Category Archives: PhD reflections and writings

Cape Town with #go_gn + OEGlobal. Fantastic!


I am part of a wonderful network, the @GOER_GN, a global network of PhD students that are researching in open education in general. Everyone has a slightly different focus, but all of us are interested in using OPEN as a tool to social justice and inclusion. The #go_gn (how the gang is called) organises once a year a gather together, an intensive seminar for 3 days. There, all of us have a chance to present our research for 20 min, and we get 10 min for comments and feedback from the gang. That is a luxury I have to say! So many bright scholars around me focusing on what I am doing and thinking how to shed light in the not so clear spots.

I had good feedback on my work, basically two things: I can’t solve the world with my PhD, that is for later, so I need to pick up ONE strand and go deep into it. As my beautiful friend @catherinecronin says, go in and go out!  (advice she, in turn, got from one of her committee’s members). Second, I need to differentiate between doing research, as objective as possible, finding out things from the data, discovering the problem and barriers to students’ digital practice, and another is to solve those problems. And I agree, I have a tendency to be pragmatic, well, I am pragmatic! But when one is doing research, the real need is to do the research, to flesh that little bit of the world we are worried about.

Here is the feedback and a succinct account of my work in words of @phillospher1978 aka Rob Farrow, who was taking notes during the sessions.

Caroline’s research centres on personal learning spaces as an alternative for institutional students.  Her project has had to evolve somewhat since she started.  She has been working with undergraduates to explore their personal learning environments.  Similar themes were also raised at a ‘student voice’ conference at Bath Spa.  Guided by Selwyn, Caroline is looking at actual practices and analysing them in terms of openness. Several theoretical frameworks are currently under consideration, including Schatzki (2006) and Kemmis et al (2010).  The aim of education is taken to be flourishing (Wright, 2010).  

A constructive grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014) explored assumptions about ‘digital natives’ and provides a richer description of actual student learning ‘spaces’ and the extent to which these are ‘open’ or ‘closed’.  Interesting things arising from the data include the idea that students are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material available online; students are also concerned about their grades and this can impede experimentation.  There is no shared understanding of digital literacies, but Google is so commonplace as to not even be thought of as a tool.  Many students are intimidated by technology with which they are unfamiliar.   This work has led her to the idea that an explorative mindset needs to be cultivated and encouraged.  


  • Similar themes emerging in the work of others in the grou
  • Need to distinguish the research elements and the attempt to be pragmatic and improve student learning
  • How to deal with students who are risk-averse?
  • Maybe a need to narrow down the study and be less tempted to follow every idea or theoretical lead.  Clear research questions may help.

One thing that has become clearer to me is the danger to be an advocate of our own research. Doing research should not be done to re-confirm what one is advocating for. Instead, it should be the outcome of the study. I attended the talk that Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams gave at OEGLobal. She was telling us about the new project they are undertaking within a bigger project she leads, ROER4D. The project is studying the impact of OEP in the world. This new project is a meta-analysis (synthesis she also called it), that will analyse and unpack the causes of change in the different countries that are taking part of the project. She said it is not the role of the researcher to advocate but to understand what are the barriers and then find ways to overcome those barriers. And that is where my research will aim to go, to identify the barriers students encounter in their daily academic digital practice. This will be accomplished exploring the state-of-the-actual of students’ academic practice, scrutinising the present and not the potential, staying grounded in the reality, in the daily entanglements of students when engaging with the Web for academic purposes. 

In the conference, I presented my work but in a slightly different manner than I had planned. The reason for this? We had the gala dinner the night before and it was the first talk the last day!! It needed to be dynamic and challenging in some way. So I did a sort of flipped talked. I was willing to explore what the audience thought about the data I have collected. To do this I gave each group (3 groups of ± 6 participants). Luckily enough 2 members of the #go_gn were in the groups which allowed me to have a more detail view of what was discussed in each group.

In this Padlet wall you can see what each group thought was the data about. The stories are short but I am working with some participants to get more details and have a more detailed version of what was discussed in each table. This work has resulted in amazing and unexpected answers!

