Archive for November, 2009

Zotero or Bust

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
I’ve had it with EndNote. I’ve transferred all my references to Zotero and plan to use it as my main bibliographic organiser. Zotero operates on the Firefox browser and seems light and versatile in comparison, particularly in referencing Web-based content – I was never convinced with EndNote Web. Developed in George Mason University, Zotero seems to be gaining recognition and support across the academic world, and successfully survived a threatened lawsuit with Thomson Scientific. I never got the hang of Endnote’s Cite-While-You-Write, but apparently, Zotero has a similar feature which I need to try out as, at present, I am manually creating my references.

I’ve had it with EndNote. I’ve transferred all my references to Zotero and plan to use it as my main bibliographic organiser. Zotero operates on the Firefox browser and seems light and versatile in comparison, particularly in referencing Web-based content – I was never convinced with EndNote Web. Developed at George Mason University, Zotero seems to be gaining recognition and support across the academic world, and successfully survived a threatened lawsuit with Thomson Scientific. I never got the hang of Endnote’s Cite-While-You-Write, but apparently, Zotero has a similar feature which I need to try out as, at present, I am creating my references manually.

Learning Landscapes

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

There is something instinctive about Etienne Wenger’s concept of learning as a landscape and life as a trajectory through it, particularly from a student’s perspective. Similar notions are explored in Cussins’ (1992) cognitive trails. The movements of information create traces or trails which are both cognitive (in the mind), and material (in the world), thereby creating both a mental landscape and a material infrastructure. Geographical metaphor is common in educational discourse. Becher and Trowler (2001; 58) suggest:
“It seems natural enough to think of knowledge and its properties and relationships in terms of landscapes, and to saturate epistemological discussion with spatial metaphors: fields and frontiers; pioneering, exploration, false trails, charts and landmarks.”
Engeström (in press) describes the learning landscape “as a terrain of activity to be dwelled in and explored.” The type of exploration is defined by the learning movement, which Engeström (2007) describes as “dominant patterns and directions of physical, discursive and cognitive motion in historically different organizational frameworks.” Engeström refers to movement from periphery to centre – similar to Lave and Wenger’s (1991) notion of Legitimate Peripheral Participation – as ‘craft,’ whilst ‘mass production’ is defined by linear movement (typified by project management structures). Engeström describes new forms of movement associated with Web-based social and peer production as pulsation and swarming:
“The dwellers create trails and the intersecting trails gradually lead to an increased capability to move in the zone effectively, independently of the particular location or destination of the subjects. However, the zone is never an empty space to begin with. It has preexisting dominant trails and boundaries made by others, often with heavy histories and power invested in them. More than that, the existing trails, landmarks and boundaries are inherently contradictory, possessing both exchange value and use value, being both controlled by proprietary interests and opening up possibilities of common good. When new dwellers enter the zone, they both adapt to the dominant trails and struggle to break away from them”
(Engeström, in press).
Breaking away from pre-existing trails to create new ones requires expansive agency, which partly extends Engeström’s (1987) conceptual framework of expansive learning.
Becher, T., & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories (2nd Ed.) Buckingham: Open University Press.
Cussins, A. (1992). Content, embodiment and objectivity: The theory of cognitive trails. Mind, 101, 651-688.
Edwards, R. (2009). Introduction: Life as a learning context? In R. Edwards, G. Biesta & M. Thorpe, (Eds.), Rethinking Contexts for Learning and Teaching: Communities, Activities and Networks. 119-132. London: Routledge.
Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.
Engeström, Y. (2007). From communities of practice to mycorrhizae. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson & L. Unwin (Eds.), Communities of practice: Critical perspectives. London: Routledge.
Engeström, Y. (in press). The Future of Activity Theory: A Rough Draft. In Sannino, A., Daniels, H. et al. Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

There is something instinctive about Etienne Wenger’s concept of learning as a landscape and life as a trajectory, particularly from a student’s perspective. Similar notions are explored in Cussins’ (1992) cognitive trails, where movements of information create traces or trails which are both cognitive (in the mind) and material (in the world), thereby creating both a mental landscape and a material infrastructure. Indeed, geographical metaphor is common in educational discourse. Becher and Trowler (2001; 58) suggest:

“It seems natural enough to think of knowledge and its properties and relationships in terms of landscapes, and to saturate epistemological discussion with spatial metaphors: fields and frontiers; pioneering, exploration, false trails, charts and landmarks.”

Yrjö Engeström (in press) describes the learning landscape “as a terrain of activity to be dwelled in and explored.” The type of exploration is defined by the learning movement, which Engeström (2007) describes as “dominant patterns and directions of physical, discursive and cognitive motion in historically different organizational frameworks.” Engeström refers to movement from periphery to centre – similar to Lave and Wenger’s (1991) notion of Legitimate Peripheral Participation – as ‘craft,’ whilst ‘mass production’ is defined by linear movement (typified by project management structures). He describes new forms of movement associated with Web-based social and peer production as pulsation and swarming:

“The dwellers create trails and the intersecting trails gradually lead to an increased capability to move in the zone effectively, independently of the particular location or destination of the subjects. However, the zone is never an empty space to begin with. It has preexisting dominant trails and boundaries made by others, often with heavy histories and power invested in them. More than that, the existing trails, landmarks and boundaries are inherently contradictory, possessing both exchange value and use value, being both controlled by proprietary interests and opening up possibilities of common good. When new dwellers enter the zone, they both adapt to the dominant trails and struggle to break away from them.”

