Friday, March 18, 2011

Storytelling: writing a thesis

Once upon a time is a much more interesting narrative than thesis writing, where typically the format follows: this is the problem, this is how it is addressed, and here's what was found, and therefore this is recommended.
As an example:
This study into what went wrong found little red riding hood set up by her mother, duped by a wolf, saved by the woodchopper, and at the end the wolf is dead, but so is her grandmother....but lets not dwell on the negative. Although we may also have some recommendations about childcare that could be the subject of another thesis.

*sigh* The only reason that would work as a bedtime story is because it would induce sleep.

The absence of thrill in academic writing is the subject of a blogpostand a twitter link by @andycoverdale who cites Jonathon Wolff's article titled Literary boredom
Rather than fostering excitement, academic writing styles give the plot away on page 1.
A peculiar attribute for avid readers, is it that academics have to read so much they need the last page first?

Could a more engaging narrative be written as a thesis?
This could be serious, if its to change something, and don't all thesis writers set out to make a difference, then it cant do that if no-one reads it.

Option 2, turn it into something more thrilling in your post-doc life.

In considering the story rather than the plot... it is possible for a thesis to engage otherwise, it does not have to be situated in a netherworld of absent authors and distanced readers, cancelling the distance between reader writer and subject matter is what Patti Lather writes of in academic speak.

In their 2004 book, Storytelling in Organizations, John Seely Brown, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh and Laurence Prusak explore how narrative can be used for transferring knowledge, nurturing community, stimulating innovation and preserving values. These are things I want my thesis to do. Surely it is possible to get there without being dull?

For Latour also, it is in the story telling that uncertainty resides. If the story doesnt engage, an ANT analysis fails.

But if a thesis doesnt follow conventional wisdom, might it fail also?
A point of tension: do I take the risky exciting path that might have wolves?
Or the path where the wolves are dealt to in advance?
The latter is obviously the safer option, these academic types dont seem to want surprizes...we save those for our children, ironically to help them sleep at night.
How strange is that?

"This dark telling is of a young girl with a mother whose stretched too thin, sandwiched between providing care of children, care of aging parents, and wriitng a thesis,but soon the daughter finds she has far more important things to worry about than lack of dinners on the table and having to take sandwiches to her granny. When people start turning up dead with their throats ripped out, she begins to suspect her Granny may be to blame."

Now to write my own thesis review: A great story bought back to life by interruptions to the thesis narrative.

This leaves openings for further study, perhaps a gendered telling...where's the father in all of this?
Or a feminist marxist one...exploitation and inequality in the divisions of labour
Perhaps an empowerment narrative might leave less bitterness? But heh, just whose reality do we work with here? This is not a happy telling for any of those involved, wolves have to live and eat too, and are probably an endangered species, the mother's worn out, the young and old neglected, and the woodchopper- please tell me he doesnt get to carry off the child or Im going to have to get concerned about further dubious and exploitive relationships...

Perhaps, having written out my angst I should now return to the endeavour of writing for the staid audience of thesis markers.

Lather, P. (1997). Creating a multilayered text: Women, AIDS, and Angels. In W. G. Tierney & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Representation and the text: re-framing the narrative voice (pp. 233-258). New York, NY: State Univeristy of New York Press.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If knowledge is distributed, if agency is distributed then what of accountability?

Today Frances Bell and I gave a presentation on CCK11 about networking power and authority.

Cant wait to see the capture off eluminate, the audience was great, and i want to read the backchat, attending to the whiteboard and the microphone, meant i didnt always follow the chat...
These are the slides used.
Below them are the notes, some of which i referred to during the presentation and some which got lost in ...association.

slide 1
An invitation to talk to cck11 through George Siemens and Stephen Downes.
A joint presentation was then negotiated between Frances Bell and myself to explore issues of actor-network theory, connectivism and power.
There’s always some networking that goes on behind the scenes, Frances and I have never ‘met’, there are things made more and less possible through courses such as this.
NB the haiku was used by Lennie, I. (2003). Managing metaphorically. In S. Linstead (Ed.), Text/work : representing organization and organizing representation (pp. 41-56). London, England: Routledge.

slide 2
Things, matters of concern, even ‘facts’, even gender… Simone de beavoir being ‘made a woman…identity…all get made in association
de Beauvoir, S. (1974). The second sex (H. M. Parshley, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage.
…means identity is fluid and also, roles fluctuate.
The haiku only possible through translation, when this and that go together some things are gained and some things are also lost.
In change resistence will always be met, as what is drawn in may need to establish a niche, and may not want to leave where it was settled either.

