Legacy logic and traditional media

I’m not sure how apocryphal it is, but animals with a fairly autonomous system can remain moving for a while after their head is cut off. All the bits of the body still function and do so, even though the creature is dead. It just takes a while for it to realise it.

I see the same thing happening with some of the older forms of media. The reasons why they were there in the first place are no longer valid, they no longer fulfil a function, and yet because they have existed for so long, they keep enduring, long after the moment that – if they were to be invented from scratch – the concept would be laughable. They’re dead, but they don’t realise they are.

Imagine this as a dragons’ den proposal:

“What I want to do is take a news website. Arrange the webpages as print pages. Print it out thousands of times. Deliver those printouts to shops around the country. And then they get posted to people’s houses.”

“So they get the news they’ve already read?”

“Yes. On paper.”

“A day after it was actually news?”


“Which they can’t pass on to other people who might be interested?”

“Well you could cut out bits and post them on, but normally, no, it just litters your home for a week then goes into the recycling.”

You see the problem?

In practice, newspapers died over 20 years ago, they just haven’t stopped moving yet. A legacy logic still may be able to justify their existence, but it’s getting very tired.

I consume a lot of media, TV, films, music, books, comics, games, audio. I tend to consume all of them in quite similar ways. I’ll watch a TV show for an entire season, or run, before moving onto the next. I’ll buy a complete set of a comic run or a book series before starting it, then read them all. I’ll listen to three or four albums by the same artist in a row (in chronological order, of course). The idea of “dipping in” just doesn’t suit me. For this reason I gave up on broadcast TV about 20 years ago. I’d just get the DVDs for the shows I liked. There was a brief period (just after Dr Who was revived) when I bought a TV licence and watched TV, but I soon got bored with it, and when the digital switchover happened, I just switched off instead of over.

For some reason though, a legacy logic, I have had to sign a form every year since, stating that I’m not watching broadcast TV. I don’t have to sign one saying I don’t read newspapers. No-one else has to sign one to say they don’t play computer games. For a reason that would be laughed out of the room if we were to present it as a new idea, broadcast TV is given a privileged position, that it doesn’t deserve.

The legacy logic is obvious. Broadcast TV was the dominant medium from about 1957 (the last time a radio show had higher ratings than any TV show) until maybe 2007 (when Netflix started streaming – that’s a pretty arbitrary end-date, mainly picked because it makes a nice round number). But now broadcast TV is pretty peripheral to many many people. And it’s pointless. There is no reason to put a TV show out at a particular time, so that everyone has to tune in simultaneously, unless it’s sports, news or shopping. It’s just habit that anyone does that.

And of course now that the BBC iPlayer needs a licence, legacy logic says that this means that the company that supplies it is entitled to check on people’s internet access to make sure they’re not watching it without paying for it. The assumption being that people can’t live without the BBC, I suppose. Whereas it would make much more sense to make people enter a code to access the content if they had paid. You know like Amazon, and Netflix and Sky and every other TV supplier does.

Maybe someone should tell the BBC they don’t really matter that much any more. We get our TV from Netflix (an entire season at once, rather than being dripfed one episode a week), we get our news from the Internet, we get our radio from podcasts (OK that one is a bit weak, but  .. I will just have to wait for the radio programmes to come out on CD). I would miss QI but it’s available through Netflix, No Such Thing as the News isn’t on, there’s WILTY, but that’s about it, really.

It’s a mark of how little traditional media get what’s happening that they commission little op-ed pieces like this http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-03-20/dont-let-on-demand-distract-you-from-this-mini-golden-age-of-bbc-drama in a Cnut-like attempt to hold back the tide. What makes that article so childish is that it wilfully misses the point. Yes there is good stuff on broadcast TV, no-one is arguing about that, it just doesn’t have to be broadcast. There is no virtue in stuff being time-dependent, quite the opposite. It’s no more a The Night Manager would have been a good show, but only if it had been all at once, so that people could see all the episodes rather than seeing four then missing the last two because iPlayer only keeps them for 30 days and I was in Kathmandu. Errm. If you see what I mean.

