Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lecture Capture and Data Capture

I attended an excellent debate on lecture capture yesterday, held as part of the University of Leicester’s IT Focus week. There were good arguments for the use of lecture capture, and the arguments against were not anti-lecture capture per se, but rather its possible detrimental effect on the learning and teaching experience. However, as is usually the case at this sort of event I was disappointed by the lack of discussion and, seemingly, awareness of the wider political and ethical issues of learning technology, in particular issues surrounding the use of learning technologies for the gathering of metadata.

As Neil Selwyn and Keri Facer (2013) have said the study of educational technology remains “stuck stubbornly in its ways - dominated, at best, by an optimistic desire to understand how to make an immediate difference in classrooms and, at worst, in thrall to technicist concepts of ‘effectiveness,’ ‘best practice,’ and ‘what works’.

The discussion of any learning technology will understandably concentrate on teaching and learning. However, I feel that academics, learning technologists and students have a restricted view of learning technology when they ignore the actual use of technology to gather data for performance management and ‘learning analytics’. And while this data gathering can be used to enhance learning and teaching it can also be used for disciplinary and surveillance purposes.

We are seeing the increasing marketisation of Higher Education (and education in general) with governments and private companies seeing universities as sites for the extraction of profit. Maximising profit requires (among other things) analysis of business performance to enhance efficiencies. Digital technology provides the data required for that analysis, and in education that includes metadata from various content and learning management systems - lecture capture and VLEs are two such systems. It is naive to think that university managers won’t at the very least have an interest in exploring the analytical potential of these systems. There doesn’t seem to be any possibility for a change of direction any time soon in the view of universities as an economic good, so such investigations of the potential and actual use of metadata will happen - it has to because that’s how the system works. It forms part of what Jenny Ozga (2009) describes as the ‘governance turn’ in education - “the shift from centralised and vertical hierarchical forms of regulation to decentralised, horizontal, networked forms”. Such a way of thinking “is a reflection of a constant search for more complete state knowledge, for a ‘bridge’, that allows panoptic visions and strategies while ensuring compliance.”

I was pleased to hear yesterday at the debate that one senior member of staff was adamant that he would not work at university which uses data in an unethical manner, and that the university has ethical guidelines in place to guard against the use of data in such a way. As a senior member of staff he will be in a position to influence the debate, unlike a mere VLE monkey like me!

However, If we are to guard against the use of data for surveillance and performance management to create efficiencies for the extraction of profit then it requires a wider debate across universities, and not the odd, lone voice.

As a learning technologist I appreciate how the use of digital technology can provide fantastic opportunities for the enhancement of learning when it’s used appropriately and creatively. It’s what I do for a living, so I’m certainly not anti-technology. Lecture capture can be a valuable tool for students with accessibility issues, or those with learning difficulties, those who have English as a second language, and non-traditional learners. Nor am I opposed to the gathering and analysis of data from digital systems, it can be used to enhance learning and teaching. What I am ‘anti-’ is any top-down, technodeterminist, solutionist approach to the implementation of learning technologies, and the view of the university as an economic good rather than a public good. Learning technologists, and those researching learning technology have been too quiet about its use in supporting a data-driven managerialist audit culture. It’s time we started to shout a bit louder about it.

Ozga, J. (2009). Governing education through data in England: From regulation to self‐evaluation. Journal of Education Policy, 24(2), 149-162.

Selwyn, N., & Facer, K. (Eds.). (2013). The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. Palgrave Macmillan.

Photo credit: James Vaughan CC: BY-NC-SA

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Hidden Curriculum


MSc Reading Notes

Based on:


There is a history of the examination of the ‘hidden curriculum’ in education. It refers to those elements that are implicit or tacit to the formal goals of education. The hidden curriculum has been criticised for its role in reproducing the unequal relations of power in the social order. Students become socialised into a particular social order because they are hidden messages about what is available to them and what their education is for.

There is also a hidden curriculum in the coding of educational technologies that makes assumptions about learners and knowledge. The view is taken that this coding should be seen as an actor in the educational process, in the way that it enables and constrains learning. The coding and linking of data, and the way that decision making and reasoning are articulated in computer code makes things like search engines and e-assessment systems perform in particular ways, and makes them actors in the pedagogic process.

