Lurker – reclaim, accept or keep resisting? some thoughts for #SocMedHE18

Photo of silhoutte of a person

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

I’m really delighted to be part of the organising committee for #SocMedHE18 ( there’s still time to make a submission).  We’ve had some really interesting and very fun conversations about the theme of the event. We also had the brilliant Bryan Mathers lead a visual thinkery session which was so helpful and again fun.

Perhaps not surprisingly during our conversations, the word lurker has come up again and again.  Andrew Middleton has written a brilliant post summarising some of key points around “that word”, the need for active learning and positive peripheral participation. This post isn’t disagreeing with any of that, and I’m really looking forward to the discussions during the day relating to that theme. But . . .

Here’s the thing. I have a real problem using that work in an educational context. For me it always conjures negative associations of disturbing behaviour.  I spent most of my student life being quiet in a classroom, listening reflecting and I confess at times daydreaming.  Equally, a lot of my professional life has been spent being quiet in a conference room. As I’ve got older, I’ve got braver about asking questions but it is still a scary thing to do, particularly at a conference keynote.  No-one ever described that behaviour as lurking and I don’t think I’ve ever said, “oh I just lurk when I am at conference”.

I know, I know,  times change and even the OED has a more positive, online chat room related definition.  So I am conflicted. It seems that is acceptable, even quite amusing to refer to one’s self as an online lurker.  Looking on side of positive peripheral participation does, as Andrew’s post explains so well,  bring up key questions around active learning. That is a good thing.  But, if we forget the roots of the word and don’t address its negative connotations are we inadvertently missing a key educational role in addressing head on the more harmful side of online lurking behaviour such as trolling?

As with everything there must be a balance, around the need for silent reflection and (positive) active engagement. However I just can’t see myself ever being comfortable with trying to put a positive spin on a very negative word.


What is digital literacy?

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

That question popped into my inbox(es) today, from my former colleague John Robertson and his colleague Cindy, who are teaching a course called Digital Literacy and Life.   John and Cindy wrote:

As we’ve prepared for this course, we’ve been struck by the wide variety of definitions of digital literacy. It’s perhaps not surprising that there are different answers to this question and every answer we’ve found has limits and challenges. We want to try to introduce our students to the richness of the question, ask how this plays out in all of life, and help them work out their own definitions. . . .

Answer by email, Google form, link a blog post, a link to something else you’ve written, a video, a soundbite, or whatever you would like. We’ll create a post for each response. We hope to have responses by the first week of January but will post on the blog in small groups as we get them.

  • What is digital literacy?

  • What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? [*However you interpret this.]

  • Who are you? (context matters)

  • License – our intent is to post responses to this on a wordpress site for our course to explore. We’re asking for permission to publish or link to it there (with Copyright remaining yours). If this is something that y’all think would be of wider use we can looking into pulling this into a pressbooks site as some form of open text. If you want to give us text with an open license we’ll record that accordingly.

So here is my attempt to answer these not so simple questions.

1 – What is digital literacy.

I tend now to talk and think more in terms of digital capabilities, as I think it provides a more accurate description of all the “stuff” in my life intertwined with digital literacy.  The Jisc definition is my go to one:  “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society” 

2 – What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual life?

Well this is quite a broad and deep question, so I’ll probably only be able to come up with something narrow and superficial 🙂  For me I think the initial impact has been driven by my professional practice.  Working within an educational technology context, my interactions with technology have been professionally driven. That goes for my growing interest in digital literacy in general too.

I still see Information Literacy  as an overarching lens to think about digital literacy, and increasingly all the other digital stuff. (Shameless plug, this is explored more in a forthcoming book I’ve written with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston).  I’ve always been more curious and concerned around why people want to use technology and for what purposes.  Just now it is more important than ever that people understanding the cost/benefits of using technology particularly in relation to use of data.

Of course over the past decade and probably more, digital stuff, in particular social media has become more infused with my non work life . The boundaries have been blurry around where “professional” Sheila exits and how much “real” Sheila is shared. I regularly reflect and blog about this blurry-ness and my evolving relationship with my online presence.  I feel quite lucky that I have to understand what my friends/family often refer to as “techy stuff”.  I am aware of the potential impact of what I put online and I also know where to find stuff and find out about stuff.

My own digital literacy and digital capabilities are constantly evolving.  I do get concerned when there are conversations around digital literacy training. To my mind that implies that you trained at a functional level to do something and then that’s it, the evolving literacy/capability is forgotten.  A key role for any educator is around criticality, and we need to ensure we are providing our students, staff opportunities to question the use of technology.  Technology is not a neutral. We should always be asking, who owns the technology, what are their drivers/political contexts (again something we explore in much more detail in the book).  The serendipity of twitter threw this on my timeline this morning and I think it encapsulates why digital literacy is so important.

I don’t know if there is a spiritual part to my life. I’m not religious, however I hope I have a sense of morality that allows me to respect everyone and everything on the planet.  However there are moments that I want to capture and share with, well anyone.  Mainly these are photos/images – a l cloud, a flower. some chalk marks on a wall . . .  These are moments of peace, joy, wonder and the odd WTF in the world around me.   I also know when to let go and I am comfortable being off line and don’t feel the need to try and keep up with everything. If something is important it will find me one way or another.

3 –  Who are you?

Now that is quite a big question!  But for the purpose of this blog, I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Digital Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University.  I am part of the Academic Development team so my work is primarily around staff development and support in academic development.



