Lincoln blog 2009

Quick, study your Christmas cards for snowflakes lest they be falsely represented. There are six sides to a snowflake; any more or less is heresy. Comments to this piece about Professor Thomas Koop,  specialist in ice crystal formation at the University of Bielefled, Germany, who is upset about the corruption of  snowflakes, include pretty flaky arguments, crystallising opinion, sixism in science and, my favourite so far, hell hath no flurry like a scientist scorned.   Internet journalism at its best!


Check out the RewindVintageMuseum  Those of us in the digital age, with analogue roots, are a unique generation. We remember a different time, when mobile technology meant a transistor radio. A time before the marriage of the words media and digital. As media technology developed so we possessed it greedily.  Stored away in lofts and attics we probably still do, unable to let go because of the memories it contains. Our first LPs, compilation cassettes, family video tapes and boxes of photograph albums. As analogue evolved into digital, this memorabilia has become archaic. It represents a life that has moved on. We have the media but can no longer access the message.

Digital media is one dimensional. You can’t get attached to a mp3 track. It isn’t significant like an album cover. There’s no personal investment. A download won’t increase in value or become collectable. Those days are gone.

What will be the memorabilia of the future? An empty digital photo frame? We laugh at the Betamax VCR but it’s got no intrinsic value; like walkmans and ipods it was functional; with that function removed, it’s junk. Like old fridges and washing machines, it begs the question of what to do with redundant technology. Future focus may be on content rather than means of transmission. Single, not multiple, devices could answer problems with waste. Individuality would derive from the customisation of virtual portals, My Space style, meaning we wouldn’t just access digital data, we’d have to learn to work with it too.

A Digital Britain needs to recycle more efficiently. Especially electronics and their packaging. So much of what we throw away this Christmas will end up in landfill. That’s not sustainable practice. The invisibility of virtual delivery has to be something to celebrate; inevitably the next step will be to reduce the means by which we access it.

What happened in Copenhagen depends on what you read but overall there was no conclusion.  Richard Black at the BBC suggests eight separate reasons for failure to reach an agreement. In the Guardian Mark Lynas blames China while George Monbiot blames the US. The Independent typically blames no one and offers an impartial overview of climate change issues in 2009  instead.  As always, the comments to these articles offer a diverse cross-section of individual opinions.

It’s the darkest time of year when the sun is at its lowest point. For thousands of years people have celebrated the time when it changes direction and starts to rise again. Via the sun, our climate controls us; it rules our ability to grow food and take advantage of natural resources. Nations go to war over suspected WMDs yet human behaviour suspected of risking the eco-balance is debated adfinitum with no conclusive actions.

Whether climate change is man made or the result of natural cycles, it’s happening. Better to change our own lifestyles and demonstrate proactivity as in the ‘collective wisdom of the crowd’. Individually, we can all resolve to recycle, eat seasonal fruit and vegetables and where ever possible leave the car at home. It’s one solution in 2010 that we can all be a part of.

Climate change is the new religion. Your beliefs define you. You can be a global warmer, a sceptic or simply not interested. The first or second is preferable. It’s better to have considered the arguments than not thought about them at all.  The volume of information is daunting. Like a religion, it’s provided by those with faith, who have belief in their doctrines, so impartiality can be difficult to find. Warning, entering the debates may cause more confusion than demystification. The science is lauded and denied in equal parts.

The science is mostly about Co2 emissions (the greenhouse effect). Human activity is responsible needs to reduce C02 to 350 parts per million (ppm). Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? (Hansen et. al. 2008) claims  the level in Sept 2008 was 385 ppm. Hansen recommends phasing out all coal use (except where CO2 is captured) and ‘adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon concluding’. The paper concludes “Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate….The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.”

The opposition is an eclectic mix of politics, The sun is the cause of global warming (or not). Natural variations create climate change. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar predicts a significant change in sunspot activity December 31 2012. The Optimum Population Trust call for reductions in population. The Global Warming Policy Foundation challenges government policy for mitigating the effects of global warming without saying why. Deniers and Sceptics (Top Ten) applauded the hacked email exchanges from the Climatic Research foundation at UEA as conclusive evidence that the science was flawed. The CND (all these years on) are saying nuclear power is not the answer. Then there is the BNP and the conspiracy theorists who see climate change as a front for political domination led by the FBI, CBI, Illuminati, socialists, communists; take your pick.

Al Gore is either a hero or a fake depending on which side you are on. Apart from his Inconvenient Truth, other offerings for the record include 11th Hour , the Age of Stupid   and the Esoteric Agenda. I’ll throw Zietgiest into the mix; after all Christmas is a time for fantasy.

How many will spend Christmas attached to laptop or mobile phone? If Christmas is about tradition then it’s worth remembering the ghost of Christmas Past was an analogue one; family, friends and social activities like board games. Playing Trivial Pursuit without the Internet was not that far back in time. Today, the memory required for such pastimes is being challenged. Is Google Making us Stupid?  and Is Google Killing General Knowledge? suggest real changes in the human brain. Should we be afraid? The ability to adapt to external change is at the core of evolution. As Nietzsche’s  experience with a typewriter changed his writing style so instant digital access to communication and information is  changing how we process thought.  We’re no longer reading in depth. We skim and flit through pages, continually changing topics. The Stumbleupon Syndrome has us addicted to the unexpected. Google ensures we can always find what we are looking for. The Internet has taken the pressure off memorising facts as stand-alone pieces of information. Potentially the next decade should see us all with access to the tools of learning. Assessment will be less about recall and more about critical evaluation, application and reflection. Student Future carries a laptop in the way Student Past had a dictionary. In a similar vein, Christmas Future is digital. The 24/7 virtual world has us all connected. Our traditional analogue customs and habits are at stake unless we make a stand and turn off the connections. Return to family, friends and board games and stick the invitation to Google (and Facebook and Twitter etc)  up the chimney. It might be harder than you think and that in itself is something we should really be afraid of.

Challenging Google

December 18, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

A French court has fined Google for reproducing books without paying for the right to do so. The US Authors Guild have also sued Google for copyright infringement. The compensation settlement covers books published in the US, UK and Australia but is not yet in force. It’s taken three years for the case in France to be resolved. How many more are waiting? Google has taken the approach of do it first, worry later. The aim to scan every out of copyright/out of print book in existence is not going smoothly. Second hand, Independent and antiquarian book sellers, those of them that are still left in business, will be watching events with interest.

Coverage of the conference on climate change is muted. Usually the media loves promoting dramatic pictures of icebergs collapsing into the sea as evidence for global warming. But it’s all quiet.

If our carbon footprints are heading us towards doomsday, you would expect Copenhagen to be daily news. The absence of headline coverage is suspicious. It suggests official confusion as to which climate change lobby has it right – the believers or the sceptics. In the face of their conflicting evidence it’s difficult to know what to believe. But you would think that regardless of the science, we can’t treat our planet with disrespect and there be no consequences. I side with the global warmers and instinctively feel that our planet is a beautiful, self regulating place. We’re lucky to live here. The power of nature is uncontrollable and we should respect that. I have less sympathy for the sceptics; I’m suspicious of their connections with multinational corporations. The argument that changes are not only exaggerated, but natural and cyclical, sit ill with vested interests in encouraging us to carry on regardless.

Landfill worries me. Buried batteries poison the earth; as do plastic and polystyrene. It’s difficult to see how chemicals discharged into rivers, or deforestation and agricultural practices right on our doorsteps, are not affecting the ecosystem. Even closer to home is the absence of bees. Copenhagen is too far away; heads of governments too concerned with themselves to care about the planet. Change has to begin at home. Change the way we shop, cook, recycle, grow vegetables. The most wasteful time of the year is fast approaching. As we throw away all the packaging, and other Christmas debris,  spare a thought for the planet and resolve to be green.

You can learn more from the comments than news items themselves. Journalism should be impartial; a balanced account of the issues without emotive vocabulary.  The BBC have posted the headline ‘Should homosexuals face execution?’

The beeb say they wanted to “reflect the stark reality” of a Ugandan bill being debated in their parliament which would see some homosexual offences punishable by death. Comments left the reader in no doubt that homophobia is alive and well and living in the UK. The decision to print this headline was considered permissible. Substitute homosexual for a medical condition, an ethnic minority or a religion, and it would not be. The same applies for the comments. If the context was another section of society supposedly protected by equality and diversity legislation, they would have been moderated out..

Bias and prejudice are expected in some areas of the media but you would hope for impartiality with the BBC and the Guardian (where I picked this up). Thankfully most comments were rational and reflected a more tolerant society. The contrast between the news report and reader’s opinions offers the best combination of left and right thinking creating a perfect journalistic balance.

The BBC have (as I write!) changed the headline to Should Uganda debate gay execution? The original screenshot can still be seen on the Guardian link. A response to the power of public journalism?

What rights do you have when you own a book? Daniel Reetz has built his own book scanning device (Wired) and comments show how other people routinely make digital copies. Does ownership give you the right to do this? Is there a difference if you’ve borrowed a book from a library, or a friend or found it on the train Bookcrossing style  It’s clear I need to get my head around the law on digital copyright; like using Refworks, or accessing the electronic journal database, it’s not one of my strongest points so any suggestions of where to start will be most welcome.

What I am clear about is that those who have control over access to information have power but it’s those who have the least power in society who seem to be most affected and have the quietest voice. As a result we hear less about the text discrimination they suffer on a daily basis and most about corporation fears regarding revenue losses. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) want the blind to pay for any additional means of access and the US Authors Guild argue that a speaking e-reader counts as an ‘unauthorized public performance’ so should be banned. Amazon are no better; offering authors the option of disabling Kindle’s read-aloud function and I’m totally unimpressed by them saying they will soon produce ‘a blind-accessible Kindle’ – why haven’t they done so already!

Google are going to  pay $125 million to resolve claims by authors and publishers of Google-scanned books and will pay legal fees, as well as create a Book Rights Registry where copyright holders can register works to get a cut of Internet advertising revenue and online book sales. Why can’t Google simply pay what it takes to ensure virtual text can be listened to as well as seen? Why can’t Amazon put the needs of the visually impaired first instead of last? Why can’t there be some joined up thinking on access to digital data to end the current discrimination?

Yes, this is procrastination as the assignment is still largely undone, but it needs to be said and we all need to take responsibility for adding our voices to raise awareness of these issues.

Adding to my regular theme of reasons for blogging I’m adding  procrastination when deadlines loom. Assignment title: How useful is the ‘subject of language’ approach in helping us to understand identity?

The bible is full of aphorisms. Some are less useful than others such as ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ plus long lists of other shalt nots (fornication,  idolatry, adultery,  etc). But the most useful edict of all appears at the start of genesis; ‘in the beginning there was the word’.

We make sense of our left-brain world through the logic and lists of language. Via agreed consensus, it names our realities and is the tool for defining knowledge.  Semiotics; the first science of linguistics proposed by Saussure, bought us the triple S of signifier, signified and sign through which we see that meaning is never fixed. When Gertrude Stein wrote ‘A rose is a rose is a rose’ she wasn’t being obtuse; she was using repetition in an attempt to pin the language down. The word rose has multiple significations (romance, valentine, beauty, interflora) so we use it in a notional way, we evoke the idea of a rose; recognisable to each of us in individual ways. We can’t capture a rose; we can only create a linguistic category of rose-ness. The single rose in our hand is a rose – but the word itself is conceptual and its meaning dependent on the cultural surround.

Language is cultural, it reflects dominant social constructs. The language of gender is one of the best examples of this. As sex is fundamental to identity it’s clear that the language we use to ‘know’ ourselves is constrained by the environment in which we live. Boys don’t wear pink’ not because of the colour pink is pink is pink but because of the associations of the word.  It’s difficult to escape language. Even if we become subjective, work on intuition, develop sensory perception, adopt Zen, we have little control over the ways we are seen by others. Is the subject of language approach useful in understanding identity; yes, you could say that. I just need a few more thousand words in which to say it.

It’s hard to avoid Christmas; not that wanting to is indicative of any Bah Humbug syndrome but the proliferation of tat in the shops gets on my nerves. Likewise the queues at the checkout when I want to purchase some non-Christmas item like a sandwich or a bottle of coke.

It’s the expectation of presents that grieves me most. In particular the notion of ‘must-haves’; this year Mr Squiggles and the debut cd by Susan Boyle.  I remain convinced that the lead-poisoning scare is a ploy started by a rival toy company looking to oust Go Go Pets from the best seller list. As for Susan Boyle I’ve listened to her on Amazon and she has a great voice but so has Amy Winehouse, kdlaing and Cecily Raines; Cecily who? My point exactly. There are many fabulous voices out there; the difference with Susan Boyle is that the full promotion wagon is racing you towards the checkouts with the sole aim of parting you from your money. The ‘must-have’ syndrome has nothing to do with the product; it’s what possession of the product says about you. Creating this sort of demand is a marketing dream and Christmas is the peak time of year for its fulfilment.

The cardinal points mark the sun’s 12 month journey around the sky. Quarter markers are the Spring and Autumn Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstice. At around the 21stDecember the sun sinks to its lowest point and stays there for around three days, seemingly stationary, before changing direction and starting to rise again. This sign that the sun was reborn traditionally signalled 12 days of celebration. Throughout time there are records of cultural partying at or shortly after the winter solstice; all connected in one way or another with a god or a hero returning from the dead.

It’s good to have time off with family and friends at Christmas; have a few drinks, wind down and reflect before another year starts all over again. What’s less good is the commercial materialism that accompanies it and is increasing into a madness that most people can’t afford and don’t really want to get caught up in. Mark the date in your calendar of the Winder Solstice on 21st December and spare a thought for the real meaning of Christmas.


one hundred!

