The tea cosy that taught me – a story about knitting and learning

Saartje bootees
Saartje bootees
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Berry hat

 

 

 

 

 

I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.

But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.

Cosied tea and biscuits
Cosied tea and biscuits

I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year.   I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”.  Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was.  Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .

Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:

In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.

I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying!  I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.

Here is my unsteeked teacosy.

Teacosy - before steeking
Teacosy – before steeking

Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with.  And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.

So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted  later. Can you spot them?

Where are the errors?
Where are the errors?

So how do I feel now that it’s finished?

First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries.  They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.

So that’s one product but what about learning?

I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.

But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes;  that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.

What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts?  Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?

Facebook and #GE2015

Facebook I voted button
Facebook I voted button

Like anyone else from UK on Facebook this morning, I saw the  2015 General Election I voted button that asks you to confirm if you have voted.  I was interested to see the data it presents – a time series graph of number of voters who claim they have voted, and an age/gender distribution of the same – you will notice that my captions differ slightly from the app’s captions.

Time series of users of Facebook GE2015 app
Time series of users of Facebook GE2015 app
Distribution of Voters app users by Age/Gender
Distribution of Voters app users by Age/Gender

When I checked out where the App came from, I was interested to see it was linked to the About My Vote site from the Electoral Commission, and I posted an enquiry about their and Facebook’s use of the data generated by the app. I will update this post with their response if and when I get it.

I got into a conversation with my son Dan Bell who is a Digital Marketing Consultant  (and takes a different perspective on Facebook from me :).  He showed me the dashboard of his Facebook Audience insights and so we checked out if you needed a Google Facebook Ads account to see that data – you don’t!

Facebook data on UK users with interest 'UKIP'
Facebook data on UK users with interest ‘UKIP’

The image is from my quick exploration of going to https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience_insights, making following choices:
Audience: Everyone on Facebook, changing country by selecting United Kingdom, deselecting USA, and typing UK Independence Party in as an interest.

What isn’t clear to me is how Facebook decided who was ‘interested’ in UKIP.   I will be very interested if Nigel Farage fails to take Thanet South seat. Dan pointed out to me that  it isn’t just who has liked their page as the UKIP page has only 464,000 likes yet the graph above relates to ‘700,000-800,000′ users.

It does seem poor that Facebook Audience Insights are coy about their methodology/ algorithm, given their concerns about privacy.

We built Audience Insights with privacy in mind. It surfaces aggregated information people already express on Facebook, along with information from trusted third-party partners — like Acxiom — through our partner categories targeting.

I can recommend having a play with this – and then you might like to go here and adjust your ad settings :)  https://www.facebook.com/help/568137493302217?hc_location=ufi

So how do you feel about these services? Have you any concerns? I do.

Netlytic and Rhizo14 Twitter hash tag visualisation

Disclaimer: This is very hacky and proper techy people could probably do it better so their constructive comments would be most welcome but I am a bricoleur and persistent so make of what follows as you will:)

During Rhizo14 someone (Martin Hawksey? Dave Cormier?) created an archive of tweets from the rhizo14 Twitter hashtag. You can see the full glory of the visualisations at rhizo14 Tags Explorer (warning takes a while to load). You can make your own archive (prospectively rather than retrospectively) and visualisations of any hash tag using the magic of Martin Hawksey’s TAGS Explorer. This is a truly wonderful use of Google apps and it produces data that can also be reused.

In October 2014, I found Netlytic, ” a cloud-based text and social networks analyzer that can automatically summarize large volumes of text and discover social networks from online conversations on social media sites such as Twitter, Youtube, blogs, online forums and chats”. When I investigated, it had some really interesting interactive tools that can help you explore (some of) what’s happening in networks. It has taken me a long time to feel confident to present some of the netyltics visualisations.

If your hash tag is just starting, I think it would be a good idea to archive it in TAGs Explorer AND netlytic (and anything else you find). The message is – archive in flexible spaces – not just one!

OK – I was starting from the position of having access to a historic TAGs Explorer archive and wanting to use netlytics functionality. If you want to do a similar conversion, you might find this template useful.

Health warning: I noticed that there were gaps in the data but these were few and should not affect the broad brush analysis. The archive runs from 10 Jan – Sept 22 2014

Here are some examples of the visualisations that netlytics offered.

Tweets over time
Tweets over time

This is interactive on the web site.

Top Ten Tweeters
Top Ten Tweeters

 

Top 10 Mentions
Top 10 Mentions

 

If anyone has concerns about their names appearing here, please contact me at frabell AT gmail DOT com.

Are we there yet? the notyetness of emerging technologies practice and research in online learning

Looking rear view mirror
Looking backwards and forwards CC-BY-NC

Any parent will recognise the plaintive question “Are we there yet?” asked by children impatient for the journey to be over, the holiday to start. In using technology in learning and education, hopefully we will never really get there but experience fun in our experiments and learn from our experiences. We may find that there are better and worse journeys, decisions that opened up opportunities and others that closed them down.

