Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Goldilocks moment, not too hard , not too soft

John Dron 23 November in Change11 mooc

What are technologies anyway?
Dron starts with eg of screwdriver or is it a paint-tin opener, or a stirrer or a backscratcher…its not a single technology

We have a tendency to think of it as one thing, but really its many; there are
an infinite number of possible ways it can be used

This is a very ANT (actor-network theory) conversation. To consider that we and they (others including things) are made in association. And reminds me of Latour talking about what a gun is; a weapon or an item of beauty to a collector.
As well as reminding me of Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler on what makes a woman...

And then he put a thought provoking question forward:
Do people learn better with screwdrivers or without them?
This is a nice way to introduce the implausability of the common question:
do students learn better with pencils, elearning, classroom, moocs….

And I would suggest a better ANt like question, what happens when these approaches are used rather than the dichotomies of good or bad.

There are limits though
More than one less than many as Annmarie mol would have said

Further definition of technology is useful in considering therefore the orchestration of phenomena for particular use,
It becomes different technology when used for different things
Its about organizing things in the world.

A soft technology, many have had this idea, but how and why a thhing is used a particular way and the limits on possibility, that is, the orchestration of a phenomenon

Pedagogies as technologies

Multiple blurred and overlapping meanings

Technologies don’t have to be embodied in the thing, but the ways in which we use it, organized, a thing that is in our heads
Very ant like again; for we are shaped and shaping in association. Akrich would have talked of this in terms of what is inscribed into an object

Soft is enacted
Hard technology is in bits bytes atoms physical stuff
Not embodied is an important aspect
Latourian take on this is that we are all socio-technical hybrids and Donna Haraway would have us named Cyborg, but Dron doesnt go this far.

We implemented this and they learned better as a result
But its really about an orchestration of things
Not that online better than face to face, its just the way it is done

All technological assemblies constituted in relation to other things around them. Eg a computer keyboard as a particular bunch of things in order to get some result

Soft technologies an active orchestration by individual people, something without meaning until we start using them. Knitting needles no purpose untill applied.
Now there's a technology that has many uses licit and otherwise, ....but would also have been interesting to consider technologies as more immersed with us and us in them...I am reminded of Sherry Turkle's evocative objects, things we think with.
In contrast knitting machines are hard, the usability constrained, embodied
A continuum nothing wholly hard or soft

Not just about machines, eg legal system is a hard human system
Its not about soft or hard software etc its about created in limited ways
(this is similar to psychology of hard and soft architecture)

The thing about hard technologies, they make some things easier possible, eg refrigerator. To cool food is difficult with a soft technology eg shifting into shade or fanning…
Reducing scope of possibility to make things easier we harden technologies in order to be more simple, regular, reliable

Hard technologies are brittle, stifle creativity, and that’s the point as choices are not needed,
(He made a reference here to "see a city is not a tree" but I am unclear as to why)

Soft gives flexibility, creativity, but a soft technology is hard to use, but you are having to orchestrate those possibilities to make them happen.
(Okay, the use of hard for difficult needs to be considered as it begins to get confusing)

Soft technologies need people, they are nothing without people, whereas a fridge will trundle on by itself, automated.

“We shape our buildings and after the buildings then shape us” (Winston Churchill)
But it’s a lot more iterative than this suggests, he comes back to this later in q and a’s

Hard and soft not good or bad of themselves…fridge not good or bad, pre made web design versus the slowness involved if i had to start from scratch with coding is so slow, I want things to be easier, the big question then becomes how hard or soft in any situation

Moocs too soft for most people, an lms such as blackboard too hard for many…but also complexity: whose good or bad, used by different people, teacher as an authoring tool, or for the student as a learning tool…
Intent and use and what’s the orchestrating intent matters,
The pedagogies pulling at each other, acting together and in tension, a tug of way, technologies that fight with us
Technologies that don’t fit together well are also easily done eg lecture driven classroom and add a discussion forum and then assess the discussion forum…doesn’t add up. We need to design so the assembled work together, it is really easy to make deeply incompatible combinations thoughtlessly.
that is, an electronic system and a pedagogy may be in conflict
Important to assemble them effectively

Hard technologies limit the range, they structure our spaces, we will bend our pedagogies easier than change a hard technology

Facebook kind of hard, everything about it channels in a particular direction
the softer things we want to do being filtered through a hard technology
kind of how a university works, the beaurocracy of learning objectives
This is what i've been trying to do how we shape those technologies and the balance between hard and soft at a particular time, I really don’t want to have to design a lms and would much rather have the one I want than one that doesn’t, balance of constraints with movement

