#phd shelfie-blog challenge

image showing top ten books being written about in this blog post

The image is a bit of a spoiler!

#PhDShelfie has appeared on Twitter. Followed by shelfie-blog and an invitation from Julie Blake @felthamgirl to join in. I’m easily distracted, especially when challenged with words. I’d contributed a #phdshelfie, extended to tablie and floorie, so why not a blog post too? Would be rude not to and technically it’s no distraction – the letters P H and D are in there – somewhere – a bit.

image showing piles of books on shelves and tables and paper piles on the floorSo here’s my top ten books choice from the research corner of my room.

  • Starting with the field of education technology, I offer Rethinking University Teaching by Diana Laurillard (2002). The book suggests the socially constructivist Conversational Framework for harnessing its communicative and collaborative potentials. I find the book more accessible than the later Pedagogical Patterns while the focus on how students learn earns it a place on every educational developer/researcher’s shelf.
  • Moving from the potential of TEL,  pause a moment for Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn (2014). A critical attack on technology determinism, the book shines light on the relationship between digital platforms and the wider society in which they’re developed and used. Agree with him or not, Selwyn offers a PoV well worth consideration.
  • Staying with digital media, the next book is Amusing Ourselves to Death; Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. You’d think it was the result of an internet click-binge on a wet bank holiday weekend, but oh no – this prescient account of cultural transformation was written in 1985. Postman is responding to the rise in US cable TV and subsequent lack of serious news in the public domain. My goodness, what would he say today?
  • So how has technology got such a hold over us? Try Propaganda, a slim volume by Edward Bernays, first published in 1928. If you haven’t come across Mr B you’ll have heard of his uncle, Dr Sigmund Freud. Using the application of Uncle Siggy’s psychoanalytic techniques, Bernays developed what came to be known as Public Relations (which he tellingly named the ‘engineering of consent’).  Achievements included persuading young women to smoke Lucky Strikes which he’s renamed ‘Torches of Freedom’ and convincing all of America the best breakfast in the world was bacon and eggs. I’d also recommend watching Century of the Self by Adam Curtis. This uses archive film to document the cultural influence of Bernays across the 20th century.

  • To help deal with a world full of devious advertising and rogue technology, I offer The Consolations of Philosophy by Alan de Botton (2000). Some academics may look down their purist noses but I loved how this friendly, accessible book introduces philosophers such as Seneca, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and my favourite, Montaigne. If education is about different ways to see the world, then here’s a great example. The human condition is universal and this book is full of ageless advice on how to cope. Read from front to end or simply dip in and out if you’re having a bad day. You won’t be sorry.
  • Feeling better? Shh….. nothing is quite how it seems. The Sociological Imagination by C Wright Mills was written in 1959 and stayed in print ever since. Demanding we ask questions to ‘make the familiar strange’ it applies the principles of Socratic questioning to the social world. Today we’re more likely to call it ‘thinking outside of the box‘ but whatever phrase we use, Mills’ advice never ages – it gets more relevant as time passes.
  • One of the problems with a critical lens is it can make the world seem a bit wobbly (when it’s too early for wine) so why not sweep away everything you relied on as a truth and start again. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge by Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984) questioned the legitimation of truth claiming grand narrative explanations were no longer credible. Instead, knowledge was situated, diffuse, fractured and worst of all, unreliable. All researchers have to grapple with the nature of truth and knowledge while  postmodernism went a bit overly pretentious, it still deserves more credit than it gets. We owe much to the PM years, not least drawing attention to diversity and structured inequalities. PM threw the rule book out of the window. It legitimated parody and pastiche. Introduced identity performance while troubling and collapsing binaries. It promoted the subversion of anything which could be deconstructed and then reconstituted it in more challenging ways. Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing – is it?
  • Phew, ready for some light relief? I wanted to include some poetry but that’s a different bookcase – maybe a blog for a different season? This call was related to research so I’ve chosen The Action Research Dissertation by Kathryn Herr and Gary L. Anderson (2019).  The full story of the difference this book made is on Thesis Whisperer Know Your Limits. Suffice to say it helped validate my PhD choices and gave me the confidence to stick with it when the going got tough – which it did – very tough…
  • This week I’m reading The Digital Academic; Critical Perspectives on Digital Technologies in Higher Education by Deborah Lupton, Inger Mewburn and Pat Thompson. Hot off the press (July 2017) it deals with the digital as in social media and MOOC while reinforcing (maybe not intentionally?) the existence of on-campus digital divides between those who do technology and those who, often with pride, announce they don’t. For the latter, who may be less likely to find anything familiar in these well researched chapters, the book raises the question – how long can academics in 21st century HE continue to avoid issues of digital scholarship and practice?
  • To finish I’ve chosen Learning with the Labyrinth; Creating Reflective Space in Higher Education edited by Jan Sellars and Bernard Moss (2016). I’ve been involved with the use of labyrinths as creative spaces and meditative walking experiences for some time e.g. Walking the Labyrinth and was delighted to review this book for Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. The origin of the labyrinth symbol and shape is unknown and it’s this ‘not-knowing’ has always intrigued me. Labyrinths are not mazes , despite the linguistic confusion in dictionaries and encyclopedias. With no dead ends, their circular path winds round and round into the centre and back out again. Walking a labyrinth offers the experience of pressing the pause button, taking time out to focus on the journey and maybe reflect. You don’t realise until  afterwards how you’ve stepped out of the world for a few moments, something we don’t do often enough. The book takes you on a fascinating journey around the use of labyrinths within student learning and educational development.

