What is ‘technology’ anyway?

At the London Festival of Education on Saturday I was on a panel about learning technologies in the classroom. You can see my notes in a previous blog post. One of the questions I received (or chose to respond to) was from a self-proclaimed applicant for a ‘bolshy questioner’ badge. Whilst I dismissed his main question as unhelpful, he did make one very good point: I hadn’t defined what I meant by ‘technology’.

It’s human nature to focus on negative feedback – perhaps it’s evolutionary, I don’t know. Whilst it can be destructive if dwelt upon (see this Oatmeal cartoon, for example) it can also spur your own thinking. And that’s what I’ve been doing over the past few days, until I stumbled across the following in Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants.

To make the lengthy quotation slightly shorter, I should explain that techne is a word the ancient Greeks used for art, skill or craft. It’s closest to our word for ‘ingenuity’:

In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was one of several revolutions that overturned society. Mecchanical creatures intruded into farms and homes, but still this invasion had no name. Finally, in 1802, Johann Beckmann, an economics professor at Gottingen University in Germany, gave this ascending force its name. Beckmann argued that the rapid spread and increasing importance of the useful arts demanded that we teach them in a “systemic order.” He addressed the techne of architecture, the techne of chemistry, metalwork, masonry, and manufacturing, and for the first time he claimed these spheres of knowledge were interconnected. He synthesised them into a unified curriculum and wrote a textbook titled Guide to Technology (or Technologie in German), resurrecting that forgotten Greek word. He hoped his outline would become the first course in the subject. It did that and more. It also gave a name to what we do. Once named, we could now see it.  Having seen it, we wondered how anyone could not have seen it.

Beckmann’s achievement was more than simply christening the unseen. He was among the first to recognise that our creations were not just a collection of random inventions and good ideas. The whole of technology had remained imperceptible to us for so long because we were distracted by its masquerade of rarefied personal genius. Once Beckmann lowered the mask, our art and artefacts could be seen as interdependent components woven into a coherent impersonal unity.

If you want to follow this up I recommend reading Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It for more on how ‘attention blindness’ can lead to bad consequences in technology and education.

I’ve said time and time again since writing my thesis that we run into problems when talking about things that can’t be pointed to in the physical world. If I point to an object for sitting on, for example, and say ‘chair’ you may be able to call it something different but (unless you’re an existentialist) can’t really deny its existence. That’s not the case with concepts such as ‘digital literacies’ or even ‘openness’ and ‘Bring Your Own Device’. We can argue what these things are, and what they mean, precisely because we don’t know where the boundaries are.

So technology is the name we give to a loosely-related, amorphous mass of stuff. The word is what William James would call ‘useful in the way of belief’ in that it provides with a way of talking about – a conceptual shorthand for – the kind of things that we’d otherwise have to explain in wordy blog posts like this one. 😉

Image CC BY-NC-SA Andrea in Amsterdam

 

Doctor Doug.

Dr. Doug with Prof. Steve Higgins

Dr. Doug Belshaw with Prof. Steve Higgins

Today I graduated from my Ed.D. in the wonderful surroundings of Durham Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

Both my family and my supervisor Professor Steve Higgins were there to witness it and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their advice, guidance and support during the past few years. I’d also like to thank those who have cheered me on both here and elsewhere online. 🙂

My doctoral thesis has been online since I began writing it. You can access it at http://neverendingthesis.com

This event has come at a great time between finishing up my role with JISC infoNet and starting with the Mozilla Foundation. Exciting times!

 

#TEDxWarwick: The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

Update: the video of my talk is now available!

TEDx WarwickAs this post goes live I’ll be delivering my talk at TEDx Warwick. <gulp!>

I wanted to take the opportunity to point towards the stuff that I didn’t managed to cram into my 17 minutes.

So here goes:

And last, but not least, I’m writing an e-book about digital literacies with the same title as my TEDx talk: The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. You can find out more about this at http://dougbelshaw.com/ebooks/digilit

If you’ve seen my talk and have some feedback, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

 

Impact: the most important reason for working in the open? (#openeducationweek)

“A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.” (Father Strickland)

Working in the open comes naturally to me. I’ve never jealously guarded ‘my’ work and really cannot comprehend a person who would rather work in a closed and restricted environment.

Both this blog and my doctoral thesis are CC0 licensed, which means that I’ve donated them to the public domain. If you want to take my work, copy it word-for-word and pass it off as your own or sell it, that’s fine. Seriously. Do what you like. I’m flattered you like it.

I found out today that the minor rewrites I submitted after my thesis defence have now been accepted. I now go onto the ‘Pass list’ at Durham University meaning that I can call myself Dr. Belshaw. This makes me happy.

