Friday, 8 October 2010

Jonathan Franzen on Apple

I've been reading, and quite enjoying, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (I've the first edition with the typos).

A section that made me laugh out loud was when one of the main characters, a not-quite-failed rock star called Richard Katz launches into an attack on Apple - "I think the iPod is the true face of Republican politics" (Franzen: 2010: 201) - as part of a bigger tirade against the fake subversive edge of popular music culture in response to a question about the "MP3 revolution".

Here's a short extract:
I've been given the opportunity to participate in the pop-music mainstream, and manufacture Chiclets, and to try to persuade fourteen-year-olds that the look and feel of Apple computer products is an indication of Apple computer's commitment to making the world a better place. Because making the world a better place is cool, right? And Apple computer must be way more committed to a better world, because iPods are so much cooler-looking than other MP3 players, which is why they're more expensive and incompatible with other companies' software, because - well, actually it's a little unclear why, in a better world, the very coolest products have to bring the most obscene profits to a tiny number of residents of the better world. [...] We're about the relentless enforcement and exploitation of our intellectual-property rights. We're about persuading ten-year-old children to spend twenty-five dollars on a cool little silicone iPod case that it costs a licensed Apple computer subsidiary thirty-nine cents to manufacture.
Strangely, as someone in thrall to the unhealthy consumerist fetishism of all things Apple, it struck a bit of a chord. I love the design of their products but, partly as a result of recent experiences with the iPad, am increasingly irritated by Apple's closedness, control freakery and ruthless pursuit of profit.


Franzen, J. (2010). Freedom. London: Fourth Estate.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Those 'not digital natives' references

Net Generation

This is me using my blog again as a dumping ground for my references. This time it's for all those lovely papers debunking the myth of the 'digital native':
Bayne, S. and Ross, J. (2007). The ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’: a dangerous opposition. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) December 2007. PDF format.
Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008). The ‘digital natives’ debate. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5): 775-786
Bennett, S. and Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students' technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5): 321–331
Brown, C. and Czerniewicz, L. (2010). Debunking the ‘digital native’: beyond digital apartheid, towards digital democracy. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5): 357–369
Burhanna, K.J. et al. (2009). No Natives Here: A Focus Group Study of Student Perceptions of Web 2.0 and the Academic Library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(6): 523-532
Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation”. Sociological Inquiry. 80(1):92-113
Helsper, E. J. and Eynon, R. (2010). Digital natives: where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal, 36(3): 503-520
Jones, C. and Czerniewicz , L. (2010).Describing or debunking? The net generation and digital natives. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5): 317–320
Jones, C. and Healing, G. (2010). Net generation students: agency and choice and the new technologies. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5): 344–356
G. Kennedy, T. Judd, B. Dalgarno and J. Waycott (2010). Beyond natives and immigrants: exploring types of net generation students. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5): 332–343
Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A. and Vojt, G. (2010). Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students’ use of digital technologies. Computers & Education. Article in press
Selwyn, N. (2009). The digital native - myth and reality. Invited presentation to CLIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). London Seminar Series. London 10th March 2009.

If you have any more please pass them on.

Delicious links.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Seconds thoughts on the iPad

I guess I continue to be delighted and frustrated by the iPad in equal measure.

The frustration is largely due to my expectation - probably misplaced - that the iPad would be more Macbook Pro XS than iPod Touch XL.

The fantastic web browsing experience it offers lures you into thinking that it can do everything a regular computer can do. For example, when web browsing, it's the full-sized pages you view not the mobile version of them. However, log into, say, Blogger to write a post and you'll find you can't edit unless you select the HTML option. There's also no uploading local files to your most-used sites (Facebook, Flickr, Blackboard, Moodle). Eh?

I really wanted the iPad to be the core portable device we use in the staff development workshops we run on various aspects of e-learning. However, its limitations mean this ain't gonna happen and I'll have to think about a more conventional netbook instead.

