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How a MOOC will spot the genius. He or she is riding a bike in a favela in Brazil.

What has changed in learning each time a transformative tool or technology has come along from a) written language b) papyrus c) codex d) printing and e) the Internet? A neuroscientist will say that the human brain hasn’t changed one jot – its innate capacity to learn and to do so at certain developmental stages remains the same. Struggling to see what is new, believing that our latent motivations, drives and inclinations to learn as individuals are as unique to each of us as it has always been I see one change only – the numbers, whether as a percentage in a population or as a gross figure – literacy could only expand as the printed word got into the hands of more people. The Internet will in due course help put primary, secondary and tertiary education into the hands of the disenfranchised.

What has been the frequency of genius revealing itself over the last thousand years?

Even accounting for the billions to chose from in the 21st century compared to the 15th, or 1st, won’t exposure too and access to ‘an education’ by billions give genius a chance to develop and show itself like never before?

When I think if learning, I think of the minuscule intricacies of the component parts of the brain and at the same time the immense vastness of the known universe.

As humans we are eager to understand everything.

It seems appropriate to marry neuroscience with astrophysics, like brackets that enclose everything. From a learning point of view then ask as you look at a person or group of people, ‘what is going on?’ specifically, ‘what is going on in there? (the brains) and between them to foster insight, understanding, innovation and advancement.

The best interface for this, a confluence for it all, is the Internet and the connectedness of it all.

What has the impact of the Internet been and based on everything we currently know, where do we presume it is going?

What will the impact be of the Web on education? How is knowledge sharing and learning changing?

Fig. 1. Father and daughter

From four or five months after conception with the formation of the brain, to the moment of brain death we have the capacity to learn, subconsciously as well as consciously.

Whether through interlopers before birth, in infancy and early childhood, or through family and carers in our last moment, days, weeks, months or years. At both ends of life the Web through a myriad of ways can advise, suggest and inform, and so educate, like never before. While for all the time in between as sponges, participants and students we can access, interact, interpose and interject in an environment where everything that is known and has been understood is presented to us. The interface between person and this Web of knowledge is a fascinating one that deserves close study for its potentially profound impact on what we as humans can do as people and collectively:  Individually through, by, with and surfing the established and privileged formal and formal conveyor belt of education through nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary centres of learning. Individually, also through expanding opportunities globally to learn unfettered by such formal education where such established opportunities don’t exist unless hindered through poverty and politics or a lack of communications infrastructure (a robust broadband connection to the Web). And individually and collectively alongside or beyond whatever formal education is provided or exploited by finger tapping into close and expanded networks of people, materials, ideas and activities

Open learning comes of age.

By seeking to peg answers to the role the Web is starting to play, at one end to the very first opportunity, at the micro-biological level to form a thought and at the other end to those micro-seconds at the end of life once the brain ceases to function – and everything else in between, requires an understandings neuroscience and an answer to the question ‘what is going on in there?’ How do we learn?

From an anthropological perspective why and how do we learn?

Where can we identify the origins of knowledge sharing and its role in the survival and domination of homo sapiens? And from our migration from the savannas of Eastern Africa to every nook and cranny of Earth, on land and sea, what recognised societal behaviours are playing out online? And are these behaviours mimicked or to a lesser extent transmogrified, warped or elevated by the scope, scale and speed of being connected to so much in such variety?

A history of learning is required.

From our innate conscious and subconscious capacity to learn from our immediate family and community how has formal education formed right the way through adding reading, writing and numeracy as a foundation to subject choices and specialisms, so momentarily expanded in secondary education into the single subjects studied at undergraduate level and the niche within a niche at Masters and doctoral levels. And what role has and will formal and informal learning continue to have, at work and play if increasing numbers of people globally have a school or university in their pockets, courtesy of a smartphone or tablet and a connection to the Web?

The global village Marshall McLuhan described is now, for the person connected to the Web, the global digital fireplace.

It has that ability to gather people around. Where though are its limits? With how many people can we develop and maintain a relationship? Once again, how can an understanding of social networks on the ground inform us about those that form on the Web? Multiplicity reins for some, flitting between a variety of groups while others have their niche interests indulged, celebrated and reinforced. Is there an identifiable geography of such hubs small and large and if visualised what does this tell us? Are the ways we can now learn new or old?

In relation to one aspect of education – medicine – how are we informed and how do we respond as patients and clinicians?

The journey starts at conception with the mixing of DNA and ends once the last electrochemical spark has fired. How, in relation to medicine does the quality (or lack of), scale and variety of information available on the Web inform and impact upon our ideas and actions the length of this lifetime’s journey At one end, parents making decisions regarding having children, then knowledge of pregnancy and foetal development. While at the other end, a child takes part in the decision-making process with clinicians and potentially the patient – to ‘call it a day’. Both the patient or person, as participant and the clinicians as interlocutors have, potentially, the same level of information at their fingertips courtesy of the Web.

How is this relationship and the outcomes altered where the patient will know more about their own health and a good deal about a clinician’s specialism?

The relationship between the doctor and patient, like others, courtesy of the connectivity and capacity of the Web, has changed – transmogrified, melted and flipped all at the same time. It is no longer them and us, though it can be – rather, as in education and other fields, it can be highly personalized and close.

Can clinicians be many things to many people?

Can any or only some of us cope with such multiplicity? A psychologist may say some will and some won’t, some have the nature for it, others not. Ditto in education. Trained to lead a classroom in a domain of their own, can a teacher take on multiple roles aimed at responding to the unique as well as the common traits of each of their students? While in tertiary education should and can academics continue to be, or expected to be undertake research as well as teach? Where teaching might be more akin to broadcasting, and the classroom or tutorial takes place asynchronously and online as well as live and face-to-face.

Disaggregation equals change.

In relation to one aspect of education in medicine and one kind of problem, what role might the Web play to support patients so that they can make an informed decision regarding the taking of potentially life saving, if not simply life improving, medications? Having understood the complexity of reasons why having been prescribed a preventer medication, for example, to reduce or even eliminate the risk of a serious asthma attack, what is going on where a patient elects, sometimes belligerently, not to take the medication. Others are forgetful, some misinformed, for others it is the cost, or the palaver of ordering, collecting and paying for repeat prescriptions. Information alone isn’t enough, but given the capacity of the web to brief a person on an individual basis, where they are online, what can be done to improve adherence, save lives and enhance the quality of life?

My hypothesis is that a patient can be assisted by an artificial companion of some kind, that is responsive to the person’s vicissitudes while metaphorically sitting on that person’s shoulder i.e. in the ‘Cloud’ and on their smartphone, tablet, headset, laptop or whatever other assistive interface will exist between us and the Web.

