Libraries in my life

I have always loved libraries. The first one that I remember is Withington Library from when I lived in Withington in Manchester as a child. It’s great to see it is still there and operating as a community hub.

When we moved to Middlesbrough, I became very excited that I could join two different libraries and double the number of books I could borrow.  I longed to be 12 so that I could join the adult library.

Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by CC BY 2.0
Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by CC BY 2.0

The first floor reference library looks pretty much as I remember it though we didn’t have bands performing there back in the day.

Funnily enough, university libraries tend not to be among my favourites even though I know how important they are for resources and as study venues for students.

Manchester has two beautiful libraries in the city centre, each of which has had a facelift in recent years.   John Rylands Library was built by Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband (Manchester’s first multi-millionaire) and opened on the first day of the 20th Century.

John Rylands Library
John Rylands Library

It feels like a cross between a museum and a church and, as well as offering archives and services for librarians and researchers, it has a reading room that offers a truly lovely workspace that I worked in last week .  The silence is almost loud.

Manchester’s Central Library reopened recently and I have visited it twice but feel that I have only just scraped the surface.
It has a spectacular new entrance that connects it to the Town hall, with a dimpled reflective ceiling that throws off dynamic and fractured images. The cafe is in the heart of the ground floor right next to  interactive multimedia resources that offer a way into physical archives at various Manchester libraries.The ground floor offers connected social spaces that open into each other. On my first visit, I could hear a performance for the Manchester Jazz festival across the other side of the building.

So let’s celebrate public libraries and defend them from funding cuts.  We still need public spaces where people can learn independently with guidance from librarians.

Screen shot from Google Books
Screen shot from Google Books

They are as important now as they were at the time that Roberts (1971) wrote about in his classic work about Salford slums in the early 20th Century.

Roberts, R. (1971). The classic slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

A story of connection and disconnection around #ALTC

I was very aware of the ALT-C conference on 8-10 September even though I was not a registered delegate. For a start, it was in Manchester, just down the road from me. I used to be a regular attender at ALT-C and over the years have given workshops, organised symposia, reviewed abstracts and research papers and promoted the new format in the weeks leading up to the abstract submission date. I even made a short ‘Introduction to Manchester’ speech on crutches at ALT-C 2009 :)

I thought about submitting for ALT-C 2015 but since I have retired and have to fund my rare conference attendances from my own pocket, I couldn’t justify the expense. I am saving up for Networked Learning 2016 and will hope to attend ALT-C at some time in the future.

Maha Bali whom I ‘met’ on Rhizo14 kindly invited me to meet for coffee on Tuesday 8 September, and I was lucky enough to meet Ash Shaw, Suzan Koseoglu and Rebecca Hogue (all of whom I had previously known online) in a hotel café. Whilst I was there Maha and Rebecca ran one of their ‘Virtually Connecting’ sessions. I didn’t join in (except to wave at the end). I was in the background playing with Maha’s lovely daughter and chatting with Susan and Ash when they weren’t in the session. Susan and I then travelled together to Manchester Piccadilly on the hopper bus (the long route) and had a lovely talk before we each got our trains home. Another Rhizo14er Sarah Honeychurch who was at ALT-C took exception to the Virtually Connecting sessions as they intruded on the ‘real connections’ of their group meeting at ALT-C in person.

John Rylands Reading Room by Gillie Rhodes CC BY-NC 2.0
John Rylands Reading Room by
Gillie Rhodes
CC BY-NC 2.0

Because I was already coming into Manchester for this meetup, I arranged to meet up earlier with Peter Shukie at the John Rylands Library. We sorted out various things over coffee and lunch, gossiped , and then Peter interviewed me as part of his PhD research. In between coffee and lunch we went into the magnificent reading room in John Rylands. We sat quietly opposite each other (no Internet) at this lovely table, Peter reading and writing, me with scissors and sticky tape, reconstructing an overlong article. So I missed Steve Wheeler’s keynote on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, I was working on the reconstructed paper and dropped into #altc on Twitter where I came across a rather odd conversation between Fred Garnett and Bob Harrison. I think that Bob was joking but his comments did leave rather a sour taste, as he seemed to imply that contribution to ALT was about attending ALT-C as a delegate.

