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the proposal revisited - Some current thoughts.

Sunday, 14 January 2007
Enquire
Let's quickly deal with infrastructure first. I have done little work to develop the 'enquire' element of the proposal as I have found that my idea of network infrastructure (the structure that facilitates better links and communications between parts of the network up to and including people as the 'endpoints' in this context) and infrastructure, the legacy militaristic and narrow definition that appears to be favoured by my 'chain of command'.

infrastructure
1927, from Fr. (1875), from infra- (q.v.) + structure. The installations that form the basis for any operation or system. Originally in a military sense.

Interestingly, Wikipedia claims that the word infrastructure was used to refer primarily to military installation throughout the first half of the 20th century and that:

That public-policy discussion was hampered by lack of a precise definition for infrastructure. A U. S. National Research Council (NRC) committee cited Senator Stafford, who commented at hearings before the Subcommittee on Water Resources, Transportation, and Infrastructure; Committee on Environment and Public Works; that “probably the word infrastructure means different things to different people." The NRC panel then sought to rectify the situation by adopting the term "public works infrastructure," referring to "...both specific functional modes--highways, streets, roads, and bridges; mass transit; airports and airways; water supply and water resources; wastewater management; solid-waste treatment and disposal; electric power generation and transmission; telecommunications; and hazardous waste management--and the combined system these modal elements comprise. A comprehension of infrastructure spans not only these public works facilities, but also the operating procedures, management practices, and development policies that interact together with societal demand and the physical world to facilitate the transport of people and goods, provision of water for drinking and a variety of other uses, safe disposal of society's waste products, provision of energy where it is needed, and transmission of information within and between communities." (Infrastructure for the 21st Century, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1987)

I think that it's fair to say that the meaning of infrastructure is still contested in the context that I have been operating in. Any development of 'service desk' or advice funtions will need to be absorbed within the other elements of the proposal.

Sandbox

I have started to sketch out a few ideas for the content of a webcentric ICT training program and it can be found here. I have not had much time to devote much time to it, (in fact it's barely gone beyond adding in the odd link that might be of relevance to a topic yet) probably the most developed page currently is the one that is about blogs. As I was working on it I realised that it was important to place these 'web 2.0' activities in a more historical context and rather than try and write everything there was to know about blogs, try and just give myself the crib notes to run a blogs101 session and be aware that under the collaborative working section of the wiki that I was likely to explain wikis and suggest as a task for the learners that they went off and created some content, either on this wiki, wikipedia or any other wiki that took their fancy and drew their attention to the differing licences of different wikis.

you are here
I have been doing a lot of thinking about this element. Although I designed each element of the original proposal with a large degree of feasibility and adaptability in terms of context (within a local authority or non-profit company) , audience (primary school teachers, adult trainees, self selected) and contribute rs (adult learners, young people etc) it's the element that I have talked about least. Partly, this is because as it is essentially an art project, I don't want to narrow the possible outcomes. But realistically, it is also a project and a project must also have an end date so I see this as running as a three year project.

The use of existing tools is a key element here. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. This is not a technology project, it is a creative project. Since writing the original outline Elggspaces have launched which might provide a good structure for this element, however I am still at a bit of a loss as to how to handle the Welsh language issue of what I hope to be a Welsh project.

I am Welsh, but monoglot. As far as I know, there is no translation for the Elgg platform underway and even if there was, I'm not sure it would be appropriate to separate out the Welsh contributions from the English ones as that would mean making the access to Welsh language postings that are largely visual less accessible to English speaking readers and vice versa. It would kind of defeat the object of seeing a variety of views of what is in effect people's sense of place. My preference would be to use a hosted Elggspace as that would reduce project costs enormously but I am open to suggestions on this.

