starting things, but not finishing them?

I’ve talked briefly about before, about how sometimes I have an issue about finishing things I’m working on. I’d like to reflect on that a little more here. It’s an issue I particularly have with the writing of papers, though not yet with my dissertation – I guess you have to start writing something before you can not finish it…

But maybe that’s a place to start this post: I’m scared of starting to write my dissertation. Every time I sit down with the intention of writing my dissertation, I open documents that have notes, paragraphs that I’ve written on ideas for sections on the dissertation, and I start to work away at these notes. I copy and paste things into a new document so I don’t have the ‘blank page’ problem that causes me to not know how to start, and begin to read through what I’d previously written. That’s where the issues start. Some things make sense, and other things make absolutely no sense. I try to re-write, re-structure, and add on to the thoughts that make sense, moving things around to try to build an argument.

When that inevitably doesn’t work, I open a new document and start to write out sentences and thoughts that I’ve had, in true Mean Girls style word vomit.

I start typing things out and things start to make sense.
For now.

When things start making sense I get into this nice flow of writing out stuff and things. Things I’ve read about and have thought about, things I’ve started building arguments around in my head. At this point, there are no citations and very little academic language in the text, but I make some references to papers and books I’ve read. I assume that I’ll remember what references I was thinking about (I don’t) when I come back and edit that bit of ‘writing’ I’d done at a later time (I don’t).

Sometimes, what I’m trying to say makes so much sense in my head that I continue to write and write until I have several pages of rambling. When I look back at it, I start putting in headings and bullet points of things that I should be adding to make the argument make more sense. I start to add in questions and points on different bits of data I have to support my arguments and start drawing out an outline for potential papers and chapters.

This is where the ‘not finishing’ bit comes in. After doing this for a few hours I inevitably get distracted (mostly by getting some tea) and start to loose my concentration. I decide to leave the document for now, save it in my ‘write up’ folder in the ‘PhD’ folder and continue to do some work on other bits of work I’m doing. The idea is, I’ll let the thoughts ruminate in my head to get back to the bit of ‘writing’ I did at a later point in time. The problem that I have however is that when I do go back to the writing (which doesn’t always happen) it either makes no sense in my head again, or I like what I’ve done and try to turn it into an actual bit of writing. When this happens however, I end up never finishing it. It doesn’t end up even remotely looking like a dissertation chapter, and more like a half-baked idea of something that could be interesting.

At that point however, things start to get hard in the writing and I tend to stop. It sucks, because some of the ideas are actually quite interesting and it’d be nice to see them come to fruition a bit more. It’s something I need to work on. Soon.

I’m about half way through my PhD and am starting to worry about writing up. I fluctuate between ‘meh it’s going to be fine, I’ve got all these notes that I can surely turn into a dissertation’ and ‘holy crap, I have to write 100,000 words and I don’t know what I’m doing’. I guess this is normal? I’m just going to assume it’s normal, and try to work on making sure my half-baked ideas don’t deflate like an unfinished soufflé that the oven door was opened on too early. Instead, I’m going to work on one or two pieces of writing that currently make sense to me until they’ve gone through that first stage of baking that a double-baked soufflé has to go through. So that when it comes to having a draft of my dissertation, the first full version will be a dinner of double-baked soufflé’s that will then be perfected. So that by the time I get into my third year I have something to work with rather than something that I need to start writing.

So yea, I’ve got some pretty big goals…but maybe changing my strategy will work. I’m half way through my time for the PhD, so maybe it’s time to start sticking to a few bits of specific writing rather than writing bits and pieces of ideas all over the place. Like one of my supervisors said in a recent supervision: ‘I should try to just stick with what I’ve got right now. It makes sense (to her, at the time I explained it), and I need to just stick with something.’

So I guess I’m going to give it a try. Wish me luck!

Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

This was the (slightly cheeky) title of my talk at the ProsPol conference Displacing Sex For Sale that took place at Aarhus University, Copenhagen Campus on the 29th – 31st of March 2017. Here’s the abstract to my paper, which in all honesty was based on my CHI2017 paper, titled: Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

Many sex workers use technologies in innovative ways in various aspects of their working lives. Support services however rarely make use of digital technologies to support them in their everyday practice. In this paper, I will outline a case study of one charity’s novel use of technology to illustrate the role the digital plays in their successful direct service delivery as well as underlying social and criminal justice agendas.

I will do this by first introducing the discipline called Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and outlining their move towards feminist and social justice oriented approaches, topics of sex, sexualities, and activism, and reflexive methodologies. As part of this there has also been a shift towards Digital Civics (Olivier & Wright 2015), and as such relational models of service provision, citizen activism, and participatory methods, giving it a unique potential to support sex workers, sex worker rights organisations, and sex worker support services.

Taking these disciplinary and methodological potentials into account, I will discuss an interdisciplinary, mixed methods, and collaborative case study of National Ugly Mugs: a politically active UK sex work support charity that allows sex workers to report crimes committed against them, creates alerts out of these for other sex workers, and trains police and services on good practice for service delivery. By evaluating their services, I provide an outline of how they utilise technologies in their day-to-day activities, focusing on how this affects their reporting, alerting, and mobilisation practices. At the end of the presentation I will discuss how technologies can aid in institutional and fractured service delivery by showing how it has influenced the re-designing of the NUM website, and pose questions that should be considered by interdisciplinary sex work researchers addressing the digital, and other sex work support services wishing to integrate more technologies into their services.

Olivier, P. & Wright, P., 2015. Digital civics. interactions, 22(4), pp.61–63. Available at: [Accessed July 10, 2015].

The talk however was slightly different, and went on a slightly more meta-level than would be expected from this abstract, ending with some questions on service design and digital technologies such as:

  • what does it mean to deliver services in a certain way that provides different outcomes, but also uses different actors, technologies, and services?
  • What kind of world does the service create? And how do the technologies we design interact with this world to provide us a different way of exploring this space to move towards a more socially just one?

ProsPol Conference

It’s nice to be back in the lab, sitting on the grey sofa in the Design Space to reflect on the last week. I’ve been away: one week, four countries; but that’s for another post. Today I want to write to you about the ProsPol conference. Well, actually it was the second conference organised by ProsPol, which is an Action funded by COST. The conference was called Displacing Sex For Sale and marked the end of the four-year project that was ProsPol titled Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of GovernanceContinue reading “ProsPol Conference”

DEN Annual Meeting

Just over a week ago, we received an e-mail that we are to attend the annual meeting of the Digital Economy Network (DEN) in London. So, on Wednesday a group of roughly 15 people groggily got on a train at 6:30am in Newcastle, heading South. There was talk of last years annual meeting that only a few of us attended, and previous DEN conferences and events that took part in London.

After an hour long delay, we finally arrive at Kings Cross Station, head out and walk towards the Digital Catapult, and try to find the building on Euston Road. Once finally there, we quietly walked into the room where a presentation was going on. Throughout the day, we listened to presentations and joined ‘workshops’ that were more like half-hour long discussions around a certain topic on issues related to the student experiences across the 11 CDTs the DEN supports.

It was a weird day. I was engaged with the group that was discussing potential events, barriers, and opportunities for diversity and equality within DEN and its CDTs. In the end what I had learnt was that the DEN really wants to find out our experiences of equality and diversity, but also that they think we are doing a ‘pretty good job’ in relation to gender diversity.

Looking at the room we were in, I’d have to agree on the basis that it’s rare to find a CDT or a DEN event where the audience doesn’t have a relatively large number of women, but on the grand scale of things, I’m not sure how ‘well’ we really are doing. Just because you have an audience that is 1/4 to 1/2 women, does not mean you’re doing a great job. How do those women feel? Are there any policies in place to support them? Most importantly however, diversity goes beyond this. Where are all the people of colour? Those from working class backgrounds? …

As a network, what are we doing to engage rather than alienate those that think differently, those with different backgrounds, and those who look differently?

