Leaving a mark: can you learn from a digital mistake?

February 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Around my parent’s home you will find a impregnable burnt patch on my cooker where an attempt to make desert went badly wrong having been distracted by the football; there will be an peculiar dull  stain on a lightly coloured carpet where something spilt as a consequence of me driving a remote controlled car onto an Uncle’s toe; stitches on a patched up teddy bear whose head and body parted company after a heated sibling argument turned slightly barbaric.  These artefacts surround us – as dents on our cars, broken or damaged things all around our houses, even on ourselves through accidents or fights – reminding us of mistakes or blunders we might have made, hopefully prompting us to learn and not make the same mistakes again.

Interestingly, the underlying nature of digital technology does not allow for us to learn from our mistakes in technological endeavours in the same way.  As technology becomes more and more prominent in our day-to-day lives, the more it seems to provide backups and redundancies to ensure we can always “go back” – a digital luxury which I hope does not become an expectation outside of our digital environments.  These worries I agree do in some ways sound farfetched and possibly exaggerated – perhaps it could be argued that these issues will only become a real concern if we quite literally live and breathe in binary.

However, if take into account real facts – the lowering minimum age of technology users, and the increased usage of technology as a social medium – will future generations grow up thinking problems or wrong doings, both inside and outside of digital environments, is a just a “Ctrl Z” or “Respawn” away?

Bhaveet Radia

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A Digital “Life Portfolio”

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

A rainy afternoon on the Internet led to me reading old emails from what felt like a lifetime ago – emails from school friends moaning about how rubbish our parents were; discussions about our geography teachers mysterious absence for the past few weeks and the naïve yet seemingly necessary conspiracy theories derived from this; and of course never-ending reveries about girls.  These emails prompted two thoughts or feelings – firstly the nostalgia of growing up and school life; and secondly, a real sense of a life trajectory and real feeling of distinction between the person I was when writing those emails, to now.

Digital or E-Portfolios are typically used for students to keep track of their learning experiences and outcomes throughout their various endeavors inside and outside of the classroom or workplace – providing the ability to reflect on their experiences, to scaffold future learning, and may also be used to evidence experience and attainment to others.

But, is this the only thing that is worth documenting or reflecting on, perhaps not.

After my ancient email reading outing I began to think about the potential that digital communication and social networking, coupled often with widespread and intense usage, have inadvertently created what I’ll call a “life portfolio”.

A “life portfolio” is not an entirely new concept; we have all reminisced about the “good old days” when returning to visit old friends, all hidden behind sofas when a parent mercilessly shows a video of you singing in a school musical which they insist on sharing with what seems like any willing visitor, that graduation photo on your windowsill – these “life portfolio” artifacts surround us all.

In many cases a rich and naturalistically collected electronic archive of your life is also available to you – without even knowing consciously you’re contributing to it.  An archive that is chronologically marked, well indexed, and which has a genuine and authentic feel to it – social networking site data.   When looking at old messages, photos from what feels like a past life, past wall posts that make you wince – you can’t help but feel sentimental, and also realize how much you and others have changed or perhaps have not.  Both of these facets are important to our development in learning terms – they provide the opportunity to look at a life trajectory and understand where you have come from and an indication where you are going, helping inform you on future pursuits; and it also provides an opportunity to learn from past experiences through reflection and evaluation.

Looking at the fundamental reasons why social networking sites provide an effective digital “life portfolio”, it could be argued that these are important qualities that all good portfolios should aim to encompass.  Their naturalistic and lived-in nature due to the fact these portfolios are not rigidly structured, and when one is using the site and technically contributing to this portfolio – it doesn’t feel forced, most won’t even know they are; the richness of the portfolio can also be very immersive – there are text messages, links, conversations, photos, videos, comments, and so on – which are also vitally linked together in a web of social interaction and discourse.