The project is about the creation of content, creative content, not technology. Sir Ken Robinson talks about creativity and Education. He tells a story about Gillian Lynne. He asked her how she got into dance. She told him the story of how she was 'hopeless' at school, and just couldn't stop fidgeting. The school wrote to her parents and she was taken to see a specialist. He spoke with her mother for about twenty minutes and then said that he needed to discuss this in private with her mother. He switched on the radio as they left the room, immediately Gillian started moving to the music and they watched her through the open door. The specialist turned to her mother and pronounced her not sick, but a dancer and instructed her to take her to dance lessons. She described the thrill of going to her first dance class where she was just like everyone else, she was among people like her who had to move to think. She became a very successful dancer and choreographer, her work included Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

He then went on to say that today, it would be quite likely that she would be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and be given drugs and be told to sit still. He states that we have an education system that is 'educating people out of their creative capacities' and contends that 'we do not grow into creativity, we get educated out of it'. He defines creativity as 'the process of having original ideas that have value'. He is absolutely right, how can we expect people to innovate and become a 'learning country' and a 'knowledge economy' when the whole idea of 'being creative' is used as a common but euphemistic insult for non conformity, for people who think differently? We *say* that we value creativity but in reality we often try and tame it and put it back in a box because new ideas, if implemented, lead to change and people often dislike change.

Technology is change. It changes how we are able to accomplish tasks, it changes our material world, it also changes us.

I the 3 years that I have been visiting schools in Carmarthen, it became impossible to ignore just how much a lot of the primary school teachers that I met disliked/feared/mistrusted and resented the computers in their classrooms.

Although my original intended audience for this project is primary school teachers, this is kept deliberately flexible. When I studied humanities at the Polytechnic of Wales in the early 1990s the course has a very high proportion of mature students. It was compulsory to take a course of study in either painting, ceramics or drama. Many of my fellow students were apprehensive about being expected to be creative, many of them said things like, 'oh I tried pottery once and enjoyed it, but I wasn't very good,' or 'my art teacher told me that I was rubbish at art'. I felt the outsider in this, I had always been encouraged in art, I was lucky in that way, but unlucky in that my insecurities were more, academic.

All the younger boys in my family have since been diagnosed as dyslexic and have had their special needs recognised. My sister and I flew under the radar before the boys. Although my sister was bright, she failed her SRN (a higher nursing qualification) 3 times on the language, and I just assumed that I was pretty thick for always having lots of red scars covering my marked essays, an inability to read out loud, no aptitude for other languages and difficulty with remembering numbers and my right from my left. Might I have been dyslexic?

My ideal would be to first start to populate the space with contributions from the creative community. I want painters, potters, poets and musicians to blog (they don't have to blog directly in the Elggspace, RSS feeds can be imported) and contribute media about their artistic process and their interpretation of their sense of place. Many creative artists I know are not comfortable with using technology so there could be an additional benefit here, this project is about finding ways to be creative with technology. I think we also need to bring in Museums and Libraries and have contributions from people who work there about how they interpret their own 'sense of place'.

And then we bring in the contributors. Those already in education may have additional support from their sandbox trained tutors/teachers but I think it is also important to have some informal element of support within the main project space as I think that it is important to make it possible for learners outside an institutional context (maybe parents) to feel able to contribute and to have some help to do so.

How did we get to here?

Tuesday, 9 January 2007
I was reading a book the other day that, charted the development of ICT in the curriculum. (Technological literacy and the Curriculum - John Beynon + Hughie Mackay, Falmer 1992)

In the chapter, Social Histories of Computer Education: Missed Opportunities - Richard Capel, talks about the impact of an influential report by the British Computer Society (BCS) in 1975.
The BCS put forward 3 methods of approach.

1) Study the computer as an information processing machine, it's applications and implications.
2) Study the computer as a subject in it's own right. (Goes on to become computer studies)
3) The study of the computer and it's use within a much larger framework of 'technology' education. Here they suggested the computer would be seen as but one of many influences by which technology affects peoples lives.

However, the report excluded the wider 'technology' framework:

"One problem of this approach is the lack of teachers with the necessary breadth of knowledge to develop it, in spite of the research which is being carried out in a few places it seems likely that this shortage will persist for some considerable time. For this reason, the 'technology' approach will not be considered further. (BCS, 1974 p5)

This approach was dropped, not because it lacked merit, but that there were insufficient numbers of people who could teach this perspective. It retrospect, it seems pretty short-sighted that a there was no recommendation to address this lack.