Note to the University of Hull – the space outside the library cafe would be perfect for a permanent labyrinth installation. This is the one Jan Sellers facilitated at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Looks lovely. Just saying…

empty space outside of the university of hull library  labyrinth in the grounds of University of KEnt Canterbury Campus

Now the challenge is for anyone reading this to select their own top ten books from their research bookshelf #phdshelfie-blog

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Digital Storytelling; not an end but a beginning

Digital Storytelling presentation slide

The first workshop introduced the craft of storytelling. We were sent away to produce a script for the second where we’d make it happen. It was bright and sunny on the outside but inside the computer lap it was turning into ‘one of those days’. Facilitator Chris Thomson must have thought it was sabotage. First there was no sound through his laptop. Despite the best efforts of an ICT technician it refused to play through the system. Meanwhile work had started on a new road. Just outside. Which more than made up for any lack of sound on the inside. We’d opened all the windows because it was so hot. Now the choice was heat up or shout out. The irony of Chris’s slides telling us audio was the most important component of a digital story and the need for a quiet location to record was not lost – that isn’t wine in Chris’s glass – honest!

IMG_0169 IMG_0170

Digital stories make great teaching tools. We all tell stories or anecdotes in one way or another. They can help explain something complex or show a different point of view. Contextualising knowledge within a story helps understanding and makes it more memorable while digital stories can be more engaging than a page of text or a report. They’re reusable and if you have the original materials they can be re-purposable as well. As you can probably tell, I’m an advocate. As well as learning and teaching aids, they’re useful development tools. To build the story you have to be critical and reflective; make decisions about what to put in and take out. Above all they’re opportunities to be digitally adventurous and creative. While the story itself can be about anything, the one rule was keep it short. Three minutes was the suggested maximum.

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At Hull we’re developing a digital capabilities framework for the university and I’m looking for original ways to support staff with exploring new digital ways of working. Story making offers opportunities to work with a range of artifacts and software. I often hear people say they can’t do audio or video because you need a professional studio with high end kit. My approach is DIY can be ‘good enough’. Phones and digital cameras take ‘good enough’ images and video and free software can  help you make a ‘good enough’ video. We used Audacity and Audacity Portable for recording and WeVideo for editing.

For me, digital stories tick all the boxes for learning development, digital CPD. You get something usable at the end and leave with the skills, knowledge and ideas for creating them in the future.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#686306411

Above it was fun. Completed stories will be showcased at the Learning and Teaching Conference in July and we plan is to repeat the workshops at School and Department level next year. Although the Jisc workshops have finished this is not the end of digital storytelling at Hull. It’s the beginning.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#687165951

Solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking #www16

poster about labyrinths for the Wondering While Walking project

Solvitur ambulando, attributed to Diogenes (@400 BC), St Augustine (@400 AD) and advocated by Nietzsche who (depending on the translation) wrote ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking‘ or ‘Only thoughts reached by walking have value’. When Chrissi Nerantzi  invited representations of Wondering While Walking I straight away thought of labyrinths. My Walking the Labyrinth blog had followed the concept as a tool for learning development, in particular reflection and stress relief before exams. Walkers reported feeling calmer after their labyrinth experience. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve tried it. Although the process will always be individual, the best way to describe it is probably as ‘time out’; something it can be hard to make time for!

There are few rules to labyrinth walking but it helps to be silent and focus attention outwards on the twisting path into the centre and out again, while keeping the inner attention quiet. Concentrate on each step, like a walking meditation or practising mindfulness.

instructions for drawing a labyrinth
image from http://whttp://www.labyrinthina.com/labyrinths-myth-history.htmlww.labyrinthina.com/labyrinths-myth-history.html

You can create a labyrinth yourself, on the beach, on grass, on paper, then walk it or trace it with your finger. Original turf labyrinths exist in England, some of which are maintained and can still be walked. Julian’s Bower at Akeborough in North Lincolnshire and Walls of Troy near Dalby in North Yorkshire are the two nearest to Hull.

Labyrinths can also be explored in books or online. Around the turn of the 21st century there was a revival in interest and there are now a number of labyrinth societies supported with research and publications. Although there are many different theories around their origin and use, the truth remains veiled in mystery.

