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Feedback: why you read this blog.

A week ago I asked for some feedback, some reasons why you read this blog. The results were very interesting and the comments kind. 🙂

Feedback from blog survey

Some highlights from the Other category were ‘because I’m scared not to’, ‘satisfy idle curiosity’, ‘steal ideas’, and even ‘to snigger at your self-indulgent posts and share them with others’! :-p

Many people left wonderful feedback – thanks very much for that. I’m not going to share it all here, but this in particular made me smile:

“Are some edu bloggers more interested in exposure than impact?”
Its interesting that you comment on this because it is the exact reason why I like your blog so much, the fact that you want to help comes across very clearly in most of what you write and infact inspired me to start a blog, again more for myself but definitely not for recognition. I absolutely loved the piece on ‘cc’ and your attitude towards sharing good practice. Put quite simply www.dougbelshaw.com/blog is a place to read about good practice and it has definitely helped me.

This person (it was all anonymous so I don’t know who wrote this) has hit the nail on the head. I blog not only for myself as a creative outlet, but to:

  • Help and inspire others
  • Get people thinking
  • Share good practice

Thanks for all your comments in 2009 and I look forward to continuing the conversation in 2010! 😀

Mac OSX apps I currently use.

Michael Arrington (of TechCrunch fame) recently posted his fifth annual list of the tech products he loves and uses every day. Paul Stamatiou updates his Stuff I Use page regularly. People often ask me what apps I use, so here goes in the quickest and easiest way I know how – Flickr with notes*



(if it’s too small to read, you might want to click through!)

* Want to do this yourself? Try this script (which I used) or Mbedr. 🙂

Things I learned this week – #1

This is the first of a planned weekly series in which I reflect on what I’ve learned during the previous 7 days. As I explained in My digital reading workflow these links are culled from blogs and tweets I read.

Happy New Year! Feeling guilty because you haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution? Perhaps you could try the New Year’s Resolution Generator! (via swissmiss) It came up with ‘This year I will… declutter’ which seemed most prescient for me. 🙂  I’ve already made my Commitments for 2010 but for those who need things broken down step-by-step, they could do worse I suppose than try out mySomeday (via Mashable). Oh, and Zen Habits claims to have The Definitive Guide to Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions. 😀

Before I go any further I must point you in the direction of this eye-candy:

The Known Universe by the American Museum of Natural History zooms from the Himalayas to deep space (via FlowingData)

100 Extraordinary Examples of Paper Art (via BoingBoing)

While we’re on the subject of design, swissmiss had a useful blog post on Japanese design principles. There are seven basic principles:

  1. Fukinsei (imbalanced)
  2. Kanso (simple)
  3. Kokou (austere)
  4. Shizen (natural)
  5. Yugen (subtle profound)
  6. Datsuzoko (unworldly)
  7. Seijaku (calm)

I’d like to think that this blog has elements of 2, 5 and 7. 😉

Not that I write much any more, but I was interested to (re-)discover that some people claim to be able to tell whether a person’s handwriting is ‘male’ or ‘female’. To be fair, if they managed to decipher mine they would only be able to tell that it was ‘messy’… In other quirky news (for which BoingBoing is an excellent source), it turns out that “there are more people currently alive in Asia, Africa and Latin America than the total number of people who died—anywhere, and for any reason—during the entire 20th century.” Wow. More at Census of the dead, in infographic form.

It’s been 5 years, apparently, since Google first started blogging. They’ve no got so many blogs that it’s difficult to keep up with them all. If you, like me, are becoming overwhelmed by the unread items in your RSS reader, why not get everything delivered by email? If you’ve got a decent system (see my How I deal with email) it can be a very efficient way of keeping up-to-date. The trouble is, of course, that some blogs don’t have an subscribe-by-email option. That’s where FeedMyInbox is useful. Enter website URL and your email address and, hey presto! If you want a quick-and-easy way of getting all of the links from your Twitter followers, try ReadTwit. It creates an RSS feed of tweets that contain links from people you follow. You can put that through FeedMyInbox too. And if all that sounds like too much effort, why not try LazyFeed? (via @heyjudeonline) :-p

Talking of productivity, Hans de Zwart (who has recently been promoted to the cool-sounding Innovation Manager: Learning Technology) has a great post on The Influence of a Workspace on Performance. In it, Hans cites a book by Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness of which I wasn’t aware. His main thrust is highlighting the discrepancy between the exquisitely designed office space he works in, designed by David Leon, and the stupidity (his word) of being locked down to Windows 2000 and Internet Explorer 6. As Hans quotes David Leon as saying,

Innovation depends on bright people. These people cost more and are far more valuable than the buildings they occupy… but it is a proven fact that the environment in which they work has a major impact on their effectiveness.