Something I quite liked about the last discussion group we had, was that after it finished, a woman came up to my friend (not the one that proposed the topic, but the one I run with…) and me and started a conversation about the futility of Athena Swan, and how women are always the ones who end up having to do the work in it. About how it’s almost impossible to even start conversations about diversity, because of the lack of understanding of what diversity is – the idea that it goes beyond quotas and having a woman CEO!

So, DEN, just to let you know: while you have a (much) better gender balance than traditional engineering and computer science spaces, we need to engage in some work to encourage diversity. I’m glad that this is what came out of our discussion at the event, and that DEN seems to support this idea.

My two friends and I are now working on putting a proposal together to develop a cross-CDT working group to tackle this issue. It’s going to encourage exchange between all the CDTs and encourage each participant at the quarterly meetings to go back to their CDT and to be a champion for diversity, enacting at least one ‘thing’ after the meeting. It was encouraged by DEN at their annual meeting that we do something on this issue.

Thank you for that, and thank you for listening to the importance of this topic. At the same time though, let’s take some time to reflect, and see what we can do. While I was starting to put together the proposal for this network yesterday, I went looking for a diversity policy on the DEN website. I couldn’t find one. So, maybe that’s a starting point. Or an end point?

SWRH PGR Conference

On the 20th of January Teela Sanders hosted the 5th annual sex work research hub postgraduate conference at Leicester University. After hearing only fantastic things about the previous conferences, I took it upon myself to travel the three hours to Leicester on the train to see for myself whether it really was as safe, comfortable, and supportive a space as I was told it would be.

Arriving a few minutes late, sadly I missed Teela’s welcome to the whole day, but I was able to slip in half way through the first presentation. I snuck into the back of the room, quietly dropped my bags, sat down and listened. I was immediately taken by Anastasia’s analysis of home and belonging among Russian-speaking women engaged in commercial sex in Finland.

As the day continued, and the first round of questions came around after the first three papers, I began to understand why everyone who’s been to this event before spoke so fondly of it! As the day went on and more and more questions were asked and answered, the sense of support and camaraderie in the room almost became tangible. Both PGR students and seasoned academics not only looked interested in what was being presented, but asked intriguing questions and shared their supportive and informative comments and remarks.

I’ve gone to my fair share of conferences, PGR, academic, non-academic, and I’ve never felt so safe; I’ve never felt so welcomed; and I’ve never experienced such interest about not only my research, but all the research that was being presented throughout the day.

Something that really struck out at me about the conference besides the support and mentorship, was the diversity in the room. It was great to see such an international delegation of attendants providing questions from so many different schools of thought, disciplines, and nationalities. Presenters attended not only from many corners of the UK, but also from University of Helsinki and the University of Milan (I’m not even going to try to count how many nationalities were in the room!).

The different paper sessions also ranged in topics: covering relationships and sex work; power, marginalisation and stigma; labour, rights and regulation; diversity in sex work; and the arts and sex work. We were also lucky to have a surprise treat from Alex from the Sex Worker Opera!

I didn’t really know what to expect from the day, and was very pleasantly surprised! It was great to hear so many people address technologies as part of their research; to hear that even when not directly asked about technologies that participants share stories of their use of apps, websites, and other technologies. It made me feel like my work fits in with the wider context. It gave me some confidence in what I am doing, and pushed me to continue doing the work that I do.

At the end of the day, I learnt so much about sex work research and finally met some people I had heard so much about before going. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know some other PhD students doing sex work research, and to hear about their work. At the same time, it was great to have the support from all those present at the event, and to be able to share thoughts and ideas.

Anyway, enough of my raving about the conference! Here’s what I talked about:

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is a field dedicated to the study of digital technologies and the ways in which humans interact with them. Recently, HCI has started to move towards methodologies inspired by feminisms, participatory design, and social justice-oriented interaction design and have taken steps towards developing technologies in, with, and for social justice movements. Since sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates, I argue that HCI has a unique opportunity in this space to design methodologies and digital technologies.

