Monday, 25 February 2013

My artefact, "A Little Bird Told Me"

 You have hopefully arrived here to view my artefact. I have chosen to use the StoryBird website. I have explained why I chose this particular tool below. As a tool, I found it does have its limitations, so I opted to make a YouTube video as well as a small introduction. Please view this first, then click on the link to StoryBird which appears beneath the video. NB - unfortunately I could not link this directly from the YouTube video itself.

The text below is not part of my artefact. But I just wanted to jot some thoughts down on why I created it whilst they were fresh in my mind

I chose Storybird because:
  1. I liked the way you can randomly select images & create a story around them. Rather than the other way round
  2. This has been a course on "Digital Cultures". Every culture has stories, this was mine, "Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine" Oliver Sacks
  3. The biggest theme for me has been the human side. Of the course itself, and in relation to all the material we have covered. I mean the human side in the way we create things, the way we connect, and the way we use stories to share our experiences. I would say the Google Map, the Google Hangouts, the TweetChats, Facebook and Google Communities have all been great examples of this. In my reading, I have been most inspired by the stories where people have been able to apply technology or online media in a way that has improved their life, or opened up their world in a way they would never have expected.
  4. I liked the natural feel to the pictures on StoryBook. Some of the futuristic images and videos we have seen have been so oppressive I wanted to get a more innocent feel back. I think I have become a complete utopian.
  5. I liked the idea that something from the machine (a Twitter bird in this case) could, or would want to, somehow escape into our human world. I thought it flipped the "Matrix" idea on its head. 
The spark of the idea came from this photo. It’s a visual representation of the metaphorical stoy of a pigeon losing its fear and becoming a bluebird. When I first saw it, I misinterpreted it. I saw it as a Twitter bird who had escaped from the computer (or been released? rejected? outcast?). This was the basis for my story. Technology would be my guide, but I would be the one telling the story. The image of a bird "escaping" from Twitter also brought all kinds of themes to mind.
  • Are we addicted or imprisoned by social media & technology?
  • Have we forgotten the natural world?
  • Instead of fearing the rise of an inhuman, soulless technology, might technology actually be a benevolent guide, or just an extension of our own human spirit?
  • If we reach the singularity, what would a computer feel and think? If it could compute things in an instant, it wouldn’t need the space to think & work out answers. But would it also philosophise? Would it ever feel imprisoned and feel the need to escape? And if it did, where would it escape to?
I I had the idea of "sparks" flying around and illuminating people's education and imagination. For this articulate writer it was a love and passion for "gears", but the central point was similar - to "turn computers into instruments flexible enough so that any children can each create for themselves something like what the gears were for me". Thanks to this excellent artefact for introducing me to this idea This artefact also made the interesting comparison between the noise of birds chirping and our keyboards tapping. It was a lovely idea, and deserves a story all of its own! And how about wiring a keyboard so that it did literally chirp when you pressed the keys?

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The flipped glassroom

I've watched the Google glasses promotional video, and the Microsoft and Corning visions of a future glass world. I have a problem with the picture of the world they paint. The technology is only for the affluent, comfortable, happy, and able.

The lifestyle sold is one of freedom and happiness. I believe it is an illusion, and I want to see through the looking glass. I want Google to give away all their glasses, for free, to people who have never used technology before in their life. To a person in every country in the world, and covering every age range. To borrow the concept of the flipped classroom, I want to see the flipped glassroom

Firstly, here are some groups I identified the adverts as showing:
  • Successful business people whose life & work is deemed to be important.
  • The nuclear family with 2.4 children
  • Young extrovert thrill seekers
  • Affluent and content...
  • in spacious, clean, sunlit environments
  • Healthy and active
This is a quite a crude comparison, but since we're being hypothetical here, what would the flipside be?
  • Unsuccessful or unemployed people whose lives are deemed to be unimportant
  • Single, divorced, or childless people. 
  • Older, shyer or more introverted people
  • Poor and unhappy...
  • in cramped, dirty, dark environments
  • Unhealthy and inactive
Let's now flip the advertiser's model, and give the glasses to these people on the flipside. How would a young boy document his life who had never used a computer before? How would an old lady respond to the technology? Wouldn't we learn more about ourselves as human beings this way, rather than watch endless videos of people doing "awesome" things to uplifting piano soundtracks? Besides which, what could you do with one of these newer devices that you can't already do with your smart phone? A new device does not make you creative or awesome, professional or business like - you make yourself that way. And you can do that with a pen and paper.