The art of remembrance

Today, November 11, 2018, I went to Ayr Beach to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War through the Pages of the Sea, a project developed by Danny Boyle to mark the centenary.

On selected beaches around the UK, over the course of several hours, a portrait of an individual from the First World War will emerge from the sand. And then, as the tide rises, be washed away as we take a moment to say a collective goodbye.

The soldier selected for the sand portait in Ayr was Walter Tull, Britain’s second black professional footballer and the first black officer in the British Army -despite the fact that black officers were not allowed in the British army then! He undertook part of his officer training in Ayrshire and was killed in in action in 1918. I don’t think I can actually comprehend the number of other battles Walter must have had to fight during his lifetime before going to France.

As well as the large portraits, people on the beach are able to make a silhouette of a service person to mark their own act of remembrance.  Walking on Ayr beach today, I found these silhouettes to have an incredible emotional impact, highlighting the pointlessness of that (and indeed any) war.  Far more impact than watching lines of politicians laying wreaths in city centre memorials.

Photo collage of Pages of Time, Ayr BeachLike many of my generation, I ‘know’ that war through art, primarily poetry. The words of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and the other war poets that I was introduced to at school and have stayed with me.

I always mark remembrance day, not to glorify war, but to remember all those who died.  I never knew my great grand father who died during it, or my grand father who was a boy messenger and was wounded during the battle for the Somme. He died the year I was born.  I do wonder just quite what they would have made of me, my life, my politics.

It is still important to remember, to understand the politics of that time, the changes in national, international, gender and racial politics that wrapped around that war and unfurled onto the rest of the 20th century.  Despite the advances we may have made, war still seems to be our ultimate threat and answer.  We don’t seem to be able to end wars any more, just displace them, or rename them as Troubles, insurgencies . . . the economics of the war machine it seems can never be stopped.

The current Poet Laurette, Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem, The Wound in Time,  as part of the project. Once again poetry giving us all the words. If you only do one thing this remembrance day, read  The Wound in Time.


Politics, privilege and invading holograms

photo of Darth Vader MaskPhoto by issac cortes on Unsplash


Oh dear, so much to write about and so little time. Or maybe things just moving so fast that the moment for blogging passes and another week goes by without me taking time to write. Anyway in an attempt to remedy that situation, this is just a very quick post based on a couple of things I saw last week.

On Friday I saw this tweet from Helen Crump.

Of course ed tech has politics, it’s steeped in them. Everything has a political context.  Education isn’t neutral, is highly political and contextual. The right to education maybe enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Rights , however that doesn’t actually set the context of how education is perceived, instantiated, supported and controlled at national and international levels.  To think that educational technology is neutral is naive. It too is developed, owned and sold by someone with an agenda, and there is a Political or political motive to that.

Despite the claims by most ed tech vendors, ed tech is not the solution to education. It is a solution but right now in the Global North it exists in a neoliberal context. The cost of education and personalisation is increasingly being driven by biased, highly political, data driven, developments.  AI and all those algorithms we are constantly hearing about, are not neutral or non political . They conform to the standards and privileges of those who develop them.

Then I read  Maha’s post on the privilege to choose global perspectives.   Once again Maha reminding us in the Global North of our assumptions around globalism, diversity, the acceptance of our ‘norms’ in academic writing, presenting and referencing.  The political context of academia.

Maha puts  the mirror up to our faces by pointing out:
if you are in the US, your career will survive completely even if you never read a single article by someone not from your culture, not in your language.
would a journal accept my article if it had ZERO references by Western canon?
Well would it? How would you react if you were peer reviewing a paper like that?
So Maha plays the game she understands the political context, she finds ways to get her voice heard.
I blog, I tweet, I publish, I f*%$ing invade conferences with Virtual keynotes and presentations and conversations and I join and initiate collaborations and I speak that language and I build those relationships. So you can all *see me* and you can all *hear me*.

That’s hard work. I have such huge respect for Maha and that f*%$ing invasion.   It is so needed and welcome (well from most people I know. And yes, that’s my politics coming through).  It can be uncomfortable,  but education should be uncomfortable at times. It shouldn’t just be about a “personalised journey”, where you are never challenged and you never question of challenge the context of that experience. Higher education shouldn’t just be judged on the kind of money you can earn, the perpetuating of an increasingly fractured and fragile political scenario.

Then I see the news about teaching holograms and I automatically think of Maha’s post.  How this the exact opposite of her invasion. This could be the starting of another f*%$ing huge cultural invasion. Yet again, we (in the Global North) are developing “new” ways to subjugate “global markets” with this great new (?) technology

 . . . members will also be offered the hologram system, which Imperial is adopting for its MBA classes, aimed at cutting the cost of sharing their academics while hopefully improving on videoconferencing.

Note the emphasis on improving videoconferencing – not improving/developing pedagogy. That doesn’t get mentioned until much further down in the article. But fear not the holographic teacher can take questions in real time. Which is great, because obviously a great big hologram (of a white, middle aged man- check the article’s lead picture) is much better than say synchronous chat session within a video conferencing session – or you know having live video q & a session, or using some twitter, what’s app or snapchat or any technology that might be actually used by students outside education.  And I bet all the planned classes will be in English. Once again we invade the rest of the world except this time we don’t have to face the natives in their own country. We can just beam in star Professors, Darth Vader stylee.

What politics are implicit in that ed tech?