 

Fig. 2. Where it ends … more or less

At a parent’s side when they die is a profound experience. The breathing stopped and a trillion memories drained away. To what degree will this no longer be the case when a life logged digitally becomes a life in part preserved?

 

What is the Internet doing to our brains? Not much. Though Nicholas Carr begs to differ.

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The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our Brains?

Nicholas Carr

Love it or hate it the Internet is here for keeps.

I had might as well say forever, as we would all surely agree that everything we’ve got so far will only become more pervasive during our respective lifetimes.

I had hoped to get an objective view from Carr but ‘The Shallows’ fails to say what
the Internet is doing to our brains.

I would love to time travel and stop my ancestors from what they were doing 35,000 years ago so that I could have shared with them what making stone tools would do to their brains and where it would lead.

What’s different? Not much.

They would have been too busy to listen, or, as we are doing, they would listened but pressed on
regardless.

Carr lacks the credentials, training or inclination to answer the very question he poses.

Journalists and authors, Nicholas Carr is both, want to sell copy so he has to take a stance – he is against.

‘The Shallows’ is an apt title as his research lacks depth. Look a bit closer and many of the authors he cites say as much to counter the arguments as support them, take the Nobel prize winning Eric Kandel who on the one hand identified the ‘plasticity of the brain’, but also showed that through habituation a sort of boredom sets in – hardly the case that Google is taking us over as Carr would gave us believe.

Whatever our attractions and distractions, unless we have behavioural or cognitive issues, the
Internet is no more a trap, no more changing how we think than the book, TV or radio in the past. Despite the Internet we still sleep, make friends, go to school or work, shop, make love, raise kids …

the human world is too complex, too fluid to have been taken over in the way Carr suggests.

What the Interent ‘does to our brains’ is no different to anything else if we engage or apply ourselves for long enough. Carr has a US-centric view too, and a US where everyone of course has Internet access, a smartphone or laptop. He projects this scheme of things onto the rest of the world as if it is the same in North Yorkshire where there is limited broadband access, or to Lake Nakuru, Kenya where there is none.

In his ignorance or arrogance he assumes that everyone is like him and his friends, borderline ADHD, easily bored, addicted to the early adoption of whatever comes along. If half an audience agree with Carr when he suggests that the Internet is taking over their mind and this is a bad thing, the other half will say that it is not – that it is a tool there to do their bidding.

Personally, I come over giddy with excitement when I start a quest to research and read, just as I got each morning when I entered a different library as an undergraduate at Oxford. Then amazed at the knowledge before my eyes that could be called up in a few hours or days. Today equally gobsmacked by tools and resources courtesy of the Open University Online Library that offers up just about anything I can find and want to read in seconds. I’m mot the slave to a platform
or a piece of kit – I move around in both the physical and the virtual sense from different access devices – smartphone, iPad, laptop or desktop as well as through different portals. There isn’t
the sameness to it that Carr implies.

There is variety everywhere you turn. And this is my unique and personal perspective. To avoid
regression to the mean in large scale research on use of and behaviours as a consequence of using the Internet I would invariably be discounted anyway. Far from discounting the few
people Carr speaks to he holds them up as representative of all of us. Proper research could well conclude the opposite to what Carr thinks.

Carr chooses his metaphors to support his perspective – this is natural, but he wants us to think he is speaking in absolute terms, that we all ‘forage in the thickets’. It is a passing phase. Get out of a taxi in a country we have never been to before and we all feel a little lost and overwhelmed. We get over it. Sitting on the fence, as academics do, doesn’t sell books.

They don’t scaremonger. If nothing has changed they say so. ‘What’s the Internet doing to our brains? Not much’ isn’t going to see a title, book or magazine, flying off the shelves. People, in their purchase, like to declare ‘I am for or against’. If Carr had honestly been for he would, like Professor Martin Weller, have published ‘The Shallows’ as open source in a digital form, instead
it is marketed like the latest film staring Sandra Bullock or Nicole Kidman and only made available in analogue form. Carr has a first degree in English literature and a Masters in American literature. He can graze a few articles on neuroscience and webscience but this hardly qualifies him to describe with accuracy how the mind works. Neuroscientists will ponder for decades to come the way we remember. Carr therefore falls back on a potted history, selecting those arguments that support his thesis, rejecting those that do not. He suggests for example that information flows through the eyes and ears to our minds. I’d like to measure that. I’d like
to see that.

Perception isn’t achieved in this way.

No substance flows from one place to another . It is this misconception that must give Carr the impression that his mind is somehow filling up, or getting aggitated by the bombardment of ‘stuff’. The Internet isn’t the problem, rather it is Carr’s own physiological and pscychological response to it. His personal fix, if this is his desire, should be cognitive behavioural therapy. The Net may be
chipping away at Carr’s capacity to concentrate but he and we know that everyone is not like him. Personally, and his is a often a personal, anecdotal story so I can respong from my singular
perspective, I feel as though I was made for the web. The ADHD mind that hungers for everything can in some measure be satisified so long as I give no single interest more than three hours at a time, and I mix up the activities in any 18 hour period when I am not asleep. Carr wants us to believe that the Net is stopping us from being able to concentrate. On the contrary, I find I can now get the exact book or paper I need which I will read cover to cover in eBook or print form. There is less need for compromise. If the book isn’t holding your attention blame the book – find one that better suits you. And finding what does suit you is what the Internet and Google in particular, does do staggeringly well.

Three decades ago my reading pattern was to have six books on the go. I would rotate,
two chapters or two hours on each. Of the six two might be on history, another two on technology, and the fifth and six a novel and a book on design, art or photography. All six might now be in digital for – though the art book is as likely to be large and hardback. And the books may be spinkled with links offered any the author/editor to video or supporting websites. Whether or not I
take up a link is no different to whether or not I stop to read a footnote, or follow up a reference.

The choice is mine, not Google’s. Google enables to my mind, while Carr believes it disables. He is wrong. My handwriting has become illegible. Do I blame Google for the lack of practice, or not having access to a QWERTY keyboard for a few hours yesterday? I coach swimming. I understand adaptation in sport, the phsiological process that links mind to body and action. Your mind and body learn how to do a thing … then you get lazy, or impatient, or come to think of it, resort to scribbling a note with a cheap biro onto the back of an envelope rather than digging out the Sheafer fountain pen and writing, at a desk, rather than propped up on the sitting room sofa
… ‘use it or lose it’ applies to a kid swimming an IM or a Fifty something surfing the Web. If he wants to ‘lose it’ in relation to his behaviours and the Interent all Carr needs to do is something else.