Where the legacy logic particularly stands out is “His sails deflate and his attention wanders, because that stuff is, well, a bit obvious. It’s available to everyone. There’s no rarity value, no street cred.” People do not watch Netflix or Amazon because of their rarity. They watch them because of their accessibility. And the quality of their output. X-Files, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Preacher, Archer, Bojack Horseman. All brilliant. And the most recent things I’ve watched (no BBC there note). It’s the broadcast stuff that’s not obvious, it’s the broadcast stuff that is difficult to access. If you judge these things objectively/currently and not from the perspective of the period 1957-2007.

Ultimately being a good TV programme maker does not justify being a broadcaster. We don’t really need those any more. Scheduled TV makes as much sense as picking up your copy of Rest of the Robots between 10 pm and 11 pm on a Sunday night and only reading it then. Broadcast TV is dead. We should stop trying to prop it up with more and more ridiculous legislation.




Changing the student digital experience pt 5

One thing that developing a framework does is enable you to see more clearly where there are gaps. Sort of like Mendeleev and his periodic table. Putting the 13th principle together with the in-between spaces group, and then mapping what we came up with to the Jisc NUS benchmarking tool showed that those categories overlapped with the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th principles of the tool. Which then raises  the question, what about the overlap between blended coalescent spaces and the 12th principle, ie digital well-being?

It’s not something we were focusing on but it is a key aspect of introducing blended and virtual spaces – there are a range of different elements to digital well-being that only emerge when we start transitioning between physical and virtual spaces, or merge the two.

To some extent, this is relatively advanced stuff compared to just regular looking after yourself while online, but virtual spaces usually require an avatar for interaction and that opens up a whole new area of digital experience. (Augmented reality too, although perhaps this isn’t so much digital well-being as physical, inasmuch as watching where you’re going when you’re hunting Pokemon.)  One of the things that emerged when I was looking at virtual worlds is how the sense of presence exposes the user in ways that don’t occur when you’re a disembodied presence in a forum.

One of these is presentation of self. With the whole variety of choices available to you, what you choose has a big impact. Do you choose your physical world sex for your avatar? Do you choose your physical world gender? What if those are different from each other? Do you want to take the opportunity to explore identity by adopting a different ethnicity, sex, species? Will you expose yourself to hostility if you adopt an animal avatar, or a mechanical one? (I spent a lot of time in Second Life as an airship – that got some weird reactions. Though the spider one was the only one that generated outright hostility).

If we as educators introduce virtual worlds to our students, there is some responsibility for their continued interactions with virtual worlds, even outside of the learning situations. If they’ve become interested, and developed an online identity, as a result of our teaching, they may decide to continue and explore more. And there’s some weird stuff in there, which they need to learn to ensure they’re comfortable with before engaging with (or perhaps be resilient enough to be OK with being uncomfortable). That level of embodiment also enables people to form relationships, and there can be a mismatch between the significance that people attach to those. Which can lead to people being hurt.

There is reputation management too. If you want to be taken seriously in online interactions, maybe a giraffe isn’t the best choice of avatar. But then, I did get to know one academic simply because he and I were dressed as punks at an ESRC event in SL when everyone else was in suits. So representation of self is something to be consciously engaged with, and many people first entering virtual worlds tend to be oblivious to the relevance of avatar design.

At the moment, perhaps these concerns aren’t huge ones for educators, but at least we know where to put them on the site once we do start thinking about them.



Changing the student digital experience pt 4

Soon after these rounds of consultations, the three of us working on the staff development site also were asked to redesign the Brookes virtual landing page. This is a sort of portal into all the support for technology that staff might need, and is actually the most visited page on the Brookes site. At the moment it mainly links to information on the tools – but we also wanted to integrate the student digital experience advice too. I think this is part of a larger, maybe even ideological, issue with technology-enhanced learning. It’s often seen as an issue of just getting the kit working, what plugs into what and what button to press. I think the pedagogical issues are far more important, such as what is the student supposed to get from it? what teaching skills are needed to ensure it is used effectively? This is partly because this aspect gets overlooked and yet has a huge impact on the learning that takes place, and partly because this is the bit I get paid to do and I want to keep my job. However, it is fair enough to say that getting the stuff to work is probably what people focus on first.

This then leads into the fourth design principle for what we’ve put together:

#4 Integrating as many different perspective into the tool as possible (alternatively: keep as many people happy as possible).

The gateway has gone through some re-designs but essentially it has always aimed to do two things;

  • provide a point of entry for people who know what technology they want to use, but not how to use it in parallel with a point of entry for those who know what change they want to make to the student digital experience, but not how to achieve it.
  • keep the CPD angle in the forefront of people’s minds, by having links to advice on how to do it throughout the site.

