Hans Rosling 1948-2017 – ‘knight’ who fought truthiness with visualised data

Hans Rosling, medical doctor, academic, statistician, public speaker and sword swallower, died yesterday 7 February. You can read more about his life and work at Wikipedia, but don’t forget to visit gapminder.org, set up by Hans Rosling, his son Ola Rosling and his daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Gapminder.org models Rosling’s goal of active/ informed citizens/ learners engaging with data and questioning their assumptions.

 Here is a brief video that shows Rosling’s use of visualisation – notice how he unpicks generalisation by pricking the China bubble at the end to show regional differences.

Watch the full video with related content here: http://richannel.org/200-countries-200-years-4-minutes

I heard the news of Rosling’s death on Twitter last night, where some of us were recalling his keynote at ALT-C 2008 , especially the stepladder teaching technology at 9.30.

Here is his explanation for the prevalence of ignorance that seems even more relevant in these days:

Why is there so much ignorance?

Statistical facts don’t come to people naturally. Quite the opposite. Most people understand the world by generalizing personal experiences which are very biased. In the media the “news-worthy” events exaggerate the unusual and put the focus on swift changes. Slow and steady changes in major trends don’t get much attention. Unintentionally, people end-up carrying around a sack of outdated facts that you got in school (including knowledge that often was outdated when acquired in school). The Ignorance Project

The gapminder site is a treasure trove of data, software and other teaching and learning resources and I played with one example of a chart by choosing Iran, UK and USA for comparison over the lifetime of the data (Scroll back to 1995 and press play). Did you see what happened to Iran?

Rosling was not without his critics but I would like to celebrate his contribution on the ground, in the classroom, and on the web. He entertained, he provoked thought and he gave us tools to help us understand and interrogate data.

Thank you Hans!

Digital Trespass and Critical Literacy #OER17

Peter Riley explains the Kinder Scout Trespass that took place in 1932 as a protest against the permanent closure of all the wild uplands of Derbyshire for about 12 days of grouse shooting in the year. It has been described as “the most successful direct action in British history” Lord Roy Hattersley, 2007.

Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout
Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout

The other day I read a review by Billy Mills of the narrative poem The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley. What Billy said made me think about the relevance of the Kinder Scout Trespass for us today and how the poem can help us understand more about the purpose and experience of education then and now. The pamphlet arrived in the post today to my joy.

Extract from Billy Mills’ review

These radicals, both working class activists and middle-class poets, had lived through one World War and its aftermath and were about to see a second. As the first generation to benefit from the 1918 Education Act, they had the tools needed to engage in a process of learning about power and its implications. As Riley writes early in this work, ‘The foundation of the state is not violence but education.’ This statement, apparently straightforward on first reading, gains in complexity as Riley questions the role and value of the state a few paragraphs later, concluding that it ‘makes everything possible, and makes strangers of us all.’

He also calls into question the value of education, specifically literacy:

They taught us to read and we thought we were so grand as to join heaven and earth. But all we did was wallpaper over the crack between myth and science and lose our homes. The farmer’s wife sang a truer song, told a sweeter story, of hope and despair hand in hand walking back into society.

This last word forming an integrative counterbalance to the divisive state. It is no coincidence that the verse excursus, which echoes the song Goodnight Irene, follows on immediately after the prose paragraph from which I have just quoted. This interlude sits in the twin shadows of war and emigration, of ‘promise betrayed’ and ‘all the bathos of the modern state’.

I know that comparisons with the 1930s are a little overblown at present but I found that the poem and review are very thought-provoking in my ongoing consideration of critical and digital literacy in public and open education.  I submitted an abstract recently for #OER17, a conference with the theme Politics of Open. My abstract looks at the role of criticality in Open Educational Practice, and how paying attention to the sociomaterial, as Fenwick(2014) encourages students and educators, can focus on the political as well as the instrumental nature of education, and critique the digital tools and platforms through which it is increasingly mediated.

