Thing 23: Reflections

‘Reflections’ by Dom Pates/Globalism Pictures (CC-BY)

This is a cross-post between WordPress and Medium.

What have I done?

During 23 Things, I have:

  1. Started (another) WordPress blog
  2. Set my aims for my own 23 Things
  3. Googled myself
  4. Reviewed my iPhone’s security settings
  5. Made my own Bitmoji character
  6. Written about my own colourblindness
  7. Dug out my first tweet, and tidied up my Twitter Lists
  8. Come up with ten things about Facebook and me
  9. Produced a list of tips for using web conferencing
  10. Created my first new song in about a year
  11. Told my story about copyright and Creative Commons
  12. Developed an Open Educational Resource
  13. Brought together a portfolio of ten of my own films and added some more to my Vimeo account
  14. Showcased several of my previously-made audio projects
  15. Used Storify for the first time
  16. Evaluated Zotero for note taking (but decided to stay with Evernote)
  17. Identified and defined ‘the Swartz Paradox
  18. Reflected on my own experiences with virtual reality
  19. Learned what Altmetrics are
  20. Updated my LinkedIn profile
  21. Played a couple of online games
  22. Dipped in to Dubsmash
  23. Had an awful lot of reflection on my own digital knowledge

The reflection task

These are the final questions asked of participants at the end of 23 Things, along with my responses.

Were there Things that you particularly enjoyed? 

Very much so. It was a great opportunity to address a range of digital things that I’d put off or never quite made the time for – some ‘virtual housekeeping’, if you like. While I already had experience with most of the Things, I managed to find something to write or do for each one. I also got to try some new Things out too, like Altmetrics and Dubsmash (two wildly differing Things).

Was there a Thing that has either had something in it that surprised you, or one you particularly enjoyed? 

The copyright Thing allowed me to tell a story I was already meaning to tell. The Wikipedia Thing unexpectedly introduced me to ‘data sonification’. The video Thing meant being able to reflect on and showcase my own filmmaking. The geolocation Thing resulted in articulated some ideas I’ve been chewing over without realising I was struggling with them.
Have you been reading the community blogs? How did you find the blogging aspect of the course? 

I’ve been reading a small handful of other posts throughout the course, but haven’t been able to make the time to explore as much as I’d like to have done. However, once the completion deadline is out of the way, I’ll have a chance to read more of how my fellow bloggers have found this journey and hopefully make some more contributions. This will allow me to continue being a part of this without the time pressure and with a completed portfolio to back up any conversations I take part in.

I started blogging around 2006 and did this consistently till 2013. Having not done it for a few years, it was good to get back in the habit. I also started a Medium account a few months back too, and this gave me some content to add there too.

Did you have any difficulties completing the Things? 

Not really, no. The only real struggle was finding the time to complete the tasks. Having made it to the end now, it seems I managed to find enough of it though.

If you were to do a course like this again is there anything you would change, or additional support you would like to see? 

I was happy with how most of it went, didn’t feel any need for support, and wouldn’t really change much about the course. I didn’t always strictly follow what was outlined in the task, but in some cases used these as an opportunity to do some writing around that particular topic. 

One thing that could be done differently next time is perhaps to increase the number of opportunities for people taking the course to interact with each other. This might be difficult when participants are at different stages or have differing levels of experience with the technologies, but might also help towards forging more of a Community of Practice around participation. Appreciated the opportunities to interact live with other participants, such as during the tweet chats.

If you wrote a blog post at the beginning on what you hoped to gain out of the 23 Things course, looking back on the post do you feel you achieved those goals? 

Let’s take a look…

The original aims

  1. To complete a MOOC
  2. To better understand the notion of digital literacies and how they might apply to my work
  3. To contribute to and learn from an online Community of Practice within my field
  4. To stretch the writing muscle and ‘get back in the blogging saddle’

Well, in writing this paragraph, I complete a MOOC for the first time, so first aim met right there. Although there was very little mention of digital literacy throughout this course, having taken a deeper look at each of the technologies or areas through the reading and the writing, I feel better versed in the notion and am now more alert to other interpretations of digital literacy. As previously stated, the sense of Community of Practice wasn’t that high, but I look forward to actually visiting more of the other blogs now I’ve finished mine. The writing muscle was certainly stretched through, and am now pretty fully back in the ‘blogging saddle’. So all in all, I probably hit about 80% of my aims – happy to settle for that!

