Monday, 31 August 2009

Bye, bye blog (for now)

This is a sad post for me, but I have decided to suspend my blogging activity for now. That is because I am to take on the role of Head of School of Education tomorrow for three years and whilst I consider myself to be quite good at multi-tasking, I am not that good. If I get time to do any online social networking at all in the near future, I intend to focus my attention on the School of Education Twitter stream (here) and our virtual School of Education on Infolit Island in Second Life. I will keep my own Twitter account just to keep in touch with what everyone is doing and hope to tweet occasionally. I do intend to start using blogger again whenever I feel that I have capacity to do so and hope that people who have visited this blog in the past will do so again. In the meantime, many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to visit and sometimes comment, I hope you have found things of interest here. I have certainly really enjoyed maintaining the blog and have become quite fond of it, so much so that I felt the need to write this little farewell! So it is not so much 'goodbye' as 'au revoir'...

Saturday, 22 August 2009


It is somewhat ironic to be behind the times with respect to the 'Beyond Current Horizons project', but I didn't realise that the paper that I wrote with Victoria Carrington for the 'Knowledge, creativity and communication' strand of this project, 'Forms of literacy' was available online yet - I came across it when I was looking for something else. It was a fun paper to write - we were given the brief to think about how literacy might change in the next 10 - 20 years. These kinds of futurology activities are notoriously innacurate but can raise points for reflection about the way in which elements of the present context may or may not shape the future. That's what I found of most interest in the Beyond Current Horizon project and I recommend reading Carey Jewitt's succinct overview of the trends outlined in the papers in the 'Knowledge, creativity and communication' strand.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

UKLA conference

Just returned from the UKLA conference at Greenwich, which was excellent. Many highlights, including Lynda Graham’s symposium with Martin Waller and Angela Colvert sharing their excellent classroom practice in relation to digital literacies, and Angela Thomas’s keynote on Macbeth in Second Life. Also fabulous was Alex Kendall’s presentation on the work she has been doing with Julian McDougall on young men’s practices using Grand Theft Auto IV – they have developed the concept of ‘baroque showman’ to describe the hyper-masculine performativity which goes on in the game. You can find a paper on this work here – absolutely brilliant stuff. There was so much else I couldn’t get to as I was involved in lots of sessions myself as presenter or discussant, and this level of choice served to highlight to me how important the conference is for showcasing current work in relation to digital literacy. The perfect place, therefore, to launch Victoria Carrington’s and Muriel Robinson’s exciting new book. And just when I thought the weekend couldn't get better, I wandered into Greenwich market and found these gorgeous handmade all in all, a very successful conference. See you next year in Winchester?

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Mobile prejudice

In all of the Michael Jackson hoo-hah, you may have missed the news that half of British children aged 5-9 apparently own a mobile phone. This is now a prime market for new hardware and so we see the advent of the Firefly phone, aimed at young kids. I liked Tim Dowling's tongue-in-cheek piece in the Guardian on this subject. There are numerous questions raised about the role of mobile technologies in young children's lives in these developments, not least the social construction of early childhood as a space for ever-increasing monitoring and surveillance by adults. But what I find most disconcerting about the Firefly is the way it embodies heteronormative assumptions about children's lives. Thus, the phone's simple keypad has, as the manufacturers state on their website, 'dedicated keys for Mom and Dad'. Not sure what you do with one of these buttons if you only live with either your mother or father. Maybe if you have lesbian parents, one would have to agree to wear the pants in this case? Sigh...I am going to email this webpage to the company that makes the phone, but I doubt it will take any notice. So I for one will be advocating a boycott of this particular device until further notice...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Join the UGC revolution

Another day, another social networking site for tweenies. ITwixie (tag line 'join the revolution') is aimed at girls and is certainly less saccharine than some sites that have been developed. However, if you had any doubt about the demographic profile of its key users, then you just have to look at the videos here. These girls have gardens bigger than our local park. Never mind, at least users can upload user-generated content. At last these web site producers are getting the message that this is what many kids want. Even Disney has now launched 'U Rock 2', a site that users can upload videos in which they lip synch or dance to songs - a little like the site Bedroom TV, that I have blogged about previously, except U Rock 2 is specifically targeted at children. There is no doubt Disney know all about trends and when will we see a Disney version of 'Twitter' that lets kids follow their favourite bands, pop singers and even U Rock 2 stars?