For that reason we design workplaces and buildings round the needs of people and the business aims of their organisations.

He contends – and I agree – that should go for digital surroundings as well as physical surroundings. I recently reorganized my study, including building my own desk, to get things just right. 🙂

Motivation and productivity can be affected by surroundings, but a great deal of it comes from within. As Chris Guillebeau notes, there will always be people who say that you “can’t” do something. His reply (or rather, that of one of his readers) is:

Reading a lot of books is definitely a worthwhile thing to do, but one that takes dedication and motivation. How To Read a Book a Week in 2010 (via @chrisbrogan) is a useful reminder as to why setting yourself a definite target (e.g. one per week) is more useful than a hazy one (e.g. read more books).

And finally, some quotations I came across that I warmed to immediately. The first comes from a blog post on The Innovative Educator entitled My Top 20 Education Quotes from 2009:

Many of the most brilliant and creative people didn’t really discover what they could do and who they were until they’d left school and recovered from their education.

Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open. Thomas Dewar (via @timekord)

If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong – Mo Udall (via @russeltarr)

The only one thing I can change is myself, but sometimes that makes all of the difference. (via @Vincent_Ang)

Stuff to which I didn’t find a segue:

Can’t wait until next week? See the tweets I favourite in real-time at http://twitter.com/dajbelshaw/favorites

Literacy -> Digital Flow: moving beyond Traditional Literacy.

This post comes from my (ongoing) Ed.D. thesis, which can be read in full over at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis. You’ll find full references and more reading material at my wiki (http://dougbelshaw.com/wiki). 🙂

Marginalia

CC-BY-NC seriykotik1970

Whatever literacy is, it [has] something to do with reading. And reading is always reading something. Furthermore, if one has not understood [made meaning from] what one has read then one has not read it. So reading is always reading something with understanding. (Gee, Hull & Lankshear, 1996:1-2, quoted in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008a:2)

The idea of literacy being ‘reading something with understanding’ is what shall be referred to in the followin as ‘Traditional Literacy’. This conception of literacy is ‘Static’ and ‘Psychological’, being focused on the individual’s relationship, and interaction with, physical objects. The book comprises what Lankshear & Knobel call the ‘text paradigm’ – something over and above the simple act of reading with understanding:

[D]uring the age of print the book… shaped conceptions of layout, it was the pinnacle of textual authority, and it played a central role in organizing practices and routines in major social institutions. The book mediated social relations of control and power… Textual forms and formats were relatively stable and were ‘policed’ to ensure conformity. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:52)

This perpetuation of hegemonic power through Traditional Literacy has complicated debates surrounding, and the evolution of the term, ‘literacy’. Not only is ‘reading with understanding’ bound up with politics, but with religion (due to the actions of the Catholic church) and identity. Literacy is predicated upon a scarcity model, ‘with literacy comprising a key instrumentality for unlocking advantage and status through achievements at levels wilfully preserved for the few’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:62). Schools and educational institutions, as Bigum notes, are mainly consumers of knowledge (Bigum, 2002:135, quoted in Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:188). Meaning is made centrally and then disseminated to such institutions and individuals as can access the encoded texts used to convey ideas, thoughts, concepts and processes. These encoded texts consist of, ‘ texts that have been “frozen” or “captured” in ways that free them from their immediate context and origin of production, such that they are “(trans)portable” and exist independently of the presence of human beings as bearers of the text.’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2008b:257)

Recently, with the dawn of first mass media, and then mass participation with the rise of the internet, conceptions of literacy have had to change. This has put a strain on the Static, Pyschological conceptions implicit in Traditional Literacy. As a result, what ‘literacy’ means (and therefore what it means to be ‘literate’) has changed. As Lanham (1995:198, quoted in Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:21-2) puts it, literacy ‘has extended its semantic reach from meaning ‘the ability to read and write’ to now meaning ‘the ability to understand information however presented.’ There is no doubt that ‘literacy’ has become a fuzzy concept that gives the semblance of being straightforward, but contains layers of complexity. Erstad, for example, comments on this fuzziness, noting that it is apparent ‘especially among those educators and researchers whose professional interests are tied to how literacy is understood’ (Erstad, 2008:181-2).

