My Edinburgh

“… the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum.”
– Jacques Derrida

“This (Edinburgh) is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”
– Alexander McCall Smith

ed viewIn their 2013 paper, ‘Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students’, Bayne et all consider ‘how online distance students enact the space of ‘the university’ (p569).  The paper explores the ‘topological multiplicities’ (p.571) which constitute what it is to ‘be at’ Edinburgh University on a course such as this:

‘…institutional formation and personal identity, location and diaspora, mobility and stasis are continually and creatively re-thought, re-formed and re-shaped’.  (p.571)

University is, the paper argues ‘recast as a complex enactment’ (p.571). As online distance learners, our social spaces are ‘fluid’ (Mol and Law 1994) and Law and Mol’s concept of ‘fire’ (2001) serves to denote the ‘complex intersections of presence and absence’ which comprise our experience, our spaces and our learning. So far so postmodern: online distance learning offers alterity to and the logos, the fixed and the physical. Academically and intellectually, this definition of our experience appeals: as with the metaphor of the rhizome, the rejection of sedentarist assumptions about what is normal – stability, meaning and place – for a definition of space as a ‘dynamic entity’ (p.572) reflects the role we have as creators of our own definitions of what our class is, what our university is and what our learning is.

However, Bayne et al state that, although distance students relish ‘their immersion in the networked, fluid and fire spaces of the online mode’ (p.573), they counter-balance this multiplicity with the construction of ‘their own version of the ‘certainties’ of bounded campus space.’ (p.573).

‘Not me!’ I thought.

And then, reading on, I rethought.

Bayne et al identify and define three key themes which characterise distance students’ conceptualisation and experience of ‘Edinburgh University’; of the ways ‘in which ‘university’ space is enacted’ (p.575). All had resonance for me:

1. Homing and the sentimental campus
I studied in Edinburgh from ’92 – ’96. I was determined to make a success of my time there having transferred from Oxford (where I was reading PPE) to read English which which was my passion. You can only imagine how delighted my parents were, especially as I was the first in my family to make it to university. Anyway…my love of literature was quickly augmented by my love of the city. I continued to live in Edinburgh after I graduated and, since then, have left and returned on a number of occasions. Starting this course feels like another return; I am once again experiencing a sense of connection with the city, ‘a conceptual homeward return’ (p.577).

2. The metaphysics of presence or ‘campus envy’.
Edinburgh University is, for me, ‘a kind of touchstone – a logos’. It is a point (albeit imagined) of fixity, of presence in our online experience of ‘the fire’: the ‘lambent interdependency of the ‘here’ and ‘not here” (p.582). Bayne et al record students’ ‘sense of the possibility of campus presence’ (p.583). I have enacted the same need for physical connectedness – registering for and receiving a student card which I am unlikely to use and making arrangements to attend – in person – the anniversary celebration at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 26th November.


3. The imagined campus
My Edinburgh University campus is multiple and varied, I ‘operate within a material space of ‘churn and flow’. This week, my class has been a restaurant table in a Best Western in Wilmslow, an office in Stockport and my spare room at home in Cumbria. Next week, it will be a hotel in Cornwall. Paradoxically, the complex ‘entanglements’ which ‘enact (this) institutional space’ (p.583) serve to provide me with a sense of constancy wherever I happen to be. Edinburgh University comes with me.

My experience being ‘at Edinburgh’ is one in which I feel both here and there; I feel connected and disconnected, absent and present and ‘somewhere in between’:

‘To be ‘at’ Edinburgh…is to be oriented in multiple ways to the institution, to be simultaneously inside and outside, in flux and in stasis, in presence and in absence’ (p.581)

I do, however, feel that I am in exactly the right place and space for me.

Bayne, S., Gallagher, M. S., & Lamb, J. (2014). Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students. Higher Education, 67, 569-583.

InVision: my trial(s)

Thinglink and InVision are two of the tools which have been used by IDEL students to create their metaphors this week. They are similar in that they allow an image to be overlaid with more information and commentary.

Susie and Stephanie used Thinglink:


roadtrip 1

And Yoyu (to add an overlay to her brilliant drawing) used InVision:

World of IDEL 2

As readers/viewers, we were able to add our own comments to the creations; this function was more structured within InVision:

The World of IDEL 1

These tools have real power and potential. They offer the possibility for collaborative commentary on/explanation of images and a way of undertaking analysis which is not driven, necessarily, by a linear structure.

I engaged in some loop input practice and developed a presentation of my responses to the reading and discussion around MOOCs using InVision (I selected this, rather than Thinglink, as it offered numbered comments, allowing for the development, I thought, of a linear argument; this turned out to be moot). The three core ‘texts’ were Adams et al, this IDEL discussion and Christine’s blog about EDCMOOC.