Bob Harrison tweet
Bob Harrison tweet

I am not sure that ALT see it entirely like that though I realise that ALT-C must be a significant income stream, as well as an excellent networking event. Bob’s comments gave me pause for thought as I wondered what ALT and I do for each other. ALT give generously with webinars, seminars, SIGs and make the conference accessible at some level to hashtag attenders like me, with streamed and recorded keynotes and other talks. I loved Jonathan Worth’s keynote and having caught the tail end of Laura Czerniewycz’s, I now want to start at the beginning and watch it through.

I pay my annual subscription to ALT and review articles for Research in Learning Technology; I have served as journal co-editor and on committees so I do think that contribution to ALT is about more than attending the conference in person.

I have watched over the years as ALT have experimented with conference amplification and I am pretty impressed with the balance they have achieved of giving conference delegates a good experience whilst including the wider ALT diaspora as they can.

So I disagree with Bob – I think I can play a part in ‘shaping the future’ even if I don’t attend ALT-C every year.

As I was writing this story, I was thinking about my recent reading and writing on theorising ‘disconnective practice’:

we have to disconnect in some way in order to make the connections we want to emphasise at a particular point in time feasible Light(2014).

Disconnection and connection are implied in each other even though connection seems to get all the props.

Light, B., 2014. Disconnecting with social networking sites.

Connection and Locus of Control

These are some very half-formed thoughts that I want to capture so I can re-connect and learn more later.

I have just read a post by Laura Goglia about an experience she had in school from reading part of a textbook when she was supposed to be reading Beowulf. She saw a picture that fascinated her so much that she learned about its purpose and its location (Prado) , and yesterday she brought her children to see it and told them her story. Reading her post reminded me of a related experience I had when visiting Manchester City Art Gallery as student over forty years ago. I saw a picture that I interpreted in a rather disturbing way (but that’s another story) and only recently did I discover the artist’s ideas behind the painting. Maybe if we had the Internet and smart phones in the 1970s I would have learned that at the time but I was too lazy to check it out in the library. What our stories have in common is a visual impression that stuck in our minds: Laura went across time from the text to seeing the actual painting and I went in the opposite direction.

Fragment of Twitter conversation
Fragment of Twitter conversation

The connection that brought me to Laura’s post was a Twitter conversation about whether or not teaching/learning needs to be entertaining. I was intrigued by the Twitter exchange, and understood more about what Laura meant after I had read her blog post. I am still pondering though. We talk a lot about teaching and learning – sometimes meaning the activity and sometimes meaning the outcome but that’s the English language for you.
Laura's blog
Whilst I was at Laura’s blog, I read her previous post about the questions she needed to answer at a mid term PhD assessment. Just after I read “Connectedness is the state of being able to recognize, understand, and act on connections across content, people, space, and time”, I glanced up the screen and noticed the Google cookie message. It offered me the chance to “learn more” and wanted me to click “got it”.  “Pfft” I thought – it’s Google that wants to learn more about me so that it can connect ads to me across time and multiple locations. That sort of fitted with Laura’s sentence that I had just read but then I re-read Laura’s questions and realised that her concern was with human learning. Her story in the first post was about learning something outside of the lesson plan, and that seems uplifting and ever more possible when learners have access to the Internet to connect to people and ‘content’.

So is ‘connection’ an unequivocal good in human learning? and in machine learning?

Google (like other well-connected technology services) learns more about me every time I use it. Its active listening doesn’t seem quite as benign as the active listening of a human teacher in class.    I don’t know if Laura’s teacher was aware of her distraction from Beowulf and was just happy that she was learning something. To learn about the painting, Laura had to disconnect from Beowulf.
Good teachers set up learning activities that offer a variety of possibilities and don’t seek a uniform outcome for all learners, for learning to be in one place or time (unless there are problems, they don’t go home or into the playground with their students).