Given these difficulties, some commentators (such as Sven Birkets in The Gutenberg Elegies) yearn to return to Traditional Literacy, due to the decline in the reading of books, ‘with the attendant effects of the loss of deep thinking, the erosion of language, and the flattening of historical perspective’ (Taylor & Ward, 1998:13). Birkets, like Barton (1994) and Kress (1997) argues that literacy ‘should be confined to the realm of writing (Buckingham, 2008:75). Rejecting the dichotomy, Tyner (1998) sought to reconceptualize the debate in terms of ‘tool literacies’ (the skills necessary to be able to use a technology) and ‘literacies of representation’ (the knowledge required to take advantage of a technology) (cited by Erstad, 2008:183). This middle ground gave space for multiple conceptions of literacy to flourish.

Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, these ‘new literacies’ smacked of old wine in new bottles:

It does not follow from the fact that so-called new technologies are being used in literacy education that new literacies are being engaged with. Still less does it imply that learners are developing, critiquing, analysing, or even become technologically proficient with new literacies. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:54-5)

The problem surrounding new(er) literacies in schools is fourfold. First, there is the very real problem of educators not having grown up in an environment where such digital skills – both Tyner’s ‘tool literacies’ and ‘literacies of representation’ were necessary. The age-old problem of “it was good enough for me when I was at school” applies as much to educators as it does to parents. If a problem cannot be seen it and/or understood then cannot be dealt with effectively. Second, is educators’ willingness to ascribe problems to factors other than their own weakness, ignorance or fear of change. If the mere presence of, for example, an interactive whiteboard in a classroom does not lead to increased examination performance, then the technology is blamed. Following on from this, and third, is what is known as the ‘deep grammar’ of schooling:

School learning is for school; school as it has always been. The burgeoning take-up of new technologies simply gives us our latest ‘fix’ on this phenomenon. It is the ‘truth’ that underpins many current claims that school learning is at odds with authentic ways of learning to be in the world, and with social practice beyond the school gates… It is precisely this ‘deep grammar’ of schooling that cuts schools off from the new (technological) literacies and associated subjectivities that Bill Green and Chris Bigum (1993) say educators are compelled to attend to. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:57)

‘School’ then becomes a self-perpetuating institution, cut off from new(er) conceptions and forms of literacy. Given that this is the place where most people (are supposed to) learn, this constitutes a problem.

Finally, there is the problem of ‘knowledgeable peers’ when it comes to new forms of literacies in schools. Top-down, hierarchical, Traditional Literacy is perpetuated within schools because it is so difficult to come up with other models. Students ‘seek to enter new communities… but do not yet have the knowledge necessary to act as “knowledgeable peers” in the community conversation’ (Taylor & Ward, 1998:18). Educators seeking to perpetuate Traditional Literacy often exploit the difference between students ‘tool literacy’ on the one-hand (their technical ability) and their understanding of, and proficiency in ‘literacies of representation’ (making use of these abilities for a purpose). Reference is therefore made to ‘e-safety’, ‘e-learning’ and ‘e-portfolios’, slippery terms that sound important and which serve to reinforce a traditional teacher-led model of education. As Bruffee (1973:644, quoted by Taylor & Ward, 1998:18) points out, ‘pooling the resources that a group of peers brings with them to the task may make accessible the normal discourse of the new community they together hope to enter.’

The barrier, in this case, is the traditional school classroom and the view that Traditional Literacy is a necessary and sufficient conditional requirement for entry into such communities.

Commitments for 2010.

CC BY-SA eschipul

There’s no point in making ‘resolutions’ when it comes to January 1st. Instead, what’s important is to make commitments – or to re-commit to things you’ve let slip. That’s the purpose of this post.

My guiding principle in 2010 shall be Gandhi’s exhortation to Be the change you want to see in the world. To that end, in relation to my activities here, I shall:

  1. Be positive
  2. Not obtain money through channels I believe to be inappropriate (e.g. advertising, most forms of consulting)
  3. Respond to blog comments
  4. Use as few words as possible to get across my ideas

What have I missed?

Read what I’ve read: 2009 edition.

