The future of learning…

…what is it?

I pride myself in saying that I have quite un-orthodox views of education. I’m pedantic (we should use the word learning not education!) and sometimes focus too much on what is said, rather than why it’s being said…I like to read educational texts like Holt’s ‘instead of education’, Freire’s ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, and Falko Peschel’s ‘Open Learning’ (although, I think the book is only available in German…sorry); watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks; and visit/read about cool schools like Grundschule Harmonie, Laborschule Bielefeld, and Summerhill School. While doing all of that, I then get mad at myself because in that entire list of pedagogues there’s not a single woman. Yes, Maria Montessori did some coo stuff…but that’s not radical enough for me anymore!

But I will not let this turn into a feminist rant about how there are way too many old, white men getting all the glory in (my) pedagogy libraries. That’s for another post.

On to what I actually wanted to say with this post. Yesterday I took part in an ‘Open Classroom’, as Jonathan Worth from PhonarNation calls it.

Essentially, there is a module called ‘The Future of Learning’ at Newcastle University. It is lead by Sugata Mitra who has 4 beautiful TED talks and 2 books, and some cool projects (like the School in the Cloud). Instead of teaching the 20 odd students or so that are actually signed up for the module (like I was 2 years ago…) the Open Classroom allows learners from across the globe to take part!

All you have to do – or at least all I did yesterday – was to go to this website and listen to the provocation at the same time as the class takes place at the university. Then the students in the class, and those learning outside the class, tweet their notes and engage in discussions via twitter, making sure to include #EDU8213.

In this way, quite a few interesting people got involved in the conversation leading it off onto interesting tangents.

For example, Daniel Callaghan got involved in relation to learning, education, and happiness

We also discussed whether or not teachers should have all the answers…

There area a LOT of tweets around all sorts of topics at #EDU8213 if you’re interested…and please, GET INVOLVED!

This was an exciting experience, that made me think critically about learning and education from angles I hadn’t previously thought about too much. I hope that the audience will continue to grow for the coming live sessions.

Although this was a great experience, I would like to see more involvement from Sugata Mitra himself. He did pose a few questions, and responded to some tweets…but I’d like to hear more from him on twitter. I realise that he’s busy actually teaching the class that’s present in person at Newcastle University, but still…

Reflecting on the two hours I spent on twitter yesterday, I realise that there are a few things that I want to address in regards to this way of learning.

Fitting complex thoughts into 140 characters on twitter is difficult, but also a useful exercise. This was the first time I’ve fully engaged in various academic conversations via twitter. I’d previously only had conversations with one or two other people via twitter that were mostly started by a question I had asked them, or an article either of us had shared. This time however, it was different. Several people became involved in a single conversation, so abbreviations became my friends, and grammar went out the window (I’m sorry to all the language teachers I’ve ever had!). At times, the conversations were difficult to follow because different participants of the conversation went off on different tangents…but I tried my best.

What I realised during my various conversations was that they were very varied. I was involved in conversations about whether teachers should have all the answers, whether testing is the best option, and whether kids can teach themselves how to read and write. I have discussed all of these topics before, and while I have gained a few insights from talking to different people about them (as you always do). However, I’m not sure that I was able to put across my entire opinion, and whether the people I was talking to were able to put their entire thought process into their own argumentation. Anther thing I realised was that none of the conversations really shocked me, or changed my mind. It was more of a conversation about things I’ve had lots of conversations about before (but this time with different people…).

Overall, this was an interesting experience, and I’m excited to see how this module continues to evolve. I’d love to see some descriptive statistics on how many people took part, how many tweets there were, how many responses, conversations, retweets there were. Who got involved? What did I miss?

I’m looking forward to the next session on Tuesday the 17th of November 2015 at 14:30 – 16:00!

Expectations and Conundrums

After attending the induction sessions for the PhD, I realised that there are all sorts of expectations of me as a PhD student. So, so many expectations! Which is good…right? At least it makes it seem like I’m trusted to make my own decisions, and trusted as a colleague, not a student. The last year has helped me mature SO much! Having a desk and working side by side with my supervisor, other lecturers, PhD students, and RAs has helped me learn a lot about the research process. Since Open Lab is such an interdisciplinary place, it’s also helped me open my mind to new research areas, epistemologies, research methods, disciplines, and all sorts of other things.