Overall the experience in Cape Town was one of the best I have had so far and I have assisted to many of them as part of my development as a researcher. I am really grateful for the generosity not only of the organiser, the GOER_GN but also of all the participants that made the work so joyful and intellectually productive. And some dancing did also happen there 🙂


an ethics of analysis and writing

How do you work ethically with material generated in an interview? I’ve been pondering this question recently as part of a more general think about ethical research practice*. Research ethics are c…

Source: an ethics of analysis and writing

  • How do we record and then analyse the important sensory elements of interviews? What does it mean to leave them out?
  • Does our desire to find patterns (themes) lead us to skip over important tensions and individual idiosyncrasies? What does it mean to leave them out?
  • Does the use of particular forms of software accentuate our gaze on broad themes rather than emergent narratives and subtle underpinning metaphors? What does it mean to leave them out?
  • Do the ways in which we transcribe recordings pay sufficient attention to silences, stumbles, awkwardness, intonations, irony, sarcasm and so on? What does it mean to leave them out?

This post, in particular, the questions I have cited above, has helped my thinking process about the data analysis. I have been struggling to write what my interviewees have said in the focus groups in form of general themes. I haven’t found yet ‘themes’ that make justice to what they feel about the use of digital tools in the university. How they struggle, how they feel so upset with how this element has been addressed in the academic context. I think I fear, in words of Patt, to leave out important tensions, I don’t want to miss any ‘sensory elements of the interviews’.

I have analysed the data with such care, I have read through it so many times, but it is hard to find a sensible way, the right words to make justice to their feelings.

I think about this on a daily basis, I can not, not think about it, but every time I try to generate the themes I feel uncomfortable, not at ease with my participants and with myself, and I think it has to do with what Patt says in this post.

With this insight and the advice I recently got from a scholar to create my own categories, I will return to my data analysis, my transcriptions, the most precious bit of text I have in my whole thesis, and dare to be creative not feeling an impostor, and make justice to what I think is fundamental in any research, the inner world of the participants 🙂

The Gutenberg Parenthesis


Watching this video, made me think the value of having constructive and humble scholarly discussions. How Pettitt hears attentively and takes note of questions, he is asked, considering how the insights of others can shed light on his not fully formed ideas about what is writing and thinking. The penny fall when I saw how the crafting of an idea is an ongoing process and although we have some of those thoughts, some are just not fully formed. Having these scholarly conversations is such an important thing when one is forging one’s own ideas at the start of an academic career. Conversation with interested people that engage in your research is vital for one’s development. Humbleness and wisdom shall go together and guide us through a better understanding of our own idea.

I am writing up the things I will be sharing in South Africa in the OEGlobal conference and a seminar organised by the Global OER Graduate Network in the hope that the conversation I will have will shed some light on my still a-morphs ideas.

Things like performativity, what does intra-action means, what are the implications for practice, the role of language and technology in students’ development, the way to explain the relation between the subject and the object, how not to stay critical and open; reflecting on technological determinism. How can we separate language from the phenomena it is describing, is language an instrument that brings the phenomenon into existence, or is the event happening independent of the instrument we use to re-present it, and so many assumptions I am not yet able to explain. The keel is under construction hence the boat is still in the harbour not ready to depart.


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?





paper, thesis and book titles – think ‘key words’ and ‘the point’

We all know that it is now more important than ever to have searchable paper, (digital) thesis and book titles. So, as well as the key word list, titles need to use the kinds of words that will sho…

Source: paper, thesis and book titles – think ‘key words’ and ‘the point’

Digital natives? Not at all! Digital afraid I would say

Personal thoughts to start

I am writing for my progression assessment, which has been a real struggle. Writing is for me a difficult act. I have been identifying some aspects of it so I can improve. It might be because I need to stop, find silence within me, and try to find words and a way to structure them so they make justice to my ideas and all the bits and bops that float around but are an important part of the process of ideation. So yes!! It is an agony I am afraid. But here I am, holding the space of struggle and moving forward I hope! Courage is not missing, so I guess, there will be a productive outcome, in what form, that is still to come 🙂

I am receiving an incredible support from @gconole, my supervisor Grainne Conole. Thank you for that!

My research interest and reflection in relation with exploring the present and not so much predicting the future

Reflecting on my work through my writing and some reading (@DonnaLanclos and @Lawrie) I did this morning I came to realise how important the first phase of my research is. To give this reflection a context let me summarise my research and then explain what I am saying.