I would rather this technology was put in the hands of people who had never used it, or who would never normally be able to afford or have access to it.  

How exciting would it be if for 1 month YouTube was taken off line. and in that time 5,000 Google glasses were given out and used to record life in every country of the world from people young and old who had never used technology before. After 1 month the videos were uploaded to YouTube and we were allowed to see what had been recorded. It would flip the model. Instead of another month of banal dross, we'd have a break and we'd get to see something truly different. And if the glasses were broken, stolen, left in the box, sold, or misused wouldn't that also raise a tonne of interesting questions too?

What questions will we be asking?

The technology in the videos may be super slick, but what about the people using it? How many times have you been in a meeting and thought, "this person has no idea what they are talking about". How many times have you yourself been talking in a meeting and thought, "I really don't know what I'm talking about here". My point is that we are sold the idea that these products will help us to solve problems quicker and more efficiently - but we still need to know what the problems are. "The nobel prize is not given to the person with all the right answers, but the person with all the right questions"

The technology is presented as so easy & intuitive, but life is not really like that. if it were we'd go crazy. Maybe that's why all the rooms and buildings in the Microsoft and Corning adverts are so immaculately clean. All we have left to do as humans is neurotically and obsessively clean all our glass machines.
The ideas here are fascinating and exciting (like any good advert would try and tell you), but it seems a shame that they are preaching to the converted. It made me think back to Bendito Machine from week 1. Just lots of new machines to worship. 
See also: 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

What do people find fascinating?

I used the Storify website today to make a story for the first time. On Storfiy there is a feature that lets you search Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other websites for a certain word or name. Type your word or phrase in, hit enter, and Storify lists all the instances where your word occurs. So, if you typed in "Burnley Football Club" for example, and asked Storify to search YouTube, it would list all videos from YouTube that mentioned "Burnley Football Club". You could then pick and choose some videos, drag and drop them, and create a story based on them. You can re-arrange things in your story, and add text and images in between to help turn a list into a meaningful story. Thanks to Andy Mitchell and Maddie Pradhan in particular who showed me the way to use Storify.

In my story today I wanted to experiment using the Twitter search option. I got Storify to search for tweets that contained the hashtag #fascinating. There were about 150 hits. I narrowed it down to the hits from Saturday 16th February, and also ignored some tweets where it looked like the hashtag was referring to a book called Fascinating. What I was left with was a snapshot of what the Twitter world were finding fascinating on Saturday. This was fascinating in itself! Have a look at the story below to see the tweets. I've included three favourites below

What other hastags could you search for? Andy. Maddie, and others have made stories from the course hastags #edcmooc and #edcmchat. You could search for a place or name and compile a story based on those tweets. What story would emerge it you searched for any of these terms I wonder? Could this be used in class as a different way to research a topic? In an English class you could look up a certain adjective and see the different ways people used it. In Art, you could look up a certain colour to see all the images that used this colour. Could you also use it when teaching or learning a foreign language?

Storify has a feature called "notify" that lets you notify people who you have referenced in your story. Infact. they encourage you to do it to, in their words, "help your story go viral". Well. I'm not bothered about going viral, but it seemed like a courteous thing to do to share my story with those I'd quoted. They might find it fascinating too. There were 50 people referenced in my story. It didn't seem too many so I thought I would notify them. I was intrigued what their reaction would be as well. It was all part of the experiment.

What happened was that my Twitter account got instantly suspended! I felt terrible, like I was some dodgy spammer annoying people with junk messages. I've contacted Twitter to ask for my account to be un-suspended, and also contacted Storify to tell them to change their guidance on this feature.
 Image credit of the sad Twitter bird to Sean Gravener

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Week 3 - a random jumble of not very well thought out thoughts

Language is central to our experience of being human, and the languages we speak profoundly shape the way we think, the way we see the world, the way we live our lives. 