Not too hard not too soft on a given moment, in a given application of technology being adapted to purpose: the Goldilocks moment

eg twitter, how we should be building egs of not too hard not too soft just right
It's about building assemblies that are just right, the assembly makes it possible, just to assemble is how to do it, different ways, to make a hard technology softer easiest way is to add on to it eg blackboard here's mcqs you have to choose….but automated…so solution is to allow some kind of dialogue to happen that it can then be changed overridden by the teacher on the basis of the student's sound we add to to make softer, so softer when we aggregate.
(Seems an incongruity with knitting machine versus knitting needles where that aggragation made it some assemblies I would say soften, and some harden. Latour would talk of the adding chains of connection that strengthen, this understanding might also be applied to what hardens. Again a very ANt/ Latourian argument presented yet ANt was never mentioned.)

eg initially twitter didn’t begin with @ or # and the smart people in twitter then automated it, and made the system softer, it did not limit it, but added to

So softer increased use, so it became hyperlinked….auto ...adding to doesn’t always make harder.
(I can also feel a Macluhan moment coming on where we addd and add and then there is a flipping pint where the new technology obsolesces)
We harden eg when I say I’ll give u some feedback, ill give you some feedback to a learning outcome, I'll grade it…each step a little harder. So it's important to see pedagogies also as harder or softer.
And all technologies grow on a past

It becomes important then to think about what kinds of systems support aggregation so its about malleability
A key thing in aggregation, does it make it softer hardier, easier more difficult, more or less open for possibilities and fitness for purpose as well as adaptabilities...
eg electrical plug adaptor that’s multi use across the world
to make technologies not too hard or too soft

The elephant in the room is its not the technology as much as the passion, artistry in order to make those technologies do wonderful things, to get to those points we need to be I would say thoughtful

This was a very actor-network congruent presentation

In Q&A
Cites Ursula Franklin, wholistic technologies that expand vs prescriptive technologies
Thinking of things as technologies gets us away from the kneejerk all technology bad, restrictive technologies terrible…they are not

To follow up, further reading: Dron has allso written a paper called any colour you like so long as it’s blackboard

How to make the just right Goldilocks moment, eg grsshapper in a mook, enabling aggregation, harness when its needed, useful to have technologies that can be hardened or softened by those using it.
Might just be the policies around the use that need softening...might be us that need to soften rather than the techy. Again I am reminded of Latour and also Peter Sloterdikt in how to make digital spaces suit our human needs, but this has given me a way in to lever that conversation in my thesis
A guided path option, with choices that soften or harden,
To be harder when we need them and softer when we don’t, having smaller optional hard pieces eg drop downs…but problem is can end up with millions of small pieces and it becomes difficult again…

Yes there are some good ideas in this for the thesis, both philosophically, and for the handling of current pragmatic difficulties associated with the practice I have investigated (use of SMS messaging for youth counselling).
Great presentation.

refs for where i am coming from
Franklin, U. (1999). The real world of technology (Revised ed.). Toronto, Canada: House of Anansi Press.
Latour, B., & Sloterdijk, P. (2009). Networks and spheres: Two ways to reinterpret globalization. Presentation to the Graduate School of Design [Video webcast]: Harvard University. Retrieved from
Mol, A. (2002). The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. London, England: Duke University Press.
Sloterdijk, P. (2009). Spheres theory: Talking to myself about the poetics of space. Harvard Design Magazine, 30, 126-137.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reculturing a higher ed work place

A report commissioned by the Tertiary Education Union and put together by the New Zealand Work Research Institute in conjunction with AUT University, surveyed 3000 academic and support staff from universities, polytechnics, technical institutes and wananga. Massey University had the second-highest number of people respond at 444, behind Otago University on 460.

One of the report's authors, Professor Tim Bentley from AUT, said the one-in-six figure was high compared with overseas samples.

The impact is not only personal, the costs are high- personal and financial.
There are more sick days- in academia this means either loss of classes taught or more stress on colleagues.
There are costs to the employer with time spent with HR and or in mediation let alone the potential if not actuality of legal action.
There may also be costs incurred with employment assistance scheme counselling.
In addition are the costs on peers of supporting distressed colleagues- which then detracts from the ability of this person to do their own job well when time is spent supporting colleagues ...
When a person leaves there is also the cost of staff turn over.

It makes sense -logical sense and finacial cents -to end work place bullying.

A zero tolerance for bullies and for bullying.

Regarding educational leadership Michael Fullan suggests reculturing educative places so that people are able to flourish.
I agree with him.

He writes:
Solutions must come through the development of shared meaning
The key to successful change is the improvement in relationships between all involved and not simply the imposition of top down reform.

Turning around a workplace culture takes collective action.
I see a visioning exercise then...
What is it we value
What is it we grow now
What is it we would want to do if not impeded (blue sky thinking)
And steps to get there... a collective.

