Mixed reality

When I was still teaching, we introduced augmented reality (AR) into our Academy. The physical fabric of our learning spaces was overlaid with digital information: if you scanned parts of the French classroom, you could experience audio and visual French overlays; our Yearbook came to ‘life’ with a range of multimedia content which was generated, edited and embedded by the students; we had school knowledge hunts where we searched for the hidden AR content; Year 11s worked to make year 8 text books interactive using AR.

The students loved working with AR; it was a technology which still excited them. One Year 7 referred to it as ‘Harry Potter magic’.

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With regard to the presence which was effected by AR, we were creating presence as ‘it is here’: bringing the virtual into the real; yoking it to the physical.

We also used 3D – we worked with Gaia Technologies – and our students could ‘walk through’ a range of 3D immersive environments, from the rainforest to the trenches, from a slave ship to a submarine. They could also see inside the body, witness and replay complex chemical reactions and explode and reconstruct the mechanics of a tractor. 3D offered a different type of presence, a presence as immersion, what Lombard and Ditton refer to as ‘perceptual and psychological immersion’ (1997)*.

WuH.-KWu, H.-K., Lee, S. W.-Y., Chang, H.-Y., & Liang, J.-C. (2013), explore the status, opportunities and challenges of augmented reality in education.  In outlining and summarising some of the key educational benefits which AR affords, they note four principle possibilities (p.2):

Benefits of AR

Defining AR, they use Klopfer’s definition (2008) ‘any technology that blends real and virtual information in a meaningful way’, what they term a ‘mixed reality’ (ibid p.4).

Citing Brosnak (2011), WuH.-KWu, H.-K., Lee, S. W.-Y., Chang, H.-Y., & Liang, J.-C. highlight that AR as a mediated experience affords learners a sense of  presence, immediacy and immersion (p.8):

AR presence

They posit that AR ‘could provide a mediated space that gives learners a sense of being in  place with others’ (ibid, p.8) what Lombard-Ditton would define as ‘we are together’.

Milgram et al (1994) proposed a ‘Reality-Virtuality’ continuum, ranging from a completely ‘real’ environment to a completely ‘virtual’ one. AR and AV (augmented virtuality) are the two elements which comprise the mixed realities which form this continuum. In a few weeks, we will, via Second Life, be inhabiting a virtual world with our peers on the course. It will be fascinating to experience how ‘present’ we feel within this virtual world. Karen has already got me worried…

Karen Second Life

Ambient congeniality


When I travel to London, the first part of the journey takes me, in a bone-shaker, from Ulverston to Lancaster. We cross Morecambe Bay and the views, as you can see from the image above – taken through the train window – are spectacular.

On Wednesday, I was on this train but I missed the view. I was not present. I was elsewhere.  The image is not mine – I have taken it from a website to illustrate what ‘I’ missed even though ‘I’ was there.

Although my body was on the train, I wasn’t present. I was reading (Garrison and Anderson (2003)* and was experiencing what Lombard and Ditton (1997)** term ‘presence as transportation’. I have experienced this form of presence since I learned to read. My parents used to complain that they had to physically touch me to get my attention when I was reading as I wouldn’t hear them when they called if I was in Narnia or in The Hundred Acre Wood. I have spent much of my life ‘there’ and not ‘here’ – transported to other worlds, other conversations, other spaces through text.

We have been exploring presence and experiencing – through our Skype voice conversation – different types of presence this week. The Skype conversation*** created, for me, a different sense of presence, a different sense of connection with my peers, what Lombard and Ditton term ‘presence as social richness’. It wasn’t a straightforward and immediately comfortable space. There were many silences; it turns out that ‘lurking’ in a Skype conversation is much more awkward that doing so online. We were being asked provocative and demanding questions about our readings and about our experiences on the course and it was difficult – for me – to shift to the immediacy of an oral conversation about this rather than having time to reflect on this and respond via text. Paul commented on this in one of the discussions this week and reflected on the fact that this form of engagement offers more opportunity to be stupid:

However, towards the end of the conversation, there was more laughter and more ‘openness’. We reflected on our own silences, our own sense of what ‘participation’ means, and where our responsibility as learners lies when thinking about how we can create ‘social presence’ and a community of inquiry. We reflected on our use of Twitter too and Jen used the term ‘ambient congeniality’ to define how she and others experienced the medium. I like that. She also said that, at times, Twitter could feel ‘pleasantly overwhelming’. I liked that too.