Educational technology cannot be seen as simply a tool by which the curriculum is delivered. Forms of classification and standardisation are important. We need to look at the standards and coding and their effects on the representation of information and knowledge, and the forms of teaching and learning that are made possible. This relates to the use of ed tech in the commodification of education, and the discourses of ‘efficiencies’ and standardisation, measurement etc. The semantic web means that data can be reused, shared and aggregated- as this happens the ‘pre-history’ of the data and the application of rules and standards applied to that classification disappears. Assumptions are coded into applications, including educational technology.

This emphasises the view that technology is never neutral. Quote from Rushkoff (Rushkoff, D. (2011). Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. New York: O/R Books.) -

“ technologies come to characterise the way that we live and work, so the people programming them become increasingly important in shaping our world and how it works.”

The coding and standardisation of the information infrastructures required by semantic web and ed tech also has an effect on the way in which people work - their work also becomes standardised to fit the applications that they are using to do their work and the way in which they teach and learn. Adopting particular standards for technology represents a statement on the part of the manufacturer. It could be argued that it is not the tech or the semantic web that is influencing the way that we do things, it is actually the coding and the standards behind it.

There is a strong rhetoric about computer software leading to efficiencies, institutional change, and professional competency. Teachers are expected to see the tech as a natural part of their work and that its use in the classroom should be seen as unremarkable.  The dominant metaphor is technology as a ‘tool’. Computers are seen as a kind of prosthesis, rather than as more complex assemblages within which the software is one element, and which involve users in a wide range of socio-material relationships. They preclude certain kinds of social and spatial relationships, they reconfigure absence-presence - see the stuff on movement and mobilities.

The standardisation required for data to be open, and for certain platforms (OERs etc) to be open means that data often ends up fitting into ‘flattened’ hegemonic categories.  Content reuse and interoperability requires standards - this means that information is affected by both human and non-human actants. There are multiple hidden translations that are incorporated into ed tech applications through codes, ontologies and metadata - it is layers upon layers of tacit assumptions about the way in which ed tech should work, and the way in which people and institutions should work. The problem is that trying to change this, and make different assumptions creates layers of a different kind. But perhaps layers that are predicated on what it actually means to be a learner, and on how people learn best, rather than trying to fit them into systems that see learning as commodified and individualistic. There is also the issue that even with ‘open’ and cooperative movements, there is still ‘benevolent concealment’ of of complexity by coders who have to balance the complexity of coding with usability.

But won’t this always be the case? There is no way to get around this unless everyone is a maker and coder, providing their own custom-built applications and software.

photo credit: elsamuko via photopin cc

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Minor Urbanism and Mobilities

gelatin war

MSc Reading Notes

Based on:

Shepard points out that we think of the entanglement of life with ‘a range of mobile, embedded, networked and distributed media, communications and information technologies’ in terms of an overlay of data onto material fabric. This sees a duality, between information and physical fabric - or online and offline.

This leads us to view the technology in terms of the interface between the two, rather than the entanglement as a whole. The result is an ontology that retains the maintenance of the dichotomy. It presents a good argument against digital dualism.

I think that this has relevance for the mobilities paradigm of mobile and e-learning outlined by Enriquez. In her view there is a breakdown of defined spaces, the lines become blurred, they are created and interact with the people who use and inhabit them. There is a breakdown of the duality of spatial and social activity.

The Cloud and UbiComp as ‘messy’
‘The Cloud’ has become the dominant metaphor for describing the infrastructure that allows ubiquitous computing. The impression given is of a seamless interaction. The truth is that it is much more messy, with a ‘heterogeneous assembly of technologies’. This idea of seamlessness ignores the many social and cultural, political and economic forces at play. The ‘real world’ is composed of human and nonhuman actors, and has situations that are recursively performed and enacted. Again, there is a link here with the mobilities paradigm, as well as the obvious reference to ANT.

Minor Urbanism and its relevance to e-learning
Shepard uses the example of parkour - a form of movement through an urban space using athleticism and gymnastics. They move through the city using paths that are outside of those designated by urban planners. In doing so they disrupt the patterns of movement within an urban space. Shepard points out that these types of movements - seen metaphorically as well as physically via parkour - reside ‘beneath and between the smooth and seamless landscapes of the neoliberal city’. If we substitute ‘city’ for ‘space’ we can see how such an approach to learning can undermine the neoliberal discourse prevalent in education. Acts that slip beneath the surface, and between the gaps and can shape a different collective experience of learning. They could reconfigure, recircuit and redirect normative systems and infrastructures ‘and open them up to alternate social and political dynamics’.

