Blogging informs

A New York Times journalist reminds us how important blogs can be in providing background information for a report.

Almost improbably, the two Japanese men had crossed paths even before appearing together in last week’s ransom video. Indeed, the picture that emerges from accounts on the two men’s blogs, and from friends and family of both men, is that the more experienced journalist appeared to take the luckless and perhaps misguided Mr. Yukawa under his wing and felt responsible for him.

Martin Fackler makes a number of references to the blogs of the two men which he uses as a substitute for the interviews he couldn’t record.

15′ Lectures Revisited

I’ve recently been thinking about a model of formal course-based learning which moves away from the 60/90′ lectures and instead organises sessions around 15′ lectures + breakout groups + 15′ lectures + individual study. It’s a slight modification on the traditional model which sees university learning based around lecture courses running over 1 or 2 semester, 15 or 30 weeks. What it anticipates though is the way in which such courses are destined to fade out in the not too distant future.

When all content can be digitised at minimal cost and delivered on demand anywhere and on any device, there simply isn’t the incentive to run such lecture-based linear courses. And it’s not a question of digitally reproducing what is already being done. With the emergence of dynamic video (have a look at the The Story of Now and TouchCast to get a flavour of this) we will have a fusion of video with the web in immersive combinations that  enable many different ways of learning.

So, I could see knowledge increasingly taught through multimedia, available on multiple platforms and designed with multiple pathways for students to follow. The kind of model that I proposed (15+30+15+ open-ended) may actually disappear completely or (which is more likely) be incorporated into dynamic, open textbooks where multiple authors develop varying balances between tasks and content – as they do now through lectures and seminars, feedback and questions – but these ‘textbooks’ will remain, constantly updated. It’s being done already and I’m sure lots of publishers are developing prototypes.

What seems certain is that the same lecturer giving the same lecture over a number of years will disappear. That role will be replaced by an expert in a field directing students in the most effective ways of finding, interpreting, creating and sharing knowledge. Smaller group, collaborative and cooperative projects will enable that expert to share their expertise often in more conversational, personal ways. Yes, I think we will get back to talking and shaping our learning through conversation, wrapped and packaged in lots of other, pretty interesting innovations.

Unwinding: Stories

We all get bogged down in particular types of writing. We struggle over university assignments or articles for academic journals and in doing so sometimes lose the joy in writing for the fun of expression. It’s as if we get wound up tight around a genre and need somehow to loosen-up and let those freer, more creative juices flow.

This task for the communication activism unit attempted to do just that. One issue in social care chosen from a range of issues; ten random words from a web-based ‘generator’; and 15 minutes to write a story illustrating the issue and using the 10 words.

The random words – sleep | mortal | fuzzy | apparent | lights | flavouring | alcoholic | believable | coincidence | condition

Here’s my attempt:


John turned the lights off and went downstairs to meet Sandra for the first time. He’d known she’d existed for ages. His mother had told him but this was to be the first time he’d actually met her in person. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs to look in the mirror. His head was fuzzy. It soon became apparent that he didn’t look good. Perhaps he should have got more sleep last night. He’d stayed at the party too long, but the beer had been flowing from and it was fun. Now he was paying the price. He brushed his hair back, cleared his throat with a small cough, and went into the living room. He saw his Mum first standing by the window crying.

Then his eyes fell on Sandra sitting at the table. Here she was in flesh-and-blood a mere mortal after all those months where she’s been a larger-than-life figure, a symbol of stranger times. In fact, she now seemed very ordinary. Maybe it was a coincidence but yes, she had the same colour eyes as he had, and the same shaped nose. It was actually believable that he was her sister. She had come she said on one condition. That there would be no questions, no prying into a past that was murky and difficult and impossible to explain. John was pretty sure she meant her being an alcoholic. His Mum had explained that the week before the meeting. Sandra stood, she and John moved closer together and hugged. There was an electricity between them; not a sexual electricity but a deep empathetic understanding. They came from the same place and there was something deeply significant about their being in that room together. A half sister and a half brother. It had a flavouring about it.

I know, that last sentence leaves a lot to be desired – the fifteen minutes were up and I dried up!

See more of these stories on 


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.