For example, I had my first supervisory meeting with both my PhD supervisors! It was scary, and weird, and helpful, and useless, and every other adjective that I can’t think of right now. At the end of it, I realised that my PhD is going to be difficult…I mean, I knew it would be, but since Digital Civics isn’t exactly the most straightforward of programmes, it’s going to be weird.

One of my supervisors is from the school of Education, Communication, and Language Science, and the other is from the school of Computer Science. Each of these have different approaches to how to work on a PhD, and different expectations as to what should happen in the first year. On top of that, I’m based in Open Lab, which has yet another approach to the entire PhD process. I guess all the Digital Civics PhDs are going to be a weird, new hybrid of what a PhD can look like. Should be fun.

One thing that everyone seems to agree on though, is that I should be doing a LOT of reading throughout the entire PhD, but maybe particularly in my first year. I’ve been doing that for the last three weeks…but something that I haven’t done, is writing lots of notes about what I was reading. I’ve printed off the most important papers to read, because I like to (somewhat arbitrarily) colour-code my highlights and write notes in the margins…as well as draw little smiley faces for things that I find particularly nice, or funny.

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Over the last week in particular, I have been worrying about what to do with all these highlights and notes as I cannot possibly keep all this information in my head. Now, instead of actually doing something about this, I’ve just been thinking about it and complaining about it, and talking to others with the same problem about it.

I also took the opportunity of twitter and the #PhDchat hashtag to tackly my problem by posting the following. Suzanne was lovely enough to respond to me with what she has done.

This, as well as talking to my supervisor about this problem, resulted in me attempting to start categorising my collected papers in my Mendeley library. On top of that, I am writing a short, bullet point list of what I got out of an article in a word document (I used to just write this on the top of papers I’d printed out)


As well as beginning a document of notes where I have topical headings and notes from all the papers that I’ve (references included – THANK YOU MENDELEY). I wanted to start doing this as soon as possible, as I connect papers to each other when I read them. Often I’ll read something and remember that I had read something similar, or a completely opposing view in another paper. Writing my notes like this will (hopefully) help me remember these links.

By doing this I at least feel like I’m doing something productive, even if my notes are going to be semi-useless to me in half a years time when I will need to start writing an actual literature review. Let’s just wait and see what happens…

A (very) short update on my life as a PhD student…

The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I’ve spent very little time at home, and very much time worrying about stuff I shouldn’t worry about. I’ve now finished the first month of my PhD, and I already feel like I’ve gone down rabbit holes I didn’t need to go down…

Having said that, lots of really interesting things have happened! I’m now officially a PhD students, which is exciting in its own right, but on top of that I’ve also done lots of other things for the first time.

I can now say that I have helped write an MA level module, as well as teaching it! So that is scary and exciting too! I’m working with a lecturer that used to teach me two years ago. Not only have we worked on a module together, but we recently also wrote an article for The Conversation!

We responded to a late OECD report that stated that technology does not actually increase student attainment (based on the PISA test) report. We claim that technology CAN help improve learning and education, but that because of the way we test learning and education, it may seem that technology doesn’t do much. You can read a response that’s a lot more eloquent and detailed than that one sentence here.

The ABCs of the first year in Digital Civics

Always, always have tea in your desk drawer

Beware of the workload


Designing Technology

Early mornings and late evenings in the lab


Grit your teeth

Helping each other out in all sorts of ways

I have no idea what I’m doing

Just f*cking do it!

Killer coursemates

Learning all the time

Making amazing things happen with your colleagues

No one really knows what they’re doing

Open Lab is an amazingly cool place to learn, work, and collaborate

Projects, projects, projects

Queer CHI needs to happen

Reading all sorts of papers and books

Stationary (sticky-notes, poster board, markers, pens, etc.)

Team-building and team work 

University life

Vulturous behaviour when cookies, doughnuts, or cakes are in the lab

Waiting for marks even if you swear you don’t care about them

X-tra special year

You think you know very little when you actually know even less

Zero tolerance for boredom