The structure then, looks like this (there are more options within the technologies and CPD sections, but if I included everything it wouldn’t fit on the post.

TEL gateway

The structure of the new Brookes Virtual Gateway

The other aspect is how to provide the filtered view. Applying the general principle of keeping as many people as possible happy, we also wanted to have explicit links to Brookes’s TEL framework. This was an ideal opportunity to do both simultaneously and have the different views match the different lines of the framework. The assumption being that if the TEL framework is successfully implemented, people will need advice based on whichever line of the framework they’ve been tasked with implementing, and the DC matrix would then provide the right targeted help.

There are 12 principles in the Brookes TEL framework, and 12 in the Jisc NUS benchmarking tool. 8 of these actually map pretty closely with a one-to-one correspondence. I can post about this in detail if anyone is interested. There’s also a line in the Brookes TEL framework on assessment, which is split across many of the benchmarking tool’s principles. So 3/4 of each framework is actually very similar to the other.

This made creating the filtered views very simple. All that was needed was to come up with a question that reflected both the TEL framework principle and the corresponding Jisc NUS Benchmarking tool principle; the user of the site picks the question that most closely matches what aspect of the student digital experience they want to (or have to) develop and this will link them to the right grid in the DC matrix. That grid then shows the complete range of components that address this experience, divided into levels of complexity, with links (eventually) to resources and examples of good practice that support that particular component.

One thing, though, that the TEL framework has focused on, which the Jisc NUS benchmarking tool hasn’t is the idea of transformative, mixed, coalescent spaces. When adapting the DC matrix to take account of this, we had the thought of adding to each of the existing principles. The reaction from the community was not to mess with it, though. So instead we’ve created a 13th principle (otherwise the filtered view would link to a blank page).

Before getting to this point in the development of the DC matrix though, I’d already worked on putting together something similar, as part of a group set up by Katherine Jensen at the University of Huddersfield. She’s interested in these sort of in-between space , and set up a Google hangout on the subject, inviting me, Andrew Middleton, Liz Falconer, Catherine Cronin and too many others to list here (but who don’t read this blog). Andrew, Liz and others contributed to putting together a set of benchmarks for people to progress through if they are thinking of developing these sort of spaces. We adopted the First Steps, Developing, Developed and Outstanding categories as they’re useful for structuring thinking about benchmarking, and I half-expected it might be useful for the DC matrix.

Richard also realised that it would be useful to show how these cross-referenced to the existing principles. Between us we tweaked and merged the grid the Google hangout group had come up with, to produce the grid below.

13th principle

We’ve tested this out a couple of times already, with workshops called Course Design Intensives. These are similar to the Carpe Diem sessions run at Leicester and the CAIeRO sessions at Northampton. A group of people from a programme team get together to discuss the issues they are facing with the programme and between us we resolve those issues. We’ve actually found it more useful to have programme teams from two different faculties simultaneously, as the cross-fertilisation between the ideas being generated adds a lot to the process.

The DC matrix has proven really useful in terms of that initial breakdown of the student experience. When a question crops up such as “but what are the digital literacies we need students to know for their course?” we can just click on the right principle, and there’s the answer, subdivided into various stages. All we need to do now is open it up for everyone to start submitting their examples and resources for how to achieve those stages.


Changing the student digital experience pt 3

With the groundwork done of turning the Jisc / NUS benchmarking tool into a structured website of resources, and incorporating a CPD element, the next step was to ensure the DC matrix met the following criterion.

Goal # 3 ensure that the programme meets users’ needs

The DC matrix had already been used with DMELDs, but getting an idea of whether this was actually the approach that other people would find useful is obviously something to address as soon as possible. Between us, George Roberts, Richard Francis and I showed it to a range of people for feedback. These included:

  • academic staff at Brookes
  • librarians at Brookes
  • the other academic and staff developers within OCSLD
  • the wider community through the Jisc Students Experience Experts Group meetings

We had a mixture of responses. The first of which is that looking at the staff capabilities from the perspective of student experiences wasn’t helpful, in that usually staff started with the process of engaging with technology-enhanced learning from the perspective of identifying a technology that could help, and then needing help with that specific tool. I’d found too that when I had an example of good practice to share via the site, that my tendency was to think (for example) “where would webinars go?” rather than think about the student experience it was providing. The search function helps here, in that you can just search for the relevant element, but it’s not really in the spirit of reframing TEL from the student perspective. That shift in perspective will take time, I think. In the meantime, this suggested we needed alternative routes to the resources.