I enjoyed reading this very interesting article this morning. How different languages describe things differently according to gender, vocabulary, culture, or even physical landscape. The final line which I quoted above reminded me of a drama I watched yesterday called "Black Mirror". It is online here (possibly only UK viewers, but you can try). 

I won't spoilt the plot, but the story raises some fascinating questions about what it means to be human, to have a relationship, to love. and to interact with each other in our modern world. Is the "me" on my Twitter, Flickr, Facebook timeline the same "me" who you see walk into a room? When you chat with someone online what are you missing from the subtle body language, emotion, humour, mistakes in face to face communication? I thought the style of the drama was excellent too - the advanced technology shown is ever so slightly different to our own, but it's not some exaggerated utopian or dystopian vision, it is subtle and clever and intuitive - all things which make us human.

I also liked this image from Alison Christie this week.

Image from Alison Chrstie at

That iconic image of the human handprint which is such a human thing (CF this image). Here Alison has done it as a word cloud. It's a simple but really clever image and it linked back to themes in both the article and film above

  • Are we made up of the words we speak or know?
  • Do you see someone else in terms of the language they use? Or know?
  • If you had to write down on your own hand all the words that made you human what words would they be? Would yours be the same as anyone else's?
  • Does that hand remind you of a QR code or something like that? Or how people read palms to try and predict someone's health or future, how will we "read" or "scan" people as the digital side of life develops? See also
  • What about the labels we give to people? The words we tag, group, or stereotype people with. We don't really do that to machines. Or do we? 
  • If a machine read David Copperfield to you would it have the same effect as a human reading it? What do we get from the cadence of the voice, the dramatic pauses, rise and fall of words, accent and pace that we wouldn't get from a machine? Why is this, and does it matter?
It's a bit of a trite thing to say, but there is a lot of unspoken things we convey through body language and other sense that you miss with digital communication. Have a look at Bina 48, a woman made robot currently "living" in a house in New York state. To what extent is Bina 48 a human or a robot? In the video in the link, how does the interviewer pick up her mistakes and "robot-ness" in the interview? I would say very quickly, and sometimes without even thinking. If you are speaking with someone and they so much as raise an eyebrow in a funny way it can instantly change the tone of the conversation. We've evolved this over thousands of years to learn these tiny clues - but where is evolution going to take us next in language and communication? 

Finally, I tried a little experiment this week. I was thinking about the digital human and all that this entailed; trying to think of an image to represent it as per the Flick challenge. I'd spent an hour online reading articles, watching the Week 3 videos; I'd been flipping between different social media sites and soaking up information. My mind was buzzing, and at its "buzziest" I took a picture of myslelf on my webcam. Well, I didn't look too buzzy  - I looked bored! 

I think my point with this was that on this course we've seen some visions of the future that are sleek, sophisticated, edgy and dramatic. But to my mind they miss out on what humans and life are really like. We drop things, make mistakes, get people's names jumbled up, do things like forget why we walked into the kitchen or stumble around confused if we hear an alarm beeping in a room but can't work out where the noise is coming from. Life is full of stupid, slapstick moments. Will that part of human life ever go away? As someone pointed out on Twitter last week, if in the future we are living in this slick world of glass, constantly looking at our amazing devices through our enhanced digital spectacles aren't we just going to keep bumping into each other all the time? 

To borrow an image from one of the short films this week, we're still in many ways just a block of meat gawping back at a screen. 

