Archive for August, 2010

Future Learningscapes: Post-conference Draft

Friday, August 20th, 2010

This post presents a preliminary draft for a paper I am co-authoring with LeRoy Hill and Tracy Sisson. As some of you will know from previous posts, early this year LeRoy and I designed and presented a series of social media sessions for PhD students and Early Career Researchers at the Jubilee Graduate Centre with the cooperation and support of Tracy, the centre manager. In June, we presented this as a case study of a student-led training initiative, at the Future Learningscapes e-learning conference at the University of Greenwich, and we are accepting their offer to write up the presentation for their post-conference publication next year.

They are keen we incorporate reflections on our experiences from presenting at the conference and feedback from attendees. We also decided it would be appropriate to partly conduct the co-authorship process in the participatory arena of the social web. Therefore both LeRoy and I are presenting our personal perspectives through our own sites. You can read my draft on my wiki and download it here.

I would be happy to receive feedback on this from conference attendees or students who came to the original sessions, though comments and suggestions from anyone else would be greatly appreciated.

Cult of Less?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Most of us find getting rid of junk and clutter therapeutic and liberating, and for some, digitising and relinquishing our books, photos, videos and music represents more than a contemporary spin. Our newly-emptied shelves and pared-down lifestyles might resemble some kind of minimalist utopia, but if we continue to access these things in their new formats, are our lives any less cluttered? Does the mere act of transferring our possessions from a physical to digital environment really equate to some form of spiritual transformation?

Briefly Liberating the Mind

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

These days, as I become increasingly submerged by journal articles and text books, I don’t have the time, nor often the inclination, to read much fiction. However, walks into University and bus rides can be usefully spent snatching brief opportunities to listen to audio recordings of books.

I’ve long been a supporter of LibriVox, an outstanding non-profit organisation that campaigns to “acoustically liberate” books in the public domain, by releasing volunteer recordings free of charge on the web. The book readings are broken up into sizeable mp3 audio files available through downloads, weekly podcasts, and iTunes subscription. Not surprisingly perhaps, most of the books in the extensive catalogue feature multiple readers sharing chapter duties. However, root around and you’ll find plenty of single-author readings. Personally, I prefer these, they allow you to build trust with the reader as the narrative develops to create a sense of shared experience. A particular favourite is John Greenman’s lyrical reading of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Librivox reminds us how a relatively old technology, the global distribution of the web, and people’s willingness to share their time, can combine to provide some of mankind’s finest thoughts free of charge.

the rationality we routinely adopt in reviewing formal texts belies the personal traits and circumstances and social glue that underpin academic discourse

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Guides to writing a dissertation / thesis, particularly within the social sciences, often stress the act of ‘locating’ or ‘positioning’ oneself within the field of research being studied. In interpreting and conceptualising selected arguments we are expected to take sides; to critically evaluate different perspectives, look for synergies, contradictions and gaps in the constructed debate. Whilst this spatial metaphor is largely confined to the context of literature review, it is seen as a crucial component of doctoral study, indicating the student’s development as a critical and reflective researcher, and representing the process of finding her own voice as an independent scholar.

Depending on your research field, some of the authors you reference may be long departed. Many however, will be your contemporaries; living, breathing academics, fellow early researchers, postdocs, supervisors, professors, each with personal perspectives and motivations, influenced by ongoing professional experiences, incentives and constraints. The ‘I agree with x but disagree with y’ type of rationality we routinely adopt in reviewing formal texts belies the personal traits and circumstances and social glue that underpin academic discourse, and the nuances, cliques and politics of faculty and the wider academic field.

How much I wonder, does engagement in Web 2.0 environments indicate these often hidden influences? Does the informality and transparency evident in blogging, Twitter and personal learning networks etc. give us a richer, more authentic perspective? What these practices reveal may not be transferable to the formal structural requirements of the literature review, but they may help us signpost key arguments and their proponents, and give us an ‘edge’ in understanding the social complexities that influence contemporary academic debate.