CC BY-SA gadl

For some reason I didn’t do this last year – post which books I’ve read for pleasure over the last 12 months, coupled with a short review. And my 2007 version seems to be sans images now. Oh well. I’ll do it properly this year! Note that these books aren’t those I’ve read for my Ed.D. thesis – you can see those over at my wiki (along with notes)

Here, in chronological order, are the books I’ve read this year (click on images to see them at Amazon UK). If you’re impatient, scroll to the bottom for my absolute must-have book, one that I’ll be re-reading for the rest of my life!

Eggers - You Shall Know Our Velocity

Dave Eggers – You Shall Know Our Velocity (2-15 January)

After reading nothing but positive reviews for all of Eggers’ work, I thought this was a fairly safe bet to start off my year. Despite finishing it, however, I was left thinking it was nothing more than average and ‘not my sort of book’. He had some interesting observations at times, but it certainly wasn’t re-readable, for me.

Murdoch - Sovereignty of Good

Iris Murdoch – The Sovereignty of Good (16-22 January)

This consists of three essays. I though the first two were thought-provoking, whilst the third not so much. Not really one for non-philosophically trained folk.

Gombrich - A Little History of the World

E.H. Gombrich – A Little History of the World (22 January  – 10 February)

Absolutely marvellous. One for children and adults alike and one that, as a (sometime) teacher of History, I wish had been available in an English translation when I was young. Utterly re-readable. 🙂

Csikszentmihaly - 'Flow: the psychology of optimal experience'

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow: the psychology of optimal experience (11-26 February)

A life-changing book. Not only did change the direction of my Ed.D. thesis (I’m going to be investigating ‘digital flow’ now) but will illuminate my thinking and actions in everyday life. Instant classic!

Rand - 'Anthem'

Ayn Rand – Anthem (1 March)

This novella promised much. It had been referenced several times in things I’d read, so I thought I should read the original. It was disappointing. 🙁

Joseph Cummins – History’s Great Untold Stories: obscure events of lasting importance (2-26 March)

The tragedy of 2009 for me was when Borders, my favourite bookstore chain, went into administration. At the beginning of the year it offered this at half-price in one of its London stores (I was down for a meeting with Nick Dennis, who also availed himself of the opportunity). It was an eye-opening read: some stuff of which I’d never even heard which had a huge bearing on history. Essential.

Sun Tzu – The Art of War (27-28 March)

Again, a book that is referenced often but which disappointed. Didn’t find much in the way of inspiration or advice within it.

John Burrow – A History of Histories (29 March – 12 May)

Overly academic in places, but overall an interesting and informative read. Probably only for lovers of History.

Georgina Harding – The Solitude of Thomas Cave (13-22 May)

Easily the best of the works of fiction I read this year. The story of a man left behind in the cold. Really different, interesting (and relatively short!)

Clay Shirky – Here Comes Everybody (June sometime)

A great explanation of how social media has changed everything. Not only interesting in and of itself, but useful to give to people who don’t ‘get it’.

Joseph Cummins – Cast Away: Epic true stories of shipwreck, piracy and mutiny on the high seas (June – 14 July)

After enjoying the author’s History’s Great Untold Stories: obscure events of lasting importance I was delighted to find two more of his works (in a similar format) on offer. Perfect bedtime reading. 😀

Joseph Cummins – Great Rivals in History: when politics gets personal (15 July – 8 September)

I enjoyed this as the format is perfect for bedtime reading, but I’d recommend Cummins’ other two above this particular one. A useful background to stuff I already knew, nonetheless.

Seth Godin – Tribes (11 August)

Just like his blog posts. Eminently readable, empowering, and with a call to action for leaders (i.e. everyone!)

Brian Clegg – A Brief Guide of Infinity: the quest to think the unthinkable (20 August – 2 September)

Mind-expanding. I can’t say better than that!

Ann Patchett – Bel Canto (10-11 September)

This book won several prizes, and so I was looking forward to it. However, the author’s style began to grate and, after a while where nothing much happened, I gave up on it.

Edward Said – Beginnings: intention and method (12-29 September)

I got about half-way through this before I realised I didn’t really understand any of it and gave up. Far too heavy for (predominantly) bedtime reading. 🙁

Joseph Conrad – Nostromo (30 September – 3 October)

Really high hopes for this after enjoying Conrad’s Heart of Darkness last year. However, it was depressing and written in a slightly different style. Gave up.

C Leadbeater – We-Think: mass innovation, not mass production (3-15 October)

Poorly written and researched and, overall, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Avoid.