As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, I explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for sex workers. I address this challenge directly by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK: National Ugly Mugs (NUM). Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with NUM from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to support NUM and other sex work support services.

This talk was based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs over the last year of my PhD.

If you want to know more about the things I’ve talked about, I’ve got a paper coming out in May, published and open access in the ACM’s digital library (


(parts of this will be published in the next Sex Work Research Hub newsletter)

Experiences of Self Organised Learning…

I’ve written before about Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs), and the opening of SOLE Central at Newcastle University. I have problems with the research, as I do with all the research that I read, but overall I think it’s an interesting concept. I also think it shouldn’t be talked about only in the context of schools (which much of it is), because I think it can say so much more about learning than what could or couldn’t work in schools. Having said that, I do think there is potential for this in schools….

Anyway, that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about Self-organised learning, not necessarily self-organised learning environments. As I was writing my last blog post about EDU8213, I began to write a little bit about the self-organised learning that I had experienced in schools…so this is just a continuation of that. An exploration into self-organised learning that I’ve done over the years.

This could be a very, very long blog post…so instead of describing everything in great detail, I’m just going to list a couple of things that I’ve done through my education so far.

  • Small projects through primary and middle school where we could choose what topics we were interested in and then study those in depth. This sometimes happened in groups and other times as individuals. A particularly great example of this for me is how I developed my knowledge of Dolphins.
  • In middle school, one of the teachers at the school decided to create a module where students could study anything they wanted in whichever way they wanted. I decided to learn about  the beginning of the Universe and (much like Sugata has found) ended up going into stuff that was way beyond what any curriculum would have taught me at this age.
  • As part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) World School Programme that I took part in through middle and high school, we had to complete the Middle Years Programme (MYP) Personal Project. Here each student spends a year learning something that they are interested in. They have a supervisor that helps them through the process, and have to write a reflective report about what they had learnt in the end, and also present the work in front of an audience made up of students, staff, and parents. I decided to create a line of recycled clothing and learnt many things about recycling and ethical clothing, as well as practical skills in sewing and clothes-making.
  • As part of the IB programme (essentially the last two years of high school), we did the ‘Group 4 Project’. In the IB, different subjects are seperated into different ‘Groups’ that students can choose from. Group 4 for example, is the group all the sciences are in, and we had to choose at least one of these to do for our IB. The Group 4 project was a week of entirely student-led experiments, and one of the best memories I have of 11th grade. Each group was made up of one or two students from Physics, Biology, and Chemistry (the only sciences our school offered at the time). We had to work together to develop a theme that we would each do experiments around before presenting our work in front of staff and students at the end of the week.
  • Another part of the IB was the Extended Essay, or the EE as we all referred to it. This is a 4,000 word paper that each student writes with the help from a supervisor. The student picks a subject they want to do it in (I chose English Literature) and then the student and supervisor come up with a topic within that subject to choose (I looked at the role setting played in character development in Shakespeare’s The Tempest).

As you can see, all my projects were very different and didn’t really have anything to do with one another. And that was okay. That wasn’t the point of these projects. The point was to learn something that interests the student at that point in time, as well as learning to manage a project, learn as a group or an individual, and ask big, difficult, and complex questions. All of these things are great preparation for university work…particularly Dissertations (which really, are just longer forms of reports of self-organised learning).

I think whoever manages the school in the cloud twitter summed it up perfectly in this tweet

So if all of academia is built on the idea of self-organised learning and projects, why do we have such a problem with accepting that self-organised learning works? Why do we as a society, as the institution of learning not take the way of learning that all of this is built on and just roll with it?

There’s a bit of research into how and where SOLEs have been used, there’s the collection of large questions that can be used, and there’s stuff on the school in the cloud on the website, but really. Why do we still have to ask the same question of students? The examples I showed above were all entirely led by me. Yes, I was led and supported by teachers, colleagues, supervisors, other students, but it was my journey. My learning.