My research is about finding ways in which the university, through its members of staff and their institutional vision, can support students to enhance, improve and sometimes even learn about digital literacies. I think digital literacies will and indeed already are, in some occasions, taking the place of literacy as we know them, but I will develop this idea in another post, although I already started to reflect on it here.

When I was thinking about the idea of my research I had already a potential answer or hunch solution if you will. Then came all the process of thinking about how this question could be answered and planning the design research that goes with it. In this process something was not feeling right, I was very uncomfortable, still at an intuitive level, with the idea of how to implement this ‘hunch’ or idea about improving students’ digital literacies. It was definitely not standing in front of a group of students and presenting to them “my idea”! Who am I to present to them ‘The Solution’ without asking them. That felt very uncomfortable, so much so, that I decided to stop for a while and give it further thinking and time to  mature.

I then had the chance to give a talk about my research in the National University Galway with @catherinecronin in CELT (Centre for the Excellence of Learning and Teaching), where I had very good feedback and a rich and fruitful 1:1 discussion with Catherine to share our research ideas and the literature we had been looking at. The result of both, the feedback and the discussion session was a CLICK, an AJA moment. It all suddenly fall into place and I saw the piece that was missing: Students voice, their current digital practice, where they are at in this particular moment in relation with their digital literacies. What was missing was the ‘present moment’ which Donna Lanclos describes very nicely in her article (referred and linked above). An interesting point she makes is not to base our research in an imagined future, instead we need to explore the messy and not so sexy but indeed interesting present.

Future thinking is unfortunate because in part it encourages a neglect of the complicated and messy (and interesting!) present. It’s easier to think and talk about a future where the current problems with which we wrestle are fixed (jet packs!). It is more challenging to confront the present.

This idea of the problems of the future being fixed is relevant and more so the challenge that lies in exploring the present -not an imagined present she says- in order to see what is really possible to do. The core of her article is how the ‘digital native’ cliche does exactly that, hands us an imagined present where young people, all in general, do technology, are experts, hence there is no need to improve nothing, there is no need to teach nothing but only let them do what they know best and in a way we are liberated of all responsibility not only with them, but more over with our own improvement of digital literacies.

This idea of exploring the present is also encouraged by critical thinkers of ed tech like Neil Selwyn and Martin Oliver. They are also informing my work. They argue that there is a need in ed tech to explore more the ‘state of the current’ how they call it in order to attempt to bridge the existing gap between the enthusiastic rhetoric and the not so happy reality happening in the classrooms. And this is exactly what I am doing in phase 1, mapping students current digital practice so I can understand what is what they can and cannot do with technology and where is support really needed. I am using the V+R approach (another explanation here) to map students’ digital practice and it has been eye opening for my research. It shows exactly the opposite of what Prensky has established. From 20 students I worked with only 3 have located digital tools for academic purposes in their V+R Map, and less than 1/4 of the participants feel safe and confident with the idea of exploring new tools in order to work in formal settings and improve their academic digital skills. I also had a big discussion with a  group of 30 students (between 23 and 45 years old) and only 3 knew the meaning of digital literacies. In my case the evidence contradicts Prensky’s assumption totally, and it reveals how passive this cliche results.

Next step will be looking at the different factors that are hindering students to use more digital tools for learning and studying available in the Internet. As Lanclos argues, there is a need to look at the complex interactions of factors that are restricting students from being masters of the Web and its tools for academic purposes. The idea with phase 1 is to be able to extract  relevant elements from the data in order to design a scaffolding structure that supports students to improve their existing and informal personal learning environments reflected in their V+R map.

It is only exploring and knowing how their present practice looks like that anything relevant can be designed  in order to support them in the process of improving and teaching the so demanded digital literacies.


Timeline Outline View :

Source: Timeline Outline View :

This is an interesting resource to look at the history of social events, in particular I am looking at the history of the written tradition and the book and the concomitant writing skill in order to search for the intellectual impact it had in society and its culture. This with the intention to find similarities, at least in the process, with the intense and -in some sectors-ubiquitous use of the Web as the platform for almost every thing that has to do with writing, much of the reading and publishing, which is a relatively new possibility afforded by the Web.

Publishing our thoughts and ideas to a broader audience, the possibility to share, in a very easy way our process of thinking and generating ideas is, I think, one of the major shifts the Web has brought about to our society. The transition from the printing press to the ‘publishing Web’ at the tip of our fingers and the concomitant digital literacies required to use this features to its maximum potential, not always consuming the media but also thinking about creating and produce in it, are under scrutiny in my mind.

