Category Archives: Blog posts

It matters because…

This post might come across as something of a ‘rant’, and is perhaps more relevant to the communities and algorithm blocks of this course, but it’s where my reflections have got me to over the past couple of days and therefore, in my opinion, relevant.

The last time I studied humanities as a subject in its own right (and here I use the word ‘studied’ in the loosest sense of the word) , was as a high school student in the early 1970s.  I am willing to admit that I didn’t really know what ‘humanities’ meant back then and it’s only since I’ve started to consider some of the bigger societal questions around technology through this course that the proverbial light bulb has turned on.

It’s not that I have been blissfully unaware, people and particularly their attitude toward technology are a crucial aspect of my job and I have strong opinions on some of the more worrying aspects of our interaction with automation and artificial intelligence, such as the privileging of certain information, ‘fake news’ and the altering of history.

On this latter point, and pertinent to the question of education and digital cultures, even the origin of the phrase ‘history is written by the victors / winners / conquerors’ (which is particularly apt in this context) has multiple and varying narratives.  The phrase is firmly attributed to Winston Churchill on many websites, to Walter Benjamin on others, George Orwell, Niccolò Machiavelli, Ramzi Haroun on others, and so on.  The phrase is also frequently attributed to William Wallace thanks to a version of it being included in the script of the movie ‘Braveheart’.

A more recent version of the phrase is ‘history is rewritten by the Internet’ and not only does this neatly sum up the issue, it points to a wider problem that everything, not just history, can be ‘rewritten by the Internet’.  Relatively recent examples of this phenomenon in the UK are highlighted in this article from Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of Guardian News & Media:

Social media icons
Just a few of the many social media channels from

‘The word’ has always spread, with both good and bad intent, whether as knowledge passed between individuals, folklore, marketing or propaganda.  The difference today is, as Viner refers to in her article, that everyone is a publisher and everyone ‘has their own facts’.   As Viner’s article points out, quoting legal scholar Danielle Citroen, “people forward on what others think, even if the information is false, misleading or incomplete, because they think they have learned something valuable.”

So this matters in almost every context I can think of, but to bring it back to education and specifically to my own professional practice , it matters because trust or distrust in information provided, or perhaps more importantly, the skill or inability to critically appraise information, are crucial to belief and trust in the products and services we provide.  For instance, in the current climate will individuals be more or less willing to accept scientific evidence if it is funded by the company that developed the product?  How trusting will employees be of the company they work for when ‘fake news’ stories are circulating about it on social media?

Fortunately it seems that the issue is starting to be picked up by governments, the media and scholars, although it is my belief that this is an issue that, ultimately,  can only be resolved by the same means it is being perpetuated.

The technology enhanced teacher

I’ve been giving some thought to Sian Bayne’s paper “What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’? ” (2014) and the many issues that are encapsulated in this simple, three-word phrase.

Can technology enhance our ability to ‘learn’ in the same way as it can enhance the capabilities of our bodies to lift heavy objects, travel at speed, survive in hostile environments,  or fly?   Bayne suggests “it makes no sense to see ‘learning’ as open to mere ‘enhancement’ by the operations of an externally applied technology ‘solution’”.  However, I’m interested in finding out if there is any evidence to indicate that (to paraphrase Daft Punk) learning can be faster / deeper / stronger with technology.   For example as an optician I’m interested in finding out whether e-reader and tablet PCs are conducive to quicker reading and improved comprehension (through easier access to Dictionary and Thesaurus look-ups for instance).  From an optical standpoint the increased contrast of back-lit displays should be beneficial, particularly to older readers, but the first few papers I’ve found on the subject indicate that there is a lot more at play beyond the factors one might expect, such as resolution and contrast.  I’m still researching the topic and when I have looked at more of the evidence I will summarise it in this blog.