As a result of this decision, IT training took a narrow focus which brought us to a recognisable place which , Land describes (in Staines, 1970 pII/452) as:

"We have been training computer professionals whose outlook is biased towards the machine... What they have not been able to do is design applications which meet the real needs of the organizations or match the skills (or lack of skills) of those involved in working in the organizations with the new jobs they have to carry out within the computer based system. There is increasingly evidence that the most critical aspect of a computer application is it's acceptance by the staff who work the system and the managers who use it. Non acceptance spells failure, poor use involves constant and uneconomic changes to the system. From his narrow technical base the systems designer has no way of assessing the likelihood of his design meeting the criteria of acceptance of those who have to work with the system. Indeed the systems designer often regards rejection of a system or it's misuse as a fault of the user due to their stupidity and lack of appreciation of the capability of the machine." (Land 1979 p45-46)


During the 80s and early 90s (and, as a continuing trend,) the dominant view of the computer was as a 'tool' with which children can think. This did not move the focus toward a broader view of IT, it attempted to render it 'neutral' and not in need of explanation. However there have been critiques of technology that have viewed it through a more broad 'technology' lens. Sally Hacker, draws heavily on the work of Lewis Mumford when she defines technology in 'Pleasure, Power and Technology' (1989)

"Technology is not simply machines. Technology can be defined as the organization of materials and energy to accomplish work. Work is a preparation, a making, a shaping, something upon which labour is expended. The area of leisure studies indicates how difficult it can be to draw a line between work and leisure. We most often think of military and industrial technology, but we can also think of technologies of childcare or housework, leisure or education. The important point is that technology is both mechanical and social.
Machines and systems are designed, developed and applied by people. They do not fall from the sky. They are designed and used with a great deal of passion. Technology also comprises highly complex systems of social relations. So by the term 'technology', I mean the machines and the social relations."

This brings us onto the importance of diversity within the field of ICT. When I talk about diversity, I think of Woolf writing in 'Three Guineas':

"Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. Any help that we can give you must be different from that you can give yourselves, and perhaps the value of that help may lie in the fact of that difference." (Woolf:1938)


What this means to us is that diversity needs to be more than numbers and proportions of different types of people (women, black people, gay people etc) within an organization. It also means that a diversity of views and perspectives need to be genuinely encouraged and valued.

The Equal Pay Act came into force in 1970, The Sex Discrimination Act came into force in 1975, (the same year the BCS Report was published). In April 2007 the Gender Equality Duty (GED) comes into force.

By 2007 the Welsh Assembly Government will spend £14 billion pounds a year on public services so it's important these services meet everyone's needs. Women's lives are different from men's and they need different things from public services. Meeting these needs often means changing the content of services and how they are delivered.
(http://www.eoc.org.uk/default.aspx?page=17369)

The majority of teachers in our primary schools are women, but on a recent open day to the IT department of Carmarthenshire County Council, of the two groups of 14 students who were interested in a career in IT only 2 students in each of the groups were girls.

Technology is a gender issue.

Don't let anyone try and tell you otherwise.

Ok, so now a summary of what I am trying to get off the ground in Carmarthenshire.

Saturday, 6 January 2007
The aim is to provide creative, dynamic, integrated and innovative approach to ICT Support and Training for education in Carmarthenshire.

The proposal is ambitious, and comprises of three complementary, overlapping strands.

Enquire
The Infrastructure and Technology support portal. The purpose of this is not to replace Amdro but compliment it by providing a “one stop shop” for ICT Support in Schools, by fulfilling both resource (software downloads, hints and tips, information on software and licensing) and service desk functions (helpdesk, procurement, book training or give advice).

Sandbox
A pilot scheme to implement a safe and supported social networking/virtual learning environment (VLE) in which users of the system can create and develop non geographical communities. It is proposed that the system be based on Elgg an open source VLE but also provide opportunities to use and evaluate the pedagogical usefulness of Blogs, Wikis, Forums, Podcasts, Instant Messaging, RSS , Tagging, Social Bookmarking, VOIP and Chat Environments and Social Software in general.

