Monthly Archives: May 2016

Planning. Paragraphs. Post-it notes: A Dyslexic, part-time PhD student shares his writing tips and tricks

“I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day.” Writing is not my natural forte, I like the Nora Ephron quote above about her writing process, so similar to mine…

Source: Planning. Paragraphs. Post-it notes: A Dyslexic, part-time PhD student shares his writing tips and tricks

Cyclops and the wild Poseidon in my Journey to Ithaca

This post I write inspired and humbled by a message I received yesterday from my Director of Studies after our supervisory team meeting with a new member in it.

I think one of the things that characterises a good supervision is mutual respect and both sides learning. I came away from Thursday with an increased respect for your attitude towards learning and growth.

Indeed, we had a hard and heated discussion about my report for the progression assessment panel. They made me many hard and harsh questions. Some of them I could answer but others I found myself caught in being the evangelist of my idea. This feeling I felt quite embarrassing and life changing in a way. It generated intellectual wounds that will make me grow. That void and sometimes black space where we have to enter if we want to make profound changes.

In the discussion, Mary questioned my assumptions and my beliefs and showed me in a cruel and brilliant way how much I am promoting my idea. How I am an advocate for the PLE instead of a researcher that is trying to find out about it.

And yes, it is true! I BELIEVE in the approach and I believe in the positive effects of working with such an approach. That is what the existing literature stands for, isn’t it? You read the empirical evidence of others, and you start to think of the approach as a useful means of achieving the goals that are guiding and driving your teaching. But this has a place in the research, I guess not at the beginning. In any case, what I do understand is that being an evangelist will not be of any help as Neil Selwyn suggests in his book. We need to be dispassionate and skeptic if we aim at contributing to any change in the status quo of educational technology.  I took the suggestion seriously, and my reflection process is unfolding painfully as transformation always is for me. But I feel so much better!

I want to answer to Darren’s message, which has given me strength and courage to keep me enthusiastic on this research journey with the key ideas that are in Cavafy’s poem: Ithaca (my mantra in life).

Five years ago, when I left my home country, Venezuela, I set out for Ithaca, this  was my vision. Ithaca being the journey of self-exploration and growth (also professional growth). That journey has been as Cavafy describes it, my mantra in life: Adventure and discovery!

I quote as it explains brilliantly what I think happens when I go to a supervisory meeting

Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them: you will never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, and long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you

Mary, my new supervisor, could have taken the shape of an angry Poseidon and Darren that of a Cyclop or/and a Laistrygonian when they were challenging my ideas asking me so difficult questions. I even felt scary. For a moment, I felt that my beliefs and ideas were not true and even worse, were somehow interfering in my journey to become a researcher, which is why I set out for Ithaca in the first place.

But this is not what happened in the session, Mary and Darren instead are the scholars I met in the Egyptian cities, from which I have been gathering stores of knowledge and wisdom to advance in this Journey to Ithaca. They are the harbors Cavafy names in his poem, the Phoenician trading stations where I have been stopping and finding in their advice mother pearls and coral, amber and ebony, gems of wisdom and experience to shape my raw and still naive ideas about educational technology and research.

There are still more storms to come as I move further in this journey. New scholars with which I will meet and new oceans and different directions that I will have to navigate. But I am confident and serene although sometimes the waves are big and swirls will surely come in my way. Because as Cavafy says, as long as a rare excitement stirs my body and my spirit I won’t encounter neither a wild Poseidon nor an intimidating Cyclop, instead I find two wise and loving supervisors that challenge me while holding my hand so I do not fall into a swirl but be aware of their presence so I can find an alternative route through which I can navigate safely to Ithaca.  Thank you for being there in my journey and teach me with so much care.