Monday, 8 June 2009

California dreaming...

Well, all very well that the Terminator wants to move Californian schools from using textbooks to online texts, but it would appear that the motive is more about saving money than any desire to take schools into the digital age - where is the investment in laptops and mobile technologies for schools in your state, Governor Schwarzenegger?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

TV is bad for kids...yawn...

Oh dear. Yet another study which has tried to 'prove' that television has a detrimental effect on young children's development. At least this BBC report looks at the issue from a variety of angles. Is it just me, or are the findings of a study which indicates that there is less talk in the home when the television is on less than surprising? This does not mean that parents don't interact with their children at other times, nor does it mean that the children are unreceptive to the language they are hearing from the television. I tried to find a reference to the study on the webpage of the researcher, Dimitri Christakis, to see if the study did correlate amount of time the television was on with children's productive language competence, but it only lists his media appearances under the heading 'In the news'. Interesting...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


I have been enjoying using Twitter, but am anxious that it is taking time away from blogging. Just as I was thinking this, Joanne posted on her blog on this very topic! So I am not alone... I have decided to try and follow Guy's lead and link my blog to Twitter more directly now and again. Twitter can either then act as a lead-in to a longer blog post, or enable a quick reflection on a post. There are so many ways in which Twitter and blogging can interact, as this article on '10 ways Twitter will change blog design in 2009' suggests. These intertextual practices can only lead to more daft 'twittery' names, so how about 'Twogging', or 'Blittering'? (Sorry, it must be this playground rhymes project I am involved in...)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Literacy in virtual worlds

Yay! Am so excited as we (Julia Gillen, Julia Davies, Guy Merchant and myself) have just heard that our ESRC application for funding for a seminar series on children's and young people's digital literacy practices in online virtual spaces (virtual worlds and MMOGs) has been successful. Six whole seminars and a conference on what is my favourite research topic at the moment - simply delicious! I, of course, will be focused on my work on Club Penguin in the series. I met the Club Penguin European production team last week and what a lovely group they are - I was really impressed by how they respond to and build on children's ideas for the virtual world and they reply individually to every email they get (over 80,000 a week in the UK). And not only that, they now enable avatars to wear a wig AND a tiara at the same time - yippee, as that was a recurring complaint made by the children I interviewed about CP! So watch this space regarding the seminar series in the next academic year - we will be posting papers and presentations online for those who can't attend.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Earbuds study

I don't think I have mentioned before the excellent work of an American scholar, Tyler Bickford. He is an ethnomusicologist (I love that word) who researches childhood and youth cultures and has conducted a fascinating study of children sharing the earbuds of MP3 players in the playground - you can download some of his papers here. I know you will enjoy his work as much as I do, so I decided to devote a whole blog post to it! And talking of music, I am enjoying Antony and the Johnson's new CD at the moment and looking forward to seeing them live next who wants a listen in to my earbuds?!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Glogging games

It is obviously a week for finding really good Web 2.0 applications which shout 'use me with 5 year olds!' Thanks to Peter Winter at Monteney Primary School for telling me about 'Glogster', which looks excellent. We are about to start a project there, mentioned in my previous post, in which children will be researching their own playground rhymes and games and tracing media influences and so I can see that making posters on the subject using Glogster would be a really good extension of the work. I just introduced the project in a Key Stage 2 assembly along with the researcher on the project, Julia Bishop, and the children are so excited. So am I, and I have spent the last few weeks thinking about the playground rhymes and games I used to sing/ play. The video below was filmed around my era - I loved 'The big ship sails...' but I don't remember being as orderly about it as the children here!