Do I feel I ‘know’ this group of four better for having spoken with them? Perhaps. Ruth said that she felt she had more of a sense of what we were like. Roxane observed that, when she next saw our posts on the forum she would remember something about us now – perhaps a sound or a laugh. I didn’t experience the sense of what Lombard and Ditton refer to as ‘we are together’ but I did feel connected – somewhere ‘in-between’ (Greenhalgh-Spencer, 2014).

*Garrison, D. and Anderson, T. (2003). Community of inquiry, chapter 3 of E-Learning in the 21st Century.  Routledge-Falmer, London
**Lombard, M. and Ditton, T. (1997).  At the heart of it all:  The concept of presence.  The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3(2) [Online]
***with Renee (Bahrain), Roxane (Paris), Lisa (Switzerland), Ruth (New Zealand) and Jen (Edinburgh)


So, after drafting my ‘Forum of Failure’ post, I went to the forum to grab some ‘hilarious’ images of what a dead forum looks like. Only to find that, as with Mark Twain, reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. They’re back! Sort of.


My Forum of Failure

One of the projects which I have been attempting to breathe some life into/resuscitate is an online forum for nominated ‘Digital Leaders’ from a number of schools within a multi-academy trust. The forum was established to support these DLs in the roll-out of new technologies, software and curricula within their schools by providing them with the facility to share experiences, resources and ideas.

I met with them in Manchester in July and we spent two days together, discussing and plotting e-learning initiatives and developing and extending their plans for the delivery of the Computing curriculum. During those few days, I introduced the forum to them and we began to use it as a collaboration space: resources were shared, conversations were started and plans were hatched. All left enthused and promising to keep in touch via the forum. And then…well, very little. A few more posts dripped through and then there was silence. Partly this was due to the summer break but my attempts to reinvigorate this digital space since then have failed. And the reason is that we/I haven’t created an effective community and the reason for this is, primarily, a lack of teaching presence.

I took a ‘field of dreams’ approach to the development of the forum…’build it and they will come’. Unfortunately, creating a space does not encourage presence. As the facilitator, I provided no ‘rules of engagement’: participation was informal, voluntary and unstructured. I had not effectively designed, directed and informed the transaction:

‘One of the difficulties with early computer conferencing was sustaining participation and high levels of discourse (Gunawardena 1991; Hiltz and Turoff 1993). Low levels of interest and participation were rooted in a lack of structure and focus resulting from an excessively ‘democratic’ approach. While there must be full and open participation, for a purposeful educational experience there is an inherent need for an architect and facilitator to design, direct, and inform the transaction.’ (Garrison and Anderson, 2003, p.29*)

I have been reflecting on this forum failure and contrasting it with the success of our engagement with the various digital environments we have been using during these first weeks of the course. We have been part of the successful development of what Garrison and Anderson term a ‘community of inquiry’, ‘a learning community’ which is ‘a fusion of individual (subjective) and shared (objective) worlds.’ (ibid, p.23). The key to the success of this is that there is ‘the right balance and blend of collaborative and individual learning activities’ (ibid, p.24). Our blog has enabled us to develop ‘cognitive independence’ (ibid, p.23)and the forums, Skype and Twitter have developed our ‘social interdependence’ (ibid, p.23):

‘It is the juxtaposition of both aspects of this seemingly contradictory relationship that creates the spark that ignites a true educational experience that has personal value and socially redeeming outcomes.’ (ibid, p.23)