Google’s knowledge is simultaneously partial and pervasive, following me around and trying to influence what I do. The difference between Google and the ‘good teacher’ is that Google wants to sell ads and demonstrate its influence on my purchasing (so it can sell more ads), whereas the ‘good teacher’ wants us to learn more than they want to teach.  They want to help the learner shift the locus of control from the teacher to the learner.

So I am thinking that one of the things that good teachers will be concerned with is how they can help learners (partially) disconnect from services – how they can shift the locus of control from Google to themselves. And that is not easy.

A wee poem – The Voyeur

Tonight, I was feeling like I needed a wee rest from my desperate attempt to complete the paper from hell, and I plucked a book of poetry fom the shelves to give me a different perspective.

Here’s what I found

Lovely wee dog
A wee dog by Iain Smith CC BY-ND 2.0

The Voyeur

by Tom Leonard

what’s your favourite word dearie
is it wee
I hope it’s wee
wee’s such a nice wee word
like a wee hairy dog
with two wee eyes
such a nice wee word to play with dearie
you can say it quickly
with a wee smile
and a wee glance to the side
or you can say it slowly dearie
with your mouth a wee bit open
and a wee sigh dearie
A wee sigh
put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
oh my
a great wee word
and scottish
it makes me proud.





Technology and Change in Education #ED1to1 #TJC15

Link between #TJC15 and #Ed1to1

I have arrived at #ed1to1 ( a twitter chat organised by Bon Stewart over 3 days) via #tjc15 (a monthlyish one hour twitter chat organised by Laura Gogia about a journal article). The framing article for #ed1to1 is (25 years ago) The First School One-to-One Laptop Program  by Audrey Watters.
I didn’t know the first one to one laptop scheme was 25 years ago. I remember using a similar case study for teaching systems implementation in the late 1990s, and interestingly, the school concerned was also a religious all girls school.
Then I got to thinking about Project CEIBAL that seems to be still going strong* after 8 years in operation. I was very impressed with the vision and scale of the project when I saw Miguel Brechner speak about it at ALT-C 2011 and will be very interested in its longer term impact and what can be learned from the project.

This is a 15 minute (10 minutes presentation followed by questions) video where Miguel outlines the project as one of social inclusion  He shows clearly that this was not just a project about the laptop but also included the network infrastructure, support, evaluation and sustainability.  CEIBAL sees pedagogy and enabling teachers and students as at the heart of the project. The laptops used were from the OLPC project, a global mission to give every child a laptop that has itself been criticised for its relevance to poor countries.  What interested me about CEIBAL was that it acknowledged the wider context of change, as this description of the historical educational context in Uruguay shows. Watch this 45 second clip to get a sense of this.

What the laptop program described in Audrey’s article and Project CEIBAL seem to have in common is that they are driven by a commitment to universal and relevant education. In the case of Uruguay, from 1876 education was decreed mandatory, secular and free. Even though many religious schools are no longer free (and were never secular), they can often trace their history back to a commitment to educate working class children. This account of the early history of education in my own home town shows nuns living and dying in similar conditions to those they were trying to help.

I don’t have enough information to really compare these two projects but I admire them. Philosophical/political commitment can be an effective driver and good evaluation can be a gift to future projects (unless you are a disruptive innovator of course).

Education has always been a means by which lives can be improved, and technology has a complex reflexive relationship with changing lives and organisations. In my own old-fashioned way, I am interested in the role of social justice and context in the promotion and use of educational technology.  It’s less than a panacea and more than a business opportunity to my way of thinking.

*It’s difficult to get up to date information in English and this source questions the impact and use of the laptops in Uruguay though I note blogger source works for a bank.