You are here
An artist led project which is aims to provide a creative and meaningful learning context and give experience to learners of utilising a wide range of Web 2.0 tools. Teachers are also learners, and as such also have a range of learning styles and relationships to ICT. This theme echoes the Curriculum Cymreig and borrows from Common Ground’s concept of “Parish mapping”and Mass Observation's methods of the 1930-40s.. The primary display space for this project will be an aggregation of multimedia items, drawn from the participant’s blogs and accessible to all users of the sandbox where the project will be hosted. Content creators will be encouraged to make the work available on the web.

“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds!”
Alexander Graham Bell

Enquire - Map 3

This third map focusses more on what the 'you are here' art project might include.
I see it as being pretty informal in it's approach, possibly a one day workshop to sow the seeds of confidence, get an idea of everyones baselines skills and attitudes and set up a blog etc. From there on in, I would see the project as being mostly remotley conducted, but with optional half day workshops in schools perhaps on INSET days.

Those are my initial thoughts. Any comments?

Enquire - Map 2

This map is looking more at the functions that Enquire might fulfill.

Again, I am actively soliciting comments here.

Enquire - Map 1

These next three posts are going to contain links to 3 mind maps that I have been developing. They are very much works in progress, an attempt to try and work out where we are, what we appear to want, how things might look, and what might be useful tools for teachers in a more wholistic way than we have traditionaly been.

I don't think there is anything controversial here. The only thing that may appear to some as being a little 'left field' is the idea of an art project having such a prominant role in an ICT context.

It's a bit rough and ready, being a first draft, but it's here and I invite your comments.

the idea (part 4 - Enquire)

I needed a name for the first part of the Idea, and so I chose "Enquire" as a big tip of the hat to Tim Berners Lee (Chapter 1 page 1- Weaving the web -1999) and because the first webpage I ever made was using lines from a copy of Enquire Within Upon Everything that I had found in Hay on Wye.

"When I first began tinkering with a software program that even gave rise to the idea of the World Wide Web, I named it Enquire, short for Enquire Within upon Everything, a musty old book of Victorian advice I noticed as a child in my parents house outside London. With it's title suggestive of magic, the book served as a portal to a world of Information, everything from how to remove clothing stains to tips on investing money. Not a per analogy for the Web, but a primitive starting point.

What that first bit of enquire code led me to was something much larger, a vision encompassing the decentralized, organic, growth of ideas, technology and society. The vision I have for the Web is about anything being potentially connected to anything. It is a vision that provides us with a new freedom, and allows us to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical classification systems into which we bound our selves(?). It leaves the entirety of our previous ways of working as just one tool among many. It leaves our previous fears for the future as one set among many. And it brings the workings of society(?) closer to the workings of our minds."



the idea (part 3 - context)

ICT in schools in Carmarthenshire used to be the responsibility of the Education Department. Last year it transfered to the Resource Department. No real changes have yet been made, recommendations have been made, but funding appears to be an issue.. things grind on at an "Local Authority" pace. And after three years and one month I am still on a temporary contract with slowly ebbing patience.

A while ago I read a BECTA document called Connecting Schools, Networking People 2002. In the introduction there is a diagram of the ICT National Strategy. There are three interlinked circles, a sort of venn diagram of concepts, Infrastructure, Practice and Content. There is no overlap in the centre. This immediately struck me as wrong. Surely it would make sense in a 'connected context' to have an area of overlap in the middle of thse three interlinked concepts?

the idea (part 2 - the elephant in the room)

Before I go any further with this idea, I am going to do something deeply unfashionable and quote some feminist academics because I view the world through a feminist lens and to not bring gender into this would feel a bit like ignoring the elephant that is stood in the middle of the room that everyone else is studiously not commenting on.

I dug out one of my notebooks from 1995 yesterday for and rediscovered this quote from the preface of Mapping the Moral Domain (Gilligan et al 1988)
"Children had been asked to write essays on how to improve their city.

To the boys improving the city meant urban renewal as we generally concive it: more parks, new buildings, renovations, better streets, more lighting.

Girls however wrote about improving the city in a way the reporter found surprising. They suggested strengthening relationships between people:responding to people in need and taking action to help them."

Wheras boys viewed it as an somthing that could be solved by upgrading the infrastructure, girls were viewing it in terms of relationshipis and connectedness. This appears to be quite a significant disconnect in the two world views.