Monday, 4 May 2009


There are new Web 2.0 applications out every week and normally I take a while to sign up as I have to think about the pros/ cons first (an example was my 2 year lead-in to Twitter...). However, I didn't need to think twice about using Wallwisher, it is fabulous for keeping research notes. I just started a new wall for the 'Playground Games and Rhymes in a New Media Age' project, which should give you an idea of its affordances. If we all shared our research project notes in this way, how rich that would be?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Club Penguin UK - one year on

Well, I was disappointed that April came and went and there was no first birthday party to celebrate Club Penguin’s arrival in the UK in April 2008. Last October, Disney held a 3rd birthday party in Times Square, reported on (along with some great photos of the RL igloo they had) here. Those who couldn’t get tickets made do with a virtual Times Square in Club Penguin. So come on, Disney, how about a belated party in Trafalgar Square for UK CP fans and a virtual Trafalgar Square in CP (complete with pigeons)?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Tweet Tweet

Well I said I wasn't interested in using Twitter but then I saw Martin Waller's Year 2 class tweets and changed my mind. Of course Martin is ahead of the proposed curriculum changes in England and will therefore be a beacon of good practice when other primary schools start to tweet. My tweets are here, but as you can see I am only just getting the hang of it and the children in Martin's class are much more accomplished tweeters!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Princess Tiana

Princess Tiana is Disney's first ever black princess and inevitably, given Disney's track record for racial insensitivity, her launch is surrounded by controversy. And from the desk of YoBlogger, a media journal developed by young people in the US, comes a commentary on Disney's actions from Jazmyne Young and Erricka X:

Monday, 20 April 2009

Goffman and social networking

Whilst at AERA, I heard that the proposal for the BERA symposium on 'Literacy in Virtual Worlds' we submitted back in January has been accepted, which is great. My paper is titled 'Countering chaos in Club Penguin: Young children’s use of literacy practices in the establishment of a virtual ‘interaction order’' which, as the title suggests, draws on Goffman's work. I first became interested in Goffman when a PhD student I supervised, Rosemary Anderson, drew on his theories to explore how children with reading difficulties managed their identities in the classroom and so I began to read his work in more depth. The more I read of it, the more I felt it helped me to understand young children's enagagement in digital literacies a little more. Of course I am not alone here - a growing number of people are interested in Goffman's ideas in relation to social networking - see here, for example. I know that some feel his ideas are perhaps not fluid enough to manage poststructuralist conceptions of identity - Guy, for example, has said he prefers the work of Holstein and Gubrium in this respect - but I feel that it is possible to read Goffman through a postructuralist lens. In the meantime, I recommend Rosemary's UKLA minibook based on her work - no Goffman in there, but plenty of good strategies for teachers!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

AERA update

Haven't had time to blog as have been attending the AERA conference in San Diego. Was very excited at the conference exhibition to be able to buy Julia and Guy's book, pictured here, which has just been released. I have been to a range of excellent presentations, including one given by Karen Wohlwend in which she talked about how young children, when situated in classrooms without access to new technologies, invent their own devices by drawing them on paper. So she talked about how one boy drew and then cut out a representation of a flip-top mobile phone on paper, which he carried about in his pocket when not using it to make pretend phonecalls. Fabulous work which serves to reinforce just how significant technology is in the lives of young learners. And early years classrooms without computers are just light years away from what is going on in the rest of the world - look, for instance, at the developments in fluid interfaces. I look forward to hearing about the educational applications of that technology at future AERA conferences!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Higher emotional bandwith

Attended the Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference in Second Life last weekend and went to some excellent sessions. I have decided that I really like virtual conferences as you can participate from the comfort of your sofa/ laptop and the backchat facilities are great. This is especially the case as a presenter - I really liked seeing what other people had to say about what I was talking about, as other audience members had a great deal of expertise in the topic, which added richly to what was discussed. Not that I was particularly adept at dealing with all the threads at once in the backchannel at my talk...I was a bit distracted as my notecard box disappeared and it took me 20 minutes to find it in my inventory as I continued with the talk! I am still a relative newbie when it comes to presenting in SL so thank goodness that the cool and collected (and impeccably dressed) Sheila Yoshikawa was the chair for my session. In the meantime, back to the online MA New Literacies - more virtual learning, but with a lower 'emotional bandwith' than you get with the use of avatars (something I learned at VWBPE!).