December 7, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

I notice I’m the 8th person here on to pass the 100 mark; nothing to celebrate regards coming in first but a significant achievement in terms of motivation. Several times I’ve reflected and invited comments on the purpose of blogging; coming to the conclusion that at the end of the day I do it mostly for myself. It helps me focus on work related issues and find the links between my different areas of interest. In the past few weeks I’ve been using the blog for my OU course; I have a joint blog with the University of Kent at and am supporting an external WordPress blog set up by a colleague at – you could say that blogging has become part of what I do. Blogging is my CPD; a reflective record of achievements. Overall blogging is fun and picking up the odd comment along the way is a bonus. I like having a one-stop online area that constitutes my virtual identity. I’d like to blog every day, commenting on news items and overheard bits of conversation or how today a colleague dressed up as a book worm to promote the library opening hours; a good old fashioned analogue way of getting people’s attention! But every day is an unrealistic target; once a week seems to be manageable, at the moment I’m on a bit of a roll!

We’re sexed at birth. Then it’s rarely mentioned again. We introduce ourselves with what we do rather than Hi I’m Sue, I’m female. We only see ourselves through the medium of reflection. Our identity is the face in the mirror or how we are seen by others. The accuracy of this depends on how honest we are. They say the mirror doesn’t lie but we have nothing to compare it with. We can’t ‘see’ ourselves from the outside; we only ‘feel’ ourselves from within. This split lies at the heart of Lacan’s theory of identity construction. The child sees itself in the mirror as a whole image but feels it is made up of disparate parts. Somehow it has to reconcile the internal consciousness with the social and cultural expectations of the external world. Subjectivity is achieved through identification with external discursive practice which in turn is produced by linguistic signs. A fundamental aspect of identity is sexual difference; we wear it like a precursor of future expectation and opportunities. Freud’s in here too; Lacan reinterprets the Oedipal struggle as the child aligns itself appropriately and represses all that insatiated desire into the nether regions of the unconscious. All this theorising about subjectivity is just theory; somehow we develop from screaming egotistic bundles into functioning sociable individuals but there’s no consensus of agreement on how we do it.

I don’t know how old the study material is but there’s no mention of the Internet either as a source of information or as having cultural influence on identity; the opportunities it gave for ‘performance’ has been written about since the 1980s (Turkle, Borstein etc). The only medium is film with a focus on Hitchcock; nothing about gay cinema and although Butler’s Queer theory gets a mention,  the word gay is hardly used; instead the repetition of homosexual makes the text sound stilted in a repressed British sort of way. There’s no mention of intersex, transsexual or transgender, all integral to identity construction and the tiny reference to French feminism doesn’t do justice to the powerful challenge it presented on traditional male structures of dominance and control. In contrast with the other units which have been totally up to date this ones seems to be lagging in a bit of a time warp.

nuff said…

December 5, 2009 | equality and diversity  |  3 Comments

December 3 was International Day of People with disabilities. You could be excused for not noticing. A quick survey of online newpapers revealed the following:

  • The Guardian reported on an enquiry into disability related harassment, mentioning in the penultimate paragraph that the inquiry was announced on the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
  • The Independent celebrated 1000 days to the paralypics saying ‘Fittingly, today is also International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) … a worldwide celebration recognising the contributions and achievements of people with disabilities…’  The UN say the day is about achieving‘human rights and participation in society by persons with disabilities’ so it’s about dignity and justice for all rather than just the Paralympian elite.
  • The best the Telegraph could do was a story about an Australian budget airline refusing a blind passenger and guide dog board a domestic flight with a strapline reference to the International Day of Disabled Persons.
  • In the Daily Express you could read how Stevie Wonder is now a United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special mission to help people with disabilities, but no mention of the significance of printing the story on December 3rd.

The Times and the Daily Mail seemed to have forgotton the day altogether and I didn’t anticpate missing much by stopping there. The British press could have done so much more to highlight the inequalities of daily life for those with sensory, motor and cognitive impairment. Lets hear it for the voice of the people rather than the voice of the establishment performing yet another cover up job.

Spot the difference between these two statements:

  • International Day of Disabled Persons.
  • International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

In 1982 the UN General Assembly decided on the World Programme of Action for Disabled People. In 2007 the official title of the Day was changed from International Day of Disabled Persons to International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Still contentious but at least it reflects the move from medical to social models of disability; a change from the association of the word disability with the deficit ‘can’t do’ (caused by the individual impairment) to the positive ‘can do’ (enabled through social change).

Language is  important. We speak and attribute without thinking; we’re all subjects of Foucauldian discourse whereby ‘truths’ derive from external structures of control, legitimised and maintained through behaviours, beliefs and attitudes. Reference to disabled persons is incorrect. We are all persons. The reasons I may not use a computer mouse could be cerebral palsy, stroke, arthritis, broken bones or because I simply can’t see the cursor. To label me a disabled person because of limited physical or cognitive capacity is wrong. This is not being pedantic – its being aware of difference. Identity is on the surface; it’s what’s underneath that counts.

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Week 4 and repetitive reading is increasing familiarity with the core ideas in Block 1. The A4 pages are my constant companion along with articles the OU call Offprints. The set book ‘an Identity Reader’ is a heavyweight not designed for carrying about. Considering most chapters are short I would have preferred these as A4 pages too. Surrounded by annotated, highlighted sheets of paper, I’m learning to re-appreciate hard copy. Still no word from my tutor. I expected something along the lines of How am I doing? Have I any problems? Am I dead? But no, welcome to the loneliness of the long distance learner. The isolation must impact negatively on learning. It runs contrary to Wenger’s virtual communities of practice whereby learning is situated in the sharing of experience and there are none of Laurillard’s online conversational frameworks. Instead I have to rely on my captured car-share colleagues for the sharing of ideas and application of theory.

This week includes Suture; the method through which film replicates Lacanian identity theory; or Marxist ideology, Foucouldian discourse or any other theory of social control and power structure.  Suture is the process whereby the subject (created through language and culture with no independent existence) absorbs and relates to dominant power relations as through for example the ‘male gaze’, theorised by Laura Mulvey where women are portrayed as objectivised objects. Through suture we ‘believe’ or are ‘taken in’ by the portrayal of the plot and in doing so we fail to question the ‘reality’ of what we see. Identification with gender roles or behaviours, or merely being present by watching the film, especially without being aware of it, we accept without question what we see.

I would query a theory that doesn’t appear to allow the viewing of film as escapism; or accept that the view may be actively seeking an entertainment experience. For me this is also the problem with the ‘subject of language’ approach to identity; it assumes identity has a single dimension but I know that I is not me; that I is the language I use to identify me meaning I am only I through language. I know the ‘real’ me can’t be spoken of – or transmitted – other than through language. I disagree with the Lacanian idea that says we panic and identify with the subject position offered by language because we have no alternative. Not only does Lacan not account for where consciousness is before the process of self construction, he also doesn’t allow for any later processes such as education or other life experience, that leads the individual to challenge their earlier conceptions about themselves.  The problem with Lacan seems to be that no one else has yet come up with an alternative theory.

The Digital Inclusion Commentary site uses the Write to Reply format. Part of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (under the Technology Enhanced Learning strand) Digital Inclusion  led by Dr. Jane Seale University of Southampton  is looking at i) Definitions of digital inclusion ii) Why is digital inclusion important? iii) Where does digital inclusion happen?

Definitions of digital inclusion

As the affordances of technology are increasingly accepted as having major social significance, so attention is being paid to those who are excluded from participation but through a lens of inclusive (rather than exclusive) practice. The definitions of digital inclusion here recognise a complex array of factors at play but there is little focus on the role of the content creator. If digital resources are not ‘inclusively’ constructed then their creator, who is often several times removed from the user both through both location and time (in particular if resources are reused) may be uploading barriers to access, albeit inadvertently. All the pieces of the inclusion conundrum can be present but a poorly constructed resource, one that is not ‘personable’ i.e. open to customisation, can result in denied access. An example is when, setting aside the cost and availability of assistive software for visually impaired users, the appropriate screen reading software is in place and working, a poorly constructed web resource remains inaccessible.

Why is digital inclusion important?

This section links social exclusion with digital exclusion. Socially excluded groups identified as benefiting from technology include ‘older people and people with disabilities’. The phrase ‘people with disabilities’ bears no reference to the range of sensory, motor and cognitive impairments it covers. ‘People with disabilities’ can be found in every other social group identified here (the young, parents, adults, offenders and communities). They are also ‘digitally excluded’ in groups not identified as being socially excluded; arguably ‘people with disabilities’ are the most digitally excluded group of all. Not only does the category permeate every social strata, their digital exclusion contains multiple layers such as cost, availability, training and support of the appropriate hardware and software and the widespread inaccessibility of the majority of digital content.  Any online forum concerned with technology and disability will testify this is one of the most excluded groups and, already living with multiple restrictions, one that may well have the most to gain from digital participation.

Where does digital inclusion happen?

Under ‘locating digital inclusion in digital spaces’ there is the first reference to exclusion through inaccessible digital content; in this instance a learning experience in higher education but  should by no means be seen as an isolated incidence. The technical, economic, social and cultural tools of inclusion can be in place, but access to participation be denied through poor quality digital resources constructed with no attention to inclusive design. In these cases the location and source of digital inclusion is almost impossible to pin down and identify. The social model may locate digital exclusion in the built environment as opposed to within the individual but it also needs to be emphasised that the responsibility for ensuring accessible digital data is something that belongs to us all.

Blogging is a public arena without the audience; it’s standing on a stage speaking to empty seats. Like the  saying about a thousand mile journey beginning with one step, blogging is a single raindrop. This week the Guardian promoted software that allegedly anonymises Internet use.   It was a determined attempt to undermine a desire to be anonymous. Sometimes I like anonymity – not because I’m doing anything dubious but because anonymity can be a safety net, blank space to practice creativity. You can mess up and creep away to reflect without leaving your reputation in tatters. All creativity is a risk and sometimes it feels safer to disguise your identity, but to be anonymous, implies the Guardian article, you must be up to no good.

Like all art, blogging is a risk. It exposes thoughts and ideas but does separating words from thier owners diminish them?  To be taken seriously, does the reader need to know who is speaking. Blogs do seem to be less about what is said but who is saying it. Identity and the message become like sex and gender; which comes first? On the other hand, choosing not to blog ensures we are digitally invisible. What will the future implications of this be?

Blogging challenges the ‘old’ order of ‘speaking in public’. Those of born astride the digital divide, with roots in the analogue past and futures in digital ones, will remember a time when having a public voice was a privilege. So inevitably blogging to an empty arena shouldn’t matter; it’s the ability to have a voice that counts. Chaos Theory and Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect could be significant here.

I’m easily distracted. Show me an assignment title and I’ll find something unconnected. Like Enneagrams, not the nine-sided star polygon but the nine personality types theory. You can test yourself here. Thanks to Google it’s clear that enneagram personalities are polymorphic in nature. Interpretation varies depending on the intention of the author (although Barthes would disagree).  Even Wikipedia  calls for more clarification on its Enneagram of Personality page. My main personality type is 5 and my highest behavioural tendency is detachment with 90%.  Detachment has multiple meanings.

Fluidity is at the core of semiotics. The more you try to pin something down the more unstable it becomes. The nature of truth and knowledge shifts from ‘reliable’ to at best an agreed consensus of meaning; one that’s continually shifting and open to reinterpretation. As a result, that which we need to rely on such as our identity, and our place and purpose in the world,  become equally unstable. We are produced in and by the subject of language; or are we? Enneagrams bring me back to my starting point. How useful is the ‘subject of language’ approach in helping understand identity?

The danger with any analysis of identity is the shifting sands scenario; we live within a framework of social discourse that encourages behaviour without question. Take gender; babies are sexed with a cursory glance at the genitals then the weight of social construction kicks in. Dress a baby boy in a pink and it will be universally assumed ‘he’ is a little girl. These powerful beliefs rest on perceived biological difference with no reference to individualism; do we ask our children how they feel? We take the sex/gender dichotomy for granted. It’s only when you encounter ambiguous genitalia or transgender personality that you realise all may not be what it seems. The core of our identity is constructed for us.

Language is a tool and like any tool it’s how you use it that counts. Without language we would need to explore alternatives. Sara Maitland  describes six weeks in a remote cottage on Skye in the pursuit of silence. The book brings together accounts of other experiences from Antarctic explorers to round the world lone sailors; those who have experienced long periods away from people and the sounds of civilisation. These suggest that once we move beyond language there are other inexplicable ways of being; ways we don’t have the appropriate words to explain. This suggests that what we know is constrained by what we can describe. The world still exists for the deaf and blind but is experienced in a different way. Reality is not constructed by language; only interpreted by it and through it. There is still much that is missing; experiences where language becomes inadequate or culturally specific like the French jouissance. The ‘subject of language’ approach may be useful in the study of identity but navigation through the dense theory doesn’t tell the whole story. Language is not only fraught with instability, it’s inadequate too;   some of the most intense lived experiences are those which are the hardest ones to find the words to describe.

Good publicity for Google  who are rolling out machine-generated captions on 13 of their channels including YouTube. Key phrases such as ‘The software engineer behind the technology, Ken Harrenstien, is deaf’ and ‘Vint Cerf, vice president at Google, is ….hard of hearing’ emphasise how there’s no one better to create an accessible internet than those who encounter the most barriers. Example Victor Tsaran, Yahoo accessibility engineer, seen on this video explaining how he screen reads his computer  Still no captions though.

On the subject of accessibility I’ve been reminded this week of two code checkers which offer comprehensive overhauls of your html. The FAE web accessibility checker and HERA . Also this week I’ve been helped out again by the British Computer Association for the Blind.  Incidently, if you haven’t come across the BCAB Guide Cats for the Blind cd series based on the musings of Les Barker, and if traditional humour is your thing, then give them a try.

I posted earlier this week about the ‘blindingly good’ WordPress site created by a VI blogger; an example of the opportunities the Internet provides for communication and access to information especially when your life gets limited by lack of sight. Digital data can, in the words of the BBC charter, inform, educate and entertain and has the potential do so much more. Equity of access should be a prime motivator to ensure no one gets left behind.  If the big-name-players with online presence like Google can start making alternative versions appear as second nature that’s a giant step forward. Amazon, Tesco, M&S and the rest take note.

For all those Friday afternoon bloggers, check out This is not only for an example of someone fighting to overcome the odds but is also a compliment to WordPress for producing an accessible digital environment.