This reminded me of Du Bois writing about the concept of "double conciousness" in 1983 and "the way women inhabit the world - they are part of society, but never quite of it. Women see and think in terms of culture yet have always have another consciousness, another potental language" I have been reminded of that quote so many times over the last few years while working as a woman in ICT.

the idea (part 1 - the background)

So, for a while now I have been formulating 'the idea'. It's not really one idea but a bunch of ideas that I think could be used to improve the way we teach ICT in schools. During the last 3 years my job has taken me to every primary school in Carmarthenshire, under the auspices of my role of 'Broadband Officer'.

Two things that I have really noticed during that time are that. I rarely come across a primary school teacher who sounds confident about using a computer for anything other than wordprocessing or email. The majority of these unconfident-with-technology teachers are women. I think that this is a problem. I think we need to take action to change this state of affairs.

The number of women in IT professions is falling, much of this is caused by the culture and image of the technology as being gendered and that gender being male. This culture and images is not going to change on it's own, and having childrens first 'official' experience of ICT in a educational context being from a teacher (of either gender), unconfident in the use of ICT is likely to re-enforce the image of ICT being 'difficult'. It also widens the skills gap between teachers who are currently being trained to use ICT in project based learning contexts and teachers who may have, some years back, been given training on office programs and a couple of sessions more recently on Interactive Whiteboards. We need to find a way of narrowing that gap.

Back when I studied for my Masters Degree in 1993, I read Seymour Papert and Sherry Turkle paper on Episimological Pluralism. In it they wrote:

The computer is an expressive medium that different people can make their own in their own way. But people who want to approach the computer in a "noncanonical" style are rarely given the opportunity to do so. They are discouraged by the dominant computer culture, eloquently expressed in the ideology of the Harvard course. Like Lisa and Robin, they can pass a course or pass a test. They are not computer phobic, they don't need to stay away because of fear or panic. But they are computer reticent. They want to stay away, because the computer has come to symbolize an alien way of thinking. They learn to get by. And they learn to keep a certain distance. One of its symptoms is the language with which they neutralize the computer as they deny the possibility of using it creatively. Recall how Lisa dismissed it as "just a tool."

Looking back on it, I suppose that was one of those life changing paragraphs. I had been more than 'computer reticent' when I had been in college. I did start using an Amiga and a paint program in my final year however and found it to be a useful tool, but, but more than that, a surprisingly fun tool to use. My discovery that computers could have such things as 'spelling checkers' spurred me to seek out further computer training after the degree course.

My time on a formal computer training course in Cardiff ITeC was the most miserable learning experience I have ever undergone. That experience was still pretty fresh when I went on to MA course in Ceramics, and in the spirit of postmodern enquiry, I made it my mission to deconstruct my experiences with technology and examine the relationships between Craft, Technology and Art. That work has been ongoing since then. In 1995 Papert put the idea of a $20
0 "high performance networked portable educationally oriented computational devices" just over 10 years on the $100 laptop seems creeps towards production. This speech from 1999 about Diversity in Learning is very reminicent of another thinker whose work is gaining influence in education is Howard Gardner and his work on Multiple Intelligences.

Although there is some debate as to the actual number of intelligences that can be identified (currently about 8.5) it is largely irrelevent as the crux of his work is that everyone has a differing set of intelligences and that because, of this people learn differently. To teach a group effectively requires that the teaching style encompasses different learning styles. This suggests that his theory is now gaining wider acceptance as it is widely quoted in A Curriculum of opportunity: Developing potential into performance.

I know from my own experience that I had a positive learning experience with computers when I used the Amiga to try out different designs and colour schemes for my studio practice and that I had a thoroughly dis-empowering and grim learning experience at the training agency when I was given an entirely context free tasks to carry out. If I had experienced the negative learning experience first then I think that it would have been highly unlikely that I would have opted for a career in ICT support. Because of the contrast between the two experiences, I have since felt driven to find a better way of teaching ICT to adults who are 'computer reticent' by using a more creative approach and finding a way of implementing this.

About me

I'm utilly From Wales, United Kingdom 'beyond utility' used to be my maker's mark. The pots that I made back then were pretty anti-utilitarian, so naturally I stamped the bottom of them 'beyond utility'.
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