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Why this is like talking with your fingers

New Keyboard Software makes typing on touchpads fasters

As it is a bank holiday and the first in many years that I recall being sunny, I find I am getting online for an hour or two at dawn to do some stiudent work and write this. Then I walk the dog along the River Ouse or up on the South Downs and the day is mine/ours.

Painting the porch 🙁

Then nodding off in the sun with a course book or two, a couple in print, a 2011 publication from John Seely Brown on the Kindle.

How, when and why blogs and threads work or fail is the topic of conversation.

I used to treat forums and assignments, optional or otherwise, as the weekly essay – something I had to do whether or not I engaged with others. I would also take part on a whim, responding to some entries, and happily letting the conversation drift off topic. Length was no object either. I lurked in other tutor forums too, making the time to follow how what ought ostensibly to be the same conversations could be very different indeed – some very active, some dead.

A year on I am more strategic.

I would like to be sharing the learning process, contributing to the conversations whether I can help or not, whether I am seeking answers or asking questions. The Cafe and General area serves a purpose to take ‘over spill’ though it functioned best in H808 where a moderator management the supplementary activities.

Gilly Salmon’s ‘E-moderating’ has a good deal to say on this.

It is worth owning,. not simply to read cover to cover, but to have as a reference. I may not like the term ‘e-moderator’, but ‘moderator’ is, however diminishing or disparaging to a Dphil, the main function here. It could be carried out by a postgrad student, even an animated undergrad.

What matters is engagement.

Someone may need to act as the ‘eyes & ears’ for the group until it is established. Introductions have to be made, conversations started and moved along … if anyone is rude, they should be quietly put in their place; if anyone is being like a door-mouse, they need support.

‘The essential role of the e-moderator is promoting human interaction and communication through the modelling, conveying and building of knowledge and skills’. (Salmon, 2005:4)

There isn’t a structure, no more than there is in a car or coffee bar.

The structure comes about from the people and activity in it. This is shaped entirely by the behaviour of the participants. 1) They have to turn up 2) Someone has to have something to say 3) Some of us need to be going around like a host, ‘making polite conversation’, ‘networking’, even introducing people. It IS a social gathering.

Tutor is a better term. It is valid.

Indeed the beauty of working online is that you can recreate the essence of an ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’, that privilege one-to-one, or one to two or three, that is the weekly essay read out and discussed.

Discussion is the key.

The tutor DOES NOT need to be a subject matter expert. See my interview with Oxford Senior Lecturer Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski.

Whilst the tutor cannot keep waving pixie dust over a group that simply does not gel they ought to try, especlally in the first weeks and especially with students new to this set up.

Why I participate in some forums and not others.

Often because someone else has started the ball rolling, and often. I will be the first if I have a need to get through the week’s work and no one else has made a start. I may fret about covering all bases giving my response too much thought … and therefore resulting in something overly long. Not easy to adhere to but I try to set parameters; 250 words typical, 500 words an absolute max after that think about offering it as an attachment.

It can be like chosing a restaurant!

You want to go where there’s some buzz already, though not so much that you feel you will never be able to join in the conversation.

The reality is different.

This is an asynchronous beast. If I come in late I may read every post with care before I respond, which can result in a long response. People should feel just as comfortable simply answering the question, ignoring others at first .. or just reading the last couple of posts and responding to them.

It is tempting to respond to someone in a DIFFERENT tutor group if they say something strong; you’re not supposed to do so! I might quote them in my own group. There have been times when lifting the thread of catalyst that got them going in another group will do the same in your own.

How my input is affected by the way the forum is structured.

At Harvard they use as system called ‘Rotisserie’ in some asynchronous threads/forums which, like playing pass the parcel (or pass the microphone) require people to take it in turns to say something. No harm there! No all the time, but for ice-breakers and specific, important threads it may work very well. Everyone has something worth saying, our differing perspectives are a vital part of the experience.

I’d like these threads to be presented very differently, as cards placed around a table. This sounds like a step towards a Virtual World. I just don’t ‘see’ conversations as lists or ‘toilet roll scrolls’ from top to bottom, rather they should be in a circle at least, in a spiral at best.

It matters that activities have been designed that get people engaged without the need for a tutor all the time.

‘Structured, paced and carefully constructed e-tivities reduce the amount of e-moderator time, and impact directly on satisfactory learning outcomes, adding value to the investment in learning technologies’. (Salmon, 2002a)

Do I behave differently in face-to-face tutorials?

I’m the student who says they understand but the tutor will see that on my face it says ‘I still haven’t a clue’. I will stop asking questions. Here I will ask more often, then start asking elsewhere, within h800, even beyond the Masters in Open and Distance Education. I’m still asking people how to visualise the learning process in threads, forums and blogs away from here.

Face-to-face people don’t need to put up their hand to ask a question, you can read the person, you can tell if they are anxious to join in at some point. You don’t need ‘rotisserie’ as people do take it in turns. Someone will act as the chair, even is there isn’t one nominated. Think of us like the Village Elders taking it in turn to reflect on an issue.

