Tag Archives: identity

Shaping an Identity: hacking the human?

Higher education shapes identity on many levels. We can readily identify three:

  1. the individual student/academic;
  2. the institutional characteristics of the higher education sector;
  3. and wider transnational cultural-historical activity.

This slicing into comprehensible tranches is characteristic of my pragmatic approach to knowing, characterised by a logic of effectiveness in the present: sure, it is a continuum, but clumping into useful groups helps if you want to do something.

The empiricist might gather observational data and seek patterns by which to describe and explain observed phenomena from the past.

The rationalist normalises a desired arrangement of tranches and posits steps towards hypothesised (predicted, anticipated) outcomes.

Again we see the pragmatist slicing into parts: rational, empirical and pragmatic. These and other ways of discovering, synthesising, applying and curating knowledge form orientations to scholarship and academic practice. That is, our orientation to knowledge itself is part of our identity.

Knowledge has two foundational questions underpinning it: identity and agency.

  • Who is it that knows? The question of mind-body dualism, multiplicity or unity underpins approaches to education. Any theory predicated on the nature of the learner must have variants of this question at heart. Do we have “souls”? Can our consciousness be abstracted: uploaded to a sufficiently powerful computer? Can we “insert” knowledge into others?
  • How does the knower shape their knowledge (free will v. determinism?). Are we a behavioural bundle of conditioned responses? Are our acts determined by our cultural-historical performance roles: gender, colour, cohort, ability, religion, status, etc? Are we, or to what extent are we, agents of our world?

These two questions shape our approach to education policy.

Towards a new education?

I asked Richard Murphy a question on Twitter after reading his post, “It’s not just a new politics we need: we need a new economics too.”
“And a new education?”
He replied “Almost certainly”.

This “new education” has to lie in what Murphy calls “collective” or shared narratives: “… where the individual seeks to achieve their purpose within the constraints that the planet now so very obviously imposes upon us… because achieving purpose is about substituting meaning for material consumption.” Narratives make meaning. Narrative must replace material consumption. As Max Tegmark (2014: 256) puts it, “… nature contains many types of entities that are almost begging to be named.”

I am leaning on Murphy and Tegmark here because both come from disciplines that value mathematical descriptions of the world above what Tegmark calls “baggage” or words. And both reveal the uncertainty at the base of measure, or to put it another way, they explore the measure problem. How you define constraints, if there are any?

And that I suggest is as ever: new or old education is about making meaning. Making meaning gets us very quickly into measures: pictures, categories, ranges, constraints; about how many lions are there over there? Meaning without baggage? Or is it all always baggage? Pragmatically, at what point do our useful approximations break down into mere baggage?

I spent much of Thursday and Friday last week immersed in dimensions of digital leadership in higher education, represented diagramatically. I started writing about this here. The base for this diagrammatic thinking was the range between “Visitor” and “Resident” in or to or in respect of/with reference to the digital. This model was constructed by Dave While and Alison leCornu several years ago in response to the “Native/Immigrant” model proposed by Presnky. There are other typologies, such as the “voyeur/flaneur” of dana boyd (2011) but the Jisc Co-designers find the visitor-resident one productive and useful.

To get the workshop talking and thinking together, the workshop facilitators laid another axis at 90 degrees to the visitor-resident x-axis. They labelled the upper end of the range “Personal” and the lower end “Institutional”. And this was the end of my messy thinking in my last post.

Tools as spaces as practises

Tools as spaces as practises

The next day we started again with a slightly rephrased map, where the top element was changed: “Individual” replaced “Personal” and rather than our own “digital capability” we were asked to map our institution’s.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It immediately struck my colleague, Richard Francis, that a small circle in the centre might represent the “disengaged learner” and that more “pressure” outward along any axis could be construed as a transformation of some sort.

Figure 2

Figure 2

I then observed that just maybe there were limits outward in some directions. It struck me that a person who was increasingly a visitor to one’s own individuality might lack self awareness (top left. And, in the same way travel too far lower right and a person might be in danger of becomming fully institutionalised.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Both these outer areas might break the “Identity and Wellbeing” circle suggested by the Jisc’s model of Digital Capability

6 Elements

6 Elements of Digital Capability

The last move in this opening development was to observe that the boundaries were at least elastic: that pressures towards self awareness might press inward while counterveiling pressures might push outward. And that these spaces might be characterised in various ways. Richard Francis proposed that being a visitor to one’s self from time to time might be construed as reflection rather than a tendency towards solipciism.