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Belgium's popular culture

Just back from the ECIS conference in Brussels where I met some very inspiring teachers and visited the fabulous Early Childhood Centre at the International School of Brussels. I talked about my research on the relationship between literacy and popular culture, amongst other things. It was therefore somewhat ironic that I didn't have time to visit the centre of Brussels in the glorious spring weather we had and so missed an exhibition titled '20 years of Manga in Europe' at the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art. This is such a good excuse to go back before the exhibition ends in June! Belgium has a long history of comic production and this is about to become even more widely celebrated now that Steven Spielburg is making a film about the 80-year-old character. Another reminder about the longevity of popular cultural icons...

Friday, 6 March 2009

Tatooed Barbie

I was interested to find that Mattel have launched the 'Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie'. They tried to launch a doll that had tattoos in 1999, the 'Butterfly Art Barbie', but had to discontinue that doll because of the number of complaints from parents. It will be interesting to see if, ten years later, the same concerns emerge. Meanwhile, the photographer Diane Amato had already got some insider shots of Barbie's Tattoo Parlour.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Twittering on

Twitter is another one of those applications, like Facebook, that I am not in the least bit interested in using myself but which I find interesting in terms of others' use. So the release of another Pew Internet report, this time focusing on who engages with Twitter and how they engage with it, makes interesting reading. For those of us also interested in citizen journalism, the fact that Twitter is often the first source for breaking news is no surprise, given the number of people now constantly online wherever they go. So when the amazing story of the plane that landed in the Hudson river broke, one of the first to report the story was a Twitter user. And don't think this relates only to adults - even unborn babies are using Twitter...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Gaming for Good ™

KZero regularly produce useful charts that detail the growth of virtual worlds. They now have a chart that outlines the range of virtual worlds aimed at five- to ten-year-olds, available here. Not sure why a perennial favourite, Club Penguin, isn't listed. The chart indicates that Barbie Girls now has 17 million registered accounts, but that is eclipsed by Pearson Education's Poptropica at 40 million accounts (the games are good, apparently). With so many worlds flooding the market, it isn't easy for new ones to make a splash, but Elf Island has. This virtual world links the gaming to 'real-world' non-profit projects and attempts to inculcate the values of good citizenship. As the producers state on the site:

Through Mirrored Gaming, kids learn about non-profit projects and, by completing a GoodQuest, they help real people, animals and the earth.
- Planting a tree in our virtual world causes trees to be planted in the real world.
- Building a home in our virtual world causes real homes to be built in the real world.
- Helping sharks in our virtual world helps sharks in the real world.

I like the concept of Mirrored Gaming™ , as it explained on the Elf Island Blog (practising good online and reflecting that good offline) - but wonder why the producers of the game felt the need to trademark the phrase - as they have also done with the phrase 'Gaming for Good ™? Let's hope they had good intentions for doing so.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Media life histories

I have been reminiscing with students I have been teaching on an online 'Media, childhood and youth' module about my own media life history, as a means of starting the group off thinking about the role that media and new technologies played in their own childhood and youth. I was a little shocked when looking back on my own life how ancient some of the technologies I used were, such as my precious second-hand Grundig reel-to-reel recorder. I just hadn't thought about some of the technologies I used for years and I guess had lost sight of how ancient I am in relation to new technologies! So, good job that for oldies like me, old playthings keep getting reinvented for the digital age. The favourite 'Etch-a-Sketch' for example, can now be played on a TV screen. Fab! Now all I need is the reel-to-reel to be reincarnated in some form, maybe linked to the ipod, so that I can re-live my youth in the 21st century!

Friday, 6 February 2009

iphone kids

I have posted before about the way in which iphones are very accessible to young children (for example, see the YouTube iphone baby posts here, growing by the week.) Now we hear of a nine-year-old Malaysian boy, Lim Ding Wen, who has written a drawing application for the phone that has been downloaded more than 4,000 times from Apple itunes in less than two weeks. To me, this reinforces the arguments of those who suggest that we should teach children programming skills in schools. Lim Ding Wen is obviously very talented, but all children could learn some basic programming that would help them to engage in creative game production. Shouldn't this be seen as a key 21st digital literacy skill?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Good Childhoods?

