Google Alerts – nice, but… – great for getting regular search results in niche areas – mine are for Hao Wu, Abdelkareem Soliman, Tony Greenstein, academic boycott and Personal Learning Environments. This is a good complement to syndication – I can spread a wider net than if I relied on a few sources. My only problems with it are that the longest interval between emails is a week – reckon they should offer monthly and quarterly (for keeping up with imprisoned bloggers, for example) and that I want to aggregate my search results rather than receiving them by email. But still, it’s good.

Did I mention I was a photographer?

Well, this isn’t the first time somebody contacted me via Flickr for permission to use a photo (it’s the second time, OK). This bloke is prolific on the subjects of freemasonry and the Knights Templar, and has a book on the latter out in October. My creative commons license says attribution, share-alike and not-for-profit. He agreed to attribute and I gave permission. The photo is of one of the Cressing Temple Barns.

Where have I been?

It’s been a very busy week. Oxford for Shock and Beyond on the 22-23 March. This year the Shock was ‘of the Social’ and concerned with social networking in higher education. The following day was the Beyond debate – this year, Beyond the Search Engine, which tackled plagiarism. S and I had a fine time. I had my new work laptop and we were enthroned in a superlatively furbished Said Business School lecture theatre and blogging the proceedings (to work – see my previous post) via the wireless network. We nattered away – shop – at lunchtime and I think I persuaded somebody from education department at Oxford who was about to advertise a couple of “Learning Technologist” posts to advertise for “Educational Developers” instead. Which is a bit of a turnaround, because I can hear myself only last year pronouncing to somebody quite senior and national at a book meeting that I’d rather retrieve the job title than abandon it. Trouble is, I can’t seem to manage to retrieve it. Then we drank ourselves silly and didn’t manage to get to our hotel a fair way up Banbury Rd before everyone had gone to bed but luckily we managed to arrange the key code to get in. This time we had double rooms and they had a wireless network. Am I addicted to being connected? That would be weird for an introvert like me – must remember to ask Tomas about it.

Then I went to Dublin – more accurated I flew to Dublin. I flew for the first time in 6 years and was so moved as we left the runway that I cried a bit. On the way back in the dark as we made our approach into Heathrow I gasped at Docklands and the Isle of Dogs. The London Eye and Piccadilly Circus shone out like two funky badges. CAL ’07 was the reason. Our symposium went down extremely well, although my particular presentation was just scenesetting for the three that followed – very distinct approaches to Design for Learning. What has happened to that JISC programme is quite remarkable – if you’re feeling calculating, it would seem that the Design for Learning (D4L) projects were conceived (by JISC, though not in a rubbing-hands-together-and-cackling sort of way) as helpmeets for the Learning Design (LD) projects – the idea being to harvest practice and turn it into blueprints or models which could be turned into off-the-shelf designs. A number of the D4L people are turning round and declaring that this isn’t working and that there is too much tacit and contingent and human about teaching and about the subject areas themselves to be readily turned into machine code. The exceptions are revealing – objective testing goes down well, as do lessons on things like referencing and handwashing. But what about teaching about nature in Romantic poetry – never seen that.

Dublin was vastly improved on a decade ago and I soon stopped resenting having to be there. Found an unsecured wireless network on the top of St Stephen’s Green shopping centre and downloaded a couple of MP3 guided walks to my SD card and off I went, popping in on Liz in O’Connell St on the way. It was absolutely lovely, I was so contented and it was springtime in Dublin.

Blogging software – overcoming shortcomings to do with the difference between public and anonymous

Thanks AR for fixing it so that I and colleagues can assign a predefined tag to our bookmarks and they will automatically appear in our shared work It was pissing me off – not to mention against the ethos of networked bookmarking – to be having to manage one bookmark in two places.

Much as I dislike blogging in two places. What would really make me happy now are the following, which would allow individual blog entries of an anonymous author’s choice to be syndicated to another blog where the bloggers identity is known (e.g. a work blog) in such a way as its origin is undisclosed and the syndicated entry cannot be easily linked with other entries in the originating blog but at the same time the originating blog is as public as its anonymous author wants it to be:

  1. A way to feed posts from my personal blog to a work blog.
    Reason: I don’t like compartmentalising my blogging life – after all, what’s relevant to life is often – ideally – relevant to work, and vice versa.
  2. The method should allow selective syndication from the originating blog in such a way as individual entries could be aggregated to another (possibly shared) blog without readers or admins being able to trace it back. The point is not to anonymise the entry, but to unhitch the syndicated post from the originating blog.
    Reason: public anonymous blogging is exhilarating – makes its writers think carefully, write well, and anticipate responses. What I’m proposing here is the only way to integrate accountable work and anonymous life into one blog, and allow each to benefit from the other.
  3. There should be the option, for those posts which are syndicated to the accountable blog, to direct search engines which index them to the public accountable blog, rather than the public anonymous one, or vice versa, or both, or neither (there’s a word for that – I don’t remember it).

