Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Is Books making us Stupid? or what I found in our study


Correction:The Book Lost for Words was actually written by Paddy Creber.

If you spent eight precious minutes of your life watching this video, I would be thrilled if we could continue the conversation here.


francesbell • February 10, 2014

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  1. jennymackness February 10, 2014 - 6:14 pm Reply

    Frances – I really enjoyed hearing the story of your Father’s interest in books and how he interacted with them – and how you are now continuing to interact with ideas around books and knowledge, through his books. Thanks for creating and sharing this video.

  2. Frances Bell February 10, 2014 - 6:34 pm Reply

    It struck me today that one thing rhizomatic thinking can dispel is the view of technologies as occurring in eras. By looking rhizomatically we can see that people and things make new connections, break old ones. For me the question was an uncomfortable binary – I did my best with it but ….

  3. Karen Young February 10, 2014 - 6:36 pm Reply

    Frances I really liked your video because you are describing how books do not make us stupid but show how books enrich our lives in a personal way. We have a relationship with our books that is often lifelong and beyond.

    I loved how you used both print and an ebook to enrich and supplement your learning.


    • Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 12:42 pm Reply

      Thanks Karen. I am very interested in how the rhizome can be applied to lifelong learrning

  4. mdvfunes February 10, 2014 - 8:58 pm Reply

    The love you have for books shines through in your voice. Thank you for letting us into your reflections.

  5. jollyroger February 11, 2014 - 12:31 am Reply

    Frances! After hearing you, I thought: I love books! Even the ones that can make me stupid.
    And I doubt any of them can make more stupid than I already am. Thanks for doing the video and sharing it. It filled me with joy, seeing your books. And the passage you selected from D&G was also serendipically (does this word exist?) useful to me. : ) Love and Peace! May all the good spirits of good books bless you.

  6. jollyroger February 11, 2014 - 12:45 am Reply

    Another thought, now in relation to the question posed by Dave: of course, we know he is just provoking us to thing about the current situation – limiting-power-structures, the-culture-of-print, and so on. There is an important point about power raised by this discussion, which was very well expressed in a post by Bonnie, and also in other places by other people.

    But anyway: what I think is that we have to care not to be too simplistic, because the realities with which we are dealing are very tricky things (“multiplicities”, D&G would call them, meaning problematic fields of complex, unpredictable networks of elements and interactions – I just spit this out, not very clear, but I suppose the confusing effect is even better to describe them).

    You showed another dimension of the discussion with your video. One other dimension of the multiplicity. Dave with his question points to another. Each book ever wrote maybe points to another… hmm I don’t know. Cheers.

  7. Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 12:45 am Reply

    @jollyroger I am blessed indeed. I like the thought of the image of a section from a book being a connection to you in the rhizome.

  8. Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 12:51 am Reply

    I agree – that the realities are very complex. I am hoping that we have exhausted the either/or tasks. What thinking tools do we need in our backpacks to engage with these problematic fields, and how can teachers help (or at least not hinder) students in their search for these thinking tools?

    • jollyroger February 11, 2014 - 12:59 am Reply

      Hmm, I guess showing to them our love for the books we love, and telling why we love them is a good start! : )

      • jollyroger February 11, 2014 - 1:00 am Reply

        Ok, this one is not really a “thinking tool”, but a feeling tool… Lol

      • Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 9:13 am Reply

        I think that a similar behaviour in a teacher would be modelling our love for books (without necessarily saying I love books and think you should too) and our critical engagement with them. Traditionally in the classroom, printed books were at least chosen by the teacher and sometimes presented as ‘The Truth’. But at least from Dewey’s time, what constitutes knowledge in education has been questioned, and there has been a great number of effective (and less effective) initiatives/ approaches that have encouraged learners to be critical, questioning of their sources, and to engage in conversation. And exactly the same for the rich range of participatory media now available. Students and teachers will play with it, use it in more and less effective ways, and hopefully critique the media and its use by themselves and others. Now that’s a challenge, and some books may help us in that. One of my favourites in the last 2 years is and the Kindle version is now down to £0.92

  9. jollyroger February 11, 2014 - 12:54 am Reply

    And finally: humans can use books to make other humans stupid. (True or false?)

    • Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 9:15 am Reply

      Yes – endlessly inventive humans can use almost anything to dominate other humans. My hope for education is that it questions this and helps those who emerge from the experience to, at least pause for thought, before they do this.

  10. Terry Elliott (@telliowkuwp) February 11, 2014 - 3:08 pm Reply

    I set up a Vialogue for this if you want to comment and annotate the video directly. Here is the link: Just sign up for free and follow your nose–with a book in it of course.

    • Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 4:05 pm Reply

      thanks – had a go with vialogue

  11. helinur February 11, 2014 - 3:17 pm Reply

    It was you, Frances speaking – so nice to meet you again. Of course we love and need books as well as we nowadays need the internet, I see no reason to answer Dave’s question. But I loved your video, thanks!

    • Frances Bell February 11, 2014 - 10:43 pm Reply

      Thanks Heli – we are still in touch through blogs too

  12. tanyalau February 13, 2014 - 3:16 pm Reply

    I loved the personal approach with your video – you created a very real intimacy with it, and I felt like I was, actually in your study with you, especially when you opened up that book to reveal your father’s handwritten notes. Really touching. Thx (and thankyou for posting the link for me too!), I made some comments in the vialogues too.

    • francesbell February 13, 2014 - 4:41 pm Reply

      Thanks Tanya – it was quite an experience to make the video. I felt very connected to my father when I looked at his handwriting and found the house he lived in.