First, I took some snippings of the core text and some of the key points raise in the discussion and added them to Photoshop in order that I could create an image to be used in InVision. This was time-consuming and raised questions of how to order the snips on the canvas; I determined (perversely, given the medium) on a fairly linear structure which followed the structures of the Adams et al’s original paper and the discussion which it prompted. This process in itself was time-consuming and, part way through, I wished that I had determined to simply offer a standard blog entry on my reading.

Canvas process
Putting the canvas together

I then added the image to InVision. Interestingly, it was only when I did this that it became apparent that InVision has been created to enable prototypes of designs to be built and shared with a wider audience for testing, comment and feedback. It’s great that Yoyu and IDEL have now appropriated this tool for education: affordance in action.

I then got a bit stuck. My canvas was there but that was it. There was a lack of an interface and a moment of ‘now what?’:

Now what
What do I press?


So,  I watched the help video. And found comments. I could progress.

The outcome is here. It’s not perfect – Christine’s blog extracts are a little too small on the screen and the canvas is a little chaotic. Lessons learnt. If you view it be sure to switch comments on:

comments on

What did I learn from engaging in this process?

It was difficult to create the arc of an argument within this medium; my responses to individual snips felt piecemeal. But then we don’t always have to follow the trajectory of a beginning and a middle and an end within written academic reflection. The breaking of the ‘typical’ structure also broke my notions as to how I should be expected to respond in an academic context and as I result I felt less constricted and restrained in my thinking and my writing. It was telling that my writing in the comments slipped, on occasion into a clipped, note form and I certainly felt that my tone was less formal that it would be in a traditional essay. I felt I was freer to be discursive, to posit questions, half-thoughts and half-ideas. There is value in the fragmentary, in the partial ideas which may gestate into something fully formed or may not. All of this is part of learning. What’s also exciting is that this medium offers the potential for the plurivocal construction of analyses through multiple comments; the possibility of real dialogic engagement with ideas.

These lessons are valuable; I’m forming nascent ideas about how I can use Thinglink and InVision in my practice for starter activities, crowd-sourcing ideas and building learning communities.

Roll up, roll up!


It was the hall of mirrors which did it…This nugget of an idea finally formed into a metaphor which seemed to offer what was needed to represent the chaotic richness of the IDEL course.

The process of putting the Lino together was satisfying and stimulating. Initially, I intended only to use the images and the descriptions explaining why the imagery was appropriate for highlighting and symbolising certain aspects of the course. However, as I immersed myself in this, I started to make connections between readings, blog posts and activities which it seemed appropriate to include. I enjoyed the meta-textual, creative process of putting this together. As Christine noted, it offered an opportunity to take a mind-wander through the activities, readings, thoughts and communications of the past weeks.


With regard to my disengaged teachers, I think that this might be a useful exercise to ask them to undertake. Thinking about how they can represent the changes they and their schools have gone through in the last year might offer opportunities to reflect on successes and failures, on positives and negatives. Hopefully it will also stimulate frank and supportive discussion.

If you’d like to extend the metaphor, you can take a ride on the fairground here.


Imagining our spaces

This week, we have been considering what metaphors we might use to convey our experience of IDEL, how we see the space that we are in, whether we can map it out or represent it in some alternative form, based on a spatial metaphor.

There have been some interesting propositions so far:

Christine has usefully summarised the offerings so far:

Broad Theme Started by… Metaphor/Analogy Representation
EcologyMovement & changeChange & timeConnections 








What’s going on below the surface…


… and how is it represented?

Kelly Ecosystem Image
Karen Starship on journeyDancing – change in steps Story
Lorenzo Pit – showing change process Visual graph
Sai Baby steps – increasing exposureWeb of connections Visual graph + Quicktime
Lisa Caught in the web Image
Lorenzo Knowledge bubbles Image
Mary Maps Image
Susie Sushi bar – digestion + service Image + Thinglink annotation
Sarah MOOcow and body functions Image + annotation
Renee Paperbag princess, hacking at fairytales Images
Chris Space – and a remix of the week’s intro Image, sound, remixed words (Soundcloud)
Andy Binaries  (and rhizomes) QR code
Dorine Object oriented way of thinking Discussion
Discussion themes Questions
Anna Neuroplasticity of the brain Do we process differently?
MaryMary Ownership & control How do we protect students from being exploited?
Skeuomorphism Are our old metaphors no longer working?
Helen Design How do we make a transition to new ways?
Implications for teaching Marie New form of engagement How do students feel?
Karen Role of teacher (in MOOCs) What is a teacher at scale?