Chalk Labyrinth in the nave of Lincoln Cathedral
Chalk Labyrinth in the nave of Lincoln Cathedral

In 2014 I was invited to write the texts for the University of Lincoln Labyrinth Festival. A large 13 ring medieval Chartres style labyrinth was chalked onto the nave of the cathedral and visitors invited to walk. Exhibition panels were mounted within the arches down the side. Each panel contained a labyrinth image and my words which aimed to provide a synthesis of what is known. An edited version is below.

solvitur ambulando from a Labyrinth Festival poster

Introduction

To walk a labyrinth can be a form of meditation, offering stillness in a busy world. The experience can be whatever you want; contemplative, healing, mindful, prayerful or simply fun. The origin of the labyrinth is unknown. Today is it a ritual where past and present come together. Labyrinths are for everyone. All you need to walk a labyrinth is yourself.

Seven things we know about labyrinths

1. we know labyrinths are mysterious

The absence of knowledge around the origin and purpose of the labyrinth encourages individual meanings. Walking a labyrinth can symbolise an act of celebration, prayer, reflection, remembrance, solace or simply time out of a busy day. Some believe they are merely patterns while others say they represent the archetypal journey from birth to death; the twisting and turning path indicative of life’s challenges. The interpretations attached to labyrinths are adjustable. They can be as shallow or as deep as anyone wants or needs them to be.

2. we know labyrinths have an ancient past

Circles carved onto rocks and spirals scratched on stone could be precursors of the labyrinth design. The three and seven ring ‘classical’ labyrinths pre-date more complex 12-circuit medieval designs. Even the origin of the word labyrinth is obscure. Some say it derives from Labrys, a double headed axe from Minoa, or the Greek laburinthos but no one knows for sure. Both function and meaning of the labyrinth are lost in time, which is part of their mystery and attraction.

3. we know labyrinths appear in history and religion

Lucca’s Duomo di San Martino in Tuscany contains a 12th century finger labyrinth on the wall by the entrance with the Latin inscription This is the labyrinth built by Daedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne’s thread. The story of Theseus tells how the prince entered a labyrinth to slay the Cretan Minotaur, a monster who devoured humans. Deadelus, the master architect of the labyrinth, is said to have also built a special labyrinthine floor for the princess Ariadne to dance on. Labyrinths have been found on mosaics in roman villas, on coins, manuscripts, churches. There is one in the 13th century Chartres Cathedral in northern France. Church records show others were built at this time but later destroyed. References to Easter processions by priests, and a distant law preventing congregations from dancing, suggest an association with rites long forgotten.  Today the past and present come together in Lincoln Cathedral and visitors invited to take time out to experience the labyrinth for themselves.

4. we know labyrinths are not mazes

There is widespread confusion between mazes and labyrinths. Mazes are designed to disconcert and deceive; to be puzzles and sometimes places of frustration and fear. A labyrinth is different. It has a single unicursal path.Yet dictionary and encyclopedia definitions repeatedly describe labyrinths as mazes. This is incorrect. You can’t get lost in a labyrinth. It has one single, winding path into the centre and out again. The only choice needed is to walk over the threshold and take the first step.

5. we know labyrinths imitate nature

Circles and spirals can be found in the natural world. The curve of an ammonite, the winding tendrils of climbing beans, the twist of hazel and the delicate fronds of bracken as they open to the light. A labyrinth path mimics the mathematics of circles and circumferences, of beautiful and sacred geometry.  Our lack of knowledge about their origin only reaffirms what is not known sometimes doesn’t matter. We don’t need definitive answers to experience the labyrinth journey. It is for all seasons and all people.

6. we know labyrinths can be made from stone, sand, chalk, grass

Turf labyrinths have been cut from the earth beneath our feet. There is uncertainty about their exact age or purpose. There are a number of public turf labyrinths in the UK, all well maintained with edges cut and grass trimmed each year. You can find them at Akeborough, North Lincolnshire; Dalby, North Yorkshire; Wing, Rutland; Hilton, Cambridgeshire and Saffron Walden in Essex. Their fresh grass paths carry the imprints of generations of children and adults. They link centuries of people through a shared experience of walking, running, dancing into the centre and out again.

7. we know labyrinths are enduring symbols

A resurgence of interest has resulted in labyrinths being used for workshops and conferences in health care, education, counselling, spirituality, retreats. Portable labyrinths have been painted onto canvas. Temporary ones constructed on beaches or made with sticks and stones in parks and woodlands. They can be made of leaves, bird seed, masking tape, grass paint. Wherever there is space and time a labyrinth can be constructed. Always leave them for others to find before the tide comes in, before the wind blows or the rain washes them away. Draw your own labyrinth on paper or card. Stitch or knit one.  Explore the meandering, wandering path with your finger. The circuits are rhythmic and soothing. This will never change. Labyrinths have endured for millennia and will continue to do so. They are sources of creativity for us all.

sunlight through the stained glass at the Labyrinth Festival
Sunlight through the stained glass on the floor of Lincoln Cathedral during the Labyrinth Festival

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Twilight of the Idols (various translations) Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)

Visit Wondering While Walking to contribute to the #www16 project