“In a time of drastic change…”

October 28th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” (32)

Eric Hoffer | Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)

Social Media and the Conceptual Distancing of Knowledge and Expertise

October 21st, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

In his highly readable book What is Education?, Philip W. Jackson, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, attempts a total rethink of education ‘from the ground up.’ Taking a John Dewey lecture from 1938 as his lead, he proceeds to drill down into what is the ‘essence’ of education. Jackson builds his arguments around a series of largely corresponding dialectical relationships, primarily drawn from Kant and Hegel, from Dewey himself, and from the theologian Paul Tillich.

In the concluding chapter, Jackson draws on a previous text of his (1986) to introduce two corresponding pedagogical traditions, the ‘mimetic’ and the ‘(trans)formative.’ There is, he suggests, an instinctive resemblance between these and the ‘informing’ and ‘forming’ goals of teaching; that is between the transmission of factual and procedural knowledge, and the shaping of character. But Jackson’s most recent thinking on this has caused him to re-evaluate his position:

“I now see it as involving not only those teachers we encounter face-to-face but also those whose influence has been far more distant and symbolically transmitted.” (88)

He speaks warmly of the ‘enduring impact’ of key philosophers and thinkers on his own learning, gained primarily through the reading of original texts. And whilst acknowledging the significant contribution of some of his teachers, he suggests others only played a peripheral role:

“Many of those teachers I have long forgotten. Their influence was transitory, even though it may have left me more knowledgeable and better able to do this or that. They’re like the textbooks that, once read, were set aside and never consulted again. They may have served a very useful purpose at the time, but the mark they left turned out not to be personally indelible.” (89)

Jackson here is blurring the distinction between primary and secondary, and physical and symbolic sources of knowledge, whether they are realised through the student’s direct relationship with a supportive teacher, or through the inspirational words of a dead philosopher. This challenges the notion of ‘informing’ texts (or, if you prefer, learning content) as neutral artefacts that are utilised by teachers who exclusively provide the transformative process of shaping student understanding. Indeed, when considering the potential cultural baggage that comes with the mimetic tradition, Jackson’s initial attempt at a definition of education as “a socially facilitated process of cultural transmission” (10) is useful.

This raises some interesting questions regarding the social web. How might that social facilitation be disrupted by a student’s increased appropriation of distributed and multimodal forms of content, by her access to a wider range of sources of expertise, and by her engagement in more participative forms of content production? And what if any, do increasingly self-directed and participatory forms of enquiry contribute to the apparent blurring between the mimetic and transformative traditions Jackson describes?

What struck me most about the author’s re-evaluation was how it introduces a ‘conceptual distance’ between the source of knowledge and the student, underpinned by a ‘mutual recognition’ that Jackson – referencing Hegel – suggests is essential in influencing and shaping the student’s empathic relationship with the knowledge provider. This may be evident (or evidently absent) in the traditional student-teacher relationship. Yet the gulf between the student and expert is typically too vast to engender any sort of reciprocal relationship. As Jackson observes:

“Most of us can never be recognized by the most renowned of our intellectual and spiritual progenitors. We can only admire them from afar by reading their works or reveling in the enjoyment of their artistic creations.” (90)

One can assume this is diminished as students progress into postgraduate study and enter academia themselves. So how might the increased complexity, informality and connectivity we associate with the social web influence this act of conceptual distancing? I’ve discussed previously the potential role of social media in signposting the complex social and cultural interrelations underlying contemporary academic discourse. Further, how might the student develop and refine her conceptual distancing as she progresses into postgraduate and doctoral study, and engages in the reciprocal processes of identity transformation and recognition in her chosen field?


Jackson, P. W. (1986). The practice of teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Jackson, P. W. (2011). What is education? Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

The Blues and the Abstract Truth – Music to Survive a PhD

September 12th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.

Thelonious Monk
From: Steve Lacy | T Monk’s Advice (1960)

OK, firstly, I’m one of those people who can only listen to instrumental music when I’m working on something that I really need to concentrate on, which unfortunately tends to constitute most things when doing a PhD – especially writing up. Any singing in there, and it’s too distracting. This has ruled out huge handfuls of my music collection and hastened quite a radical shift in my listening habits, which have at times become both irrational and obsessive.

Thankfully, non-English lyrics are not as distracting (the advantage of being uselessly monolingual). Cue endless playing of Ali Farka Toure, Joyce Moreno, Orchestra Baobab, Cesario Evora etc., and the delight of discovering new international artists, including Taraf de Haidouks and the Betel Nuts Brothers! It’s also given me an excuse to add to my jazz and classical recordings.

That’s not to say there aren’t still opportunities to play some of the other stuff. Some work can be routine and brainless. And there’s always the iPod when out and about.