So here is my proposal:

What if the critical and digital literacies that educators and students practice and share could help focus attention on the wider implications of using proprietary social networking systems and other platforms in learning, and activism and education?

What if these literacies helped bring about a digital trespass that was more like the Kinder Scout Trespass than a concern of cyber-security?

I’ll leave you with the words of the late Ewan McColl in one of my Favourite songs The Manchester Rambler.

I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way
I may be a wageslave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday

Fenwick, T., 2014. Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(March 2015), pp.1–14. Available at: http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-84904850004&partnerID=tZOtx3y1\n .

Note: I should have said that there is no guarantee that the abstract will be accepted 🙂 I have plans to write a longer piece, maybe with a.n.other so this is definitely an ongoing writing project.

Note 2: Just heard that abstract has been accepted – Yay! So I can prepare my presentation to include added Kinder Scout goodness – abstract here – hope to see some of you there to hear your ideas.


Intentionality, Cliques and Agency

Banksy No Loitrin detail by Chris Devers
Banksy No Loitrin detail by Chris Devers  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I read two posts about in/exclusion recently : one from sava singh about cliquenomics; and one from Maha Bali on Intentionality, Community, and When Open Isn’t Open. I really like the way that sava captures an observational view of community and how it can include and exclude. She identifies that although people can have malicious intent, cliques can be a byproduct of our zeal for belonging

“clique economies” – exclusive clubs for the special few, the practice of which I will call cliqueonomics. sava singh

Maha has signalled her intent to focus on intentionality in her forthcoming OER17 keynote and seems to flag up cliques as having a power dynamic that intentionally denies access. She gives a comparison within  VConnecting of the close-knit communities that form on Slack and the public Twitter and Google Hangouts. That caught my attention because I have done a lot of wondering about the relationships between behind the scenes and public interactions in general, and specifically relating to some current work on network-building.  I think that a qualitative study from in-community and ex-community perspectives of this would be interesting and could contribute to critical perspectives on openness.

All of this made me think about some research that Jenny Mackness, Mariana Funes and I did that looked at qualitative contributions/survey data and quantitative activity data across different tech platforms on one MOOC. We found that community could be a confusing idea for participants who espoused heterogeneity and that platform design could also have an impact. We can think of intentionality as relating to the agency of individuals or as an emergent property of groups but if we take a post-human perspective on intentionality then intentionality and agency can be shared between humans and non-humans such as the platforms. I think this view could be helpful.

I am not really sure that participants who felt excluded by the lash up of individuals, groups and tech would feel reassured that this did not meet a particular definition of a clique. Like community, clique is a term that I use fairly sparingly now after some mixed experiences. Both terms seem to me to provoke strong emotions, and can get in the way of sustaining difference without exclusion. It would be good to look at cliques as something that we can all contribute to despite our best intentions and working on understanding what’s going on is a worthwhile enterprise.

The Digital Library of the Unaffiliated: Workaround practices

Ask me about Open Access by Molly
Ask me about Open Access by Molly CC BY-NC 2.0

The practical bit of this post is about my workarounds to get articles online that are behind paywalls. Scroll down a bit if you want to cut to the chase.

For about 30 years off and on I was affiliated to a university, and appreciated the access to books, journals and other resources that accompanied that affiliation. I used it daily in my teaching and research work.  As a Masters programme leader in the early 2000s, I was tasked with interviewing a student who had been found razoring out an article from a print journal. I tried to convince her that her action was against a commons where many could share the same resource. I remember reflecting that this wouldn’t have happened if we had a digital subscription to that journal. But of course the library card or login that go with affiliation are the gate through which we pass for access to the institution’s digital library.