What type of learning are we looking at though? What types of activity? I think that an educational/technological version of ‘minor urbanism’ would be a useful way of envisioning an alternative to the pervasive discourses around education at the moment.

This type of minor urbanism can move us towards an alternate ontology than that ‘posited by the cloud for describing the relations between people, technology and space’. It puts actors - human and nonhuman into the foreground of the production of space and data. Again, another link with the mobilities paradigm and the creation of spaces.

Final point - futurology
Shepard, talking about ‘design fiction’, says that ‘designing implications involves imagining not just new products but also the social and cultural contexts within which they are situated.’ While this enables us to look at things (or technology) in terms of how it interacts social and cultural conditions, it also makes the point that futurology needs to be able to look at future social and economic conditions when making predictions about technology, if it is to be a useful practice. Otherwise it is simply the description of ‘cool stuff’ that might exist in the future.

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

What mobilities means for mobile and e-learning

Love Is On The Move MSc Reading Notes


Would a focus on bodies change how you currently think about e-learning? Why or why not?

How do I currently think about e-learning? I think of it as learning traditional topics/courses/content etc but mediated by technology. So the technology allows different ways to interact with the material, and with each other. It allows the use of different modalities to present material. The tech allows the building of communities outside of the formal community of the classroom/course.

I think that e-learning, as an online activity shifts the sense of identity and self (even if unknowingly). It disembodies the self, and enables it to shift around different places and spaces, and allows the forging new new aspects of the self.

So, I have thought about e-learning in the traditional sense of minds meeting minds - in the sense of an ‘encounter of intellects mediated by tools’.

The focus on bodies as inhabiting created spaces changes that view. The use of mobile tech to access learning materials also means that the space of learning changes depending on the place the learner is at physically - this space may have to be negotiated with others, differently to the negotiation of space that takes place in a traditional lecture theatre or classroom. There isn’t the segregation of space and social interaction, but the lines are blurred, and the space can be reinterpreted or recreated - the flow of information is altered in online spaces.

‘Learning is not just an encounter of intellects mediated by tools, but is a bumping into of bodies in spaces as part of ways of knowing in motion.’

This enables a more ontological relationship with technology, rather than one that considers learning from an epistemological point of view. Learning becomes intrinsically linked with the space of learning, the mobile device that is being used, or the computer that is being used. The sense of self and identity of the learner is therefore re-written contextually - their identity is one of a learner in a particular space or set of spaces, interacting with other learners, and course content.

The self is made mobile as a series of traces in mediated spaces.’

In this sense the standpoint of mobilities is a phenomenological one - it considers learning and the relationships of learners from the point of view of how they see and interact with the world, their emotions and feelings. This phenomenology is different to that of the student in the classroom or the lecture theatre. It is a different type of relationship to learning.

Looking at the body rather than just the technology, or the outputs of technology forces us to consider people as placed in a culture and society - they have their own history and narratives, and memory, and bring that to their learning. It is a more holistic approach, and less deterministic. They are not simply led by technology, or applications or software, or content, but form a part of the learning experience - they become signified by the technology, as well as having their activity mediated by it.

Currently when we talk about mobile learning, what we talk about is devices - it is very device-centric. There is discussion of mobile pedagogy, and of design for mobile learning, but even then it is in terms of the devices and how they work, and where they can be used. They are still thought of in terms of ‘the encounter of intellects mediated by tools’ rather than bodies in spaces.
photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

Monday, 23 September 2013

Futurology is really 'presentology'


The Bigum Chapter looks at the issue of computers in schools using ANT. It also has some insight into futurology, and predictions about technology.

Bigum, C. (2012). Edges, Exponentials and Education: Disenthralling the Digital. In L. Rowan & C. Bigum (Eds.), Transformative Approaches to New Technologies and Student Diversity in Futures Oriented Classrooms: Future Proofing Education. London: Springer

The idea behind ANT is that everything is treated as a continuously generated effect of the webs of relations in which they are located. Nothing has reality or form outside of the enactment of those relations.

So the use of computers in schools is based upon the network built up over time of computers/software/teachers etc, and their practices. John Law describes this as resulting from a ‘hinterland’, which comprises the persistent patterns of relations performed – the routine realities and the statements about those realities.

For computers to be ‘real’ in schools they need to draw upon an appropriate hinterland. This means fitting in with the patterns of school practices – classrooms, timetables, curricula etc. So the impact of past ways of doing things influences the way we image what can be done. In other words thinking about the future is really thinking about the present – using our present narratives, and the ‘hinterland’ we inhabit or draw upon to make predictions about what could or should happen in the future. We need to look to an alternative hinterland to make alternative futures.

