Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Making sense of images

JD on Flickr

JD asks us to read 'Display, Identity and the Everyday' and consider the following questions:
  1. what aspects of this work make this an autoethnography.
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
  3. How else could Flickr have been researched and what other methods would have been useful?
  4. This work was not specifically about literacy. How could a piece of research on Flickr look specifically at literacy?
Here are some quick answers:

1. Well, the author claims it's auto-ethnographic:
Drawing on Markham’s work (1998, 2004), I have thought of my work as partly ‘‘auto-ethnographic’’ (2007: 552)
It's auto-ethnographic insofar as the author positions herself as a participant in the culture and practices under investigation. The author claims it's 'insider research':
This paper is informed by my own experiences with Flickr, my observations of others in that space. (2007: 551).
There’s a history and a density of engagement:
I have been active on the site since it was launched in 2004. I am ‘‘embedded’’ in the culture of the site; I have uploaded several thousand images to Flickr; I belong to more than 100 groups and have around 150 ‘‘contacts’’ whom I only know from that space. (2007: 551)
2. Advantages? Well, the author claims that:
Insider knowledge is required in order to move beyond a fascination with the exotic, or the alienation sometimes experienced by ‘‘outsiders’’ to digital cultures. That is, the practices need to be researched by those who see beyond the charisma or alienating potential of technologies.(2007: 552)
So, auto-ethnographic approaches may avoid particular forms of misrepresentations that are produced by outsiders (Otherisation, the lure of the exotic etc.). Being deeply embedded in a micro-community of Flickr users (they're not a monolithic single community of amateur photographers), means a richness (or "thickness") of description.

Disadvantages? I'd better be careful what I write here as JD may get cross. I think JD's interest in the aestheticization of the everyday and the ordinary (street art, abandoned objects) leads her to neglect ways in which Flickr is used to display images of the exceptional or special too (weddings, birthdays, holidays etc.). So, being so much a part of one small community of users gives a great sense of detail but perhaps not the bigger picture.

For example, here's an image of popular Flickr tags from today:

What can we learn about the kinds of images uploaded to the site? Place names are popular suggesting that Flickr is used to upload holiday pictures. 'Wedding', 'party' and 'family' are prominent tags too suggesting that the staples of personal photography (weddings, birthday parties, family reunions) feature prominently.

3. How else could Flickr have been researched and what other methods would have been useful? I don't know.Could quantitative methods be used (e.g. frequency of use of particular tags as above)? However, I like JD's quasi-case study approach (looking at particular users, particular groups). Perhaps a case study analysis of a particular tag?

4. How could a piece of research on Flickr look specifically at literacy? Flickr is extraordinarily textual: titles, descriptions, tags, notes, comments, sets etc.. Literacy - in the 'lettered representation' (Kress) sense, is very much a feature of the site.


Davies, J. (2007). Display, Identity and the Everyday: Self-presentation through online image sharing. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(4): 549 - 564

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kress-fallen or too soon to inter textuality

A few years ago, Gunther Kress argued that the textual was being eclipsed by the visual as we move from printed pages to digital content viewed on screens (the ‘new Media Age’):

Two distinct yet related factors deserve to be particularly highlighted. These are, on the one hand, the broad move from the now centuries-long dominance of writing to the new dominance of the image and, on the other hand, the move from the dominance of the medium of the book to the dominance of the medium of the screen. [...] language-as-writing will increasingly be displaced by image in many domains of public communication [emphasis mine]. (Kress 2003: 1)

I think a problem with Literacy in the New Media Age is that, published in 2003 and therefore pre-dating the extraordinary developments in Web 2.0 and social media, it hasn’t the chance to absorb the array of new textual practices (tweets, status updates, tags etc.) associated with or enabled by those technologies. Kress views writing, as what he calls “lettered representation”, as on the way out for all bar political and cultural elites. However, from the vantage point of late 2009, text looks in rude good health (how many txt msgs, tweets, status updates per day from ordinary folks?).

It’s way too soon to inter textuality.

Prezi, PowerPoint, multimodality and the 'logic of the image'

I can't think of a piece of software with such consistently bad press as PowerPoint (especially in higher education). Here are some examples:

PowerPoint, the favoured tool of presentation for the unimaginative. All right, perhaps that is unfair, but I am suffering the after-effects of a surfeit of lifeless, list-full PowerPoint presentations that frequently served as a barrier to meaningful engagement between tutor, student and learning [...] It all became so routine, so anodyne, so dull. (Ward 2003 n.p.)