Amy Collier and Jen Ross have come up with the intriguing concept of notyetness, based on George Veletsianos’ assertion that emerging technologies are ‘not yet fully researched” and “not yet fully understood” in online learning. Amy flags up the enabling characteristics of emergence that can flow from notyetness

creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.

She gives three examples of projects with notyetness that have touched me personally in the last year: Domain of One’s Own , Fedwiki Happening, and Rhizo14.  I am currently reinventing my web site with the wonderful help of Tim Owens at Reclaim Hosting, I have two fedwiki happenings under my belt and I was a participant and researched (with Jenny Mackness) Rhizo14. This morning, I watched the livestream of Sheila MacNeill’s keynote to #OER15, where one of the themes was the different shades of open that might be tried in the drive to mainstream Open Educational Practice. Sheila seemed to be recommending a pragmatic approach to mainstreaming of OEP, and this chimed with Lisa Chamberlain’s identification of Facebook Groups as a kind of not-yetness

The ideas of not-yetness at an MIT or Stanford are so far beyond the realm of my little community college that they would intimidate or even shut down emerging technology discussion for all but a few of the most technologically-edgy of faculty at my school.

But Facebook, good ol’ Facebook, almost the grandpa of social media now, is a kind of “not-yetness” on my campus. (Not to mention it has a nearly flat-line learning curve which is important for a 10 week quarter). The idea of opening a class to social media of any kind is not-yetness here. The use of Facebook groups is not-yetness here. The connectedness of letting outsiders participate with students in a class via Facebook is very not-yetness here.

I should declare that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook: it’s great to keep in touch with my far-flung family but I have concerns about Facebook privacy aspects and its use of data. I taught a first year undergraduate module 2009-2013 where most of the students were Facebook users, making it possible for them to conduct small group investigations into privacy and data use (meaning Facebook membership was not compulsory and there was no Facebook interaction with tutors). So I feel sympathy with Lisa’s pragmatic approach but also a little uneasy.  There are quite a few reasons not to use Facebook in formal education: the creepy treehouse effect, Selwyn(2009)’s recommendation to leave Facebook as a backstage space for students, and the implications of mandating students of a space that is managed externally to the college or university. 

In thinking further, I also recognised an interesting link between the notyetness of both emerging technologies online learning practice and research into that practice. Ferguson(2012) identifies three different interest groups for learning analytics – governments, educational institutions and teachers/learners. When learners interact via Facebook, the major interest groups for the data are Facebook and the customers to whom they sell advertising.  Although, Facebook makes some anonymised interaction data available through apps like Netvizz, their track record for research is questionable. Selwyn’s 2009 study found that only 4% of student interactions related to their studies and so students who elected not to participate in an optional Facebook social space were not too disadvantaged but moving significant  elements of learner interaction to Facebook seems different somehow.

There is already a trend of outsourcing some educational services to private companies, and it’s easy to see that ‘free’ services can be attractive but Facebook isn’t Reclaim Hosting whose strapline is “Take Control of your Digital Identity”.  What will we see in the rearview mirror if there is a substantial move of study-related interaction to Facebook groups?

Ferguson, R. (2012). Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4(5/6), 304–317. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/36374/1/IJTEL40501_Ferguson Jan 2013.pdf

Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook, 34(2), 157–174. doi:10.1080/17439880902923622 also currently available at http://blogs.ubc.ca/hoglund/files/2011/05/facebook.pdf

Four women on a train – one of many possible stories

This story is dedicated to Heli Nurmi whom I have known since we worked together on the CCK08 MOOC in 2008. Heli blogs about open learning, and regularly participates in MOOCs. She has extensive experience of research and practice in education, brings much insight to discussions at blogs and on forums.

I have visited Finland twice- the first time in 1999 was to meet up with educators using digital technologies and the second time was to attend a conference in Turku in 2004.

View of lake at Repovesi
Repovesi by https://www.flickr.com/photos/anroir/ CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the first trip, with a colleague I travelled by train from Helsinki to a college in Kouvola, then on to the University of Tampere and back to Helsinki. Train journeys are a great way to see a country and I remember the landscape of lakes and forest we saw, though checking the map reveals how little of Finland I saw.

On one of our train journeys, we sat in a pair of seats facing two women, one old, one young. The older woman was very keen to speak to us though she spoke no English and we spoke no Finnish. She soon established that the younger Finnish woman spoke English and so she persuaded her to translate. We struck up a conversation about where we were going and where we came from.  The translator seemed to become increasingly bored and uncomfortable until the older lady launched into an animated story that lasted about 5 minutes. Our translator turned to us, shrugged her shoulders, and said “Shit happens”. We smiled and got off the train at the station where we needed to change trains.

