Wednesday, November 28, 2007

UKOLN - update and summary

Brian Kelly has written a report which usefully summarises the key points of the UKOLN workshop I attended on Monday. The report is full of useful links to the main talks from the event, for those who weren't able to be there in person.


Monday, November 26, 2007

UKOLN - Potential of Blogs and Social Networking

I've been attending the UKOLN workshop on Exploring the Potential of Blogging and Social Networking. Most of the PPTs from the talks, along with summaries of the discussion panels from the afternoon are available from the workshop wiki, so rather than try and summarise them all here, I'll just pick out some of the main concerns that emerged. These include:
  • Various tensions between HE's attempts to impose control and standardisation on blogging software and the servers on which blogs are held (so as to provide security, archiving, standardisation) and the recognition that external blogging tools (and wikis for that matter) are often more flexible than those enabled within managed environments (like Moodle, WebCT for example)
  • The need to educate users (be they staff or students) about how to maintain an online identity safely and appropriately.
  • The large variation between what is referred to as 'digital literacy' pointing to 'blind spots' in students' skills (i.e. knowing how to use facebook, youtube, secondlife) doesn't mean that this can be transferred into teaching and learning uses of electronic forms of communication.
  • Debates about privacy, and the implications of blurring the boundaries between professional and personal domains (whether this is unavoidable, preferable, dangerous).
I haven't come away feeling that my world view of technology has been changed, but it was great to meet some interesting people and look at web 2.0 from an alternative point of view.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Only the most tenuous of links...

I generally work on the principle that I only blog about work things and not about anything that happens outside of work. Well, I guess this is the exception to the rule. Thursday evening, Gavin and I went to the German market in Birmingham city centre. It was really pretty and very atmospheric, just the thing to distract me from a horrendously busy week at work. After wandering around for a while, we browsed a jewellery stand up near centenary square. I finally decided that, yes, I was going to buy a rather lovely green bracelet and went to pay. The vendor so reminded me of one of my former students, so in my usual fashion, I said 'you so remind me of someone I used to teach' and it turned out that it was in fact someone I had taught about six years ago at BCU. She was very happy to see me and we had a happy five minutes catching up, made all the more happy by the discount she then gave me on the jewellery! So here is my support in return - if you want to pick up some lovely jewellery before Christmas, then go and visit Michelle's jewellery stand in the German Market, or visit one of the associated stores, 'The Jewellery Stop' in Kings Heath, Bath or Leamington Spa.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Using electronic literature in the classroom

At last I've finally finished a draft of my essay about using electronic literature in the classroom. Subject to editorial review, the essay will appear as part of a project undertaken by Kate Hayles. In the essay I argue for the inclusion of electronic literature alongside offline story forms in the teaching of narrative theory. I've experimented with this in the past semester, perhaps not as extensively as I would have liked, but still it has been a start.

Using a wiki and having the laptops in the classroom has been crucial to this process from a pragmatic perspective. It's enabled me to embed a range of digital texts in the curriculum so that students can see them on the screen alongside their printed handouts. The texts I've used have been Minerva's blog: A Woman of Many Parts, In Search of Oldton, by Tim Wright, and Shelley Jackson's My Body. The texts have been analysed using many different frameworks, exploring narratives of personal experience (Labov), plot structure (Hoey) temporal sequencing (Genette), characterisation and narratorial reliability. In summary, I'd argue that using electronic literature has been useful for the following reasons:
  • It draws attention to the influence of medium, and facilitates transmedial comparison
  • The increased sensitivity to multimodality challenges the verbal hegemony of much narrative theorizing
  • The unfamiliar conventions of the hypertextual / blogging format enable students to question what 'narrative' entails, and to reflect on the assumptions of print culture that become so taken for granted as to be rendered invisible.
There's much more that I'd like to do with these kinds of texts, and I plan to integrate other examples in my language and gender module next semester. In the meantime, it has been great to see how students have embraced these new story forms and at least some will include them in their end of term assignments. I'll let you know how it goes.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Using the internet in scholarship

I've just been reading Jill Walker's recent post about encouraging 10/11 year olds to evaluate the resources they find on the internet. It resonated with several issues that have come up for me this week. First, my daughter has come home from school with a CD ROM which will apparently equip me to know how to help her use the internet safely. Shame my laptop doesn't have a CD drive. Will have to take that one to work to read in my lunch break (did I just say lunch break? Since when did I ever take one of those??). My daughter uses google quite happily because she likes making PPT presentations just for fun, and uses google to find pictures to illustrate her creations. She's 8 years old, by the way. I must admit I've just been a bit naive about letting her get on with it, but I guess that time has passed and some need for evaluation (all kinds) is here already. Second, I've just finished grading my new first years' first assignments. Well, they did ok, but it was so marked that 95% of them were supplementing the course text book only with online documents they had found. And while these sources were reputable enough (no wikipedia), I found myself vaguely irritated by this. Don't my students read research published in books anymore? Or is it just too time consuming to go to the library and find printed studies, when we've linked all sorts of interesting sites into our VLE? Oh, I am sounding more than a bit jaundiced. Maybe this is as revealing of my own prejudice as anything else. On the other hand, the wiki project is still going well, and students are annotating their work with interesting online material week by week. And that doesn't irritate me at all - quite the opposite!


Friday, November 02, 2007

Transliteracy, wikis and essay writing

This week I tried a new venture with the wiki I am using to support student's work on my Narrative Analysis module. The students are starting to prepare for their main assignment now, and I wanted to be able to help them use various strategies in planning their project. One issue I have encountered in the past is that mind maps are often confused with essay plans. To help students make the transition between a visual image which emphasises spatial connection and a verbal structure which depends on linear argumentation, I set them the following exercise.

1. In groups of 4-5, they had to develop a diagram or mind map to summarise the topics we had covered in class (different frameworks for categorising narrators), showing how this connected with any other narrative theory we had discussed on the module, and giving examples from the (mostly literary) extracts they had in their handouts.

You can see a sample mindmap at the top of this entry. Once they had completed the map, I muddled the groups so that the students reviewed each other's work, face-to-face. This is usually where I would stop in my pre-wiki days, feeling pretty pleased that students had done some good work and had some interesting discussion with each other. The problem is, that in the offline world, those mindmaps are usually disregarded and we don't help students transfer those connections into other mediums of forms of literacy.

My response has been to take photos of each of the maps, post them on the wiki pages (with the help of our fab web designer Matt who resized them for me - Thank you!), and ask the students to use the map as the basis for either a paragraph-length summary of their conclusions or a structured list of points for how they would develop the discussion further. Fingers crossed they will do it. Fingers crossed again it will help them prepare their assignments. For me, it's an exciting step in using web 2.0 technology to support student learning and showing how transliteracy can be put to work in the humanities seminar room.