The second response was that there is a lot in the DC matrix as a whole. This is unavoidable as there are so many aspects to the student digital experience and we didn’t want to deliberately avoid looking at some aspect. Suggestions were to highlight some principles, or to produce filtered views depending on who was looking.

The third response was that there are other models, and other repositories of resources, and this is just competing with them. For example, there is the TEL framework at Brookes, the Brookes graduate attributes, and this proliferation of models is confusing. Also – what’s the point of having a structured access to resources if no-one ever populates the structure?

The response from the wider community  addressed some of these issues, however. The creation of a site based on the Jisc / NUS benchmarking tool meant that it was shareable across all institutions, rather than tied to one TEL strategy. There was considerable resistance to the idea of changing the DC matrix away from the original structure of the benchmarking tool, therefore. However, this addressed the problem of how to populate it; if everyone uses it, then the resources should soon be populated. The problem of it appearing too large was acknowledged, but we got the advice to develop walkthroughs for the principles that might be more commonly used. Finally, what people really liked was how the site also incorporated advice on how to also use any TEL intervention for CPD. The “one cell from the top and one from anywhere else” model for staff development seemed to go down very well. Although probably better coming from Rachel Riley.



Changing the student digital experience pt 2

Continuing to chart the progress behind Brookes’s new staff developmental programme for TEL. With a structure for mapping the student digital experience in place, from Jisc and the NUS – there are other concerns – the first of which is:

Goal #2: Integrating developments in learning and teaching with staff CPD

One of the things I didn’t want to do for the new programme was set in place a whole new set of courses. There are plenty of effective developmental opportunities already; from online courses that are part of the Postgraduate Certificate for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (which I teach on) to one-off workshops on how to use the various tools needed for TEL. Adding to these would add to the workload for staff, but also, who’s to say what should be on a course? There are over 200 different elements to the student digital experience tool as put together by Jisc and the NUS, we shouldn’t be choosing on behalf of the teacher which is the important one for them to address.

Rather than have a course, therefore, it made sense to me to just add different types of continuous professional development to the DC matrix, alongside the 12 principles of student digital experience that were already there. The intention being that the member of staff would plan to do some sort of TEL intervention and use this intervention as the basis for some CPD activity. This would create a model that could be light-touch, incremental, and adaptable to meet the specific needs of a staff member (and ultimately his or her students) at a particular time. It also follows the practice of not focusing on the staff member’s digital capability as a goal in itself, but as a means to improve student digital experience. It also borrows a bit from the idea of activity-led learning; you’re not learning any skills for their own sake, but to achieve a specific goal.

And this also recognises that people don’t (normally) just do professional development for the sake of it, they are directed towards it for different reasons. I wanted the programme to actually meet the needs of people who had CPD-related task on their plate already, rather than try and generate an additional rationale for engagement. These were the four reasons I thought that people might need the site:

  • Having something in their own courses that needed improvement, or a need to be addressed. This could be identified by them, by their line manager in a performance review, or in student feedback.
  • Wanting to get into publishing research, and thinking of using a TEL intervention as a good basis for this. Brookes has a lot of internal mechanisms for publication, for those just starting out, and of course there’s the whole range of TEL journals and conferences out there.
  • Going for HEA accreditation as a Fellow, Senior Fellow or Associate Fellow and running into the criterion of “using and valuing appropriate learning technologies”.
  • Actually having already done something, but wanting to get into dissemination of their practice and not knowing where to start.

The basic structure of the Jisc NUS benchmarking tool (First Steps, Developing, Developed, Outstanding) is helpful in developing ideas, so I adopted that and formed another table similar to the 12 already existing. When integrated into Richard Francis’s site it looks like this:

zeroth principle


The idea is that if it sits alongside the other 12, as a “zeroth principle”, then people who come to the site looking for ways to improve the student experience will be drawn into considering how to make something of their TEL development as CPD. Ideally they’d pick a cell from somewhere on principles 1 to 12, and one from the matrix above, and in combination those two elements will form their CPD for that academic year. It’s similar to the numbers round in Countdown – one from the top and one from anywhere else.