Since retiring in 2013, I have had to become much more inventive about gaining access to resources as I realised more sharply what I already ‘knew’. There is no single digital library: our personal digital library is shaped by our access and our practices. When affiliated, I found articles that I wanted to read that were in journals for which my university had no subscription. This is when I turned to friends affiliated to wealthier universities who might have access to the journal and be willing to share a copy. I also realised that Scholar Google and Google could also be my friends, turning up links to self-archived articles, dodgy uploads for class resources and links to institutional repositories. I learned much about the vagaries of copyright and licensing in my service as co-editor of ALT’s Research in Learning Technology, particularly during the process of transition to becoming an Open Access journal to fulfil ALT’s commitment to scholarly publishing. In my research for the editorial of the first Open Access issue, I learned that instead of digital libraries bringing cost savings that could be used to expand access and/or reduce institutional costs, expenditure on serials subscriptions increased.

Recently, archives such as academia.edu and researchgate provide spaces for authors to self-publish data or papers, and to self-archive their papers published elsewhere. My retirement has given me more time for reading and writing (and craft and gardening) but lack of affiliation has increased the challenge of access to articles locked behind paywalls. Over the last few years, I have moved to publishing in Open Access journals (where that also suits my co-authors), and most of my reviewing work is for OA journals or conferences.

This morning, Mariana Funes tweeted to me about a new app  http://oadoi.org/ that might help me find Open Access articles but as she said, it didn’t really add that much to my existing practices.

Tweet exchange with Mariana Funes
Tweet exchange with Mariana Funes

Talking to Mariana encouraged me to blog how I engage with my unaffiliated digital library.

Apps, tools and buttons

There are quite a few of these – I have the Google Scholar button, Openaccess button (not currently working), and http://oadoi.org/ but I haven’t found that any of these add much to my usual approaches.  For example, when I plugged in the DOI for Langdon Winner’s  article “Do artifacts have politics?” here is what the app returned:

langdon_Winner Search

It’s true that the article is behind a paywall, but when I was looking for it a couple of weeks ago, I tried my Plan A, and it came up trumps.

Plan A

I searched Scholar Google for the title, and here’s what came up. All 3 link to the paywalled version at JStor. The first and third also have a link to downloads of the JStor version. When I find an unofficial version such as these, I download the pdf and add it to my Mendeley library on my hard disk. The second link is to Google books which will persist but rarely has the full source.

Scholar Google search for Do Artifacts have Politics?
Scholar Google search for Do Artifacts have Politics?

If Plan A doesn’t work, then I try :

Plan B

Google search for article title plus .pdf. This is the search for the Langdon Winner article. It turns up one of the articles from Plan A plus a scanned version. Sometimes Plan A or Plan B turn up links to institutional repositories. If the full paper isn’t there, many repositories offer the chance to request a copy from the author. I have other plans too.

Plan C

If I have had no luck I search academia.edu and researchgate for the title. For the Winner article, there was nothing on academia.edu but Langdon Winner had uploaded it to Researchgate.

Plan D

If I know the author, I will contact them directly by email, otherwise I ask a friend if it’s possible for them to share a copy with me. I wouldn’t then pass on this copy to others, as it often contains clues to who might have downloaded it.

Plan E

There is also the Twitter hashtag #icanhazpdf that works by people sharing their request for an article and the Twitterverse responding. I have used this once.

Practices and Networks

My plans and friends serve me fairly well while we wait for universal Open Access. My personal unaffiliated digital library is distributed across the Mendeley on my hard disk, networks of open access publications and my friends who are willing to share articles from behind paywalls – I give thanks for all of those.

If you have any more ideas or comments please share them.


I should have mentioned that Caroline Kuhn reminded me of the Langdon Winner article in her comment here.  It was really good to read it again.

Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum?


Prueba 001 by Magdalena Lagaleriade CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our third and final paper from research in the context of the Rhizo14 MOOC has been published in the open access journal of the Association for Learning Technology:

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes (2016) Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, vol. 24 .

As the title suggests, we explored ‘community is the curriculum’ in a MOOC: how community formed and was perceived; how curriculum emerged; and how both of these happened in the context of an absence of explicit community and learning goals.  We also looked at the impact of the choice of Social Networking Sites (SNS) on community formation and on the curriculum.  SNS are being used in and around education and our research can contribute to inquiry into how they can be used, or not.

