well it achieves this is the focus of my research.

Information, Capitalism and Uncertainly by Frank Webster in Information, Communication and Society 3:1 2000 69-90

Webster says we should be suspicious of claims that technology is socially beneficial– for the public good – driver of positive change (technological determinism) etc and see it as underpinning the shift to a knowledge economy i.e. Information Capitalism with policies such as Widening Participation and Life Long Learning supporting demands for flexibility in the work force as people need to retrain for new forms of work. One effect of global networks is the breaking down of traditional social constructions as people become  more informed of alternatives (Marx – social relationships will be disturbed and all that is solid melts into air) Privatisation the only alternative a public provision increasingly presented as a drain (eg public libraries and HE shifting to consumer model).  Television (Webster is writing in 2000) is primary means of distributing information (now bundled media is offering single IC packages) with information providers increasingly commercialised and controlled by advertising and ratings; feeding a market society with low standard content. (Postman’s dumbing down and amusing to death) Result: individuals dependent on the media for information/knowledge and discouraged from independent thinking (e.g. Baudrillard’s statement in the gulf war only happening in the media – also relevance of postmodernist concept of hyperreality – the inability to distinguish reality – in present time). Webster also says faith in the proletariat as agents of change is misleading – which links with the two papers critiquing the power of peer production)

30th January – meeting notes (reading notes to follow)

Guidance on background reading is useful; I’ve been looking at growth of VLE within HE but am now broadening this to the wider evolution of academic work/labour/enterprise around the development of digital technology which in itself has emerged as a specific issue in the past two decades. There is a current view of technology is less effective in learning. Need some references for this. Found an online piece headlined “Benefits of technology in schools ‘not maximised’ which refers to a NESTA report (Decoding Learning: the Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education (Summary Report ) Could do with reviewing available academic literature – something to look out for when searching. Here, the message is technology has the potential for effective learning but cannot transform or improve working or learning on its own (which seems to come back to how technology is used and how institutions support digital literacies/scholarship.)

Ready made course cartridges bolted on to existing VLEs (e.g. Pearsons) are examples of the commercialisation of learning (are they also 21st century forms of interactive books – possibly making distance learning more engaging?) Academic view is the Pearson approach undermines academic enterprise/labour. Although I can see the advantage of investing on content production (i.e. interactive books) buying in packages of learning materials from commercial companies does raise questions about the quality of the distance learning experience; does it represent genuine intellectual engagement or passive consumption of information with strategic regurgitation for assessment. Mass online education opportunities are indicative of attitudes towards HE where getting a degree is seen as a necessary career move rather than an intellectual enterprise. In places where the qualification is prioritised over the process then technology can be seen as underpinning the ‘Digital Diploma Mills’ (David Noble, 1998)

The non-commercial equivalent can be found in the philosophy and practice of open education; this utilises technology to offer free access to resources (OER) and courses (MOOCs). This week I’ve posted another blog about MOOCs (one of an ongoing series reflecting my experiencewith the OU/JISC OLDsMOOC) This post ooks at the EPIC and Turning Point 2012 videos which suggest MOOCs are creating a consumer driven education market where qualification is prioritised and the future of higher education under a new and powerful threat from technology/internet

I presented on Digital Future for Learning at the Student Staff Conference 1 February and in  have written a follow up blog post about digital literacies in the decade from Prensky to the CIBER report (which gives some academic credence to Carr’s more journalistic question Is Google making us stupid?). I could have added Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolfe (2008) or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2011) – the intention being to show how digital literacies and attention to critical evaluation is increasingly essential to academic integrity (since writing these posts and reading The limits of Peer Production paper I’ve accessed Six Degrees of Reputation (Shay and Pinch – see READING notes) and been reminded of the story of Orlando Figues


Immaterial labour is the intensification of work for which there is no recognition but is not personal; instead it refers to the processes and management of knowledge production and consumption.

New pedagogies of openness include Connectivism (developed out of Constructivism) which has its critics see The limits of Peer Production paper.

This research should not be about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’ but being critical about the role of the university as a site of knowledge production and negotiation. HE is accommodating new technologies but of necessity the process needs to be critiqued.