Figure 4

Figure 4

At this point in the morning the facilitators asked us to consider “openness” and “authenticity”. Richard Francis asked if perhaps the visitor-resident continuum might be relabelled “consumer-producer”? It struck me that an urge towards production and self-actualising transformation seemed to produce something like a wave or flow of force through the model, rupturing the membranes inward from the left to outward on the right. We realised that there was a relatively narrow band on either side of each of the main axes. We called the horozontal band the “Mean of engagement”: more or less individual and more or less institutional. We called the vertical band the “Mode of action”: more or less visitor and more or less resident. We also noticed an impact axis punching in another dimensionfrom lower left towards upper right. It appeard that the far left might be characterised by a lack of authenticity:. As one approached outer limits various pejorative warnings began to attach themselves to the image: at the outer and upper left solipcism and maybe hyper-capitalism dwelt, while at the upper right fully resident in individualism lurked the bully and the narcissist, with no self-control. There was a sweet spot for us upward and rightward from the centre where we put terms like open engagement, community, access and authority, while authoritarian by way of contrast fell out somewhere lower right.

Ruptured matrix

Ruptured matrix

We began to see institutional functions appear: assessment and the VLE seemed to occupy a backwater and the digital impact criteria of attention and presence firmly resided within the mean of engagement.

So all this was very satisfying as a means of understanding our world, but now the challenge is to turn it into action.



danah boyd. (2011). Dear Voyeur, Meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media.” Surveillance and Society 8(4), 505-507

Sharks and TELephants


Caribbean Reef Sharks

The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.

I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?

I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.

TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: forBlind_men_and_elephant2 simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant,  there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?

Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.




Tealab? TEL me about it

Reviving Tealab: Tealab is explicitly a Teaching Laboratory and discussion “space”. There are a number of excellent initiatives across the university that lap over the territory. When Tealab was set up it was intended to replace the Learning and Teaching  Forum (LTF),  with a focus on people (possibly “younger” whatever that might mean) interested in new or innovative teaching practices. These practices did not need to make use of learning technologies, but given the zeitgeist and interests of the proponents of Tealab there was a strong learning technology focus.

The institutional learning and teaching focus is currently on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Framework with its participatory underpinning. The aim of the framework is expressed in four domains: Learning, Identity, Community and Place and is intended to enable the creative appropriation of tools, transformative academic practice, inclusive communities and safe spaces for learning.

Now, the Technology Experimentation Group (TEG), has a clear learning technologies focus and the Minerva Seminar Series is focused on teaching excellence.

Tealab can do two things.

One is serve as a clearing house and notice board of all the extra and co-curricular learning opportunities for teachers at Brookes, pulling from many sources: OBIS training, Library training courses, Digital Services training and various Guides, and OCSLD teaching courses.

And second Tealab can serve as a forum for collaborative discussion and development of the aspirations of the TEL framework. With this in mind, I am planning a series of Lunch-time sessions (and I know that time is troublesome so forgive me if these sessions are not accessible for you; we will simulcast and record for later review). I am proposing three this semester:

  • Monday 19 October 1200-1330 – Participation in learning, aspirations for teaching: introducing the TEL Framework
  • Monday 09 November 1200-1330 – Creative appropriation and appropriate technology for teaching
  • Monday 30 November 1200-1330 – Academic Identity today

And three next semester (dates to be announced)

  • Learning Communities
  • Holding space
  • Frameworks for learning and teaching



Usurpation: the condition of the university?

Usurpation might better be seen as the condition of the university than as a problem for any particular aspect of that complex phenomenon: higher education today.

Taking Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) theoretical framework of social and intellectual closure we might see usurpation as – in parts and in places – an ameliorating response to both micro and macro-political movements that lead to closure. I suggest that we might take this further into a space which can only be opened and kept open (rejecting closure) by the usurper who by choice lays him/her self open to being ursurped and indeed facilitates the process of ongoing transformation, which is the driving energy of the academy.