So, my Forum of Failure can be turned around. And the key is not to look at the space but at the structure of the community, at how I can, through effective teaching presence, foster social and cognitive presence to deliver a meaningful and purposeful experience.  I need to define and share a programme for engagement and develop a blend of activities for participants to engage in. I also need to incentivise their participation – to provide a reason to be present. Our presence on the course is goal-driven: we are working towards an MSc. The incentive I can use with the DLs is the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) programme. All of the DLs are, in November, to begin their engagement with this programme and this will provide the ideal framework through which we can inculcate a community of inquiry, to realise ‘personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes’ (Anderson et al, 2001 quoted in Garrison and Anderson, 2003, p.29)

*Garrison, D. and Anderson, T. (2003), E-Learning in the 21st Century.  Routledge-Falmer, London

Where am I? Somewhere in-between?

Clark* explored what am ‘I’ and how technology can redefine who we are. In his piece ‘Where am I?’ Dennett** fictionalised the philosophical quandary of where the ‘self’ resides. Is it in the brain – Yorick? Is it in the body -Hamlet? Or is it elsewhere? Can we create an AI self, like Hubert?

When his brain and his body are ‘severed’ he recognises that ‘he’ is both inside the vat where his brain is stored and outside of it too. We exist in at least two places concurrently: corporeally and cognitively. And cognitively we can range, explore, be ‘elsewhere’.

Greenhalgh and Spenser*** explore how the binary between the corporeal and the virtual has defined discussions and debates about traditional and online education. ‘Skeptics of online education’ they claim, ‘ have argued that online education is anti-real, anti-embodiment, anti-expertise, and anti-human.’ (p.315) They claim that a false binary has been established between f-2-f education and online education and that, instead, we should recognise ‘the possibility of hybridity, flow, simultaneity, and in-between-ness’ (p.315).

This is ‘where we are’ when we are online: we are somewhere ‘in-between’; we are Hamlet and Yorick and Hubert and more simultaneously. And we are creating that ‘self’ too.

Geenhalgh and Spenser go on to highlight Jenkins and Castells’ observation that ‘the digital sphere is reliant on human connections and linkage; reliant on spreading into multiple online and real world contexts, in order to stay relevant’. Successful technologies, they argue, ‘must link spaces, knowledges and people into relationships’ (p.318):



In terms of technologies which ‘augment’ ‘real-life’ experience, they highlight geo-caching, Strava and Google Glasses and they pose a challenge for edtech:


This is a germane challenge and one which, in my field of school technologies, is already being taken up. One school Yearbook which I worked on has within it augmented reality content: scan some of the content with your device and you are presented with voices, videos and animations which augment the printed text. I’ve also worked with schools to use the fabric of their buildings, the physical space, to generate virtual AR content. So, we have a science ‘murder mystery’ hunt which starts with the students scanning their seemingly empty school hall to reveal the prone figure of their murdered Headmaster. They must they follow the virtual reality clues to uncover the identity of the murderer. Many schools are now using QR codes and AR to bring their physical spaces to life, to add layers of digital content and information to the fabric of their learning spaces. Smart-signage is being introduced which knows who is looking at it – Year 7? Teacher? Parent? – and adjusts the content accordingly. Feedback and marking can be transformed through digital layering; when I was teaching a group of Year 8s with low literacy levels a few years ago, I didn’t provide written feedback; rather, they were provided with a QR code which linked to video content of me talking through their work for them. This had much more impact on their performance than written feedback.

These hybrid experiences are powerful and it is encouraging to see also the increasing use of Google Cardboard and 3D content within classrooms. However, these advances are, as yet, nascent and specific. Generalised adoption of such innovation requires, as Greenhalgh and Spenser note, boldness and imagination. Might it be that Zuckerberg’s Oculus or Nadella’s HoloLens bring the required impetus?

*Clark, A. (2003). Natural born cyborgs: minds, technologies and the future of human intelligence, Oxford: OUP chapter 1, ‘Cyborgs unplugged‘, pp.13-34
**Dennett, D.  (1981). Chapter 13:  Where am I?.  From Hofstadter, D. and Dennett, D. (eds) The Mind’s I:  Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul.  Penguin Press:   London.
*** Greenhalgh-Spencer, H., (2014). What Technology Reveals: Countering Binaries and Moving Toward the In-Between. Philosophy of Education Archive, pp.315–323.