OU course blog post 2

November 16, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

Following on from OU course blog post 1  the sum total of work in week 2 is close to zero. It would be easy to blame the lack of online communication. If I were an analogue learner I might find it alien to use a virtual environment, but accustomed to group collaboration through the OU forums, just me and my A4 printed pages are feeling a bit lonely.

There’s little stimulation from printed text. This is when the power of multimedia hits home but through its absence rather than its presence. I listen to the OU cd-rom but it’s only audio; I miss not just the visuals of video but the simple interaction with my laptop.  Listening is all too passive. I want to be involved in my learning. All I can do is read and make notes which is way too texty, I’m a ‘words’ person but here I am surrounded by them and the learning isn’t happening.

So I’ve started drawing mind maps; breaking up the mass of text into more visual learning environments; the shapes and colours on the page really seem to help. Here are the main theorists: Saussure (pink square) who started the whole theory of language as a cultural phenomenon. Lacan (purple circle) who applied Saussure’s structuralism to his own brand of psychoanalysis devising the concept of the Symbolic and the Other but unable to explain the state of pre-awareness. Althusser (orange rectangle) applied structuralism to his Marxism through Ideological State Apparatus (ISAs), the means by which capitalist norms are consented to and reproduced. Finally Foucault (blue ellipse) who has us all situated within discursive practice, externally mediated by the institutions of the state which are disguised mechanisms of control – Phew! You wouldn’t believe how much chunking all the information into separately coloured shapes is helping. I wonder if a mind map will be acceptable as an alternative mode of assessment!

Sometimes I think you have to get back to basics. The common digital denominator of everyone at the university has to be some form of PC or Mac, propriety or open source, Office suite.  So why not look at how an eportfolio could be created using Office? Then you could focus on the benefits of creating electronic profiles rather than the digital learning curve required to produce them. Criteria such as portability and interoperability have value but if engagement is a key issue then familiarity with the software must be more important. Eportfolio documents could be uploaded to Google but does a URL have to be a crucial component? There are still cd-roms or data sticks. Storage is cheap. Employers wanting electronic profiles will prefer digital data in a format they’re familiar rather than not at all.

We’re not getting there with e-portfolios. Even if they were part of the assessment process or of CPD you’d still have a digital divide with the software. Give someone a tool they’re familiar with and they’ll use it. Give them one they’ve never seen before and you drastically cut the chances of it being utilized.  At the end of the day the prime purpose of an e-porfolio is an electronic record of who you are, and what you have to offer, so surely it’s the content that matters rather than the packaging.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the SimplicITy computer with its six-button desktop aimed at ‘people aged over 60 who are unfamiliar with PCs and the internet’.  Part of me thinks what a great idea – not everyone can afford a Mac and the Windows OS has become so (unnecessarily?) complex. But what would the response be if the target audience were those classified as disabled or from a named country, class or culture. In an environment where everyday language is subject to the stringent tests to determine its political correctness, then it must be technically ageist to provide a product that implies those over 60 need something ‘simple’.

Regarding current website design – while it is far from perfect and I am continually frustrated by its inaccessibility – the direction remains ‘one web for all’. While some webs may be developed with a specific group in mind – e.g. high contrast/low image for the visually impaired – then this doesn’t deny access to anyone else. I wonder if a commercial move towards the provision of customised interfaces designed for specific groups in mind is beneficial to web equity or not. Shouldn’t we be working towards one web for all and one set of web skills for all too?

I’ve been reflecting on the concept of Teaching in Public; the proposed theme of the second CERD book. Googling it only returned the C-SAP 2007 Conference Teaching in Public, the Future of HE . It looks like CERD have identified a gap in the market.  So what does Teaching in Public mean? With so little out there then this is an opportunity to offer our own interpretations. Suggested strands are Education as a Public Good, The Student/Teacher Nexus and Teaching as a Public Activity; all retaining the student/teacher dichotomy.

My interest is the impact of the Internet and the development of OER. For example the Open University’s OpenLearn which includes a course on Creating OER  and an OER wiki Other examples of what I would call Teaching in Public are MIT Open CoursewareTED Talks , Wiki Educator  and Connextions.  Add the P2P virtual university and there’s a lot out there. There are issues around assessment and accreditation but no doubt that the future of higher education is digital. Like it or not we live in a Web 2.0 world. Teaching in Public is a move from pedagogy to folksomony. Traditional educationalists should be feeling afraid. Those yet to engage with the technology should be feeling very afraid.

OER (via the Internet) does more than challenge the status quo of HEIs as the gatekeepers of knowledge. OER (and the Internet) open up communication and access to information; the keys to educational opportunities. The primary issues then become digital divides (ensuring equality of access) and digital controls (transmission via cables rather than humans). Is this where the future of HE lies? If the themes include ‘public good’ and ‘public activity’ then access issues are paramount. Digital data not only requires good bandwidth it’s notoriously inaccessible to anyone with sensory, motor and cognitive impairment.  Along with the employability agenda, will the primary role of the HEI shift from the transmission of knowledge to the critical evaluation and correct acknowledgment of sources that are already freely available?

I’ve few political bones and even less economic ones so will leave those implications of OER on teaching in public to others more qualified, but will offer this; the move to a digital platform, as envisaged by Digital Britain  is a mass imposition of change in practice, something notorious for creating resistance. If there should develop an underground movement of analogue protestors, what impact would that have on the future of higher education?

Vancouver views

November 4, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

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This week I officially begin Year 3 and Unit 5 of my MA in Open and Distance Education. The subject has enhanced and deepened my engagement with my work, given me a theoretical background and opportunities to meet and debate relevant issues with a wider audience; I couldn’t have had a better subject to work with. Unit 5 is Identity in Question. This takes me back to the research of my first MA in Gender Studies and forward to issues I want to research in the future; social and cultural attitudes towards difference. I’m looking forward to re-engaging with the theoretical baselines and testing their application to issues around to student’s perceptions of themselves in relation to higher education.

The first four Units were delivered online but this is a traditional distance learning course and already I feel isolated. I’ve got used to the textual introductions and emoticons, the sharing of photographs, of where we are and what we do. I’ve actively taken part in the creation of Wenger’s community of practice, the first stages in Salmon’s 5step model, constructing Laurillard’s conversational framework, building Garrison and Anderson’s Social Presence. I’ve experienced, tried and tested, all these theories over the past two years but this is going to be different. I’ve had one email from my tutor about dates for ‘telephone tutorials’ but no reference to how this will take place. I’m assuming Skype but I don’t know for sure. In previous units we used First Class but have no software this time. I don’t like telephones. I don’t even have one at home. I prefer the keyboard. In previous units we’ve been encouraged to blog, to build an electronic portfolio and collaborate through wikis as well as use the traditional discussion forum. Suddenly all of that is missing. How can I ‘learn’ interactively with my colleagues when we are not virtually connected? The loneliness of the distance learner will be exacerbated by the lack of digital engagement. It feels like a backward step into a pre-internet world. Without the regular logging on to see what others are saying about the week’s subject matter, how will I stay motivated and engaged?

The benefit of blogging is the provision of a unique forum for reflection. The reality is it takes time. I know that multiple blogs will not work so this blog will become my work and my study blog. The integration will be interesting process.


November 3, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

Reloaded all images but still taking too  long to download – could be karoo connection – could be too large an original filesize. Will return to this  later with optimised pictures. Nice plugin.

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Why offline? It’s very personal in the THES by Janet Hanson, head of education enhancement at Bournemouth University, resurrects the ‘should they shouldn’t they’ debate over teacher engagement with technology. In 2007 Karl Fisch  suggested that digital literacy was the responsibility of the individual and that refusal to engage with technology was on a par with refusing to learn to read or write;

The article “Displaced but not replaced: the impact of e-learning on academic identities in higher education” in the journal Teaching in Higher Education, appears to suggest that some staff are threatened by technology to a degree where one describes feeling “out of control” when she started to use PowerPoint in her lectures, with her academic presence “reduced to a mechanical process of pressing a key on the PC to change the slides”. Comments from readers pick up and challenge this resistance to technology; one of which links to David Warlick’s online article ‘If you can’t use technology get out of teaching!’  Harsh words but I remain convinced that rather than pushing virtual boundaries forwards, it’s non-engagement that is the key issue  I suspect that the more the label Web 2.0 is used to influence institutional practice then the more those who are not yet blogging or tweeting will switch off.  The debate is far from being over. We are quick to praise pockets of good practice but it’s the pockets of resistance that need addressing.

p.s. never mind PowerPoint; take a look at Prezi instead!

The final keynote on the Friday was by Jon Bowermaster; traveller and writer for National Geographic, who justifies his carbon footprint by giving talks on the damage done to the world by over-fishing and poisoning wildlife with plastic pollution.

(Can the carbon footprint of an international conference be justified? On reflection I think the answer is yes. It’s an opportunity to bring back stories from different perspectives which in turn help you to view your own work and institution with different eyes. The impetus for change rarely comes from within; it more often derives from experience of other ways of doing things. There is real value is stepping outside of your comfort zones; there is even more value in viewing your work through not just a national but a global perspective).

Bowermaster  says everyone who travels should bring back a story.  Well, this is mine. Vancouver is a new, clean city; on a clear day you can see the Rockies although it’s mostly rained this week and even the tops of the tallest skyscrapers have been shrouded in cloud. Vancouver is gearing up for the 2010 Olympics and understandably wants its city to be seen in the best possible light. On the surface that shouldn’t be too difficult with its glass skyscraper skyline and surrounding waters ringed with snow capped mountains. Vancouver has the most expensive real estate in the world. It also has a population that is homeless. There are beggars on every street corner; many amputees laid out on cold wet pavements, some in wheelchairs, all with an outstretched cup asking you so politely for your spare change. There’s currently a plan to make it compulsory to put the homeless into shelters; allegedly for protection from the cold but it’s being seen as a rouse to hide them for the Olympics. Either way Vancouver is not what it seems. While we’ve been in the warmth of a modern hotel presenting on the advantages of education outside on the streets is evidence of social and economic inequalities where education is irrelevant.  There’s an advert for welfare food halls on Canadian tv which says you are only ever one paycheck away from destitution and that’s a sobering thought.  Homelessness and poverty here in Vancouver is very much in evidence. In Britain people complain about the welfare state but you don’t see as many destitute people on the streets of Hull (or Lincoln)  as you do here. While we debate the future of higher education it’s worth bearing in mind how fortunate a situation that is.

Finally – the quote of the week for me came from Chui Woo Kim from South Korea. Speaking on virtual interaction he tells us that the instructor may trigger sound effects (applause) to create a more joyful learning environment.

May we all aim to create a more joyful learning environment.

OER was highlighted in the conference keynotes but there is clearly resistance to the principle of open access as well as support. Here, the digital divide widens; on the one side are the pioneers of Web 2.0 technologies advocating the openness of educational opportunities; free access to papers, journals and resources, while on the other side traditional scholars value their freedom of academic choice to remain cloistered in ivory towers.

Terry Anderson (Keynote 2) quoted his experience at Abuthasca where academics have successfully resisted the call for compulsory depositing their work in the institutional repository.  Instead the university has had to compromise, making it a recommendation rather than a rule.

Projects like CamFed the computer training charity ( see ‘where the water meets the sky’ blog post here) demonstrate the value of free access to the Google family in changing lives but the divisions caused by the affordability of education in Africa are every bit as great as those in the west. Here the traditional perception of higher education as an esoteric knowledge requiring [financial] initiation into its mysteries is well embedded. It will take more than the emergence of the possibility offered by Web 2.0 tools if the institution of academia is to be challenged. History shows us that the most successful downfalls come from within; the Trojan horse in this case is probably still under construction but will most likely originate from student demand. Challenging the gatekeepers of knowledge – and their licence locking mechanisms – will need lateral thinking; not releasing the knowledge already imprisoned but rethinking the way that new knowledge is constructed and distributed in the first place.

Camfed is a charity that provides computer training for young women in Africa. Here education is too expensive for many families and if choices have to be made then sons are chosen over daughters. The project is an example of the value of free Web 2.0 tools in particular the Google family that enable virtual communication to take place. The original digital divide still exists in so many places across the world and Camfed is not only a bridge but an opportunity to remind us of the privileges the western world affords.

A documentary film, Where the Water Meets the Sky, narrated by Morgan Freeman, has been made about the project and should be made available to everyone involved in education in the west, both both staff and students.

The BBC have a page and a video clip about the project here

I agree  with its detractors that Blackboard is in the money making business.  Like the publishers of educational journals, access is restricted through prohibitively expensive licences. But I also don’t agree that Blackboard is dead so to paraphaseJulian’s comment  here’s a scratch. While the Web 2.0 revolutionaries are plotting on one corner of the square then those getting on with daily life have to make the best of it. Educational opportunities shouldn’t be denied on the grounds of cost but the reality for many educators is they are caught in the middle. If Blackboard is the tool of choice of your institution then knocking it vociferously doesn’t help. If the future of higher education is digital then we should be encouraging engagement and there are worse places than Blackboard for the cutting of technical teeth. It’s easy to be critical about Blackboard; it may well be closed rather than open, be clunky and not visually appealing but it’s a tool and if it’s the only one you have then it’s what you do with it that counts. Better to have active engagement with Blackboard than no engagement with digital learning at all.

Sleepless in Vancouver

October 30, 2009 | conference  |  1 Comment

If distance is measured by time zones then I’m only 7 hours away although it took 10 hours to fly here – to be 12 hours behind must be as far away as you can get. Even at a distance of 7 hours it’s impressive to think I’m writing this before you are reading it – or are you reading it before it was written? This must be what jet lag does to you.  I can understand that I’m sleeping during my day and trying to function during my night but when I fly back home – what happens then? Hopefully I get realigned.

The conference themes are openness; open source, open content, open doors – everything is open – its the end of cubicle culture – we are all sharing a collaborative global educational network. Now I like my cubicle – I don’t agree that Second Life is a collective experience, the noise of the digital crowd tweeting is getting on my nerves and while I accept there are limitations to the number of variations on a wheel I’m not 100% sure of the difference between plagiarism and creative commons. It seems that while all sharing is equal there will always be some that is more equal than others. Surprisingly few of the big name internet players have signed the The Capetown Open Educational Declaration.