I am trying to make sense of this process. Not only am I looking at this online resource but also reading two relevant texts: Ong, W. (1982), Orality and Literacy and Haverlock, E. (1963), A Preface to Plato. Both are good sources of knowledge about the transition from the oral tradition to the written tradition, starting with the Greek Plato and his struggle with poetry and the writing tradition.

Haverlock in Preface to Plato wrote:

The oral state of mind was Plato’s main enemy

Ong adds to this that

Plato was thinking of writing as an external, alien technology, as many people today think of computers (…) Once the word in technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology had done without the aid of the highest technology available (…) the new technology brought the critique into existence. Plato’s philosophically analytical thought including his critique on writing, was possible only because of the effects that writing was beginning to have on mental processes

Looking more into the thinking process he argues,

(…) the writer-reader situation created by writing deeply affects unconscious processes involved in composing and writing , once one has learned the explicit conscious rules

He continuous his line of thought saying that although writing is an artificial creation, a technology that calls for tools: styli, brushes, prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood and inks or paints, it is essential for the realisation of internal human potential.

Tools are not only external aids but also internal transformation of consciousness and more so when they affect the world.

The transformation some technologies bring about can be uplifting says Ong. He argues that writing heightens consciousness and that ‘artificial’ technologies, when properly internalised enhance humans ‘awareness’ thus, humans’ lives. I sustain that in order for tools to transform and enhance humans’ lives they need to be used in such a way that they become second nature (this is the maximum standard, there are different levels of mastery possible). In this process of mastering the tool skills are developed. The more internalised the skills become the better the tool operates hence the inner transformation, or in Ong’s words, the interior transformation of consciousness is more deep and intense.

This supports in part my argument that being digital literate is desirable in nowadays society and more so in the near future. These skills are aids to flourish in a society that is almost entirely mediated by digital technologies (take a look at this: Gov 2020). Digital skills are the equivalent of writing skills or literacy that Plato was rejecting but paradoxically he experienced its benefits in dramatic ways, leaving an intellectual legacy that still almost 2 millennia ago, when learned deeply can be transformative.

Digital literacies are the skills people, in this particular case, undergraduate students, need to develop in order to master different digital tools and the Web (as the overarching platform where most of the tools and resources live) in a way that allows them to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities this new digital ecosystem has to offer, in particular in academic setting . It will also enhance their digital capability so much in demand in the work place. Look at this interesting report from the Institute for the Future (USA) to get a grasp of what the future work skills will look like.

For young people operating in their personal and informal digital context, away from the university, seems natural. Using mainly ‘consuming’ tools, e.g. Google to find out almost everything or YouTube as the source for any informal hands on learning and BBC channel to find more about an area of interest. All of these platforms and tools seems to be handled easily without much of a struggle. Some preliminary and very early findings from the focus groups I conducted, students navigate documentary channels, shopping platforms, online banking, social apps like WhattsApp, describing with no complications the sets of functions that these technologies allow them to carry out: communicating with friends and family, listening to music, watching documentaries, reading online books, playing games, or watching video clips. All of these activities that are part of their personal life and where they have a visitor approach seems to occur smoothly and seamless, not to much effort nor struggle is attached to its use. They were even able to offer a quite coherent pictures of how all these platforms and tools fit together in their daily lives giving meaning to the many activities they carry out, having a very clear picture of the advantages those spaces bring to them, some of them included how these personal activities had an influence in their academic life. One student said:

I watch a lot of documentaries in the BBC and I think it is not only for my personal benefit because when I watch those documentaries I gain a broader vision, a wider perspective and then when I write my essays I have a stronger position, I have developed a point of view. I safe them so I can see them when I need to refresh my knowledge.

It seems to me this student is very clear about the benefits of this medium. She has found also a system -not very efficient she said-to safe the relevant resources in case she would need them later. This was not the case when they talked about tools they could use only for academic purposes, e.g., Mendeley, MindMeister, Evernote to cite some. Word and PowerPoint where not mentioned, they take them as the default tool to write and create presentations, the main means by which they are assessed. It would be similar if we ask students about the use of their hands for typing. I think the word processor functions as an extension of the hand and the mind while thinking and writing.