Changing the Student Digital Experience

One of my roles at Oxford Brookes University has been to come up with a Technology-Enhanced Learning programme. It’s laid out in the university’s TEL framework – under the line

Redesign and implement a staff developmental programme for TEL based on the Brookes Attribute of Digital and Information Literacy.

The structure for this programme is just about to go live, so this is a useful point to reflect on why it looks the way it does, and what the aims of it are.

Goal # 1 – put the student experience first

Staff developmental programmes usually look at what skill sets staff need to develop. The approach suggested to me (by George Roberts – my line manager and also a Principal Lecturer for the Student Experience at Brookes) was to start with the Jisc / NUS Student Digital Experience Benchmarking tool, which you can see at this link. The tool breaks down students’ experiences into 12 principles, and each principle is further subdivided into around 20 different attributes, on a scale from first steps, to developing, to developed, to outstanding. It’s quite comprehensive, and has a good provenance, (supported by Jisc, the NUS and collated by Helen Beetham). Furthermore it reframes the whole debate about TEL from the perspective of “what should a student get out of it” rather than “what do we need to put into it?”

Fortuitously, a colleague at Brookes, Richard Francis, who is the Digital Services and Learning Technology Manager, had already developed an online site based on the Jisc / NUS tool. This site replicates all 12 principles as separate wepages and for each cell of the matrix on the page there is a link to a further page which can be populated with resources. Richard had even begun populating the site with resources through a series of workshops with a group of people Brookes calls DMELDs, or Digital Media and e-Learning Developers.

The two images below show what this looks like:

DC matrix

As resources are added, each cell is ticked, which means that users can see quickly where the resources are. Clicking on text in a cell links to a page such as this:

resource page

Looking for a name for this website tool, we toyed with Digital Capabilities matrix, and Digital Capacity matrix, also Digital Competencies matrix. Unable to choose, we just went for DC matrix. However, as we went out to talk to more people about it, we (quite reasonably) met resistance to the idea of yet another abbreviation. So we went for Digital Choices matrix, as that seemed to actually describe what it did, rather than what it was for.

The idea is then that a member of staff who wants to make a change to their students’ learning experience, goes through the DC matrix, looks for where they need to develop their practice, and by clicking on the link are not only provided with a list of resources, there is also a link to a forum of people who are also engaged in that area. Ideally once they’ve completed the intervention, they can upload the results and so provide resources for people who come after.

The site could also be used as a personal audit tool. A staff member looks through the matrices, decides where they are at, and looks to the cell to the right to identify where next to develop their practice.

The next step in the development continues in the following post.

It’s only the end of the world again

So .. the UK votes to leave the EU. Not all of the UK, but more than voted to stay.

Obviously the impact on education is immense. So much of it is built on open co-operation between European countries (and the UK is still in Europe – a referendum doesn’t actually have an impact on geography). Academics moving from institution to institution. Students too. A joined up awarding system (in theory though ECTS never really caught on in the UK anyway). EU grants have kept education research going and enabled it on a larger scale than would be possible within just one country (if a UK government was ever really interested in providing substantial funding for research anyway.

For me though, the impact of the decision on education is even more fundamental. If anyone has been looking at this site recently, you’ll know I’ve been putting together an application for Senior Fellowship of the HEA. Once civilisation collapses, those sorts of qualifications will stand me in good stead in the battle over the last scraps of food. One of the questions it’s led me to address is why I’m in education in the first place.

Well the reality is, it’s just a random set of circumstances that got me here; but I suppose there is a personal philosophy that’s kept me here.

It’s altruism, social commitment, a sort of utopian ideal in making the world a better place. Not for any sentimental reasons, but for totally pragmatic ones. In The Selfish Gene (not just recommended as reading, but ordered reading – if you’ve not read it stop everything else and read it now) Richard Dawkins shows how altruism is a pro-survival characteristic. If an organism carries the genes to help others of its species, then it’s more likely to survive (because others of its species will be helping it). Evolution has been playing the prisoner’s dilemma over and over for 3 billion years and come up with the winning formula.

So, educating others makes sense. The more tolerant, rational, open-to-change, flexible and compassionate humans are, the more likely we are to all survive. There are loads of challenges we face, over-population, climate change, marooned on the surface of a single planet, and unless everyone is on-board with fixing those problems, we’re all fucked.

You like to think you’re making some headway.

