“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.