Skin bags, holes and dialogic gaps

‘Why not reengineer humans to fit the stars?’ (p.13). This, as Clark (2003)* explains, was Clynes and Kline’s proposal in their paper (1960) which introduced the term ‘cyborg’ to the world. Since then, our understanding of what constitutes a ‘true’ cyborg has been informed by science-fiction concepts of deep human-machine merging, of complex bio-mechanicimages (1)al integration. From The Six Million Dollar Man to Inspector Gadget to Neo, fictional cyborgs offer a vision of embedded biotechnical coalition. As Clark states, ‘as the bioelectronic interface grows in complexity and moves inward, deeper into the brain and farther from the periphery of skin, bone, and sense organs, we become correlatively less and less resistant to the idea that we are trading in genuine cyborg technology’ (p.22).

But, he questions, ‘just why do we feel that depth matters…?’ (p.22). Clark claims that what is really important is the “fluidity of the human-machine integration and the
resulting transformation of our capacities, projects, and lifestyles” (p.24). As I read this, I became suddenly aware of my own ‘transparent technologies’. This is how I was reading Clark:


I was annotating Clark’s essay on my iPad using an Adonit Jot Pro stylus. My list of MSc tasks and readings was displayed in OneNote on my laptop.As I became conscious of my technology, I decided to take a photo of it using my iPhone. And all the time I was in bed.

Without these technologies, these ‘nonpenetrative modes of personal augmentation’ (p.24), my tasks as a student, as a reader and as a writer would be much more difficult. They transform my ‘capacities, projects and lifestyle’ (p.24). I am, it transpires, a ‘natural-born cyborg’ (p.26). My identity, ‘on that account, may be as much informed by the specific sociotechnological matrix in which the biological organism (me!) exists as by those various conscious and unconscious neural events that happen to occur inside the good old biological skin-bag’ (p.23).

‘The Man in the Hole’ series of tweets evidences the impact of this ‘sociotechnical’ matrix Captureon the self. Rather than call for help, he tweeted and the internet responded. He extended and augmented his capacity for solutioneering by going to his followers, to the social brain. And this social brain is one of the real benefits of online learning. In a classroom, exchanges can be transient and lost; online, we have a record of contributions, references, links and ideas. We are developing a learning text, a multi-modal, multi-authored sociotechnological educational space across a multitude of online places.

Wegerif’s definition of the dialogic mode of education offered by the internet is borne out by our experience as learners on the course thus far. We are, as Wegerif (2013)** notes, engaged in ‘dialogue with the Infinite Other’ (p.3) Our mode of learning is ‘intrinsically participatory’ and not singular in meaning or outcome: ‘meaning is never singular but always emerges in the play of different voices in dialogue together…a certain kind of infinity or unbounded potential is opened onto by dialogic…'(p.3). Further, the ‘dialogic gap’, whereby ‘at least two perspectives (are) held together in creative tension’ (p.4) is a space in which deep learning happens, where meaning is created. We inhabit shared dialogic spaces that we have generated. But where am ‘I’ in these spaces…?


*Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the future of Human Intelligence” Chap. 1 pp. 13-34 “Cyborgs Unplugged”
**Wegerif, R. (2013) Dialogic: education for the internet age. London: Routledge chapter 1. ‘The Challenge’, pp. 10-21 (ebook).

Losing the thread…

When I started this course, I was lucky enough to have a few weeks off work. This proved to be invaluable: I was able to become familiar with the different information and communication streams, spend time on the discussion boards and kick-start my blog. As a learner, I felt, in the main, in control and on top of things.

The asynchronous nature of the discussions in Weeks 0 and 1  served to reinforce this sense of ordered, systematic, linear learning. I was able to approach and engage in discussions as and when I could and, due to the slow pace of the threads, I didn’t feel that I was left behind or out of the loop. The one-off synchronous Skype discussion in Week 2, although frenetic, was also manageable: it was a commitment of one hour and I felt fully ‘present’* and part of the conversation.