READING for the next two weeks

David Noble. Digital diploma mills: The automation of higher education. First Monday, Volume 3, Number 1 – 5 January 1998

Daniel Kreiss, Megan Finn, Fred Turner. The limits of Peer Production. New Media and Society 2001

Joss Winn Open Education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people inTowards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum, London

Also to revisit the history of the VLE in HE

Gilly Salmon(2005) ‘Flying not flapping: a strategic framework for e-learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions’, ALT-J, 13: 3, 201 – 218

Revisit Frank Webster:

  • Information, Capitalism and Uncertainly by Frank Webster in Information, Communication and Society 3:1 2000 69-90
  • Theories of the Information Society 2006 Routledge
  • ‘The Information Society Revisited’ in the Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs eds Leah A Lievrouw  and Sonia Livingstone  Sage 2002

Look up Selwyn’s critique of technology in education


w/b 23 January Reading

‘Cognitive Capitalism’ and the Rat-Race: How Capital Measures Immaterial Labour in British Universities by Massimo and Harvie 


immaterial labour = two different aspects of labour

  • increasing use of technology – redefining labour skills changing from production of objects to manipulation of digital data
  • activities not normally recognised as work – e.g. intellectual activity/academic endeavours  

(Immaterial Labour by Maurizio Lazzarato)

‘Academic work possesses all the basic characteristics of immaterial labour.’ M&H p 6

Since 1970’s, HE has become subject to rise of academic capitalism (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997) i.e. globalised, marketised, managed, measured, monitored, standardised, quality controlled, benchmarked, subject to league tables, KPIs, rhetoric of ‘best practice’, reward and discipline, degrees constructed from Indicative Learning Outcomes (ILOs), HEI income dependent on research outputs etc etc. Academic role has changed: ‘Contractual obligation was to engage in ‘scholarly activity’ rather than produce a research-output.’ M&H p 10

Academics accept managerial response TINA (There is no alternative)

See EduFactory Collective 2009 for details of academics struggles for alternatives to capitalist values.

In HE the struggle over measure operates through two processes – p 26:

Diachronic process????

Synchronic process???

‘Capital….struggles to measure immaterial ‘outputs’ in its own terms….in so doing, capital helps shape the forms immaterial labour, just as it shapes the form of material labour.’ M&H p27

In HE ‘…production depends on access over a common pool of resources ie the commons.’ P 27

Lincoln Academic Commons how the University of Lincoln is supporting staff and students who wish to make their work more accessible and open, make research output and teaching materials can be made freely accessible to everyone under a license that you choose to create a greater impact with your work,

Conclusion of paper (very broadly) need to identify ways to contest managerial discourse (eg OER/MOOC?)

Dichotomy? OER/MOOC invisible immaterial labour? Isn’t being recognised so where does this fit in?

Also OER/MOOC involves high levels of digital literacies to have confidence and competence to create teaching and learning materials for release into the public domain and manage within unfamiliar online environments. 

To do:  Revisit Webster’s Theories of the Information Society and Castells  Network Society


Cognitive capitalism = third phase of capitalism, where the accumulation is centred on immaterial assets. It follows the earlier phases of mercantile and industrial capitalism

‘Cognitive capitalism theorists believe that it is centred around the accumulation of immaterial assets, especially related to the information core of products, which are protected through Intellectual Property Rights, i.e. legal means such as patents. These patents, as they are used by brands, in sectors such as pharma, agribusiness and software (Microsoft), then allow for the creation of a surplus value resulting from monopolistic rents. The contradiction of cognitive capitalism is that the products themselves are generally cheap to produce, so they have to be kept in a state of artificial scarcity through IP protection. Cognitive capitalism is associated with the process of a private appropriation of the Information Commons.’

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacy by Doug Belshaw 

Literacies are social activities (therefore unable to exist outside the cultural expectations. values and power struggles). Literacy always involves technology  and digital literacy is ambiguous (Is it ambiguity or dichotomy – enables/disables – complies/subverts etc) 

For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution by Thomas Docherty 

Reviewed in THES 16/06/11 

“Less than 15 years ago, the state paid practically the entire cost of students’ university education. From September 2012, that burden will shift almost entirely to graduates…..David Willetts, the universities and science minister, recently made his case in the pages of this magazine. “The force that is unleashed”, he says, “is consumerism”, and he is firm in the belief that a market economy in higher education is a good thing. Docherty’s book says the opposite. This disagreement is welcome, because it throws light on opposite ends of the spectrum.”

“Docherty thinks that pretty much everything that has happened in British higher education since the Robbins report of 1963 has been bad, and that the current discourse about higher education, as well as the structures and policies that are in place, need deconstruction and reinvention.”

“What unfolds in the book is a view that the university has become an agent of a governing ideology that is essentially totalitarian. And “the prevailing ideology in all of this is, of necessity, an ideology of consumerism”.