Secondly, I doubt any music here will quite have the evocative power of that which I associate with previous periods of studying, especially my first degree, in the sense that they became part of the social experience and collective conscience of your peer group. It’s still impossible to listen to albums such as Maxinquaye, Odelay or Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot without recalling something more than likely related to undergraduate drinking games.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to think how some music has become indispensible these last few years. Take for example…


Bill Evans – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings (1961)

Regarded by some as the greatest live jazz recording of all time, this is in fact a compilation of two albums originally released in 1961 with additional tracks from a series of afternoon and evening sessions. It’s like having your own jazz trio in the corner of your room. Equally brilliant at low-volume, it can be played late into the night without waking the neighbours.

Useful for:

For alternatives, there’s the Zen-like Koln Concert (1975), Keith Jarrett’s ECM game-changer, or the introverted, contemporary work of Dustin O’Halloran.

You get the idea. I’ve selected from a range of musical genres to match up with academic activities and the doctoral experience. And because musical taste is so highly personal and subjective, I’ve provided a few alternatives along the way…


Various Artists – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (1985)

Straight out of the townships, this is one of the first and best compilations of the 80’s resurgence in South African music. Stands as testimony to our ability to make the most joyous sounds out of hardship and oppression. Music doesn’t get more life affirming than this.

Useful for:
The mid-PhD slump.

Orchestra Baobab – Pirates Choice; Sly & the Family Stone – Greatest Hits; De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising.


Billie Holiday – Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944)

Quite possibly the most important recordings of the 20th century. Some might prefer Holiday’s subsequent lush, orchestral reworkings for Decca, or even the croaky, autumnal sound of her Verve recordings, but this is the real deal, where – accompanied by some of the finest jazz combos of the era – she practically laid down the rules of jazz singing.

Useful for:
Marathon sessions of coding. All nighters.

Long sessions require box sets! Also try Ella Fitzgerald – The Complete American Songbooks; Miles Davis – The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965.


Joanne Newsom – Ys (2006)

Quirky, monumental, and a bit bonkers. Ys blends Newsom’s homespun lyricism with a sprawling, filmic orchestration by Van Dyke Parks. Each song is a mini-masterpiece.

Useful for:
Creative inspiration.

Bjork – Debut; Jolie Holland – Catalpa; Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep.


Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)

Bus rides. Train rides. Plane rides. Tango till they’re sore.

Useful for:
The conference circuit.

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon; Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man; Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska.


Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998)

When it all gets too much, lie down in a dark room with this. Headphones on, world off. Orange.

Useful for:
Nervous breakdowns.

Susumu Yokata – Sakura; Thomas Tallis – Missa Salve Intemerata.


Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)

Multi-talented, multi-instrumental, multi-conceptual Stevie! The pinnacle of his supercharged early 70’s creative peak.

Useful for:
Great to cook to, and (all too rare) evenings relaxing / partying with friends.

Massive Attack – Blue Lines; Bob Marley & the Wailers – Natty Dread.


White Stripes – Elephant (2003)

Useful for:
Running. Gym.

The Clash – London Calling; Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.


Anything by Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar – Festival Monterey Pop 1967 by Kalimystic

Seriously, I’m considering including Ravi Shankar in my thesis acknowledgements.

Useful for:
Conceptualising ideas. Brainstorming.

Steve Reich – Phases: A Nonesuch Retrospective; Lee Scratch Perry – Arkology.



Over the course of my PhD, I’ve also discovered Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, Joe Gibbs’ African Dub recordings, and rediscovered Dr. Sardonicus!!

Finally, some other things I’ve learnt…

Summer Workshop 2

August 2nd, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

Here are the slides from the second of my social media summer workshops from earlier today at the Jubilee Graduate Centre. Once again, a really nice group of PhD students – lots of enthusiasm and discussion.

Summer Workshop 2 from Andy Coverdale

Summer Workshop 1

July 26th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

Earlier today, I ran the first of my social media summer workshops at the Jubilee Graduate Centre. There was a good turn out from a nice mix of PhD students from across the disciplines, and some interesting discussion. Hopefully, I’ll see most of them again next week for the second workshop. Here are the slides.

Summer Workshop 1 from Andy Coverdale

Summer Workshopping

July 20th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

It’s workshop time again at the Jubilee Graduate Centre. Following previous programmes over the last few years, at Jubilee and across the University, I’m running two more lunchtime sessions. The workshops are open to all PhD students at the University of Nottingham, and are designed primarily for those with little or no experience in using social media in their academic practices. However, more experienced users are very welcome to come along to share their experiences and contribute to the discussions. As always, I hope each workshop will be informative and interactive. I’ll be demonstrating key social media and facilitating discussion around emerging practices.