Our previous two papers were both published in Open Access journals:

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38
Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 32(1), p.78-91 .

I can’t speak for Jenny or Mariana but I know I am experiencing a mixture of pride, in the body of work that we have produced, and relief, that I can take forward the ideas explored in the 3 papers and surrounding interactions on blogs and other social media into broader contexts than a single MOOC. I really hope that practitioners and researchers can benefit from this work, and I would be delighted by their constructive engagement with us, here or in other spaces. Many of us are learning and researching in online spaces. We can work together to find out how to organise our learning better, and choose and use SNS. And all of this is dynamic as we and SNS change.

So I’d love to hear your ideas, objections, reflections that can help us all engage with our research and that of others in this important area of open learning.  What I have learned from this work is that we can and must do that in our own ways, and that kindness is important.

Binaries, Polarisation and Privacy

White Noise by Scott Joseph CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
White Noise by Scott Joseph CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In my writing, reading and thinking during the last year or so, some of the recurring themes are ethics, learning, diversity, popularity and polarisation in Internet culture.  Encouraged by my experience at the smallest federated wiki, I am trying different ways of writing, experimenting with partially-formed ideas, linking with and building on what others have written.  I have always blogged in this way but the experience of federated wiki has encouraged me to work in smallish chunks of writing that I can link to others’ smallish chunks without any overarching plan of where I am going.

This post is a bit different from my fedwiki writing. I want to set down some different ideas that seem connected to me because I suspect that I can come back to them later and make different connections, with your help.  I did this in an earlier post that is still ripe for connections for me.  If this post generates anything like the richness of the earlier post’s comment stream, it will be productive labour.

In some ways, we are moving away from limiting old binaries and dualisms like real/virtual, global/local in our exploration of (digital) communication and culture.

Polarisation in public discourse online is a theme that has preoccupied me, and some cogs in my thinking shifted a little when I read this excellent article by David A. Banks, Very Serious Populists.

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shown to be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page.

David’s critique of voting on social networks argues powerfully that the ‘binaries’ of up-voting and down-voting are inadequate for dealing with ambiguity and divisive topics. They are a tool for polarisation not a means of going beyond it, and as David suggests the status quo of domination of spaces by white males is maintained, and even reinforced by sociotechnical aspects such as ‘voting’. The idea that someone’s popularity lends additional weight to what they have to say is interesting and deserves to be unpicked.

Another ‘binary’ that has attracted much attention is public/ private – which probably never was and certainly is no longer a binary – and deeply embedded in power relations.   danah boyd’s work has revealed that young people can regard online privacy as a strategy, more to do with who’s there rather than the features of the space itself.

We are all finding our way in the complex private/public spaces we increasingly inhabit and so it’s important to reflect, acknowledge our successes and mistakes and think of how we might do things differently.

In a powerful post, based on recent events and her own frightening experiences, Audrey Watters drew our attention to the nasty practice of doxxing, posting online someone’s personal information (such as social security number or home address). Audrey highlighted the network aspects of doxxing.

After all, doxxing relies on these sorts of large networks. Doxxing relies on amplification.

So even if we are reposting something already ‘made public’, we can be increasing the risks of the doxxed person being subjected to threats and nuisances by others. We can become part of that network of harm.  In the example that Audrey gives, both the original poster and the re-poster may well have seen themselves as on the side of the angels in their wish to defend student privacy.

And for me that links back to polarisation, it may be that we are at most danger of being drawn into networks of harm when we are hell bent on supporting a good cause.