The use of these new tools, mainly web-based tools or applications, that can serve as an aid to work in a more effective and organised way seems not to be very common, even less popular, among undergraduate and at first sight it seems to me they generate more aversion than pleasure let alone curiosity.  Digital literacies in academic setting definitely needs more exploration. We need to find ways in which they can be foster and improved, particularly for the more vulnerable and disconnected ones, so students can benefit of a wide range of possibilities that are available only if we know how to operate in this new landscape.

To complement this idea, again the Institute for the Future has a report about the future learning landscape that can give us an idea of the future of learning

Bildung and its connection with the idea of flourishing in the post-digital era

This post is about my reflections in relation to why I think that being digital literate will help students to flourish in a post-digital era, moreover why I think that being literate, in particular, digital literate, is desirable and will lead to students’ progress (I will not cover this second part of my argument in much depth, but it is my first approach to justify these ideas more theoretically)

A note from the author: It is a difficult task for a non-native and relatively new English speaker as me, to tackle some of this complex ideas from this still foreign language. My thoughts are still bubbling in my head trying to find better words and better sentences and paragraphs that can make my argument intelligible to others. I get very frustrated when I read my finished work, not because my ideas are not clear to me but because I feel still the limitation of not being proficient in the language in order to make them clear to others. My excuses for the confusion and lack of precision in parts of my text, all of this is still a work in progress.

I will start with my Research question:

How and to what extent can the university support and encourage undergraduates to enable their engagement with digital technology and research skills to become digital research literate and flourish in the 21st century?

With some help of a more knowledgeable other 🙂 I refined the question:

How and to what extent can the university support, encourage and enable undergraduates to become digital research literate and flourish in a post-digital era?

I have a potential solution to this question (the idea of re-designing and implementing a personal learning environment (PLE) by students will demand the deployment of digital skills in a critical manner)--> Re-designing students' informal PLEs and use it as a workbench in the context of the dissertation module will improve students' digital literacies and at the same time will increase their digital capability. My hunch, guess, hypothesis is that the PLE is in itself a learning outcome and an aid to improve digital literacies in students.

What do I mean by flourishing and on what does this idea rely on?

Bildung is an old German word usually translated into English as ‘formation’, ‘education’, ‘cultivation’ and more recently by Richard Rorty as ‘edification’ (edification takes us out of ourselves by the power of strangeness, to aid us in becoming new beings).

The word comes from ‘bilden’, German for giving shape and it is related to the idea of giving shape to a certain object. In its origin, it had connections with the religious sphere, but  later, in the 18th century, it became an indication of a new anthropological model and a different outlook on the world. The origin of the word does not lie in the Enlightenment although it is a keyword used in the 18th century due to the protagonism of knowledge as the driving force to construct a better world. Bildung and the idea of self-cultivation through the acquisition of knowledge give voice to the new intellectual attitude of the men of the Enlightenment.

Wilhelm von Humboldt’s work at the end of the 18th century is a good example of such a tradition. He placed the idea of Bildung at the centre of his work, it was rooted in a dynamic idea of transforming the idea of the natural and human world while also being oriented toward a model of balance and perfection. It is about the self and the world. The world represented by the unity of nature, culture and society all exerting its power of influence. In this sense, bildung is seen as a reciprocal process of formation between the individual as a self and the world she/he meets actively rather than passively (Fossland, et al. 2015). It suggests self-education as a path to transformation, to strive and change in the process of meeting the world. In words of Humboldt, it is about uniting individual and culture in a rich mutual and complex interplay.

Paola Giacomoni puts it in beautiful words,

Being is Bildung for Humboldt, it is growth, it is transformation, it is never a given thing, a quality. The point is not to recognize and identify a state, a condition or a situation but rather to understand the continuous substitution of forms, the never ending metamorphosis, the unstoppable flow in which the human world may be adequately illustrated. (…) What moves the world and history moves man above all, pressing him to act and express himself as a primary need and with no other goal than the reproduction of his own movement and research: man as part of nature is impulse, energy, an irresistible longing to live in a multi-form way.

