Digital Literacies

Researching New Literacies, Learning and Everyday Life

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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 .


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June 11th, 2015 at 12:13 pm

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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).

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April 19th, 2015 at 12:02 pm

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“Unexpected item in the bagging area”

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Oh I so hate it when supermarket staff try and make you check out your own shopping at the supermarket. This is one area of technology I cannot STAND. If you have a bag of golden plums to weigh, they will not have a picture of them to press and the ‘lady’ has to come and help you. If you buy pre-packed stuff, the bar code won’t scan properly. If you pick up something reduced it freaks out. But the worst thing is when you put something in the bag, it starts screaming that ‘there is an unexpected item in the bagging area’ and no matter what you do it keeps freaking. What does it expect anyway? I won’t even begin to tell you what happens if you don’t want to use their cruddy carrier bags but use your own environmentally friendly (and more stylish) bag.

I think I prefer old fashioned shops where you get served; where you don’t have the moral dilemma of all the buy one get one free offers (and the pain of throwing half of it away too); and in general where you don’t have to buy vast quantities. I also like to have a chat with the shopkeepers and they rarely want to say much when they are sitting at the till with a massive queue of people to deal with.

Just one more thing

I wonder though, what technology would improve the shopping experience in supermarkets. Any ideas?

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September 21st, 2011 at 8:22 pm


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Going down to London by train the other day, and then returning today, I saw a few people reading Kindles as they travelled. My Mum bought one for my Dad as part of his Christmas present – and apparently he is really pleased. I was quite surprised that Mum bought one for Dad, as I thought they might both think that it is better to hold a ‘real’ book. But he is prepared to give it a go and is looking forward to the new experience. Apparently this new technology is really taking off now – but will the book ever be usurped?

I wonder if Kindles will really take off – it is a couple of years since I saw them on the American and we had to wait awhile before they became available in the UK (as usual). Apparently a few schools are buying them now – thinking they may motivate reluctant readers. There is a lot of sentimentality about books however – and people say they like to hold them, annotate them, turn the pages – and even that shelves full of books make a place look homely etc. They are not ‘neutral objects’ and we sometimes imbue them with feelings that maybe are associated with when or where we read the book. The Kindle will be an object that mediates many books – however I have to admit that my laptop – maybe a mere mediator – has accumulated associations for me – so that it feels like it is mine; it is customised with my preferred settings and software etc etc. So too, other technology things – they acquire a history, a provenance, that makes them important to us beyond their material value. Will this happen to the Kindles (or their successsors)?

At the moment we still think of authors as writing BOOKS. You author a book and the idea of the electronic artefact is that it is an adaptation. This contrasts with musicians – who decide they will make a new record, or new album. Thus we anticiapte that music is mediated through technology, that it can be listened to via electronic formats. The idea is that musicians produce music intended to be mainly heard as a recording; the electronic aspect is not a translation of what was originally intended, it is primary. But novels are written, intended to be printed on paper pages, bound in sequence.

I think that it will not be until authors write with the intention that the electronic format is primary, rather than secondary, that they will really be accepted. So maybe authors will take more advantage of the electronic affordances – moving images maybe; words that sparkle; or where sound plays a more important role. Otherwise the electronic format will always be seen as a substitute.

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December 30th, 2010 at 9:24 pm

It’s been so long a coming ….

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Ah the blog. I am coming back to it – driven by a pact with Eve that we will write weekly because we think it will help our thinking.  Maybe this will also pave the way back for me to Twitter. A long gap of not writing here, partly caused by the fear that things may get personal when I did not want to mix up thoughts about heart attacks, cancer and research into Web 2.0. But in fact they are inextricably mixed as they weave through my life and so I guess will all at some point emerge somehow here. Why? Because web 2.0 technologies somehow bring together the public and the private,  and maybe that is because web 2.0 is so much a part of our personal lives. Perhaps this is what is scary to so many people and thrilling to others. The Internet (and especially social networking sites) weaves around us, mediates and constructs, pushes and pulls as we push and pull at it.

That’s all. I am being vague & mysterious this week as there is time later to be profound and clear.