The other thing that is puzzling me is whether or not the binary nature of much of our online participation like/not like, friend/not friend, follow/ not follow, click/not click, upvote/downvote, block/ not block might be seeping into our culture,as well as the platforms on which we enact it.  These are hard clickable binaries trying to capture a world where dualisms can get in the way of understanding complex contexts. I am not suggesting an essentialist view that our use of ‘likes’, etc. will cause polarisation of views but wondering what the impacts of ‘binary participation’ may be in different communication contexts. It’s not just about our choice to click/like but also about how that is used by the algorithms that serve up our feeds, shaping our view of what others say and do.

I would love to hear your thoughts or your links to other writers.

Women making social media work for good causes

On International Women’s Day I would like to highlight the work of three women doing good with the help of social media and those who participate.

Kate Granger is a witty and engaging woman doctor who has used her experience of being a patient with terminal cancer to launch a campaign that has made life better for thousands of patients worldwide. Watch the video of Kate telling her own story.  You can see the impact of the #hellomynameis campaign at http://hellomynameis.org.uk/  and Kate in operation at @GrangerKate.

I met Cristina Vasilica when she was a student at the University of Salford where she is now a lecturer and PhD student in the College of Health and Social Care. She is still in my networks, and so I have seen the good work she does at the Greater Manchester Kidney Information Network (http://gmkin.org.uk/ ) at Facebook as part of her PhD. As it’s a closed group I can’t link to it but if you are from Greater Manchester and could contribute/ benefit, please contact them via the web site or at @gmkin on Twitter.  You can find out more about her PhD work here – she is doing practical good and contributing to knowledge.

I came across Lou Mycroft on an online course last year, and she has introduced me to an area and philosophy of education that I knew little of before – social purpose education.  Lou works as a teacher educator at Northern College but it isn’t just her student teachers who can learn with and from her – you can too.  She is generous in sharing and the TeachNorthern web site is stuffed with goodies and is a jumping off point for even more. Visit the site, follow her on Twitter at @lounorthern

It’s no coincidence that all three of these women are great learners and teachers.

Cyberbullying film as a resource

Cyber BullyMariana Funes pointed me towards this Channel 4 film and I watched it mesmerised.  If you are in UK you will be able to watch it on catch up at http://www.channel4.com/prog rammes/ukip-the-first-100-days/on-demand/58485-001 .

It’s a story of a young woman who is pursued online by someone who wants to expose to her the cyberbullying that she has conducted.  As Filipa Jodelka says in her review “Cleverly, it’s never totally clear whether Casey is the victim or the perpetrator”. And Channel 4 made a good choice as Filipa Jodelka says “The first and biggest thing they’ve got right is casting Maisie Williams – Game Of Thrones’s Arya Stark – as protagonist Casey Jacobs. ”

So by all means, just watch this film and enjoy it, let it make you think, but if you are an educator, then also consider how the film might provide a prompt for productive conversation with young people who will be experiencing all of the ambiguities that the film reveals.  Of course facilitating such a conversation would require an outstanding teacher/educator but I know that everyone who reads my blog is such a person or knows one.

Its life on Channel 4 catch up might be limited but perhaps we should lobby Channel 4 to release it for educational licensing.

For those of you who can’t see the film there is an account of it on Wikipedia (second best).




Using Linked-in to help ourselves and our network

(This blog post is to support a session I am doing today with colleagues at Salford).

Network image

Joining  Linked-in

To get started on Linked-in, the online professional networking site, you will need to go to the site and join up (consider using an external email address if you are likely to change jobs)..

This video can give you an idea of how it works  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVlUwwgOfKw

Uploading your CV

As you create your CV as a document, be sure to add it to Linked-in.

Building your network

You will not build your network in an afternoon but will do this organically as people invite you to connect to them, and you find people to whom you wish to connect.

You can connect in various ways, two of the most important being:


You might find it useful to have a policy on whom you connect to.  Mine is pretty open for Linked-in as it is professional and not personal so I only outlaw spammers. Also when you are on the site, look for people Linked-in suggests and also search for people you know.  Your network will start to build.

A really important feature is that of recommendations, or online testimonials.  We can really help each other in times of job uncertainty by giving specific testimonials to those we have worked with.