Then you find you’re living in a country where you’ve not been making a difference. Where more than half (only a little bit more than half, but that’s enough) are jingoistic, xenophobic, change-resistant and make decisions not on logic and reason, but on rhetoric and lies.

Which makes me think that, as a species, we’re broken beyond fixing. When so many want to go backwards to a time that only exists in their sordid little imaginations. Where economics, social equity, global stability arguments don’t work, but superficial catch-phrases and 1-bit ideas about “greatness” or “sovereignty” do, even after making those arguments for decade after decade, then what the hell can you do?

The only sane thing is to give up.

Because what can actually work on those sort of people? Education hasn’t. So what is the point of it? Maybe you focus on the (slightly less than) half of people who actually choose to think, but it’s difficult to tell immediately who they are. And the fear is they’ll always be in the minority, because that’s not how humans are constructed.


Geocaching activity in Kathmandu

Just thought I’d do a brief post – along the lines of what I did on my holidays. Although actually I was still working quite a few of the days as … well that’s the ideal thing about a job based on the Internet, you can do it anywhere. Anyway, I had the chance to try out this activity, a totally new one to me, basically just a small update to an activity my wife started off a few years back.

Geocaching learning activity April 11th 2016

The original geocache site was set up at the Mahan Siddhartha High School  http://www.msschool.edu.np/ on 20th November 2010. It was an off-set cache – visitors to the stupa at Boudha answered clues based on the stupa and this led them to the school – but this had to be revised after the earthquake damage in April 2015 due to the school being relocated and rebuilding of the stupa. The geocaching activity on the 11th April updated the location of the cache, and children from the school also identified new questions, based on the buildings and objects around the stupa, rather than the stupa itself. A video of the original activity can be seen at

The new co-ordinates for the cache are

N 27 degrees 42.942

E 085 degrees 21.418

The geocaching activity that visitors undertake when visiting Kathmandu is to visit the website geocaching.com and search for nearby gecocaches, of which this (at https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC2JG4D_between-sacred-sites) is just one, and answer a series of questions to find the cache.

The co-ordinates are made into a puzzle by substituting letters for the numbers in the co-ordinates and setting clues for those letters. Taking the smallest four of these numbers, 1, 2, 4 and 5, the remainder of the digits can be created from those, where, if A=1, B=2, C=4 and D=5.

The principle of this was explained to the children from the school and, as a quick simple maths test, they were asked how all the numbers could be created from these four. The children identified that the larger numbers could be made up from the smaller ones like this:

N B (D+A)  degrees C B . (D+C) C B

E 0 (BxC) D degrees B A . C A (BxC)

The group took one walk around the partially-rebuilt stupa looking for clues that would produce the answers 1,2,4 and 5. The clues produced were:

How many maps are there as you go round the stupa? = A (answer 1)

How many dragons are there on the front of the Guru Lakhang monastery? = B (answer 2)

How many gates are there into the stupa? = C (answer 4)

How many leopards are there in the Guru Lakhang monastery? = D (answer 5)

Also as part of the exercise, the geocache was re-upped with three new trackables or travel bugs. Travel bugs are picked up and dropped off at the geocaches along the travels of the geocachers. By visiting a page associated with the bugs, geocachers can see what the mission of the bug is, and who else has picked up and dropped off the bug along the way. To individualise the bugs (which are just flat pieces of metal similar to dogtags) keyrings can be attached to them.

The children were asked to choose three keyrings that they felt represented their culture (as an example they were shown an Iron Man keyring to represent Western culture). One of the children chose a representation of a Gorkha  – a long Nepali blade. It was given the mission of collecting reflections about what the site visited means to the visitor’s culture and to them personally. To start off the bug’s mission the children were asked the significance of the stupa to their culture and to them personally. Responses were that culturally it was an important landmark site, but that personally it was where they came to be close to God. It can be tracked at http://www.geocaching.com/track/details.aspx?id=6495363

The second keyring was a Vajra, although the children only identified this as “a Buddhist symbol”. Vajras represent thunderbolts. This bug replicated the mission of the bug from the original creation of the cache, to visit places of worship.  It can be tracked at http://www.geocaching.com/track/details.aspx?id=6495372

The original bug can be tracked at http://www.geocaching.com/track/details.aspx?id=2982297 It had a very brief journey, being taken by one geocacher to Lisbon, and then picked up by a second who took it to Egypt and back. It was only on the move between 28.11.2010 and 26.8.2012