In making this argument I draw on Popper’s (1996) positivism, Kuhn’s (1962) understanding of development in disciplines and Bhabha’s (2004) third space theory.

The pattern of usurpation described by Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) applies to any attempt to enter a power structure –  a university is a power structure – by agents desiring that power, whether to address wrongs done to them by that power structure and its relatives, or simply to seize more of whatever is going. When the usurpation is successful the usurper assumes the mantle of the power structure and then defends it against subsequent usurpation.

So we see entryism into disciplines of minoritarian or post-colonial themes: Women’s Studies, for example. We see traditional promotion routes to professorship usurped by teaching pathways (an interesting one Subramian et al spotted, which casts me as usurper!). We see the student experience usurping scholarship.

But as Kuhn should remind us: this is the way it works! The English curriculum which is so exercised by usurpation by Media Studies, itself was an entryist program usurping the Classics. And as Popper should remind us, this is to be celebrated. The problem is not usurpation but closure, which might be seen as resistance to being usurped.


  • Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Popper, K. (1996). The Myth of the Framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.
  • Subramaniam, M., Perrucci, R., & Whitlock, D. (2014). Intellectual Closure: A Theoretical Framework Linking Knowledge, Power, and the Corporate University. Critical Sociology (Sage Publications, Ltd.), 40(3), 411–430.

Online & Neuromarketing: because you’re worth it! Wow. It can be worth reading comments.

COPPA has played a important role limiting the data collection practices of online advertisers targeting children under 13. It has been a very effective safeguard. Anyone who actually researches the online ad business recognizes that: once you are 13, online marketers treat everyone the same in terms of behavioral targeting and other applications that threaten privacy. But if you are under 13, because of COPPA–you don’t see the same kind of targeted online marketing. Berkman should do a better job in its research providing its readers a more informed assessment of how online marketers have created what the industry calls a digital advertising “ecosystem.” The system is designed to collect tremendous amounts of data on individual users, track them everywhere [including merging online and offline databases instantly, so a user can be auctioned off to the highest bidder]and also deeply influence our behaviors. Companies involved with Berkman or Berkman staff are even using the latest advances in neuromarketing to create digital ad campaigns designed-in their own words–to influence our subconscious. When Berkman writes about COPPA and other online marketing issues, it should always prominently disclose [page 1] that it is funded by many leading advertisers–including Google and Microsoft [http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/about/support]. Mr. Palfrey should also ensure his work as a venture investor–including with online marketing companies–is part of that disclosure–especially to Congress and the FTC: http://www.hcp.com/john_palfrey
I hope Ms. Boyd will also address the extensive work done by her employer on online marketing–including its targeting of youth (for such things as junk food). See, for example:http://advertising.microsoft.com/research/Doritos-Xbox; She should also examine its efforts on neuromarketing:http://www.emsense.com/press/game-advertising.php
This is a brief comment.

This is a comment by Jeff Chester on a post by danah boyd about the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. danah’s article opened my eyes to the real reason for the requirement that one be 13 or over to set up a Facebook account (nothing to do with safety). But Chester’s comment, while maybe harsh in its implications for the Berkman Centre, exposed and evidenced a whole set of practices that we probably knew were going on, but didn’t really want to believe were going on. To quote myself: “When you think it can’t get bigger, it gets squared and squared again…”

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Digital Humanities and the #alt-ac track – but why need it be centered around the “academy”

the #alt-ac label speaks to to a broad set of hybrid, humanities-oriented professions centered in and around the academy, in which there are rich opportunities to put deep — often doctoral-level — training in scholarly disciplines to use. Recent #alt-ac conversation online additionally tends to focus on the digital humanities, a community of practice marrying sophisticated understanding of traditional disciplines with new tools and methods. The digital humanities constitute, in my opinion, the best gig in town — attracting scholars who exhibit restless, interdisciplinary curiosity, mastery of relevant research tools and methods (old and new), and uncommon comfort — in a world that defines expertise like this — with a general assumption that practitioners are jacks-of-all-trades.

Or, rather, ought the “academy” be equated with the “institutions” of higher education, which, now, seem to be serving the community of scholarship so poorly.

Posted via email from George’s posterous