Personally, and I have stated this every year or so in the 13 years I have been blogging, I crave a book – a clear, well–written, single–minded read from end to end, getting into the ‘flow’ of another person’s thinking i.e the Interent has the exact opposite effect on me. But it isn’t just me. Does the ‘Internet’ make us less or more social? Less or more likely to go out and meet up?

Research shows that being sociable online has us wanting to meet face to face. It’s counter intuitive. That’s because the Internet is just a mirror to our natural behaviour. The Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University has a series of labs designed to monitor how we engage with technology, the Internet in particular. To see and measure and understand how we behave with kit and software – we need to listen to the reports they produce and that other institutions such as the IET produce. They will tell us what is really going on because Carr has not. Carr uses research of the past, often the distant past, to inform what is happening today.

The technological distance between Plutarch, Aristotle, Freud and Dewey is too great. Quoting Shakespeare or Arthur C Clarke may provide colour and plausibility, but it doesn’t tell me
what is going on when or as we exploit what can now do, and read, and see and interactive with online. Carr references the ignorant as examples of the informed. I’d describe this as the blind leading the blind. Two fools in a pub can wax lyrical about the ways of the world wide web but the rest of us are none the wiser as a result of listening in. What Carr needs to undertake next, far less sexy that a sensationalist article for the popular rather than the academic press, is research.

To set parameters and to ask a question then set about testing and analysing what is going on. Marshall McLuhan, like Carr fifty years later, knew how to spin an intelligent story. McLuhan then and Carr today read like the transcript of a standup comic for the well read. They both dip into historic greats, but this kind of intellectual name dropping whilst appearing to prop up their arguments starts to crumble when scrutinised closely.

Web 2.0 does this, on the one hand toppling flase prophets such as Marc Prensky and the nonsense of the ‘digital native’. According to Carr ‘we’ must have had minds formed by papyrus scrolls and printed books in the past, just as our minds are so clearly so different courtesy of the Internet.

Who is this ‘we’? It cannot be everyone.

Carr mentions three friends and their experience of the web … as if these people are representative of all human kind. ‘My friend said to me … at a dinner party the other week … a colleague feels that’. Each of these phrases sounds to me as if it could be a transcript from a dinner party. Nothing wrong with conversation if we recognise its context and so long as this isn’t offered as some kind of evidence.

Carr is using this as evidence though. He cites these anecdotes as if they are representative. ‘ ‘The Shallows’ is hear say from one page to the next. He really ought to be writing fiction. No harm in this, at least Aldous Huxley, H G Wells, Arthur C Clarke and even Asimov differentiate between fiction and fact.

Our thought process has never been linear … and book reading certainly didn’t make it so. If anything the way those of us with permanent access to the internet work with information is more in tune with the scattered, fluid, formative nature of thought. Asking ‘What is the Internet doing to our brains?’ could never be answered
by doctoral research.

The question is too broad and ill defined.

‘In using the word processor I had become something of a wordprocessor myself’ p. 13. A statement that can be applied to anyone, at anytime, acquiring an adaptive skill whether at the piano or with flint tools, whether progamming a computer or building a fence. We ‘become’ these things, or rather acquire a additional skills alongside many others. If we use an iPad to take a picture, offer a book, tot up the shopping bill, play music or a TV show, sketch or chat with a friend on the other side of the world what is it that Carr says we have become? We can do all of these things from one device in a shorter space of time – far from defining or confining us I call this liberating.

If Marshall McLuhan talked of the ‘global village’ of the electrical age of mass media, then today these devices put the world at our sides, in our pocket, at our finertips, and courtesy of Google Glass or an Apple device on our noses and wrist. It doesn’t make us one jot the less human, one jot the less a smart, feeble, fallible and mortal creature with all the same pecadillos that Shakespeare so well described 400 years ago. It is p. 14 a ‘high–tech Swiss Army knife’ which may, or may not demand my attention and can be put down, out away or lost, even forgotten about with equal ease.

Google is making more of us brighter

Nicholas Carr speaking at the 12th Annual Gild...

Nicholas Carr speaking at the 12th Annual Gilder/Forbes Telecosm Conference on May 28, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is Google Making Us Stupid?  (July/August 2008)

Critique of Nicholas Carr’s piece in the Atlantic.

No.

Google is contributing to putting a university in everyone’s pocket – that is if you have a smartphone or tablet and Internet access. So remarked Lt. Col. Sean Brady in his MBA Blog in the Financial Times in 2011.

In 2008 Nicholas Carr jumped on the Internet / Google bandwagon of scaremongering sensationalism by suggesting that the Internet is doing something to our brains.

He did little better with ‘The Shallows’ (2008) of which the Guardian Book review said:

‘Buy it, knife out all the pages, bin a few, shuffle the rest and begin to digest. It may not be what the author intended, but you might learn more, and make some stimulating connections along the way – just like you do on the internet’. (Tucker, 2011)

He  holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.A., in English and American Literature and Language, from Harvard University. His BA is presumably in literature, not psychology or engineering or computer science.

He says he’s one of America’s ‘leading internet intellectuals’?  Who qualifies this?

Does this make him an authority on neuroscience or digital literacies or even web-science and the Internet? 

Carr opens and closes this article with images and words from the film 2001 A Space Odyssey.  Stanley Kubrick isn’t the author, that’s Arthur C. Clarke. At least he has a first class honours degree in physics and mathematics. But he is writing fiction – rather like Carr. Anyone can quote H G Wells, Jules Verne or the script writers of the Star Trek Series but this hardly lends credibility.

This is Journalism for a Sunday Colour supplement.

Not science, not academic research – it is closer to stand up comedy.

Carr (2008) writes:
‘I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory’. (Carr, 2008)

Carr may feel these things and express it this way, but this does not mean that this is going on. On the contrary. Carr confuses brain and mind and doesn’t know the difference. What he writes he is a personal view, stream of consciousness, spurious, unscientific and easily challenged.  Just because Carr thinks it and writes it down doesn’t make it so.

If his concentration drifts then this is an internal cognitive issue, not the propensity of what is going on around to distract. Some people are more distractable than others, while our ability to focus or drift will change too. When the chips are down and you have to focus for an exam that is what people generally do.

‘I think I know what’s going on’. Carr writes, ‘For more than a decade now.  I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet’.

Is this put in to support his credentials?

What precisely is he doing here?

Fiddling around in Wikipedia, or writing a blog? His role with Encyclopedia Britannica is pure PR – he had a dig at Wikipedia, is a popular writer of general fiction so they asked for a piece of him. Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia – though I hope Carr is keeping his ideas to himself as the contents of articles like this should and would be very quickly shredded as intellectually inaccurate and weak.