I’m listening to Elbow’s Leaders of the Free World. This is not their greatest album (smooth and sugary) but I had the sudden urge to listen to it for the memories I knew it would bring of the Cambrian Way last summer. My favourite is Forget Myself because on top of that, it also reminds me of making our way to Sackville Street every weekend when I lived in Manchester, and it has the best lyrics. The memories get jumbled and overlayed, which is the intriguing thing about music and aging.

Spiked’s Frank Furedi on the ‘new antisemitism’

In this article at, he writes:

“Unfortunately it is quite easy to become disoriented in the debate about the new anti-Semitism, since its focus is often on what people ‘really mean’ rather than on what they actually say.”


“…combining forensic skills, interpretive wits and moral judgements is not necessarily conducive to searching for the truth. Rather, such methods of ‘investigation’ might lead individuals to see something that isn’t there. Making a moral judgment call about what an individual really means is a highly subjective act, which can be influenced by the judger’s own prejudices and by other cultural and political assumptions.”

I bring to this article two understandings. One has its origins in a tongue-in-cheek remark from Leon Wieseltier that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has done everyone a favour by saying precisely what he means about Jews and, in doing so, removed the need for ‘pilpul’ – he acknowledges that we should be vigilant about circumspect Jew-haters who insinuate their meaning in acceptable language, and he also acknowledges that the intensity of hair-splitting implied by the term pilpul can err towards the spurious.

My second understanding is that there is an association between actual antisemitism and paranoia about antisemitism (actual antisemitism leading to paranoia about antisemitism, which irritates people who are not paranoid about antisemitism, which irritation may in turn be interpreted as antisemitism and so on).

I’m inclined to think that the act of interpreting what somebody could mean (and often the analysis this entails is much more rigorous than the term ‘pilpul’ might imply – unless you go in for pilpul of course), would mitigate any paranoia about antisemitism – the engagement represented by the kind of subjective critique about which Frank has misgivings always tacitly allows that such-and-such a text or utterance may not be antisemitic.

It is important to remember that not all prejudice is the same – Jews are one of many groups which, on account of some or other distinguishing feature, have historically experienced particular and distinctive types of discrimination not always immediately apparent to people outside that group. If we allow that discrimination marks the likelihood of future persecution, we shouldn’t be put off by the energy and time that some people dedicate to identifying antisemitism – and it would also be understandable if the majority of those motivated to do this were Jewish. In other words, what Frank rejects as subjective interpretation is unavoidable if we are to engage collectively, as a society, with the particular tropes of a particular hatred – whether that be hatred of Romany, older people (what self-respecting politically-correct person would ever say ‘elderly’, by the way?), or people with Downs Syndrome. And what he rejects as subjective interpretation also constitutes a product as well as a process – the product can be a helpful explanation of a text or utterance so that people who are not sensitised to a particular form of prejudice can better understand how it works against a given group. Engage assumes this kind of educative function, for example.

Frank continues:

“…it is easy to get carried away and exaggerate the sins of your opponents, to go over the top and slander your enemy – especially in our morally illiterate times, where it has become common to denounce your enemy for being ‘like the Nazis!’ Viewed in this context, it seems that calling Israelis ‘Nazis’ does not make you a closet anti-Semite. Rather it represents a sordid rhetorical strategy for laying claim to the moral authority of the Holocaust.”

It is a mistake to suppose that cheapness of the strategy has some bearing on whether or not it is antisemitic. And so we come to the murky area of intent – can you be an unintentional antisemite? I think not. Can you be unintentionally antisemitic? Yes, I have personal experience of being unintentionally antisemitic. It is also possible to discriminate incidentally against single parents (inflexible working hours), vegetarians (catering), overweight people (individual seating spaces on the Northern Line) and so on. It is possible to parrot the phrase “Israel is a Nazi state” without understanding either Israel or the Nazis. The parrot is not an antisemite, but the phrase is no less antisemitic. In their ignorance, many people believe that it is possible to both love animals and eat meat. Many people believe that it is alright to eat meat but not alright to eat a cat. All of this is not OK but it is normal, and we can only be judged on our motivation and ability to recognise and work against our ignorant prejudices. Absence of antisemitic intent does not mean that the strategy for debunking “the moral authority of the Holocaust” is not antisemitic.

When he equates outrage at the association between Nazism and Zionism with a desire of Jewish supporters of Israel to maintain moral authority, he ignores the argument that labelling people (or groups or entire states) as Nazis on the basis of some small or crude detail of comparison is antisemitic, no matter how deliberate or casual and no matter how advanced or empoverished the moral judgement, in that it both blurs and trivialises Nazi inhumanity. The wrongness of doing this is not exclusively antisemitic, because the Nazis did not work to exclusively erradicate Jews, but it is no less antisemitic for that. Nobody says it is exclusively antisemitic to equate Nazism with Zionism, or Islam or anything else – Frank has interpreted this and himself ignored or extrapolated from what many people have actually said.