… the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. (Tufte 2003: 7)
… foreshortening of evidence and thought, low spatial resolution, an intensely hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organising every type of content, breaking up narratives and data into slides and minimal fragments, rapid temporal sequencing of thin information rather than focused spatial analysis, conspicuous chartjunk and PP Phluff, branding of slides with logotypes, a preoccupation with format not content, incompetent designs for data graphics and tables, and a smirky commercialism that turns information into a sales pitch and presenters into marketeers. (Tufte 2006: 4)
Such discourse reeks of technological determinism: lectures are tedious because of a piece of software; human agency is denied. PowerPoint in constructed as a malevolent presence reducing its users to helpless zombies, banging out bullet point after bullet point, slide after slide.

Personally, my take on PowerPoint is closer to Ian Kinchin:
… what PowerPoint is actually doing is to make explicit the taken-for-granted assumptions and implicit epistemological leanings of lecturers who are using it. The stereotypic teacher-centred, noninteractive mode of lecturing … is simply clarified and amplified by the use of PowerPoint. (Kinchin 2006 : 647)
Ok, perhaps this reeks a little of crude instrumentalism (it ain’t the tool but how you use it) but it has the merit of acknowledging agency and the often unacknowledged beliefs and habits we bring with us in our encounters with technology. We shape the technology as much as it shapes us.

And what of Prezi? Is it credible alternative to PowerPoint and the tyranny of linearity and sequentiality (one damn bullet point, one damn slide after another) that PowerPoint embodies?

The jury’s out but my initial thoughts are that it repackages linearity and sequentiality, dressing it up as something different through the admittedly neat visual trope of a canvas whose sections one clicks on to zoom into a detailed view. But users can – and do – create ‘paths’ or lines that connect one piece of content – some text or an image – with another piece of content placed on the canvas. Is this so very different to a PowerPoint slide? Could we see the text or media we place on the Prezi canvas as akin to the text or media we add to each individual PowerPoint slide?

A more positive take on Prezi is that allows us to think through the possibilities creating texts informed by what Gunther Kress calls the 'logic of the image'. Here is Kress on the 'logic of the text' and the 'logic of the image':

The two modes of writing and of image are each governed by distinct logics, and have distinctly different affordances. The organisation of writing – still leaning on the logics of speech is governed by the logic of time, and by the logic of sequence of its elements in time, in temporally governed arrangements. The organisation of the image, by contrast, is governed by the logic of space, and by the logic of simultaneity of its visual/depicted elements in spatially organised arrangements. (Kress 2003: 1-2)
With Prezi, one could arrange a space with text and other media types but with no clear 'entry point' and no single, linear 'reading path'. Even if the Prezi screen's content is mainly textual, there are multiple ‘entry points’ and multiple user-defined reading paths. In this more positive interpretation of Prezi, it's a presentation tool about space; PowerPoint is a presentation tool about time.

Prezi might be a cool tool that helps us think about what a presentation is or might be. It might make us more mindful of the possibilities of a more media-rich presentation. But it also might just be a tool that bored PowerPoint users – and hey, aren’t we all bored of it? – use for novelty value and because of the attraction of its much (much) slicker interface.

I think a lot of ed techies – me included – like to deride PowerPoint as part of our professional identity performance as technology connoisseurs. We show our mastery of the chronically mutating technoscape by our embrace of the New (Twitter, Google Wave etc.) and our displays of bored indifference and condescension to mainstream technologies (pretty much anything Microsoft Office). I'm bracing myself for the 2009-10 conference season in which Prezi is going to be the inevitable default software of the technorati in their presentations.

PowerPoint is soooooo last century darlink; Prezi where it’s at today.

But I’m just not so sure …


Kinchin, I. (2006). Developing PowerPoint Handouts to support meaningful learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 37(4): 647-650

Tufte, E. (2003). ‘PowerPoint Is Evil’. Wired. Issue 11.09. Accessed 12 March 2007, from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html

Tufte, E. (2006 2nd ed.). The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. Cheshire Connecticut: Graphics Press LLC.

Ward, T. (2003, May 20). I watched in dumb horror. The Guardian. Retrieved March 12, 2007, from http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/comment/story/0,9828,959242,00.html

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Twitter and May '68

Not really sure why - possibly hot weather making me a bit lethargic and unfocussed - but I've started to mess around with some old May '68 posters.

tweet this

I guess I'm remixing them for a digital era of cameraphones, Flips and social media. Iran and Twitter is still in the news (just) but I guess I'm still thinking about the G20 demonstrations in London. The violence of the policing was remarkable as was the initial mainstream media reporting that uncritically adopted the line fed them by the Metropolitan Police.