I do agree with Bayne’s premise that what technology actually enables us to do is enhance the way we teach.  In this respect, we have always used the technologies of the day as teaching aids, whether that is moving on from word of mouth sharing of knowledge to recording it in written form, or disseminating through other new media technologies such as image capture and projection, or audio and video recordings.

Bringing together the points Bayne raises and the wider definition of bodily enhancement covered by Miller, V (2011) perhaps we can take Bayne’s argument one step further and state that rather than ‘technology-enhanced learning’, what we are in fact referring to is ‘technology-enhanced teachers’.

After all, today’s teachers can  use technology to aid learning in ways that would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago:

  • They can slow down and speed up time to show learners processes that would be impossible to see without the aid of technology, either because they happen too quickly or too slowly, or because they would be too dangerous for a human observer to be close to.
  • They can enable learners to see the impact of their own actions in real time through rich simulation of anything from basic fractions through to complex economic and mathematical modelling – for example Utah State University has been building a library of ‘virtual manipulatives’ since the late 1990s*.  Similarly electronic or mechanical sensors can also be used to demonstrate physical, chemical and biological processes in real time.
  • And they can overcome barriers such as time and distance, allowing learners from different parts of the globe to experience each other’s country and culture, or earth-bound classes to take part in experiments conducted in space.
Teacher using technology in the classroom.
Teacher using technology in the classroom. From (Boston college)

These teacher could already be considered to have ‘cyborg properties’ through their physical connection to the technology as they control it through input devices such as a keyboard, mouse or presentation ‘clicker’.

So perhaps rather than ‘technology enhanced learning / teaching’, or as I would prefer ‘Technology assisted learning’, we should be referring to Technology enhanced teachers.  This centres the technology firmly with the teacher and, rather than technology threatening to replace them, it would differentiate them from those who are not ‘technology enhanced’.


RSS feeds

In the interests of keeping an eye on emerging technology and specifically educational technology I’m experimenting with adding some appropriate RSS feeds to the content bar.  By their nature these are transient but it could highlight stories that are worth following up and may contribute to future blog entries.

Boy holding RSS feed logo


I have a new follower on Twitter!

I think these notifications of new followers are relevant to the community cultures topic, but to tidy up my Lifestream I’ve copied them all to this page.  I’ve also indicated the date and time each one was posted and whether or not the new follower is a fellow student:

Published on: 26 Mar 2017 @ 04:46

Crochez is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Researching #historyofeducation and #sociologyofeducation
Also into #oralhistory #yarnbomb #homeschool #skiing #vegan #crochet #tinyhouse (11091 followers)

 Published on: 25 Mar 2017 @ 08:06 – a ‘bot’ I presume is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Free listing allow buyers and sellers to locate or advertise products and services to and from other businesses. (52417 followers)

Published on: 18 Mar 2017 @ 05:40 – another bot, this one was a result of the Tweetorial posts

MuleSoft is now following me on Twitter! Bio: MuleSoft makes it easy to connect the world’s applications, data and devices. (59039 followers)

Published on: 18 Mar 2017 @ 00:35 –  probably another bot, this one was a result of the Tweetorial posts

Pyramid Analytics is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Bridging the gap between business and IT user needs with a self-service Governed #Data Discovery platform available on any device. #BIOffice #BI #Analytics (6729 followers)

Published on: 17 Mar 2017 @ 22:30 

Kevin Yu is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Co-founder & CTO @socedo transforms B2B marketing with social media by democratizing #CloudComputing & #BigData. Husband of 1, dad of 2, tech and sports junkie. (68521 followers)

Published on: 17 Mar 2017 @ 22:10 – fellow student with a sense of humour and quick on the draw.  One of my favourite followers 🙂

Cheese Lover is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Lover of #cheese and interested in #education (0 followers)

Published on: 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:41

Ben Williamson is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Digital data, ‘smart’ technology & education policy. Lecturer @StirUni (1621 followers)