The third keyring chosen was a representation of the stupa. The MS School has links with a UK school, children took part in a collaborative exercise whereby they wrote a short description of themselves and their lives, together with a photo, to share with children at the other school. This bug is aiming to travel to a cache near that school. The intention is that it will be picked up and dropped off at different caches en route, and randomly make its way to the right place. It can be tracked at http://www.geocaching.com/track/details.aspx?id=6495395

These three travel bugs were then placed in the cache at the Mahan Siddharta High School. Visitors to the stupa will then be led to the school, where they can fill in a logbook, drop off their trackables at the cache, and collect a different trackable from the cache. They can also fill in their experiences of the visit to the stupa and school, and completing the puzzle, at the website. This is then something the children at the school can watch developing, and see what other parts of the world their school becomes connected to.

There can be only one


Earlier this week I had a bizarre notification on Twitter. I was being praised for my role with Samsung Canada and my work with raising awareness of autism. As this wasn’t something I was aware of having done, I guessed it was a different Mark Childs that was being referred to. Sure enough the Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Canada is called Mark Childs. There are plenty of us. If you Google my name I’m the first page of hits now, but for a long while the top ten were dominated by the uncle and nephew combination of Mark Childses, the (substantially more famous) Cantor and cellist. My mother has their CDs in her collection. I also have this novel on my shelf at home.

Neither of this is particularly unusual. There are plenty of cases of mistaken identity on twitter, often caused by someone less prestigious getting there before the more well-known version. The US teacher John Lewis (“Computer science educator, father of four, social liberal, atheist, and not a retail store”), Ashley “I’m not a freaking cricket match” Kerekes (twitter handle @theashes) or the woman in New York called Elizabeth Line are cases we’ve all heard of. It’s a confusion we’ve come to expect.

This doesn’t really come into a discussion on identity. Identity is a word used in completely different meanings, with very little overlap. Identity in maths is when an equation is true no matter which values are chosen. Identity in the phrase “identity theft” or “identity management” is really just a “construct of credentials” (a great phrase coined by my wife in Peachey and Withnail, 2013) it has little to do with actually what we mean when we talk about identity, which is really the construction of the various ways in which we perceive and define ourselves.

The problem is, how do we create an online presence for ourselves when our names can be blurred across so many different people? On Amazon it can be a problem finding my stuff, because not only is there the novelist called Mark Childs and the guy writing about urban planning called Mark Childs, you’ll also get anything written about children by anyone called Mark appearing above any of us in the returned search. Or in the case of Peachey, A., how do we maintain a single profile if you change your name?

This can be fixed on Amazon by creating an author page. It’s means that everything written by me can be grouped together, with a unique author’s ID (B00DHHKCIS – these things never trip off the tongue), so find one and you can find the others.

Writing journal papers is even trickier than books because you need to be traceable through citation indices and there are more people writing them with whom you can get mixed up. It’s why we have unique IDs, though they’re not as unique as they should be, as there’s ResearcherID, Google Scholar ID, OrcidID and Scopus. So not one standard, which is time-consuming, and also prone to complication. Orcid automatically populates its database with publications, but the algorithms are a bit flawed in that it created a hybrid personality composed of me and one other academic. Apparently, it’s far more probable that a professor at MIT might stop publishing about the physics of crystal lattices, drop his middle name and move to Wolverhampton to write about elearning, than that coincidentally one Mark Childs retires as the other’s career starts. Disentangling the two merged beings took a while but we’re know recognised as separate entities by the database.

Although enabling this construct of credentials to be processed unambiguously is not really part of one’s identity, it has led to me making some adaptations to who I am. I don’t actually have a middle name. My brother doesn’t have one, and going up the paternal line to the early 1800s, no-one else has one either. Whereas some families have a traditional name that is used, the Childses traditionally have a blank. That was fine until the need of logins to have a unique usernames. Anyone who’s on TOOC 16 at the moment will see I’m registered as Mark P Childs. As I had already logged in as Mark Childs using my google account, when setting up a Moodle account I needed a way to tell them apart. So the no middle name became a problem. My brother has encountered the same problems with registering email addresses, so is known as Andrew X Childs. If pressed he’ll tell you the X stands for Xavier. So why P? I recently found out that my mother was playing with the idea of calling me Ptolemy. She just liked the name. But changed her mind before registering it. Just as well; it sort of writes a cheque I can’t cash. But if the need to disambiguate my name ever crops up, that’s what goes in there.