Another piece of news I received today was via Twitter from Joe Wilson attending the NAACE conference 2012 (#naace12). NAACE is a membership organization for those involved with ICT education in the UK and beyond.

(Note: Joe made a typo in his haste – I’m actually @dajbelshaw)

This came as a bit of a surprise. Whilst I’m aware of people referencing my work, I didn’t realize that NAACE as a body knew of/was using it. Certainly their press release (if that’s the right one) doesn’t mention anything. But to insist on acknowledgement (see discussion here), I feel, is a form of ownership. And no-one owns ideas.

The most important value of working in the open for me? Impact.

I write about things that interest me and ideas that I hold to be good in the way of belief. As a consequence, and like most other people, I think the ideas expressed in my work may be of use to others. If ‘impact’ is getting others discussing, debating and accepting your ideas then, yes, I want to impact other people.

Academics in UK universities will soon have to demonstrate their ‘impact’ under the terms of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). I can’t help but think that one of the best ways for academics to achieve this is to dramatically improve the accessibility of their work. The easiest method? Release it under the least restrictive license you can. This seems so obvious to me as to be a no-brainer.

There are some caveats, of course: less restrictive licensing may be problematic for commercially-sensitive areas and huge fields.

Let me explain.

There are two main reasons why I can ‘afford’ to give my work away without asking for attribution or compensation:

1. I know that most people will, actually, reference it (and there’s a large chance that those who don’t will be called out by others in such a relatively small field)

2. I have a salaried occupation that does not depend upon me attracting funding to commercialise my ‘Intellectual Property’.

Perhaps I’m young and naive but I can’t help think that, if you can, you should give away your work. For free. Without copyright.

That’s how ideas gain traction.

This week is Open Education week. There’s lots of stuff on the JISC website about it.

 

Announcing my new e-book: ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ (#digilit)

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies
I’m excited to announce that I’ve decided to start writing another e-book. I want to communicate what I’ve learned during my doctoral studies in a way free from academic constraints. I want to empower educators.

The e-book is going to be called The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies and I shall be employing the OpenBeta publishing model I pioneered a couple of years ago with #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity.

 


 

 

Invest now for £1 and get each chapter as it is completed FREE!

 


Can’t see anything above? Click here!

What are ‘digital literacies’? Why are they important? How can I develop them both personally and in other people? These are some of the questions that ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies by Doug Belshaw seeks to address. Informed by his doctoral thesis and experience as an educator, ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ Doug is producing a timely resource for those who are interested in both the theory and the practice of digital literacies!

FAQ:

When are you going to finish this?

It depends on many things, but here’s my proposed timescale:

  • v0.2 – April 2012
  • v0.4 – June 2012
  • v0.6 – August 2012
  • v0.8 – October 2012
  • v1.0 – December 2012

I’m erring on the conservative side here. I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver!

In what formats will the book be available?

The OpenBeta version will be available in iPad-friendly (and reasonably Kindle-friendly) PDF format. The finished version will be available in the following forms:

  • PDF
  • Kindle
  • ePub
  • (Paperback/Hardback depending on demand)

How much will the final version be?

£10 – around $15/16 at the current exchange rate

(this is subject to change without notice)

I still don’t understand the OpenBeta process?

More here, but this should help:

OpenBeta publishing model

How long will the book be altogether?

I’m envisaging each chapter being about 1,000 words, so about 11,000 in total. This is subject to change when I start writing but it will be at least 10,000 words.

Are there any refunds? How do I know you will complete it?

No refunds, but I have managed to write several e-books before and have much more free time now I have completed my thesis! You can always wait until it’s finished, but that will cost more…

Image in book cover CC BY { pranav }

Got a different question? Ask it in the comments below!

 

Ed.D. thesis: an update

Although recommended for my Ed.D. thesis by both the internal and external examiners at my viva voce (thesis defence) on 12 December 2011, I have some small revisions to make.

My first draft of these revisions is now available (along with the rest of my doctoral thesis) at neverendingthesis.com.

I have until April 9th to submit these revisions, then I should graduate in the summer! 🙂

 

Thanks for waiting! Dr. Belshaw will see you now.

Well, almost.

doctor minifig

I’m pleased to announce that I successfully defended my doctoral thesis at my viva voce on 12th December 2011. As expected, the examiners gave me minor rewrites but I managed to submit these to my supervisor before Christmas.

Whilst I can’t officially call myself ‘Doctor Belshaw’ until I’m on Durham University’s pass list (and even then I’m probably not your go-to person for emergency tracheotomies) I’m delighted with the culmination of six years’ work into digital and new literacies.