Published on: 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:41

Dr. GP Pulipaka is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Ganapathi Pulipaka | Founder and CEO @deepsingularity | Bestselling Author | #Bigdata | #IoT | #Startups | #SAP #MachineLearning #DeepLearning #DataScience. (19910 followers)

Published on: 16 Mar 2017 @ 21:26

Michael J.D. Warner is now following me on Twitter! Bio: CEO @ThunderReach ⚡️ #socialmedia #marketing + VIP digital services ➡️ • ig @mjdwarner • ✉️ ⚣ #gay 📍toronto • nyc (98298 followers)

 Published on: 16 Mar 2017 @ 20:42 – another bot

Featured Heights is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Elevating your #brand with creative websites & engaging marketing. Sharing #marketing, #webDev, #design, #ux & #socialmedia resources. (2281 followers)

Published on: 16 Mar 2017 @ 18:41

Lisa 🐥🐦🐤 is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Social media, Twitter trainer, blogger, marketing specialist, content marketing, real estate, news, nature photos, pets, wanna be meteorologist from RI (20802 followers)

Published on: 16 Mar 2017 @ 16:44 – another bot?

Lumina Analytics is now following me on Twitter! Bio: We are a big data, predictive analytics firm providing insightful risk management & security intelligence to large, regulated corporations & government clients. (10786 followers)

Published on: 12 Mar 2017 @ 23:01 – fellow student

Diego Rates M is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Tweets about Design, Science, Art, Community issues. Student Msc Dig Ed, U. Edinburgh. Founder: Pixel Learning Open Project: (649 followers)

Published on: 8 Mar 2017 @ 22:41

Joyce Weber is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.  (18 followers)

Published on: 7 Mar 2017 @ 00:43 – my nephews partner and a friend of a fellow student.  Serendipity doing its thing.

Jo Alcock is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Freelance trainer, researcher and coach with a background in librarianship. Passionate about helping others develop. (4642 followers)

Published on: 25 Feb 2017 @ 17:28 – fellow student

Linzi McLagan is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Encourager. Storyteller. Life is short. I am determined to make it great. (136 followers)

Published on: 21 Feb 2017 @ 13:10 – wasn’t aware I had ‘followed ‘It’s a fabulous life’

Its A Fabulous Life is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Thank you for following Its A Fabulous Life (751 followers)

Published on: 20 Feb 2017 @ 19:50 – fellow student

Myles Thies is now following me on Twitter! Bio: (27 followers)

Published on: 20 Feb 2017 @ 17:25 – fellow student

Cathy Hills is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Tech, education, lifelong learning. Curious and interested. (98 followers)

Published on: 20 Feb 2017 @ 13:10  – fellow student

Stuart is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Learning/Assistive Technologist & MSc Digital Education student (120 followers)

Published on: 17 Feb 2017 @ 06:10 -…it’s taken a while but my social life finally merges with my academic life!

DANCERS DREAM EVENTS is now following me on Twitter! Bio: The UK’s Best Dance Socials, Events & Holidays (83 followers)

Published on: 15 Feb 2017 @ 17:00 – Tutor

Jeremy Knox is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Lecturer in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh.
Posthumanism and the MOOC: Contaminating the Subject of Global Education (1534 followers)

Published on: 14 Feb 2017 @ 10:20 – bot?

Belbin Singapore is now following me on Twitter! Bio: The World’s GOLD Standard in Team Profiling! To find out more about the team roles, visit: (374 followers)

Published on: 7 Feb 2017 @ 19:40 – fellow student

Clare Thomson is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Educational technologist in #meded, #CMALT. Currently learning to think like an assemblage – posthumanism at Uni of Edinburgh: (392 followers)

Published on: 5 Feb 2017 @ 01:48 – fellow student

Renée Hann is now following me on Twitter! Bio: MSc Digital Education student at Edinburgh; educator & dabbler in the growing of food (46 followers)

Published on: 4 Feb 2017 @ 23:48 – fellow student

Helen Walker is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Edugeek (518 followers)

Published on: 4 Feb 2017 @ 17:58 – needs no introduction!
Sian Bayne is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Edinburgh University. Professor of Digital Education. School of Education. (3064 followers)

Published on: 4 Feb 2017 @ 17:58 – fellow student

Philip Downey is now following me on Twitter! Bio: MScDE student at Univ of Edinburgh; Conservative and will respectfully defend your right not to be, but will respectfully exercise my right to call you on it. (70 followers)

Published on: 1 Feb 2017 @ 12:39 – seriously no idea who…or why!