This week has seen the launch of the 'The Good Childhood Inquiry' Report - yet another publication on childhood which mixes helpful and constructive messages with some plain scaremongering, not least about single-parent families. Research linked to single-parent families is not reviewed in relation to the other factors which might be at play in many single-parent families, such as poverty, and this leads to judgements about causation rather than correlation. Thank goodness for the NSPCC, whose Director of Services for Children and Young People, Wes Cuell, has sensible things to say about this "child-panic". If only all public bodies that have children's interests in mind were this sensible...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Barbie celebrations

Just what Barbie-lovers (or maybe haters?) everywhere have always wanted, jewellery made from hacked-off Barbie body parts. Margaux Lange makes quite mind-boggling jewellery that is now getting talked about in the New York Times. Perhaps she will be invited by Mattel to make a special 50th anniversary medallion or something, given it is Barbie's half-century celebration year. And what a year it promises to be, with a 'House of Barbie' department store due to open in Shanghai (see report here) and a Barbie fashion show during the New York Fashion Week in February.In addition, as Mattel inform their shareholders, Barbie is also to have her own Facebook page - what about a Twitter stream? That way we can get to hear about every move she makes in her 50th year. Mmm - now where did I put that Swiss Army knife...?

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Barack Obama

This is certainly an exciting day, as it is the inauguration of America’s first black president and also a president who is cognisant of the power of technology (just look at the list of social networking sites Obama and his campaigners use as an indication of this). Indeed, he has appointed two Second Life innovators to his ‘Innovation Agenda’ group and so no doubt US educators look forward to virtual worlds becoming a more central part of the education agenda in the years ahead. I will be reading RezEd to find out how this agenda emerges, but in the meantime check out the very interesting report on ethics in virtual worlds produced by the group, available here. As for now, there's only one thing left to say - Go, Obama!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Girl Ambition

I noted with interest the launch of a new social networking site aimed at girls aged 7-12, titled Girl Ambition. It was formed by three parents keen to provide a safe space for their children to engage in online activity and develop a site that challenges the traditional, stereotyped discourses about girlhood that circulate the internet. Whilst there is certainly a need for sites such as this that aim to develop girls’ self-esteem, I feel that it is unfortunate that the site looks so retro. It is hard to compete with the designs of commercial sites, given the marketing budgets they enjoy, but nonetheless a more up-to-date design would attract more users. I can’t help feeling that the site will appeal to a certain demographic and miss an opportunity to speak to a wide, diverse audience. I hope I am wrong and will be monitoring the site’s development. In the meantime, if anyone has had an opportunity to review the content of the site, do post your comments (or link to your review) here.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Chuggington chunter

Oh dear...I once talked on Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' about the gender-bias of pre-school animations, citing in particular Underground Ernie's gendered stereotypes. (The interview can be found here if you are interested.) Unfortunately, Cbeebies on BBC1 have just started airing another series featuring trains as characters - 'Chuggington', which appears to be demonstrating some of the same problems. Only three of the ten trains are female and two of them are described thus:

Olwin is an older steam train who is a wound a bit tight. She always runs to schedule and can’t stand being late! She is a sweetheart, though, and loves mothering the young trainees. (It's just that the "little chug-a-chugs" find her caring ways a little too much, sometimes.)

Zephie is a young scissor-lift trolley. Unlike the other chuggers, she can spin round and scissor up and down in excitement. She is flighty, giggly, girly and fun. She knows when it's time to get to work, too.

Only one of the three female trains appears to escape stereotypes:

Koko is a fearless passenger engine built for high speed. She loves to explore and have adventures, and to challenge her friends to a dare or a race. Although her spirit might get her into mischief, she is always well-meaning and knows when to apologise.

With reports that the programme is scheduled to be shown in 100 countries and is to be linked to a range of toys, we can be sure that this is yet another objectionable programme, with gendered sterotyping that is completely unsuitable for a 21st century pre-school audience, which will become embedded in young children's popular culture with little critique.