Thanks to all that put this together and kept it running. And if you’ve read and enjoyed any of my posts, please drop by and leave a comment. Could be the start of a good conversation 🙂

Thing 22: Fun and Play

This is a cross-post between WordPress and Medium.

Late at night, disheveled and rather unshaven, I had a go at a few Dubsmashes.

A fun bookend to a quality and serious course – kind of like post-karaoke fun for the selfie generation.

Enjoy 🙂

Thing 21: Online Games and Learning

This is a cross-post between WordPress and Medium.


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Screengrab of a Kahoot quiz

I’d heard of Kahoot before, but had no idea what it was. It turns out to be some sort of learning response system. At City, we use Poll Everywhere as our main audience response system, which I’m rather a fan of. This is quite different from that though – particularly being specifically designed around gamified intentions, but also for the team-based elements.

As a pedagogical tool, Kahoot describes itself as useful to:

  • Introduce new topics
  • Challenge past performance
  • Professional development
  • Review, revise and reinforce
  • Join the global classroom
  • Re-energise and reward
  • Turn learners into leaders
  • Formative assessment
  • Discussions and surveys

That’s plenty of possible uses in teaching right there. I signed up for a Kahoot account and tried out a couple of random quizzes. It seems to need a main screen for displaying the quizzes and mobile devices for responding to them in order to function best, so is clearly designed for face-to-face teaching. I could see pretty quickly how it would be fun to use with teams, that it is very easy to pick up, and could be used in a variety of different ways for learning.

I’d need a bit more time to get to know how to use it properly, but it would be a great way to start or finish off a workshop. This might be something that ends up in my (occasional) in-class toolkit.

Nobel Prize games

The Nobel Prize’s official website has a series of Flash-based interactive games and simulations for promoting understanding of the science, research, and work of the Nobel Laureates. I went to the Physics page and played the first game I could find, which turned out to be called the Blood Typing Game.

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Screengrab of Nobel Prize ‘Blood Typing Game’

Being Flash-based, this obviously means that the game can’t be played on most mobile devices, so it is quite a different experience to Kahoot. I jumped straight in and started clicking stuff to get a feel for the game.

I must admit that, although this approach of random clicking isn’t likely to lead to me learning very much, there also didn’t seem to be much obviously around or within the game that allowed me to learn much from it anyway. The premise was that a series of patients had been involved in a traffic accident and needed blood transfusions to survive. My job as the game player was to take their blood, assess it, then give them the correct transfusion.

I think most of my patients died a few times on that operating table! Can’t say I really learned very much about blood types though. Undoubtedly the inclusion of these games were big steps forward for the Nobel Foundation at the time in terms of creating engagement around their content, but they do look slightly dated now.


As Buckley and Doyle (2014) suggest, gamifying learning can both increase student engagement and enhance learning, although the impact on participation can vary depending on intrinsic or extrinsic motivations. Even with the most serious of topics, there’s often room for adding a little light fun to the learning experience though 🙂

Thing 20: Professional Social Networks

‘Social Networks’ by Dom Pates/Globalism Pictures (CC-BY)

This is a cross-post between WordPress and Medium.

These last few posts for 23 Things will have to be fairly brief if I am to make it to the finish line in time. Been going in to rather greater detail than I was intending to and have time for – often the way!

I joined Friends Reunited about 15 years ago, and marvelled at the ability to reconnect with all those school friends I no longer knew. I joined MySpace after that, constructing a customisable presence for one of my music ventures that allowed me to connect with an audience I’d never looked in the eye at a gig. By the time of Facebook, the idea of being part of a social network seemed a very natural thing to do, with an online network of people I actually both knew and wanted to remain connected with. The professionalisation of social networks was a logical evolutionary step, so when LinkedIn came along, I joined that too.

I must admit that I don’t really use LinkedIn for that much in the way of active professional networking. It acts as an online CV and a kind of detailed online business card, so I appreciate the value. It’s hard to work anywhere in the digital space these days without a presence on it too. I mostly take a similar approach to the one I take with Facebook though, which is only to connect with people I’ve met in ‘real life’ (RL). This means not making a purposeful effort to grow my LinkedIn network and tending not to accept connection requests from people I’ve not met.

Given that the borders between RL and the digital domain are pretty much collapsed these days, that might be an increasingly anachronistic stance to take. Given that without careful tending, an under-utilised social network will tend to wither in its usefulness, perhaps I should put more time and effort in. However, time is the one thing that is scarce in our era of information abundance. I’ll settle for it as my online CV and online business card for now (and did use this post as a chance to update it a little).

I discovered last year. I think I signed up just to be able to download a paper on mobile learning that looked interesting, but clearly didn’t see a great need to set up another full profile and build another social network (and I’m not a ‘regular academic’ either, who are the primary audience for it). It did make me mindful of the utility of bringing and academic writings that I’ve been part of together in one place. As they’re not all books, monographs or journal articles, there wasn’t much point in listing them there, so I’ve brought them together here instead – at least together in one place:

No doubt I’ll be making greater use of LinkedIn when next job hunting though.

Thing 19: Altmetrics

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Overview of attention for article, via

This is a cross-post between WordPress and Medium.

I’ve been writing for more years than I can remember – spanning all sorts of things, from song lyrics and travel writing to technical instructions and book forewords. I’ve yet to complete a full length book, but I did manage to hit a different achievement this year, with my first (co-authored) peer reviewed academic journal article.

E-learning spaces and the digital university‘ is a case study about City, University of London‘s history of developing flexible learning spaces, published in the International Journal of Information and Learning Technology. Along with the first for journal publication, it was also a first for experiencing co-authoring. In my case, co-authoring was a really useful exercise in attempting to craft a piece of writing that read coherently throughout but which clearly had two author voices running through it.

According to the publisher’s web page for the article, the full text of the document has been downloaded 291 times during this year. I’ve no idea what the average download statistics for journal articles tend to be, in this field or others, but almost 300 seems to be a pretty good response. Likewise, I’ve no idea whether this makes it any more likely that this article will end up in a citation somewhere, but it’s certainly nice to know that it’s at least been read.

I’d heard of Altmetrics before, but had no idea what they were. So, following the 23 Things post, I installed the bookmarklet and ‘altmetriced’ my paper. The idea of something that can track the impact of academic writing across the social web is indeed an excellent idea. As the 23 Things post mentions, Altmetrics are meant as a complement to the traditional measurement of impact factors rather than as an alternative to or replacement for them. This makes me think of Creative Commons, a clearly ‘post digital’ service which is intended as a complement to traditional copyright rather than a replacement for or a challenge to it. Personally, I find Creative Commons pretty straightforward to use, but then I’ve explored it at pretty great depth.

For many people, however, Creative Commons as an complementary interpretation of copyright is a greatly complex thing. Altmetrics, on the other hand, seems very simple to both use and understand (depending on the page, article or source you’re trying to measure the impact of, as it naturally doesn’t produce a result for every piece of published content on the web). Once you run the bookmarklet, you get a pop-up in the corner of the page of your article, citing an ‘Altmetric Attention Score’, some brief social media statistics around the paper, and a link to click for more details. This takes you to a page similar to the one in the image at the top, which gives a breakdown of your ‘altmetrics’.

My article has an Attention Score of 5, which apparently ranks it in the top 25% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric. This seems a bit of a low score to apparently be ranked so highly, given that it’s largely drawn from my article having been tweeted about by five sources other than me. Perhaps that’s an indication that Altmetrics are used more by academic authors more comfortable with the digital environment, or more likely that the pool of sources measured is not yet broad or mature enough to give a fully balanced picture of impact. The Altmetric Attention Score provides an indicator of the amount of attention a research output has received, and is derived from an automated algorithm. The algorithm is weighted most towards news articles, with blogs, then Wikipedia and Policy Documents next, with a range of social media sources padding out the remainder of the weighting. Algorithmic transparency is an important feature on the open Web for establishing credibility, so this is an important feature.

Impact factors like mentions in Mendeley readers aren’t included in the score, as these are generally hidden behind login profiles and thus can’t be audited as sources. Mendeley readers are included in the general breakdown, however – my article has apparently been saved by seven Mendeley readers, who are further broken down by geographical location, professional status and academic discipline. I have a reader in Spain, and three of my readers identify as from the Social Sciences, for example. Twitter demographics are broken down too, and the tweets that mention the paper are brought together on the same page. Finally, the Attention Score is given a little more context, including where it ranks against all research outputs measured, how it measures against other articles from the same journal, and against other outputs of similar age.

Following the publication of my article, I was interviewed by the Times Higher Ed for a piece on technology-enhanced learning spaces in universities, and the piece mentioned both the article and the journal it was published in (although it didn’t hyperlink to the article’s main URL). In theory, given the above, my Altmetric Attention Score should be higher, as the article was also mentioned in the news, but this wasn’t picked up by the analysis. Altmetrics probably therefore has more room for improvement as a measurement tool. This will undoubtedly happen, as web algorithms evolve all the time – the way that Google Search Engine ranks the sources it finds today will be very different from the way it performed fifteen years ago. However, if I were more involved in academic research than I currently am, I would undoubtedly find Altmetrics a great means of both measuring the impact of my work and probably of being able to increase my impact.

For further reading on the impact of contemporary technologies on scholarly practice, I can highly recommend Martin Weller‘s excellent work ‘The Digital Scholar‘. It was published around the same time as was founded and thus makes no specific mention of altmetrics, but nevertheless serves as a fantastic guide for anyone wanting to understand how academia is affected by digital technologies.

Thing 18: Augmented and Virtual Reality

‘Virtual Reality’ by Dom Pates/Globalism Pictures (CC-BY)

Between 1990 and 1992, I took a Media Studies A Level course at a Cardiff tertiary college. I learned about media ownership and news values, the history of radio, how television signals are produced, and got to try my hand at some practical media production too. My final extended essay was on the rise of music videos and the launch of MTV.

Near the end of the course, the tutor introduced some new ideas that were seen as ‘the future of media’. One of these ideas – the first time I’d encountered it – was called virtual reality. This immersive experience involved fitting yourself with a VR helmet that covered your whole head and experiencing a simulated reality, different from the one you were physically present in. The helmet was fortuitously expensive, and looked like something out of the pages of a 1950s atomic era imagining of life in The Year 2000. The experience, however, was apparently unlike any other medium that existed at the time.

It wasn’t until this year that I actually got to experience VR for the first time, some 24 years after learning about it – already on the other side of The Year 2000 and now living in that future. I’ve tried it three times now, and in all cases the hardware has been considerably more lightweight than that I learned about in 1992. In many cases, it simply requires strapping a ubiquitous smartphone strapped to your face and a pair of headphones sufficient to cut out the sound from the rest of the outside world, then running an app. Then again, we are in an age of pervasive computing, which we most certainly weren’t in 1992. I remember typing that MTV essay on a computer at the time, and losing it all when the thing crashed without me having saved the file. The second version was output on a dot-matrix printer.

In my first experience with VR, this spring, I was standing up in both the real and virtual realities, somewhat rooted to the spot, at a stall in a staff development event. I remember looking around an enclosed grassy area, something like a park, and approaching some of the women or men walking around, being able to walk up to them and hear them, but not do much else beyond that. The second time was during the summer, hanging around the main office and being offered the chance to try some VR kit out. This time I was sat down on a chair that swiveled 360 degrees, and (on screen) was under water, roaming through different environments and swimming with assorted aquatic beasts. The third experience was in a workshop with some colleagues, road testing a few apps for provide some feedback for an academic considering using it in their teaching. In this one, I was unable to move in the virtual world other than my head up and down or side to side, and was confronted with a gigantic waking dinosaur that seemed to ‘notice’ me. This was the most absorbing of the three experiences. None of these were specifically ‘educational’ in content, but they all gave me a flavour for the experience of VR.

Walking through Brighton station a few years ago, I remember noticing some art-related advertisements on the floor of the station. By downloading an app and pointing a phone at these ads, extra context would be activated as an additional layer over the image being displayed through the camera. I didn’t go as far as downloading the app, but stumbled across my first encounter with augmented reality (AR) in the ‘real’ world, having previously only read about it.

Relatively early into my role with my current employer, I got to experience augmented reality for myself, via Google Glass. Some of the work that the team I’m part of involves looking at new or emerging technologies and investigating potential educational uses for that technology. I must admit that the reality of Google Glass was rather more underwhelming than its (then) apparent potential, which may have been for several reasons – patchy wifi, not seemingly having enough processing power to do what it was supposed to do, not knowing how to use it, or not being in an environment where information could be easily layered over what was viewed through the lenses. It may also have been as simple as you look rather silly with it on your head, unlike, say, a Apple Watch on your wrist.

I also encountered Pokemon Go at work, being another example of AR. Though clearly gimmicky (and apparently quite addictive for those that took the plunge with it), I was rather tickled by the irony of what was effectively a video game that only really worked by making its users exercise!

So how about the application of VR or AR in learning? I’ve done very little in terms of investigating this, but will round up this post with some examples from other people.

Virtual Reality. This Wired article from 2013 mentions virtual worlds as a means of combining the ‘best aspects of both real-world classrooms and online distance learning into a single platform‘, which sounds a bit like shorthand for lectures in Second Life to me. It also suggests virtual field trips or the possibility of things like virtual historical reenactments for subjects like history. Reede, in a TechCrunch piece from earlier this year, describes VR’s utility for the hard sciences in facilitating ‘enhanced interactions‘ with dimensional objects or environments, but also the endless possibilities of ‘immersive education‘. Also from this year, Treser in goes into further detail about virtual environments, citing examples like virtual cockpits for training airline crew or operating theatres for surgeons. He suggests that while VR ‘is still very much in its infancy…(it) will be used in new groundbreaking ways‘.

Augmented Reality. elearn Magazine describes augmented learning as ‘an on-demand learning technique where the learning environment adapts to the needs and inputs from learners‘. This can be as simple as the addition of digital content to printed material, geographic locations and objects, as this Guardian article points out (which also mentions an AR project at City, that former colleagues were involved with). Another article from imagines visual instructions for a task appearing in front of the objects that the task is devised around, whereas this post for Edutopia suggests adding triggers around a science lab to enable students to learn about health and safety procedures or protocols for using certain lab equipment.

These are just a few random selections of uses for VA/AR in education. While I’d not paid too much attention to the thought previously, it seems that there are vast educational possibilities with both of these types of technology.

Thing 17: Geolocation

‘Geolocation’ by Dom Pates/Globalism Pictures (CC-BY)

This is a cross-post between WordPress and Medium.

There’s sort of these two polarising perspectives, right? Everything is great. The Internet has created all this freedom and liberty, and everything’s going to be fantastic. Or, everything’s terrible. The Internet has created all these tools for cracking down, and spying, and controlling what we say. The thing is, both are true – right? The Internet has done both. And both are kind of amazing and astonishing. And which one will win out in the long run is up to us. It doesn’t make sense to make out that one is doing better than the other. They’re both true, and it’s up to us which ones we emphasise and which ones we take advantage of, because they’re both there and they’re both always going to be there.

Aaron Swartz (‘The Internet’s Own Boy‘, 2014)

The mainstreaming of the Internet was characterised by successive waves of new technologies that were enabled by the platform. Peer-to-peer applications, blogging, social networks, online video, tweeting – these mostly all brought novel and different means of expression and connection. Every year, a start-up service seemed to define the Internet that year, be it Napster, Blogger, MySpace, YouTube, or Twitter. By 2006, Time Magazine named ‘You’ as ‘Person Of The Year‘, due to the scale of the user-generated content phenomenon.

For much of this early wave of optimistic disruption, I keenly embraced each successive new thing, once I got a handle on what it was about and how I could benefit from it or contribute to it. In Rogers’ diffusion of innovations curve, I would tend to fall roughly into the ‘early adopters’ category of user of a new technology – rarely ever first in, but getting going with something before a new tech became mainstream. Although I identified myself differently on this curve in an earlier post, on reflection, that seems about right. When I joined Twitter, for example (around the time of Obama’s first election), my new account was the 17,968,281st. There are now over 315 million active users, making roughly one in every 24 people on Earth a Twitter user (one in every 376 when I joined). Twitter has subsequently become accepted as a communications medium in its own right, like email or text messaging.

After several years of enthusiastic embraces of new online accounts and much content created, I began to feel the need for a bit more of a critical perspective on networked digital media, and particularly my place within it. The Digital Media Masters programme I was accepted onto at Sussex University gave me a critical theory perspective whilst also allowing for developing practical skills. Roughly around that time, location-aware mobile apps had become the next big thing, following the rise of the smartphone.

Peter Steiner’s cartoon, originally published in The New Yorker (via Wikipedia)

I distinctly remember feeling that this was a line that I was no longer that comfortable crossing. Part of the early appeal of the Internet was that ‘no-one knew you were a dog‘ (or in other words, it was possible to use the platform to express yourself without having to identify your real identity, let alone your location). I didn’t get the latest buzz-platform of the time – FourSquare – but definitely decided not to get into that game when I realised that its appeal amounted to ‘everyone knows where you are’. A friend in a bar in Sydney explained the appeal via features like ‘checking in’ to a place and get discounts or things like that. Given that I’m also old enough to largely remember the Internet when it was still a bit more ‘Wild West’ and retained some of its founding spirit of anti-commercialism, the idea of a willingly using a technology that combined customer tracking with location identification was something I was highly uncomfortable with. The end of my degree coincided with Edward Snowden‘s disclosures of global mass surveillance programmes, which was a major turning point for how many people felt about expressing themselves online.

Contextualising the opening quotation, let’s name this cognitively dissonant polarity as the Swartz Paradox – the fact that the Internet (or many Internet technologies) is perceived as both a hugely liberating force on one hand and the greatest ever tool for suppression and control on the other hand. While I want to feel that I am a free agent, to be able to go where I want to go, I do not want to feel as if I have surrendered to the Panopticon and allowed my thoughts and movements to be observed by others I have not consented to like that.

Geolocational tools are a great example of the Swartz Paradox. I may not want others to see where I am, but in an entirely networked world, I am not only unable to avoid this (without also avoiding all other aspects of the rest of human society), but I am also a very keen and regular user of such tools. I’ve been working in London for a little over two years now, and rely on CityMapper to help me get around when I need to promptly figure out the quickest way from A to B. Earlier this year, I willingly gave in to trying Uber for the first time when I needed a cab quickly, and have used it again since when in less of a rush. Probably all car journeys I am involved in that cover reasonable distance or to unknown places are driven by Google Maps as much as by the humans in the car. The sheer utility of having a portable device that can identify and track location means that, like millions of others these days, while I might not be 100% happy with it, I consent to being tracked to some extent.

A few weeks after arriving in Tokyo, back in 2003, I had a mission to deliver a laptop with some media encoding software on it to a contact I’d been provided but whom I’d never met. I was helping out with a live link up between Tokyo’s Club Ageha and some venue in London’s Hoxton, and it was my first real mission outside of the teaching job I had moved to Japan to do. I spoke almost no Japanese at the time, and had some hand written instructions for getting to the art gallery in the back streets of Ebisu where the promoter was waiting for the laptop. Needless to say, after a few streets away from the station I had exited at, I got completely lost. I called the promoter (getting a keitai was one of my earliest actions in the country) and explained my situation to her. Trouble was, given that I had absolutely no idea where I was, her ability to direct me from my location to hers was negligible to say the least. In the end, I approached a random highway worker with a ‘Sumimasen‘, passed him the phone and let her explain my problem in Japanese. He then (very obligingly) gave her directions from where I was to where she was, passed the phone back to me, and she then explained how I could find her – as I scrambled with a pencil and paper trying to make sure I wrote the instructions down before I lost them.

In some ways, 2003 seems like not very long ago. In other ways, it’s another lifetime away. I understand that iPhones are very popular in Tokyo these days.

Having said all the above, I’ve been trying out the ActionBound app for a student induction idea at work, which allows for the creation of smartphone-based treasure hunts or guided walks. I haven’t figured out the geolocational stuff much yet, but definitely plan to. I would download the free version and set up a little treasure hunt to test it out, but it’s almost Xmas and I don’t want to be blogging too much when in a break. Will do more with it when back.