Michel Faber – The Fahrenheit Twins (16-26 October)

A wonderful find. It was in the absolutely-last-chance-don’t-miss-it-these-are-the-books-we-haven’t-been-able-to-sell-in-years section of a discount bookstore. I think it cost me about 49p. It was, however, really, really good! Stories from the margins of society and the last one (which gives the book it’s title) is downright bizarre. Recommended! :-p

Peter Watson – Ideas: a History from Fire to Freud (19 October – 29 December)

The author is a Professor of Archaeology and you can tell. The start is much better than the rest – which isn’t too bad itself – but he’s best when not having to rely on other people’s work. Fairly polemical towards the end.

Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (8 November)

Truly inspirational. Murakami, in a humble way, talks about how he’s been wildly successful as well as the synergy between his life as a runner and his life as a writer. Superb.


It’s been mostly non-fiction for me in 2009 – I plan to remedy that in 2010. 🙂

There’s been one book that, despite not being very long, I’ve been reading since June. The reason? I don’t want it to end!  Schopenhauer described it as,”Absolutely unique . . . a book made for constant use—a companion for life,” whilst Nietzsche commented, “Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety.” It really is a gem.

And the name of this book?

The Art of Worldly Wisdom, published in the 17th century by the Jesuit scholar Balthasar Gracián consists of 300 maxims. You can view the full text at Google Docs but I really would recommend purchasing your own inexpensive copy. It really is, as Schopenhauer says, ‘a companion for life’! 😀

OpenBeta: a publishing model.

Update: I’ve attempted to elaborate on the OpenBeta model here.

Image based on original CC BY-NC-SA imaginaryGirl

I want to write a book, but none of the traditional models really appeal to me. Seth Godin puts neatly the opportunities available in The magic of dynamic pricing:

When you produce a physical good like a book, it’s really hard to change the price over time, especially if there are retail stores involved. But changing the price on an electronic good is trivially easy.

So, for example, you could charge $24 for the Kindle edition for the first two weeks, then $15 for the next two weeks and then $9 for the year after that. Once it’s a backlist classic, it could cost $2…

Technology puts a lot more pressure on your imagination and creativity, even in pricing.

I think Godin has missed a trick here as there’s no reason why dynamic pricing can’t be used for physical media as well. Taking the Software release cycle as inspiration and Lulu.com as a method I’d like to expand on the idea of creating an Unbook as understood by Dave Gray. Dave’s creating a book called Marks and Meaning and releasing it as one would with software. As I write this post it’s up to version 0.5.

Whilst I admire the Unbook model, it’s not what I want to use in 2010. Why?

  • An unbook is never finished (but I want mine to reach version 1.0 and then be ‘complete’)
  • An unbook is a community product (whilst I respect the views of my readers, I want to be the author)

So I’m going to call the model OpenBeta. Here’s how it works:

OpenBeta publishing model

I’ll be releasing v0.1 of my upcoming OpenBeta book early in 2010. Want to give it a go yourself? Feel free to use the logo:

OpenBeta logo

(click through to larger sizes on Flickr)

Why do you read this blog?


CC BY-SA Karl Horton

I write this blog mainly for me. Selfish as it may sound, I actually need an outlet for my thoughts and ideas.

That being said, I am interested in what people think of what I write and believe it is important to get feedback. As a consequence, I’d be grateful whether it’s your first or thousandth time visiting this blog, in you clicking some buttons below! 🙂

If you’re reading this via an RSS reader or via email and don’t see a Google form embedded above, you might want to click through!

If I wrote a book, would you buy it?

I’ve been using the excellent What Would Seth Godin Do? plugin for WordPress (which powers this blog) for a while now. It’s a great way to get a message across to readers, differentiated for new and return visitors. New visitors to this blog get a message giving them information on how to subscribe and/or get in contact with me.

Return visitors, on the other hand, get a different message. Recently, I’ve been asking for feedback on the question posed in the title of this post, namely: If I wrote a book, would you buy it? The answers are in the above graph. Interestingly, no-one responded that the price was an issue, nor did anyone state that they would buy anything that I wrote.

Good. That’s as it should be. 🙂

There’s enough people, I reckon, interested in buying something that I write that’s education-related for it to be a worthwhile proposition. I’ve got an interesting publishing model and pricing structure in mind. Subscribe so you don’t miss a post – I’ll be revealing more soon!

PS For those interested in what those ‘other’ answers were, they mainly wanted to know more about the subject before they would decide either way!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas 2009

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