Friday, November 06, 2009


Sadly, not long after that last post, on December 8th 2008, Steve was diagnosed with lung cancer. The chest infection he spoke of was one of several symptoms. We kept in close contact throughout, but despite two sets of chemotherapy and a short period of remission, the cancer spread and Steve died in August 2009.

He is greatly missed by all his friends and family.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Life in the Slough of Despond

I am in one of the perhaps less optimistic phases of my life...three months unemployed after the end of my contract on OpenLearn looking for the relatively rare jobs that seem to match my skill set. I am also working on the PhD. One would think with the extra masses of time that I would have really striven towards this but all I have done in this three months is completed one chapter in draft form. Admittedly, chapter 6 and 12000 words, which I guess is 15+ percent of the thing, admittedly a difficult chapter...but they are all difficult...every single damn one of them.

I am also in a bit of a self-doubt phase...where is the golden apple, when will the goose lay the golden egg, where is the flash of brilliance? Or is it simply a necessary text giving me a 'license to practice'...but where and what to practice? I cannot for instance teach mathematics education because despite 17 years teaching practice and a potential PhD, a Masters in Statistical Education I do not have a teaching of my numerous Achilles heels. Sometimes I feel giant Achilles heel (I am re-reading the short story 'The Nose' by Chekov at the moment where the guy loses his nose and the nose sets iteself up as an imposter taking over his life etc...I wonder if this is an example of early magical realism...never worked out what exactly that is).

When I left my job as a lecturer I was taking a risk because I knew I was chained down by my work...has that risk paid off...yes and no? Pluses and minuses. Perhaps if I have learned one thing - I should have probably taken the risk about seven years earlier than I did. This moment of time perhaps represents one of the low points of the risk...where I am even considering temporary Christmas work like at Sainsburys. Where I am even considering whether continuing to research education and eLearning is the right thing. In a documentary about Hendrix the other day he was broke, unknown and out of work when he came to London....mind you he was a formidible talent.

As a contract research I no doubt share these feelings with many others. Indeed a friend of mine was on the dole for 8 months before finding new work. Who knows. This is all part of the risk....after all I am not the only person who has gone through this phase...I just feel at my stage of life I should have metaphorically (and in reality) stocked up more money in the bank...though in this age this is probably not a very suitable or secure metaphor.

Anyhow...metaphors are an important part of my PhD, and metonomy.

Spoke to my friend Gill today, a fellow sufferer and a past contibutor to this blog, this has helped me and indeed I was able to get an hours PhD work done today (albeit just reading an earlier chapter and making a few notes) after a two week desert of activity. A chest infection and the glumness of the weather has not helped.

Still, I ultimately remain optimistic and know my PhD will come to some kind of conclusion and perhaps I will fufil a life time's ambition (after all I'm just from a secondary modern school)...this is the story of the final stages of that ambition...the crawl through the slough to....the chance meeting at the Cross Roads, guitar in hand with wordly goods wrapped up in a piece of leather....a glint of light shimmering every once and a while through the darkness of the thrashing rain....

Friday, July 04, 2008

ED-MEDIA 08 Vienna - 1 Example of Talk

Thinking about thinking through multimedia - talk by:

Nicholas Reynolds from the Univ of Melbourne.

This was a study on pre-service teachers.

A task was developed modelled of sound constructivist principles where students had to create a program using microworld and reflect on this process in terms of teaching.

The students were generally passive computer users - not engaging with trying to make the computers do something for them. Were not seen as 'digital natives'.

Their task was to construct a multimedia project- a story, book, a game. ...introduced Microworld was introduced through workshops and lectures to help engage student thinking - over five weeks. Workshops at low skills level. Nicholas was presenting three years of work in this area...Year 1: students became v.engaged so decided to pursue research, varied from year to year. Reflective component - in final year there was a reflective diaries and interviewed users.

One very funny multimedia presentation was The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - animated sequence presented of a woman swallowing a fly followed by swallowing a cat, followed by cow and horse.

- Frustration with MicroWorlds
- struggling with perfectionism
- could not express big ideas

One teacher said she spent a long time to make a relatively short selection of material....she felt that it would help her relate to students in the classrooms.