The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Carr says (2008)

There’s a naive view here that the authors or editors who use hyperlinks know what they are doing and even link to information that has validity. Finding text to support your thesis doesn’t meant that either they or you are correct – where is the counter argument? The balance?

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. (Carr 2008)

Does ‘flow’ expose Carr’s ignorance of how the mind works? There is no physical flow, rather there is perception, filtered by various sensors, then physically constructed across a multitude of pathways.  How much does the average person actually spend in front of a screen online? Were similar things not also said about TV frying our minds, and before that Radio, and before than the book?  If you agree with Marshall McLuhan then you must accept that books, radio and TV are still around – we are not being uniquely, exclusively or universally cudgelled by the Internet or Google all our waking lives. Nor does a clever metaphor enhance credibility – this is your feeling and impression, not fact.

Behaviours are very easily changed.

You learn that  you cannot have all the candy in the candy store, that you can’t read all the books in the library, that the paper you pick up you will browse until your eye is caught by something of interest.

Just because ‘ the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation’ does not mean this is the case for everyone else, however much they might nod along in agreement.

‘I’m not the only one’. Carr writes, ‘When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences’.  (Carr, 2008)

Which friends? How many? What did you ask them? Where is it written down? Would you describe as mentioning what you say your friends think as evidence, as objective, as anywhere close to the research that is required before such claims as those you make can be substantiated?

The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Carr says, (Carr, 2008)

Nonsense of course. Let’s do some research. We may find the opposite. That a little reading excited the curiosity so that a lot more is then done. Short and long can be equally good, or bad, it depends on context, author, presentation – a plethora of things. What has been discovered about the use of blogs? That people read more, or less? That people write more or less? With 1.5 million words online my 13 blogging habit may be exceptional, though plenty use a blog to develop books, to share a thesis as it is written, to review books and courses …

“I can’t read War and Peace  anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.” Carr writes, 2008.

So what. This isn’t evidence, it’s hearsay. It’s anecdotal. One person  in response to a leading question and a quote selected for the sole purpose of supporting the hypothesis. These are mental habits so much as cognitive behaviours. You can’t change ‘mental habits’ like buying a new car – how you think, your memories, have all constructed and adapted to your unique experience.

Experiments or research? Does  he  know the difference? And can the tests you suggest ever be done? Internet use can not be isolated from everything else we do in our lives: read books and papers, watch TV, listen to the radio, attend a lecture, watch a lecture online, join a webinar or class, read a letter, an email, a blog, listen to a podcast, look at pictures you’ve taken and those that you haven’t.

But a recently published study of online research habits , conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. Carr writes (2008).

Which ‘scholars’? If they have names provide them. Just as there is no evidence that they went back to read the longer article, there is no evidence to say that they didn’t. In all likelihood having had the opportunity to skim through so many abstracts they saved what mattered and then did go back and read. In the process they gained through serendipitous inquiry that is usually far more structured than you suggest – people click through other papers by the same author, or on the same subject, or from a faculty they are interested in … and may by chance and out of curiosity click on other things too. How do you think research on how people read microfiche were carried out, and what did it find? What about going through newspapers at the National Newspaper Archive where invariably, Internet like, you eyes skims over the page and everything it contains. Whilst some aspects of the world around us is changing – a bit. We aren’t changing at all. We are literate, we live longer … but there cannot be some overnight evolutionary change in what we are.

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense. Carr writes, 2008.

Who says? What makes it clear? Who did the research? Where is the research?  It may be clear to Carr but where is the evidence? Where is the data? The research? The peer reviewed papers that support your view?

What are these ‘new forms of reading’ – how do you define old forms of reading? Have you considered how people read fifty years ago, 500 or thousand years ago? From manuscripts, or in cuneiform on papyrus? What we are experiencing is an expansion in the way that we can engaged with content, that’s all. We read different things in different ways from a poster on a hoarding as we drive to a station, to a timetable of train times, the front page of a newspaper, a blog post, business reports, email, text message …

We read, for better or worse, with greater ease or difficulty in part depending on the way the text is presented and the affordances of the webpage or reading software if we’ve downloaded it. We don’t take handwritten notes because we don’t need to. We may opt to read online or in some cases order a physical book. Far from new forms of reading, there is a great deal of effort being put in to retain the best that came out of print – in all its forms, whether a book, leaflet or poster while trying to avoid clutter, fonts, layouts and links that would disturb how we read i.e. the technology is designed to perform to suit us, we are not adjusting to suit the technology – far from it. If something doesn’t work we say so and ignore it.

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. Says Carr, 2008. Medium of choice over what other choices? So, we watched a lot of TV in the 70s, 80s – and 90s and 00s by the way … just as generations in the 40s and 50s sat around the radio. Now we have a multitude of choices – and if our radio, our TV and our paper are delivered to a tablet what is it that we are doing that is so different to these previous ages?

‘We may well be reading more today …’ are we, or are we not? And if so why? And so what. More people are literate. There is easier access to anything. Suggestions based on casual observation or hear say have suggested that people who spend too long online in social networks don’t have a life – the evidence suggests that the social life is an extension of what goes on in the real world and that it encourages people to arrange to meet up.

Maryanne Wolf, Carr tells us,  worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace.

From a review by Douglas (2008)  in the New Scientist I read that ‘Just as writing reduced the need for memory, the proliferation of information and the particular requirements of digital culture may short-circuit some of written language’s unique contributions—with potentially profound consequences for our future’.

The worst error Wolf makes here is to imply that our minds function in any way like a circuit-board, to start with the is the way Marshall McLuhan spoke of what TV and mass media was doing to our brains in the 1960s – a metaphor is a dangerous explanation as it implies something that isn’t the case.  The mind is not a circuit board. This is how Marshall McLuhan spoke of what was going on in the 1950s and 1960s. Using the terminology of the time to suggest that some kind of revolution was occurring and that there would be no going back – not too surprisingly life goes on very much as it did fifty years ago, even a hundred and fifty or a thousand years ago. We grow up, we live, we may have children, we may raise them, we get older, we die. More of us learn to read, more of us go to university, more of us drive and have TVs – and increasingly, though by no means universally, we have access to a computer and/or the Internet.

When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. Carr writes (Carr, 2008) Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

So what? Handwriting is different to typing, and writing in pencil is different to ink pen or biro, and typing on a mechanical typewriter is different to a laptop, iPad or smartphone. The typewriter here as assistive technology, to the able bodied simple an enhancement of what we can do with other kit and tools.