There must be a term for conference overload? Conflerred? Confrenced? If anyone was secretly hoping Web 2.0 would go away then I’m sorry – it isn’t going to happen. You need to blog – it’s your digital identity and not having one says more about you than any number of tweets can do. Web 2.0 now has its own timeline. Presentations that start by explaining what a wiki is and where the name comes from are so ‘last year’.

This year is the death of the VLE – yes, Blackboard is about the most unpopular word you can mention. Did you know that this monolithic VLE sucks you in, ties you down and once it has you it won’t let go and you’ll never ever be free. As someone who’s used to defending Blackboard on campus, accustomed to finding something good and useful to say about it, I’ve been surprised at the animosity. The whole concept of a VLE is a bit dodgy but you are allowed to say Moodle or Elgg so long as you stress their customisability (and don’t mention that you need a technical support team on standby)

Yawn :-O  night all…..

The recent publicity over the Amazon e-book reader Kindle is notable for the furore over DRM and the lack of publicity over its inaccessibility. Reams are being written about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) the digital watermark which limits the use of downloaded files and gives the content provider control over what happens to the content. There’s two ways of looking at this. Firstly it protects copyright by preventing unlicensed copying and distribution (ensuring profits for publishers) and secondly publishers are stepping over the mark by imposing ‘rights’ as ‘restrictions’ that are more extensive then the existing copyright laws for non-digitised text. Unauthorized distribution of digital media has been almost impossible to control and the ebook industry is tackling this from the start; looking at the much pirated music and film industry for guidance.

I have no problem with this ongoing debate. What concerns me is the way in which profits are in the driving seat. The voice of those unable to read the e-book screen is scarely being heard but their access is being denied when ebooks could make a huge difference to quality of life. Blind people use computers – get used to it. Digital data has the potential to transform communication and offer access to information for everyone not just those with eyes to see. The BBC have published three short video clips about e-book readers in the past two weeks and not one mentions access issues.

The lack of media interest in this blatant continuation of discrimination is appalling.

I love the idea that Martha Lane Fox is advocating using digital story lines in soap operas to encourage the ‘missing 10 million’ non-engagers to get online.  What a fabulous idea!

At last we can look forward to seeing characters with physical, cognitive and sensory impairment have equal access to the Internet for their shopping and banking and all the other advantages that MLF claims they are missing out on. Soap operas will do what they do best; raise awareness of pertinent, neglected issues and increase pressure on the government to do something about them.

MLF says   It’s often the people facing the toughest times who have the most to gain from what the technology has to offer…and as the internet is rapidly becoming a tool for everyday life we should work together to makes sure everyone can benefit.”I couldn’t agree more. But I fear she is missing the point.

Can I suggest that the more the focus is on providing services online (government, health, education, employment, retail etc) and reinforcing the argument that if you are not part of this digital revolution you are losing out – then the more you are disenfranchising the one group who are already struggling with barriers to participation in most of the aspects of daily life we take for granted.

The Government have even set up a Race Online 2012  website. But lauding the technology as having the potential to help those ‘living in some of the hardest social and economic conditions’  is one thing. Reducing the prohibitive cost of anything other than eyes and mouse mainstream access and legislating effectively to ensure workable accessible digital environments is something else altogether. If the government is serious about getting everyone online for 2012 then they have some radical thinking to do.

Further additions to the naming debate are provided by Etienne Wenger with Nancy White and John D Smith in Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities(2009). Wenger, of Communities of Practice fame, suggests Deep Divers, Attentive Practitioners and Just Do-It-ers.  Reviewer  Stephanie Panks describes these three categories

  • Deep Divers are interested in exploring the connections between technology and community from an interdisciplinary angle. Their focus lies in applying conceptual models and learning theories to the domain of technology adoption by communities of practice.
  • Attentive Practitioners are interested in developing their practice, whether technology plays a major or minor part in it. They seek practical advice as well as theoretical concepts to communicate their role as technology stewards effectively.
  • Just Do-It-ers are action oriented with a strong focus on getting the job done. Their main interest is in practical tips and tricks while the more conceptual aspects are in the background.

Notable by its absence is a category for Laggards, Outsiders, Abstainers, Excluded or any other group who find themselves the wrong side of the digital divide. Instead of categorising those who are engaged, at whatever level, that it could be worth categorising those who aren’t as therein may lie some interesting answers.

The problem with the move from Prensky (digital immigrants/natives) to White (residents/visitors)  is the continuation of the notion of choice; that all users have access and are capable of making choices about how they exercise it. Trinder’s comment on White’s blog suggests ‘avoiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and the concept of outsiders is my starting point. Any debate on technology must begin with acknowledgement of the first criteria; those who can access and those for whom access is denied. Excluded might be a better word than Outsider as Ousider still implies an element of choice. Exclusion is complex; it involves hardware, software, cost, training and each and every one of us who uploads digital data in a format that poses a barrier. WAI’s don’t seem to be the answer, neither do accessibility strategies. So long as access remains a bolt-on reaction rather than a foundational issue we will never realise the democratic potential that virtual environments have to offer.

If you Google ‘disability’ you won’t find the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) returned.   The EHRC was set up two yeards ago to replace the three commissions against discrimination on the grounds of Race, Sex and Disability. Fears were expressed that subsuming independent groups with individual specialists into one overarching commission would not be in the best interests of the people they represented; that their strengths and identities would be diluted.  I would have expected the meta data on the EHRC’s website to match a Google search on the word disability but it doesn’t bring it up.  I would be the first to support a change in language and a move away from the word ‘disability’,  substituting it with ‘difference’ instead.  Looks like the EHRC are far ahead of me here. No, that’s odd. The word ‘difference’ doesn’t return the EHRC either.

one stop digital shop

October 4, 2009 | CERDdigital literacy  |  1 Comment

I haven’t yet worked out how Julian gets his blog entries to appear on Facebook but it works. Several times I’ve picked up on something there that I’d have otherwise missed. The idea that you have a single thread like FriendFeed capturing and sharing all your activity online makes sense. So how long before you have a single place in which to conduct all your online activity? In a digital world, where a multiplicity of separate activities can be bought together under a single URL, then maintaining a multitude of Web 2.0 type applications in the first place is starting to feel a bit old fashioned.

This was going to be a post about the residents (digital natives) and visitors (digital immigrants) debate that I picked up from Julian but as this stands well on its own I’ll blog about that next time.


My last post title is an apt description regarding this blog though most of September – seen but not heard (but has anyone noticed? That remains the pertinent question). The season of mellow mists and Mabon is also time for reflection; I’ve enjoyed the challenge of blogging and the occasions when there have been responses. But overall I doubt its future.

If we blog for a reason other than pure self expression then it’s like any online discussion or new ‘web 2.0’ type tool; only adopted if it is a requirement or can be shown to do something better than it is done now.
I blogged because I could; because I work with a talented colleague who set up the facility and ensured technical support was readily available. I blogged because, as a subscription payer for my own domain name and host, I appreciate the value of free self publishing on the internet. The concept of a digital divide rising out of differing means and ability for virtual communication is a core area of interest as is the construction of online identity. So blogging for me was a gift. An opportunity to find my voice and write succinctly not just on my work, but also those areas on my life where the barriers between work and non-work get blurred, (although non-work life remains mostly invisible on these pages)

Keeping up with other people’s blogs is a separate issue. As if maintaining your own wasn’t time intensive enough then to follow fellow bloggers on a regular basis is well nigh impossible. I collect my rss feeds into Netvibes and set it as my home page but the numbers of unread posts continue to rise inexorably.

Throughout the year the question of why we write blogs has been of regular interest to me. Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Maybe it should be why do we read them? Voyeurism? Curiosity? Self promotion? Ambition? CPD? I haven’t thought about it this way round before. Or maybe we need to look at the reasons people have for not writing them; our office colleagues for example. Think about it laterally. There could be some interesting answers and new light to be shed on the mystique of the blogging phenonema.

In reply to THES Librarians desperate for e-books

Generic comments like “They [e-books] don’t get stolen, they don’t get their pages ripped out and they are always available when people want them.” demonstrate the ME-Model – a computer user with Mouse and Eyes who often fails to think about those with neither.  Availability is not the same as access and even if Digital Britain’s aim for equal broadband access is realised then this access will always be more equal for some than for others.

The technology used to digitise is only half the story. E-books require an appropriate means of reading them. All too often access is obstructed by the very same technologies used in their creation. Chickens and eggs come to mind. We operate in a sighted world where designers assume the user is seeing rather than listening. With effective screen reading software, digital data has the potential to widen participation and crack open some of the barriers to knowledge acquisition. In reality the technology that enables also disables. There can be nothing more frustrating than knowing the text may well be “available anywhere and anytime” but it can only be seen and not heard.

VLE v web 2.0

September 12, 2009 | CERDdigital divideinclusive design  |  1 Comment

The debate over digital learning platforms in HE often focuses on the choice of technology. It misses issues around supporting engagement with digital learning and the production of quality assured, inclusive content. Those involved in the VLE v Web 2.0 discussions should look backwards as well as forwards. A decade ago, in the wake of the Dearing report into the future of higher education, and the government’s Harnessing Technology,  funds were made available to embed VLEs across the sector, but with little attention to the resource implications for staff. Failure to see the resourcing of virtual learning as important as the provision is with us still. In 2009 we are in strikingly similar position to that of ten years ago. The Edgeless University and the government’s Digital Britain report advocate increased reliance on internet based communication and opportunities for virtual higher education experiences. JISC supports a greater use of Web 2.0 type technologies as appropriate tools for meeting the diverse needs of an ever increasing diversity of students. As budgets are cut it’s perhaps inevitable that the question of value for money is raised.

The death of the VLE headline is not new but criticism can be skewed and fail to reflect the wider picture. The source is often from the 3Cs corner; Computer Confident and Competent where a RTFM philosophy (or in these days WTFV) only serves to widen the digital divide. Narrowing the gap between those comfortable with a keyboard and those still at the pen end of the digital continuum should be a priority.

The old fashioned and clunky VLE may be uninspiring to some but for the majority it is a prerequisite to engagement and offers a ‘way in’. Web 2.0 tools require digital literacy and that takes time to learn. We are far from a situation where these skills are universal. Whether a VLE is replaced by PLEs made up of learners own preferences, or an institutionally provided set of customisable tools, there will still be a requirement for an entry level environment that enables rather than disables both staff and students. The support implications, and their cost, of any virtual learning platform should be a key issue. Without this there is little chance of encouraging the levels of digital engagement required for the virtual provision of high quality and inclusive higher education experiences.

The BBC are making a documentary on the way the web is changing the world and inviting the public to contribute ideas. The opportunity to have your say is not obvious from either the BBC Home Page or the BBC Technology Page or BBC or BBC Click; if it wasn’t in my browser history I might have thought I’d imagined it so if you’ve missed this opportunity to join in the debate then the urls are here.  BBC Digital Revolution (working title) Website and
BBC Digital Revolution Blog

Good luck. Let me know how you get on.  I’ve been trying for five days to complete my registration. I want to raise issues of access as there is no mention anywhere of how technology can disable as well as enable; about awareness of barriers to digital data or how those with the most to gain from virtual communication are being excluded; not only by the cost and availability of assistive technology but by the lack of inclusive and accessible design of web content.

Registration on this blog is clearly not an automated process; I’ve clicked the link and sent emails and still am not able to contribute. There are two issues here; firstly this public forum is not that public and secondly it looks as though contributors are being vetted – surely not!   The BBC are asking the public for ideas but don’t seem too interested in making that to happen.

beware of google…

September 4, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

Recently I blogged about how Google had got something right. Now I’m reverting to my original view that Google may be a force to be aware of – be very aware.

While there was a Google hiccup  this week, in google words a ‘miscalculation’ or a ‘big deal’ that resulted in Gmail being down for two hours threatening their dominance over the cloud computing empire, the digital giant is working hard to strike a deal with the US book association for the monopoly on digitisation. Other giants such as Microsoft and Amazon are hastily forming an Open Book Alliance  and with good reason because if Google get their way they will have the sole rights to digitise every book without fear of prosecution for copyright infringement.

Google would then be the owner of all US digital text making a mockery of current copyright legislation which makes unlicensed scanning and reproduction illegal. But looking ahead, should this happen, how long before Google start selling information or more scarily, how long before a corporate western giant gains control of public access to it?

On the digital continuum, this is the extreme opposite end to the open access and open content debate and hopefully may do more to further the cause of open-ness than anything else so far.

Martha Lane Fox is hoping the Olympic Games in 2012 will do for broadband what the queen’s coronation did for television sales in 1953. The new Digital Champion says not having access to internet exaggerates and exacerbates the problems of the most socially and economically disadvantaged people in the UK.  It’s not clear how this success will be measured. The number of new signers-on at a community centre?  Increased applications for broadband?  Are there plans for new computers to include a broadband connection in the way television sets are licensed?  Neither is it clear how competency will be achieved. Training through family and community responsibility is another vague governmental idealism.  “Get kids training grannies, get all of us kind of plugging into our local communities to try and pull the whole country along. If we all took it on ourselves to train 10, 20 people, the job is done,”

Digital Britain is fundamentally flawed. The rhetoric fails to recognise that the technology is only ever the tool.  Acquisition is not the same as use nor does ownership equate with competence. This is utopian thinking; create the desired environment and the population will respond accordingly.  Issues of diversity, literacy, cognitive and physical abilities, are all typically absent. The RNIB suggest that 1 in 12 of those aged 60 have a sight loss, rising to 1 in 6 by the age of 70; everyday 100 people in the UK begin to lose their sight. The number of people with a degree of visual impairment is expected to more than double in the next 25 years, an increase linked to an ageing population and poor health.  Dyslexia Action suggests 10% of the population have difficulty with reading and writing. Low levels of literacy and numeracy are linked to truancy, disengagement with education is linked to a cycle of unemployment, low income and poor housing – all factors contributing towards the social and economic disadvantage identified by Martha Lane Fox.

But – rather being negative – it could be that the government is finally serious about targeting those for whom digital data poses the greatest barriers? That Digital Britain is the long awaited acknowledgement of the need for affordable assistive technology, recognition that ALL Internet content should be available in multiple, alternative formats and that ALL computers should have decent magnification and screen reading software installed as standard. If Britain is to become digital then priority has to be given to diversity on a national scale. You can bring the technology to the people but you can’t make them engage. Not without addressing the very same factors that have created the target audience of the report in the first place.

vote for the VLE

August 27, 2009 | CERD  |  1 Comment

Last weeks THES ran an article on the demise of virtual worlds in HE. I have mixed feelings about this. Earlier in the year I attended a conference in Second Life ( and concluded it had the potential to provide a powerful learning experience but this had to be offset by problems with access. While many UK universities have an SL campus it was rare to visit and meet anyone. Similarly with recreations of cities or simulations designed to raise awareness of issues such as schizophrenia; dressing up in a toga in ancient Rome may be great fun initially but the experience is fundamentally unsustainable. I don’t know what the current usage is but in a similar BBC article a few weeks earlier, Technology, Twitter and the downturn, says SL traffic has declined by 67%.

The THES article quotes Dr Lowendahl as saying lecture capture and retrieval is taking over from podcasting and elearning repositories. Podcasting always was problematic in terms of access as transcripts were rarely made available, as were elearning repositories with no quality assurance and/or attention to inclusive practice. While the traditional lecture transitions poorly to an online environment the idea of capturing and indexing may be a step forward but I wonder who will take on those roles not to mention quality assure and make accessible 50 minutes of videowith associated captions/subtitles/textual alternatives?  Moving on, Dr Lowendahl also says that e-books are currently top ‘of the peak of inflated expectations’ in 2009. Concerns about ebooks and readers are well documented here on this blog.

So I wonder what predictions can be made for technology enhanced learning in 2010? Well, here’s one.  How about using more effectively the tools we already have? The good old VLE, now embedded within systems and support, provides a virtual platform for the delivery of a range of innovative digital content for teaching and learning. It may be solid and a little clunky. It may not be very exciting to play with. But it’s reliable and it does what it says on the tin. What more is needed?

When it comes to preventing barriers to access then Google is not a winner; for example Chrome has been around for some time and its use is still problematic for a non-mouse user. But for once I can sing Google’s praises regarding one access issue. The Google toolbar is exactly what’s needed with the limited space you get when using screen magnification software to access the Internet. The customisation features enable all frequently used tools to be positioned in one area – that’s just what’s required and I’m now recommending its use in instances such as these.

This conversion process is an interesting one. Again it shows how we don’t engage with the technology unless there is a need; it isn’t enough to have all the tools at our disposal – they have to make a difference to something we are already doing – and be an improvement to it. As elearning champions that’s a challenge well worth bearing in mind.

The Caster Semenya female/male debate is currently raising awareness of sex but so far it seems the media have yet to address gender. A decade ago I challenged the accepted belief of  a genetic sex and a social gender. Informed by the literature of the time (Butler, Fausto-Sterling, Hausman etc) and supported by Press for Change the leading political group led by campaigners such as Dr Stephen Whittle, I collected first hand narratives from individuals with transgendered lives who described growing childhood realisations of their internal sense of gender conflicting with the sexual identity bestowed on them at birth.  I was privileged with insight into the cruelty of ‘normalisation’ practices as individuality was medically categorised into one of two available ‘sexes’. I saw at first hand how limited conceptions of a sexual binary were inadequate to reflect the true variety of human existence. Rethinking Sex and Gender highlighted the need for more flexible attitudes and understanding, called for wider recognition of AIS, Intersex and transgender identity and suggested the mismatch between externally identified sex and internal experienced gender should be further investigated.  All discrimination is based on divergence and a fear of difference. Legislation recognises human rights but does nothing to contest human prejudice. Transgendered and Intersex identities continue to challenge one of the most fundamental tenets of society; a fixed sex gender duality supporting the power structures of dominant ideology.

I accept that higher education is on the cusp of change; and that there are multiple drivers. I have no argument with the role of education technology in the future of higher education, or with the potential of the Internet to widen participation, and I fully support encouraging students in becoming self motivated, self directed learners.

I would argue with the use of the word ubiquitous with regard to Internet connection and have several blog posts that do so. / / / Any further trawling through the current documentation on digital learning may not be the best way to respond to the issues raised. Instead, I would suggest looking backwards as well as forwards.

Titles such as the Future of HE, Harnessing the Technology and Widening Participation in HE have been around for some time. The targets of the past are also similar to those of the present; transforming teaching and learning, engaging hard-to-reach groups; building open accessible systems, offering flexible ways to study, sharing material within and between institutions, encouraging HEIs to work together, make the development of e-learning more affordable etc etc. We have been here before.

The push for embedding VLEs into HE in the 1990s came on the back of promises of improved staff and student experiences but failed to adequately manage the transition process. The sector now hosts a digital divide between staff who demonstrate confidence and competence with the technology and those who have yet to engage. If we take anything forward from this current drive for extending the boundaries of educational technology, and burdening it with ever more ambitious expectations, then it must be attention to the needs of those still at the analogue end of the digital continuum.

Even the nature of this digital debate is divisive as those with the most to offer in terms of understanding the nature of their resistance will not be here. I fully support the setting up of an Open Learning Innovation Fund but suspect it will attract the converted who are all too often unaware of the development needs of those yet to engage. Unless there is focus on the building of bridges, rather than yet more innovation, then the existing digital divide will continue to widen.

The value of blogging is in brevity but at the risk of extending this post into an unrealistic length and testing staying power, I want to show how Rogers  identifies 5 requirements for successful adoption of innovation which can be usefully applied here.

1. Offers a substantial improvement on the existing situation. For many people online delivery offers very little improvement on f2f delivery. The majority of staff and students like and prefer f2f contact.
2. Compatibility with existing life. There are multiple reasons for resisting the pressure to engage in virtual learning or adding an online dimension to a life; we should be investigating these to better understand barriers to engagement.
3. Ease of adapting. Technology can be complex and if it can go wrong it will; a single failure which experienced users may laugh off can be terminal to tentative steps at engagement.
4. Trialiability. Practice requires access to reliable hardware, appropriate software and effective internet access; not everyone has these – again for multiple reasons. There also needs to be time in which to experiment. With ever increasing workloads, and lifestyle pressures, the opportunity to have supported learning experiences may not be possible.
5. Visibility. Again, if the technology can fail it will and, with new users in particular, it often does. When this failure is visible to other people it can be the greatest deterrent of all. The move from VLEs to blogs, wikis and podcasts is indicative of the increasing complexity of the technology. The more visible that development is then the more the process of engagement is seen as an increasing challenge.

Rogers also identifies five categories of adopters which can be applied.

1. Innovator. Young risk-taker, specialist in the area and in association with other innovators creating a clique of shared practice and ideas. Vocal promoters often have little understanding of the fears and concerns of others who have yet to engage.
2. Early Adopter. Also young risk-taker with specialist knowledge, resilient, copes with failures. May have more insight into the needs of others but it’s well recognized that these leaders work in a vacuum and when they move on their work comes to a standstill and rarely survives.
3. Early Majority. Easily put off, may be reluctant users, but are gradually increasing their engagement at a low level. Success will lead to greater confidence and in time they may become champions in their own departments.
4. Late Majority. Need to see it working first, remain sceptical and take a great deal of convincing. Those who have tried and failed may gradually come to agree in principle to the benefits of online content as a supplement to f2f but will upload material retaining existing formatting. Appropriate interactive, inclusive resources designed to stimulate interest, motivate and engage only happens in small pockets of good practice
5. Laggards. The digital immigrants who find themselves in an alien land of blogs and wikis have multiple reasons for not engaging, all of them valid. Identifying and addressing these will provide valuable information and is a necessary step if the sector is serious about creating digital literacies and moving towards online HE ‘for millions’.


August 7, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

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Sarah’s Story is a 90 second video designed for television and banned by Clearcast, the television watchdog, as containing images that were ‘too distressing’. The aim of the advert was to raise awareness of Motor Neuron Disease. Thankfully, by banning it, Clearcast have increased publicity of both MND and the MND Association. Its wrong when the reality of disease, deformity and disablement is considered ‘too distressing’ and something we should be protected from. It should be the other way around. Every application of the label disability involves a person and these attitudes both devalue and diminish status. For more information about the ban see the Telegraph 25/07/09  and the Transcript from You and Yours, Radio 4 30/07/09 

I take the point raised in a comment on a previous post  about digitisation and have been wondering if there’s a chicken and egg situation here. Which came first? The digital data or the means to distribute it? Let me give an example of where I’m coming from when I say digital data is increasing the digital divide.

A Yahoo user group has uploaded a pdf file (single format, no Adobe Reader, another issue) and sent out a group email with a link to the document. To access it the blind user has to go through a process of identifying the link, saving the link, then opening the link, which only then takes them to the login page for the group but that involves logging into Yahoo. A blind person has problems joining a Yahoo group in the first place because that involves a captcha and they can’t see it – or hear it – so someone else has to set it up for them – but when they’re on their own they don’t know their login details – as sighted people we can’t always remember our login details – and they can’t read them – and you can’t multi task with this screen reader so even if you had them stored on an email then to get back to that, then back to the Yahoo login page, would be a lengthy process (and in our fast mouse-click world an incredibly tortuous one). They want to read this file; the email has made it sound interesting and relevant and the whole nature of the group is about self help and empowerment but they can’t access it. The result is ever increasing levels of frustration at being excluded and being dependent on others. I agree that digitisation should be increasing access to the written word, like the printing press revolutionised access to text; but on an individual level that was only so long as you could read the appropriate language. We operate independently in a sighted world but visual impairment (VI) takes away that independence and while digitisation should be widening participation, the reality for VI is that access is hidden behind multiple layers of technology and you can’t separate the two. Chicken or Egg?  Which was my point in saying “increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation”.

e-book readers

July 30, 2009 | digital divide  |  4 Comments

In June I blogged about the barriers ebooks present for visually impaired users. This post focuses on e-book readers. The synergy should be obvious. Download an e-book onto an e-book reader and listen. But no, no, no… it simply doesn’t work like that.

Amazon have a vested interest in cornering the digital text market; their first e-book reader, Kindle, came out in 2008. There was no text-to-speech facility  but Kindle2, launched in February 2009, put this right. So far, so good.

Then, in an astonishing act of discrimination, the Author’s Guild declared this was infringment of copyright unless the copyright holder had specifically granted permission. Amazon’s response was a modification allowing  authors and the six publishers supplying books to Kindle to have the text-to-speech turned off.  The Reading Rights Coalition (RRC), the National Federation of the Blind, the Author’s Guild and Amazon became locked in battle over an issue that should never have arisen in the first place.  Plus not only was there the issue over copyright, ut problems for blind people with using the e-reader independently suggested Amazon failed to test their product with equality and diversity in mind.

The Amazon US Kindle site currently says: “Read-to-Me: With the new text-to-speech feature, Kindle can read every newspaper, magazine, blog, and book out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable.”

In the UK there are a number of e-book readers currently on the market, but none that seem to address this issue. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I looked on Sony’s e-book site and could find no mention of listening to text should you be unable to see it.  The digital divide seems to be going in totally the wrong direction;  further away than ever from ensuring the rights of the visually impaired to have equal access to digital data.

social homes

July 23, 2009 | CERDdigital divide  |  Leave a Comment

Reflecting on the blog below I feel a mixture of professional and social online identities is the ideal. This can offer a prospective employer a holistic view of you as a person. I’ve been engaged in a quest for the holy grail of online identities with which to do this;  one that incorporates everything into a single place. The closest I’ve come is over on the top right of this screen; the Social Homes plugin.  It’s a shame that all the icons are not working but this is close to the one-stop-shop I’ve been searching for.

As well as saying something about us, this variety of tools demonstrates competence with Web 2.0 type software. It also shows we’re in control of what we chose to put online.  That’s not a bad thing. Even if we struggle with Facebook or Twitter we still need to engage if only for the benefits of networking and increasing our virtual profile.  This is one side of the digital divide where we clearly need to position ourselves. Apart from demonstrating that this is our forte, there’s also the separate issue that if we don’t take control of our online identity someone else may take it over instead.


July 23, 2009 | CERD  |  Leave a Comment

my mahara profile   a time-consuming occupation but I can see the benefits plus it demonstrates competence with the technology that is our toolbox; we need to engage in creating online identities that support our work even if we have less interest in using them for non-work purposes.

At the moment it’s difficult to think about anything other than being in a consultation period for redundancy. This is underpinned by knowing that across the sector Teaching and Learning Development Units/Offices are being devolved into faculties and libraries or dissolved as the reality of the end of the TQEF means there is no longer a ring fenced budget to support the enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Does teaching and learning suddenly not matter anymore?  Why isn’t the Teaching Enhancement and Student Success (TESS) fund not ring fenced in a similar way? Teaching and learning is integral to the future of higher education, to student success, to widening participation and to retention.

At a time where there is recognition across the sector of the changing nature of higher education and student demographics, the need to ensure that virtual learning is not seen as a quick fix, cheap solution has never been more crucial. In my department we support the use of educational technology to enable and enhance the delivery of high quality, interactive online content and have extensive experience of supporting successful distance learning provision. There are substantial costs involved with the development of effective virtual learning and we believe we are well placed to offer appropriate and meaningful advice.  Redundancy may represent a threat to the teaching and learning development work we carry out across the university and in particular the pedagogical support of Blackboard, our virtual learning environment.  Feeling at risk is a scary and lonely place to be.


July 19, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

I’m intrigued by LibraryThing – are there also facilities for virtual collections of cds and dvds or even vinyls?  I use Delicious  for creating lists of websites I want to go back to – but spending time creating digital collections of my non-digital life – should I be excited or just plain scared? Or is it just an extension of putting my photographs online – which I already do.