This week, we’ve been using Twitter. In theory, this medium shouldn’t prove to be too different to using a discussion forum. I can log onto Twitter and participate on my own terms and in my own time; I can review tweets in a conversation in the same way as I can read posts on a discussion board and respond (or not) as and when suits me. So far, so like the discussion board.

And yet, so different.

Reflecting on why, I think Twitter is a more demanding technology:

  1. Twitter has, as part of its cultural norms, a demand for greater immediacy than discussion boards.
    • SO: once the first tweets started appear about the readings on Monday, I started to feel a sense of exclusion. I hadn’t yet got to the readings and yet there were conversations emerging about them which I didn’t feel equipped to participate in. This anxiety is, I acknowledge, is my construct, but I didn’t feel it when we were contributing via the boards.
  2. Twitter demands 140 characters or less.
    • SO: it’s often easier to convey your point by linking to other content, resulting in an ever-increasing list of things I felt I needed to read, watch or do.
  3. To follow and participate in the threads, Twitter demands a #.
    • SO: I spent a lot time deleting tweets and then tweeting them again with the #added
  4. Twitter demands more actions to view and follow conversations, especially via the mobile app.
    • SO: I had to work to find the start of conversations, in order that I ‘jumped in’ at the right point.
  5. To respond to others, Twitter demands a @.
    • SO: I spent a lot time deleting tweets and then tweeting them again with the right combinations of @ added.

Some felt differently:


But it was heartening and reassuring (if a little sadistic) to see that others also felt some sense of exclusion:



And that others were equally bemused and confused at times:


One of the anxieties I didn’t have which others expressed was that of our discussions being more broadly public:


Rather, I felt that the hastag provided a ‘walled garden’ for our learning community.

So, all bad?

No, not at all.

In spite of Twitter shifting me out of my controlled, linear, preferred PLE, it is an incredible tool for learning. This week, it has proved to be a brilliant way to crowd-source (albeit an overwhelming amount of) information, ideas and links. But, more importantly, I really feel that this week we’ve been able to develop more of an identity for our learning community by developing a greater sense of the identities of those who make up that community. At the start of the week, I reflected on the fact that it if ‘off-task’ activities that help us to build connections.



And Twitter is the ideal medium for off-task interchanges. These reached their inevitable zenith this week with a silly cat video. Susie rocks.


*I acknowledge the many caveats that should come with my use of that term…

What font are you wearing?

Last week, I reflected on the notion of online ‘presence’, and how we create ourselves in words online. At the end of that week, I tuned in to Saturday Live (with the Reverend Richard Coles of the parish of the Communards) and heard this item about fonts.

Sat 26 Sep 2015

The sensory experiments which graphic designer and font aficionado Sarah Hyndman conducted on the show, where she showed that fonts can be associated with different senses, were fascinating.

Sarah is fascinated by fonts and claims that the font you choose is as important as the clothes you wear. It’s an interesting proposition and one which pertains to some digital and printed communications (I judge users of Comic Sans harshly). However, within the media which we have been communicating in so far, we have little to no choice about the fonts which are used: they’re preset. As to which font I might choose to use, it would be Trebuchet or Segoe UI Semilight: I think those mark me out as dull…

You can find out more about this particular episode and about Sarah’s work more generally here.


A Jabber

On Tuesday evening, I participated in our group Skype chat which was focused on the notion of digital natives and digital immigrants.

It was a big conversation in many ways, not least because there were nine participants*, including Sian. Towards the start of the conversation, Karen, commentating on just how many of us were involved, asked if there was a collective noun for such a large Skype chat and Sian suggested a very apt epithet.


What followed was indeed a jabber. The conversation was multi-threaded and pacey. Some contributions were picked up and responded to, others were not: ideas disappeared into the stream of interaction, unacknowledged and lost. Dialogues weaved through broader conversations and some voices were lost in the babble.

