Digital Literacies

Researching New Literacies, Learning and Everyday Life

Young People Speak Out!

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Back in 2003 I evaluated a wonderful teaching programme at The Sheffield College where learner’s texts and biographies formed the basis of the curriculum. The course wassuccessful in that kids engaged with it, loved it, succeeded in progressing to where they wanted to be in their English Education. The talented teachers at the college taught me a lot about the importance of listening to learners and acting on what they say.
This wonderful course under the direction of Julie Hooper also used digital resources as much as possible and it was this that led them to pioneer the first UK online GCSE programme. This has now built up to an amazing online college. Their Game to Engage course is one of the many which has been awarded prizes, where students with learning challenges were involved in digital games of all kinds as part of their learning.

Things have moved on so much since 2003 and I like how young people are having their say in ways that were unimagined in the past. For example in the EdExel Maths exam last week kids took to Twitter to complain about how hard the questions were.

Twitter #edexcelMaths

It was great I think that their Tweets had an impact and also had a call to Edexcel to reconsider their grading boundaries. It was reported in The Guardian not just once, but twice.

I like how young people have this space where they can make their voices heard and I am sure I am not the only one whose Facebook page saw discussions about it. When I was doing my O’levels I had to put up and shut up and I like to see that there is a possiiblity that kids can make a shout out now.

The result of stuff going viral on Twitter of course though, is that in the end, everyone loses control of their original tweets and we witness the witty and not so witty results of a meme.

Here it is in all its glory .


Written by DrJoolz

June 11th, 2015 at 12:13 pm

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Traditional Game Play and the Digital

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A friend on my Facebook filmed herself involved in a strange ritual involving a plastic cup and some clapping. I watched it several times and then posted a comment to ask what it was all about.

It turned out, in order to understand, that I should have had my volume playing while I was watching, but also I needed to know the cultural back story. The song my friend was singing was related to a film, Pitch Perfect.
In the film they sing what has become known as ‘The Cup Song’.

It appears that this song is quite a trend – or I assume – was a trend. The film was made in 2012. Looking on YouTube there are loads of examples of girls doing the song – to different levels of expertise of course. This is my personal favourite:

The singing is superb. But it’s in the kitchen so has the charm of the amateur – something I love about YouTube.

And here is a tutorial (also in a kitchen):

(Maybe kitchens are a theme – the cup song maybe requires it. Sorry but I will not watch the whole film just to check).

Again, there are loads of these tutorials. Which I assume it is better to watch on slow and repeatedly. It seems the girls are all looking at each other’s videos; choosing to make one’s own is about social participation, joining in the action, parallel play on a global scale. There is a sense of this game playing involving participants across the life span. I think it’s wonderful!

It reminded me of my school days, when the girls would pass on songs and clapping routines in the playground. I used to love doing them. I especially loved doing them in big groups all together, singing really loudly. For some reason our teachers sometimes shook their heads at the dances that might go with our songs. Maybe they were a bit precocious – I remember one song referring to Dinah Dors!. (You can imagine the actions!)

But I love that this tradition goes on, partly with the aid of digital technology. It’s all been written about already by Jackie Marsh and Julia Bishop.
I think this playing online shows people interacting with those they already know – making films together – as well as with people they don’t know – the invisible audience and commenters. When I was a kid we performed sometimes for our teachers, sometimes parents. We taught the songs to each other – but mainly we just liked singing and clapping together. It was quite a physical way of showing friendship.

Play, media and commercial culture from the 1950s to the present day

Written by DrJoolz

May 25th, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Learning Futures

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I have been thinking about the ‘Away Day’ I am attending tomorrow where we are thinking about the Faculty of Social Sciences Learning and Teaching Policy for the next 5 years. In particular I will be thinking about the technology aspect as this is part of my job and I have a responsibility to develop ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’.
I have taken part in this kind of event many times in my career and it always feels hard to project for the future. I think our best bet is to realise we cannot project for the future and that we need to have a policy which allows for this flexibility.

In essence this is what David Puttnam argues in his talk captured on video here about ‘The Future of Learning’.

I agree that what we have to do is invest in developing individuals to work in teams, to collaborate, to have agility. And that competence based learning is not what we need any more. This is also argued by Sugata Mitra in this film:

He despairs of those who insist that kids learn their times tables, saying that the system of education the Victorians developed was one in which all the kids had to learn the same as each other. This obviously allows us to compare kids all the time and this is what we seem obsessed with. But like James Paul Gee, (in this book) Mitra and Puttnam are arguing that we need to develop individual skills and help people think and work together. We should have different roles from each other in project based learning that we collaborate on.

Puttnam makes the point that classrooms these days look very similar to what they looked like 50 or even 100 years ago. This, he points out, is different to the progress we see in the operating theatres of today’s hospitals, compared to 100 years ago. I am less worried about this; I am happy that many classrooms are still keen to encourage interactivity that is not always mediated by technology (and actually my GP’s surgery is still very similar to one we may have seen in 1915). Sometimes we have to think about the kinds of interactivity that is right for the job we have in mind.

We are all still a bit alienated by things working on a grand scale and are inclined to hang onto technologies that let us talk to small groups of people, or privately to our best friends. The important thing is that technology allows us to make choices. We can select which one we need for the job we want to do. We are pretty good at this in our social lives but less good at work. We select whether to use Snapchat, Instagram, Flickr or email to communicate with each other. But in our classrooms, it seems to be one PowerPoint after another – that we mediate for our class or share in our Learning Management Systems. This is ‘polished performances of old practices’.

Puttnam talks about how teachers use lesson plan sharing sites and shows how in 2012 over 2 million plans were downloaded from one webiste alone; and that one teacher in her history of being on the site had seen her work downloaded over 1 million times. This kind of self generated activity is fascinating – and points to how we prefer to interact in ways that are not overseen by massive corporations and let us develop in ways we choose.

Mitra talks about how important it is that we teach the skills of reading comprehension; search and retrieval of resources; and critical literacy skills. This third point her refers to as teaching about belief and ‘armour against doctrine’.

For me, the pointers I take from this is that we need to teach students to:

Use technologies to find, evaluate and share knowledge; to collaborate and participate in research about knowledge; to collaborate in the creation of new knowledge. this I think, also means moving away from the traditional ways of presenting knowledge, and that we should allow them to choose the right technology to mediate what they have learned. I would also like to see us using technology in ways that does not simply replicate old practices but allows us to do new things. We need to realise that we have to move beyond the word processor.

Written by DrJoolz

May 20th, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Social Media to Big Media

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This last week has been an emotional roller coaster. From tiny acorns great oaks do grow. (And other cliches).

After a disappointing result in the UK election, where the right wing Tory party for the UK got voted in by a majority, a lot of us here were gutted, especially as the Tories were voted in on a mandate that supports the ‘ordinary working person’. Many of us have seen this as a vote against the non working people – including the elderly, sick, infirm … etc. It is not great being ill or disabled to such a degree that you cannot work; work is about access to the world, participation in interesting and exciting things. It allows you to meet people, to socialise and of course, earn money. If you cannot do this your choices are limited. No one chooses this for themselves. Obvious to me. But I live with this reality through my daughter so I see it daily; but she and millions of others remain hidden behind closed doors from the rest of the world.

After the election my daughter posted on Facebook about her disappointment and was astonished to see how quickly her post received literally hundreds of shares by people she odes not know.

The following day Rosa was asked by The Guardian to write an article for their ‘Comment’ series. After a bit of angst about how to approach this task, she produced a great article that to date has in excess of 9,500 shares. It’s here.

She has now been approached by other newspapers and by disability organisations who are asking her for quotes and comments that they can use too.

So – out of bad, can come good. The Tories gave her the push to shout her head off.
Rosa has lived a difficult and isolated life since her illness, aged 11, stopped her from attending school and she has been virtually housebound ever since. The internet has been her umbilical cord to the word and she has friends across the globe. She is networked and respected. But this latest event has given her the recognition that gives her the confidence and assurance she needed. She has a voice that people want to hear. The Internet did this for her.

The Internet is enabling. Rosa has read loads, spent hours, days, months and years interacting online; doing MOOCs; joining forums; listening to podcasts; reading reading reading. She is not addicted to the Internet. She would rather be out there, face to face, physically present. But this is the next best, and Rosa rocks.

Written by DrJoolz

May 15th, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Statistics as Selfies

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I confessed to a class of undergraduate students that I wear a pedometer everyday and that I wear a heart rate monitor and a GPS device whenever I go out on my bicycle.

Garmin and Coffee stop

I upload statistics from these devices, have contacts on the websites; I send and receive ‘kudos’ for my activities and I find this very motivating. Sadly, if I forget to wear any of these tracking tools, I don’t feel like putting much effort into my day, as I feel there is no point.

Summer 2013

These devices provide some kind of account of our lives; an account that we influence. This is how the devices work to get us fit; they encourage us. They show us graphs, we can look at our progress and compare our selves to others as well.

One of my students said she also wears a pedometer and that in the evenings she would throw her pedometer repeatedly in the air in order to register additional steps so that her online profile would be more impressive. Obviously I think it’s quite funny that my student does this and it’s also quite ridiculous that I don’t feel like putting in effort unless what I do is recorded.

It is as if the narrative of our lives becomes more important than what we actually do. That we want the account to look good and we lose interest in the original experience. The virtual representations of what we do have a resonance, a power that I think many of us are seduced by. This way of regarding the stats is no different to the way we might photoshop an image of ourselves, or only choose to share flattering shots. We like to look back at these stories of our lives and we smooth the edges of them, crafting them into something we want to look at and for others to share in.

Written by DrJoolz

April 28th, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Selfies Day

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I attended a day about Selfies in Manchester last week, led by Farida Vis.

Crystal Abidin was super interesting, talking about the way a Singaporean politician has curated an online self in order to promote himself. The way he does this, involving others to tweet about him (etc) reminded me of the paper Jill Walker wrote many years ago on Distributed Narrative. This idea of encouraging others to write about you in order to endorse a particular presence is obviously risky but great if it works.

As luck would have it, Jill was also presenting and talked about Selfies not just in terms of the image, but also in terms of what you write about yourself and how we collect statistics of ourselves all the time. As an avid fitbit user, etc etc I was very interested in this idea and grateful for the ‘permission’ to think about Selfies in a broader way. Jill’s new book gives more detail. I ordered it from my iPad while listening and received it the next day. Nice.

Fascinating stuff also about Selfies as political work and to think about Selfies not just as superficial vanity projects is important. They are usually more than this. In this respect we saw images of Israeli soldiers who had made Selfies of themselves endorsing gruesome acts of aggression against Gazan people. Adi Kuntsman described the making of Selfies as a deeply political act, as acts of performance.

Finally, Simon Faulkner, also focusing on Israel and Gaza talked about the Selfie as protest and the way people have started using text on placards in their images. I have seen this a lot lately, even in videos and wonder why people use this format. It does draw you in quite intensely.

From Abu Rhame\'s Facebook photographs

A really great day which has inspired me, after three years, to blog again. (It does take ages though).

Written by DrJoolz

April 19th, 2015 at 12:02 pm

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little tiny libraries

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It is not often that I post about something that is so non-technology. But this caught my eye on Vivien Vasquez’s Facebook.
It’s a really cute idea that is designed to build on and develop community relations and also develop the reading of books. The project is described here.
The idea is that individuals and groups set up a little box or stall and place books in it for others to borrow/ exchange.

Books are placed in the box for sharing

I think I like the idea as it is so simple and so non-techy. I think a lot of people are reacting against this first manic take up and allure of new technologies, feeling somewhat over whelmed and saturated by it all. There is something comforting about the idea of re-reading a book that has been passed on in such an invisible giving kind of way. No digital footprint; no additional profit made. Something pure about all this – can this be so?

This is an innovation I think and one that uses no new technology and embraces the old.

Written by DrJoolz

August 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Private Facebook ‘Support Groups’

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Issues of Privacy Online

I have joined a private group on Facebook. You cannot find it through the Facebook search facility or via Google.  You cannot see if your friends are members of private groups. This is the info from Facebook about the different types of privacy for groups:

From Facebook:

Online privacy – or lack of it – has of course been a hot topic over the years and Facebook in particular has been held up as a major offender for the invasion of private information and selling it on. Despite offering services free of charge, Facebook has made a lot of money from selling our information. But now we all know about it, maybe we should just act responsibly and not say too much online that we don’t want shared:

Locked Gates - Cemetery Road Cemetery Sheffield

Private Facebook Groups
The group I have joined is for ‘ME Mums’ . I was told about the group through another support forum for carers of people with ME and it was only via invitation that I could have joined – being linked to the group by an existing member. The group allows us to talk privately  – sharing information and grievances. We also have some laughs.

Community / Grassroots level Expertise
The group has been a source of a great deal of valuable info that I would otherwise not be able to find out – in fact having a daughter who has had ME for 15 years, I  have gained more info in the last month or so than I managed to collate on my own over those years.  Expertise is of the kind Gee writes about when he describes Affinity Spaces. Expertise that is valued is the ability to behave like a hunter gatherer, bringing jewels to the nest from other parts of the Internet. Hyperlinks are common on the ME Mums space – reaching out to other support groups; marginal medical research; useful gadgets to buy – eg heart rate monitors being a popular one at the moment – ; ‘good people’ we can trust; videos on YouTube and to other ME organisations across the world.

The group has no official ‘certificated’ experts – no medical doctors and the like. Respect is earned through online reputation within the group – and the greatest gurus are highly valued and receive lots of ‘likes’ and affirmative remarks on their posts. They post daily, lengthily and bring lots of information. Furthermore, such gurus mediate the info – explaining its relevance to others in simple language. Other members refer to such posts and to the documents the gurus share. Other ways of acquiring respect is via the amount of support you offer; a sharing approach is universally expressed and no negative judgements are ever articulated. the ‘like’ button is used liberally – and with multiple meanings.

We have created – and continue to create – an archive of symptoms, of bad experiences and of good, that could be the basis of some good research.

Risks – Breaches of Confidentiality

This online space of which I am a member will not become the focus of my own research; this would not be ethical and would jeopardise other types of benefit I get from the group anyhow. But I am learning things from being a part of this new type of online space – which I think has real dangers as well as benefits. Because whilst we may all keep everything secret – there is no guarantee of this, we hope to trust members, but who knows? Also, maybe at some point someone will hack in – and maybe Facebook will decide to make our info available to a third party. We always have to be on our guard. Not just because there is information we are sharing about our children online – which they may not wish to share and which is confidential; but also because we are sometimes specific about professionals we criticise (perjury? slander?) but also because at this stage, children are still taken into care when they have ME – on the pretext of Munchhausen syndrome by proxy. We only have to think about politicians’ leaked emails to get a clue about the damage seemingly innocuous digital texts can do sometime.

The downside of user driven expertise
On the downside, I see some people getting in a big state over the information they are given and I have seen how they can easily end up worrying too much. The problem with people researching for themselves is that they are so close to the situation – and while this has absolute advantages (insider knowledge etc) sometimes distance is necessary for perspective. This kind of grassroots level research is a great thing but at the same time I keep thinking that it would be good if this were not necessary – that if medics and social services etc co-ordinated themselves as well as we have, we would be able to trust them to care for our children as well as they care for heart patients etc. People with orthodox carefully diagnosed illnesses get better help. Traditional experts – medics in particular – have power and also access to privileged information and funding for treatments and support and research. If they could only see our conversations sometimes, it would make them very angry; but after the anger they may learn something very valuable.

Educational application of private groups
In terms of education … I did not realise exactly how private you can make a Facebook group and so this does have some useful affordances for teaching and learning – will muse on this at a later date. I like the idea of creating a Facebook space for students now that I realise I can reassure them their friends will not see the group and it will not interfere with their existing presentations of self online!! And as I have seen, when the motivation is there, the group can work very impressively. This is what online participation is all about.

Written by DrJoolz

July 12th, 2012 at 11:02 am

50 Shades of Grey

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Apparently everyone is reading this. All women apparently. So make that, “apparently all women are reading this”.

book cover

But the punters are not usually reading it in book format. It is being mass consumed digitally – e.g. on Kindles – so that no-one can tell you are reading it. No one can see the ‘give away’ book cover. With your Kindle you can be reading anything from the Kama Sutra to Bicycle Maintenance for Boys. So says, for example, the BBC here.

A lot of my Facebook friends – all women – have announced they are reading it . But they make sure they announce that they are reading it ‘to find out what the fuss is about’. Fair enough, don’t blame them. One of my friends has apparently used the search and replace facility to substitute the ‘rude words’ for funny words and she reads it to her husband. So you CAN be seen to be reading it – but explanations are at the ready in case you think they are just consuming for enjoyment ‘ without thinking’. It is an intellectual and analytical pursuit, of course.

You can even get e postcards related to the book:

From here:

Irony rules. It often saves the day as it cannot be achieved without a wry criticality; by being ironic you are saying you are clever.

I wondered whether we would be so ironically amused if all the men were suddenly reading a particular porno on their Kindles. I suspect not.

I presume this is because we are used to men reading porn and we have despaired of it. And we might also see it as being related to violence against women. Or simply the denigration of women ‘in their minds’. Now we women (they) are reading it and we have to celebrate this liberation or at least, giggle. I notice there are hundreds (so far) reviews on Amazon, and the star system is used at either end of the extremity (awarding just one star or five) and not much between. Depends if you like irony or not I suppose.

  1. Do I disapprove? No I don’t think so.
  2. Am I amazed at how quickly it has sold so many copies? Yes.
  3. What do I deduce?

That this is something interesting and it is about digital text  affecting literacy consumption in an interesting way.

Written by DrJoolz

June 25th, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Habbo Hotel under Siege

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For all the best possible intentions Channel 4 recently exposed how a large number of peodophile and predatory interactions take place on a very regular place on Habbo Hotel. Habbo is a Finnish social networking site aimed at teenagers, wiki describes it here.

In an extensive piece, they talked about how undercover researchers joined Habbo Hotel and found that they were immediately and regularly sexually propositioned. They were subjected to sexual talk and coercive behaviour which sometimes attempted to move virtual chat through avatars from online ‘sexting’ into requests for individuals to strip in front of webcams. The Channel 4 investigation also revealed the identity of a couple of men who have already been prosecuted for such activities.

Habbo seemed unphased at first but when they realized what a storm Channel 4 had provoked they immediately silenced all interaction on their site. This was undoubtedly exacerbated by one of Habbo’s sponsors immediately withdrawing their interest from Habbo.

Despite all my interest in researching teenagers’ online behaviour over the years, I had not been at all interested in Habbo. perhaps because not one of my research participants ever mentioned it to me – although I had heard of it.  In fact as it has been around so many years I had assumed there was not activity on there. This is apparently not the case with wiki reporting that by 2011 230 million avatars had been registered (such figures need to be regarded with caution as some people will have multiple avatars and many avatars will have been registered but never or rarely been active).

It looks like the site is going to only unmute the talk and text functions once it has put into place much better more stringent moderation features.

My comments on all this are that:

(a) As usual the research that Channel 4 undertook was research that I think is pretty flawed. The adult researchers did not behave in the same way as teenager researchers and I thnk they should have involved teenagers in a much more authentic exploration of the site. What adults do in the site is not going to be the same as teenagers. This could have been asking teenagers to consent to being involved in research, asking them to join and observing them while interacting on the site – obviously a range of safety and ethical features would need to be set up for the project.

(b) The researchers made all kinds of assumptions about how young people might react to the propositions and lewd interatcions from the resident peodos perverts etc. Agtain, involving teenagers in the research would have helped with this.

(c) The researchers had a model of teenagers and young people as helpless victims. They did not think to consult teenagers who were already using the site about their observations and experiences.

(d) the researchers made the classic mistake of trying to immediately understand the site and to participate without lurking first. I would always advise researchers to first lurk about a site before participating… and this is what most people do before they join in on a networking site too.

(e) I am against covert research. Although the researchers like to get a scoop and love the thrill of under cover operations, I think they woud have got a great deal more from the research if they had got permission ethical approval and then done a thorough and multi faceted research project.

As a result of Channel 4’s research, not only has Habbo itself reacted by taking action which it should have taken long ago in relation to trolls, peodophles and pervs (!!) but  many of the sites users are using the internet  as a way of speaking back, protesting and making it known that they would like to be acknowledged as having some agency. For example here and here.

I like the way that this player critiques Channel 4’s use of the site. You can see from the video that many young people are utterly distraught by this decimation of what they see as THEIR space.

(It is somewhat naff, btw, that Channel 4 have disabled the embedding of video material they put on YouTube.)

I am very happy to see also how young people were finally invited to be on Channel 4 to have their say and this was a very good piece.

Hopefully Habbo will involve young people in the moderation of the site and to play a major role in advising on policy etc. But the whole piece is a really great example of why we need to teach about and with social networking in schools and to see young people as research participants as opposed to subjects.

Written by DrJoolz

June 22nd, 2012 at 12:15 pm