Being educated or ‘becoming’, how I see it, is a concept encompassing but subjective knowledge as Kierkegaard calls it; it includes a broad cultural orientation, the understanding of science and technology, and a cultivation of the fine arts. All of this shall bring transformation and, in words of Reindal (2012), thus foster responsibility.  In this sense being literate (the word comes from the Latin word litteratus: learned, cultured, educated) is a necessary condition for knowledge to become subjective, a necessary condition to be able to understand the world and act on it, or at least that part of the world that is available to us, and participate proactively in society, taking responsibility for our transformation thus, societies’ change.

Contextualising this idea of bildung in the academic world, Fossland et al. (2015) are of the idea that in higher education there is a particular form of bildung that is expected to happen in the student in formal and informal learning. They call it ‘academic bildung‘. The world students will meet is one of ideas, thoughts and practices. The authors argue that it is a normative concept, an idea with which I agree as it is loaded with values, it is linked with specific attitudes used in concrete situations. It is, therefore, a concept that describes a developmental process towards something better, a normative ideal in an educational setting. It is linked with critical thinking, society-oriented reflections, how Solberg and Hansen (2015) calls it, and autonomy. But it is also connected with self-development and existential reflections hence the development of the individual is not only concerned with knowledge but also with cultural sensibility linking the individual’s development with his/her wider potential through education. It seems to me that bildung and the development of greater potential are intrinsically related.

And it is precisely in the suggestion of developing more full potential where the idea of flourishing makes sense. The word flourish is derived from the Latin word florere, flourish, blossom, be prosperous. My idea is that developing the knowledge and digital skills that will enable students to interact critically with the world and the cultural reality they live in –a post-digital culture in this case- they are more able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a digital mediated and knowledge driven society but at the same time being critical enough to think and speak from within their perspective and not only from the drivers of the labour market and other more deterministic agendas.

The link between digital literacies and progress still needs more development…


  • The idea of Bildung of the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Oslo
  • Bruford, W.H. The German Tradition of Self Cultivation. From Humboldt to Thomas Mann (I only accessed today the pages available online, there is much to read when the book arrives 🙂 )
  • Fossland, T., Mathiasen, H., and Solberg, M. (2015). Academic Bildung in Net-based Higher Education. Moving beyond learning.
  • Giacomoni, P. (1998). Paideia as Bildung in Germany in the Age of the Enlightenment. Paper given at the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, in Boston, Massachusetts  August 1998. Available here
  • LLanera, T.A. ((2011). Shattering Tradition: Rorty on Edification and Hermeneutics. Kritike, Vol.5 (1). pp. 108-116.
  • Reindal, S. (2013). Bildung, the Bologna Process, and Kierkegaard’s Concept of Subjective Thinking. Stud Philos Educ (2013) 32:533–549. Available from here

My seminar at NUIGalway

The picture is part of the art festival happening in Galway last week. The “sky whale” is a piece of art made to an aerostatic balloon 🙂 it flew over Galway while I was there! (The picture was taken in Australia, the first time it flew)

Here my talk at CELT in NUIGalway

I received interesting feedback from the people in the seminar which shed light to the next steps I need to take in my research.

The quotes are referring to what the participant said to me at the end of the presentation

You start you PhD trying to answer a particular question and you end realising what the question should be!

This is so true. Indeed it was one of the things that was stopping me to move forward. I knew and I still know that my question is not a good question, that it is an ordinary question, but I also know that to generate a good and fruitful question there is much more knowledge needed, not only theoretical knowledge but also research knowledge and skills, research literacy? I made the analogy with driving a car. Once you master some of the basic driving skills (changing gear, the breaks, the signs outside, the rules, the dynamics of highways or dual carriage roads and so on) is that you can get better at the art of driving. In the research field I believe the same happens, once we master the basic skills (read academic papers critically, write sharp comments, understand the deep relationship between the research question and the design, learn how to do interviews, surveys, focus group, etc) then we can start to become creative in the research arena. I am not very patient in that respect, particularly because I want to do good research, which I don’t think is what I will do in my PhD, but it is the first stage, and there is no chance to jump over it if I want to be solid and excellent in the future.

Is this why you are focusing now more on phase I, which is about understanding students’ existing digital practice where they might have already a ‘PLE’ (personal learning environment) in place but they might not call it a PLE but it works as that.