My journey so far has been amazing. Full of surprises, new discoveries, challenges, sad moments, grief and sometimes huge anxiety of being on the wrong track not being able to accomplish this part of the journey to Ithaca. But in all the difficult moments, although I am away from home, from the safe-space, that which I know well, I have always kept Ithaca in my mind and my thoughts are always, as Cavafy says, raised high, very high! Arriving there is what I am destined for. But I am not in a hurry. I have still so much to discover, to learn, to think about, to explore, to find out.

What I do hope is that when I arrive, full of experience and hopefully some wisdom, I can share my joy with some of these sensational people I met on that journey.




Is technology good for education?

Chapter 1: Digital technology and educational change

This is the latest book of Neil Selwyn. Illuminating and incredibly helpful for my research. The advice to NOT be an evangelist of digital technology is so useful for me. I have been observing this attitude very hidden but present in my thinking. When discussing my research project with my supervisors, I find myself, advocating for technology interventions. Even worse, I find myself, promoting the idea of the PLE. Reflecting on this, I have realised that it has nothing to do with being the PLE approach a good or a bad thing per se, but what is relevant is to let the research tell the story of what is best for the kind of students I am working with.

The book is relevant in that it brings to the fore the importance of the social reality in which education is embedded, a complex situation for which there is not a simple solution.

The overarching theme of the book is the need to be extremely careful with evangelistic discourses, phrases like “A digital fix for a broken system” is one of those. Selwyn acknowledges the potency of the space of digital education for voicing fears and visions about what will education look like in the near future. Therefore, he suggests, we need to treat any overly confident assertion of digital change in a circumspect and sceptical manner. I truly believe in the power of digital technologies for education, but I agree, any possible solution that is thought needs to be envisioned and treated with scepticism and moreover with a critical view were nothing is like magic and without any consequence. Where there are gains there are also losses; thinking about the balance of them, considering what is what we are losing when embracing a particular technological solution.

I like the phrase on page 19:

the essence of education has remained the same: punctuated by an entrenched grammar of doing things that reinforces the notion of the expert teacher and the regulation of time, space and place, alongside the routines of curriculum and pedagogy, and rituals of assessment and credentializing

What I like about it is the notion of regulating time, space and place alongside the basic rituals of education, namely curriculum and traditional assessment. Indeed time, space and place are the key elements for any educational experience to happen, but in my view digital tools and in general the Internet have changed the perception or notion of space, place and somehow, time. Although time as such never changes, not within planet earth, the managing of the time where people study is different. So students can view a lecture, a video or any other interactive element in the time that is right for them, which makes it less fixed to a particular time. The notion of place as gained a new dimension, space is no longer only the physical spaces we inhabit but also the virtual spaces that digital technologies have enabled to exist. These spaces then will hopefully become places where different experiences are mediated by digital tools and that are complementing all of the other experiences happening in the face to face experience.

In any case, the format of the teaching and learning experience within most universities is still fixed to the lecture format thus to the notion of traditional space -the lecture hall- and time -from 4 to 5-  and being the lecure the main event of the learning episode, taking that information as initial input to then try to give meaning to that knowledge through the activities designed for that. But this is the same as thousand years ago. What is that what can be changed through the new possibilities, affordances that degital technologies offer?

Genuine disruption involves re-thinking the very nature of education: its activities and relationships, as well as its core purposes and values. Genuine disruption is not about using technology to do the same differently, but using technology to do different things (p.20)

This is so true. It is about rethinking the possibilities available to learn any knowledge we want to teach. It is re-thinking how could we harness collaborative learning when we are showing, for example, the messy nature of social research. How can this topic be taught making use of digital tools? What activity would be best if we want our students to start to learn how knowledge can be co-constructed. Can we think of creating for each topic a wiki-page? But first, they would need to search what is already available on the web about the topic. If there are 3 wiki resources, is that the activity that would be relevant to do? Or could we negotiate with students which are the tools they would like to explore and this can be a way to explore that particular tool?

If we are willing to take part of the change that is happening in education we need to remain as dispassionate and circumspect as possible and ask suitable critical questions. Selwyn suggests that the idea of digital improvement/transformation/disruption of education require problematizing, namely, not taking them at face value. Questions like how are digital technologies actually finding a place in education settings and educational context, that is, finding out the state of the actual instead of the state of the art.