Something that bothers me a little with my description of projects above, is that while they were all led by me, the content was also only learnt by me. I didn’t work in groups for most of them, but very well could have (there are also lots of projects that I did work on with others that were ‘taught’ in the same vein of pedagogy that I just didn’t mention above). So why not have SOLEs that are learner-led; where the questions come from the learners themselves?

Where do we learn what we know?

Before starting this response to Session 2 of Newcastle University’s EDU8213, I wanted to just say that the only reason I am doing this is twitter. At first I didn’t really want to join in with the class today. I wasn’t feeling up for it, and I had other things to do…lessons of my own to prepare, going through the ethics process for a study I’m planning, and doing general PhD reading…

I thought that this week, I would just sit on twitter and respond to a couple of things that I find interesting and retweet some stuff. 10 minutes into this, I wanted to hear what was actually being said in the audio file for session 2…so here I am.


When I was 17, I went off to Uni to do my Bachelor’s of Education at the Private University College of Education of the Diocese of Linz, which is just a fancy way of saying ‘teacher training school’. I trained for three years to be a primary school teacher in Austria, which allowed me to learn a broad set of topics including language development, neurology of child development, creativity and learning, reform pedagogies, intercultural understanding, but also more pragmatic subjects like how to develop lesson plans, curricula, marking criteria, and reflective exercises. 

A large part of this was self-reflection, I’d say almost half of the 14 modules we had a semester were based in coaching, team-building, reflection, or communication strategies. Since I was training to be a primary school teacher much of that reflection was focused on my own primary school years.

So, in lieu of Sugata’s provocation, I thought I could take a little trip down memory lane to explore where and how I learnt a couple of different things.There are lots of things I could talk about here, but I’m going to focus on my language learning, because I think it says a lot about self-organised, and peer learning.

Language learning

I moved around Europe a lot, so a large part of my life was dedicated to learning language…sometimes this was very systematic, while other times it was very organic. I think the best example of that may be how I learnt Spanish and Romanian.

When I was around 10 years old, I lived and went to school in Spain. I went to a British school, and learnt Spanish as a ‘foreign language’. This meant that I started at the lowest common denominator; I have memories of learning the special characters of the alphabet in Spanish, as well as special punctuation marks. At the same time though, I also went to sports clubs with a bunch of Spanish kids where I learnt all sorts of other things in Spanish. I hated the sports clubs because I couldn’t talk to the other kids, and mostly because I was the only ‘foreigner’ and I wasn’t really included in anything. I learnt some Spanish, but that didn’t seem to help me in the Spanish classes at school as they cared more about grammar and (relatively useless) vocabulary. To this day, I cannot speak Spanish properly, but am pretty good at understanding it and picking up things on the go.

A few years later, I moved to Romania. Again, I went to an english speaking school. This time however, the school didn’t think it was really necessary to teach us Romanian and so the only way to learn the language systematically was to attend the (extremely boring) ‘Romanian Language’ optional class. So I did that…for 1 semester. I got out of that class as soon as possible. It felt useless, futile, and incredibly boring. I wasn’t interested and don’t think I learnt very much. While being in this school, a friend of mine and I made friends with a couple of Romanian kids in the skate part (yes, I was a very cool teenager, I know.) We mostly talked to them in English (as they all spoke it really well, and we couldn’t really speak Romanian), but picked up little bits of Romanian on the way. I began using these little phrases with my Romanian friends in the english school too, and they were quick to teach me more things. At this point, it was just fun to say a couple of sentences in Romanian every now and again. It wasn’t until I graduated high school, that I really got into learning the language. I went to Moldova for two months to work in an orphanage…and there I was confronted with the choice of either learning Russian or Romanian properly so I could communicate with the kids, the guardians, the staff, or anyone, really. I think the main reason why I learnt as much as I did during that time was because I already knew quite a bit of Romanian before I went (which was very important to me). The kids were fabulous at teaching me new words and sentences. They would laugh at me if I said something wrong, they would correct me in incredibly sweet ways, and laugh at my pronunciation until I got it right. They would laugh even more if I said the Romanian word for something, instead of the Moldovan word. It was all in great fun. I went back to Moldova a couple of years later, and while driving around the country was often believed to be either Romanian or Moldovan.