Social media summer workshops – Towards a more participatory and collaborative scholarship

Workshop 1: Social Networking and Collaboration
Thursday 26 July, 12.00-2.00pm.

Using Twitter, social networks sites, wikis and online community sites for networking, information sourcing and collaborative working.

Workshop 2: Sharing and Managing Work Online
Thursday 2 August, 12.00-2.00pm.

Informal dissemination and sharing of work through blogging and content sharing sites, as well as managing content through social bookmarking and bibliographies, curation tools and RSS.

Places can be booked here.

On the Tropes

July 15th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

The term ‘trope’ has developed from its literary / linguistic origins to refer to a commonly recurring motif, device or cliché in popular media. Jumping the shark is a well-worn TV trope.

According to Bruce Sterling’s TV Tropes wiki:

  • The Ur Example is the oldest known example of a particular trope (‘Ur’ is a German prefix meaning primitive or original)
  • The Trope Maker is the first unambiguous example of a particular trope
  • The Trope Codifier is the example of a particular trope that has come to define all other uses

The Trope Maker may or may not be the Ur Example, and the Trope Codifier may or may not be the Trope Maker.

For example, The Towering Inferno is generally recognised as the Trope Codifier for ‘staggered but equal’ or diagonal billing in films, specifically devised to resolve the top billing demands of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. However, there is uncertainty as to whether this is the Trope Maker, as this type of billing may have been employed for similar disputes in previous films. In addition, the trope characteristic of an Ur Example may be unintentional. Therefore, any earlier film that used similar billing purely as a design aesthetic could be a candidate for Ur Example.

Generation Y the lazy rhetoric?

July 9th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

“very few [Generation Y students] employ collaborative technologies such as wikis, blogging and Twitter in their research, despite using such tools in their personal lives.”

Elizabeth Gibney. Few Tweet successes as Generation Y fails to use blog-standard tools. Times Higher Education, 28 June 2012.

I’m unconvinced with the argument that the new generation of researchers routinely use multiple social media recreationally. This seems to have become a rationale for academic appropriation that is rarely challenged. In my experience of running workshops at the University of Nottingham and elsewhere, many postgraduate and early career researchers are ‘on Facebook’ and use little else. Ask them, and some include using Wikipedia (as a resource only) as ‘engaging’ in social media (mostly unaware of the potential of using the underlying technology of wikis as a platform for collaborative text editing). Few blog recreationally, or even read them. Twitter use is limited and often doesn’t extend much beyond the signing up stage.

Yet this limited engagement and awareness regularly seems to be sufficient to appropriately constitute ‘significant’ recreational social media use, propagating the belief that when adopting them for academic purposes, new researchers are intimately familiar with the tools, practices and culture of multiple types of social media.

Blog Posts – Those Unpublished Drafts

July 8th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

Peter Rawsthorne’s list of ‘half-finished’ blog posts reminds me that I have several texts at various stages of development myself. Some of the participants in my PhD research described similar blogging practices when it came to generating unpublished drafts.

Having multiple texts (or at least ideas for texts) ‘on the go’ at any one time is not exclusive to academics who blog. As curious and engaged researchers, we create numerous short-form and informal texts in our everyday academic actives; to make notes, record events and projects, conceptualise and synthesise ideas, and construct arguments. However, in deciding to share some of these in the public domain, the academic blogger encounters additional motivations and considerations as to when (s)he decides to publish them, and in what state. Many bloggers it seems, may have a number of blog posts in draft form, at various stages of completion, at any one time. But there is little discussion around how they determine if and when a blog post is considered ‘finished’ and ready for public view.

Attitudes to how ‘well-written,’ substantive or formalised a blog post should be may differ considerably. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I have a flexible attitude to what constitutes a blog post – and have argued previously for the blogging space as a site for experimentation (in format, style, content and subjectivity), free of many of the constraints associated with formal academic outputs.

Topicality can be a factor here too. Bloggers may feel it necessary to draft a blog post quickly if it is in response to another blog post (such as this one), or if it is related to a breaking event or a new publication. However, some posts may remain dormant and incomplete for some time if there is little impetuous to finish and publish them.

The strategy of stockpiling completed drafts may also be a common practice. Though I think the pressure to blog regularly is often over-emphasised, having a number of posts ‘in reserve’ can be seen as being useful, particularly for busy periods when blogging is a low priority. In addition, some posts may be temporarily withheld if they compromise formal publication opportunities, or simply kept for a time when they will have the most impact.

Leveraging Impact Font

July 4th, 2012 by Andy Coverdale

Some ‘precursory’ slides to begin my workshop on social media and impact tomorrow at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.