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable, says Carr using his anecdote about Nietzsche as the clinching evidence.  Huh? How scientific is a phrase such as ‘almost infinitely malleable’. Define your parameters. Offer some precision. You don’t because you can’t. And as you’re not after the truth you’re not about to understate any research.

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away.

So there were no scientific minds before clocks? Ptolemy? Leonardo da Vinci? Others can add to the list. What has it taken away? Rather let’s consider what it has brought in access, accessibility and scale. ‘A university in my pocket’ is how an Open University MBA student described learning online with access to the resources of the course, but also to a wealth of other online content.

The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.

It can be measure and is – there is a figure, however much it grows that we are currently below … what is an ‘intellectual technology’? How do you account for the phenomenon that the Internet through people connecting is sending people out of the house and office to meet fellow human beings to interact away from the keyboard. You find a like-mind you eventually want to talk to them face to face. In this respect use of the Internet has a counter balance – it encourages doing other things.

A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration. Carr writes, (Carr, 2008)

Distractability has less to do with the distractions around us, and more to do with our desire or propensity to be distracted. We all know people who can write essays and revise for exam with the radio on or in front of the TV, while others need the silence of a silent library. We are most certainly NOT all the same which is how Nicholas Carr sees us from the outset.

As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Carr writes, (Carr, 2008)

In the right place, the mind is very capable of doing this, just as we can learn to play the organ or conduct an orchestra, that doesn’t mean we don’t also want the clarity of a movie screen or portrait in a gallery.

Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

No. The technology permits a better way of doing things, playing to the way the mind is … not what we can turn it into.

Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us.

Nicholas Carr has now fallen into the trap of using a metaphor of choice, the cliché idea that our minds are somehow either like microchips or the 100 billion neurones that have the options of being connected in multi-billions of shifting ways.

There are plenty of positive futures of a world brain, from H G Wells to Vannevar Bush

That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy, Carr concludes (2008) as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

REVIEW OF THE SHALLOWS FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES (Lehrer, J (2010))

Carr extends these anecdotal observations by linking them to the plasticity of the brain, which is constantly being shaped by experience. While plasticity is generally seen as a positive feature — it keeps the cortex supple — Carr is interested in its dark side. He argues that our mental malleability has turned us into servants of technology, our circuits reprogrammed by our gadgets. (Lehrer 2010)

There is little doubt that the Internet is changing our brain. Everything changes our brain. What Carr neglects to mention, however, is that the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the Internet and related technologies are actually good for the mind.

Carr’s argument also breaks down when it comes to idle Web surfing. A 2009 study by neuroscientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that performing Google searches led to increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, at least when compared with reading a “book-like text.” (Lehrer 2010)

LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (2011)

This is a seductive model, but the empirical support for Carr’s conclusion is both slim and equivocal. To begin with, there is evidence that web surfing can increase the capacity of working memory. And while some studies have indeed shown that ‘hypertexts’ impede retention – in a 2001 Canadian study, for instance, people who read a version of Elizabeth Bowen’s story ‘The Demon Lover’ festooned with clickable links took longer and reported more confusion about the plot than did those who read it in an old-fashioned ‘linear’ text – others have failed to substantiate this claim. No study has shown that internet use degrades the ability to learn from a book, though that doesn’t stop people feeling that this is so – one medical blogger quoted by Carr laments, ‘I can’t read War and Peace any more.’

Hoyt: Plugging In Productively (2012)

Although I have at times experienced the “shallowness” that Carr describes, his views and the sweeping categorization of the Internet as a source of distraction are a simplistic reduction of a larger, more complicated problem. It’s easy to label technology as the danger because extreme assessments are easier to adhere to than calls for using technology in moderation.

I’m not certain how to go about regaining this control and moving myself from my current mode of passive over consumption, but I think more intentional and purposeful use of the Internet will help me reduce the sense of information saturation I’ve been feeling lately.

REFERENCE

Carr, N (2008) Is Google Making Us Stupid?. The Atlantic. (Accessed 11 February 2013 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/ )

Carr, N (2008) The Shallows.

Douglas, K 2007, ‘Review: Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf’, New Scientist, 195, 2623, p. 52, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 February 2013.

Holt, J (2011)  Smarter, Happier, More Productive (Accessed 11 Feb 2013 http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/jim-holt/smarter-happier-more-productive )

Hoyt, H (2012) Plugging into productivity. Contributing Columnist. The Dartmouth. (October 16, 2012) (Accessed 11 Feb 2013 http://thedartmouth.com/2012/10/16/opinion/hoyt )

Lehrer, J (2010) Our Cluttered Minds. The New York Times Book Review
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/books/review/Lehrer-t.html?_r=1&

Tucker, I (2011) Guardian Book Reviews (Accessed 11 Feb 2013 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/03/shallows-nicholas-carr-internet-neurology )

Way was, way is, way will be – Webs 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

  • Top down Web 1.0.
  • Democratized Web 2.0
  • Semantic Web 3.0

Doodle on the back of a hand out from WebSciences @University of Southampton DTC

14 years and this is what I’ve got to show for it

 

 

 

Automatically assisting human memory:

English: Microsoft SenseCam

English: Microsoft SenseCam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

SenseCam browser (Microsoft). A wearable device that takes a picture every 22 seconds. Hodges et al (2006)

 

  • Tools for lifelogging
  • Hundreds of thousands of images grabbed and presented to aid memory … and memory rehabilitation.
  • Automatic content analysis techniques

 

(There is a reason why we forget. The quote from James on the need to spend as much time recalling the record if everything is remembered is like that of Lewis Carroll and a map the size of the real world – neither had the advantage of limitless digital storage capacity and the ability to zoom in and out or back and forth – to expand time, not simply record it.). 

 

  • A visual record of your day. Berry et al (2007)
  • 2000 to 5000 images a day

 

Best practice

 

  • Only activate the device for significant events

 

Methods of review

 

  • Clustered time view
  • Geographical map (required GPS)
  • Interactive story authoring
  • Motion sensors identify events – typically 20-30 in a day.

 

PROBLEMS

 

  • Cognitive overload
  • Keyframe image selection a human endeavour
  • An entusiastic lifelogger might expect to gather 100,000 images a month.

 

OF NOTE

 

  • Key frame selection only of note if it picked a poor image.

 

REFERENCE

 

Berry, E., Kapur, N., Williams, L., Hodges, S., Watson, P., Smyth, G., et al. (2007). The use of a wearable camera, SenseCam, as a pictorial diary to improve autobiographical memory in a patient with limbic encephalitis. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 17(4), 582601.