  13. danceswithcloud February 14, 2014 - 9:25 am Reply

    Hi Frances, thanks for this – and as others have said – it is great to hear the voices of the people with whom I’m sharing this quest.
    Just a small point about the task – wasn’t Dave in his paraphrasing of the ‘Is Google making us stupid?’ question, not really posing an either/or question – but challenging the peremptory nature of such questions? And wasn’t he also challenging the arrogance of the book-bound with their dismissiveness of all things web? I cannot imagine how many right-wing politicians must have nodded their heads in self-congratulation when they saw the Google = stupid proposition. Nothing seems to terrify them as much as a free and risky web. No, no they say – we need to make it safe – wrap it all up – tame this thing. The only point of ICT are the skills needed by business. Books embody that safety and control for them – whilst we know they also ‘light a fire in the mind’… We aren’t the ones who burnt the books but we might be the ones to sail the web as Digital Vikings as Amy Burvall suggests… Best, Sandra

  14. Frances Bell February 14, 2014 - 12:08 pm Reply

    Thanks Sandra for your comment and your related blog post. Sadly, I think that those people/ institutions/ whatever who formerly used books to oppress are perfectly capable of adapting to new channels like the web (even if they don’t have an evil plan – remember the days when Google said Microsoft is evil).

    I don’t know who the book-bound that you describe are “the arrogance of the book-bound with their dismissiveness of all things web” – apart from fusty old professors locked in a time warp and who listens to them anyway? Institutions may instinctively resist networked digital technologies, and will tend to adopt in a clunky way (who mentioned VLEs?) but sooner or later at least some of them will appropriate them to their own ends, not necessarily to the benefit of their beneficiaries/ victims/ customers/ students/staff. Also new institutions and power brokers will emerge. If we think of the scholarly publishing industry, then the advent of a ubiquitous web has been accompanied by morphing into fewer more powerful players who suck up even more revenue via subscriptions and sales for educational institutions whose staff do much of the knowledge work for free.

    Thanks for introducing me to Amy Burval and her video parody of
    – very thought-provoking.

    I read each of these as opening up the possibility both to rejoice and question technological change – others may see them differently.

    I resist the view that technology or media determine the outcome – I still have some hope that although technology may shape our world we can also shape technology. Neither is the master.

    Stuart Hall died this week so it seems fitting to quote him ‘the media reproduce the structure of domination/subordination which characterizes the [social] system as a whole’

    I am aware that in the community that in rhizo14 I may seem like a negative voice. I am enthusiastic about the possibilities of technological change but feel we need to innovate with a critical eye. It’s the work of all of us to explore the richest view of the possibilities for all sorts of learning in a digitally saturated society. If I slap anyone down, I would like them to tell me because I want to keep dialogue open but I assert my right to challenge ideas (even those of the ‘teacher’) and have my ideas challenged.

    • danceswithcloud February 15, 2014 - 1:00 pm Reply

      Dear Frances – funnily enough in the MOOC world I am also seen I think as a bit of a technology-refuser. I agree that it is just as easy to dominate on the web as it is to dominate with books or F2F… It is the intention perhaps rather than the medium which is the message. Here’s something I just posted on Angela Towndrow’s blog (she is doing the MSc in Digital Culture at Edinburgh after completing #edcmooc a couple of times:
      One thing I notice about debates about digital or online learning is the dialectical or binary nature of the debate:
      f2f is… (hah – beat that!) – and so is the virtual (so there!)…
      I love the beautiful, playful, engaging quality of exciting learning. Perhaps because I am not a learning novice (I do not know if that is a factor) – I can get that joyous excitement in MOOCs as well as in f2f experiences, if I am lucky.
      I have also seen poor f2f LTA – and boring and dispiriting digital LTA… Neither mode has the joy particle!
      One reason I fight for physical spaces for my non-traditional students is because they have so little space in education overall so they need all they can get! Moreover, I believe that if you are a learning or educational novice you may need to be physically buoyed and inspired by the physical presence of others. But I also encourage those same students to get with #ds106 to cut their active digital teeth; I popped a couple into #edcmooc this year; and I ask them to design digital artefacts to express their learning in many modes.
      We are also toying with the idea of a labyrinth project in the physical space, asking students to design and build (paint on canvas) a real learning labyrinth as well…
      It isn’t the locus of the experience – but the joyous, purposive and engaging nature of it…
      (And those hand-rubbing book-bound where only those I imagined rubbing their hands in glee at the rubbishing of the web. Ah text – ah hyperbole!)
      Best, Sandra

      • Frances Bell February 17, 2014 - 9:28 pm Reply

        Keep up that fight for physical spaces – I agree that they are very important. I think the idea of encouraging students to go off independently and do #ds106 is a great idea (I am hoping to participate myself in 2014). The labyrinth project sounds really exciting.
        Like you I resist the binary in debates about digital or online learning – see the blog post after this one 😉

  15. keith.hamon February 19, 2014 - 3:55 am Reply

    Well done, Frances. I agree with you that books are not making us stupid. They afford us ways to connect to people and ideas that we otherwise could not. As long as books were the premier technology for embodying extended thought, then it was easier to forgive whatever shortcomings they had in order to keep their benefits. Now that new information technologies are emerging so quickly and with other affordances (whatever they may be), we may be tempted to look askant at books, but this can be a mistake. Books are a tool, and like all tools, they have affordances and limitations. The affordances of a book are not quite the same as a blog, and I can say things in one that I can’t say in the other. I like them both, and I want them both. I see no reason to give up either. My mind needs all the tools it can find to make as much sense as it can. I can make movies, too, and I’m glad. Movies don’t say everything, but they do say somethings better than just about any other tool. So do books and blogs.


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