Stars in the playground and hearts in the factory

Stars and Hearts by Dan and Fern Treacy CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Stars and Hearts by
Dan and Fern Treacy

This week the switching of the star/favorite for the heart/like has been a source of a little sadness for many in my slice of Twitter. Laura Gogia and Maha Bali supplied interesting commentaries on views expressed in ‘academic Twitter’  but I felt a little distant from the angst.  Although I don’t have active plans to leave like I do for Facebook, somehow I know that it’s unlikely I will still be active on Twitter in a couple of years time.  Like Kate Bowles, for me the corporate/ economic explanations are the most likely ones.

For a bit of fun, I checked out the symbol/ term variations for liking/favouriting across some popular sites.

Symbols on Social Networking Sites

So it seems that the concept of favourite is passé in the corporate standards of social media semiotics – it’s all ‘like’ now and the ‘favourite’ icon is the heart, thumbs up second. So it seems Twitter are following the trend for terms and symbols but meaning – that’s something else altogether.

In the last two years, I have observed, experienced and written about some highs and lows in social networking. Some old and new reading has been helping me to make sense of it.  I returned to Zuboff(1988) and her concept of informating, the generation of new streams of information about activities. That’s an interesting concept to apply to the endlessly changing yet persistent data collected by Social Networking Sites  (SNS) about activities such as liking/favouriting. Laura Gogia explained the semantics of academic tweeters’ different uses of the old Twitter star/favourite and how their practice might be different with the new heart/like.

Now, I don’t know how Twitter record a favourite/like but I imagine that it is a boolean true/false link between a tweet object and a tweeter/identity object with none of the semantics that Laura describes.  The complex semantics provide the motivation for our actions but are not recorded in the database. This simple favourite/like data is interpreted though, to provide economic value through the advertising services that SNS provide, by targeting tweeters by manipulating their streams.

My new reading has started with Ben Light’s theory of Disconnective Practice (relating to SNS) that helps with our understanding of how states of disconnection come into being and are maintained. Through Light’s book, I came across the work of Ulisses Mejias whose thesis that we need to remove our network goggles and look at what is happening off the network in the paranodal spaces around the network nodes seems particularly relevant to our consideration of stars and hearts, liking and favoriting. Monopsonies are counterpoints of monopolies, where the emergence of a single buyer, particularly of user-generated content, can lead to increasing inequality. Much better to watch this video, where he explains it for himself.

The Internet as Playground and Factory – Ulises Ali Mejias from The Politics of Digital Culture on Vimeo.

So thinking about Twitter’s aspiration to be the monopsony in micro-blogging might be a good way to understand what’s going on with the stars and hearts.  We think we are in the playground but maybe we are in the factory.

Jenny Mackness’s post reminded me that Sonia Livingstone’s hot seat for Networked Learning starts tomorrow.  I have a feeling I am going to be learning more about Sonia’s research that definitely doesn’t have network goggles.

Light, B. (2014). Disconnecting with social networking sites. doi:10.1057/9781137022479
Mejias, U. A. (2013). Off the Network. doi:10.5860/CHOICE.51-4485

Openness in Cultural Heritage and Education – open standards, open access and open software


When I attended the DCDC15 Conference – DISCOVERING COLLECTION DISCOVERING COMMUNITIES in October, I was struck by the potential for the Cultural Heritage and Open Education communities  to learn from each other.   I was particularly interested to hear about the Digital Bodleian Library that uses the IIIF standard and is based on open standards, open access and open software.

Fortunately, the  OER16 Open Culture conference call already acknowledges this, particularly in the final two of its themes

  • The strategic advantage of open, creating a culture of openness, and the reputational challenges of openwashing.
  • Converging and competing cultures of open knowledge, open source, open content, open practice, open data and open access.
  • Hacking, making and sharing.
  • Openness and public engagement.
  • Innovative approaches to opening up cultural heritage collections for education.

OER16 will take place at the University of Edinburgh on the 19th and 20th April 2016. The deadline for submissions is approaching rapidly and the site is now open.  That is still time to write a 250 or 500 word abstract for presentations, lightning talks, posters, and panels and workshops but who knows there might be an extension.

You can follow @oerconf and #oer16 on twitter.

Measuring and Correction

my first task at quilting class
Log Cabin – my first task at quilting class

I attended my first quilting class today at the Quilting Box and this is what I achieved. I have done some quilting over the years, and been quite pleased with what I have achieved but I knew I had a lot more to learn – I just didn’t quite know what. Textile crafts have so much to tell us about learning in general.

I joined an ongoing class where participants make a series of 12 inch squares, each one from a different quilting pattern.  It was social and inspiring to see what others had achieved.  I started with log cabin that I had done many years ago.  Prior to the class, I had chosen fabrics to use for this square and subsequent ones in my quilt.