 

Hodges, S., Williams, L., Berry, E., Izadi, S., Srinivasan, J., Butler, A. et al. (2006). SenseCam: A retrospective memory aid. In UbiComp: 8th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, Vol. 4602 LNCS (pp. 177193). New York, NY: Springer.

 

 

 

‘What’s new about new media?’ A decade on have the hopes of the digital age been realised?

Fig.1. Ideafisher – a CD-Rom I used extensively in the 1990s.  Indeed, it probably contributed to the writing of this article

(I posted this on 1 December 1999, without the image. Not quite my first blog post, that was two months earlier on 27 September. Verbatim. I’ll reflect elsewhere on how things have changed in 13 years. Do please offer comments and thoughts. No longer the ‘Net’ and we don’t call ourselves ‘infomediaries’ but search tools rule and bandwidth means that we have video on demand)

There’s a saying, “freedom is lack of choice,” the problem is, these days, when it comes to business-to-business communications the choice is bewildering, especially as New Media has blurred the edges between traditional media, such as print and video, and computers have blurred the edges between communications and businesses processes. That said, the use of traditional means of business-to-business communication, print and video, far from falling under the shadow of the Net is if anything more robust. The same technology that created the Net has speeded up the print and video production processes and made them more flexible. The reasons for producing, for example, a regular staff magazine or staff newspaper in print, for producing regular business television programmes, motivational and promotional videos remain valid.

Before we get hooked on the technology though, remember that craft skills, such as writing, designing and direction are just as important as programming.

The technology that has made these “New” forms of communication possible has at the same time invigorated print and video communications. Thanks to desk top publishing and non-linear editing, as well as the greatly reduced costs of the hardware and software involved, there has been no reduction in the number and variety of printed internal business communications and in the use of video not just as the video version of the corporate, but for everyday matters such as induction, health & safety and sales training, as well as business to business communications such as investor reports and video news releases. Indeed, if anything the accessibility of video as a business tool has allowed companies to seek bespoke answers to communications issues, instead of relying on generic productions.

In this way everything can be tailored to specific problems.

They say, “old news keeps like fish.”

This is as true in the business world as it is elsewhere. Today, because costs have come down and the digital video medium is so flexible, companies no longer need to be satisfied with “old news.” Not only can video updates be released on a regular basis, but the libraries of shots, interviews and graphics become a valuable source of material for future productions and for use on websites, CD-ROMs and in print.

Digitisation fuelled the latest innovation in business communications.

It wasn’t long ago that we marvelled at the desktop publishing that has permitted a flourishing growth in magazine titles, and supported the use of print in all kinds of ways for business communication. In the video productions business too, digital editing led to reduced cost and increased diversity. By breaking every message and every component of that message (be it the written or spoken word, photographs, animated graphs or moving images) into zeros and ones, a myriad of uses becomes possible. For a period this innovation has been exploited within separate industries, it was the gradual emergence of computer based systems, for storage, retrieval and manipulation of words and images with discs, then particularly the CD-ROM that has allowed hybrid production processes to develop. Already the CD-ROM replacement, DVD-ROM, is bringing greater speeds and huge capacities that are making the marriage between the printed word, video and computers even stronger.

Digitisation has resulted in an explosion of choice in all media.

The increased diversity of magazine titles, radio shows and TV channels available to the consumer, is mirrored by the diversity of trade magazine titles and subscription offerings. What is more, the same technology, has at the same time fuelled the broadening diversity of internal communications solutions for large businesses and organisations, and made such solutions financially feasible for medium sized and even small businesses too. Digitisation has made the tools of communication far cheaper; all a business must do therefore is identify and understand each communications problem as it arises, and then choose the most appropriate tool.

No problem, no solution!

Whether it is new media or old media, from a business point of view, they only become valid tools when there is a problem to fix. For example, if lack of awareness amongst staff is leading to poor motivation and preventing healthy cross-fertilisation of ideas, a regular business programme on video could be the solution. If, taking another example, it is found the personnel department is constantly fielding health and safety issues they may find a webzine, or Human Resources Intranet site, for employees could deal with all these matters.

By taking this approach, putting the problem before the solution, we’ll be better able to take in the bewildering choice of communications solutions now available. Solutions which on the one hand may be print, or video, a CD-ROM or a Website, but could include a mix of these media: for example, a video supported in print, a CD-ROM supported in print, or a website backed up with a video and print or live events transmitted by satellite to 10,000 desktops. In addition to mixing the media like this, constant advances and innovations mean there are new hybrids, such as DVD-ROM, which could be a platform for full-screen video-quality programmes, as well as training interactivity and an encyclopaedic depth of information. A DVD-ROM which contains the entire inventory of a business in a digital catalogue could also hold a video-like trainee induction programme, product demonstrations of varying levels of sophistication, and interactive course-books that monitor a users knowledge and feed this, with links to line managers and personnel staff. The Internet might be ubiquitous, and make an unprecedented breadth and depth of information available, it might offer immediacy in a world that wants to get things done NOW, and work as an interactive tool too, but having everything just a mouse click away is a short coming too. And speeds are yet to get close to providing the kind of fluid TV experience we are used to with terrestrial TV, video, cable or satellite.

There is no panacea.

If anything the choices are becoming wider. Whilst the business communication specialists can now use a variety of precision tools we still make excellent use of the stalwarts of our trade. As tools go, print publishing and video production are indefatigable with new solutions simply variations on this theme.

Understanding how and why print and video, staples of the business work, sheds light on the kinds of problems they were designed to fix and indicates where and how organisations should be considering the use of “New Media.”

For example, annual reports and printed statements of financial performance, have become vehicles to promote the business to shareholders, customers and suppliers. These printed reports, still produced by statutory requirement, and still showing off the latest in print design styles, have for some time been expressed in video form too. Video is considered a more user-friendly medium and can switch the attention away from sets of figures and put the attention on the leading individuals who run the business. Over the last few years some printed annual reports have been supported by a CD-ROM and of course those companies that have websites publish their results here too.

Taking another print example, staff newsletters have for decades been recognised as a useful way to keep staff up to date with HR and personal issues. In some instances these regular newsletters or magazines were supported at first by AV presentations, but then by video. Indeed, the regular staff video is considered a vital means of communicating with large numbers of staff where a business is widely dispersed, for example in all kinds of high street retailing activities, from banking, to selling cars, groceries of clothes. Considered to be more than just news, such videos are seen as an important part of regular staff training, advising them of health and safety issues, demonstrating new products and explaining special offers, as well as giving staff incentives to perform well. Viewing these tapes is often mandatory, and is likely to involve an introduction from a line manager, as well as group discussion afterwards. In a learning environment course books are common.

