Saturday, 20 December 2008

Dear Santa...

I noted in the THES this week, amongst the endless RAE reports, a list of the 'most cited papers on Santa Claus research'. Maybe the paper Cathy Nutbrown and myself are writing will be on next year's list! Here's the abstract:

“To Santa with Love: An analysis of Children’s Letters to Father Christmas”. In this paper we outline findings from a study in which children in early years settings and primary schools in England wrote letters to Father Christmas in December 2007. The aim of the study was to identify how far the 260 letters reflected constructions of economic gendered subjectivities and aspirations towards the acquisition of new technologies in the digital age. A content analysis of the letters was undertaken, focusing on the requests children made. Findings suggest that contemporary childhoods are inflected by the technological landscape of the twenty-first century and that children demonstrate gendered consumerist patterns in terms of the items they wish to own.

Happy holiday season to all - will be back to the blog in the new year!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Virtual literacy ethnography

Students on the fabulous online MA in New Literacies course have completed their virtual ethnographies of literacy in Second Life and in their presentations detailed a range of interesting findings. The most interesting findings related to the way in which literacy practices in-world were informed by RL understandings of literacy; those who took a rather functional approach to literacy in RL appeared to do so in SL. Others wished to transport RL literacy practices into SL e.g. their poetry. Given the cross-over across domains that is inevitable, but the data regarding this were fascinating. In addition, many literacy practices in SL are related to a traditional model i.e. focusing on words and letters - multimodal practices are, apart from navigation and streaming audio and video, related to building in-world, or the creation of machinima, which not all residents feel confident about undertaking. I am encouraging the students to write a paper on their study and if they do, I will post it here. In the meantime, Steinkueler's work on literacy in the MMOG World of Warcraft is a fascinating read for those of you interested in this area.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Virtual world links

Thanks to Joanne Larson for the link to this overview of the most amazing interactive interface, g-speak. I can't wait until that technology becomes affordable for schools! In the meantime, there's lots to think about in terms of the educational implications of virtual worlds. I was interviewed by DK of MediaSnackers this week about my 'Club Penguin' research and found out about his excellent website that contains interesting podcasts on virtual worlds, amongst other issues - the link is here. The podcasts have been recorded for RezEd, a community of educationalists interested in virtual worlds. Check out their site, lots of interesting stuff on it.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A world of language

My four year-old-nephew asked me, "What's the world called today?" and I realised in the context of our conversation that he was asking me what the date was. I told him, and marvelled at children's verbal dexterity and their ability to find ways of making themselves understood. I look forward to more explorations of children's language in a fantastic new project I am involved in. Led by Andrew Burn at the Institute of Education, it is a project that involves tracing children's playground games and rhymes in a new media age and will lead to the development of games for the Nintendo Wii. You can read more about it here and I will update you on the project as it progresses. We will soon be advertising for a .5 post-doctoral research assistant for 2 years from April 2009 to conduct playground ethnography in a primary school in Sheffield as part of the project, so if anyone reading this might be interested, let me know and I can send you details!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Digital social capital

Thanks to Sheila Yoshikawa, I can post a photo here of the seminar I gave in Second Life, on children’s use of virtual worlds. ‘Twas fun and people made some very interesting comments in the discussion of the data. One of the points we discussed was that the children in my study used 'Club Penguin' to meet friends and family. This is one of the findings of the 'Digital Youth and media' project run by Mizuko Ito and team in the US. They have released the report on their three-year study of children and young people’s informal learning with digital media. The report can be accessed here. It makes for fascinating reading, and the summary includes the following finding: 'Most youth use online networks to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, sports, and other local activities.' I think there are interesting issues to explore here in terms of digital social capital - do these online networks reinforce offline ones? What implications does that have for children who find online access difficult at home - are they further excluded from these communities of practice? Or is it, like those of us who avoid networks such as 'Facebook' and 'Twitter', that the connections you want to make will be made anyway, so little is lost in the lack of their use? I think that for different groups, this will play out in different ways and that for some children, not being invited to classmates' 'Club Penguin' parties will mean decreased social capital and a risk of further exclusion in offline spaces. This is an area worthy of further research - if only I could fit it in!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Early Years Practice

I have mentioned Film Street before, which is a great online resource for children and teachers. They are currently running a competition supporting the National Year of Reading, in which children, through their primary schools, can submit animated trailers for their favourite books. A great idea, and I look forward to seeing the entries. I hope that they receive many entries from Foundation Stage children. I am sure the very talented teacher Lynn Scott, at Childwall Valley Primary School, will be submitting such entries - to see the animations produced by children in that school, visit the site here. Lynn also talked about her work in the publication 'Nursery World' and you can read that report here. I featured Lynn's work in my chapter on 'Media Literacy' for the new edition of Desirable Literacies, if you are interested in reading further. It is very important to highlight excellent work in the early years field in this way because, as this BECTA report suggests, there is still a long way to go in terms of extending practice.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Virtual furnishing

I have neglected my blog lately due to life becoming very hectic - too many things happening to list here. Amongst other things, we now have a new building for the School of Education in Second Life, pictured here - it is shared with the Department of Information Studies. I gave my first in-world seminar this week on my research on children's use of Club Penguin and I really enjoyed it. I have found that I like managing multiple threads of conversation at once! Furnishing the Education building is more problematic, as shopping in SL is not my favourite activity. I will therefore not be one of the users flocking to the Digital Dollhouse, a site which enables users to furnish virtual doll's houses. KZero report that in due course, 'real-life' corporate brands will be selling furniture and designer items on the site. Oh dear...will soon even MFI and IKEA be muscling in on the children's virtual world market?