It took media outlets like The Guardian who picked up on user-generated content - especially the assault on Ian Tomlinson - to call into question official accounts.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The revolution will be twitterized (and forgotten)

This is the headline of an opinion piece in today's Le Monde by Corine Lesnes (La révolution sera twitterisée... et oubliée). It's more of a (sceptical) introduction to a technology that's making the headlines all over the world but which has so far had little impact in France. Not sure why - I've always seen the French as early adopters of this sort of thing (think Minitel in the 1980s).

Don't forget Iran!

Here's a variant (in English) from over a week ago (The Revolution Will Be Twittered)

Anyway, the reworking of Gil Scott-Heron's 'The Revolution will not be televised' ("... the Revolution, brother, will be live") raises an interesting question about the role of a new technology in representing political action and social change.

There are a couple of ways to write about Twitter and the Iranian crisis of legitimacy: 1) a study of the use of Iranian twitterers and, 2) western media reaction to the use of this emerging technology.

BTW, Gil Scott-Heron should really have copyrighted the title 'The Revolution will not be (add technology)ized'.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Memes, de Certeau and la perruque

I think that memes are a manifestation of popular culture as well as about popular culture which they remake and remix.

I love Flickr's Song Chart meme for example.

Memers are having a bit of fun with the pop culture around them as well as spoofing crummy business pitch PowerPoint presentations and their cheesy graphic representations of data.

Here's Meatloaf's 'I would do anything for love (but I won't do that)' (really cheesy song) as a very simple example:

Things I would do for love

I wonder of the memers are working at home or at work? I ask as this sort of meme makes me think of de Certeau's concept of 'la perruque' (the wig). 'La perruque' is the worker's own production performed at the workplace under the disguise of legitimate work for the boss. Nothing is stolen other than time. Here's de Certeau:
It differs from absenteeism in that the worker is officially on the job. 'La perruque' may be as simple a matter as a secretary's writing a love letter on 'company time' or as complex as a cabinetmaker's 'borrowing' a lathe to make a piece of furniture for his living room." (1984: 25)
In this tactic, employees divert time away from producing profit for his/her employer and instead uses it for his/her own enjoyment, for activities that are "free, creative, and precisely not directed toward profit" (de Certeau 1984: 25).

I wonder if it would be worth contacting memers - Flickr-based or not - to find out if this hunch can be substantiated?


De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

What's behind the popularity of the lolcat meme?

Yeah, what's behind the popularity of the lolcat meme?

With memes, there's an element of play (see my Variations on a meme blog post from December). So what's being played with in lolcats?

In part, I think it's the cheesy, naff, sentimental stream in popular culture (think Hallmark cards, kittens playing with balls of wool on Xmas calenders etc.). Memers are having a bit of a laugh at the expense of these sorts of texts (and their audiences). The language used - and there are web sites on how to write lolspeak (e.g. The Definitive Lolcats Glossary) - is the deliberately grammatically incorrect 'baby-speak' used when talking to, well, babies and pets.

However, I also think it's possible to read the lolcats pictures and texts unironically: look at the fluffy kittens in adorable funny poses! They're cute, adorable and they make us laugh! The baby-talk we use to speak to them is fun and an integral part of the pleasure we experience.

I don't know how to 'read' lolcats: first- (irony-free) or second- (ironic) degree?

They make me think of Roland Barthes' comments on flaubertian irony:

... in wielding an irony fraught with uncertainty, [Flaubert] brings about a salutary uneasiness in the writing: he refuses to halt the play of codes (or does so badly), with the result that (and this is no doubt the true test of writing as writing) one never knows whether he is responsible for what he writes (whether there is an individual subject behind his language); for the essence of writing (the goal and meaning of the activity which makes up writing) is to prevent any reply to the question, who is speaking? (Quoted in Culler 2006: 204)

Who is speaking in lolcats? The ironist or the cat-lover?


Culler, J.(2006 2nd ed.). Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty. Aurora CO: The Davies Group.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Appadurai on technoscapes

‘by technoscape, I mean the global configuration, also ever fluid, of technology and the fact that technology, both high and low, both mechanical and informational, now moves at high speeds across various kinds of previously impervious boundaries’(Appadurai, 1996: 34).


Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Henry Jenkins on moral panics

'Moral panic' is a phrase I overuse and usually collocate with 'new technolgies' - e.g. "new moral panic over social networking sites; top psychologist claims Facebook and Twitter cause harm to small puppies". Here's an old blog post with a real example.

I did 'A' level sociology too long ago to remember full definition of moral panic - something about new behaviours being perceived as threat to existing ways of doing things.

There's a really good Henry Jenkins video on young people, violence and new media which has the following (brilliant) definition:
"moral panic is where you stop asking questions and start assuming you know the answers"

Friday, 1 May 2009

Skinheads, fashion, gay men, Twitter and reappropration

Just got up and haven't had a cup of tea yet. I'm getting my excuses in early about the confused nature of today's post.

One of the tweeps I'm following looks to be doing some interesting research on skinhead subculture. It made me think back to my teen years (late 70s/early 80s - 2nd generation skinheads) and my fear of them back then. Also of Shane Meadows' This is England (what a great film!) and its take on skinhead subculture (one DM in a benign w/c subculture into black music; another DM in belligerent far right politics).

It also got me thinking about a scene in a Jake Arnott novel (was it The Long Firm?) where a first generation skinhead character, who's just got out of prison after a long sentence, thinks another skinhead on the tube is trying to pick a fight with him. It turns out to be a gay skin checking him out and after a different kind of physical interaction.

The problem for our ex-con is that the signs of male 'hardness' (Levis, Ben Sherman shirts, DMs, bomber jacket etc.) have been reappropriated by another subculture. Signs and symbols are in perpetual motion and 10-15 years behind bars have left Arnott's old skinhead unable to read their meanings with any degree of accuracy.

Anyway, this long digression to say I think that's sort of what happens with technology. A technology like Twitter, first envisaged as a notification service ("What are you doing?"), a lightweight Facebook status update-type tool (thoough with all the clutter removed, gets reappropriated, reinterpreted, remade in diverse ways by different groups: for marketing, broadcasting, professional development, learning, constructing new discursive spaces etc..

That's all for now ... enjoy Prince Buster:

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Are "dinner tweets" really trivial?

Are 'dinner tweets' - you know those tweets describing what the twitterer is about to tuck into (e.g. "I'm preparing pan-fried seabass on a coulis of ...") - really as trivial as Twitter's detractors claim?

I'm tempted to argue that they play a part in the 'taste performances' (Liu 2008) that are integral to most social networking sites. It's one of the ways I project or perform my identity online.

By describing to followers what I'm preparing and/or eating I'm also performing a particular identity. For example, if I tweet that I'm cooking a dish with locally-sourced ingredients that keeps the food miles down, I'm projecting an identity that's discerning and environmentally aware; if, on the other hand, I tell you I'm serving up a dessert of frozen Creme Eggs, the identity I'm performing is offbeat and fun-loving.

Far from being part of the anti-Twitter camp's imagined stream of trivia, the 'dinner tweet' is, in fact, an integral part of the repetoire through which twitterers perform the 'ongoing narrative of the self' (Merchant 2006: 238).

So, next time someone moans about 'twitterhea' and the banality of the 'dinner tweet', tell them it's all about identity performance and refer them to Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens.


Liu, H. (2008). Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1): 252-275.
Retrieved April 29, from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/liu.html

Merchant, G. (2006). Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication. E-Learning, 3(2): 235-244

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Twitter profile field as minimal - but laminated - identity performance

Here are some example bios:
  • e-learning, read/write web, participation, user-centred, activism, agency, democracy, curry, beer, cycling, cricket, football, indie music, indie film

  • lecturer, researcher, poet, new-ish father

  • Researcher (e-Learning, m-Learning and technology enhanced learning), vather, techgeek and i am a mac-user ;-)

  • Library geek, datamonger and allotmenteer

  • librarian, mom, social media, information literacy, punk rock, 60s reggae, edupunk, educational technology, author, subcultures, chronic overtweeter

  • Librarian and repository manager for a X university by day; blogger, video maker, writer, gamer. Lord of all weasels, llamas and gooses by night

  • Community building and general change management for online distance learning. Running. Cider. Electric bicycles.

  • Learning Technologist wondering why the one line bio is 160 characters??

  • Married with 2 boys who have now flown the nest. Work in education, teach ICT and love gadgets

  • dad, senior learning technologist at University of X, educational technology consultant, moodle guru and uncompromising bike commuter
What identities are performed here? Professional certainly (learning technologist, librarian, teach IT). Personal too - as mothers or fathers (mom, dad, newish father). As fans (indie music, indei film). As politically committed to particular causes (democracy, user-centred activism). Affiliated to a a myriad causes, interests, affinity spaces ...