New media has not replaced this versatile, memorable tool, indeed in many ways new media simply offers a diversity of platforms for material that is linear in nature. The benefit of putting a business programmes onto desk top screens in a financial institution is conformity of message and minimal disruption, the advantage of a modular approach lets people view the clips which are most pertinent to them and in small time slots.

Despite the growth of the Internet as a business communications tool the corporate video still makes up over 25% of the business communications production spend in the UK. Whilst this percentage has diminished, the overall size of the business communications pie has grown significantly. We all want to know more investigate more and share more, as quickly as we think it.

In the business environment Bill Gates calls this “Business @ the speed of thought.”

They say we are entering the “Information Age.”

As tools are developed to feed us information, our hunger to know more is increased. The current context is important to consider too. As employees we are told to be prepared for a “Lifetime of Learning,” as well as constant charge. Such attitudes simply feed our growing passion to inform and be informed.

Training videos, both generic and bespoke training packages, have long been the stalwarts of business communicators.

John Cleese was one of the first in the UK to use humour to present business problems and solutions using broadcast TV production standards supported in print; others followed with generic productions of equal quality, though not necessarily playing the humour card. As video production costs dropped, especially as we moved from film to tape production, so opportunities arose for the largest organisations to commission bespoke training packages to deal with issues unique to their business. Here a number of examples can be given, for example training in the nuclear power generation and nuclear reprocessing industries where it is vital that all staff conform to the same high standards; or in customer best practice in the retail sector (whether the product is a financial service, a car or food); sales training has been the subject of many generic and bespoke productions too. The latest production innovation, an easy to use low cost digital camera, will simply increase the likelihood of companies commissioning short videos on all manner of issues, only using higher production values for productions that may have a customer facing aspect to them or will have a diversity of uses and a long shelf life. The analogy is an artist’s study – we can now paint not only with oils or water-colours, but everything in between.

Here, line managers, to justify their investment, need to be able to measure the effectiveness of their chosen information tool. There are many ways to do this, but a simple measure of performance, before then after, is often the best.

CD-ROMs are used in a diversity of ways.

For a simple way to mass distribute a short video presentation a CD-ROM is cheaper than videocassette. CD-ROMs make versatile training tools, but because they can hold such huge amounts of data, have also become invaluable supplements to the product catalogue. CD-ROMs account for 15% of visual communications projects commissioned.

The Internet is not replacement technology; it offers something new which overlaps the corporate brochure and the trade advertisement, while acting as a live means to communicate with users.

Intranets might overlap with staff magazines, but it is the functionality of computer based communications which allows them to serve a different role, for example, increasingly Human Resources Departments are using Intranets not simply to inform employees, but to make everyday records transparent so freeing up HR staff. The Internet, at first nothing more than a hybrid communications link between computers to allow sharing of information has gradually evolved, improved upon and been exploited. Whilst it has invaded all other media, it non the less draws on the familiar, it is a conduit for all that has been done before, as well as producing it’s own language.

It’s still possible to distinguish between a TV programme, a film, a radio show, a newspaper, a video game, a magazine, a telephone call, a face to face meeting and a conference – the edges are becoming blurred as the digital ocean washes across everything.

Though the Internet is just one platform which allows us to send and be sent packets of digitised information. It is fast developing in a way that is neither magazine or video, not the telephone or a fax, to a library, a gallery, or a filling cabinet … but all of these and more.

With over 60 million hosted websites and 176 million Internet users, whether in business or at home, increasingly we are falling back on technical or human information intermediaries when using the Net. We need browsers and search engines to find our way to sites of value. That said, precision searching has far to go, which is where a new breed of intermediary has emerged: “infomediaries,” teams of Net-savvy people who take your search request, just as a telephone call may be taken over the phone by your bank.

Websites, at first little more than corporate vanity sites, have developed to satisfy the differing needs of a business.

As a PR and recruitment tool they are invaluable. E.commerce is a huge growth area too, with the likes of Amazon.com blazing the way to show how books and CDs can be sold and marketed over the Net. Less ambitious though equally important for the businesses concerned, entire product catalogues are made available to buy over the Net via limited access extranets. Other business examples find supply chains monitored and updated on extranets to streamline supply. Here, the diversity of uses of the Net is most clear, it isn’t simply a platform for below the line or above the line advertising, or for in-house communications, but as a medium it can form an important part of the production process.

Together, Internet and Intranet creation now account for 35% of the UK visual communications business.

Whilst not denying its value as a conduit of information, it is just a resource or tool like any other devised and utilised by human kind, from the train to the telephone, the internal combustion engine to the Dictaphone.

Exposure to the same tools and information will result in similar solutions being offered.

Perhaps until recently it was easy to see that a brochure, a conference, a video would provide the solution – today with such a wide number of options it becomes all the more important to consider each communication problem in isolation.

Care needs to be taken to identify the nature of the problem; write precise briefs and so put forward a variety of appropriate solutions. As such solutions are tried and prove effective then the expectations of those commissioning work, as well as the audience change – they may call for the same response to a similar response, or in a climate of change expect further innovations.

In the broadcast arena commission editors want the same programmes for less, because they know hardware costs keep dropping and production innovations have speeded up so reducing the labour costs – I wish the same could be said for having the car serviced.

For cost –effective and fast solutions to broadcasting information (video, audio and data) around the globe the World Wide Web is too slow – it cannot deliver the quality of TV transmission we expect. Instead we can call on the immediacy of transmission by satellite, which these days includes the multicasting of all data, as a TV show or with the interactivity of a CD-ROM. CD-ROMs provide a high level of interactivity, which makes them ideal for training purposes, and they’re good for cheap distribution for large mail-outs too.

Live Events are part of the communications mix we haven’t mentioned yet, but account for 20% of the business. Here, as with the printed word and video production, whilst the tools to create, produce and manage such events have changed, their purpose is just as valid. No technology has replaced the importance and value of bringing people together to take part in an event, have questions answered, and to network. We value the proximity of live events and face to face meetings, we are reassured by seeing someone in the flesh and making value judgements about their aptitudes, experience, manner and approach.

Left to a computer no business relationship would create a long lasting bond – we need exposure to different people, in fact a balance between the familiar and the new, between different mind sets is how to create synergy.

All forms of visual communication must be seen in context, we are social beings who love to interact, love to be informed and entertained, tested and intrigued; there are many different ways of doing this and each tool has its strength.

New ways of working are being developed.

Because computers enable us to share so much suppliers and clients could make everything they do for each other transparent. This is already the case in many sections of the automotive trade where an entire supply chain is revealed to all those who impact upon it in order to make constant improvements which impact on the customer.