Violet's quilt in progress
Violet’s quilt in progress

Something I have learned from my recent baby quilt projects that are all about colour and fabric, was to be bold in choosing fabrics to go next to each other. Other people at the class commented on the strong colours I had chosen and liked the finished effect.


I brought my own sewing machine and bits and pieces to class but I did encounter some new technology – a square transparent ruler that helped me measure what I had done, a sewing machine foot that helped  me make 1/4 inch seams and flat-headed pins to mark places where I had gone wrong. But what I really learned from dear Edna, the teacher, was how to make a perfect 12 inch square by measuring and correction. So I measured and cut the fabric pieces and sewed the seams as accurately as I could, and then Edna showed me how to press and measure at each second round so that errors could be marked with a flat headed pin and corrected on the next seam.

The measuring was under my control, for improvement not for a final judgement, and Edna was around for advice.  That gave me the confidence to achieve a 12 inch square, knowing that I can also apply the measuring/correction technique to other projects. And I was delighted with the finished effect of the fabric combination. So checking, measuring and correcting are all part of learning, with a teacher to support learners’ development of confidence and resilience in a social setting with other learners. Even things that can’t be measured such as choosing fabric combinations are learned by individuals in social settings.

A moment of optimism

by darkpony CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
ok_disconnect_ok by darkpony CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This blog post has been in gestation for some time and while the ideas have been tossing around in my mind, I have encountered a few conversations that have helped me to turn this from a gloomy to an optimistic idea.
I have been experiencing increasing disenchantment with (hyper)connection and its implications in my life. I use at least four Internet devices- my phone, a tablet, a Macbook and a Windows desktop  and I am bad at shutting down windows, closing applications and generally logging off.  This is a really good or really bad thing depending on how you look at it. When that shopping web site that you looked at on one device suddenly pops up on another web site that you are viewing on a second device, you might feel known or welcomed or, in my case, slightly spooked.

I have been exploring this at a theoretical level for my recent submission to NLC 2016 – reading Ben Light’s book  where he expounds (with lots of practical examples) a theory of disconnective practice, relating to Social Networking Sites (SNS), that helps with our understanding of how states of disconnection come into being and are maintained. Disconnection and connection are not a binary or even on a continuum: they are inextricably linked. Disconnection can enable connection or make it a possibility (Light 2014). Ben’s book introduced me to the work of Mejias that explores the limits of the network in his open book Off the Network. Mejias uses the concept of paranodes that draw attention to spaces beyond the logic of the network and helps us to go beyond the nodocentric view presented by SNS.

On a practical level, I am currently thinking about how I can achieve more control over my (dis)connection with SNS and Google.  Last week, an article by Donna Lanclos and Dave White about the Visitor / Resident model in academic practice online provoked much thought around my current goals on (dis)connection. As I intend to continue with “networked practices such as blogging, social media use, and participation in digital communities” then it would seem that I am engaging in resident modes of engagement for the public content that I present and curate. However, my desire to reduce my exposure to the hidden connections of SNS collecting and using my data means that I want to engage in more visitor-like practices.

As I try to change my web presence and practice, I have come across the concept of POSSE –  Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. This is attractive to me and I am currently experimenting with using Known for web comments.  The Indieweb offers a useful guide.

Catherine Cronin asks us questions such as

How is, and will, higher education respond to the growth of participatory culture and openness across networked publics? How will issues regarding access to education, equity, agency, and ethics be addressed?

and in answering them to think if any of the futures we see are beautiful. Since it’s easy for me to see gloomy futures, this is a good question that has led me to my moment of optimism. Kate Bowles is sensing a “groundswell of optimism”  in the current debates at #dlrn  and #icdeunisa.

All of this helping me to shift from the paralysing pessimistic view that things shouldn’t be like this to the optimistic feeling things can be different. Personally I can make changes in my online spaces, practices of sharing but a more important shift is to how change can be addressed collectively.  Indieweb is part of a collective and practical approach to making a different sort of web but what is the relevance of collective approaches in Higher Education?

In my last few years of teaching, I worked with colleagues on a module that looked at emerging technologies from business and personal perspectives. One of our aspirations was to foster critical digital literacies with students.  We weren’t saying you should/ shouldn’t use a particular SNS in this way or that way but rather let’s think about SNS from the perspectives of members, the SNS and its real customers, those who purchase advertising services.  Once a critical mindset is in place, then the idea that things can be different is easier to consider, and ongoing changes are more likely to be noticed.  This can be about personal choices of (dis)connection and collective actions to influence SNS and other service providers*.  Neither choices nor actions can completely decide our outcomes on SNS and the web but encouraging autonomy and choice seems to me to be a good start.  I think that educators and learning technologists can experience obstacles to this but that’s another post.

*missing text added later

Light, B. (2014). Disconnecting with social networking sites. doi:10.1057/9781137022479
Mejias, U. A. (2013). Off the Network. doi:10.5860/CHOICE.51-4485

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.
new entrance to Manchester Central Library
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.