Providing a thoroughly ‘state of the actual’  of students’ digital practice in words of Selwyn (2007) and Oliver (2011), can be very valuable to the university in order to map and understand how students engage with different platforms and technologies and what are the underlying motivations they have when engaging online. In this way the institution might be able to set the scene and improve the settings (if needed) of the digital landscape and make the necessary adjustments to meet students expectations and level of digital practice. Phase I will unlock the door for me. Maybe it won’t be needed to work on a PLE because they already have one in place, maybe the need resides in something different that Phase I will tell me. On the other hand doing so is more in line with the basic principles of critical theory, in particular in relation to address the ‘digital disconnect’ between the enthusiastic rhetoric and the mundane reality of digital technology use at the university (Selwyn, 2007).

Maybe phase 2 is not to ‘create’ a PLE but more to expand or develop the existing PLE or informal systems they already have in place.If you recognize there is already one going on instead of bringing it like a totally new thing there be less resistance from the side of the student

In my experience students are reluctant to use digital technology for their academic tasks. They tend to go for the least effort and if the university don’t put in place the conditions for students to feel the need of working in a different way that they have been doing until know, there is no case in trying. If the university is happy with an essay in a word document I am sure that none of the students will come with something different as it implies more work, struggle thus resilience. It would be the exception. They like the easy way and they are used to be spoon fed. So if there is struggle and extra effort implied in designing a PLE and for the university it will make no difference it will be very difficult to get students to overcome the struggle and difficulties implied in the task.

I think that students are quite passive in relation with technologies. The longer students stay at the university the more strategic they become (Deep, surface and strategic learning).

What is your aim for the students? Are you thinking to getting every one to a certain level of digital literacy? Getting the average up or focus on the more brilliant ones? Maybe how to manage 5 tools to do research? If you want to use the personal part as the motivator, you get a conflict if you want to give them the tools or let them to choose. Choosing will be part of the motivation, I think.

She also made a good point about working with tools and the ‘ideal idea’ that we know why we are going to choose this or that tool for a particular task. She said that many times we make decisions without knowing very much about it, we just make them because we have to. So maybe this could be a good point to try to find out in the research. Asking for reasons why students choose a particular tool.

Don’t you think that last year undergraduate is already to late? Why don’t you work with younger students and ask them why are they choosing a particular tool or a particular device. When they first used the device or when they first encounter the technology why is it the one they want to use?

The group you have chosen is a very strategic and important group, many of them are going to be teachers. There is a strong rational as they are going to teach younger students and they will need to be digital literate. I could think in a bigger set, all students of ED6014 and then the subset of the potential PGCE students.

Indeed the idea to work with last year Ed Studies pupils is inspired by the fact (at least it is my believe)  that they will favour from having guidance in relation to the engagement, more over, the effective engagement with digital media and the web as the majority of them are going into the PGCE programme to become qualified teachers.

The main space in which the majority of the interaction with tools happens is the Web, and it is in this space where we and particularly future teachers, need to move confidently. It is understanding how the Web works, what is the logic of the dynamics that happens in that space and in the many sub-spaces we dive in when we are doing particular tasks, how can we navigate the complexity of abundance without getting lost and sometimes overwhelmed, that we can become real agents in this social and hyper-connected age in which we are living in. The idea is to address these challenges and build students’ digital expertise for the ‘near’ future.
This need is very well documented through out many institutions and government agencies in the UK and around Europe. Indeed it is part of the overall strategy for Europe and the UK for 2020; i.e DIGICOMP, DISE, Make or break: The UK’s digital future, The future of learning: Preparing for change, Connected Minds: Technology and today’s learners (OECD), UCISA Digital Capability report, Jisc project: Enhancing the students’ digital experience, All Aboard, NUI open project to map digital literacy in HE, just to mention a few.

Phase I unlocks the door for you, because in studying their existing practice you will understand better what needs to come next. Maybe there is no need to work with them or maybe it is that their PLE is defined in a different way. It will be a phase that grounds your work in real needs within your institutional context.

That is why research is time consuming, you have to go through all the stages and it requieres time to give proper attention to each stage.