In conclusion, social networking sites like Facebook which many people now live through, provides a unique opportunity to really look back, reminisce, and reflect. It can quite rightly be argued that this type of portfolio might be incomplete, lack real structure, it maybe not entirely accurate, and so on – but should we really need to strive for this when talking about a life story, which seldom features total cohesion, structure and accuracy.  A “life portfolio” is about capturing what can be easily and naturally captured, leaving you to fill in the gaps, dot the I’s yourself – to personally unlock its true value.

Bhaveet Radia

The More You Gossip, the More Sophisticated You Become!

March 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

Picture illustrating what Habermas means by ‘the public sphere’

Picture illustrating what Habermas means by ‘the public sphere’

The picture above illustrates what Habermas means by ‘the public sphere,’ i.e. the place where individuals hang out and, as an unintentional part of the conversation, identify and discuss societal issues and problems. This sphere exists not only in face-to-face settings but also in the digital world, although there are major differences between the two. In this blog, I look at these differences, particularly within the Arab world where a married couple have just named their baby ‘Facebook’ in tribute to the role that this digital public sphere played in the Egyptian protest! To begin with, the Arabian face-to-face public sphere tends to maintain hierarchical structures, whereby the oldest, most powerful or most knowledgeable individual dominates the conversation. In comparison, the digital sphere, wherein individuals do not know each other, do not meet in the flesh and are anonymous, has transcended hierarchical structures, political differences and ethnic divisions. This indicates huge changes in the balance of power among members of the public sphere. In the Arabian face-to-face public sphere, individuals tend not to take the risk of explicitly discussing any culturally, socially and/or politically deviant beliefs and perspectives. However, the features of the digital sphere (e.g. the ability to remain anonymous and the individual-oriented aspect) make it easy for one to pass under the ‘radar’ of social visibility, cultural domination and political surveillance.

The face-to-face public sphere is available locally at a micro level, whereas its digital counterpart has broadened contact with the outside world. For example, scores of my non-Egyptian friends joined the Egyptian protest group on Facebook, which means that international people got involved with (or intervened in) an issue involving a certain country, taking seats in its national public sphere. This can be read, on the one hand, as enhancing a sense of global identity, but, on the other hand, as intrusion and meddling. In any case, this involvement of such external elements means adding new actors to the power network and relations in the county. The digital public sphere offers a variety of distinctive facilities and services, such as the possibility of documenting discussions, using multimedia to support these discussions, transcending the limitations of time and space and including those having problems speaking and expressing themselves orally. This sphere can be criticised for excluding people who are illiterate and those who do not use or cannot access the Internet. However, although the face-to-face sphere involves a relatively small number of people, the Egyptian protest community on Facebook involved more than eight hundred thousand protesters, permitting the right of assembly, campaigning and demonstrations.

One might wonder why this post is here on a site concerned with learning and new technologies. The answer is that the public sphere is actually a learning environment for adults, where transformative and emancipatory learning takes place. In this sphere, individuals collectively help each other to make sense of their educational or professional and social life, engaging in critical reflection and going through iterative learning processes of examining, questioning, validating and revising their own assumptions and perceptions. In this sphere, individuals exchange ‘gossip,’ reflecting on what they have read, heard and observed as part of their daily experience, getting engaged in complex analytical processes to make sense of these observations, raising each other’s consciousness, comparing their experiences with those of others and learning about each other’s ways of thinking. In this sphere, people learn about politics and learn from involvement in political discourse. Useful reads in this respect are Mezirow (1990) and Al-Salem (2005).

Be inspired by Sir Ken Robinson and RSAnimate!

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

As usual to begin with my digital morning, I woke up and checked my e-mail, updated my news from the BBC news website, and followed this with a brief visit to Facebook. Suddenly, I found a link to a talk entitled ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ in a friend’s most recent status. ‘The most amazing talk ever! This is what we need for our education!’ the comments stated, but on top of that, many others had ‘liked’ the status or reposted the link themselves. Somehow, the ‘like’ button has becomes today’s most trustworthy yet ambiguous star rating measurement, and so, seeing the sheer number of fans, I assumed the talk was something special.