It doesn’t always help to take Frank himself literally either:

“The West’s estrangement from Israel today does not mean it is ready to rethink its transformation of the Holocaust into a new moral symbol. All that it means is that the West increasingly embraces the ‘good Jews’ who were the victims of the Nazis, while distancing itself from the ‘bad Jews’ who are alive and kicking in Israel.”

Besides this getting us nowhere with or without inverted commas (it is impossible to distinguish good or bad Jews on the basis of whether or not they experienced the Holocaust – why would we expect victimisation in the Holocaust to inculcate superior ethical judgement or love for all humankind when its achievement was to turn people into animals?) this bit of Manicheanism demands a lot of interpretation, otherwise I come to the conclusion that Frank thinks the West believes the only good Jews are old or dead Holocaust victims, which he almost certainly doesn’t. What he probably means (see how interpreting isn’t always against the spirit of things?) is that any “estrangement” “the West” feels from Israel is a function of “weariness” towards a certain dominant section of Jewish political life rather than hatred, and therefore does not constitute a drive to rework the symbol of the Holocaust.

So, Israel, Frank would have it that the West is not out to get you – you’ve merely exhausted its good will, tried its patience, stretched its tolerance with your incessant demands for sympathy and protection. Frank thinks the West finds Israel irritating – but (and I hope to revise these comparisons – god only knows where the second one popped into my head from) it’s not like Ralph and Piggy in Lord of the Flies – nobody wants to get rid of Israel – it’s more like Katy in What Katy Did before she broke her back and learnt her lesson.

The machine is us/ing us

I found this: which Sara de Freitas showed at Beyond the Search Engine in Oxford yesterday, moving.

But at least one technically-gifted and endearingly cantankerous friend didn’t:

Easy for him to say – he’s been ‘generating content’ for years and anybody who knows him could guess he’d feel this way. There isn’t any disconnect between the way he communicated and represented himself say five years ago and the way he communicates and represents himself now. For him, these technological advances constitute a continuum – but only because he has been close to the centre of developments most of his professional life and motivated to observe and apply them. So it’s easy for him to object to the idea of a radical “switch” but for many people who aren’t as technically gifted it is just that – a switch, a swerve, a significant change in their way of doing things, or a part of their way of doing things, and from these new behaviours comes a new perspective – hence Wesch’s observation that “We’ll have to rethink a few things”.

Most people have seen IT developments in the same way as they might notice a remote younger relative at family gatherings – taller every time, one year acne and a surly demeanour, next time mascara and a body piercing, next time gained 2 stone. And one year suddenly the two of you have a wonderful conversation, and a relationship is formed that is based on affinity rather than merely being around each other. So with so-called social software: online communities, weblogs, wikis.

Wesch made a dramatic piece and, in a very journalistic way, imbued it with a hecticness and mounting sense of urgency about rethinking, well, everything. Yet as Veghead says, from an accomplished technician’s perspective things move almost imperceptibly and there is no disconnect or ‘switch’. Even where a big change happens, it’s surprising how quickly it is absorbed into the habitual, recedes into the past and ceases to be discussed (until the retrospectives). But Wesch is an anthropologist and I imagine he is more interested by individual responses than by what we might call ‘developments’. Maybe Wesch finds Web2.0 interesting because it enables populism through which individuals can with unprecedented ease ‘appropriate’ (as Kris Cohen observes) the public sphere and, through this, experience a mass of personal disconnects, personal changes in perspective.

And the consequences for academics, who have traditionally been custodians of truth, wisdom and, as yesterday’s Beyond the Search Engine debate would have it, ‘integrity’ and ‘rigour’, are far-reaching too. For academics, the proposition of this populism is that their role will change – they must inculcate these values in not just the most promising research students, but every student. That’s a difference in practice (will teaching-only contracts interfere with this; are the postgrad students who take on increasing amounts of teaching equal to this?) if not in theory.

Cohen, K (2006). A welcome for blogs. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies;20:161-173.

What Personal Learning Environments mean for teachers

In the most simplistic-possible terms: over these past few years of intense (and I believe excessive) student-centred rhetoric, I realise that the old question in Higher Education “What can e-learning offer that is different from the way we teach now?” has been replaced by a new one: “What do teachers have to offer that is better than the way we can learn online”. Teachers get ready to justify your existence.

(I was stupid in Oxford the other day, boasting about how thoroughly I anonymise this blog. That shot me through the foot because now, as I use the tag the particular person I was bragging to suggested in his presentation that we should use, I compromise my anonymity. And the fact that I publish this paragraph clearly indicates that I don’t plan to untag my ‘shock07’ posts… Ah well [removing dark glasses, wig and false moustache].)

Everett Rogers

Somebody who pointed out that, in terms of capital gains, innovations are a blessing only for early adopters. Tractors for instance – the early adopters streamlined their production and, while mechanisation was an advantage (meaning advantage over your co-farmers), the innovators out-sold those who were still using the old methods. But once everybody had a tractor, nobody had that sort of advantage (and the a problem with over-production emerged).