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Month: February 2013

eLearning and Digital Cultures: consolidating learning and blowing my mind with “objects that blog” #edcmooc

Where on earth do I begin with my reflection on the first topic of the eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC?  It’s been so rich in both content and connections that it’s hard to soak it all in and to articulate all that it’s provoked. Incidentally, the first topic, of two, uses the binary lens of utopias and dystopias to explore how thinking in either of these ways has contributed to how we think about online education today and how it shapes our visions of the future. The second topic asks  “what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?”

The course is structured in the first instance with a “film festival”, which explores each week’s themes from the perspective of popular and digital culture. Right off, I have to say that all the short films and clips that have been selected have been great. However, what’s giving me cause for concern is the level of meaning and insight that others seem to be able to extract from them. Bells are ringing for me that I’m not great at picking up the embedded meanings in films. Mind you, on the other hand, I devoured all the selected core and advanced texts that fleshed out the key themes. Here, the concept of “technological determinism” was offered as a way of understanding the thinking behind either utopian or dystopian arguments, which seek to explain social, cultural or educational change in primarily technological terms, and then how metaphors are used to express and mould our understanding of the future trajectory of education and eLearning.

Determinism and the Internet
Determinism and the Internet

In reading about the influence of metaphors and two further perspectives of determinism common in discussions about the Web and eLearning, I was able to consolidate my learning and tie up one or two loose ends. Along with “technological determination”, Dahlberg’s article added “uses determination” and “social determination” to make up three orientations towards the internet. He then asked, “which of these perspectives do you lean towards in your understanding of the relationship between technology and pedagogy?” Instinctively, I lean towards a perspective of “social determination”, seeing technology as socially embedded and constituted, affected not just by social structures but by economic ones too (No surprise, I’ve previously studied socio-economic history and I’m now interested in digital literacy, largely from a socio-cultural stanpoint). However, when I first started looking at the discourse surrounding “digital literacy”, I was unable to reconcile my understanding with a lot of what I came across. I can see now that often the language being used might have given a “technologically deterministic” impression. However, I’ve also spoken to individual’s that exhibit a strong “uses determination” towards the adoption of technology. Adoption of a technology for them has to be strongly aligned to the purpose of their endeavour, and it’s their purpose that gives the technology meaning. Dahlberg argues that, on its own, none of these perspectives is enough to explain everything about the internet and technology adoption. Each is useful, and each is overstated. It depends on the question posed as to what combination of approaches might work best.

Another loose end that the readings tied up was in relation to the manner in which Marc Prensky’s “digital native/digital immigrant” dichotomy took hold in popular discourse, and indeed, despite being debunked to a large extent, still persists. It was not so much the power of his argument rather it was the power of his metaphor. The role that metaphors play in shaping our thinking was illustrated by Rebecca Johnston in her essay, Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet (2009).

So, those are the loose ends that have been tidied up through engagement with the course resources. But it’s not just been a matter of consolidating my learning; the course has also stretched my mind – to the extreme!!! I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded, somewhat surprised and in total awe as I read “A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things” by Julian Bleeker (2006). Bleeker introduces us to the idea of “objects that blog“. I kid you not, objects that blog! He uses the neologism of a “Blogjet” to describe objects within the Internet of Things that are “searchable, track their location, usage histories and discourse with the other things around them” (p.2). By blogging he means that these objects can collect and disseminate data, which in turn can provoke change. Change brought about by their agency, agency attained through the significance of the assertions that their data supports and through the impact that it has on meaningful conversations. One of the examples that Bleeker gives is the “pigeon that blogs” (I know, it’s trippy stuff). The premise is that pigeons, suitably tagged and chipped with GPS, internet connectivity and environmental sensors, can record the levels of toxins and pollutants when they fly through the air, and it’s these bits of data that they “blog”, and he continues, saying,  “let the pigeons help us speak on the environment”. Consequently, within this “Internet of Things”, the social and political significance is that “Things can now participate in the conversations that were previously off-limits to Things”.

Honestly, I’m not making this up. For those who’ve not read the article, I’ve embedded it below so you can see for yourself, if you wish. Joking apart though, the article did prompt me to wonder if this is what actor network theory explains (it’s something I keep meaning to get a handle on) and also, does this somehow pertain to discussions about big data, again, a term I often come across but have no real idea what it means.

To date, the course has not only consolidated my learning but has stretched me mentally and sown a few seeds for future enquiry. However, so far I haven’t come across any references or inferences to “multimodal literacies and digital media“, like the pre-course blurb said, but I live in hope. There’s still topic two to come, and if it’s anything like the first, I won’t be disappointed.

[scribd id=14748019 key=key-thb7kpdknc0lsjyf2hh mode=scroll]

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Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9/3.

Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4). Available at:

Bleecker, J. (2006). A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things. Available at:

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Tweeting and blogging for students: puts spotlight on design principles and pedagogical patterns #oldsmooc

This week OLDSMOOC takes a look at the “teacher as designer” and looks at the teaching pattern (or pedagogical pattern, or learning pattern, or lesson plan, or teaching plan – take your pick!) as the object of reusable design knowledge. A primary aim being to create a “pedagogical pattern” that builds on the work of others; in this way you might reach a better design than if you’d started from scratch yourself. We were also tasked with “pair tutoring on a design principle”.

With regards to tutoring on a design principle, my design partner, Jane Challinor, and I decided to look at “encouraging reflection” and posit this in relation to the use of student blogs.

The principle of encouraging reflection states that “when learners reflect they make their thinking visible to themselves, monitor their progress, and reach new insights. The pattern of conducting an exploration and then reflecting improves inquiry projects”. However, the principle only states that reflection “makes their thinking visible to themselves” yet typically a blog is published on the open web, which not only makes learning visible to the individual but to the wider world as well. Furthermore, it also invites comments from that wider readership as well. Consequently, we asked:

“What are the dangers, or pitfalls, of asking students to post their learning reflections to a blog?”

The context implicated here is an undergraduate Research and Professional Skills module, with the key principle being reflection – namely, is reflection altered when encouraged on the open web and, if so, how is it altered?

Blogging for Reflective Learning

The activity generated good discussion (see here), which Jane summarized as follows:

There doesn’t seem to be any argument with the principle of making thinking visible, only with the use of blogs. Some pitfalls to design for:

  •     accessing, editing and publishing a blog on line
  •     our digital identity and professional practice
  •     privacy settings and online safety
  •     netiquette
  •     giving and receiving feedback
  •     writing for an audience

Now, returning to the idea of “pedagogical patterns” and building on the work of others, we were introduced to a tool called the Pedagogical Pattern Collector [PPC].  Currently a research prototype, the tool has been devised to collect examples of pedagogical designs and make them available for adaptation by others and across disciplines.

I actually wanted to create a pedagogical pattern of my own based on the learning outcomes identified for our project in last week’s activity. That is to say “demonstrate the ability to use a variety of online contacts and social networks to find out information”, and I wanted to use Twitter as a case in point.  However, I couldn’t find any relevant buttons on the design screen once I’d pasted in my learning outcome, so I was forced to adapt a design within the PPC.

This is the link to my Pedagogical Pattern. You will then have to navigate to the “Browser” > “User Generated Content” > “Demonstrate the ability to use a variety of online contacts and social networks to find out information [Digital Literacy Level 2: Understand and Engage in Digital]”. I now realise that the title is too long/explicit to be useful within the PPC User Generated window because all you can see is “demonstrate the ability”.

However, I’m reasonably happy with the design pattern, for a first attempt, although the time allocated for the activity, 1440 minutes, reflects that the activity is to be conducted over one or two semesters. I don’t think that this aspect is obvious in the PPC.

The PPC is definitely a handy tool, but it’s still too clunky. There’s no simple back button and I just couldn’t find any way to develop a pattern from a learning outcome of my own. It’s early days, I guess, but I wonder how many teachers see it as being useful to them in their work. If anyone wants to investigate the Pedagogical Pattern Collector for themselves, here is the link to a PPC demonstration webinar that Diana Laurillard of the London Knowledge Lab gave at the start of the week and a link to a short guide.

It would be interesting to see how others get on and to see what more people think 🙂

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POT Cert Week 13: images and screenshots

Creating Class Elements Part 1: Images and Screenshots

Semester 2 of the Programme for Online Teaching restarts (yeay) with a look at images and screenshots and reads Chapter 9: Creating Courseware and Using Web 2.0 Tools of Ko & Rossen’s Teaching Online – A Practical Guide.

It focuses on how to add interest and interaction to the online learning environment through the use of multimedia courseware and Web 2.0 technologies. Web 2.0 technologies are endorsed because they’re “low threshold, low barrier” technologies. By this Ko and Rossen mean that they’re “easy to learn and easy to apply” tools that promote sharing and collaboration (p. 247).

Not so long ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to create quality learning objects without substantial knowledge of coding and software design. However, the obstacles that formerly impeded instructors have now largely been removed, and it seems that every year Web technologies become easier and easier to learn. Well, there’s more and more of them, that’s for sure.

To explore this topic we were tasked with uploading an image to Flickr and then annotate it. However, although Flickr might be the biggest and most well known photo sharing website, I’ve never had any joy with it, and this time was no different. I find it clunky and plain unintuitive to navigate. What’s more, this time I couldn’t find the annotate function so I used FotoTagger as an alternative instead.

The irony of it. Usually, I’m pretty good with finding my way round new Web tools as, by and large, using them becomes almost instinctual; almost, but not this time.

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