When we can’t see the trees for the wood

Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I can see trees – Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Martin Weller posted a post on the role of personality in education that has attracted many comments. I could have written about many of the thoughts that the post and comments have sparked for me but I thought I would concentrate on one perspective- how we can view an educational experience, as either generalised or particular rather than both.
Martin argued quite powerfully that the OU (and as commenters pointed out, quality systems) try to  eliminate the personal author voice from course materials, and that this might be a bad thing. This seemed to me about creating generalised course materials and whilst the elimination of an author voice from materials can be seen as detrimental in some ways, I would argue that it does not need to be an obstacle to the subjective appreciation of learners (and may even offer them some freedom) as they experience learning. When we hear about the OU ( a brilliant UK institution, complementary to not a replacement for other HE institutions) we can tend to think of the central, the course materials, online resources whereas I suspect that many OU scholars might think also about their more distributed experiences, attending local face to face  study groups, small group interactions, private study. Aren’t these opportunities for tutors, but more importantly learners, to inject their own subjectivities, as they interpret materials, argue, re-present ideas, and hear about the subjectivities of others on the same course? These learners are able to see each other’s trees.
For me, in overly identifying Jim Groom with DS106 and Dave Cormier with rhizo14 (I know little of rhizo15) he is playing into the myths of the lone creator and innovation, as if any of these phenomena sprung fully-formed from the loins of their ‘creators’.  As Kate Bowles pointed out, there is something gendered about this view of personality as cult. For me, this focus on the personality of the leader/ inventor figure can hamper inventiveness and experimentation by freezing agency in a single personality, downplaying what went before and what goes after. It generalises the phenomenon in a way that obscures very important particulars such as learners’ behaviours and contributions.
We become so stuck on the wood, the naming, the labelling, the individualisation of a complex phenomenon, that we can’t see the beautiful trees. We are standing outside the wood, unable to hear the tree that falls – it makes a sound but not for us.

Slowing down the journal club

tjc15The journal club #TJC15 is a fascinating phenomenon. Laura Gogia ‘birthed’ it from her spontaneous live-tweeting of an article written by me and Jenny Mackness. As authors, it was exhilarating and informative to see live responses to our work. It was spontaneous, people responding to our paper as they encountered it, and I was thrilled by the responses.
As Laura developed the concept, I became interested in this idea of a swift journal club, enabled by Twitter and curation tools. Laura, the originator, moved swiftly to organise around this emergent phenomenon: to create a persistent place at that records archives, upcoming events and even research.

Laura’s idea is that :
“Twitter Journal Club is an open learning experience on Twitter (aggregated around the hashtag #tjc15) in which participants read a previously agreed upon article at a scheduled time, live-tweeting as they go. The articles – which must be openly available either through pre-print or open access – are recommended by participants via Google Doc and read in order of recommendation.” more

Participants are responding with ideas, helping out with support for annotation and Storify by Mariana Funes. I think that the beauty of it is that people can participate in different ways.

Before the June journal club, I spent a little time reflecting on how I could best contribute to and benefit from #tjc15. Anyone who knows me, will know that I have a tendency to talk too much so I always try to make sure that I avoid hogging the conversation in a face to face session. But we don’t need to wait for a gap in the conversation to post a tweet to a hashtag and the stream can get hectic. I came up with a plan to slow down my experience of the journal club to see what difference that might make.

I decided:

  • to read the paper quickly before the session
  • to make my primary focus on reading the stream rather than posting to it
  • to note three issues that seemed important to me from reading the paper and make those my contributions spread over the hour
  • (apart from those contributions) to concentrate on thinking about / occasionally responding to the ideas of others

planI shared my plan with the club and paced my 3 issue tweets across the hour with the first one 10 minutes into the hour.

So how did it go?
I can’t speak for others (they probably didn’t notice) but I had a much better experience. I felt as if I had created more thinking space for me to reflect on what I, but also more importantly others, got from the paper.

I am interested in how we can slow things down a bit in other online associations, creating the pools alongside the fast-running streams. What do you think?