The site promotes the idea of community –  for example

LibraryThing connects you to people who read what you do
Find people with eerily similar tastes.
Many social connections thrive at the site

How much does this emphasis on finding other people who share your interests tap into real-world isolation and loneliness? Participation in the construction of online identity does involve a fairly intensive relationship between you and your laptop. This I know – the laptop bit not the loneliness I hasten to add. This made me think of Second Life. I can’t remember when I last logged on and both the media and the education sector seem to have gone quiet on the subject and I wonder if Internet addicts are migrating back to the construction of text and image based avatars rather than 3D virtual worlds?

Back to LibraryThing and with my gender head on I note that of the 22 profile images on offer only six are female. Ignoring the obvious US–centricism, I found the preference for Jane Austen over the Brontes, George Eliot or Virginia Woolfe says much about the representation of women writers in the western world.  Instead there is Emily Dickinson (clever with words but not a poet) and Helena Blavatsky (wasn’t all her text channelled anyway?) Soujourner Truth (activist rather than writer) and Sappho (most of whose poetry is lost). I’m guessing you need to be dead to be on this list which may excuse the omission of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, and not by your own hand, which leaves out Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. We are left with Edith Wharton – no lack of respect intended but and how many of her books are you familiar with?

blogging has rules

July 16, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

Last night I posted a blog in which I reflected on my shock at how in less than 24 hours words like voluntary and compulsory redundancy, consultation procedures and union representation had become part of my working vocabulary. I felt that blogging might help make some sense of the craziness of a situation where colleagues are facing the potential prospect of competing with each other – regardless of contractual status (fixed or permanent) or source of funding (core or external) for a lesser number of posts. I asked questions about how the end of the TQEF and the lack of ring fencing of the TESS might impact on the provision of teaching and learning development and I reflected on the reality of a finance driven strategy.

Today I was advised by a colleague that being critical of the university’s senior management in a public forum and using a system supported by the university within the domain could easily be interpreted as a disciplinary offence. Not wanting to make my current situation any worse, and not having any real intention other than trying to make sense of it all, I took down the blog.

Since then I’ve tried to rewrite it but the moment has passed. It stood as it was or not at all. However, it has taken me back to the recurring theme in these posts – what is blogging all about? What do we risk by posting part of ourselves online? I was using this forum to work through my own thoughts and reactions. Clearly blogging needs to be more measured than this. I was using a ‘work’ area for ‘work’ reflections but obviously stepped beyond the boundaries of what is considered to be appropriate content. Like anything else, blogging clearly has rules and risks of its own and we all need to be aware of them.

Personally I’m reaching the point where I think one may be enough. In the same way that I use Netvibes to pull together all my rss feeds into one place, I’m starting to want a single point of reference for my digital self. It’s difficult to find the time to keep up with my Netvibes and even harder to maintain multiple instances of myself online.

The Internet is like a black hole; it sucks you in. Before you know it an hour has passed, then two or three and the day is gone. I think I want more of a non-digital life. I can’t break completely free because my work revolves around virtual learning and assistive technology and don’t get me wrong – I believe internet literacy is important; it shows you have competence with ICT and that is very much a feature of 21st century life. In terms of employability and communication it’s essential criteria. But there are other things I would rather be doing instead of  being hooked up to my laptop.

The impetus for this is revisiting the idea of e-portfolios as electronic CVs and liking the thought of having just one digital area to maintain.  Although if I’m going to look for the most appropriate software with which to create my single online identity then I’ll have to stay hooked up for just a little bit longer…


July 13, 2009 | conference  |  Leave a Comment

The International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education (ICICTE) was held in Corfu 9-11 July and focused on the changing nature of higher education and the implications of this for students and staff. I was half expecting a ‘techie’ based conference but found presentations and workshops embedded in pedagogical frameworks and my paper on the design of learning for distance delivery was well aligned with the conference keynote and themes. The challenge of blogging a conference is to be succinct so here is my blog summary.


  • the changing nature of the student – student as ‘consumer’ with increasing numbers entering H.E. students are the new drivers for change
  • the changing role of staff from deliverers of ‘knowledge’ to guides for internet browsing and inquiry based learning
  • the changing nature of the H.E. institution as validator and mediator of knowledge rather than the gate-keeper
  • the ‘commodification’ of H.E. as academic capital; ivory towers changing into golden arches as university’s become service industries/providers
  • international vision of senior management that ICT is a cost effective solution for delivering H.E. to a widening participation audience
  • increased demand for H.E. is happening alongside mass reduction in funding


  • costs associated with ICT are higher in terms of finance and resources than traditional face to face delivery but senior management still see ICT as quick fix solution.
  • increased use of ICT raises digital literacy and digital competency issues for both students and staff
  • changing location of knowledge – no longer esoteric and behind campus doors but increasingly freely available – raises issues of management of mass electronic library resources and critical digital literacy abilities


  • Shift happens – higher education is changing and its future is online – the tide of education technology is unstoppable.
  • Bridges must be built between the technology and pedagogy if traditional H.E. qualities of critical thinking by independent self-aware individuals is not to be lost
  • The role of students in providing support digital confidence and competence should not be underestimated
  • Staff have to engage with virtual learning – CPD through PDP could provide initial steps if senior management recognise the need for strategic direction
  • Higher Education will continue to be an exciting, rewarding environment in which to work

I’ve come away with my head spinning as usual with the wider international picture; networking with educators from different countries reinforces how the UK is seen as exemplifying all that is relevant and important about higher education.

I’ve gained increased awareness of the potential role of eportfolios and the importance of digital identity for everyone and personally I like the idea of a virtual one-stop-shop, that can say more about you than a CV ever can. The question is one of choice – WordPress, FaceBook, Mahara – realistically one area is enough to maintain –which one you choose is becoming the question – not whether or not you do it in the first place. Like it or not, online identity is fast becoming non-negotiable.

The conference website is here and the organisers have a produced a CD-ROM containing all the peer reviewed presentation papers; light, portable, saves trees and is transferable from one environment to another – the future is indeed online!


Slave to Outlook

July 13, 2009 | conference  |  1 Comment

I hope I never get blasé about presenting papers; the opportunity for an international perspective on education is a fantastic privilege especially if it involves a country I haven’t travelled to before. But however well prepared to try to be, returning home is fraught. Tired, disorientated, laden with practicalities like fridge filling, post opening, clothes washing and generally catching up and then – of course – the email. I have an Xda (which doubles up as my own personal technological challenge but that’s a different story). It enables me to keep in touch but its capacity for reading and replying to lengthy emails is limited; all those emails dashed off a quick ‘thanks and I’ll get back to you next week’ – not to mention those not replied to then but need an answer now – are all roosting in the inbox, waiting for action.

Do we make ourselves slaves to Outlook? It can certainly be quicker, easier and sometimes more effective than other forms of communication; it gives you an audit trail, you can sort it and filter it and linked to your calendar it’s an excellent organising tool. But no matter how hard you try to stay organised while you’re away, any first day back after an absence has to include it and that’s where the ‘fraught-ness’ comes in. I’m wondering if it’s just me, or if others have noticed it too, that there seems to be more now than when I started. Is it possible that the more you do then the more you create? That this breaks all the rules which say tackling a problem diminishes it when as far as your email is concerned you would actually be better leaving it alone!



on the other hand….

July 7, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

I wonder how I would feel if….
I was chugging along nicely in my own little world, having raised a family who were doing all right, paid my bills on time and stayed the right side of the law – maybe I’ve got a garden or an allotment – a social circle of like minded friends and am enjoying a slower pace of life – then along comes yet another government initiative telling me I have to get online. What if I’ve visited one of those online centres and tried a computer but didn’t like it – what if I don’t have relatives abroad so don’t need emails and webcams – what if I avoid supermarkets anyway – and prefer to shop on my high street where I can get everything I need – what if my budget won’t stretch to a monthly increase for internet access never mind the setup costs of the hardware and then the maintenance and upgrades and virus software etc – what if I don’t want my life digitally transforming – what if I like being the ‘wrong side of the digital divide’ – what if I just don’t want to be online….



implications of ‘not’ having online presence

July 5, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

My interest in online identity began in relation to gender and the ability to portray yourself textually as male or female. Second Life took this one step further with choices over visual appearance. For me, early assumptions were that online identity was something you played with; an opportunity for deliberate experimentation. Authenticity was rare.  Contrast this with the situation today where across the sector those working in higher education use their online identity to network, share ideas and generally extend the working day. The assumption is now that this constitutes a reasonably accurate reflection of your working persona.

This is not without implications for the digital divide; the one that is less about technology and more about the ways in which it is used. If you maintain a digital absence between Friday 4.30pm and Monday 8.30am and (for whatever reason) don’t tweet, blog or have Facebook ‘friends’, then the chances are you will not have an interest in the construction and maintenance of an online identity, never mind any debate over the discursive nature of this identity.

The question here is at which point does the choice not to participate in a virtual extension of yourself begin to impact on your ‘real’ working world. Are we reaching a point where having an online presence is becoming seriously more advantageous than not – where online networking has greater benefits in terms of not just wider debate but off-line issues such as career progression? What does it say about us if we Google ourselves and find there’s nothing there? How do we feel when we work with colleagues who don’t ‘do all this online stuff’ – are we tolerant of their choice or increasingly frustrated?

I’ve visited this before and no doubt will do again. Earlier this year HEFCE released its revised elearning strategy; this clearly shows how education technology is becoming integral to the higher education experience not just for students but for those working across the sector. Yet levels of engagement remain diverse. I wonder if we are creating a new digital taxonomy and if so what would it look like? A topic for my next blog I think….




online academic identity

June 30, 2009 | digital divide  |  3 Comments

Blogs are fast moving and transient worlds. I didn’t agree with Martin Weller’s  post about online academic identity – but by the time I’d reflected on a response he had also agreed it was too simplistic a definition – although for different reasons to mine. “Rather than suggesting your online and academic identities were one and the same” Martin writes, (here) “Your online academic identity will be a subset of your online identities.” Now the ways in which virtual environments allow us to play with and explore alternative identities have fascinated me since the days of MUDS and MOOS. If I were on Mastermind my specialist subject would be gender – a fundamental identity characteristic yet possibly the one we think about the least. So multiple online identities – along with awareness of danger and good management of risk – is where I’m at and I wondered if the risk of linking academic and online identity is that it both privileges and marginalises. Also when related to education it comes close to Fischer’s suggestion  that the technologically illiterate teacher should be equated with a failure to read and write.  Technology is only that simple to the technologists themselves.

The danger with conflating academic and digital identities is the assumption that one size fits all. We are currently awash with reports that promote digital environments; Digital Britain , the Edgeless UniversityThe Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age and assumptions that connection is the way forward. None acknowledge the difficulties of digital universalism. Sometimes I feel that in 10 years time I will still be saying ‘don’t forget diversity!’ I support virtual environments for the opportunities to widen participation across all aspects of life but many people need additional time, inclination, resources and assistance in access. In conclusion:

* I’m less concerned about the kudos attached to having an online presence.
* I’m slightly more concerned about negativity being attached to those who chose not to have one.
* I’m concerned most of all about those who are unable to participate in the first place.



Digitising Siegfried Sassoon?

June 28, 2009 | digital divide  |  3 Comments

The collected letters, notebooks etc of Siegfried Sassoon are for sale –

I don’t know how monetary value (£1.25 million) is established but I do wonder how much technology is destroying work for future archivists.  Recently in the British Library for the Henry VIII Man and Monarchy exhibition I looked at the floor to ceiling bookcases housing the Kings Library and wondered what we are sacrificing to have the speed and ease of electronic communication – if anything at all. Should we celebrate or challenge the digitisation of the book?  Is the demise of the craft of book binding on a par with baking daily bread on hot stones; is achieving an outcome faster always an improvement to be applauded? Political response to the Luddites was the Frame Breaking Act whereby those guilty of challenging progress could be sentenced to death. What is the Internet equivalent in terms of resistance and sanctions? Occasionally the work network is down; a useful reminder of the extent to which our lives are online – as we tidy our desks and make coffee and feel redundant without our digital connections.

Technology may mean less to preserve in the future. Turning the Pages uses technology to preserve the work of the past and makes it more widely available by digitising some of the rarest books in the world.  The digitisation of the works of Siegfried Sassoon would make them accessible to a wider audience. Art needs to be visible. Sassoon’s notebooks from WW1 have additional value for their first hand experience of the madness of war and the later problems of psychological damage and rehabilitation. For this alone they should be preserved and made available. We can all learn from the creative work of others.

But does instant Internet access to the product of human labour devalue it?  Are we losing sight of the difference between the real and the replication? Seeing a digital image of a page from the Book of Kells is not enough; we need to know about the hours spent crafting a single letter, the conditions under which it was produced; the cold stone floors, the poor light, the preciousness of the gold and coloured pigments. Poetry is a product of the environment; Sasssoon was a man of his times. The digital page is only ever a part of the story and a danger of digitisation is the increasing separation from the human element – as well as the lack of  letters and notebooks and other documents that still retain the human dimension and touch for future generations to reflect on.



making SENSE…

June 25, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

Sense is the leading national charity that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are deafblind. This week is Deafblind Awareness week.

Were you aware of that?

sense logo



The internet is as vital as water and gas…

June 21, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

The PM in his ”The Internet is as vital as water and gas..” article in the Times  says in his final paragraph that ‘Digital Britain cannot be a two-tier Britain – with those who can take full advantage of being online and those who can’t.’

Considering this is where we are now, I watch the for the government’s next move towards digitising Britain with interest.




June 21, 2009 | digital divide  |  7 Comments

If you’ve ever tried to use an e-book you’ll know there are serious limitations; you need a reader, preferably portable; you can’t easily flick through the pages to go back to a specific sentence or idea, you can’t annotate the pages. E-books are increasingly being adopted across the sector and hyped as a cost effective solution to issues of space and availability. But let’s not forget that e-books are a visual medium and increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation.