Seeing that someone else has already made an effort to answer the week’s questions I decide I can and should make the effort to do the same. It is easier to reply to the questions and ONE response than the question and 16 responses! i.e. I like to be second, or third to comment, rather than first or last. No good if everyone is hanging back. Perhaps between us we should nominate someone to go first each week!!!

‘Online learning calls for the training and development of new kinds of online teachers – to carry out roles not yet widely understood’. (Salmon. 2005:10)


Salmon, G (2005) E-moderating. The Key to teaching and learning online.

AND FINALLY, I relate to this, also from Gilly Salmon’s book:

‘Consider this medium as like talking with your fingers – half-way between spoken conversation and written discourse.’ (Hawkridge, Morgan and Jeffs, 1997, quotes in Salmon 2005)

There is such thing as ‘The Google Generation’ – True or False?

Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Written in 2007 (published 11 January 2008). Reviewed in 2011.

Part of the Week 1 jollies for H800.

(This picks up where I left off in the Forum Thread)

After a year of MAODE, a decade blogging and longer keeping journals (and old course work from both school and uni I might add) I feel I can tap into my own first, second, third or fourth take on a topic.

Increasingly, where this is digitised my preferred learning approach is to add to this information/knowledge, often turning my ideas inside out.

We are yet to have a ‘generation,’ (a spurious and loose term in this context) that has passed through primary, secondary and tertiary education ‘wired up’ to any consistent degree from which to gather empirical research. Indeed, I wonder when things will bottom out, when we’ve gone the equivalent journey of the first horseless-carriage on the Turnpikes of England to the 8 lanes in both directions on the M1 south of Leicester – or from the Wright Brothers to men on the moon.

I’d like to encourage learners to move on from copying, or cutting and pasting in any form, to generating drafts, and better drafts of their take on a topic, even if this is just a doodle, a podcast or cryptic set of messages in a synchronous or asynchronous discussion i.e. to originate.

I lapped up expressions such as Digital Natives, an expression/metaphor only that has been debunked as lacking any basis in fact.

I fear this is the same when it comes to talking about ‘Generation X, Y or Z.’ It isn’t generational, it is down to education, which is down to socio-economic background, wealth, access (technical, physical, geographic, as well as mental), culture, even your parent’s job and attitude.

My 85 year old Father-in-law is Mac ready and has been wired to the Internet its entire life; does this make him of this ‘Generation?’

If x billion struggle to find clean drinking water and a meal a day, where do they stand?

They’ve not been born on Planet Google, so don’t have this generational opportunity.

I find it short sighted of the authors not to go for a ‘longitudinal’ (sic) study. It strikes me as the perfect topic of a JISC, Open University, BBC tie in, the filming part funding the research that is then published every three years for the next thirty, for example.

Trying to decide who is Generation X, or Generation Y or the ‘Google Generation’ strikes me as fraught as trying to decide when the islands we inhabit became, or could have been called in turn England, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

We could spend an unwarranted amount of time deciding who is in and who is out and not agreed.

We can’t it’s like pouring water through a sieve. The creator of IMBD, a computer geek and film buff was born in the 60s (or 70s). Highly IT literate, then as now, he is not of the ‘Google Generation’ as defined as being born after 1993, but is surely of the type?

Personally I was introduced to computers as part of the School of Geography initiative at Oxford in 1982.

Admittedly my first computer was an Amstrad, followed by an early Apple, but I’ve not been without a computer for the best part of thirty years. I can still give my 12 year old a run for his money (though he does get called in to sought our browser problems).

And should this report be quoting Wikipedia?

Surely it is the author we should quote if something is to be correctly cited; anyone could have written this (anyone did).

Reading this I wonder if one day the Bodleian Library will be like a zoo?

The public will have access to view a few paid students who recreate the times of yore when they had to read from a book and take notes, and look up titles in a vast leather-bound tome into which we strips of paper were intermittently stuck. (not so long ago).

Is there indeed, any point in the campus based university gathered around a library when all his millions, or hundreds of millions of books have been Googliefied?

Will collegiate universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Durham (Edinburgh and Dublin? Harvard ?) become even more elite as they become hugely expensive compared to offerings such as the Open University?

There may be no limit to how much and how fast content can be transmitted … the entire Library of Congress in 3 seconds I am told, but there are severe limits to how much you can read and remember, let alone make sense of and store.

Is this not the next step?

To rewire our minds with apps and plug-ins? I smile at the idea of ‘power browsing’ or the new one for me ‘bouncing’ the horizontal drift across papers and references rather than drilling vertically, driven by a reading list no doubt.

I can give a name to something I did as an undergraduate 1981-1984. Reading Geography I began I the Map room (skipped all lectures) and then spent my morning, if necessary moving between libraries, particularly the Rhodes Library and Radcliffe Science Library, by way of the School of Geography Library, of course, and sometimes into the Radcliffe Camera or the PPE Reading Rooms.

I bounced physically.