IS colleagues try out the iPad at a recent staff development event

A few colleagues have rightly commented that you can upload content from the iPad via apps (e.g. the Flickr app, BlogPress etc.). I know that apps are the way mobile technology is going but I don't necessarily think it's the best way to go. A recent Guardian article has highlighted the negatives of this trend - adding $s to the coffers of Apple's iTunes Store and others by making users pay for apps that restore functionality and access to content they once had for free via a browser. Is reading Wired through the iPad app really a better experience than reading it online through Safari?

Why can't I do the stuff I need to do through the iPad's browser? The paradox is that the iPad offers the best mobile web experience of any mobile device via a browser I know and yet it also forces users to find alternatives to the browser to do many things.

Is it a genuine technical limitation of the device or is it informed by a commercial strategy? I don't know the answer but I do know that I'm becoming less, and not more of an Apple fanboy by the day.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Blogging from iPad (iBlogger)

I'm using iBlogger to write this post on the iPad.

It's not a nice experience: portrait mode only and iPhone/iPod Touch screen size which becomes horribly pixelated - inc. keyboard - when enlarged.

The WordPress app offered a much nicer writing experience (see my Twitter blog for an example). I could also insert pictures with the WordPress app - I can't with iBlogger.

So, the app works fine on the smaller Apple devices but is much less satisfactory on the iPad. It needs an upgrade desperately - the TweetDeck iPad app leads the way in this respect I think. iBlogger 2 is due for release soon - here's hoping it's more iPad-friendly.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Blogging on the iPad (BlogPress)

I've just downloaded the BlogPress app for the iPad (£1.79).

Hurrah - we've got landscape mode which makes writing much easier.

I can also add location and tags really quickly. Just as important, I can insert images from my photo library:

It lets you add multiple blogs from all the usual suspects (WordPress, TypePad etc.).

It's my app of the week.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Eden St,Kingston upon Thames,United Kingdom

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

First reaction to the iPad

I've mixed feelings about the two iPads we've recently purchased.

As a Mac, iPod Mini, Nano, Touch and iPhone owner/user (and Apple fanboy) I obviously think it's a great addition: great-looking and really fast access to the web, email, Twitter etc..

However, my optimistic belief that we could order 6 + and use them in ed tech staff development workshops is beginning to waiver. Although in a workshop I ran yesterday it was well received - "Many thanks for a very interesting session and we all enjoyed it. We are also greatly in love with the I-Pad" - how long can the wow factor last?

Kingston University staff check out the iPad at recent Facebook session

I've argued elsewhere that it feels too limited in what it can do in spite of multiple apps which extend its capabilities. It offers more than an iPod Touch but much less than a cheaper netbook (Asus, Acer etc.) occupying a niche for which I hadn't realised there was any demand.

For example, the iPad doesn't allow me to upload local files to sites I use regularly from what I can see (notice the greyed-out choose file to upload buttons on Flickr screen shot below).

It's the same story with Facebook and with Blackboard and, I expect, other sites too.

Am I being naive and technologically inept in expecting it to be able to do this sort of stuff? After all, it is just a bigger iPod Touch. But I can take pictures on my iPhone and use apps to post them to Flickr or Twitter. Compared to the iPhone, the iPad feels like a massive step backwards into a world of content produced by others for us users to consume.

I'm not at all sure Apple's lean-back media consumption device is much good in education and I don't think I'll be ordering any more for work. However, I may well be unable to resist the temptation to buy one myself for personal couch computing.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Embedding tweets in a web page

Here’s a tool that enables you to embed tweets into a website or blog post:

This is what is looks like:

Finding Creative Commons Images on Flickr than a minute ago via Screenr

Friday, 23 April 2010

It woz social media wot won it?

I've no idea what the impact of social media will be to the outcome of the general election (6 May 2010). However, it's played a big role in making it one of the more enjoyable elections I can remember.

Traditional broadcast media have played some role in the higher levels of entertainment on offer and the US-style televised debates stand out here. However, it's on Twitter, Facebook and various ad-busting-style blogs and sites where the real fun's to be had.