What you are really looking at is to their existing PLEs although they might not be perfect PLEs (if that exists). They do have a PLE even if they do not know it. So maybe stage II is not about how to create a PLE but how to expand and develop the one they already have in place.
(…) I think for students to work with their PLE…is like alcoholics, first you have to recognize you have one! I mean if you bring it in as a new concept “now you have to create a PLE” it all gets a bit strange, they will maybe say: what the hell is that? How do I get one? This is all to complicated and I don’t know what Flickr is nor what is? Curating, what??
Many of the work I have seen is that participants map out their PLEs and it is a way to get to see their blank spots being this a motivation to start the work. It is different if the work is seen as improving what I already have than starting from scratch. It can be felt that what they have done by themselves has no value at all.

Me: Do you think that working within the dissertation module could be limiting, as I am just researching the state of their actual practice?

Ian: That module is where students are supposed to bring in all the knowledge they have been gathering through out their course and they need to go “outside” the university to explore something, so it is the ideal space to work with as you can look how they explore, what tools they use? The other modules are very constraint and well structured in relation to activities, etc. In this module they are getting some freedom in relation to what to explore and how they want to explore it, they can choose what resources they will use for that, what tools can help them to get those resources and how they will present their findings.

My conclusions:

  • It is necessary to ground my research within the actual digital practice students have. Understanding what those practices look like, how they engage with the media, the web and other digital spaces is key to know what do they need to move on and improve in this regards, This landscape will be the key to open the next door in my research.
  • The starting point of the next stage (supposing it will be working towards a PLE) will be based on their existing practice. Usually what we see nowadays is that everyone has a system of tools and resources already in place but they may not be called PLE, nevertheless depending on how I will define it [and maybe it is here when I can use Engestroem’s idea of expansive concepts. In his theory we need to work with complex concepts which he argues are best understood as tools and products of collective activity that evolve historically. Thus the concept of PLE will evolve in the collective activity of educational research. They are inherently polyvalent, contested and dynamic. “Every local action of diagnosis destabilises the concept and potentially contributes to its evolution” (link) ] student may or may not feel identified with the idea of calling what they have a PLE.
  • Next will be the design of the instrument to collect the data that will allow me to map and further understand their digital practice. One of the tools I will use for this is the mapping exercise David White proposes using his visitor-resident framework. I will also do focus group and open interviews. I am also thinking about the possibility to use their mobile devices to answer some questions in situs. I will also carry out some workshops asking students to map a life space (Kurt Lewin, 1936).
  • Once the data is analyzed decisions will be made as where to go next.

Reflections about the post-digital

The post-digital did sound really weird to me the first time I heard it. What??? Post-digital?? But how can we be in a post ‘what ever’ if we are still struggling so much to keep up with the ‘what ever’? I looked into the literature, videos, talks and I started to understand what people were referring to when talking about the post-digital. I think we are in a transition phase more than being fully there yet. It seems to me we are at the right time to start to think about how this post-digital will be best embraced.

We as educators and researcher are still looking at ways in which we can embed the digital (tools, format, thinking and operating) in a seaming less way into the everyday experience of our students, it is not a straight forward task and we can see that the research space is packed with those kind of studies. Question in relation to how much web based tools and the web in general are empowering and liberating our students of the hidden power structure is an important aspect to think about but politics and hidden power is not a topic for every one.

What is happening with the gap between the rhetoric of the power of educational technology and the reality is also important. There is still a big space between the saying and selling of the idea and its benefits and real examples of how those tools are being use in every day practice. It need to be more about the ‘state of the current’ and not so much about the state of the art as Selwyn suggests in his text. My questions is what would be necessary from the side of the teacher to foster and encourage the use of web-based tools in order to improve student’s digital skills and competencies so necessary to succeed in a knowledge digital hyperconnected liquid society? If the general educational and political discourse is about the ‘inherent’ progress that technology implies then it would be necessary to have a clear definition of what we mean by ‘progress’ and who is benefitting of it? How can we empower students to be part of this so called -maybe wrongly- progress?

Some initial readings are to be done in relation to what progress means from a philosophical perspective and in conjunction with a deeper understanding about the nature of technology I think I can move forward my understanding in order to take actions in the near future

I tend to think that having skilled and literate citizens -amongst other- is how the post-digital will might be experienced fully.

Here some of the links I found useful in my understanding journey, which is still not closed.

The video is David White talking in a conference about the  Web as a ‘place’

Here the conference video 

Preparing for the Post-digital era is the document David White is referring to. Written by Group 52.

An interesting blog post about the post-digital

The illustration is from Julian Stodd’s blog