Amanda Brown is now following me on Twitter! Bio: (289 followers)

Published on: 30 Jan 2017 @ 09:54 – or this one

Roxane is now following me on Twitter! Bio: (13 followers)

Published on: 28 Jan 2017 @ 22:45 – fellow student, sorry Dirk your photos won’t show for some reason

Herr Schwindenhammer is now following me on Twitter! Bio: Educational Scientist, Philosophical Oddball and Senior TV Professional (33 followers)

The importance of the voice in digital learning materials

This week the Miller chapter along with the Film Festival chat has firmed up a  few of my emerging thoughts about the human relationship to tech, particularly around disembodiment and the importance of the voice.

The importance of the voice in digital learning materials

During the week I’ve been creating some learning materials and I wanted to include a voice over to introduce each section.  With this week’s reading a the back of the mind but lacking the time to record someone ‘real’ I decided to use an online text to speech site, the output of which sounded almost indistinguishable from a ‘live’ actor, the emphasis being on almost.  The the subtle nuances and imperfection of natural speech were missing and, while the end result was a very close facsimile of the ‘real thing’, the automation was still evident.

So I decided to find out if there is any research to  indicate a difference in learning when presented by a human voice versus a synthesised voice.   Writing about the results of two experiments Mayer, Sobko, and Mautone (2003) found that students performed better in a transfer test and rated the speaker more positively if narrator had a standard accent rather than a foreign accent (Experiment 1) and if the voice was human rather than machine synthesised (Experiment 2).  So does this mean that learners will always respond better to a on-screen human tutor than a computer-generated equivalent? There is research that indicates that people will treat computers in the same way as humans given the right circumstances.  Reeves and Nass (1996) found that people will comply with social conventions and be polite to computers when asked to evaluate them directly, as compared to evaluating one computer from a different one (the equivalent of giving face to face feedback compared to giving feedback about someone to a third-party).

Moreno, Mayer, Spires, & Lester (2001) found that there was little difference in the test performance  of students learning about botany principles presented by a cartoon on-screen tutor compared to an on-screen human tutor.  They also found that students learned equally well even if there was no on-screen tutor so long as the students could hear the tutor’s voice. This suggests that voice quality and clarity is more important than whether it is a human voice or not.

My own experience of being ‘fooled’ by automated telephone services suggest that it will not be long before AI is indistinguishable from a human agent.   The  more recent Mayer, Sobko, and Mautone experiments suggest that this could be beneficial to those producing digital learning materials, whereas the Moreno, Mayer, Spires, & Lester (2001) experiment indicates that it might not make much difference.

Visualising the concepts in Miller, V (2011)

I’m continuing to mindmap the set readings and other related texts I’ve researched.  At this stage the maps are just my way of visualising the concepts and arguments so that I can see how they fit together, currently they don’t offer any critical examination of the texts.

This is my mindmap of the Miller text, it’s a better resolution than the previous maps, which I will update when I revisit them.

Mindmap of Miller V (2011) Chapter 9 The Body and Information Technology
Mindmap of Miller V (2011) Chapter 9 The Body and Information Technology. Right click and select open in new tab to view full screen and enable zooming.

Miller, V. (2011) Chapter 9: The Body and Information Technology, in Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage.

Mayer , R.E. , Sobko , K. , & Mautone , P.D. ( 2003 ). Social cues in multimedia learning: Role of speaker’s voice . Journal of Educational Psychology , 95 , 419 – 425 .