By  no means, is my Romanian perfect, but my accent and word-choice are similar to those of native speakers because I learnt from native speakers; mostly children. I didn’t learn the grammar (and to this day don’t really understand it) and didn’t learn vocabulary…but still, I’m able to have conversations about all sorts of things in the language.

While I can name mundane things in Spanish but not Romanian, I am able to have more of a conversation in Romanian than in Spanish. I think that this has a lot to do with how I learnt the language; a lot with who taught me that language, where I was taught this language, and how I feel  about those situations and experiences.

My teachers were often a lot younger than me, or at least roughly the same age. None of them were trained teachers, and I had personal relationships with all of them. I like them, and (I think and hope) they liked me. We shared experiences together that had nothing to do with learning the language. In fact, most of the language learning that I went through when learning Romanian had nothing to do with actual language learning.

It was all based around interpersonal relationships, travel, and a wish to be able to communicate.

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!

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.

So, are Human Rights really universal?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to British HCI, a conference on Human Computer Interaction in Lincoln, UK. As part of the event, I attended the hack where we worked on ‘Hacking the Magna Carta’.

What does the Magna Carta mean to us? For me personally, it’s all about human rights, and knowing what rights you have as well as holding governments, companies, and people accountable for them.

As a group of ten people or so, we came up with a number of ideas of what we could do to ‘hack the magna carta’. At around half way through the first day, we had two semi-solid ideas: (1) letting people know about their rights, and (2) making a game to help people engage with and understand the Magna Carta.

Taking my personal stance on the topic into consideration, it made sense for me to join the team developing the rights idea. Marshall, Connie, Seb, and I talked at length about what we could do, and decided that people need to know what their rights are.

We decided to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights and realised that while it is a really important document, it isn’t perfect and actually has a few (fundamental) flaws.

Interesting sidebar: all meeting notes and drafts of the Declaration are actually online!

It started out as just seeing ‘he’ being used a lot, rather then the universal ‘they’ and continued throughout the document…making us think that women, or really anyone that’s not cis-male, wasn’t included in the declaration. This got even worse when looking at the marriage article, which declared marriage was an act between a man and a woman. So we decided we needed to do something about that; inform people of what rights they REALLY have when taking the Declaration of Human Rights word for word.

The afternoon and the next day was spent figuring out how we were going to do this and then actually doing it.

Here’s what we came up with in the end: Whose rights are they anyway?

This is a website that lists all 30 Articles of the Declaration of Human Rights. First, we simplified them to say what we thought most people would take away from the long Article. Then we put the entire existing Article on the site. We also updated the existing declaration to what we thought would be a better way of wording the declaration.

On the right side, you can see little symbols that fade away when the wording of the article does not allow for that group of people to have that specific right. We’ve simplified these down to be cis-men, cis-women, and those identifying in any other way; as well as heterosexual and non-heterosexual identities. We wanted to incorporate as many different identities as possible but decided to keep it in this simplified form, because making a long list of identities would still exclude some people.

The website was an outcome of a hack event that lasted two days, so it’s still very much a work in progress; particularly the technology behind it. We’re not claiming that our version is ideal, or that the website is perfect! We hope this would stimulate some thought and discussion around the Declaration of Human Rights. Is it outdated? Should we update it? Does it really include everyone as it claims to do?

We’re thinking of maybe working on it a little more to add options to directly compare draft versions of the rights and to make it more interactive; allowing for comments and things. If you’re interested, here’s the GitHub code and stuff. Feel free to branch, push, and pull!