Sonia Livingstone suggests that problematising the place of technology in education involves 3 areas:

  1. What is really going on?
  2. How can this be explained?
  3. How could things be otherwise?

Selwyn proposes a set fo simple but complex and hard questions to move forward the critical agenda of educational technology with more chance to impact and change current deficits or improvable practices:

  1. What is actually new here?
  2. What are the unintended consequences of the use of ed tech?
  3. What are the potential gains and losses?
  4. What underlying values and agendas are implicit?
  5. In whose interests does this work? Who benefits in what ways?
  6. What are the social problems that dig tech is being presented as a solution to? 
  7. How responsive to a ‘digital fix’ are there problems likely to be?

Question 1, 5 and 6 I think, will become my underlying guiding questions along my research. There are not far away from my currently research questions, but I think I need to take a more dispassionate stance towards technology.

What drives my thinking is the need that I see to learn these different literacies that are related with being able to use digital technology at its full potential. I see it as the same situation that happened in the 18th century when the need to teach (in a more broader fashion) how to read and write started. I don’t think that the idea of digital literacies as need is bad per se, what I do see is that a simplistic or evangelistic view on it is the wrong way to go.

Chapter 2 comes next: Making education more democratic?





Catherine Cronin’s keynote at OER16

I wrote a post on a different platform -Medium- I am trying out but, I still wanted to include it in my research journal.
I am experimenting as part of my online identity in an open practice, which in words of Catherine, as it is open it is unfinished, dynamic and always in flux, becoming richer with each iteration.

Reflections of Catherine Cronin’s keynote at OER16 conference

The image in the heading of the post is CC licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 available at Bryan Matters’ Visual Thinkery page.

Structure as a booster for the argument

By Susan Carter In our writing class we were talking about the structure of academic writing. Although structure is a framework that can be revised through ordinary workerly diligence, its effect w…

Source: Structure as a booster for the argument

Structure as a booster for the argument

Excellent article to understand better how to structure the argument of my dissertation, thank you for sharing so much knowledge

DoctoralWriting SIG

By Susan Carter

In our writing class we were talking about the structure of academic writing. Although structure is a framework that can be revised through ordinary workerly diligence, its effect works at a deeper level, showing authority and conveying purpose. Carefully controlled structure will support the argumentation. Thus the structure of a research thesis–the overall shape and its framework joinery–is important to the success of the argument.

Ann tells of her experience back when she was a thesis writer: ‘I visualized the hard-bound thesis, complete with my name on the spine, as being an “argument” from beginning to end. I designed every chapter to have a punch-line, which would contribute one major argument in support of a holistic contention’ (Carter, Kelly & Brailsford, 2012: 56). Her envisioning ahead of doing (a helpful strategy in itself) shows she was aware of the need for structure to really work in holding…

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A Tale of Two Conferences: #oer16 and #LAK16

Interesting views on OER16 which I missed due to difficult family circumstances, and of LAK16 which enhance my own view of open culture and in line with Sheila’s idea, it will add to the quality of the learning experience, which is the core goal for me as a teacher and researcher


When Professor Paul Kirschner started his keynote on the second day of the #LAK16 conference,  with the opening lines  from the Dickens’s classic a Tale of Two Cities, it chimed with me on a number of levels. Yes, in the way he intended around the utopian and dystopian views of the potential of data and analytics, but also in terms of my recent two conference experiences.

#oer16 and #LAK16 were neatly planned to run the week after each other, in the same venue at the John McIntyre Conference Centre, University of Edinburgh. The infrastructure for each was very similar, however I found them quite different experiences.

Taking liberty with Dickens, the thought  “it was the best of times, it was the best of times” has been running through my head as I try and synthesise and make sense of both conferences.

Although very different experiences and each conference had…

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