In the past the role of the producer in corporate communications was a bit like that of a doctor; the client came to them with a problem which the doctor would diagnose and then propose a treatment. Increasingly patients are being encouraged to understand their condition, the symptoms and the prescribed course of action so that their knowledge can work with that of the doctor. The relationship becomes symbiotic. If clients and producers are to benefit fully from the bewildering choice of solutions and take full advantage of any innovations they need to get under each other’s skin.

I liken e.mail to electronic Ping-Pong, it enables people who are working together – be it across a desk or across the world, to share in the thought process, the strategic thinking process, the creative thinking and the production process as it happens.

Fears over undue client interference have been unfounded as everyone recognises the need to work towards set stages within the production process. The advantage in the creative world is to ensure that all those working on a project share the same vision. The process and convenience in the past has meant that, like locks across a river, client and producer or account handler would fix a date for a presentation then get together to consider the brief, then the proposal, then a treatment, then scripts based on this treatment would be presented, whilst in the meantime budgets and schedules are confirmed. Further meetings are then held to sign off draft and final versions of the creative execution, whether it’s a poster campaign, double-page spread or TV commercial. Today, in many instances the gates that form these locks can be removed to allow the process to flow uninterrupted. In this way the main client can sit like a passenger as the producer drives the project forward, but also a host of support staff can also tap into the information. The result is that the client is able to contribute throughout the process and it is far easier to make slight adjustments to the itinerary without having undue impact on costs or schedule, indeed, there is a far greater chance that the chosen destination will be reached.

Whilst the convergence of print, video and computers may be creating a bewildering choice of hybrids, it is reassuring to see that we are entering traditional territory as the kind of mixed media solutions we have used for many years serve the same purpose.

For example, business programmes distributed by cassette are often supported with printed support materials and questionnaires to generate feedback. Over the last 10 years those companies using satellite distribution for live regular staff programmes have used the telephone to feed questions to a board director or panel of experts. Digital transmission by satellite offers both programme output, if necessary to desktop screen, as well as interactivity of data.

The advantages to distributing such programmes on video cassette, where it is appropriate, for example in the car trade where offers, models and revisions are made frequently up to the minute LIVE satellite transmissions have become a regular feature. Here an interactive element is easy to introduce, originally by taking phone calls and faxes, but increasingly by fielding questions using the spare capacity within the digital transmission. Indeed, in some instances, important business decisions are taken by inviting the audience, whether staff or customers, to vote on various matters which will impact on their business. Here, if the interface looks like something off the Net, it is because the TV graphics skills are similar whether the images end up on a computer screen or on TV.

Reassuringly the process of thinking through a communications problem, preparing a brief and putting forward a solution, remains much the same whether it is a video, a publication, Website or live event, the difference today is that tools we have in our tool box are being improved constantly and new tools are added all the time.

Returning to the analogy of an ocean formed by universal digitisation creating distinct, valuable and durable pockets of expression will remain – our senses, our interest in story telling and our social experience will make TV, radio, the printed word and live performance as valid in the next century as it has in this. At the same time new platforms are coming to life.

If the ocean represents digitisation then different layers within this ocean represent public access Internet sites restricted access (by subscription) extranets and closed access Intranet sites.

If someone can dream it up and there’s a market for it, it will sell. Computers have simplified tasks, so has the Internet. We can learn more, faster and our knowledge can be put to the test. Just as in the past innovations like paper clips or “post it” notes came along to solve problems in the office, so today innovations which make information more effective because it gets wider distribution, more memorable because the audience are tested on what they have learnt will be exploited.

There’s too much on the Net, so search engines improve and we let newswires, personalised pages, and intermediaries do the searching for us.

REFERENCE

Vernon.J (1999) What’s new about new media? Not much. http://www.jonathan.diaryland.com/newmedia1.html (accessed 29 November 2012)

Accessibility for online learners with disabilities (Open University: Module H810)

 

H810 Activity 4.1

Define problems by:

Campus–based issues:

Compulsory Education (College, old and new universities, postgraduate and even training)

Context – nature of campus, policy, history if and funding of accessibility, maturity and life-experience of the student (born with the impairment or not, residential experience or not). Gender, age, socio-economic group and sexual orientation. Before or after the London 2012 Paralympics and the call by Sebastian Coe to ‘lift the cloud on limitations’.

Access related to mobility: parking, maps, ramps, signage, estates response to lifts that may not be working, policy and funding in relation to accessibility legislation. Geographical location of the campus – in town, or out of town, residential or collegiate, degree of provision of accommodation and other services.

Provision in lecture halls or tutorials of support for mobility, sight or hearing impaired and getting this balance right so that you promote/advertise services, but don’t end up, in a wheelchair user’s terms with the ‘cripple corner’ where wheelchair users are literally pushed.

Course choices, flexibility if online provision as alternatives to some activities, registration procedures and how these are handled, such as per–start induction for disabled students and a buddy system.

Desk space and layout in rooms and libraries.

Access to social spaces, not just dining areas, but JCR, library, bar, lavatories, postroom, laundry services, theatres etc.

Online learning issues:

Quality of thinking behind the e–learning and how often updated and ameliorated to ease and improve access for everyone.

Training as well as provision of assistive technologies.

Tick the boxes at the design and build stage for: cognitive, visual, hearing and mobility issues. i.e. keep it simple and apply web usability criteria relating to fonts, sizes, choices, colours, contrasts and layout i.e. good design is clearer for everyone.

Issues by subject/context:

The choice is with the student if they have the grades to join the course, but do you question someone with a sight impairment signing up to an art history course, someone with a hearing impairment studying music or potentially someone with mobility impairment signing up to a module in physical education, geology, civil engineering or mining – for example. On the other hand, though this is based purely on personal experience, I feel sure that an above average percentage of people with dyslexia are artists or actors, or coach/teach sport i.e. they shy away from highly text based academic courses and careers. Part of higher education is a chance for a person to discover where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

Common to all:

Extra time to complete tasks, even flexibility in the term or year for longer treatment breaks.

Personality, life–experience and participation in social life, how post compulsory education in various forms can be a ‘big step in forming an independent personal and social identity’.

 

The exploration and expansion of ideas

Access to the Internet gives the learner in 2012 to the opportunity to realise an interest, to develop an argument, check definitions and add citations in hours rather than days and weeks. This is the ‘Now’ Revolution, the ability to act immediately to give birth to an idea only recently conceived; gestation of the academic paper can take two or three years, this should be brought down to two or three weeks. The ‘idea’ can be posted in two or three hours.

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