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.