Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Hot on the heels of mobilage, you could be forgiven for thinking I actually like making up new words for the sake of it but sometimes it does help my thinking... keeping it on track... So, here's another one... mobent... as in, to 'have a mobent'. This word attempts to describe the familiar experience of that moment when you are entangled, perhaps just staring, into your phone because it's not working as expected. I suppose a colloquial example would be 'buffer face', as in the celebrated adverts for a mobile network featuring Kevin Bacon. I'll save you any attempt to link networked learning and 'six degrees of separation'... Here's the back-story to mobent which I have been writing up today:
"Heidegger refers to two modes of relation between dasein and the tools at their disposal. His classic example is of a shoemaker’s hammer in use. Most of the time, the shoemaker is unaware of the hammer, it is ‘ready-to-hand’, zuhanden. If the hammer breaks, the ‘spell’ is also broken and the shoemaker becomes aware of the hammer in a different way, reflecting on it as an object ‘present-at-hand’, vorhanden. This dichotomy is sharply challenged when applied to a phone:
  • "The extensive and extending range of uses to which the phone may be put and ongoing innovation in mobile technologies and app development together with a society-wide growing awareness of the significance of mobile means that the phone can increasingly be incurred in almost any activity, regardless of whether that activity is shared on social media using the phone.
  • "The extended stack of technologies upon which use relies for its fulmination. For example, mobile phones are designed to accommodate variations in Internet connectivity. This is dependent on many factors, such access to effective infrastructure which is itself in constant need of maintenance, subject to ‘legacy effects’ (additional work required to sustain aging technologies, borrowed from ecology (Cuddington, 2011)), and the pressures of responding to industry-wide innovation.
  • "Industry has a commercial interest in encouraging greater uptake and use of their products and Internet connectivity enables smartphone companies to gather user data and use this to inform and target marketing communications into every handset.
  • "Phone notification systems are complex, with many apps offering reasons and means to alert users and thence hold their attention.
"At the least, we should note the phone’s greater propensity for oscillation, albeit of varying severity, between zuhanden and vorhanden. In another reference to Actor Network Theory, dasein can easily become entangled in this oscillation, to the extent that vorhanden becomes the ‘ordinary everyday’, as if the hammer were continually asserting itself into consciousness. To capture this idea of mobile entanglement, I have coined the blend word mobent which also chimes with the experience of hiatus such moments incur. I want to also make a cultural reference in the sense that ‘having a moment’ is a private affair between two individuals characterised by a raised, likely piqued, emotion. "
I'll get around to explaining myself at a better sound level now I've got a USB-C OTG cable for my phone. My next appearance is at the SOCSI education seminar 1pm 17/1/2018.

Cuddington, Kim. ‘Legacy Effects: The Persistent Impact of Ecological Interactions’. Biological Theory 6, no. 3 (1 September 2011): 203–10.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


I've been trying to prioritise my thesis... not easy part-time. It does force you to go back in and out of the same thing - a curse but also a crude, if not cruel, way of revisiting and reinitiating myself with this project - I'm trying to do phenomenology afterall... Yesterday I was mangled into doing some more to it having offered to give a presentation of my methods for my school at the monthly lunchtime seminar. One of the comments afterwards suggested that I needed to get the concept/phenomenon that I've coined 'out there'... so, here it is - make of it what you will. The audio is quiet - apologies for that!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

On unsophisticated document dumps

It is said that staff do not use expensive, sophisticated learning technologies in sophisticated ways. Repeated audits over many years show that the virtual learning environment (VLE) is used as a 'document dump' (noting pejorative metaphor). This view trivialises situated use of 'documents'. I just came across an example of how documents are used by students in my data and thought I would share here. Very simply, a student mentioned how they were about to access a learning task guideline in the VLE to check if they were following it properly in preparation for working on it the following day. I'll just make two points, neither with any claims to 'originality', before I go back to my coding:1. The 'document' is framing the plans of the student, not just while they are accessing it but when they are not using the VLE at all, shaping their planned engagement in learning activity, as well as afterwards. The document itself and the words in it constitute the substantial learning technology, the one that is having a deep effect on the students' trajectory, their life as a learner. I think I'm being sensitised to this 'historical' angle by Gadamer...
2. A lot of hot air and political capital is invested in the quest to make patent and profoundly effective use of learning technologies. It's a common enough rhetoric that frames academics as resisting opportunities to make the most of an institution's considerable investment in software licenses, hardware, support etc. With their specialist knowledge of the potential affordances of technology, learning technologists do learning itself potential harm by endorsing the 'academic as Luddite' line. This overlooks the need to attend to what the student is actually doing in terms of learning. As Goodyear and Carvalho (2014), when learning tasks are set for students, there is a 'loose coupling' between task and activity where the student interprets and engages with the task requirements. 'Teaching-as-design' should attain greater significance in people's minds than any given learning technology per se. A well-constructed reading list can be a powerful 'learning technology' but enacting this sort of view does not make headline-grabbing demands on an institution's infrastructure and attention. Indeed, it potentially dissolves the need for whole layers of management and support... which makes me wonder why higher education took this technologistic road in the first place...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fishbowl Seminar Instructions

Fishbowl seminars. I dont know who thought them up but I like them. I keep having to cook up a description of them, find images of the set-up etc. So I thought I'd put it here, partly to make things easy for myself - not because it necessarily has anything to do with networked learning... except that the first place I encountered it was in the Aalborg NLC.
So I've made this image (yes I am colourblind). 
And these are the instructions for my setting - tweak to suit :)

This is a way of a managing a group conversation. It needs at enough people to form a decent circle, plus three. So 10 is a good number but I have seen it done successfully with many more than this (see for example).

You will need to rearrange the room so that there is a circle of chairs around three chairs in the middle. In smaller fishbowl seminars, it's good to avoid someone sitting directly behind someone else, especially the 'main speaker'. 
You will need about 20 sheets of A4 paper and lots of post-it notes (the number of members, squared).
Divide the time available by the number of members to find out how long each round will be. Allow for a couple of minutes for 'handover'. 

Three people are in the middle of a circle of chairs. One is for the 'presenter', the other is a tutor, and  another 3rd person - the latter two kick off with questions.
If anyone wants to speak, they have to take one of the seats in the middle. They do this by rising from their seat and tapping the shoulder of the tutor or 3rd person to replace them in the middle. 
It is good to give the people sitting around the centre something significant to do so that they are actively listening and contributing even if they do not enter the centre. For example,
  1. Each round, appoint a different person to keep the time. They should announce when 2 minutes are left on the current round. 
  2. Ensure that each person around the outside has at least one postit note. They are asked to write some brief (it can only be brief!), anonymised feedback on the postit. Sharing email addresses can happen a different way! At the end of a round, the postits for that round are stuck to a single a4 sheet.
Probably you have suggestions which could enhance the above, if so, please share :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Formal learning too important to be left to...

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Networked Learning metaphors #23432: The Synapse

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rubbish and link-rot


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