“What is for Willetts a progressive force to be unleashed on higher education is for Docherty the ultimate reductio ad absurdum: market forces, in Docherty’s view, are never free. “These forces”, he says, “do not exist in order to extend civic freedom or democracy; rather, they exist in order to reduce the content of freedom and justice to matters of consumerist ‘choice’ and ‘value for money’.”

Thomas Docherty has been professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Warwick since 2004. A classically trained pianist, he played in rock and jazz bands as a student and at one point considered a career in music.  Docherty pursued a master’s in English and French language and literature at the University of Glasgow. He also studied philosophy and mathematics, but says he soon realised that he “wasn’t entirely suited” to the latter. Instead, he immersed himself in literary and philosophical questions and texts…..In his spare time, he enjoys drinking wine, cycling, walking, and playing and listening to music. One of the most fascinating countries he has visited, he says, is China, where he fell in love with the language, discovered traditional Chinese opera while recovering from jet lag, and fretted constantly about decorum.

w/b 23 January Tasks

Setup Refworks – created Phd 2013 Folder for references

w/b 23 January – the beginning….

First task this week is to clear space for the phd. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but by reviewing current workload, and putting in measures to reduce it, I aim to clear a minimum of one clear day a week.

So far….

I’ve withdrawn from the College Research Fund bid. A colleague and I planned to work with the SU and Student Engagement Officer to survey student attitudes to social media in their learning e.g. the use of mobile devices in lectures and seminars, conduct codes around acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and the ‘presentation of self online’ regarding public and private personas. This links with digital literacies but only the edge of how HEI’s support staff development in digital ways of working – so it’s out!

I’ve also withdrawn from initial prep towards an application for the HEA Collaborative Teaching Grant on Assessment and Feedback. With a few colleagues we thought we might have some good ideas  around alternative feedback using multimedia. However, it would have involved considerable stretching; previous experience with the e-Portfolios in Professional Practice HEA Teaching Grant showed how much time and effort go into these applications – also the HEA OER International Bid demonstrated how high staff workloads can affect participation – so it’s out. I feel guilty though – teaching and learning, in particular assessment and feedback, is exactly the sort of area we should be looking for funding in and both OER projects mean Lincoln is well thought of with the HEA at the present time.

The HEA/JISC Embedding Practice work remains unfinished; there is work to do on the OER repository (OPAL – Online Practice at Lincoln) and support centre (OERL – Online Educational Resources at Lincoln). David and Dale have completed the technical builds and are waiting for me to produce the content before they can go live –  this is now outstanding and a cause for concern.

HEA OER International; Supporting International Students in Transition, is now complete. The interview/evaluation and Case Study were both last week. Out of this has come the currently active project ‘Getting Started Videos’ externally funded by ALDinHE. The first project meeting is 6th February with Media Students recruited by SU and Heather Hughes plus a group of her international students.  This project has been designed to be student led so will hopefully be light touch.

There is still some data collection and analysis to be done with last year’s College  Research Fund; examining student attitudes to the use of digital information and communication in professional practice.

Non-negotiable areas of work …..

The new PG short course; Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age, this is an output of the Embedding OER project and represents a useful way to support staff with the digital enhancement of their online practice

Getting Started; now a whole institution initiative there is still work to be done engaging academic staff, developing generic materials and working on its new strand to support international students.

The Blackboard Review, Procurement Process, the Blackboard Operations Group and involvement in the Digital Education Strategy; in particular the submission for consultancy support. This work is usefully raising awareness of key issues around the use of technology for learning; in particular support for learning design, content development, the use of multimedia and developing digital literacies.

My work blog is non-negotiable; this is my window on the digital world and needs to be maintained.

Other areas to step back from:

The Digital Scholarship blog has been set up so can be taken over by anyone with the interest.

Input into courses and conferences: On 1st February I’m running a session on Digital Literacies at the Student Conference and on 6th February a session on Values and Ethics in relation to a Digital Society for Health and Social Care students. I need to discuss how best to respond to future offers like these.

I worry about being less visible in terms of outputs e.g. publications, income generation etc but agree I need to focus energies onto the phd in the short term so as to complete it faster in the long term. I also worry all the above might make it look like I’ve solved potential problems with workload. The majority of my work is responding to day to day issues and queries. With central support for teaching and learning already stretched it’s difficult to know how best to reduce this. Ironically, another task I’ve shelved is the survey of other institutions to compare the amount of teaching and learning support they offer. Here at Lincoln we operate largely on a DIY approach to the digital enhancement of teaching and learning; this benefits a minority of staff but discriminates against the majority.


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