(Engeström, in press).

Breaking away from pre-existing trails to create new ones requires expansive agency, which partly extends Engeström’s (1987) conceptual framework of expansive learning.

References

Becher, T., & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories (2nd Ed.) Buckingham: Open University Press.

Cussins, A. (1992). Content, embodiment and objectivity: The theory of cognitive trails. Mind, 101, 651-688.

Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

Engeström, Y. (2007). From communities of practice to mycorrhizae. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson & L. Unwin (Eds.), Communities of practice: Critical perspectives. London: Routledge.

Engeström, Y. (in press). The Future of Activity Theory: A Rough Draft. In Sannino, A., Daniels, H. et al. Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mr. Hu Jintao, Tear Down the Great Firewall!

Thursday, November 12th, 2009
SmartMobs describes a report from the China Digital Times on the twitter mobbing of a virtual wall set up by KulturProjekte to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Using the twitter hashtag #FOTW, Chinese ‘netizens’ have bombarded the site with calls to end State censorship of the Web.
Which I wonder (should the latter happen) would have the greatest historical significance; the fall of the Beriln wall or that of the Great Firewall of China?

SmartMobs describes a report from the China Digital Times on the twitter mobbing of a virtual wall set up by KulturProjekte to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Using the twitter hashtag #FOTW, Chinese ‘netizens’ have bombarded the site with calls to end State censorship of the Web.

Which I wonder (should the latter happen) would have the greater historical significance; the fall of the Beriln Wall or that of the Great Firewall of China?

Academic Status 2.0

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I picked up on another interesting comment by Dave White during the webinar discussed in my previous post. He suggests academic reputation, status or kudos is not automatically transferable to social media environments, but has to be ‘re-earned’ through new modes of participatory engagement. If this is the case, why is it some academics (e.g., Etienne Wenger) have accrued hundreds of followers in twitter despite little or no output. This is almost akin to sitting at the feet of a prophet waiting for him to speak – not much re-earning necessary here.

Academic hierarchies (either perceived or real) are culturally and historically stratified and persistent. I suggest social media has the ability to ‘skew’ rather than nullify this stratification. True, the cultural heritage and technological infrastructure of social media lends itself to a more open and accessible academic discourse than that provided by traditional platforms, and enables greater movement and interaction between academic strata, but only up to a point.

Visitors and Residents

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

In an entertaining webinar, Dave White of the Department for Continued Learning at Oxford University, enjoys a beer while he presents findings from Isthmus, a JISC-funded project. He describes how Marc Presky’s outmoded pre-Web 2.0 concept of digital natives and immigrants became largely interpreted in generational terms, and offers an updated concept for the social web; suggesting learners engaging in social media fall into two distinct groups – visitors and residents.

Residents see the web as a space, in which they develop a visible social presence, creating digital profiles as a form of individual branding.
Visitors may use the web in sophisticated ways but remain largely invisible. They see web as a toolbox to dip into and use without leaving a digital footprint.
  • Residents see the web as a space, in which they develop a visible social presence, creating digital profiles as a form of personal branding.
  • Visitors may use the web in sophisticated ways but remain largely invisible. They see web as a toolbox to dip into and use without leaving a digital footprint.

In reality, these two groups exist on a continuum, which White subsequently maps onto a professional-private axis.

Motivation to use social media is not related to competences, age, or experience, but is rather influenced by learning ecologies. Visitors, it would seem, are goal-orientated; viewing learning as content delivery, and valuing the role of the expert. Residents see learning as a social activity, in which identity propagation plays a key role.

White suggests we are entering a postdigital era – in which tools are becoming culturally normalised – and argues the tools and applications themselves can be seen as either residential or visitor orientated.

A video based on White’s ALT-C 2009 presentation is also available.

Twitterlicious!*

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
It’s several months now since I started using Twitter. It’s usefulness as a research tool became increasingly apparent as my following and followers matured. For me, the tipping point was the introduction of the automatic twitter feature in Delicious. Now, nearly all my new bookmarks are automatically twittered. Whilst my Delicious is long established as an effective personal management resource, I have never really engaged with the ‘social-ness’ of social bookmarking. Attempts at using Delicious networking facilities – and with it the potential to extend bookmark annotation to a collaborative activity – have been largely unsuccessful. Twitter’s 140 word limit restricts any annotation (or indeed, critical discourse in general) to that of the soundbite – which is why blogging remains important – yet its value in broadcasting key links in a timely and socially constructive environment is a powerful process which Delicious never really capitalised on.
* I am aware that this phrase has been adopted as a name for several mashup tools (without the !) but you just can’t think up anything these days without someone getting there first.

It’s several months now since I started using twitter. It’s usefulness as a research tool became increasingly apparent as my following and followers matured. For me, the tipping point was the introduction of the integrated tweet feature in delicious. Now, nearly all my new bookmarks are automatically twittered. Whilst my delicious is long established as an effective personal management resource, I have never really engaged with the ‘social-ness’ of social bookmarking. My attempts at using delicious networking facilities – and with it the potential to extend bookmark annotation to a participatory activity – have been largely unsuccessful. Twitter’s 140 word limit restricts any annotation (or indeed, critical discourse in general) to that of the soundbite – which is why blogging remains important – yet its value in broadcasting web links in a timely and socially constructive environment is a powerful process which delicious never really capitalised on.

* I am aware that this phrase (without the !) has been adopted as a name for several mashup tools, but you just can’t think up anything these days without someone getting there first.