I don’t think it changes the way I see myself. Or how others see me. But it’s starting to grow on me.



Peachey, A. and Withnail, G. (2013) “A Sociocultural Perspective on Negotiating Digital Identities in a Community of Learners” in Warburton, S. and Hatzipanagos, S. (Eds) Digital Identity and Social Media USA: IGI Global


A brief history of mobile devices


Reading elsewhere in A History of the World in 100 Objects I came across this quote from a letter by Geoffrey Chaucer to his 10-year-old son, Lewis.

I have seen that there will be some instructions that will not in all things deliver their intended results; and some of them be too hard for thy tender age of ten years to understand.

Chaucer senior was talking about the user manual for the astrolabe that he’d bought for his son. This is an astrolabe:

It can be used to tell positions of stars and planets, your latitude, and is an inclinometer. And probably a few other things too. The parallels with smartphones is obvious. A new device, that fits in the pocket, and does an amazing amount of things. And so complicated it takes a ten-year-old to understand it. The parallels with the hand axe are apparent too. Again hand-sized (pocket-sized except it was probably invented before the pocket) with a wide variety of applications.

The fascination with technology is an in-built human experience. Anyone who claims that technology is dehumanising hasn’t really been paying attention to how we evolved. Sure it changes us, but that’s a fundamental part of the human experience. And yet frequently in education I’ve come across resistance, not because it’s difficult or time-consuming (though it can be that) but because people have said they have an ideological opposition to it. Which is perhaps overstating their case. It’s more accurate to say they didn’t like it.

But look at that. Imagine you’re in 1391 – how cool would it be to own one of those? Scratch that, it’s still cool in 2016. Alone that shouldn’t be the basis of educational experience (the “cult of the shiny”) but it has to count for something.

That’s one reason why mobile devices are so loved. They are cool, and they’re always to hand, and they have a multitude of uses. Torch, satnav, book, music player, games console, text messager, internet browser, clock, stopwatch, timezone converter, camera, (still and movie), calculator, TV. About the only thing I don’t use mine for is as a phone. I wouldn’t say it was a fixed part of me (I’m always putting mine down somewhere and forgetting it). But it is an extension of my means to interact with the world. That’s my one quibble with the book. The 100th object is a credit card, supposedly being the device that sums up our time in the way that the astrolabe summed up the 14th century. I think even back in 2010 when the book came out, the smartphone was evidently the defining device of our time. And now of course it’s making the credit card obsolete.

Douglas Adams described technology as a tool that doesn’t work yet. Marshall McLuhan described a tool that becomes an extension of us as a prosthesis. So gradually there’s an evolutionary process of our devices, from technology, to tool, to prosthesis. We appropriate the technology into our sense of our own selves, so that as a prosthesis it’s part of our proprioceptive system. Once the device becomes an extension of our bodies we don’t want to be separated from it, but it becomes an ideal medium for learning, because while operating it we don’t think about how to operate it, any more than we think about how to pick things up with our hands. It’s truly an invisible technology.

This is why designers change an interface at their peril. Often people will respond to the howls of protest with derision, as if it’s just a knee-jerk antipathy to change. Sure change is the only constant, but the impediment to that sense of a device as prosthesis is real. Once you’re slowed down by having to think where everything is on the device, it starts getting in the way again, like having to relearn how to walk if you’ve had your left and right feet swapped. When it seems like the upgrade has just been for the sake of it (or worse, because they’ve come up with a more intrusive way to sell you stuff – take note Twitter and Skype) then people are right to be pissed off.

It’s also why mobile learning is so effective. Yes it frees people from being tied to one spot for their learning. I can now read anywhere I’ve got a few minutes, because I’ll have my phone on me whereas I rarely would have a book on me, as they don’t fit in my pocket. Anywhere can then become a learning space (more interstitial spaces). But it’s also because mobile devices aren’t a technology, they’re not even a tool, they’re part of us. We therefore feel connected to them in a way we’re not connected to other things, and whatever takes place with them or through them makes the activities feel more personal, and more engaging and, arguably, a more fully-realised experience, because the experience isn’t just on a screen, it’s physically engaged with. Part of The Body Electric.