More to follow.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Twitter, the backchannel and 'laminated discursive spaces'

Initial random thoughts on a Sunday morning (woken by children and unable to get back to sleep) on Twitter, the backchannel and 'laminated discursive spaces'.

What do I mean by 'laminated discursive spaces'? Um ... I don't stop being a father, husband, francophile, daydreaming timewaster, rebellious teenager (in his mid-40s!) etc. just because I enter a lecture theatre. Although a singular aspect - or one layer of a laminated identity - may be more in play in one particular context (e.g. my academic identity when I'm at a conference) , other identities may also enter the foreground too. So, there's always some element of identity lamination on our social interactions and I think the Twitter backchannel exemplifies this really well.

Here's a great quote from an article I've been reading:
Because social practice is dialogic, heterogeneous and distributed in functional systems, activity should be understood as laminated or layered in Goffman’s sense, and, following Goodwin and Duranti, as mutable, dynamic frames that are relatively foregrounded or relatively backgrounded. Thus, there are no spaces where the social histories of people, practices, artifacts, and institutions disappear, no pure monologic activity systems, no places where identities can be figured simply in terms offered by a dominant institution’s map (where a person is just an engineer, just a student, just a teacher). Lamination is not simply a notion of the multiple identities of the person, but also applies to mediational means, with heterogeneous histories embedded as affordances in the words, texts, tools, and institutions that mediate activity.
Prior, P. (2003). 'Are communities of practice really an alternative to discourse communities?'
Paper presented at the 2003 American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Conference
Accessed from: https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/pprior/Prior/PriorAAAL03.pdf

I think the Twitter-enabled conference backchannel is an example of a 'laminated discursive space' . What I've observed in the #pelc09, #shock09 and #beyond09Twitter backchannels are different socioliterate practices - some academic, others less so - woven into a stream of hashtag-specific conference tweets:

  • posting links
  • brief summaries
  • expression of appreciation/thanks to individual presenters/conference organisers
  • side conversations between participants (remote and proximate)
  • banter (participants also have a shared social history of nights out, common interests and projects, past conferences, shared contacts)
  • bitching ("salespitch suckfest" was one comment on an Apple presentation deemed too corporate)
  • sharing of other resources (mainly photos and URLs)
  • requests for information or attempts to collaborate (e.g. on a set of Delicious bookmarks)

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Digital Literacy definition

... digital literacies, quite simply, involve the use of digital technologies for encoding and accessing texts by which we generate, communicate and negotiate meanings in socially recognisable ways. (Lankshear & Knobel 2oo8: 258)


Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2008). Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. New York: Peter Lang.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Twitter workshop ideas

These are my rough notes from Matt Lingard's workshop

Section 1: face the front bit with Matt talking

Starts with personal use of Twitter for professional purposes. Also brings in a few strong quotes about the importance of Twitter culturally and economically.
Those who criticise use of Twitter at work haven't seen the tectonic plates moving. Social networks such as these are the way businesses will be run in the future.
Victor Keegan Technology Guardian

Twitter practicalities
  • create an account

  • you'll need a username - this can be anything you like but you should also add your own details as this will help people follow you.

  • The home page - this displays the tweets of those that you are following. The core of Twitter is to follow people.
Matt has a really good PowerPoint that makes a distinction between the Home and Profile pages.

Matt showed a video (Martin Weller: Twitter Love Song) that explained what it was and how it might be used.

Types of tweet:
  • @ replies

  • direct messages

  • retweets

Other Twitter stuff

  • embedding links

  • uploading photos

  • hashtags

  • Twitter searches

Next bit is the hands-on.

Section 2: hands on session

Matt gave a useful handout.

Matt got us to write on a postit our usernames then put then up on a PowerPoint slide. We were then asked to follow fellow participants and interact via tweets.
  • uploading pictures (Mobypicture)
  • adding feeds (Twitterfeed)
  • hashtags
  • Twitter searches

Presentation available online at: http://www.slideshare.net/madrattling

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Twitter and passing notes in class

One of the things I noticed at the Shock of the Old 2009 conference ('official' and 'unofficial' hashtags) was the largish number of participants sending tweets during presentations. The "backchannel" has found, or so it seems, a new technology.

Idea for paper: More than just passing notes in class?: tweets as new literacy practice. (my online survey)

My initial suspicion was that sending tweets 'remediates' the analogue textual practice of passing notes in class. However, I think there's more to it than that.