So below is a mash up from the beach – whose relevance is vaguely that this blog will bring you all the stuff that has washed up during my week.

Sea Treasures

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October 8th, 2010 at 10:27 am

Teens not Twittering

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Hmm. Like, … whatever!!!

The Guardian ran a few reports here and here (one day after another in fact) …. and here.  And yesterday Twitter went crazy with a new trending topic when news hit from Nielson that Teens were not tweeting. I guess it all makes a welcome change from people moaning about kids being online all the time and from hearing the wonderment about all our little digital natives who are born wireless and with inbuilt bluetooth (etc.) It is a new refrain that implies disappointment that kids are not obsessed with the latest fad – that it is the oldies who are doing it.

As Apophenia has pointed out many of the tweets on Twitter’s 3rd most trending topic at the moment are from teens protesting that they do tweet.

Le’s face it hardly anyone uses Twitter – a fact you will find confirmed if you announce that you do so, to a bunch of people down the pub (unless they are all your tweeting friends). So it is not a surprise that not many teens tweet – and despite their protests, the tweeting teens don’t seem to be typical – just like their tweeting oldie counterparts.

Teens tweet Tweet Tweeting

Teens tweet Tweet Tweeting

I think it is interesting as we have become so convinced that all kids are all online and up for technology for technology’s sake, that we are in a state of shock when we find this is the case.  Facebook (and Bebo and Myspace etc) offer a space where you can do much more identity work than on Twitter. Facebook lets you play in lots of ways, Facebook is a fun thing to do. Kids seem to prefer it on there and frankly I think are glad if the adults migrate to twitter away from Facebook where they had made a brief and unwelcome appearance. Different online spaces have different affordances and I sense that as we are all maturing in our uses of online spaces, we are making decisions according to what we want from something. We know that teens migrate through the social networking sites as friendships change and develop – switching from Bebo to Myspace, to Facebook (etc.)  Twitter may not serve ther purposes so well… for me I closed down Facebook when I realised that all my friends were mixing with colleagues and ex students, present students were all mingling in my space. I found it unnerving to have brothers in with post grads  (for example) and could not manage to feel relaxed about writing on my wall in such a social mash-up!   Maybe the young don’t have such diverse networks and anyhow worry less about saying things in front of the ‘wrong’ people. For me Twitter is a space where I can custom build my network and have it as a space where I mainly talk as if in work, in my academic comfort zone. It’s like a very select staff room.

So yes … I feel a comparative study coming on … luckily I already have the ethical review complete and can start work on this in September!! And as I said on the blog yesterday, this stuff needs researching from both ends … looking at the data online and the stats … but also TALKING to the people.

In the meantime New Media & Society has this.

Written by DrJoolz

August 12th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Researching both ends

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When I first started researching online texts I was drawn into looking at sites created by young people. This was way back in about 2002. I was looking at teens’ personal websites (not blogs) and discussion boards relating to babyz... all sorts of weird things like sites for Wiccan teens. I was really interested in all the stuff they were collaborating on and looked at the texts really closely – was totally bowled over by what they could do. S I wrote about all these online texts and about what the kids were doing and how they were playing and learning online.

Then I started doing a blog myself and getting into Flickr and so was writing about Blogging and Flickring (and eBay, and YouTube) . This was good as I realised very quickly how and why young people were getting so seduced by, absorbed by technologies.

As time has gone on, I have realised that it is important to not just look at the texts that are being produced, but at the processes by which they are being produced. A text that is online reflects a social process. It has been produced within a social context that cannot be presumed or assumed. In order to understand online text production, we need to know about the provenance. The meanings are also rooted outside the text, often in social happenings and events that exist outside the online space. As researchers of online spaces we have to understand that those spaces are often rooted elsewhere and the texts are not always self-standing, independent and self explanatory.

So I have realised that you need to look at the texts, but also at where they are produced so look at both ends.

Nevertheless in what I would call ‘mature’ online spaces, – spaces which have a social history, an often intricate set of networks that have been woven within the web, – these can be comprised of texts that root into the virtual space itself and have independence from geographical place. Not all mature sites do this of course, since some social networking function alongside or in support of offline activities and relationships.