Another demo to music of Hnadel (I think) - Angry Ants Ate Apples

One student reflecting on task said "This is conguent withboth scaffolding and constructivist theory "

Studnet illustrated and reflected on task drawing from theories of scaffolding with Bruner and Vygotsky--

Makes them explore the programme. Task helped training teachers to understand the importance of constuctivism in task design.

Papert - "You can't think about thinging withouth thinking about something. Coming up about meaningful insights"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TEL Away Day - SocialLearn - afternoon

The first part of this afternoon session started with Martin talking about the concept of SocialLearn, a new initiative being explored by the Open University.

SocialLearn will provide a space for users to pull together their own learning events into an open API. Associated with this there will be a set of learning applications. Links will be provided to systems such as COHERE, CLOUDWORKS, MICROLEARNER, TWITTER, FACEBOOK, OPENLEARN, 2Learner...some developed in house and others externally available.

This is aimed at:

informal learners
students in formal education
educators for the creation of content
partners selling services and content
geeks - to play with Open API
vocational learners

'Creepy treehouse' - an academic tries to become your friend on Facebook - the jumping on the young peoples' use of social networking tools - distinguishing between, personal, institute, and inbetween zone.

Move away to give focus on student control over their own learning....letting go... a lot more bottom up...

Do we end up creating our nightmare competitor? We need to take that risk to a certain extent.

Question of duplication with OU VLE? Applications will plug into it e.g. mystuff...idea of putting together lots of things...'edu glue'


In this section we looked at the suggestions made by people in the room for learning activities. Here we were given the opportunites to read others and give them a rating. It looks like Canan's got the highest rating...this was where a teacher would do something dramatic in front of the class and then there would be a period of interpretation.

Mine seemed to be rejected..which did no surprise me - probably did not like the terms repetition and variation and missed the point... I would love to be able to learn a poem easily - the question is how can one do this? Based on work of Marton.

Idea behind cloudlets is to do with simple ideas. How on earth does that kind of thing happen? Is a good method of doing things...scaling up.

Patrick mentioned 'neat little ideas that worked' and martin about some ideas that objects, but I feel that something is missing.

The idea of scanning all the bar codes from peoples' books was suggested so that we could have some kind of lists of all the books that were available within the department. Since the department is moving into a new building these things would become possible. Of course I probably won't be moving anyway.

TEL Away Day - Morning - eTools

Away day for our section within IET -

TEL - Technology Enhanced Learning.

In the first part of the session we divided into groups to discuss the various tools such as Wikis, Twitter, blogs.

Martin reported back from our group about Wikis - we felt there should be a clear focus for their use e.g. to support meetings where people can add to or correct texts.

Eileen reported on Twitter: what would you use it for? the barrier between work and other parts of your life...Twitter however was considered a safer area. Eileen liked the brevity of it. Patrick commented on the life-work boundary, conversations of which were more likely to occur over our case me, Agnes and Doug discussed Richard Dawkins. I said I disliked his manner, felt he did not argue his points very well, and was pompous.

Doug - distinguished between social use and work-based used. Do tools like Twitter help to 'get work done'.

Patrick aiming to get five point action plan:

- let's give twitter a try - no cohersion, a place for people to gather
- encourage people to blog - can be put into aggregator
- have a look at Cohere and Compendium
- have a look at

Martin: Broadcast strategy review followed by a self created movie. Concept of Edupunk. ...Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger

Broke up into groups: discussed what makes people get involved with these tools...why do people choose certain tools and not others? How we might present PhD thesis on FlashMeeting.

Question about whether people read the notes made at meetings.

Questions of quality raised by Anne - also issues of being 'extra work' but as educational technologists we had to do it. Issue of needing the extra support to help us develope these skills.

Issue of quality is an area which often comes up in these talks - BBC quality is virtually unattainable but the 'rough video' thing can work and give something different. These are probably skills that we need to develop. Martin talked about the motivation that he had where he was doing it for fun. Robin talked about making little audio and video clips and how these can make things more interesting.

It' great that we can feel free to type and use computers at the same time as the talk is going on.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Neat handwriting = Poor Literacy?

Cognitive Overload and Automation

Something to ponder. In an interesting report based on research at Warwick University they suggested that too much focus on neatness and correct formation of letter forms got in the way of developing literacy skills since mental effort was directed toward the forming of the letters rather than writing itself and its creative process. By abandoning worry about forming the letters automation of writing could come about more quickly freeing up the mind for higher level creative processes. This reminds me too of advice on speed writing where the ‘internal editor’ with its attention to grammar, spelling and structure is temporarily turned off to allow creative thoughts and ideas to flow. The argument is that this reduces congnitive load. The area of automation through practice and examples is also an important part of my PhD work.