I bounced digitally online as a preferred way of doing things. Though this often leaves me feeling overwhelmed by the things I could read, but haven’t read, that I’d like to read. Which is good reason ONLY to read the latest paper, to check even here if the paper we are asked to read has not already been superseded by this or fellow authors.

Old digitised news keeps like a nasty smell in the wind?

Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile and it is clear that these behaviours represent a serious challenge for traditional information providers, nurtured in a hardcopy paradigm and, in many respects, still tied to it. (p9)

The problem with the short read and low tolerance of readers is the way papers have thus far gone from print version to digital version without, yet, thorough transmogrification.

We await new acceptable ways to write, and submit and share knowledge that is less formal and to anyone versed in reading online, digestible.

All authors for the web would do well to read Jakob Nielsen on web usability.

There is a way to do it. If it looks like it belongs in a journal or book, you are getting it wrong

Do the authors appreciate that labelling the behaviour ‘squirreling’ is self-fulfilling?

It normalises the behaviour if anyone reads about it. Whilst metaphors are a useful way to explain, in one person’s words, what is going on, such metaphors soon become accepted as fact.

There is a running debate across a series of article in the New Scientist on the way humans think in metaphors (good, can’t help it), and how ideas expressed as metaphors then set unfounded parameters on how we think (not so good, and includes things like the selfish gene, competition and so on).

This dipping, bouncing and squirreling, horizontal browsing, low attention span, four to eight minute viewing diverse ‘one size does not fit all’ individual would make for an interesting cartoon character. I wonder if Steven Appleby or Quentin Blake would oblige. ________________________________________________________________________________

Why ‘huge’ and why ‘very’ ? Qualify. Facts. Evidence. And why even, ‘very, very.’ This isn’t academic writing, it’s hear say and exaggeration.

There’s a category missing from the graph – branded information, such as Wikipedia, or Harvard Business Publication, Oxford or Cambridge University Press and Blackwell’s, to name put a few.

Where so much information is available, and so many offerings on the same topic, the key for anyone is to feel they are reading a reliable source.

The point being made later about ‘brand’ presence for BL … something we will see more of with the commercialisation of information. Even Wikipedia cannot be free for ever, while the likes of Wikileaks, for its mischief making and spy-value will always be funded from nefarious sources.

There are very very few controlled studies that account for age and information seeking behaviour systematically: as a result there is much mis-information and much speculation about how young people supposedly behave in cyberspace. (p14)

Observational studies have shown that young people scan online pages very rapidly (boys especially) and click extensively on hyperlinks – rather than reading sequentially. Users make very little use of advanced search facilities, assuming that search engines `understand’ their queries. They tend to move rapidly from page to page, spending little time reading or digesting information and they have difficulty making relevance judgements about the pages they retrieve. (p14)

Wikipedia and YouTube both exhibit a marked age separation between viewers of content (mainly 18-24s) and content generators (mainly 45-54s and 35-44s respectively). (p16, ref 17)

‘there is a considerable danger that younger users will resent the library invading what they regards as their space. There is a big difference between `being where our users are’ and `being USEFUL to our users where they are’.

Surely it would be easy to compare a population that have access and those who do not?

Simply take a group from a developed, rich Western nation and compare them to a group that are not, that don’t have the internet access, video games or mobile phones.


Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. UCL 11 JAN 2008

Dr Z A Pelczynsni, OBE, a retired Oxford tutor and fellow discusses ‘The Oxbridge Tutorial’

A 4 mininute interview and supporting transcript with Dr Z A Pelczynsni, OBE, a retired Oxford tutor and fellow.

From Drop Box

An interesting insight into the tutorial system and how teaching at university differs from teaching at school.

Getting away from it … not quite



A journey across the country to visit family. I find my 85 year old father-in-law translating some Polish to complete a voice over for YouTube clip the Warsaw uprising. This his son tells me is recorded onto his Netbook and edited using Audacity.

For the next hour we discuss how leadership might be taught online.

He is 85 today. My wife and celebrate 17 years of marriage. I reflect on knowing the family for 26 years, a younger sister introducing me to her older brother being introduced to the parents and then some years later discovering there was another sister with whom it turns out I developed a soft spot.

After dinner I sit with my sister-in-law’s partner, who lectures/tutors fine art, art history and philosophy. It is well after midnight before we tire. I had thought of pressing the record button on the digital recorded I have with me; tomorrow. I recall that their use of technology so far includes little more than tutorials by mobile phone; which has its conveniences.

He put the kibosh on my thinking regarding the commercialisation of education which I conclude is fine for corporations where you are an employee and the company is the client, but not for the freedom to think what you please, indeed without the scope to innovate how would be progress.

Or something like that.

I suppose had I recorded the lengthy discussion I could at least quote him correctly.

But wouldn’t recording such a discussion have sullied it?

An interview with Dr Zbigniew Pelzcynski OBE, retired Pembroke College Fellow, and Senior Lecturer in Politics and Philosophy


Interview with Dr Z.A.Pelczynski

How does teaching differ between school and university?

What do you for in an essay? Should it be academic, journalistic, or a bit of both?

Can leadership be taught?

Could leadership be taught online?


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