Under the DDA  public bodies are meant to enusre reasonable adjustments (so those with disabilities are not discriminated against compared to those without the same disability) in terms of access to services including libraries and information resources. But academic e-book publishers have no such requirements. As libraries increase their subscriptions to electronic resources so they are moving away from their duty to ensure equality. This issue was raised in a recent post on the JISC Mail Disabilities and Technology forum for Tech-Dis  [TECH-DIS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] where Simon Ball, Senior TechDis Advisor, describes improving the accessibility of ‘e-book and e-journal delivery software’ as a ‘priority area’.  With no disrespect to TechDis, the words ‘horse’, ‘ stable’ and ‘door’ inevitably  come to mind. It’s good to see that they are working directly with the RNIB on this. Rapid adoption of e-books across the sector reinforces the invisibility of accessibility legislation and how addressing the issues continues to be a ‘bolt-on’ exercise rather than integral to new developments.

As a society we seem to be increasingly failing our more vulnerable members. The recent statement by the PM (following the  publication of  the Digital Britain report), that that a fast internet connection is now seen by most of the public as “an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water”  and the proposal to tax telephone lines to provide it, is a classic example of running before walking. Weakness in provision of the fundamentals is then compounded by public institutions such as the British Library whose digitisation of newspapers project has resulted in commercial ‘pay-as-you-go’ access to the nations history. Instead of climbing up towards greater integration and awareness of the need to cater for diversity, the needs of the socially vulnerable seem to be sliding back down into invisibility.



Digital Britain – failure

June 18, 2009 | digital divideinclusive design  |  Leave a Comment

The Digital Britain Report was published on 16 June; the 245 pages necessitating some form of summary version.   The BBC ran an At a Glance page and Comments from Experts, none of which addressed this missed opportunity to ensure those to whom affordable, efficient Broadband connection could have the greatest impact in terms of quality of life were given priority.

The RNIB response was a lone, but essential, voice.

“We are concerned however that neither people with sight problems nor disabled people in general are specifically mentioned at any point in the interim “Delivering Digital Britain” report.”

I’ve extracted some quotes that have particular resonance for the work I do supporting people with visual impairment to use computers and access the Internet.

In response to Action 17: Unless a service is affordable, it cannot be deemed accessible. Affordability is a particular concern for  blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are among the poorest of the UK’s citizens.

In response to Action 19: This means that the issue of equipment accessibility has to be tackled. Too often inaccessible equipment, that assumes that the user can read on-screen information without providing a voiced alternative is the main barrier to uptake of services by blind and partially sighted people.

In response to Action 21: Many disabled people rely even more on public services than their non-disabled peers, for a variety of reasons. A blind person might well have greater difficulty in visiting their council, for instance, and would therefore benefit greatly from being able to access the council’s website. However, a recent EU wide survey found that only some 5% of public websites are accessible. RNIB therefore urges the government to take urgent action to improve the accessibility of public websites.

The need to address the accessibility of cost, equipment and content is a triple whammy that yet again fails to support the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of society. I struggle to understand how those with sight can so totally ignore the reality of those without this most fundamental of human rights.



Cats and dogs and pheromones: researching the student experience

June 2, 2009 | conference  |  2 Comments

The paper I presented at ATINER 2009 was about a short level 3 online course I was given the opportunity to develop and support. The title comes from the use of pheromone therapy (natural chemicals) in the management of problem and stress behaviours in small and companion animals (cats and dogs). The use of pheromones has increased in veterinary practice in recent years but there was no supporting course or qualification. It was an opportunity to identify some of the challenges of distance delivery (retention, resources and socialisation) and look at possible solutions.

  •  Retention: build in time for induction with activities designed to ensure students have the prerequisite skills to be effective online learners.
  • Resources: these need to work twice as hard if they are to stimulate, motivate and inspire enthusiasm. Formative assessment opportunities enable self assessment of new knowledge and application to practice.
  • Socialisation: difficult when students are learning at a distance in isolation but essential for support and encouragement.

 The opportunity to ask the first cohort of students about their experience of learning online seemed too good to miss. An initial evaluation was carried out by online survey and a second phase conducted via telephone or email interview. While students appreciated the induction and interaction with resources, they were less enthusiastic about opportunities for online socialisation preferring instead to focus on practice based communication. This may have been unique to this cohort, or common to all practice based short courses, and will be investigated again in the future.


May 31, 2009 | conference  |  Leave a Comment

The Athens Institute for Education and Research have held their 11th anual education conference in Athens. My paper Cats, Dogs and Pheromones: researching the student experience was accepted and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and present.

This was my first International Conference with multiple insights into lifestyles and education systems different to my own. There were over 170 presentations from the UK and the US, from Europe, the Middle East and Far East; too many to list individually but details are available from the conference website.

In true blog style I’ve reflected and extracted those strands which have made the greatest impression. An international conference exposes you to difference on so many levels; language, culture, customs, the difference in attitudes towards education, the state versus private systems, class, politics, race, gender and religion – it’s all there in a challenging mix that encourages you to see yourself and what you do not only though a different lens but from the privileged vantage point of a much wider picture.  I’ve come away having revisited my work, institution, country and self with fresh eyes and attitude.

Many presentations focused on the poor status of teaching and the work being done to attract and keep motivated, enthusiastic individuals into the education sector.  Low esteem, and lack of support for innovative practice, was prevalent in ex-Soviet bloc countries such as Slovakia and Latvia. The quality of teaching was also an issue in several presentations from Turkey. In contrast, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia appeared to support educationalists and presentations from these countries focused more on developing student learning than staff CPD.

Social and cultural divides were exacerbated by political and economic difference in countries such as the US and South Africa. My own awareness of the high levels of negative attitudes towards black people in the US was raised and I would now recommend reading White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.

The reality of education in rural South Africa challenged the image of a successful one laptop per child project that I saw presented at the ALT 2008 conference. There we were shown pictures of happy smiling children in school uniforms holding their cream and green plastic laptops. At ATINER 2009 we heard about the difficulties of engaging with young children who were orphaned through HIV or AIDS, where the eldest child, often barely in their teens, takes on the role of parent and looks after siblings who are hungry, and only have their own rural language to communicate in. Criticism of projects like OLPC does seem justified. As much as I support educational opportunities as having potentially life changing powers, a basic hierarchy of needs, which we take far too much for granted, is being woefully ignored; food, water and shelter would seem more of a humanitarian investment than promoting educational technology that continues to create Western wealth and status.

It was reassuring to see a number of presentations under the theme Special Needs Education; referred variously to as ‘profound and complex learning difficulties’ and ‘Intellectual’ or ‘Developmental’ disability; a comment was made that Autism and Dyslexia are fashionable making it more likely that funding will be available and this seemed to be supported by the number and nature of the presentations in this area. It was disappointing to see that ‘special needs’ was the last conference slot; someone has to be at the end but I felt that this decision reinforced a sad lack of status.

Regarding my own areas of interest , there was little about preparation for education; the main focus in the majority of cases was on improving the quality of teaching rather than the quality of the student experience. Regarding the student, there were common themes from both east and west of learning styles, multiple (and emotional) intelligences and independent learning but the concepts of preparation and/or retention were largely absent. The exception was a presentation from the UK that looked at the difficulties encountered by students transitioning from Foundation degree in FE College to final year on campus and it seemed there was a lot of cross over with my Getting Started project aimed at new potential students.

Another area of interest is online learning and I looked for relevant presentations but mine seemed to be on of the few focusing on construction of virtual learning. The few others I found were about the staff or the student rather than the content. I may have missed some. I realise now how important it is to ensure the title reflects the content. When it is the only information available (no abstract or even a strapline) it’s open to misinterpretation.

In countries with greater state controls than the UK, it must take a brave person to stand up and suggest change especially where this could be interpreted as criticism of existing systems. For example, to gain employment in Turkey your educational qualification is less important than your ideas, family, ethnicity and religion; it’s illegal the presenter told us but it’s ‘how things are done’. Also, the event emphasises the privileged position of the English language. On several occasions I heard presenters apologising for their English, explaining that they had 2, 3, or 4 other languages, then going on the present and take questions with a fluency I couldn’t muster in any language. Travel and exposure to other ways of life can be a powerful educational experience; it was apparent from many presentations, in particular those from the far east, that the UK education system is valued and yet one of its weaknesses is the lack of support for the development of a multi lingual curriculum.

On a generic level, it was a friendly conference with typical ‘laid back’ Greek organisation. The location in a ‘luxury’ hotel made it feel privileged (similar to the state/private education dichotomy referred to in many presentations). Personally I would have preferred to be on a university campus; this was alluded to in the opening speech but no reason given other than the Director was ‘persuaded’ to use the hotel. It felt a bit like being in Russia in the 1970’s when tourists were exposed to a carefully guided and controlled vision of the major cities with a deliberate barrier around the realities of day to day life.

The challenge of any conference is the writing up after the event. A realistic summary would run into thousands of words; reflecting and extracting common themes takes time and blogs are not ideal mediums for conference reports; this is far too long and breaks all my own blogging rules on brevity.  However, the value is in the production and even if this is for my eyes only; as 99% of blogs are, the discipline of revisiting notes and papers and attempting to identify the strands, is an important one.

My final comments are that conferences are expensive to attend, challenging to participate in and require high levels of hyperactivity to negotiate your way around differences in country, language, time, money, habit, culture and custom. They are also fabulous experiences; wonderful opportunities for networking and a real way of underpinning your work with research and publication. They also inevitably make you feel proud to be involved in the /UK education system which for all its faults is still held up as an exemplar to many other countries around the world.



digital overload

May 20, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

I’m a minimalist type of person. I don’t like clutter and I like my online life to be similarly organised. Multiple login details are frustrating especially when they don’t work. For example when trying to access a hotmail account (to find login details which I’ve forgotten) I get the following message: ‘The e-mail address or password is incorrect. Need help? ‘I do so I click and am asked for my email address; it’s the password I’ve forgotten  so I key in the address, I decipher the Captcha and I get the following two options: ‘Send yourself a password reset e-mail message.’ No good, I can’t get into my account because I’ve forgotten my password. ‘Provide account information and answer your secret question.’  But I don’t recognise the secret question never mind what answer I may have given – so I give up.

It’s a similar story with gmail. Google docs tells me ‘The username or password you entered is incorrect’ and offers me a ‘I cannot access my account’ link.  I select this and Google apologises for any inconvenience I’m experiencing and gives me a range of possible reasons. I select ‘Forgot my password’and am invited to visit their  password recovery page. Here I’m not asked for my email address – which is a pity because I know that – instead they want my user name – I’m not sure what that is but I take a guess, decipher another Captcha, and am told initiating the password reset process involved following the instructions sent to my email address. As far as I know I haven’t come across ringassociates before so I give up.

With MySpace – I get off to a better start: ‘Forgot Your Password? No Worries… Just enter the email account you signed-up with, and we’ll mail you your password’. So I try an email address, and then another, both of which are valid, but all I get is ‘No such email address was found.’
And that’s the end – no more offers of help.

I’m tempted to try Facebook but feel that’s enough rejection for one day.

I’m sure someone somewhere has collected all these attempts to automate the help process and I’m not sure if this blog is a sad reflection on my virtual organisation skills or an example of another battle in the war of the digital divide. Either way I’m logging off and going out for a walk instead.



simulation – the other side of the story

May 10, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

Sense is the national charity that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are both deaf and blind, providing specialist information, advice and services to deafblind people, their families, carers and the professionals who work with them.  Sense invites people to join in the Blindfold Challenge;  an opportunity to be part of something a little bit different and take the spirit of competition to a whole new level. Team up with a family member, friend or colleague; decide who will be the blindfolded runner and who will be the guide and really challenge your senses!  They guarantee you will see the world in a completely new way.



simulations: a personal perspective

May 10, 2009 | digital divideinclusive design  |  Leave a Comment

Treatment for a recurrent sight condition renders me temporarily visually impaired; a situation that can last for weeks, even months. Details get blurred and out of focus, there are no sharp lines or clear distinctions. Because it affects one eye more than the other I can manage but the lived experience of being denied access to text and images and video – albeit instructional, informative or for fun – is both challenging and informative. I realise at first hand how short term simulations may give a temporary insight but can’t replicate the unified whole – it’s the gestalt principle in action. Computer simulations show the part but they can’t show the sum of the parts. They can’t represent the levels of tiredness and the exhaustion of trying, the frustration of not achieving and the isolation of missing out on what everyone else is sharing. You think you know what something is like but to adapt the adage – it’s no good wearing someone else’s shoes – you have to walk in them too.

I suspect that with visual information; in particular digital data, we design following a ME Model (MEM). If we can access it then we assume others can too. We also resist change in practice. Habits get engrained. I’ve listened to a screen reader repeat file names for a pictures that tell the user nothing about their content yet if I know that if I’m in a hurry then I’m equally guilty of not adding meaningful alternative text to digital images.

There is a paradox in educational technology where the potential to widen access is undermined by a dependency on inclusive design. As the use of virtual environments increases, so the gap between public policy and private practice grows wider. Digital data reflects social and cultural norms and lived experience. Those who create and upload content are often influenced by their own needs and requirements rather than anticipating those of their audience. Access to this information is then limited by the forms in which it is made available. This approach disadvantages users who are unable to access electronic data available only in single or fixed formats. Legislation alone is not enough to outlaw discriminatory attitudes. Promoting inclusive design involves challenging perceptions in order to make explicit the rationale behind the need to alter existing practice. As Jane Seale says in eLearning and Disability in Higher Education (2006) if the responsibility to be proactive is not more widely adopted then the same educational technology that is used to widen participation will in itself become a restriction.



Disability Research Conference 2009, Leeds Met

May 10, 2009 | digital divideinclusive design  |  Leave a Comment

Blogging after the event is difficult on the one hand because other ‘things’ take over but on the other hand ‘things’ that stay are those with the deepest impact so maybe waiting before blogging is one way of identifying the most ‘bloggable’ bits rather than posting stream of consciousness ramblings. The Disability Research Conference at Leeds Met on 22 April raised my awareness of a debate around the use of simulations to demonstrate disability. I’m developing a workshop on promoting best practice in the design of electronic documents and was intending using simulations to produce disorientation for raising awareness of potential barriers to access. Hearing several people speak against this, I turned to the JISC Dis-forum list for advice and from the received responses I’ve compiled this summary and list of resources.