Ontology, Ontology and Ontogeny

These words continually present me with a muddle. Lets start with Ontogeny which has been described as ‘the origin and development of an individual organism’ OED. Now Engestrom and Cole talk about the ontogeny of the individual when describing the various timelines surrounding an event. By this they mean their personal life story and history. They also talk of other timelines in which events are embedded namely social-cultural, historical, and phylogenetic. The moment to moment happenings within an event are referred to as microgenesis. The problem I have with Ontogeny is not its meaning but using the right word. I continually refer to it as Oncology and sometimes Ontology. Life is tough! Ontogeny and Ontology are very similar so easy to muddle.

Ontology and ontological present me with some problems and even now I am some time away from being able to use these terms automatically…incidently really interesting to hear report today on automaticity in learning to read. The woman from Warwick said that children were slowed down in their skills in fluency of writing because of the concentration on neatness… I can very much believe this. It was a typical example of cognitive overload – which they alluded to but this term was not used on the channel 4 report.

I think that part of the problem of using these terms lies in the fact that there are two distinct meanings:

i. ‘the science and study of being’ – a metaphysical perspective – I will look up definition from Theory of Knowledge

ii. and in logic and symbolisation based on the work of Lesniewski (1886 to 1939) ‘which attempls to interpret quantities without assuming that anything exists beyond written expressions’. It is in this sense that I think Sfard is probably using this word in her chapter…..

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Methods and Methodologies - What's the Difference?

I have recently read "The Erosion of a method: examples from grounded theory", a paper by Thomas Greckhamer and Mirka Koro-Ljungberg. It is a useful critique of Grounded Theory but is equally relevant to any research methodology.

All research methods it seems to me have at least one significant Achilles heel. The authors perhaps suggest that Grounded Theory was under-theorised in terms of its epistemological foundations although the its methods are quite clearly defined.

The authors state that they 'agree with Crotty (1998) who defines methodology as the 'strategy, palan of action, process or design lying behind the choice and use of particular methods and linking the choice of methods to the desired outcomes'.

They state that the main outcome of Grounded Theory is theory generation (as opposed to testing a theory for example) and the chosen methods, coding, sampling, memoing etc, are the link from the data to the theory.

They also state another view of methodology as having a guiding theory or theoretical perspective on the research project.

Later the authors state, in terms of the original form of grounded theory, that it was essentially positivist in nature. Later on other versions of Grounded theory came into existence such as one that used constructivist notions. In this sense the theory is not grounded in the data but grounded in the researchers analysis and interpretation of the data. Hence instead of only one theory describing and predicting the data there may exist many. Since I do not believe in objective reality as existing independent of our interpretation of the world I am taking the constructivist's view as the underlying theoretical approach to adopt in my PhD.

Thus, have I now secured the methodology. Maybe? I think Maxwell 'Qualitative Research Design' will be worth turning back to: chapter 1 - A Model for Qualitative Research Design and Chapter 3 - Conceptual Framework? What do you think is going on?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fun and Frolics with Mobile Devices - by Gill Clough

A tag cloud is pretty easy to put into a blogger blog. This post explains very clearly how to go about it

My overall PhD title is "The uses of mobile devices in informal science learning", however I think Fun and Frolics with mobile devices is rather more descriptive of what I do. I am looking at how Geocachers engage with their physical and social contexts using their devices, and with each other through the active online community network.

Geocaching involves taking mobile devices with GPS (global positioning systems) out and using the technology to locate caches. Caches are like hidden treasure, hidden by other geocachers. Not all caches are physical objects; some are virtual caches, some are multi-caches where one cache leads to the next by enabling you to solve a piece of a riddle, some are "earthcaches" which have a strong learning focus. To bag an earthcache, you need to demonstrate that you have learned something about the geological processes that formed that part of the landscape, as specified by the person who set the cache. Geocaching attracts thousands of participants world wide, and their enthusiasm makes them ideal and very willing participants in my research.

To read more about Geocaching, check out this wiki

Visit the main geocaching website at to see examples of how you locate caches near you, load the coordinates into your GPS device and head off out. You can also read about other people's experiences of caching.