The problem with trying to look to an alternative hinterland, or to predict a future dominant discourse is that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to do. Most futurology uses contemporary dominant discourses, so it is really describing an alternative present rather than a future. In the same way that science fiction isn't really about the future - it's about contemporary morals, politics, and economics transposed onto an alternative world where ideas can be extrapolated and developed as 'what if...' scenarios. Because futurologists are using contemporary discourses, rather than predicting what discourses might exist, then it is very easy to say things like 'in the future all exams will be marked by computers'. 

If the dominant narrative is of commodification, competition, efficiencies etc – i.e. the narrative of neoliberalism, then that is how new technology will be embedded in the school/university.

photo credit: MikeLawton via photopin cc

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Some thoughts about academic publishing

Some thoughts on the future of academic writing - written in March as part of an assignment for my MSc in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh.
I am writing this in Vienna - doing a bit of culture for a few days. So, in my attempt to create a multi-modal artefect for IDEL I am about to get all pretentious and arty-farty on your ass. As with a lot of my thinking and writing about stuff, I’m making this up as I go along, so if it doesn’t hang together as coherent then feel free to say so - after all, this is a networked digital artefact - recursive and open-ended - process not product (Fitzpatrick 2011).

One of the exhibitions I went to see was Austrian artist Franz West at the Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK).

franz west


As with a lot of modern conceptual art I spent a bit of time wondering what I was doing wasting my time looking at this stuff. However, one idea that West had - his ‘Adaptives’ produced a bit of clarity and understanding. Adaptives are abstract objects, made from plaster and metal.


The idea is that you pick these items up and play with them.


The video at the start of this blog is of Hungarian performance artist Ivo Dimchev using some of West’s Adaptives. Note that one of the ‘uses’ to which Dimchev puts his Adaptive is ‘Not Safe For Work’. If you’ve already found this out to your cost - sorry!

In the traditional view of art, the artist was central, authoritative.

The artist would engage in discrete projects that would result in an end product - the painting, or sculpture, before moving on to the next discrete project.


What West wanted to show was that art only becomes art when people interact with it. For West a work of art is not an autonomous object - it is a process, not a discrete project with a start and end point. ‘Art’ in whatever form requires interaction from the viewer, it only exists as art because of our relationship with it. When I read this on one of the ‘idiot boards’ next to the work I immediately ‘got it’ (maybe I’ll have such a moment with Pinterest one day…). I shifted from my original view of West’s work, which was “WTF!" to understanding, and thought that there was a useful metaphor here that I could use in relation to this week’s IDEL task. There is also one other aspect of the display that is important in this metaphor - but I’ll save that until the end.

So, what does this have to do with the future of academic writing? Well, writing too requires interaction - it needs us to give it meaning by reading it, and relating it to what we already know - the notion of intertextuality suggests that all texts are ‘rife with references to other texts and that it is impossible for a reader to approach any given text without reference to everything she has previously read or seen.’ (Fitzpatrick 2011). Fitzpatrick quotes Barthes, bartheswho says that any text is a collection of quotes - it is built upon the cultural knowledge and the words of every writer that has gone before it. The general idea is that reading and writing are shared social and cultural experiences, rather than the discrete work of a lone God-Like author who produces a text which most people won’t read, before moving on to the next one.

In current academic practice the writer is central, she produces an academic paper as the result of a discrete project, before moving on to the next.

Networked digital writing disrupts this conception of writing. It allows interaction for example via comments in a blog. The writer moves from the centre to the margin. The writing is given meaning by the people who read it , but they then take part in its development, by commenting. The writing is in a constant state of development, its meaning changes with each comment. Just as West’s Adaptives change with each use.

A sting in the tail

do not touch

In the Mumok gallery we weren’t allowed to use West’s Adaptives. They were displayed as in any other gallery with notices not to touch ‘due to reasons of conservation’- despite descriptions of each piece telling us how they were meant to be touched in order to have any meaning as art! Maybe West would have appreciated the irony. The old way of presenting art had taken over - back to the the art as autonomous object and artist as God-like creator. The whole point of West’s art reduced to a one-way object-to-person relationship.

My view at the moment is that the old ways of academic writing will remain, because they are more easily quantifiable, and measurable. In the neo-liberal marketised university the shareholders will need to know what they’re getting for their money, and it’s more difficult to monetise a process than a discernible product.