It’s great to be back on social networks such as Twitter and Google+ and press ‘delete’ on hundreds of emails (well, I did warn people…)

Image CC BY-NC-SA Johan Prawiro

 

Why peer-review is flawed.

Trusting Blind PeersAlthough I’m still yet to have an academic article published, I’ve made a public commitment to do so only in open-access journals. I’ve already dedicated this blog to the public domain (see CC0 license in footer) and shared my thesis online. Whilst for me it’s a logical continuation of my position as an open educator/academic/researcher/individual, I’ve been waiting for a compelling reason for others to ditch closed journals.

In this, my third blog post quoting Zygmunt Bauman (from a recent interview with Simon Dawes, editor of Theory, Culture & Society), I want to consider briefly the ways in which the whole edifice of the peer-review system is flawed. It’s not just about the binary distinction between whether a journal is ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

Simon Dawes: One final question, TCS is committed to the process of peer-review, and many of our (both rejected and accepted) contributors are grateful for the feedback given by our editors and anonymous reviewers, and for the subsequent strengthening of their articles, but you are critical of peer-review and no longer act as a referee for us. Could you tell us why?

Zygmunt Bauman: There are, by the most conservative counting, two grave and deeply regrettable collateral victims of the peer-review gruesome strategem: one is the daring of thought (wished-washed to the lowest common denominator), and the other is the individuality, as well as the responsibility of editors (those seeking shelter behind the anonymity of ‘peers’, but in fact dissolved in it, in many cases without a trace).

Last but not least, I would single out yet another collateral damage: the multitude of the trails blazed and heterogeneity of inspirations. I suspect that the peer-review system carriers a good part of blame for the fact that something like 60 percent or more of journal articles are never quoted (which means leaving no trace on our joint scholarly pursuits), and (in my reception at any rate) the ‘learned journals’… ooze monumental boredom. To find a new enlightening and inspiring idea (as distinct from finding a recipe for getting safely through the peer-built barricade), browsing through thousands of journal pages is all too often called for. With my tongue in one cheek only, I’d suggest that were our Palaeolithic ancestors to discover the peer-review dredger, we would still be sitting in caves…

That’s a fairly damning verdict from an Emeritus Professor of Sociology, don’t you think? I haven’t met anyone who thinks that the REF (Research Excellence Framework) is a good idea and does the job it’s intended to do. The ‘peer-built barricade’ that Bauman mentions evolved in a world before real-time communication between academics; although it feels obvious to say so, the internet changes everything. As proved with <a href="my thesis (see Appendix 3) the amount and quality of feedback does not depend either upon journals or anonymity. We can, and should, build a better (more democratic, fairer, transparent) system.

Image CC BY-SA Gideon Burton

 

Introducing neverendingthesis.com! (a.k.a. today’s the day I submit my Ed.D. thesis…)

neverendingthesis.com

Today’s a big day in my life. This afternoon I’m heading to Durham to hand in what I’ve been calling on Twitter the #neverendingthesis. That hashtag, of course, is more-than-slightly disingenuous given that I’m submitting it almost two years early. At first, the #neverendingthesis thing was just a bit of fun. However, as I came closer and closer to submitting it I realised that I was feeling what George Lucas must have been feeling when he said, “A movie is never finished, only abandoned”. Making my thesis available online in a wiki format will allow me to tinker in the months and years to come.

Up to this point, and ever since I started writing it, my thesis has been available at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. That now redirects to neverendingthesis.com where you can download a Word or PDF version of my thesis in the form I will be submitting today. I don’t believe that anyone ‘owns’ ideas and, as such, am waiving all claims to copyright. Just like this blog, my thesis: What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation is available under a CC0 license.

I won’t use this space to thank people as I do that in the thesis itself. If you’re interested in the journey I’ve taken over the last four years whilst I’ve been working on my thesis, I’d encourage you to check out the Preface and Appendix 3. Re-reading the Preface in particular made me well up a little last night…

What am I going to do with my spare time now? I’ve been in formal education for 26 years!

 

Purpos/ed, the #neverendingthesis and productivity [Ed Tech Crew podcast 165]

Ed Tech Crew

In the spirit of owning my own data and keeping everyone up-to-date with when stuff is published elsewhere, this is a heads-up that Andy Stewart, co-kickstarter of Purpos/ed and I were interviewed by the Ed Tech Crew recently. We covered everything from Purpos/ed itself to my doctoral thesis and productivity.

Give it a listen! (Running time: 1 hour 25 mins. Size: 61.9 MB)

I’ve got a backup copy saved locally and have uploaded another to the Internet Archive for safekeeping (in case the link above goes down).

 

 
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