Mid-way through the week and I’m still stuck for ideas.


I feel like I’m in a confusing hall of mirrors with half visions and half ideas fragmenting and dispersing.

hall of mirrors

However, maybe I’m just reflecting…



…and and and…

“Why should things be easy to understand?”
– Thomas Pynchon

I’m a fan of postmodernist fiction. I like the game of it, the acknowledgement of itself as a structure, the rejection of the logos, of the author, of meaning. The internet is postmodern: plurivocal and intertextual, ‘cyberspace’ is, as Cousin acknowledges, ‘postmodern because it allows playful and deceitful identity performances…and is labyrinthine rather than linear’ (Cousin, 2005, p.124*).

Cousin proposes the rhizome as a metaphor which encapsulates the characteristics of the internet. Extending and developing the definition of rhizomatic learning proposed by French postmodern theorists Deleuze and Guattari (1987**), ‘rhizomatic learning requires the creation of a context within which the curriculum and knowledge are constructed by contributions made by members of the learning community, and which can be reshaped and reconstructed in a dynamic manner…As Cormier (2010) puts it, ‘the community is the curriculum’ (OpenLearn***).

The tree is the first metaphor which must be rejected as a representation of learning and of the internet. It symbolises a logical branching structure, a singular rootedness, a linear development and a beginning and an end.


Conversely ‘any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be’ (Cousin, 2005, p. 125). This ‘heterogeneity and connectivity’ (ibid, p.125) facilitates ‘the development of multiple ‘additions’ to a text, as learners post their comments from their own position…’ (ibid, p.125). The rhizome, therefore, establishes a ‘logic of the AND’ (Tapscott, 1998, p.25****).

As Deleuze and Guattari conclude, ‘we are tired of trees’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.25).

Cousin’s article concludes with an evocative statement about the power and potential of a reimagining of learning within less traditional metaphorical boundaries:

‘…the limit (is) beyond the skies, all is possible, the map is the territory, the medium is definitely the message, the message being that all contact, fleeting or sustained, is possible. All identities are fictional to any degree, and all points of departure are available. It is also more playful, more daring and perhaps more dangerous’ (Cousin, 2005, p.127).

*Cousin, G. (2005). Learning from cyberspace in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in cyberspace. London, Routledge-Falmer. pp.117-129.
**Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F, (1987) A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press
****Tapscott, D (1998) Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, New York: McGraw Hill

Geekly interference

In one of my roles, I work for a company which has been commissioned by a Multi-Academy Trust to develop and embed a learning platform into their schools (we don’t refer to it as a VLE because of the now negative connotations the term has). The suite of tools harnesses Office 365 technologies to offer much of what would typically be found in a VLE.

I have spent two years in what has felt like a war of attrition trying to encourage, cajole and persuade staff to adopt these new technologies, these new ways of working, of creating knowledge, of constructing learning. Throughout this time the constant refrain, which has been repeated by the Trust and by the schools, is a variant on ‘teaching comes first, the technology should support the teaching’. There is a frequently expressed concern that ‘geekly interference’ (Cousin, 2005, p.117*) should get in the way of practice.

It was, therefore, a relief to spend some time in the company of Glynis Cousin this week. Her assertion that ‘technologies work dynamically with pedagogies, not for them’ (ibid, p.118) defines what we need to convey (with sensitivity and empathy) to the teachers and leaders with whom we are working. Cousin’s stance offers a refreshing counterpoint to the ‘mantra’ (ibid, p.117) that humans and technology are separate and the ‘latter is neutral and in the service of the former’ (ibid, p.117):

‘technologies work dynamically with pedagogies, not for them, and in the process they become mutually determining.’ (ibid, p.118)

We have to figure out ways to counter the notions that technology is a threat, a tool, or ‘a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature’ (ibid, p.119). We need to recognise that the media serves to construct the self, imprinting ‘our imagination with the realm of the possible’ (p.119).

I have no ready answers as to how we can shift teachers’ perceptions and attitudes towards the technologies we are introducing. At the heart of much of the resistance, there is a sense of threat and disempowerment and a weary disillusionment with the false promises which edtech brings. However, what Cousin’s article has highlighted is that what I can readily shift and change is my own lexicon; I need to treat terms like ‘tool’ with care. When working with teachers, I also need to challenge the notion that the pedagogy defines the technology and the use of the technology; a more nuanced exploration of the interrelationship and interconnectedness of our selves, our practices and our technologies is required.

*Cousin, G. (2005). Learning from cyberspace in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in cyberspace. London, Routledge-Falmer. pp.117-129.

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’. (1)

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.