“Ow! My brains!” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

‘…education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’ – Laurillard (2008, p.1)


This picture was produced by my 12 year-old nephew in Art today:


He brought it home and it was posted up on Facebook by my sister (ignore the lack of capitalisation – she’s grammatically lazy on social media):


10 minutes later, I had stolen acquired it, messed around with it a little in Photoshop and had it posted on here as my new blog header:


The process by which I discovered, acquired and used this image is quotidian, mundane; we stumble across, come upon or seek out knowledge, images, help and companionship daily via the web, and we share, disseminate, communicate and engage instantly. It’s the norm. It’s obvious. But, in a week in which I’ve been asked to reflect on why I’m doing the course and what I hope to get out of it, I began to think about this knowledge exchange in different terms.

The image of the bird was purloined by gifted to me via technology. But, as Selwyn notes, ‘technology’ – etymologically at least – ‘has always referred to the processes and practices of doing things, understanding things and developing knowledge’ (2011, p.7). So, nothing too different here then. Is what is really different the digitisation of knowledge, of images, of self? That’s where the immediacy is after all, isn’t it? But again, it’s more than that. This digital bird flew in from the internet and ‘when people talk about the internet they are usually referring to the activities that they engage in online, the cultures that can be said to surround these social activities, and the knowledge that results from these activities. As such, it is far more useful to describe the internet in terms of its social ‘content’ rather than its technical forms (Wessels 2010).’ (Selwyn, 2011, p.8). I got the bird from my nephew, via my sister via the internet. And many other people in our particular social milieu got that bird too.

I first graduated from Edinburgh University in 1996. When I left, the most advanced piece of technology I had used to help me in my studies was my much loved Brother electronic typewriter. A few months after graduating in English, I was at Napier studying multimedia technology. It was a dizzying and exciting shift. After being a (contented) reader and writer, I now felt like a maker, a producer. We used Macromedia Director and Authorware to produce interactive content. My first product was a little programme which used Mr Men characters to teach spelling. I remember the thrill of making things move after years of (wonderful) passivity. From Napier, I went to SCET and worked on a CD-ROM to teach children Gaelic. My Gaelic was non-existent and my programming skills weren’t too much better, but it was exciting. I worked with teachers and pupils for the first time, collaborating with them to determine what worked and what didn’t; what helped them to teach and to learn. And I was hooked: education was surely ‘on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies…’ Laurillard (2008, p.1)

Since then, I’ve spent most of my career in educational technology. I’m a qualified teacher, but I now work as an ‘EdTech consultant’ (“whatever that means” – thank you Mother). I like a lot of the work that I do. It’s thrilling to work with augmented reality, with 3D technologies and with apps and it’s good to share that thrill with teachers and pupils. However, a phrase which really stuck when I came across it in this week’s reading was ‘the realities of technology use are often more mundane and compromised’ (Selwyn. 2011, p.32). A lot of the time, I am called into schools to deal with broken kit, broken budgets and broken enthusiasm. I see more dead, unused and under-used technologies than I see ‘guides on the side’ or ‘flipped classrooms’. The artefact has, in too many instances, been confuted with change. Technological determinism has ensured failure from the outset. And, therefore, we remain, after decades, ‘on the brink of change’.

So, I guess that’s why I’m here. I want to be able to reflect on my own practice. I want to work with others to discuss what educational technology and digital education mean. I also want to reflect on what is seemingly mundane – a picture being shared on Facebook – and see that, once again, for the complex and vital interchange which it really is.

I am hoping that I can keep up: it’s a vibrant, talented and global community of IDEL students.  I’m concerned about the limits of my own creativity: I am diligent, industrious and organised but my creative capacity pales in comparison with some of the artists and musicians on the course. And writing this hasn’t been easy: I’ve spent years writing IT strategies, business plans and training plans, so my reflective, engaged, academic prose is, to say the least, rusty. Still, it’s written, it’s done. My first blog post finished. And the process hasn’t felt mundane at all.