My hunch is that it's being used as a space to quibble, query and demur, to have off-stage dialogues with like-minded colleagues or contacts either present in the lecture theatre or elsewhere. So Twitter is a another means, potentially, of breaking the broadcast/monologic format of the conference paper and providing additional opportunities for comment and dialogue.

I think it's also - and some of the comments on the LDHEN JISC mailing list almost confirm this hunch - a space for the performance of identities at odds with those expected of colleages at a conference (e.g. for flippant, dismissive or bitchy commentaries that can't easily be made public via a comment or question to the speaker).

I’m coming from a position that views literacy practices as complex social acts that can be inclusive or exclusive. Web 2.0 doesn’t automatically = inclusive/democratic.

On the one hand I can see how the use of Twitter exemplifies one form of ‘networked participatory culture’ (Jenkins) by enabling new forms of conversation; on the other hand I can see how the technology provides a platform for opportunistic gossiping which can shut out other participants (e.g. those who are not Twitter users).

Monday, 6 April 2009

First quick thought on digital literacy conference

At the end of last week's conference on digital literacy, there was some (Prenskyite?) discussion about young people's technology-mediated multi-tasking and the effects on their brains.

It struck me as yet another example of (parental, teacherly etc.) anxieties about the effects of technology on young people's behaviour and intellectual development.

A couple of days later, my nine-year old son spent most of the weekend playing football in the park with other boys. He's at an age where I'm not sure if I should let him play in the park unsupervised (it's only 5-6 doors from our house) or if I should be there. Anyway, I let him play unsupervised, occasionally wandering down to check things were ok. Finally, as afternoon turned to early evening, I had to drag him back home: That's enough fresh air and physical exercise young man, don't you think you should be playing some video games.

My point is, I guess, that those making statements about the harmful effects of technology on children's cognitive development probably need to take a chill pill. Most of the nine-year olds I know are as busy playing football or collecting Match Attax cards as they are glued to the PSPs or XBoxes (i.e. not very different to what I got up to as a nine-year old).

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Kress on 'communicational landscapes'

The communicational landscapes of today, their relation to current forms of work and to current forms of pleasure, demand a recasting of our thinking about representation in the most far-reaching form. The world, now, is no longer a world in which the written language is dominant.
(Kress 1997 :5)

The landscapes of communication are changing, are being changed in the most fundamental ways; and it is happening now. (Kress 1997 :5)


Kress, G. (1997). Before Writing: Rethinking the paths to literacy. London: Routledge.

Literacy definitions

A literacy is a stable coherent, identifiable configuration of practices such as legal literacy, or the literacy of specific workplaces. (Barton 2007:38)

Looking at different literacy events it is clear that literacy is not the same in all contexts: rather, there are different literacies…within a given culture, there are different literacies associated with different domains of life. Contemporary life can be analysed in a simple way into domains of activity such as home, school, work-place. (Barton and Hamilton 1998: 9)

Some of these literacies have become powerful and dominant, while others have been constrained and devalued. The problem is not so much a lack of literacy, but a lack of social justice. Local knowledge is not always appreciated and local literacies are not always recognised. (Taylor 1997: 4)

... the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read and write rips literacy out of its sociocultural contexts and treats it as an asocial cognitive skill with little or nothing to do with human relationships. It cloaks literacy's connections to power, to social identity, and to ideologies, often in the service of privileging certain types of literact and certain types of people (Gee 1996: 46)

Academic writing is one type of literacy. (Ivanic 1998: 75)


Barton, D. (2007 2nd ed.). Literacy. Oxford: Blackwell

Barton, D. and Hamilton, M. (1998). Local Literacies. London: Routledge.

Ivanic, R. (1998). Writing and Identity: The discoursal construction of identity in academic writing. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Lankshear, C. (1987). Literacy, Schooling and Revolution. London: Falmer Press

Digital literacy as mission civilisatrice

I'm a bit suspicious of attempts to fix digital literacy which I associate - fairly or unfairly - with the colonial concept of the mission civilisatrice, bringing enlightenment to the 'dark continent' of primitive youth practices.

I do think that any definition of digital literacy needs to start with an understanding of and respect for 'vernacular' digital literacies. I'm not always sure I see much understanding and respect about this from academics. I've compiled a sottisier of extracts although I'm sure they will be more.