Monday, 20 October 2008

Digital momentum

Haven't had time to blog recently as have been teaching on weekend schools throughout October. (And here is the link to the paper for students on the EdD early childhood route.) So this is a quick post to signal some recent useful digital-related stuff on the web which has made me feel quite optimistic about change - for today at least! First, David Puttnam's talk at the Handheld Learning conference raised some interesting points about the need for education to transform itself in order to keep up with developments in the digital age. Nothing new here for those of us immersed in the field, but good that someone in his position is saying these things. Second, a new Pew Internet report on networked families has been published, which indicates how much more connected many families are due to mobile technologies and the internet and confirms that members of families have shared screen time. Finally, I was recently introduced to the work of the Joan Cooney Ganz Center and found a number of interesting reports on their website, including The Power of Pow! Wham!: Children, Digital Media and our Nation's Future. For those of us who have been working in the field of education for many years on the issue of the importance of building on children's out-of-school popular cultural experiences, the explosion of interest in this area is very exciting and there is certainly momentum for change building up. Things can only get better!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Gay's the word

Well, not a post about technology today, but another important topic - homophobia. At last, a campaign to address the widespread use of the word 'gay' as a derogative term in schools. The website reports some depressing statistics e.g. 9 out of 10 LGBT students report being harassed at school in the last year. Over 1/3 of LGBT students have been physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression...and so on. So, the next time you overhear someone use the phrase, 'This is/ You are so gay' as a putdown/ criticism, point them to this website.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Internet Safety

The BBC have reported that a new internet 'watchdog' has been set up to protect children from harmful content. As one of the outcomes of the Byron Review, a 'Child Internet Safety Strategy' will be developed, which will:

• establish a comprehensive public information and awareness and child internet safety campaign across Government and industry including a ‘one-stop shop’ on child internet safety;• provide specific measures to support vulnerable children and young people, such as taking down illegal internet sites that promote harmful behaviour;• promote responsible advertising to children online; and • establish voluntary codes of practice for user-generated content sites, making such sites commit to take down inappropriate content within a given time.

There are lots of questions raised by this, such as: can a 'one-stop-shop' be effectively created, given the diverse nature of sites on the internet and the different safety strategies they require?; how will 'illegal internet sites' be defined and then tracked, especially if not located in the UK? ...and so many unknowns. This will be a development that will need careful monitoring by all of those interested in children's use of the internet. This is not to suggest that there are not positive aspects of this initiative - a public awareness campaign regarding use of the internet has the potential to raise a number of significant issues with parents and children, but it will need to be undertaken in a way which acknowledges the agency of individuals and the considerable knowledge many already have about ways of keeping safe online.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

IWBs in Ireland

I am in Dublin for the Reading Association Ireland Conference - and although it is a short visit, as I have to return to teach on our MA Early Childhood Education, I have already learned so much about the current use of technologies in the Irish literacy curriculum. Teachers I have spoken to are looking forward to acquiring interactive whiteboards in the years ahead, as they are not yet widespread, and so I recommend reading this report in order that lessons learned from their introduction in England can be taken on board.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Social gaming

Another useful report has been published by Pew Internet and American Life, this time on young people’s use of computer games. It contains some interesting statistics that rebuke the usual hype about children, gaming and social isolation. Instead, we find that only 24% of teens in the survey reported playing games alone and the rest play games with others at least some of the time. 65% reported playing games with other people who are in the room with them. I have found this in my research on young children’s use of virtual worlds – many of the children I interviewed reported playing in ‘Club Penguin’ with their siblings, either in the same room or in a nearby room in the same house. Maybe we are getting sufficient data now from across a number of projects to ensure that media reports will be a little more balanced in the future? Unfortunately, I guess it isn't that easy...but certainly today's report should get wide coverage.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Reframing Literacy

I am busy at the moment preparing for this exciting conference which is a liaison between UKLA and the BFI. Oscar Stringer is one of the speakers and his blog contains a number of 'tips and tricks' for teachers interested in animation. Tim Rylands is another speaker, on his work with computer games. If you are interested in attending then I would urge you to apply soon as numbers are limited on each of the days.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Club Penguin Times

Thanks to Izzy Neiss for the link to the piece on newspaper reading in Club Penguin. I have been observing children reading and writing in Club Penguin this summer and they do find the newspaper, the 'Club Penguin Times', an interesting read. However, they report feeling a little dispirited that the poems and stories they submit to the paper don’t get published. No wonder if there are 30,000 submissions a day. And people bemoan the apparent lack of interest children have in writing and reading outside of school…As long as people continue to equate reading solely with extended printed texts on paper, we will continue to read scare stories such as this. Maybe the 'Club Penguin Times' could publish a different kind of report about children's engagement in reading?

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Parents' sites

The trend for targeting parents alongside children continues, with Disney's launch of a social networking site for parents - 'Disney Family Community'. What better way to tie the whole family into Disney products? There is also a parents' site on Yahoo! Kids. What a shame, then, that it plays into the deficit discourses around media, stating:

'Media immersion absolutely affects our kids' physical health. It contributes to obesity, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, addictive behaviors, and declining levels of fitness. There's a direct link between hours of media consumed and calories consumed.'

It is not helpful to confuse correlation with causation in this way in advice for parents. Hopefully parents will take a broader view and find other sites more helpful for considering issues relating to children and media. One, then, to avoid is 'Unplug your kids', in which a parent provides advice on activities with children who don't have access to television or computer games. Ironic, then, that she seems to have all the fun taking digital photos of the activities and uploading them to her blog...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Digital Radiohead

As a Radiohead fan, I like to hear about the band's engagement with all things digital, such as their support of the Aniboom competition in which people created animated music videos of Radiohead songs. The Aniboom community identified a shortlist and then the band chose the winner. Actually they chose 4 winners in the end, details here. My own favourite to win was Reckoner. There is also a fabulous video in which you can interact with a digital image of Thom Yorke's head, which is fun, although a little distracting in relation to listening to the song itself! Its production involved some fancy technology which is explained here - you can access the video itself from this page.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

More CP mash-ups

I have been interested in Club Penguin machinima for some time, but in the past weeks have become aware of Club Penguin collages – mainly because as I have been peering over the shoulders of my nieces as they play on the site, I have observed penguins standing in the town square shouting ‘Collage at my igloo on the map!’ Collages consist of a series of elements that are either used singly or juxtaposed together, including still images, sections of film (created using screen capture software), overlaid text and music. I have pasted examples at the side of this post and below. Technically easier to assemble than machinima, they enable CP users to recreate favourite CP moments or entice visitors, keen to feature their avatars in the collages, to the producers’ igloos. These are good examples of what Colin Lankshear calls the ‘stuff of new literacies’.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Clubbing it again

Well, with my three of my nieces and a nephew having just descended on us for 10 days, I doubt I will get much time to blog; I will be too busy watching them whizz about in Club Penguin, amongst other things. As I am also observing other children (not related to me) using 'Club Penguin' in a research project I am in the middle of, I will be penguined out in a few weeks, no doubt! So I will leave you with a bit of a lengthy read – the report of the House of Commons' Culture Media and Sport Committee on Harmful content on the Internet and in video games’. The usual stuff, although I note with interest the committee, drawing heavily on the Byron Report, calls for tighter self-regulation by the industry rather than top-down regulation. Sara Grimes always has very interesting things to say about the industry’s attempts at self-regulation and I recommend her blog for those of you interested in this area. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch a penguin dance contest!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


This photograph was taken at a staff induction to Second Life today, on a skychair tour of Infolit ischool led by the marvellous Sheila Yoshikawa (literally in the driving seat here). I didn't dare take the tour because of my propensity for travel sickness, but a great time was had by all, no matter how much of a 'newbie' we felt. In-world, we helped each other to become more familiar with the landscape of SL. Once again I was reminded of the power of social networking, which was reinforced when I became aware that this project, A Swarm of Angels, is open to re-registration again , having first started in 2006. It is an open source film project which aims to raise £1million to make a film that will then be free to access on the web. If you subscribe to the project, you can vote on creative decisions and collaborate in the production process if you wish to. I think the title of the project is interesting, as it draws on the notion of 'swarming' as an activity made possible by Web 2.0. Zygmunt Bauman used the concept of swarming in his work on liquid modernity and this has informed its use in thinking around technology and social/ mobile networking, but I think his notion was quite different from what is actually happening. He suggested that:

In a swarm, there are no specialists - no holders of separate (and scarce) skills and resources whose task would be to enable/assist other units to complete their jobs, or to compensate for their individual shortcomings or incapacities. Each unit is a ‘Jack of all trades’, and needs the complete set of tools and skills necessary for the entire job to be fulfilled. In a swarm, there is no exchange, no cooperation, no complementarity – just the physical proximity and roughly coordinated direction of the current moves. In case of the human, feeling/thinking units, the comfort of flying-in-swarm derives from the trust in numbers: a belief that the direction of flight has been properly chosen since an impressively large swarm follows it, the supposition that so many feeling/thinking humans wouldn’t be simultaneously fooled. As the self-assurance and the sentiment of security go, the swarm is the next best, and no less effective, substitute for the authority of group leaders.

This seems to me to be pessimistic in its estimation of why people join collective groups and in people's ability to determine the nature of the joint action. In addition, in socially-networked 'swarms' there are indeed specialists - the success of projects such as 'A swarm of angels' is dependent upon different people contributing their different expertise in specific ways - and surely the bees flying at the edge of swarms have to use their navigational expertise in a different way than the bees in the middle of the swarm? I don't know, I am no bee expert, but projects that embed collective action and collaborative decision-making at their heart seem to me to be good things to foster. Anyhow, I look forward to seeing the final outcome of 'A Swarm of Angels' - maybe it will be shown in Second Life? Hope so, my avatar needs a sit down after all that flying about today...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Digital stuff

I had two people tell me about their very exciting work this week, which I thought I would share here as it is so interesting to those of us working in the digital literacies area. I met first with Jon, the director of Lovebytes, a festival of digital art and media held in Sheffield annually. They started in 1994, so have really been in the vanguard of everything digital and it certainly shows - for example, see the fantastic installation below, Bubbles. If you like that, you can find more like it on their YouTube channel, here. The second person to share their work was Ruth of Isaacs UK, who is working with Futurelab on a concept she has developed titled 'Dreamcatcher' - fabulous stuff! Creativity has always been around of course, but what's new about digital art and media production is the extent to which interactivity and networking can be embedded in installations and artefacts. These are two brilliant examples of what can be achieved digitally and we can only hope that this kind of creativity can be fostered in more schools in the future.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Virtual worlds and literacy

When I was in Adelaide, I presented a paper on play and literacy in virtual worlds, which can be downloaded here. I have since decided that it should really have been presented as two papers, one on play in virtual worlds and one on literacy in virtual worlds, and so I have now written the former and sent it off to an early childhood journal (and if anyone is interested in a copy of that, contact me and I will send it to you). I am finishing off the virtual worlds and literacy paper now and it includes the list of literacy skills that I argue some of the worlds can foster:

• reading skills and strategies including: word recognition (e.g. the vocabulary choices in ‘safe chat’ mode; instructions; in-world environmental text), comprehension, scanning text in order to retrieve appropriate information, familiarity with how different texts are structured and organised, understanding of authors’ viewpoint, purposes and overall effect of the text on the reader;
• writing skills and strategies including: spelling, punctuation, syntax, writing using and adapting a range of forms appropriate for purpose and audience, using language for particular effect;
• writing for known and unknown audiences;
• using text to negotiate, collaborate and evaluate.

This list ties in with national assessment criteria for literacy in England. However, this is really rather a narrow set of skills and strategies to focus on, given the range of multimodal literacy practices in evidence in children's use of Club Penguin, for example. In attempts to normalise children's use of popular cultural texts in educational contexts, it is tempting to justify it with reference to established standards (and I often do!). But we need to move beyond this and challenge such narrow visions of what literacy is; schools need to be developing assessment criteria that embrace digital text production and analysis. Criteria, for example, that could be used to evaluate this text, which has to be one of my favourite Club Penguin machinima ever...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Clickable fairies

Robin Raskin has an interesting post about Disney's range of products relating to fairies, such as Pixie Hollow in which children can create a fairie avatar for the Pixie Hollow world. As Robin explains, Disney have collaborated with Clickables to provide artefacts that can link in RL to each other and this activity then relates to the online world:

A clickable item...can “click” with another Disney Fairies piece of jewelry, allowing girls to trade items from jewelry to jewelry, girl to girl. Once at home they can place their jewelry in a special jewelry box and whatever trade took place in real life between two friends shows up on their on-screen avatars in the Pixie Hollow world. As you play the games on Pixie Hollow you gain points towards things for your personal space in that world, and when you click bracelets in the real world you get points that you can redeem online.

This is an interesting development on the Webkinz model, in which RL toys integrate with online environments, as it extends the possibilities for RL social networking around the worlds and related artefacts and dissolves further the boundaries between online and offline activities.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Stories, Places, Spaces

I am now in Sydney before leaving for the UK tomorrow and so have had time to reflect on the excellent ALEA/ AATE conference, Stories, Places, Spaces: Literacy and Identity. Apart from the excellent keynotes (including Ilana Snyder, Daniel Meadows and Victoria Carrington), there were so many interesting sessions that it was difficult to choose what to attend. I attended an excellent - and entertaining - introduction to Second Life by Rosie Kerin and Pat Grant, a session outlining a fascinating project on the use of computer games in secondary schools by Catherine Beavis and her team, a lecture outlining the very rich work undertaken on the River Literacies project by Phil Cormack, Helen Nixon and Ruth Pfeiler, an inspiring session exploring approaches to 'visual literacy' by Alyson Simpson, one in which a gifted teacher, Anthony Bortalot, demonstrated how he engaged pupils in comprehesion work related to music videos, in liaison with Sarah Major Cox, and finally a brilliant session in which Mark Vicars talked about the reading practices of gay men. It was difficult to fit anything else in. There is so much exciting work being undertaken in Australian schools on digital literacies I would have liked to have been able to attend at least 3 papers each session. I would recommend the ALEA/AATE conference for all those in the UK interested in digital literacies - the next conference will be in 2010, so plenty of time to plan your paper!

Monday, 7 July 2008


In haste, for those of you attending the ALEA/ AATE conference today, a copy of my slides can be found here. I will write a more substantial blog post later!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Children and virtual worlds

The interest in virtual worlds continues to grow. The Journal of Virtual Worlds has been launched and the first issue can be found here. On this site there is an interview with Gauntlett and Jackson on their study on Adventure Rock. And here there is a report on research that illuminates how some children are operating in virtual worlds. I certainly found some children in my current study reporting on scams they carried out in Habbo Hotel, and I do think that the anonymity of the world meant that children who might not otherwise have done so joined in with the scams. However, there was also supportive/ collaborative behaviour reported by the children, which seems to become sidelined in articles like this. Meanwhile, Guy has started to compile a list of virtual worlds for children. To this we can add: Bin Weevils, Zwinky, and Handipoints, in which children earn in-world credit by doing out-of-world chores and homework - mmm, wonder how popular that is?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I am over the jet-lag and having a fabulous time in Adelaide, where I am catching up with all of the excellent work undertaken by researchers at the Centre for Studies in Literacy, Policy and Learning Cultures. I also visited a wonderful primary school today, Glen Osmond, where I was knocked out by the children's work. One class teacher had set up a 'Crime Scenes Investigation' in the school and donned a white suit as worn by forensic teams. The children had to investigate environmental damage in the school and drew from their viewing of CSI in making notes, interviewing, setting up crime scenes and so on. This was all recorded digitally and a slideshow created. Children had also created clay animations of stories based on investigations in science and geography. They were having a red-carpet Oscar ceremony that afternoon and children were preparing for their roles as presenters of awards, security guards, film fans and paparazzi. Such excitement and a huge sense of commitment, vision and energy from staff. As Australia moves towards a national curriculum, let us hope that it avoids some of the problems encountered in England over the last 10 years, so that this professional autonomy is not diminished in any way.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Urban Literacy

I am in Hong Kong for one night on my way to Adelaide and as it is my first visit, I am struck by the densely textual nature of the urban environment. This photograph is not untypical and, walking along the streets, one is met at eye level with a plethora of texts in a number of languages. There is also plenty of evidence of new literacy practices in operation - txting etc. - and so altogether I feel immersed in a literacy bubble, albeit one I cannot analyse in much depth in terms of juxtaposition of languages and scripts. Dong and Blommaert (2007), in paper 44 that can be downloaded from this page, suggest in their analysis of migrant identities and language in Beijing that:

'Spaces exist in relation to one another and are organised in a layered and stratified social system through scaling processes. The notion of scale emphasises the indexical nature of spaces that are ordered and organised in a vertical continuum, from local to translocal, to global.'

Things aren't just vertical, of course, there is plenty of horizontal glocalisation stuff going on in Hong Kong - it wasn't too long on my wanderings before I came across the phrase 'I'm lovin' it' surrounded by Chinese characters for example - but it would be great to examine in more detail how local texts relate to each other, how they are inflected by new technologies and then how they lock into/ transform globalised discourses. A project for a longer visit, I think!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Leonard re-lived!

Guy has posted an interesting blog entry about technology and music. I agree with his point that technology has ‘transformed the role that music plays in our lives’. For example, I was fortunate enough to see Leonard Cohen live on Friday, having been a lifelong admirer of his songs. Thanks to YouTube, I can now re-live the highlights as often as I like. For those of you who also like Leonard, here is a snippet of his fabulous concert!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Web 2.0 sites

Clever Dr Joolz has produced a short presentation about her fabulous course, the MA New Literacies. The program she has used to create this, Jing, seems pretty snazzy. I can't keep up with all these free Web 2.0 programs, there are so many. It is difficult to make choices sometimes about where to focus attention and energy, given the range of sites available , but for teachers of English , I would recommend this site as a great space for networking.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Don't panic!

I am speaking at the Media Education Association's conference tomorrow, details of which can be found here. It looks as if it will be a very interesting conference and I am looking forward to it. Don't you just love the poster with the ipod toddler?! I am posting my slides for a few days so those attendees who are interested in downloading them can do so here.

Books vs technology...again

Scholastic undertook a survey of 501 children aged 5-17 and their parents in order to explore reading in the digital age. You can find the report here and it suggests that children, sensibly, 'believe that technology will complement — not replace — book reading'. The report also indicates that 'Many children are extending the book reading experience online — from looking for more books in a series or by the same author, to visiting websites that immerse a child in content related to a book, to connecting with authors and other readers. ' So, will this mean the end of endless surveys that seek to explore whether or not technology is driving children away from reading? I fear not...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Second Department

Here is my avatar in Second Life, Jackie Darkstone, pictured outside our new Departmental building, which has been kindly given to us by our University of Sheffield colleague Sheila Yoshikawa. She runs the Infolit iSchool in Second Life and this building is on the Infolit Island. I am a relative newbie to SL and am, along with my colleague Jason Sparks, exploring ways to embed it in our teaching programmes. I haven't had much time to spend on this before now but then realised I couldn't delay any longer and am amazed by what people are achieving in SL. Sheila, for example, manages to run Infolit Island and has her own virtual shop. A group called 'Global Kids' Digital Media Initiative' is doing some great stuff with teenagers and of course Angela Thomas has been showing us for some years what educationalists can do in SL. My own explorations will be rather more modest in nature but I am keen nonetheless - and if you are not yet convinced by the idea, then visit the SLED blog for more inspiration.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Comic Life

Those of us who have enjoyed using Comic Life on macs have been grateful for a wonderful piece of software that was made initially for macs – it is usual for us to have to wait a long time for versions of some software to be made available for Apple machines. Well, those of you who have not been able to use Comic Life on Windows will be pleased to know that a version has now been developed that you can use, and this can be downloaded here. Hope you have as much fun as Apple users have had with it! And for those mac fans that have not used Skitch yet, from the same producers, I recommend downloading that here. The image embedded in this blog was made using it. And if the url link is too small for you to read, then the amazing news story I am highlighting in the image can be found here.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Adventure Rock

David Gauntlett and Lizzie Jackson have undertaken an evaluation of children's responses to the BBC's virtual world Adventure Rock, which they reported on at the conference I attended last week. You can find their presentation here. They identified eight different 'types' of virtual world users:

  • Explorer-investigators
  • Self-stampers
  • Social climbers
  • Fighters
  • Collector-consumers
  • Power-users
  • Life-system builders
  • Nurturers
These are helpful categories, I think, but it seems to me that children move across these categories at different times. It would be interesting to trace these categories in relation to gender at some point. In the meantime, you can read a news bulletin about the Adventure Rock study here.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Children and virtual worlds

I went to an interesting conference on children and virtual worlds today where I was able to pass on to a Club Penguin representative the finding from one of my studies that young girls are really getting frustrated that their penguin avatars can't wear a wig and a tiara at the same time. Important stuff. Lots of good things were said about user-generated content all day and so hopefully soon kids will be able to make their own wigs and tiaras in CP. I was a little worried at the end, however, when someone from the BBC suggested that 3D television would soon be here. I already get motion sickness from using Nintendo Wii and flying in Second Life and so the thought that I will now also have to face travel sickness when watching TV is just too much!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Children and media literacy

Ofcom published a report on children's media literacy in the UK on Friday. As I have been busy teaching at our EdD weekend I have not had an opportunity to read it fully as yet, but a quick skim suggests that the study identified some interesting patterns, such as the finding that many older children expressed agreement with statements suggesting a link between violence and gaming - they are not immune to media discourses surrounding this, of course. There were a few surprises - only 42% of 5-year-olds were reported using a PC/ laptop with internet access. In the Digital Beginnings study, 53% of 0-6 year olds were reported using computers. Maybe the difference can be explained in relation to the Internet access aspect of the Ofcom figure? There are other intriguing figures - since 2005, there has been a 12% increase in children learning about the Internet in school, from 67% to 79%. Hmmm...4% a year. And what about the 21% who don't learn about the Internet in school?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Semantic web

Like many others, I have been intrigued by the notion of a semantic web and looked forward to its arrival. Well, it may be a small start, as it is currently primarily limited to Wikipedia, but I liked Powerset - a semantic search engine - when I tried it using a search on 'digital literacy'. If you are not clear what a semantic search engine is, then this overview is helpful. I can see that if this develops beyond Wikipedia, it will become increasingly useful. Now all we need is the ability to move the same avatars across different web spaces and maybe we will be seeing Web 3.0 after all?

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Like taking candy from a baby...

Not before time, many more organisations are now focusing on the media activities of young children. For example, Consumer Reports Webwatch have published a study on the commercialisation of the Internet for children under eight. The report can be downloaded here. It makes for fascinating reading and whilst I do not share the overly-Piagetian analysis of the children's online activities, I do agree with some of the points made. However, I am not sure how some of the recommendations can be achieved in the business models often used by online sites for children. For example, one of the recommendations of the report is that virtual worlds such as Club Penguin should not use free trials to entice children into buying subscriptions. Whilst I very much sympathise with this viewpoint (and indeed have observed the impact of differential social and economic capital in these online worlds), this is the nature of free Internet trials. Most of us, at some point, will have signed up for a free trial and then lived to regret it as we are then pestered with emails to fully sign up, or feel frustrated as we can only access limited areas of the site's provision. So should we be working with young children to enable them to understand this aspect of online commercial sites in relation to free trials and helping them to come to terms with the emotional fall-out from that? On the other hand, I do feel commercial sites aimed at children have a responsibility in terms of their marketing strategies and making children aware at every turn of what they cannot access is unnecessary. In-world advertising, such as that operated by Barbie Girls, for example, is often pernicious in nature. There is much work to do here in terms of identifying the dynamic between the users and producers of these sites and so research such as that conducted by Sara Grimes will be important in helping us to understand the complexities embedded within this relationship. In the meantime, I am involved in a study exploring the literacy practices related to the use of some of these virtual worlds and I will post a paper on this here soon!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Hector's world

Meet Hector the Dolphin, who surfs the internet ocean. He features in a series of cartoons, developed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which are intended to teach 5-7-year-old children about internet safety. I would have liked to have offered a review of the cartoons here but it isn't possible as my Apple laptop can't seem to access them. I like some of the guidance given on the website and the site design is clear and accessible to young children. I find when talking to many parents and teachers that they do not know how to begin to work with young children on internet safety practices, so this material should offer a starting point and will no doubt be adapted by teachers to suit their needs. Now what is needed is a similar site which offers young children guidance on offline safety e.g. what to do about sexual, emotional or physical abuse from family members. It would be unhelpful to give children the impression that is is only in online practices that self-protection strategies are necessary.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Inaugural lecture

As promised, I am posting here a transcript of my inaugural lecture, which I presented on Tuesday. Many thanks to everyone there for your wonderful support - I had such a lovely evening. The questions were so interesting and the subsequent discussions I had with people prompted further reflection... so, rather selfishly, I had a great time - thank you!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

YouTube reflections

I know that I have mentioned the fabulous course designed by Julia Davies before, our MA in New Literacies. It is such a treat for me to be able to teach on this course, I am learning such a lot. For example, I now realise what a useful space YouTube is for students on the course to share their reflections on their ongoing work. Misti conducted research on young children's multiliteracy practices in the home and in the YouTube video below she reflects on how this small-scale study went.

So interesting! And so useful for all the course participants to be able to access Misti's reflections in this way. I am encouraging Misti to think about where she can disseminate her fascinating work in print, so watch this space and I will keep you updated.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Bedtime reading

Apparently less than half of fathers regularly read bedtime stories to their children, according to a recent National Year of Reading Survey. I wondered what other types of reading dads did with children, but the summary of the report didn't say. Of course reading a child a story just before he or she goes to sleep can be a magical moment, but I do not understand why many still privilege this reading activity above all others when 25 years ago now Shirley Brice Heath showed clearly and convincingly that not all cultural groups undertake this practice and that there are other pathways to a literate life. As Neil Mercer and Joan Swann suggested in 1996 in their book 'Learning English': 'children's interactions with print may be rich and varied even when story-reading happens infrequently' (p100). So I wish the NYR survey had asked dads what other kinds of reading they did with their children....

Monday, 7 April 2008


I am travelling to a seminar in Leeds tomorrow and will be very grateful for the use of my ‘TomTom’ to get me there. GPS technology is so powerful and in the latest volume of the BECTA series ‘Emerging Technologies for Learning’, I was interested in the chapter written by Alen Greenfield at NYU in which he suggests that ‘location-based’ ‘context-aware’ applications have enormous potential for education and concludes that:

What is at stake is nothing less than a reappraisal of what we mean when we say ‘education’. Rather than something abstract and detached from the context which lends resonance and interest, certain kinds of knowledge can be re-imagined as a property of place itself, as something more akin to genius loci than to anything we’d recognise as a ‘lesson’. Certainly, the teaching of disciplines as diverse as economics, history, physics, and anatomy will be transformed by objects, transactions and places endowed with the ability to speak themselves – an ability inherent in almost all schemes for the deployment of ubiquitous informatics now being contemplated (pp56-7).

I love the idea of objects that are able to speak themselves and feel that this has enormous potential for all areas of education, but I can envisage the impact for early years education most of all – it would certainly enrich standard early years practices such as environmental print walks.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Social networking

Following close on the heels of the Byron Review report, Ofcom have published a report today on the use of social networking sites such as Bebo, Facebook and MySpace. I haven’t had time to read it but on a first skim-through, I noted their categorisation of the non-use of these kinds of social network sites. They suggest that there are three categories of/ reasons for non-participation – (i) people concerned about online safety, (ii) the technically inexperienced or (iii) intellectual rejecters who think they are a waste of time. I think there is a fourth category/ reason they have omitted here – people, like myself, who think social networks are of interest and can serve useful functions, but who have decided that they do not wish to use them because their own networking needs are met in other ways and spaces such as Facebook are just surplus to needs. I know I am not alone – Guy discusses this on his blog. Maybe they didn’t talk to people who strategically choose not to participate in such spaces. Not being interested in them personally doesn’t mean to say that I think they are of little value to educationalists, however and here Julia offers a number of reasons for using social networking sites in schools. Let's hope voices such as Julia's get listened to in the flurry of moral panics that appear to be proliferating around children and social networking.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Travel Notes

I haven’t blogged for a while because first of all I was on holiday here (fab!) and then went to New York for the AERA conference. I attended some excellent sessions, including a brilliant symposium organised by Jabari Mahiri. Some great work on digital media production and youth is being undertaken by Jabari and his team. Sneha Veeragoudar Harrell talked about a project titled ‘Fractal Village’. In the project, students were presented with ‘Barren Island’ in Second Life which was, as its name suggests, completely barren, and they were then supported in using programming tools to create objects, buildings and avatars. It was pedagogically very exciting as the project was open-ended and student-led in nature and you can read more about it here. Will not blog again until I get back to England as I now want to fit a bit of shopping in this weekend before I get home. Apparently the Apple store on 5th Avenue is open 24 hours a day - could be dangerous...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Tracking practice

Having had a terrible day with trains yesterday getting to this interesting seminar, I nearly didn't get here in time for a seminar I was presenting at today because of signals, or whatever lame excuse the train company gave. Luckily I did, because we had an excellent discussion about Web 2.0 and pedagogies. There is some very interesting work being undertaken at the Warwick research centre on pre-service teachers and their use of ICT, with assumptions that are often made about the way in which 'digital insiders' might approach pedagogy as teachers themselves being challenged by the research team. This is also the theme of Lynda Graham's thoughtful paper on the issue. It reinforces the fact that everyone's experiences of teaching are dependent upon a complex range of factors that intersect in relation to their own digital histories, subject knowledge and beliefs and that dynamic out and it might look a little like the tracks and signals of the Midlands railway system!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

UKLA website

I have been working with Nikki Gamble and Liz Chamberlain for the last few months on the new UKLA website, which has been launched today! We are really pleased with it and are delighted with the excellent work that Bellamy Studio has done on developing the site. There are bound to be teething problems, so if you notice anything that needs amending, do use the 'contact us' section of the site to let us know. We hope to develop the site further over the forthcoming months so that additional features for UKLA members are added. Again, any ideas for features/ links you would like to see added, let us have them. In the meantime, do visit the site and look around!

Friday, 29 February 2008

Leap year iphone babies

Well, I know I only posted yesterday and don't really have any startling news (and I am not a daily blogger like Guy), but I couldn't resist having a post dated February 29th! Maybe it is also the day for another 1 year-old baby/ iphone post...

And just in case you didn't quite catch that, here is a baby younger than 1 with an iphone:

What will these kids be doing next Leap Year, I wonder?

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Threading voices

Well, I did buy a Nintendo Wii (see last post) but found that, unfortunately, it gave me motion sickness! How sad. Not surprising though, as I get travel sick on the shortest journeys. I even feel travel sick on the London Eye. This is good for the rest of the family, however, as there is now one less person competing for the 'nunchuck' (where did they think that name up?). So it was just as well that I have started another project with Peter Winter, a wonderful teacher at Monteney Primary School, as it will take my mind off my Wii troubles. We are working on a project with Year 2 children (aged six and seven) using Google Earth and a wonderful web tool, Voicethread. I love Voicethread and when I get a chance I am going to create Voicethreads of my own instead of just working with children as they create theirs - maybe I will call it 'Nintendo Wii Blues...'

Monday, 25 February 2008

A Wii rest

I have taught on two weekend study schools and examined three PhDs in the last 10 days, in addition to the usual round of writing, marking, admin, reviews, meetings (and more meetings), responding to students' emails and making research visits to schools etc., so am feeling in need of a bit of rest & relaxation. I am thinking of buying a Nintentendo Wii to play with this forthcoming weekend...along with half of Britain, it seems. Now I have to get in the queue behind physiotherapists, who are using them with recovering patients. I was already way behind care home residents in the Wii stakes. Anyone for tennis?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Future of the book

I met with Bob and Chris from the Institute for the Future of the Book last week, who showed me some fantastic software the organisation has developed, which will enable pupils and teachers to create multimodal, online texts. The software is called 'Sophie' and will be free to dowload from here from the end of February. I know I won't be able to create anything like as fabulous as 'Inanimate Alice', but I am a looking forward to digital authoring using the software. However, much as I love 'Inanimate Alice' for all sorts of reasons, I do not like having the pace of reading dictated to me, which would prevent me from engaging in widespread reading of similar texts. I am a fast reader and feel frustrated with the pace of that story. Maybe I'm just a bad example of the 'twitch generation'?!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Ambient produsage

I consider myself to be fairly technically competent - and quick - with a range of hardware and software, but I have been struggling to keep up with my 8 year-old-niece this weekend in our instant-messaging exchanges as she sent me pictures, powerpoint slides she has completed for school, websites to look at, voiceclips and a series of nudges and winks that punctuate our 'conversation'. I gave up when she sent me a desktop background that turned out to be a Care Bears background when I opened it, as then I had to cope with floating hearts, flowers and bears on a garish pink background in addition to trying to keep up with her flow of information. I told her I had to get back to doing some work (which was true, but perhaps a little cowardly). As Beer and Burrows suggest, attention needs to be paid by researchers to 'transformation in the nature of the relations between production and consumption as they become simultaneous and even ambient in the routine activities that generate the content of Web 2.0'. I can consume and produce at the same time, but obviously not at the same rate as my niece, who seems to have reached the ambient stage - in comparison, I appear to be an emergent 'produser', drawing from Bruns' concept. I promise to try harder, although I will always draw the line at the Care Bears.