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2015 Festival of Social Science November 11, 2015

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Marginal Notes

Yesterday the ESRC Festival of Social Science came to town; well OK, it’s been running for a couple of days now, but yesterday was the first events that I attended.

What can data visualisation do?

At the Showroom, this event arranged by The University of Sheffield provided four provocations on different topics, followed by a panel discussion of some of the issues raised. Alan Smith opened the batting by making ‘The Case for Charts,’ questioning whether charts were often used simply to break up blocks of text.

By Anscombe.svg: Schutz derivative work (label using subscripts): Avenue (Anscombe.svg) [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons Using a bar chart from a UNESCO report entitled “Gender Parity Index …,” typical of the kinds of charts we often encounter in reports of this nature, Alan showed how it could be quickly amended to improve accessibility, ease of…

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New ventures August 30, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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flickr photo by colinjcampbell http://flickr.com/photos/cjc/3577600379 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

It was a strange feeling as I left school for the last time on Friday. Not sad at all; I’m moving on to something I’ve been keen to do for a while. Not with any sense of pleasure either though; I enjoyed my time both as ICT Development Manager and Head of eLearning at Sheffield High School, made some good friends and helped see through some substantial changes. Strange instead because the school was quiet, as it invariably is with staff and students on hols. There was no hullabaloo, no fanfare; thanks had largely been exchanged at the end of summer term (Some people had been really kind in expressing their gratitude for the help and advice I’d afforded them; very touching). So I finished my day’s work, handed in my laptop and ID card, said cheerio to a couple of people and left. Simple. Quiet. Bit like me really.

I’m minded to look back at the technology in the school when I was appointed at the start of 2005 and to consider some of the changes we embraced to exploit some of the affordances new technologies offered. But hey, if you too were in schools during that time, you’ll already be well aware. If not, by all means have a wander through the six year back catalogue of posts here which reflect on many of the issues we faced. I read a comment or quote recently which said something along the lines of ‘There’s no point looking over your shoulder at the past; you can’t go there.’ Whilst history scholars might baulk at that, I have to confess to subscribing to that view and prefer to look forward. I certainly reflect on and endeavour to learn from what has passed, but I’m energised more by a sense of agency and ability to effect what is to come.

So what is ‘to come?’ I’ve secured a studentship to undertake a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University, full-time, within which I’ll be researching teachers’ use of social media to support their professional learning. I was struck some while ago by the number of people on Twitter claiming how potent it was in addressing their professional developments needs. Could that be true? Each time I hear the sentiment repeated, I wonder how a 140 character medium can possibly do that, yet am well aware of the positive effect it has had on my learning. I intend then to tease apart the issues involved, establish significant factors and shed more light on if and how this is being achieved. There’s little question that a good many people feel that their professional learning is enhanced by Twitter and other social media; what I’m keen to find out is how.

This blog has always been a place to reflect on issues related the use of learning technologies in schools; I hope to continue to do that. I do however need a new place which focuses solely on my new area of interest, so to that end I’ve set up ‘Marginal Notes‘ where I’ll be reflecting on my research endeavours. I need to provide a little more background in order to set the context from which my research arose, but I’ve found the need to begin documenting my studies, even though officially, I’ve not yet begun. If you have any observations or comments, do please share them.

So the next three years of my life are in some ways mapped out, and yet I know I’ll be exploring (for me) completely new ground. ‘The way less trod’ has always appealed.

Being online – Dinosaur poo? June 20, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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I’ve begun preparing for starting my PhD in October later this year. Whilst scouring the Web for articles, papers and other resources I’m keen to explore, a video on virtual ethnography bubbled to the surface. (Writing the research proposal and application, preparing for interview, then the initial forays into the field following confirmation that I had been successful have all contributed to me being less prolific on here than I might have preferred. Apologies.)

During the presentation, a suggestion by Jen Ross, brought me up short; that nowadays, it’s unlikely that we can ever truly be considered to be offline. After my initial reaction of what a ridiculous notion, I began to wonder if that could possibly be true, yet swiftly acknowledged that of course it was.

From the moment we first interact with the Web, as opposed to simply browsing it, we commit ourselves to a perpetual online presence. That might be making our first online purchase, opening a bank account, creating a social media profile or beginning communicating using email. We then become one tiny node in this vast network of people, devices and interconnections. But are we present? One might argue that unless you are at your keyboard or holding your smartphone/tablet and actively engaged in online activity, then how can you possibly be online? I’m not online whilst having a shower, enjoying a meal with friends or out on the bike, and yet … I could be streaming audio from Spotify whilst shampooing my grey hairs, snapping and posting to Tumbler a shot of our group at the table or sending my current performance directly to Strava. But since my smartphone is rarely even turned on, I don’t actually do those things.

The more I pondered, the more it became apparent that whilst at any particular instant, I might not be consciously engaged in online activity, I am still nevertheless online. As a blogger, podcaster, tweeter etc, my digital tracks mean that others have continual access to my thoughts and jottings. They can comment on that alluvium, provide feedback or enter into dialogue, if not in real time, then asynchronously. When I come across the online trails of other people, I feel I am offered a window into their thinking and a glimpse of who they are … or at least, who they portray.

‘Being online’ then perhaps brings into question the notion of presence; if we set to one side our analogue thinking and issues of temporality, it’s more about visibility, connectedness and what we leave for others to find. Whilst temporal displacement means no scientist has observed a dinosaur, we can still hypothesise about their diet by examining their fossilised droppings. Our online ‘droppings’ (an apt term if you’re a regular reader of In the pICTure!) mean we are indeed continually online and because of temporal proximity, available to exchange ideas and information and discuss issues.

These ideas were cemented home for me when I came across this post by Terry Heick, celebrating the life and work of Grant Wiggins who passed recently. Terry noted:

His work remains. His writing is always available–here, in his books, on his own blog, his twitter account, and more. When your work is thought and you leave a record of that thought, then your work never stops. Even when you ultimately have to.