The talk was presented in a form of an animation with Sir Ken Robinson’s voiceover, with occasional audience laughter in the background. It was a TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference speech that had been modified into an animation. The talk laid out the problems of today’s educational system, training children to be good worker rather than innovative thinkers. Robinson believes that more a creative learning system may solve the problems of high school drop-out rates, decreasing arts activity, and student ADHD.

Other than the content of the talk, what made this speech interesting was the use of instant animation (RSAnimate). RSA is short for ‘Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’, which is a London-based society for social progress. The animation provides a great deal of information in comic sketches and descriptions, supported with voice narration. The talk was edited down to only 12 minutes, but it held my full attention for exactly this amount of time. I was enlightened, but also entertained. I know that without the animation I could still ‘survive’ this talk without falling asleep, as Robinson, after all, is a great public speaker with a subtle sense of humour. However, the pairing of this particular talk with the animation worked perfectly: Learning and teaching should be creative, after all.

After watching the animation, I said to myself, ‘This is not good, this is amazing!’ For the interested, I will let the animation speak for itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=player_embedded.

Learning something new on the Internet: One hour, one task and one massive bank of information

November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Have you ever had an experience of wanting to learn something new, but just never got round to doing it? The reasons are aplenty: time is always scarce, procrastination is a huge inertia and the difficulty of the task kills the initial enthusiasm pretty quickly. So the question I asked myself today is whether all these could be overcome with a little help from technology. In an attempt to answer this, I decided to do a little ethnological study of my own. More specifically, I set myself a difficult task, in which I had no prior knowledge, and evaluated whether the material found on the internet can make the process easier. All I had was an Internet connection, an enthusiastic mind and an hour of a Sunday afternoon to kill, and the objective: to learn how to make an app for Apple or Android phone in less than an hour.

17:15 – Started with google. I typed in the phrase: “How to make an App for iPhone”. Most of the hits offered some clues about how to create an apple application, using either third party software or the original software development kit. However a common denominator in all of them is the monetary cost of using these facilities. This is something which I am not prepared to invest yet, given the uncertainty of not even knowing whether I am going to survive the first hour of my Apps making endeavour.

17:30 – Tried googling “Apps for Android phones”. The good thing with Android Apps was that the software development kits appeared to be free. I also came across a couple of You-Tube videos and a step by step guide on how to create a simple code. I started first with the videos, thinking that the multimodal means of communications might make the learning easier. The videos started off making you feel confident that this was going to be a breeze, but quickly escalated into a lexicon of computer jargons which even repeated pauses and rewinds could not help. Verdict: Videos are easy to watch but difficult to understand. The nature of videos is such that multi-steps instructions can be swiftly condensed into few seconds of motion pictures. This makes learning difficult for me.

17:55 – I decided to switch to a more conventional way of learning by following the step by step procedure detailed in one of the websites. The instructions were straightforward to follow, though I did not understand 90% of the commands I was typing in. Having said that, I definitely found it easier to follow the instructions than when I was watching the You-Tube video. It felt almost like reading one of those “For dummies” books. However, I could not escape from the fact that there were a lot of programming jargons I did not understand. Verdict: Learning through text / image based websites are definitely easier than videos. However, the information is usually segmented, i.e,. it is difficult to find a website that continuously take you from a beginner stage to more advanced programming. Furthermore, the notes are also not as meticulous written like a book, where difficult technical terms are usually highlighted and explained.

18:15 – After much reading, searching and constant looking at the clock, I’ve finally reached the end of my one hour journey.

My overall verdict: I think I have learned a thing or two, but definitely not enough to make an App independently, not even close. It takes time to locate and make sense of the readily available information. To me, the Internet is useful if you want to get quick information or learn to do something you already have a prior knowledge of. As for starting something from scratch, I still prefer to learn the conventional way – taking a course and be guided/coached by an instructor or having an instructional book in hand and a coffee by the side. However, I know that if I need additional information or need help with troubleshooting, I can log on to the Internet.

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