Summary: The prime reason for not using simulations is concern that they may cause misconceptions thereby creating additional barriers rather than reducing them. Simulations detract attention from the individuality of the user; everyone has different mechanisms for dealing with impairment and a generic simulation – while demonstrating the barrier – doesn’t (can’t) address lived experience.

The balance to this is that while simulations can be considered offensive (How can you possibly ‘know’ what it’s like) they do offer experiential insight which raises awareness of potential barriers thus encouraging change in practice. The most acceptable alternative appear to be the use of existing literature and video as demonstration rather than a temporary replication of impairment which can only ever fall short of the reality.

Apologies for the print size – it will increase using browser text size settings under View on the menu bar.

Online simulations


  • Burgstahler, S., and Doe, T. (2004). Disability-related simulations: If, when, and how to use them. Review of Disability Studies, 1(2), 4-17.
  • Flower, A., Burns, M. K. and Bottsford-Miller, N.A. (2007) Meta-Analysis of Disability Simulation Research. Remedial and Special Education, 28, 2: 72-79.
  • French, S. (1992) Simulation Exercises in Disability Awareness Training: A Critique. Disability and Society, 7,  3: 257 – 266.
  • Papadopoulos, G and Pearson, E (2007) Accessibility awareness raising and continuing professional development: The use of simulations as a motivational tool. ALT online newsletter 2007: 7




blogging at breakfast

May 4, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

I’m alerted by a colleague to a blogpost – it’s blog etiquette to link so thanks to Joss for the EdTech link– and for reminding me that I’m currently feeling guilty for blog neglect – its been two weeks! In that time I’ve been involved in several blog-worthy events including the Disability Research Conference through ALT at Leeds Met which prompted an interesting debate via the JISC Dis-forum on the use of simulations in staff training for inclusive practice. Thanks to everyone for contributions; they’ll be compiled and made available online – but not today – its Bank Holiday Monday and I’m going out for a walk – in the real world.

Before I do – because I can – I want to pin down two issues from the blog link. Firstly I agree with EdTechie that blogging is about identity although the advantages and disadvantages of online identity controls would make a blog in themselves. Blogs are valuable ways of ‘getting out there’ but saying this virtual mirror should be a multimedia one because ‘Creating a multi-media posting is now so simple’  increases the pressure to make an online presence not only as ubiquitous as an email address but more ‘exciting’ too. It’s a sad day when text is no longer considered to be enough.

My second issue is the multiplicity of resistance; I don’t agree that ‘developing and online identity is a crucial part of being an academic (or maybe just being a citizen)’. Comments like these assume both confidence and competence with the technology and easy access – which in itself could be divisive.

Can we do it? No, not everyone can (or even wants too)!

The abbreviated Ed stands for education – maybe we should rename  it  Pedagogical Technology instead – and remind ourselves that teaching and leaning is not only about many analogue qualities but is also embedded in the policies and practices of equality, diversity and widening participation and – of course – an ever increasing staff workload.

Now, in the interests of work/life balance – where are my walking boots…………I’m late!



blogging conclusions

April 24, 2009 | digital divide  |  Leave a Comment

Digital debate has a short life span. Thank you again to everyone who contributed and caused a ‘spike’ on my rating levels! Clearly the reasons for engaging (or not) are as varied as the individuals who participate (or not); as would be expected with analysis of any human activity. I was interested to see in the responses the concept of ‘justification’ of what we do and the perceived value of having an additional ‘voice’ whether it for clarification of our own thinking or to share practice in a community-of-practice type way. Wenger identifies activities indicative of a CoP including discussing development, asking for help, documenting projects, seeking experience, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps – all of which are common features of the blogosphere.

So the conclusion that blogs are primarily about learning; either through individual reflection or collaboratively through shared activity situated within lived experience comes as no surprise. We all have a range of tools for expression and use what we feel most comfortable with. Those that have made the shift from analogue to digital sometimes take it for granted that everyone has virtual connections and if not then why not? Maybe an alternative way to scratch below the surface of blogging and identify its strengths and weaknesses would be to take a blogger’s laptop or mobile away for a month and ask them to use pen and paper to record their thoughts instead – any volunteers?



Bloggage and Blogolage

April 18, 2009 | digital divide  |  1 Comment

Thanks to those who have made contact re the previous blog

Still I ponder on the process of blogging and the divide between the avid and the reluctant blogger.  I wonder if there are clues. Are bloggers natural reflectors? Do they see blogging as a pleasure or a chore? Does it appeal more to the technical extrovert or the digitally competent introvert? Do bloggers blog strategically? I’m still curious about how people manage their blogging lives? Do they catch up on their blogroll rss feeds over lunch? Is it considered a work or an après-work activity? Or is blogging simply another indicator of a digital divide; one that isn’t about access to computers but the way in which they are used.  Are bloggers also Twitters and Yammers with a Facebook profile?

Am I typical or not? The written word appeals to me; texting, email, even assignments and papers; I complain about deadlines but favour the written over the verbal every time. Words suit me; either once removed so I can cut, paste, smooth and polish – or as in stream of consciousness verbiage on demand. Words always have been my preferred method of communication.

I’m also a fan of the Internet; the idea of a network of like minded souls looking for digital connections has always appealed. Me and my laptop are best friends. I miss it when I’m not connected. If this is an addiction then it could be worse – as they say ‘if it harms none do as you will….’

It’s not that I have nothing to say – its almost the opposite – there’s too much – the top layer of my consciousness at this moment includes three paper deadlines (so why am I blogging?!) the practice based research unit on my OU course, if I can use optical illusions to demonstrate critical thinking, identifying other LD tools for prospective students and who or what has eaten the asparagus tops on my allotment. The only reason I’m sat here with my laptop on a Saturday morning is recurring iritis and several looming deadlines; shortly I’m going to plant a jostaberry and cover the asparagus bed with netting!

So it’s not lack of computer confidence or content. I’m an early adopter rather than later or laggard but I’m not consistent; I still find it difficult to get into a blog routine and I’m curious about how others manage. Back to the Cadbury crème again – how do you do yours?



Blogging? What’s it all about? (again!)

April 16, 2009 | Uncategorized  |  9 Comments

Who do we blog for? Is it for ourselves or for other people? I find myself re-reflecting on this after reading an entry on a (recommended) author’s work blog which was of a highly personal nature and seemed out of context. That might say more about me and my own thoughts on the work/life balance; never the twain shall meet etc. but it did set me pondering once again on the nature and purposes of the blogging revolution.

What is blogging all about? Ultimately we must blog for an audience – if we were blogging purely for reflection then we wouldn’t be uploading our musings into a public place and inviting comments – would we? Is the idea that the blog is a mirror for our personal thoughts a false one? Should an effective blog be a crafted one; written with intent? Should blog entries be bite-sized reflections of distilled essence; not stream-of-consciousness ramblings? No-one has the time to search for needles in haystacks – they need to be pricked – so is an effective blog one that is designed to attract attention?

Blogs function on different levels; their value measured by the number of comments, who is on the blogroll, and how many mentions the writer can get in for their latest conference, journal article or book chapter.  We all do it (see for example!) and this reinforces their ‘public’ nature; we all like to assume that a blog has a wider audience than one consisting of our immediate work colleagues or even no-one at all. Does ‘0 comments’ indicate 0 readers?

So I found myself thinking (sad or what!) about how many types of blogs can be identified (or even ‘How do you do yours’? as in the old ‘How do you eat your Cadbury’s Crème Egg’ adage). So far I’ve got:

  • Business Card Blogging (find out more about me…)
  • CV Blogging (this is where I’ve been and what I did there…)
  • Social Network Blogging (how many names can I drop in… )
  • Competitive Blogging (I must increase my ratings…)
  • Boring Blogging (once visited never returned…)

Does anyone have any more suggestions?

The harsh truth is that the majority of bloggers write for an audience of one – themselves – so maybe it doesn’t matter what we post after all – or is there anyone out there who disagrees………….




April 5, 2009 | inclusive design  |  1 Comment

I’ve been reading an account of the life of the Russian psychologist Vygotsky, written by his daughter, in 1994. Gita describes how her father worked with physically handicapped and mentally retarded children, how he founded a laboratory to study the psychology of abnormal children and how the laboratory was upgraded to be the Experimental Institute of Defectology. In a sad sentence, Gita writes:

“Vygotsky was always able to establish an atmosphere of trust and rapport with the children, he always talked with them as though they were equals, always paid attention to their answers. In turn, the children opened up to him in a way they never did with other examiners.”

Vygotsky was 37 when he died of TB in 1934. Gita wrote her account in 1994 with no apparent self-consciousness about using language that would be considered inappropriate in this country but still reflects social and cultural attitudes in Russia today. Language is key; if we were to substitute disability for difference and accessible for inclusive, we might have more success in changing attitudes.

Supporting visually impaired people using the internet highlights how little attention is paid to ensuring websites are accessible. It’s frustration overload; as if finding your way around the keyboard isn’t difficult enough you are then reliant on ‘listening’ to a disembodied electronic voice reading out the html sitting behind the website. It can’t make assumptions or use previous knowledge; it can only read what the designer has put there.

Online information is still designed primarily to be a visual experience. There are standards and guidelines galore but wouldn’t it be easier to ask a visually impaired person what works and what doesn’t work?

A leading supermarket has done some work on making its online shopping site accessible to the visually impaired. BUT there are still problems. It’s 2009. What happened to compliance with disability legislation that started over a decade ago? Why is it that the most vulnerable members of our society – to whom internet access can offer opportunities to re-engage through digital data – are still being discriminated against?

It’s not a technical issue; it’s a human one – it’s a social, cultural and political one. The Internet could be fully accessible and it isn’t; and that reflects badly on everyone of us working with virtual environments.

In a 10 minute slot in a Raising Disability Awareness workshop I identified some key issues relating to barriers to online access.

Key issue 1: digital data can enable and disable. Online environments have the potential to be electronic equalisers; a digitally level playing field. With the appropriate assistive technology anyone could – and should – be able to access online information and participate in online communities.

Key issue 2: barriers to particpation are numerous leaving people struggling for digital equality. The biggest barrier is the ME Model. People design using their eyes, ears and mouse. They assume their users have eyes, ears and mouse. It goes downhill from there. We all do it. We look for the quickest way to get the job done. But scanning a text article as a pdf is really not a good idea – niether is providing multimedia files in a single format – or forgetting to structure Word documents using built in headings and styles.

Key issue 3: no matter how much we talk about the benefits of inclusive design; where changes for some are benefits for all, we are no closer to creating accessible and usable online learning areas.  Together, we could make a difference but individually it’s a struggle. Changes in practice don’t come easily and old habits die hard. I don’t have the answer; I don’t think anyone does but I shall keep on trying to find one.

Technology enhanced learning: a new digital divide is Chapter 7 in the Future of Higher Education: Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience; just published by Continuum – see future_of_higher_education_flyer

It’s been over a year since I wrote this chapter; and what a long time a year is in terms of educational technology.  If I was writing today, how different some of it  would be – and yet other aspects haven’t changed. The technology may move on but the concept of the digital divide remains with us – if anything the more the technology develops and becomes integrated into mainstream higher education, the greater the divide between those who are digitally confident and competent and those trying to attach a file or feeling perplexed at the mystery of zipping and unzipping folders.

In the next book, Teaching in Public,  I was calling my chapter Doing the Duty; accessible learning – even though the word accessible is being superceded by inclusive – that’s another blog – even another chapter.  I may challenge the unpopularity  of the ‘A’ Word  and simply title it Barriers to Access – because no matter what language you use – educational technology is both enabler and disabler. In the enthusiasm for what it can do, it’s all too easy to dimiss the inherent problems it bestows.

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On the BBC blog The Editors Peter Horrocks (19 Feb) tells how he asked TV news presenters ‘if they would please spell out URLs, e-mail addresses and phone numbers ….[as] a significant number of blind people use television news’. Commentators, and one reported “BBC insider”, have said: “This is political correctness gone mad.” Peter responds with ‘It is not. This issue is not about avoiding causing offence. It’s about information and how to access it.’

Here’s a selection of ensuing comments:

• How would a blind person be able to turn on a computer, open up a web browser find the navigation bar and type in or some other web address?
• How can blind people surf the internet anyway? If they can’t read the URL on the page, how are they supposed to read the page once it had loaded?
• Someone please tell me, how a blind person can navigate a mouse around a webpage when they can’t see where the mouse is and can’t see where they want to place the mouse cursor. If they could achieve that, then they surely could drive a car from one town to another! Not sure the Police would be too happy about it.
• while accessibility is indeed a noble cause, making things less convenient for the overwhelming majority of people to make things slightly easy for a very small few is not sensible.
• How useful is a website going to be to a blind person if they can’t even see the website in the first place!! So what value is there in reading out aloud the web URL to blind people if they can’t even access the website!
• Disabled people need to be given OPTIONS like subtitles, which they have already; we don’t need the concessions made to them to be imposed on the rest of us.

Some days the words disability and equality seem further apart than ever.

Using Viso I’ve created a visual map of the work on my desk, a review of 2008 and plan for 2009. In the corner, marked up as needing more attention, is an area called Web 2.0 which covers the Web 2.0 Community on Blackboard (last contributed to a year ago), my Web 2.0 website (hidden somewhere in a corner of my H drive), Second Life (last visited for the literature conference six months ago) and this blog  (originally set up to support my expeditions into Web 2.0 worlds and much neglected of late).

For a while I had felt I was up to date; I’d read the JISC reports into the student experience regarding Web 2.0 and had rss’d all my useful social networking and blog sites into Netvibes.

Today, apart from an occasional sorty into Facebook, my Web 2.0 interest is relegated to a corner of my annual review sheet and I’m still pondering on this change from Web 2.0 savvy to Web 2.0 bored. Was it the plethora of passwords and the need for some system to memorise them all? Was it the additional time it took to keep up at the expense of more important work like supporting Blackboard? Or was it concern about the number of places across the internet where I’d posted my name and email address? Was I putting my legitimate Internet use at risk; online banking, shopping at Amazon, collecting with Ebay, communicating with family and friends – was I jeopardising the virtual opportunities I valued the most simply by increasing the number of times I was entering my personal details online?

Or did I just have more interesting things to do instead?