No respect

When the dealers are selling drugs outside the school gates you know things in the educational system have gone bad. However, when the kids start using textspk in their exams and cite wikipedia in their essays it's time to get tough. Thankfully we have a Magnum Force of academics to clean up our hallowed halls. Here are my top three 'Dirty Harrys' targeting their .44 magnums at those punks using blogs, Wikipedia and other filth:

Wikipedians seem an unappealing bunch - computer fanatics, generally male, usually teenagers. They see the world only from a youthful cab driver's perspective. If anyone disagrees with the Wikipedian consensus, their edits are "reverted" and they can be banned - "indefinitely". And now it is these "editors" who are regularly trumping the fuddy-duddy professors in their ivory towers, plodding patiently through dusty books to produce yet more ... dusty books. Books!
Cohen, M. (28 August 2008). 'Encyclopaedia Idiotica'. Times Higher Education

As a dialect, text ("textese"?) is thin and - compared, say, with Californian personalised licence plates - unimaginative. It is bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk. [...] Texting is penmanship for illiterates.
Sutherland, J. (11 November 2002). 'Cn u txt?'. The Guardian.

As blogs continue to fill the Web with bizarre daily rituals and opinions of people who we would never bother speaking to at a party, let alone invite into our own homes, there has never been a greater need to stress the importance of intelligence, education, credentials and credibility.
Brabazon, T. (2006). 'The Google Effect: Googling, Blogging, Wikis and the Flattening of Expertise'. Libri, 56: 157-167

Paradoxically, the above extracts exemplify the very characteristics many tutors discourage in student writing: unsubstantiated generalisations, crude ad hominems, offensive language, a complete lack of understanding, intellectual curiosity and generosity etc. etc..

All extracts reveal the repellent aspects of some academics: a sense of intellectual superiority, for example, or a belief in their own fine wit (how I laughed at Cohen's sarcasm towards those nerds dissing professors and books).

Finally, their sounding off on topics they've very little expertise in embodies the imagined thing they dislike about the web: the no-nothing amateur usurping the expert. Yup, I certainly wouldn't talk to any of them at a party (let alone invite them into my home).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

David Crystal on txting

I've been looking in on - and sometimes posting to - a wiki on Digital Literacy.

Here's a question that's come out of it: aren't our students already digitally literate?
I'm picking up from some of the pages and posts the idea of digital literacy that's forming is predicated on a deficit model; digital literacy is something that students don't have until we give it to them.

Is this fair? Isn't the question really about understanding students' digital literacies before they come to university and developing it further?

If anyone's in 'deficit' could it be academic staff too quick to dismiss the digital literacy practices of students (I've been reading a truly appalling book by Tara Brabazon called The University of Google which exemplifies this attitude).

Anyway, here are some nice extracts from David Crystal's book on txting:

There is rather curious ambivalence around. Complaints are made about children's poor literacy, and then, when a technology arrives that provides fresh and motivating opportunities to read and write, such as email, chat, blogging, and texting, complaints are made about that. (Crystal 2008: 157)

Children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness. Before you can write abbreviated forms effectively and play with them, you need to have a sense of how the sounds of your language relate to the letters. You need to know that there are such things as alternative spellings. You need to have a good visual memory and good motor skills. If you are aware that your texting behaviour is different, you must have already intuited that there is such a thing as a standard. If you are using such abbreviations as lol ('laughing out loud') and brb ('be right back'), you must have developed a sensitivity to the communicative needs of your textees, because these forms show you are responding to them. If you are using imho ('in my humble opinion') or afaik ('as far as I know'), you must be aware of the possible effect your choice of language might have on them, because these forms show you are self-critical. Teenage texters are not stupid nor are they socially inept within their peer group. They know exactly what they are doing. (Crystal 2008: 162-3)


Crystal, D. (2008). Txting: the gr8 db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Extract from digital youth summary

youth use online media to extend friendships and interests. Most youth use online networks to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, sports, and other local activities. They can be “always on,” in constant contact with their friends through private communications like instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in public ways through social network sites such asMySpace and Facebook. With these “friendship-driven”practices, youth are almost always associating with people they already know in their offline lives. The majorityof youth use new media to “hang out” and extend existing friendships in these ways.


Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Technology as conservative force

Technology has not generally been a revolutionary force; it has been responsible for keeping things the same as much as changing them. (Edgerton 2006: 212)


Edgerton, D. (2006). The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900. London: Profile Books

Physical and virtual space

... we need to treat Internet media as continuous with and embedded in other social spaces (Miller & Slater 2000: 5).
The idea of space having been fractured refers to the emergence of cyberspace as a distinctively new space that co-exists with physical space. Cyberspace has not displaced physical space, of course, and will not displace it. Nor, however, can physical space dismiss cyberspace. For the majority of young people in so-called developed countries who are now in adolescence, cyberspace has been integral to their experience of 'spatiality' since their early years. […] Co-existence is the destiny of these two spaces (Lankshear and Knobel 2006 :31-2).


Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006). New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press

Miller, D. & Slater, D. (2000). The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.

New Literacy Studies, New London Group, New Literacies

  • New Literacy Studies: coming out of work by Gee and Street and Heath and Barton and Hamilton that specifically looked at literacy as a social practice. focusing on domains of practice.

  • the 'new literacies': comes more from the work of Lankshear and Knobel, identifying ways in which literacy is now something very different when considered in relation to the new communicative landscape. This 'new literacies' draws on theory from new literacy studies, but also draws on theory from other sources, particularly the 'New London Group' (Kress, Cope and Kalantzis and others) that looked at ways of understand meaning making in relation to Design and multimodality.

That dana boyd quote on 'glocalization'

The digital era has allowed us to cross space and time, engage with people in a far-off time zone as though they were just next door, do business with people around the world, and develop information systems that potentially network us all closer and closer every day. Yet, people don't live in a global world - they are more concerned with the cultures in which they participate. (boyd: 2006)


boyd, d. (2006). 'G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide.' O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, San Diego, CA. March 6.

My definition: RSS feeds

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.

The basic principle is that if a user decides that a web site such as the BBC News web site or a blog, has regularly updated content worth following, they can ‘subscribe’ to it. This involves finding the RSS feed (a kind of web address) for that site usually represented by an orange icon.

The users then copies the feed into something called an RSS reader (aka RSS aggregator) which displays the titles of new articles or posts as well, generally, as the first few lines. The user can then skim read the list that it produces. Clicking on any item in the list will take them to the full article. RSS readers include Google Reader but I like personal start pages like iGoogle, Netvibes and Pageflakes which also include this functionality.

Here's another great YouTube video definition:

For mash get Smash

There's an advert I loved as a kid (now, of course, on YouTube, that repository of collective cultural memory).

The ad was for a powdered mash potato mix (mmmm ... yummy) and featured robots from outer space laughing at simple earthlings making do with peeling and cooking actual potatoes.

It's how I think my own (digi)kids will react when I show them my old LPs (maybe even books?).

Gee on essayist literacy

A further significant aspect of essayist prose style is the fictionalization of both the audience and the author. The 'reader' of an essayist text is not an ordinary human being but an idealization, a rational mind formed by the rational body of knowledge of which the essay is a part. By the same token the author is a fiction, since the process of writing and editing essayist texts leads to an effacement of individual and idiosyncratic identity. (Gee 1990: 60-61)


Gee, J. Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses (2nd edition)

Barthes: landscape in a bean

Ok, I'm going to use my blog in a really 'bad' way to post quotations and definitions I use/need a lot.

Here's the first:

There are said to be certain Buddhists whose ascetic practices enable them to see a whole landscape in a bean. (Barthes 1974: p.3)


Barthes, R. (1974) S/Z. New York: Hill and Wang.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Rough notes on the mobile internet

One of the developments we've been looking at a lot recently is the growth of the 'mobile internet/mobile web'.

As an enthusiastic iPhone user I want to attribute this growth to Apple but suspect it's mainly:

  • mobile phone operators offering reasonably-priced (?) flat rate deals with unlimited internet access;

  • said mobile phone operators advertising the benefits of being able to access favourite sites ;
  • the proliferation of handsets and mobile browsers that give users access to a web that looks recognisably web-like (and not a horribly adulterated version). I think the iPhone set a standard that others still have to beat - there's no 'iPhone 'killer' yet although Samsung and LG are gaining ground - unlike Nokia and Blackberry.
iPhone fanclub (Surbiton branch)

Related to this I guess is the growth of the 'mobile app'. Here Apple's influence is again dominant with Microsoft and Nokia opening their own applications store. The apps I use on my iPhone for Facebook and Google are great - I wish we had something like it for our VLE.

Facebook on iPhone

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Technology scare stories

I'm posting belatedly on this non-story only as a convenient space to dump some links.

This article is a cool look at the data and links to some of the more lurid headlines of the tabloids:

Facebook 'cancer risk' http://www.nhs.uk/news/2009/02February/Pages/Facebookhealthstudy.aspx

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Here's a quote I like on the 'digital native' question

Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.
Henry Jenkins