What are the high points for me so far? Well, it's got to be the Tories' inept poster campaign (hey, thanks Michael Ashcroft) and the extraordinary speed, creativity and wit of the DIY digital image manipulators who've responded to it. Is England, in fact, a nation of PhotoShopkeepers?

So, in response to the cheesy and heavily airbrushed poster boy image of Cameron, we have the Mydavidcameron web site and dozens of user-generated spoofs. Flickr has a fair few images of more old-skool spray-can tactics (see Fuck off back to Eton) which also raise a smile. Cameron as posh, Toryboy (see the Common People spoof) is a common trope.

Every slogan - e.g. 'I've never voted Conservative before but ...' - becomes the set up for hundreds of gags like those found on the I've never voted Tory blog. It's a big, distributed parlour game with thousands joining in the fun.

There's a delightful escalation of the conflict going on: the more the Tories attempt to make their posters unspoofable, the more desirable a target they become to the "big society" (lol!) of DIY satirists (see Internet spoofs unspoofable Conservative poster). And the more the spoofs take off on Twitter and in the blogosphere, the more likely the phenomenon is to be reported in mainstream broadcast media. Yesterday, both Channel 4 news and The Guardian, for example, covered the reaction on Twitter - thousands of tweets using the #nickcleggsfault hashtag - to attacks against Clegg by the Murdoch press.

What's going on is really interesting; it feels like political satire is no longer the preserve of a few - the writers of Have I got news for you, Private Eye, In the Loop etc. - but the many. Is the best political satire now digital, distributed and user-generated? And will it make a difference?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Twitter is dead; Twitter is surprising alive

My Twitter is dead presentation for #pelc10 has had thousands of hits already. I'm guessing it's down to word of Twitter and the amazing snowball effects of RTs from network to network.

All this surely contradicts my argument that Twitter, if not actually dead, is limping awkwardly towards an uncertain future in HE?

I can't help but contrast its extraordinary vibrancy in some spheres - think Trafigura or, closer to home, the success of Twitter enabled backchannels at conferences - with its relative flatness in HE for undergraduate teaching and learning.

Can technologies - and the extra they bring users in one sphere - transfer from one context to another? I used to think so but am now not so sure. Twitter is a great technology - my personal favourite - but it struggles against what I think is a technology cultures of undergraduates who see it as a broadcast tool to subscribe to celebrities.

Defining online (learning) communities

A long post of definitions of 'community', especially online learning communities.

1. Discourse community

According to John Swales (1987: 5-7) there are six defining characteristics of a discourse community:
  1. a broadly agreed set of common public goals.
  2. mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
  3. participatory mechanisms used primarily to provide information and feedback.
  4. the use of one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
  5. some specific lexis.
  6. a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.

2. Communities of Practice

Another influential definition of community derives from the work of Lave and Wenger who have articulated the concept of a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) with its:

  1. specific community (social fabric)
  2. domain (the common ground or topic)
  3. practice (the repertoire)

CoPs is a really influential concept in many professional domains (e.g. academic staff development). I’m not wholly sure why this term has triumphed over other similar concepts (e.g. ‘discourse communities’ and ‘epistemic communities’) though. Perhaps it’s the emphasis on ‘practice’ (doing, making, acting) and the idea of a dynamic movement from periphery to centre.

Central to CoPs is the notion of identity transformation: starting to acquire the knowledge practices and particular identities/ways of being needed to enter that CoP and participate fully. I don’t fully sign up to the concept though; it still feels like a description of apprenticeship, observing master craftsmen/women before becoming one yourself.

3. Affinity spaces

An alternative to the CoP is the concept of ‘affinity spaces’. This comes from James Paul Gee (2004) who argues that the more familiar notion of ‘communities of practice‘ doesn’t capture emerging forms of technology-enabled sociability. Affinity spaces are spaces in which people from a variety of backgrounds come together to pursue a common endeavour or goal. One of Gee’s examples of an affinity space is the strategy game Age of Mythology in which the common endeavour of playing and transforming the game takes precedence over questions of racial, class or gender identity. Gee makes a strong case that educationalists have much to learn from affinity spaces. Here are Gee’s defining characteristics of an affinity space:

  • there is a common endeavour (interests, goals or practices);
  • the space has content;
  • the content is organized;
  • individuals can choose to interact with content and/or each other;
  • individuals share the same space- even if fulfilling different roles;
  • there are many ways (portals) of entering the space;
  • new content can be generated;
  • many types of knowledge (individual, distributed, dispersed and tacit) are valued;
  • group endeavour is valued and encouraged;
  • interactivity is required to sustain the affinity space;
  • newbies and masters occupy the same domain – there is no segregation;
  • there are many ways of participating and these can change temporally;
  • leadership is ‘porous’;
  • there are many ways of gaining status;
  • the organisation of the space can change through interaction;
  • learning is social and enjoyable.

4. Community -v- audience

Finally, it's not a concept as such but I like the distinction Clay Shirky makes between audiences and communities. A community, he argues, is defined by what he calls a ’social density’; an audience, on the other hand, has ‘fewer ties’. Here’s the Shirky extract in full:

… dozens of weblogs have an audience of a million or more, and millions have an audience of a dozen or less. [...] And it’s easy to deride this sort of thing as self-absorbed publishing – why would anyone put such drivel out in public? It’s simple. They’re not talking to you. [...] We misread these seemingly inane posts because we’re so unused to seeing written material in public that isn’t intended for us. The people posting messages to one another in small groups are doing a different kind of communicating than people posting messages for hundreds or thousands of people to read. More is different, but less is different too. An audience isn’t just a big community; it can be more anonymous, with many fewer ties among users. A community isn’t just a small audience either; it has a social density that audiences lack [emphasis mine]. The bloggers and social network users operating in small groups are part of a community, and they are enjoying something analogous to the privacy of the mall. On any given day you could go to the food court and find a group of teenagers hanging out and talking to one another. They are in public, and you could certainly sit at the next table over and listen in on them if you wanted to. And what would they be saying to one another? They’d be saying, “I can’t believe I missed you last night!!! Trac talked to you and said you were TRASHED off your ASS!” They’d be doing something similar to what they are doing on LiveJournal or Xanga, in other words, but if you were listening in on their conversation at the mall, as opposed to reading their post, it would be clear that you were the weird one. (Shirky 2008: 84-5)

Am I a member of any virtual communities? Several possibly. But because communities are not necessarily formally constituted and don’t always name themselves as such, you don’t always recognise that you’re in one.

On Twitter, for example, could the people I follow – and who follow me – be termed a community? Perhaps, although I think there are multiple interests tweeted about. Perhaps ‘affinity space’ is a better term here?

I’m a member of the M25 group of learning technologists; we all work at London-based unis in the area of ed tech and meet at workshops, participate in discussion board forums etc.. This feels much more like a community. There are no masters and no apprentices so it’s not really a CoP I guess. Is this more of a 'discourse community'?

Head hurts - time for tea.


Gee, J.P. (2004) Situated Language and Learning: a critique of traditional schooling. London: Routledge

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press

Swales, J. (1987). Approaching the Concept of Discourse Community. Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Twitter for reflective activities

Twitter presentation for the University of Staffordshire online Twitter workshop:

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Digital literacy definition

'Digital literacies' are the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies. (Gillen & Barton 2009 :1)

...there is no deterministic relationship between technological innovations and people's practices and hence how digital literacies unfold. Many mistakes - at the design, commercial and indeed theoretical levels - are made through assuming that there is a straightforward relationship between what a new technology can do and how – or even whether – it will then be used. (Gillen & Barton 2009 :1)


Gillen, J. & Barton, D. (2009). Digital Literacies. A discussion document for TLRP-TEL (Teaching and Learning Research Programme - Technology Enhanced Learning) workshop on digital literacies. Lancaster University 12-13 March 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2009, from