Creating change...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The art of writing

Here's the evidence of thesis writing being a distributed activity. The image portrayed is a graph created of movements on my mouse captured in 23 minutes of writing my thesis summary. The free software comes form iograph.
Writing is a distributed activity: the movements of the mouse attest to this. In is finger tapping movements on a key pad, as well as the lighting of pixels on a screen,and captured as a pdf file, or printed as ink on the page.
And the electricity, and plastic and metal gadgetry that is the laptop...
In addition text being distributed is also evident in that we, you as the reader and myself as the writer, have a shared meaning as to what these alphabet symbols mean and how on being strung together particular recognizable configurations are read as words, and in sentences particular meanings can be made.
And this occurs to the extent that Cooren writes of the spoken word as puzzling in that we assume the centrality of a speaker when myriad beings are involved and demonstrates that when we speak, many other voices are speaking as well.

In thesis writing there is also the distribution that involves myself as a student, a supervisor, and myriad other beings in a chain from here to there involving the institution I am enrolled at.
And a library and world wide web of readings that informs what i write of...and the twittersphere that introduced me to iograph.
And the research undertaken that prompted my thinking about how different communication and computer technologies alter how we see the world, and how we are seen, how we are shaped as well as shaping.

The textual format that can be traced not only in current time but which can also be traced downstream to the evolution of writing, and upstream with where such writing might lead with meanings made and paths then taken.

From something so little as a scribble of a graph i can make meaning... if I am willing to.
In arguing the textual form as distributed, this is also an example of actor-network theory at play, there are myriad beings involved, human and otherwise, and they are often silenced.
Such distribution is not only geographical but also 'folds time' or as Michel Serres (1995, cited in Latour, translated by & Venn, 2002 ) describes it, grasping a ‘garland of time’ as Michel Serres (1995)
Or I might have used the Deleuze and Guattari's metaphor of a thousand plateaus and reference to rhizomatic ways of learning (discussed last week by Dave Cormier in chage11#) except they didnt go so far as naming the technological so strongly in an ecological systems approach, nor giving voice to so many other actors.
The forward by Latour on Cooren's book that discusses discourse as a distributed activity also contributed to this post.

Current discussions in #change11 seem annoyed by the metaphors that make theorizing accessible to some and less so to others. What is made more or less strong, whose realities are being voiced, whose could or should be, are also ANT issues.
That rhizomes or garlands make it clearer for me, someone brought up more in a garden than in an academic house, is something I'm grateful for.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London, England: University of Minnesota Press.
Latour, B. (2010). Who is making the dummy speak? In F. Cooren (Ed.), Action and agency in dialogue: passion, incarnation and ventriloquism (pp. xiii-). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamin.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The art of change #Change11

I'm going to take Nancy White's invocation of weaving together theorizing with a less wordy response and look at the social artistry as a reflection on change.

Changes can be mapped in the symbolic representations of rebranding for example.
When places I have worked have sought to throw out the old, the attachment to visual representations seemed especially hard.

Its also in the things that move from the margins and unaccepted spaces and into the exotic, and high brow spaces of the arts.
I have just obtained a copy of artist Nik Davez social-linguistice art: a translation of Roland Barthes The pleasure of the text into txtese: d PlsUR ov d txt
This beautiful rendition on the pleasure of reading and writing states:

it iz d rythm of wot iz red & wot iz & not red dat crE8z d plSUR of d gr8 nar8ivz
and so it is with change, what is done and not done, what is in the spaces, what is pushed through, and as Neil postman asks of technology,what does it undo as much as what it does...
"change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything."

and so change gets conveyed visually.
And in reflections on what happens with change and seeing allegorical representations, especially where things might otherwise be unacceptable. Patti Lather's the ache of wings comes to mind on her writing and reflections of researching women living with aids.

And in the stimulation to think about not only affecting change, but also in patterns of resistance (in ant change is always about resistance). The spiders of Nina Katchadourian dont like or appreciate the help extended. Well intentioned others; a reminder that change always involves alternate possibilities, and moral bias that may conflict with others realities.

But more than any other musings is Latour he talks (2002) of technology as catching a garland in time, past and present being brought together...and technology as the art of the curve.
Im being loose with my connections here...but if technology is as Ursula Franklin suggests the way we do things round here, then change and technology might be loosely the same thing :)

A bodacious curvaceous approach. Thanks Nancy.

Franklin, U. (1999). The real world of technology (Revised ed.). Toronto, Canada: House of Anansi Press.
Lather, P. (1997). Creating a multilayered text: Women, AIDS, and Angels. In W. G. Tierney & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Representation and the text: re-framing the narrative voice (pp. 233-258). New York, NY: State Univeristy of New York Press.
Latour, B. (2002). Morality and technology. The end of the means. Theory, Culture & Society, 19(5/6), 247–260.
Postman, N. (1998). Five things we need to know about technological change. Retrieved from