In writing this story, I struggled to remember details (apart from the memorable ending) and it occurs to me if either of the other women remembered the meeting they would very likely tell the story differently, as would my colleague.

Binaries, Polarisation and Privacy

White Noise by Scott Joseph CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
White Noise by Scott Joseph CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In my writing, reading and thinking during the last year or so, some of the recurring themes are ethics, learning, diversity, popularity and polarisation in Internet culture.  Encouraged by my experience at the smallest federated wiki, I am trying different ways of writing, experimenting with partially-formed ideas, linking with and building on what others have written.  I have always blogged in this way but the experience of federated wiki has encouraged me to work in smallish chunks of writing that I can link to others’ smallish chunks without any overarching plan of where I am going.

This post is a bit different from my fedwiki writing. I want to set down some different ideas that seem connected to me because I suspect that I can come back to them later and make different connections, with your help.  I did this in an earlier post that is still ripe for connections for me.  If this post generates anything like the richness of the earlier post’s comment stream, it will be productive labour.

In some ways, we are moving away from limiting old binaries and dualisms like real/virtual, global/local in our exploration of (digital) communication and culture.

Polarisation in public discourse online is a theme that has preoccupied me, and some cogs in my thinking shifted a little when I read this excellent article by David A. Banks, Very Serious Populists.

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shown to be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page.

David’s critique of voting on social networks argues powerfully that the ‘binaries’ of up-voting and down-voting are inadequate for dealing with ambiguity and divisive topics. They are a tool for polarisation not a means of going beyond it, and as David suggests the status quo of domination of spaces by white males is maintained, and even reinforced by sociotechnical aspects such as ‘voting’. The idea that someone’s popularity lends additional weight to what they have to say is interesting and deserves to be unpicked.

Another ‘binary’ that has attracted much attention is public/ private – which probably never was and certainly is no longer a binary – and deeply embedded in power relations.   danah boyd’s work has revealed that young people can regard online privacy as a strategy, more to do with who’s there rather than the features of the space itself.

We are all finding our way in the complex private/public spaces we increasingly inhabit and so it’s important to reflect, acknowledge our successes and mistakes and think of how we might do things differently.

In a powerful post, based on recent events and her own frightening experiences, Audrey Watters drew our attention to the nasty practice of doxxing, posting online someone’s personal information (such as social security number or home address). Audrey highlighted the network aspects of doxxing.

After all, doxxing relies on these sorts of large networks. Doxxing relies on amplification.

So even if we are reposting something already ‘made public’, we can be increasing the risks of the doxxed person being subjected to threats and nuisances by others. We can become part of that network of harm.  In the example that Audrey gives, both the original poster and the re-poster may well have seen themselves as on the side of the angels in their wish to defend student privacy.

And for me that links back to polarisation, it may be that we are at most danger of being drawn into networks of harm when we are hell bent on supporting a good cause.

The other thing that is puzzling me is whether or not the binary nature of much of our online participation like/not like, friend/not friend, follow/ not follow, click/not click, upvote/downvote, block/ not block might be seeping into our culture,as well as the platforms on which we enact it.  These are hard clickable binaries trying to capture a world where dualisms can get in the way of understanding complex contexts. I am not suggesting an essentialist view that our use of ‘likes’, etc. will cause polarisation of views but wondering what the impacts of ‘binary participation’ may be in different communication contexts. It’s not just about our choice to click/like but also about how that is used by the algorithms that serve up our feeds, shaping our view of what others say and do.

I would love to hear your thoughts or your links to other writers.

Women making social media work for good causes

20141120_130041
On International Women’s Day I would like to highlight the work of three women doing good with the help of social media and those who participate.

Kate Granger is a witty and engaging woman doctor who has used her experience of being a patient with terminal cancer to launch a campaign that has made life better for thousands of patients worldwide. Watch the video of Kate telling her own story.  You can see the impact of the #hellomynameis campaign at http://hellomynameis.org.uk/  and Kate in operation at @GrangerKate.

I met Cristina Vasilica when she was a student at the University of Salford where she is now a lecturer and PhD student in the College of Health and Social Care. She is still in my networks, and so I have seen the good work she does at the Greater Manchester Kidney Information Network (http://gmkin.org.uk/ ) at Facebook as part of her PhD. As it’s a closed group I can’t link to it but if you are from Greater Manchester and could contribute/ benefit, please contact them via the web site or at @gmkin on Twitter.  You can find out more about her PhD work here – she is doing practical good and contributing to knowledge.

I came across Lou Mycroft on an online course last year, and she has introduced me to an area and philosophy of education that I knew little of before – social purpose education.  Lou works as a teacher educator at Northern College but it isn’t just her student teachers who can learn with and from her – you can too.  She is generous in sharing and the TeachNorthern web site is stuffed with goodies and is a jumping off point for even more. Visit the site, follow her on Twitter at @lounorthern

It’s no coincidence that all three of these women are great learners and teachers.