PS - The phrase "you really know how to push my buttons" came to mind today as well. We type on our computer, press & push buttons on machines and they do everything they are told. But it is only people who know how to push our buttons (see also this great image from lux05)

PPS - this blog post from Melissa Fortson Green on assistive technology has made me rethink a lot of what I wrote above

PPPS - This artefact from Ellie Kennedy is one of the best I've seen. 
It summed up how I feel about being online, and learning online. It is not a sleek and clear cut experience, it is completely random, confusing, and full of non-sequitars. How many websites out there tells us that they will help organise our lives better? There must be thousands, but that's not really how we think is it? We need unusual juxtapositions of images to make us think. It's like working out a puzzle - having a question to solve is more motivating than being told a bunch of answers and having to reflect on them. That's one aspect of eLearning (these "multimodal literacies") which is very, very different to traditional learning, and which I can see as a huge benefit. It gives you little neural sparks and flashes to go off and find new things out. Is it a "pop culture" learning though? Where is the real value? 

PPPPS  - in terms of utopias and dystopias, what about this from Milton, "The mind is its own place, and in itself/[Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n] "

Sunday, 3 February 2013

#edcmooc Twitter chat #2: Stargate

A round up of this week's Twitter chat and some themes that came out of it. We answered questions and had 84 participants & 1274 tweets.A TAGS analysis,archive is available at (thanks Andy Mitchell for this). My strategy was to favourite any tweet I found interesting. Then look back through my favourites to pick out some themes.

Firstly, this is the image I had in my mind during the chat:

It's Dr David Bowman entering the Star Gate in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey". There's a clip here . All those Tweets streaming in and zomming past every second left me a bit wild eyed. My imagination can get the better of me, so I liked Natalie's tweet here which was a much calmer way of looking at it:

That also leads onto the first of 5 themes I picked out of this chat. 

1. The experience of a real time Twitter chat

This can be really motivating. The flow of information is so rapid that it can be difficult to keep up, but it is exhilarating and you can get many ideas and points of view in a very short space of time. I especially like when you get a particular moment in time captured:

 Maddie expressed what a lot of people thought, but it also led into theme number two:

2. The problem of information overload on a MOOC

This is definitely a problem. If you miss a few days you can feel so far behind as there is so much to take in. This has been talked about a lot already, so what are the solutions? Aliya commented:

It's an interesting question. Perhaps the idea of a MOOC is to give people access to a course of study, but then these people need to form smaller groups in order to study effectively. And whose responsibility is that - teacher or student? (your ideas here please) Cristina, one of our 4 moderators, expressed what many people see as a huge benefit of MOOC's, that they can give people access to learning who might not have had access beforehand

Angela meanwhile has admirably embraced everything on offer:

This leads on to point three:

3. The benefits of social media

So, we were talking about this voluntarily on a social media site so you might expect us all to be giving a positive impression of social media. Nevertheless there were some very salient points made. Amy expressed one of the benefits, that an idea you put out there can grow & develop with other people's input. Natalie agreed.

Then there were the large numbers of people who are trying some of these tools for the first time. These two tweeters expressed how they had gained confidence and empowerment through trying new tools through the course. It was a thought shared by many who may have not been au fait with  social media a a month, a week, or a day ago.

Andy expressed it very succinctly too. I think this maybe got the most retweets of the evening

How we use social media or technology also cropped up in the discussion which leads to theme four.

4. Is technology a good or bad thing in our lives?

Peter pointed out how technology solves problems:

This is true, but it also raised the question of whether we have control over technology, or whether it controls us.

You can make a case for either view point. I personally think the technology we have available now is bringing up so many options we are still taking it all in. Pat's comment above is an interesting one - how might our increased use of the digital affect how we actually communicate with each other, and even in the long term how our brains or bodies work? We are mentally evolving, but what about physically? 

How we see ourselves now in relation to technology leads onto theme 5. These didn't really fit into any category, but were interesting and imaginative ideas of themselves

5. Things that make you go hmmmmm

Finally, should we just take a leaf out of Asbjørn's book and like Digitial Vikings carry on our quest for knowledge:

The Digitial Viking metaphor is a fine one. and was Amy's idea. Read more here
There was also another fun metaphor of pirates and pirate's treasure that cropped up this week. What is the treasure we are looking for?! (Thanks for this Willa)
And for a 60 second overview of the Twitter chat, Andy made a video here

If you want to try moderating the chat next week you should have a go. Thanks to Kelsey, Rick, Natascha and Cristina for organising it this week. As Kelsey says: