Month: November 2011

Visualizing Digital Scholarship

These are the slides I’ll be using for my presentation at Visual Learning – Development, Discovery and Design at the Visual Learning Lab, Budapest University of Technology and Economics later this week… assuming, that is, that I will be able to get there with the UK borders staff on strike :s


Three interesting Calls for Papers

Good calls for papers are kind of like buses:  they tend to show up in groups.  Three caught my eye this week… here’s hoping that I can find the time to get around to all of them!

1. Critique, Democracy, and Philosophy in 21st Century Information Society: Towards Critical Theories of Social Media

The conference is the fourth in the ICTs and Society-Conference Series ( The ICTs and Society-Network is an international forum that networks scholars in the interdisciplinary areas of Critical Internet Studies, digital media studies, Internet & society studies and information society studies. The ICTs and Society Conference series was in previous years organized at the University of Salzburg (Austria, June 2008), the University of Trento (Italy, June 2009) and the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (Spain, July 2010).

We are living in times of global capitalist crisis. In this situation, we are witnessing a return of critique in the form of a surging interest in critical theories (such as the critical political economy of Karl Marx, critical theory, etc) and revolutions, rebellions, and political movements against neoliberalism that are reactions to the commodification and instrumentalization of everything. On the one hand there are overdrawn claims that social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, mobile Internet, etc) have caused rebellions and uproars in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, which brings up the question to which extent these are claims are ideological or not. On the other hand, the question arises what actual role social media play in contemporary capitalism, power structures, crisis, rebellions, uproar, revolutions, the strengthening of the commons, and the potential creation of participatory democracy. The commodification of everything has resulted also in a commodification of the communication commons, including Internet communication that is today largely commercial in character. The question is how to make sense of a world in crisis, how a different future can look like, and how we can create Internet commons and a commons-based participatory democracy.

This conference deals with the question of what kind of society and what kind of Internet are desirable, what steps need to be taken for advancing a good Internet in a sustainable information society, how capitalism, power structures and social media are connected, what the main problems, risks, opportunities and challenges are for the current and future development of Internet and society, how struggles are connected to social media, what the role, problems and opportunities of social media, web 2.0, the mobile Internet and the ubiquitous Internet are today and in the future, what current developments of the Internet and society tell us about potential futures, how an alternative Internet can look like, and how a participatory, commons-based Internet and a co-operative, participatory, sustainable information society can be achieved.

A full list of suggested questions can be found on the conference homepage. Abstracts are due by 29th February 2012.

2. London Conference in Critical Thought (June 29th and 30th, 2012)

In collaboration with the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, the London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT) is designed to create a space for an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas for scholars who work with “critical” traditions and concerns. We welcome work from the humanities and social sciences, including but not limited to papers drawing upon continental philosophy, critical legal theory, critical geography and the Frankfurt School. The LCCT aims to provide an opportunity for those who frequently find themselves at the margins of their department or discipline to engage with other scholars who share theoretical approaches and interests.  Interdisciplinary and inter-institutional, the conference hopes to foster emergent critical thought and provide new avenues for critically orientated scholarship and collaboration.

Scholars working in philosophy, literature, geography, law, art, and politics departments have already proposed panels and/or streams for the conference. These address issues as diverse as animality, sovereignty, human rights, cosmopolitanism, the city, and the relationship between text and space. Through these streams participants are encouraged to engage with a variety of thinkers including Kant, Deleuze, Marx, Lacan, Foucault, Spinoza and Derrida, to name a few.

If you would like to present a paper as part of an existing stream/panel, propose a new stream/panel or contribute to the general stream please see our website for details. The deadline for stream proposals is the 15th of January, 2012, and the deadline for paper proposals is the 19th of February, 2012. The conference will be open for registration as of April 2012 and is free for participants.

The London Conference in Critical Thought is co-hosted by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities for the inaugural year of 2012.

3. Black Sabbath and Philosophy

The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series – Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following: “Am I Going Insane?”: Madness in Sabbath and Foucault; Purging Fear and Pity with Sabbath and Aristotle; “War Pigs” and Pacifism; Gods who can Dance: Nietzsche, Sabbath, and Dionysus; Sabbath’s Sonic Meaning and the Devil’s Interval; “Fairies Wear Boots”: Drugs and Transcendence; “Push the Needle In”: The “Hand of Doom” and Addiction; “Solitude”: Existential Alienation and Despair; Working Class Heroes: Sabbath’s Politics; Spiral Architects and Rock Poets; “My name is Lucifer, please take my hand”: The Occult and the Virtues of Blasphemy; Sweet Leaf and Snow Blind: The Epistemology of Addiction; Is it still Sabbath without Ozzy?: The Metaphysics of Band Identity through Time; The Godfathers of Metal: Genre and Influence; Iron Man and The Wizard: Sabbath’s Mythology; “Tomorrow’s Dream”: Existential Freedom and Rebellion; Johnny Blade and Hypermasculinity; Why Scary Music Makes Us Feel Good: Sabbath and the Paradox of Horror; “Dirty Women”: Gender and Sexuality in Black Sabbath; The Fifth Member in Creativity and Performance: Is Sabbath more than the Sum of its Parts?; “Lord of this World” and the Problem of Evil

Submission Guidelines:

Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV’s: December 30, 2011. Submission deadline for first drafts of accepted papers: March 12, 2012

Abstract & CV by email to: William Irwin (

I lost my Open Ed virginity

I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Open Ed conference last week, and there was much food for thought.  I live-blogged as many of the sessions as I could in Cloudworks and there’s a video archive of the presentations available on YouTube.  The event certainly gave me quite a lot of ground for reflection and some of that will be covered in further posts.  But I’d like to concentrate here on both my general impressions and on a couple of the keynote speakers.  (I would like to offer the caveat that I don’t know a great deal about all the speakers and their work, and I’ve never attended an open education conference before; so these comments are just my impressions as a sympathetic but inquisitive person with a practical interest in a major OER project.)

Coming off the back of my recent attempts to understand the ‘openness’ of OER and work on the OLnet Evidence Hub, I was particularly interested in how closely my understanding of the OER world and its issues related to the discourses taking place within the community.  It certainly seemed to me that there are two levels of discourse at the moment.

The first is about the right kind of licensing for open content (of which CC-BY) is perhaps the ‘gold standard’ (notwithstanding the issue of commercial use of another’s intellectual property).  This is really the OER question as far as OERs themselves are concerned.

The second – and, to my mind, the far more pressing and yet generally neglected part of all this – is to do with the implications of widespread adoption of the ‘open’ model of education.  I alluded to some of these issues in my previous presentation.  The difference between consecutive keynote sessions on day two of the conference really drew out the tensions between those who see themselves as proposing radical changes to education and those who are rather more pragmatic about managing a process of change towards the use of OER.  Here are the two presentations in question.

Josh Jarrett, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Wednesday Keynote given by Jim Groom, Instructional Technology Specialist / Adjunct Professor, University of Mary Washington

Josh’s presentation was a sobering account of the various obstacles that need to be overcome at institutional, governance and financial levels, while Jim’s more a more polemical plea for innovation and change in the world of education.  Josh had the spreadsheet, Jim had the pot of gold.

I think David Wiley had it right when he commented at the end of this session that it’s the tension between these two perspectives that people need to think about.  But on Twitter it was all about Jim’s presentation.  Perhaps it’s just because I’m new to all this (or maybe because of Jim’s somewhat unconventional style) but I was pretty confused by Jim’s presentation.  When I remarked on Twitter that I didn’t really see how Jim’s approach  could be replicated without Jim and in different subject areas, the response was quite telling.  Some of those following the conference hashtag who are close to DS106 were straight to Jim’s defence and we ended up with a bit of a crossed wire.  But I was quite surprised to get this kind of response to a well-meant question at a conference (which, after all, is a place for exchanging ideas).  It left with with a sense that I was encroaching into a space that some felt sacred.

More generally, I found was that whatever self-critique was going on amongst the delegates it wasn’t very obvious.  Rather than raising troublesome questions in the session  most of the discussion about the issues takes place online. It’s great that the Open Ed movement provides such a level of support to its members, but I come from a tradition which encourages face-to-face exchange in public fora.  Sometimes putting people on the spot and challenging them is the start of a productive process of exchange.

Typically, conferences are about like-minded people coming together, and this is undoubtedly a good thing.  But sometimes Open Ed 11 felt a bit like the choir preaching to itself.  Useful for me in terms of getting an understanding of the movement and where it’s at, but maybe not exactly what is needed to push OER and open education to the next level.

(At least now I know what an edupunk is!)

Thoughts on Connectivism as Theory

I’ve just been looking at Beware critics of Connectivism ! Or how I feel connectivism opens up content creation and access by @Ignatia Webs.  It’s doing the rounds on Scoop.It and seems quite popular with lots of comment and re-scooping.  But I remain a bit confused about the allure of Connectivism.

As a theory, Connectivism has no efficacy (it doesn’t really purport to explain so much as describe at a very general level) so it makes little sense to me to speak about it enabling anything… It’s true that we are always ‘connected’ to other people and systems it’s not clear to me that connectivism represents anything more than a historical process of increased complexity of networks over time.  It may well help people to learn to think of the process in a TEL context to think in terms of networking and systems, but, despite what Ignatia thinks, whether or not it’s a theory does matter; even if side-stepping this question might facilitate learning.

I think that we should care whether a theory is “lasting” or not since that is what helps us to theorise better and come up with better theories.

In any case, I find the analogy between infant learning and connected learning to be quite spurious and perhaps representative of the way that a ‘catch-all’ theory can be used.  Of course infant learning is characterised by interaction and feedback:  all human learning is.  In fact, all human interaction is like this.  It’s also present in interaction with non-human beings and objects.  In fact, it’s far too general to belong to Connectivism.

Good theories have specificity.

OLnet Evidence Hub: A Demo

Here’s my short introduction to the OLnet Evidence Hub.  If you’re at all interested in OER you should get involved.  Registration is currently open.