One of the features of Skype is the alert which tells you who is typing. I found that this discouraged me from offering my views at times as I could see that there were already a number of people preparing their contributions for the thread. It was useful that Sian had laid out some ground rules in advance, thereby helping us to set our expectations about the frenetic and frantic nature of the conversation. This ensured that I didn’t feel anxious about the disjointed and hectic threads:


A number of key issues around the digital native/immigrant dichotomy were discussed. Firstly, Sian asked us to consider why the terminology persisted. Paul and Sai offered a concise rationale for the terminology’s refusal to die:


We went on to explore the problematic nature of using colonial metaphors and the fact that, if we are to engage with and critique the simplistic binary we have no choice but to use the terms.


The conversation moved on to exploring what other factors, other than Prensky’s reductive argument about age, might impact on whether we could be termed ‘native’ and some interesting points were made. Stig posited the notion that our ability to manage technological breakdowns defines the divide:


We explored who benefits from the embedding of the native/immigrant distinction. Both Joy and I have experienced teachers using the supposed divide as a way of abdicating responsibility, a way of avoiding trying to use technologies in teaching and learning:


The discussion broadened to consider the benefits and disadvantages of using technologies. As a technophile, I was surprised by some of the stances which my peers have adopted to technology. Stig, for example, is considering banning laptops from his lectures. Currently – and I’m sure that this will change as the course progresses and my understanding deepens – my stance is that we should, as educators, be inculcating good practice in using the medium rather than not allowing it to be used. Personally, I would be at a loss in Stig’s lectures as I don’t use paper and pens any longer: I rely on my iPad for note-taking. Sian pointed us towards a thought-provoking article about a ‘no-tech’ school and Joy mentioned a book ‘Toxic Childhood’ which also, in part, criticises the pervasive nature of technology within children’s lives. The notion of ‘solutionism’ was posited by Sian as a useful concept to explore when considering these arguments. Morozov claims that many of the problems for which we strive to find technological solutions might not require solutions as they might not, really, be problems. If we apply this line of thought to our examination of the introduction of technologies into schools, we might be advised to consider whether we are engaged in the folly of solutioneering where no solution is really required.

Some of the papers were discussed in a little more detail too, particularly Helsper and Eynon’s distinction between ‘being’ and ‘doing’; there was general consensus that this particular binary was helpful as it acknowledged the possibility of  acquiring what Paul termed ‘digital citizenship’ rather than excluding on the basis of age alone.

The last part of our discussion explored how to define what ‘nativeness’ is. Many of the definitions were considered reductive and Sian suggested that we shouldn’t perhaps, be trying to nuance – and thereby give life to – such a problematic term.

With regards to the dynamics of the conversation, Stig made some challenging and at times provocative points and it was interesting to see how the group managed this. Some of us quietened and some of us aimed to diffuse using humour. We also allowed Sian to step in as tutor to manage this:


Looking over the transcripts from others conversations, it’s interesting to see other dynamics at play. The Monday afternoon conversation, which had just four participants, was a more sociable conversation where the participants reflected on their technology use in less theoretical and more personal terms. The Tuesday afternoon conversation was focused on the readings but, with fewer (six) participants, the threads seem more coherent. What was also interesting was how the participants in this group supported one another in developing their knowledge and understanding of the tool (Skype) that they were using. Rory pointed out this ‘incidental learning’ as worthy of note. The Wednesday afternoon chat was another one which was characterised by personal reflections on technology use. One concept which I hadn’t come across before but which is of interest is that of the ‘digital tattoo‘, a far more effective metaphor than digital footprint.

Skype as a tool for discussion this week has allowed us to engage in wide-ranging discussions. However, by necessity, this synchronous medium doesn’t facilitate the detailed, rich, exploratory conversations which the asynchronous forums. There were practical difficulties too. Some participants were unable to join the discussions and others felt that they were not able to fully participate:


With regard to ‘presence’ I do feel that this week’s conversation enabled a greater sense of connection with the other students on the course. It will be interesting to see how our digitally connected community develops as we hear one another’s voices on Skype in a few weeks’ time.

*Sian, Stig, Sai, Karen, Sarah, Lorenzo, Joy, Paul and me.