7 Replies to ““Ow! My brains!” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

  1. And a very successful start it is too, Helen. It’s been a real pleasure to read on so many levels. It’s given me some information about your background, hopes and concerns. It’s got a wonderful illustration, dutifully acknowledged and some relevant quotations that indicate some of the tensions faced in digital environments. I feel sure from reading this that you’re not only going to enjoy the course, you’re also going to be a great contributor to it.

    Here are some comments I’m sending to all my bloggers for their first post.

    Comments I’m sending to all my bloggers
    The blog provides an opportunity for an open reflective dialogue between the two (initially three) of us. It’s almost like a cross between keeping a diary and having a chat with a lecturer at the end of a class. This means that your ideas don’t have to be fully formed, and properly argued and evidenced (though it’s fine if they are!) So don’t be afraid to be speculative and just record your immediate thoughts on what is happening.
    You might want to consider scheduling time to make your blog entries. Around three entries a week is ideal. They don’t necessarily have to be very long; often there’s an excellent ‘nugget’ in a two-line entry that can be picked up again later.
    You might also want to be experimental – you don’t have to submit every entry for assessment, so if you change your mind that’s OK. You might find video, images, links etc to help you to express your ideas – so don’t be afraid to have some fun in the process.
    I’ll check in on the blogs once or twice each week. So you should be hearing from me fairly regularly, but it might be a couple of days between your post and my response. I’ll add comments (as here). I might not comment on every post, but I’ll definitely be reading them all. If you are surprised that I have not commented on something or would specifically like me to, do drop me an email. You don’t have to reply to my comments, but you can if you want.
    Around the end of week 5 we’ll have a mid-blog review, looking at the blog brief, the assessment criteria, what you have done so far and what you could do further when thinking about the assessment angle of the blog. I’ll be asking you to tell me what I can do further to help you, as well.
    Finally, last semester I ‘lost’ one of my responses to a blog (I think it was a quirk of my laptop) so redid it in Word. I like typing directly into the comments box, but if there’s a risk of losing a lot of work, I might do it in Word too. I know that some students find it helpful to do this for the blog as well.
    I suggest that you keep your blog just between ourselves – see the course handbook. Someone else will look at a pdf of the final version, in order to moderate my marking. We also recommend using a tag like IDELSEP15 to keep your posts organised.
    Anyway, well done for getting started and I look forward to reading more. I do particularly enjoy this aspect of the course.


    1. Christine, thank you for your kindly response. As you’ll appreciate (having done this course yourself) it’s difficult to find your own ‘voice’ in the first instance.

  2. Oops – I’m not actually your blog tutor!
    I’ve mixed you up with Joy Walker who is my blog tutee.
    But I still very much enjoyed reading your post Helen.

    Over to Velda.

    1. Ah! No problem. I added you as our Course Coordinator to my ‘IDEL Tutors’ group as per the blog instructions; I was very impressed when I thought that you were going to be reading and commenting on 27 x 3 blogs each week!

  3. Hello Helen,

    Lovely to see you getting started with such a thoughtful blog post 🙂 I think that you have a lot to offer to the IDEL community and you don’t need to worry about your contribution. I was glad to read about your reasons for taking the course as I think they are are very good fit with what the course can offer.

    As you go on in the programme you may well read some literature on sociomaterial perspectives which will suggest that we consider a wide range of ‘actors’ as we seek to understand social situations and not just human ‘actors’. These approaches would suggest that we understand the internet by considering material actors- such as the technologies – to be as much in the foreground of our analysis as the content, the human actors, the cultures and communities that are involved … etc. I’ve been finding that perspective useful recently in making sense of online learning. So not technological determinism but seeing the technologies as important actors within a wider picture.

    I’m looking forward to our continuing conversation 🙂

    Best wishes,


    1. Hello Velda,

      Many thanks for your feedback. I think I will find the reading on sociomaterial perspectives fascinating – especially given the work that I do. The technologies within schools are often the ‘actors’ which are ‘blamed’ for the failure of drives to embed new practices within teaching and learning. A combative stance is often adopted towards these inanimate actors who are seen – paradoxically – to be blockers to progress…



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