Reeves , B. , & Nass , C. ( 1996 ). The media equation: How people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places . New York : Cambridge University Press .

Moreno , R. , Mayer , R.E. , Spires , H. , & Lester , J. ( 2001 ). The case for social agency in computer-based teaching: Do students learn more deeply when they interact with animated pedagogical agents? Cognition and Instruction , 19 , 177 – 214

Film festival and the strength of feeling about machines

There were some fairly strong emotions expressed in the text chat about this week’s films, of the ‘but it’s a machine’ variety.  I absolutely get the point being made but I can’t help wondering if these are learnt or societal prejudices, or whether they stem simply from the loss of innocence that comes with age and wisdom.

Child with Mickey Mouse

From my observations it would appear that very young children show little difference in behaviour whether they’e conversing with a robot, or a 5ft mouse or a fellow human. They’re enthralled by TV programmes presented by a variety of creatures and will throw themselves at their favourite Disney character without a second thought.  Maybe it’s only later in life that we start to make a distinction between sentient and non-sentient beings.

As Miller sates in ‘The Body and Information Technology’, “bodies are interpreted through the lens of culture and shaped by social forces”.

TWEET: Chimeric bio-tech futures

via Twitter
January 26, 2017 at 09:14PM

Michael Spectre, writing in National Geographic Magazine raises the following question:

“The ability to quickly alter the code of life has given us unprecedented power over the natural world. Should we use it?”

Frightening statistics from the USA show that every ten minutes someone is added to the list of people requiring an organ transplant and every day twenty-two people from that list die without receiving the organ they need.  If you’re on that list, or a family member or friend of someone on that list, your views about altering genetic code and human-pig chimeras might be influenced by the potential to grow the organ you need inside an animal from another species.

Considering that we already farm the same potential donor animals for food the moral and implications might not be so difficult for people to deal with, unless you’re already opposed to the way we treat other species .  Either way the ethical considerations feel like an even bigger issue.   We know that random mutations already occur in all lifeforms and that they are the basis of evolution through natural selection.  But do we truly understand the implications of introducing genetic information into the human gene pool that has resulted from thousands of years of evolution of a different species? The effect could be more immediate than one might imagine – what if doing so were to hasten the development of drug resistant bacteria?

At first sight none of this might seem relevant to digital cultures, so why have I linked this to my Lifestream?  Well initially it was just the serendipity of reading about chimeric bio-futures (a term I have to admit is new to me) on the day the announcement linked above was made.  But, having reflected further, I think a similar moral question can be put to the technologies we apply to education and learning too:

“Just because we can, should we?”

Is Amazon Alexa’s apparent inability to answer some questions actually an aid to learning?

The Amazon Echo Dot
The Amazon Echo Dot

Earlier this week I Tweeted a link to two conflicting views on reCaptcha and the ‘ulterior motive’ it has of assisting Google in digitising books.

This got me thinking about motives  other connected devices I use might have, in particular the Amazon Echo  Dot powered by their AI ‘Alexa’.

Alexa often struggles to answer a question if it’s poorly phrased, whereas ‘OK Google’ and ‘Siri’ seem to be able to make a good go of interpreting even the most poorly articulated query.  But from an educational point of view aren’t the latter two examples doing the user a disservice?  By forcing the user to better articulate their question Alexa might (probably unintentionally) improve their questioning skills and maybe even their vocabulary.  In reality most will simply put Alexa’s inability to answer down to ‘her’ failings rather than their own, but it’s an interesting thought.

Similarly, I often use voice to text software for note taking and this has come a long way since I was part of a pilot to test it in an open-plan office setting.  In the early days the user had to enunciate very clearly for any chance of the text being produced on screen to bear any resemblance to what they had said.  Today improvements in both software and hardware allow relatively sloppy diction to produce accurate results but, based on similar thinking to the above, is that always a good thing?