I regularly forget to make a note of who attends my lectures at the university. A vague managerial edict demands that ‘registers’ of attendance are dutifully passed to the admin office where they are recorded (in a database?) for a (unspecified) future use. Of course, such managerial overseeing is wrapped in a pedagogical cloak: ‘there is a direct correlation between attendance at lectures/seminars and academic attainment’. But that’s a dismal over-simplification of complex factors around education and the possible relationships between knowledge, teaching, and learning. What is more curious is that despite my forgetfulness, students rarely let me out of the lecture theatre without a piece of paper with the names of all those who were present. Not only are they complicit in their own control, they actively encourage it. So much for the critical and independent thought that is, we are told, what employers are crying out for in the 21st century.

For Robert Pfaller who talked last night at ESRI, such stories are indicative of ‘apparatuses of repression’ that have replaced the emancipated citizen with the weak, obedient ‘other’ constantly in need of protection. Constituting students in this way (through language, standardised curricula and constant evaluation) has enabled the massification of HE by instituting ever-greater control and surveillance whilst at the same time minimising the freedoms that were previously understood as the sine qua non of a post-secondary school education.

What Robert didn’t talk about was the ways in which over the past ten years new technologies have been introduced into the apparatus of repression. So-called educational technologies (they are invariably technologies of management) are now monitoring students’ every moment in the institution and online. This has a number of effects. In the ‘quantification of everything’, students are re-born as ‘real-time data’. The university socialises them into a lifetime of surveillance – from their ‘Learning Management Systems’, to the marketers of Ex-alumni; from data brokers to GCHQ. As teachers, the more we watch every move that students make while learning the more we display a lack of trust in what they do and how they do it. And when people know that their every move is being monitored they change, they act differently – that’s when they begin to be complicit in their own control.

If now my students are asking me for the register, when might they remind me to check their ‘learning analytics’ or turn the CCTV camera on?

15-Minute Lectures

It’s not because of students’ multitasking their way to confusion, or their alleged inability to concentrate for more than 10-minutes at a time that leads me to ponder the possibilities of ‘mini-lectures’. It’s more the realisation that 60-minute, 90-minute lectures or 3-hour sessions (the mind boggles … no, wanders) serve the needs of clock-led administration much more than effective pedagogy.

So, why not 15-minute lectures (disciplinary content) – and then 30 minutes to articulate summaries of that content, chew over its relevance and/or resonance, and anticipate where the next chunk of content might lead. A final 15-minute lecture could then introduce new content with the requirement to follow-up with reading, written responses or other specific tasks.

Here are three examples (work-in-progress) of slides for a 15-minute lecture with inbuilt prompts.

This first introduces the role of perception in communication and its impact in intercultural contexts.

Use this link to see the discussion prompts: Culture & Communication: 15′ 

This second examines W. Barnett Pearce’s theory of communication and explores the ways it can shape family therapy.

And finally these slides examine some of the consequences of our current obsession with connection on our abilities to have conversations that enrich our sense of self and contribute to health and well-being.

Use this link to see the discussion prompts: From Conversation To Connection 15′ 

Magazine Mashup

No, Gimp, (the image manipulation programme that I recommended students use to create a magazine cover mash-up) is not easy to use. It’s as sophisticated a programme as Photoshop which is an industry standard, and which costs … a lot of money. Gimp is free. But it does take a long time to master and can be very frustrating at the beginning.

But it’s this frustration that is a useful experience. We’re constantly thrown new stuff to deal with – platforms, programmes, ideas, updatges, etc. What do we do when we can’t make them do what we need/want to do? Go to YouTube for tutorials? Go to the manual/help files? To trial and error? Or to abandon the whole thing as just too difficult?

I know that I’ve done all of the above. I’m a learner. I struggle and get frustrated. I scoot around the web for tutorials, help, tips. I also try to work too fast with the limited skills I have. I reluctantly use the ‘manual’. But I explore and gain confidence as I do so. I don’t go for perfect in exercises like this – I go for completed (you might remember this video message about exactly this) and move on. So, here is my completed mashup, using Gimp, of a Time magazine cover ‘celebrating’ Mark Zuckerberg as Person of the Year.


Some stuff I learnt about Gimp from doing this:

  • Gimp is hard.
  • When you learn what a tool does, it makes perfect sense.
  • Images are best built through layers.
  • You have to learn which layer you’re working on in order to make changes to it.

So, I took an image of Time magazine’s Person of the Year (Mark Zuckerberg) and using the the select tool highlighted the face and cut it from the image. I found this image of an elderly man, cropped it and then included it in my person of the year image as a new image. The perspective tool enabled me to pull and stretch the image into more or less the right proportions as a substitute for Zuckerberg’s face. I painted in around the new face to make it blend in more. Because of the original cut of the face took out the TIME logo I found a new one and pasted that in as a new layer and moved it into position. I then used the text tool to try and create a similar text to the original but with the words ‘Life’s elderly, let’s just connect’. This was difficult because I didn’t get an exact match for the font used in Time magaze. Finally I used the draw tool to put a cross over the text, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m sure all of the above could have been done better, more effectively, and quicker. But that’s learning for you. And I did a lot of that in the 90 minutes it took me to create the mash-up.

Doctorow on blogging … again.

This time it’s from Information Doesn’t Want to be Free.

I’ve spent the past ten years writing about ten blog posts a day, every day. I often find myself unable to think about anything in any depth without writing a blog post about it to check whether I understand it sufficiently to convey it to someone else…. [F]rom the beginning, Boing Boing… has been a labor of love. I write it because it’s my major way of thinking through the stuff that matters to me. It’s a repository of all my thoughts and inspirations, my public notebook and my soapbox.

There’s no way this blog represents all my thoughts but still, it is a repository.

How change happens

If you’re lucky and all the stars are aligned, it typically takes at least five or ten years to make any progress. When you look at potential shifts like the desperate need to democratize the world’s governments, the work takes much, much longer. Great perseverance is needed. So the culture of thinking that good environmental or social intervention can happen in short cycles and the current obsession with wanting organizations to prove they are having an immediate impact, is misleading. Not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured counts.

Kumi Nadu, Greenpeace International

How ‘public’ is the public sphere?

Have you ever thought that advertising billboards are a corporate invasion of our public spaces? That such spaces should be ours to decide what goes in them and not colonised by commercial interests? These are exactly the questions that Kyle Magee asked himself and his answers (‘yes’ and ‘yes’ to the above) took him to direct action – papering over all commercial advertising in public spaces in Sidney, Australia. He doesn’t do this at night. He doesn’t hide his actions nor his identity in doing them. He simply refuses to accept that the rights of commercial interests trump our own when it comes to acting in the public sphere. His is a democratic process in defence of the public sphere.

Because his protest is open and conducted in broad daylight he stimulates debate: people talk to him and about what he’s doing as they queue up to wait for a bus or walk down the street. The police intervene and the debate continues about what constitutes the public sphere and who owns it and who has rights to express themselves in it. It continues with the judicial authorities as Kyle’s actions have drawn support from judges who have advised him on legal strategies to avoid punishment, although he has already spent six months in prison for his actions.

Kyle is an articulate, sophisticated, and passionate activist using culture jamming to highlight a threat to democracy and protect our public spaces from their colonisation by commercial interests. Listen to what he has to say.

Global Liberal Media Please from Bernadette Apparently on Vimeo.