So I draw a distinction here between mature sites and less mature sites … and texts which have roots in online and offline spaces; and texts which have roots just in the online world. I think that sites / online texts which root only in the offline world are less likely to survive.

Pic from Emblatame

Written by DrJoolz

August 11th, 2009 at 10:39 am

Bless us and all who sail in us

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This is Guy and I happy at our book launch a few weeks ago… many thanks to Lynda Graham for the picture. This was also the day when we launched our new research centre – The Centre for the Study of New Literacies at Sheffield. We were so lucky to have Anne Haas Dyson from Illinois University and Angela Thomas from Sydney. They both gave fantatsic keynotes, focusing on their research. We had so many of our friends ad colleagues – teachers and academics, come along to wish us luck with the Centre. It was a great start for a centre that we hope will be a catalyst for research as well as a showcase and discussion forum. We plan lots more events for the coming year – not least a conference in July 2010.
We hope that students from the MA in New Literacies will like to come along to events – and that our doctoral students will be playing a role in the Centre too.

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July 27th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

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Repositioning the value of individual knowledge

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A company called ‘Common Sense Media’ publishes a lot of stuff which I think is rooted in old school values that need to update and move on with the times.

They are of course not alone in continuing to value autonomous learning over collaboration; assessment of each individual’s grasp of facts & knowledge; a desire to separate learners in an attempt to ensure that they can be evaluated more easily. This is what schools and schooling have been based upon over centuries.

But nowadays I think we need to value collaboration and participation far more; we need to think about how we teach students to read critically and to share knowledge; to show where they got ideas from so that others can look too. We need to be teaching them to understand that many people working together can achieve so much more than individuals working competitively. We need to show learners that it can be good to produce texts in collaboration and to amend them time and time again to add detail, to refine, to bring up to date (etc)

Thus in this article about hi tech cheating, the emphasis in my view needs to be on making sure kids acknowledge their sources. Showing them that it is of value to research and find information, will mean there is no need to deceive others. In this age of always on acess to info, there is no need to set such a high premium on reproducing facts. By continuing to insist that this is what is important, we are teaching kids skills that belong to past centuries.

Just in case you think I am totally utterly barking mad .. I do agree we need to know lots of things without the need to look up stuff online all the time – but I am arguing about a principle here. This is the principle that we need to relax a bit on knowledge stuff and concentrate far more on helping kids to use sources carefully and in a critical way.

End of rant.

Btw – does this sign mean ‘No Arm Swinging’? Or is this an example of alternative readings? (Answers on a postcard please.)

no arm swingers

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July 23rd, 2009 at 10:31 am

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Presenting the data

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Many researchers are now asking the subjects of their study, not to be subjects, but participants.

Amongst other things, this is an attempt at making the whole process of research a more equal relationship – so that research participants get a say in how they are represented and in what data is used. They may also even help to design the research tool – such as put together the questions for interviews and so on. Researchers might otherwise risk representing participants in ways they are not happy with – or indeed which misrepresent them (this is an abuse of power imo).

More and more researchers are also using visual data as part of their research evidence – for example, giving people cameras to record aspects of their lives or to present the way they see things.

I love the site Duckrabbit as it shows what can be achieved when people are shown ways of representing themselves through words and images. Here the work is described as journalism – but there is sometimes a fine line only between ethnographic research and sensitive journalism which seeks to document people’s lives rather than sensationalise.

Maybe the researcher and their participants will then look at the films as if pure data and discuss what they show. However I don’t believe in ‘pure data’ and so think discussion between researcher and participants – around what is ahown and what is not, would be very fruitful.

Interesting also to wonder, is what is the effect on research participants of making their own films? How does the process of making the films affect (or not) the way they see themselves and their lives? And is this the same as the effect of the final product? (Does the product reflect what it was intended to?) Can the research process be transformative or therapeutic? Asking and thinking about these questions takes the research on a stage further.

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July 22nd, 2009 at 10:29 am

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