slide 3
There’s talking politics and being political Bruno Latour.
Any movement in the network meets resistance, always there are issues of power, control, authority, acquiescence.
Movement in one part creates movements, ripples and even ruptures elsewhere.
Just as identity is made in the moment, so too is everyone elses identity.
And because this is actor-network informed analysis, it also acknowledges that being shaped in association related also to how people are enmeshed with what they make, and what they make is enmeshed with us.
Wesch, M. (2007). Web 2.0 ... The machine is us/ing us [Audiovisual ]. Retrieved January 16, 2011, from’ the machine is us/ing us is relevant here.

slide 4
Given we are looking at power/control/knowledge and how this is shared or not…we have an opportunity in terms of form and function, where do you see this as relevant, and so participants could post.
What came back was a myriad of ‘actors’ of tangible and non tangible of shared and not shared things, a network of interconnections

slide 5
Superficially, networks appear to democratize communication and relations BUT.... Examples early experiences of women in Internet communication And
Excellent slide and link from Frances Bell

slide 6
Particpation again invited

slide 7
Excellent slide and discussion facilitated by Frances Bell

slide 8
And how is web 2… 3 …4….
Different, what are the facets required that make them work for better or for worse and as educators what the becomes our role in making such things happen, more and less?

slide 9
What gets said and whats prepared may well be different things, as it was today, these though were my notes:

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matters
Similar thoughts also being expressed by Barad and by Lucy Suchman and by Helen Verran;
Stories that interrupt…. That trouble…John Law
Use of boundary objects to cross spaces, to move through resistance, eg art, eg poetry
From Jane Bennett, with a little bit of editing, my apologies...

“Admit that humans have crawled or secreted themselves into every corner of the environment
Admit that the environment is actually inside human bodies and minds,
And then proceed politically, technologically , scientifically (as best as you are able)
With care and humility, forbearance….
:”as you might with unruly relatives to whom you are inextricably bound and with whome you will engage over a lifetime, like it or not. Give up the futility of trying to disentangle, to say its only a tool as if it had not tainted you and you it…
Seek instead to engage civilly,
Strategically?, with human and nonhuman alike… the ones you like and the ones that are harder to tame, the hopeful monsters as Law refers to them.
Instead, shaped in the moment, I got into a bit of a dialogue about individualism and collective responsibilities,,
Just as Weizenbaum had with Eliza, once its out there, you cant suck it back, but it became his life work to continue to decipher the role of man and machine
Or like Latour's referencing to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The sin, what was it ? To make…or to not care…to not stay engaged with…
Weizenbaum, J. (n.d.). ELIZA. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from

slide 10
Participation again invited
Am I responsible…but I didn’t make it…am I still responsible?
Eisenstein, E. L. (1979). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Some of the unanticipated changes are still unfolding,
Media Literacies- Digital literacies
Lanksheare and Knowbel
“mediated by digital encoding privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over ‘normalization’, innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative- innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, do-it-yourself creative production over professional service delivery, and so on, the more sense we think it makes to regard it as a new literacy.This means that being an ‘insider’ to a new literacy practice presupposes sharing the ethos values in question; identifying with them personally. Consequently, what may look on the surface like engagement in a new literacy may well turn out upon closer examination not to be. For example, simply downloading video clips from a popular participatory site like to accompany lectures, without otherwise engaging in any of the forms of participation that characterize engagement in a fan practice site does not, for us, rank as a new literacy practice. It is the cultural equivalent of cutting a picture out of a magazine to use as an illustration in a handwritten story or project. As we have noted elsewhere (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003, 2006), in contexts of using new technologies a lot of old wine comes in new bottles at the interfaces of literacy and new technologies.”
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2007). Researching new literacies: Web 2.0 practices and insider perspectives. E-Learning and Digital Media, 4(3), 224-240. Retrieved from doi:10.2304/elea.2007.4.3.224

slide 11
Nothing is ever solved in the abstract, practice is always local, performed,
Empirical research stories required

Patti Lather
Research stories that interrupt, that trouble, telling stories that are not bound by niceness
"An ache of wings ” Wanting to tell a victory narrative and knowing thats not the whole story, wrestling with how to tell of whats not so pretty

“Prometheus transgressed the boundaries of the human condition. In hubris, or measureless presumption, he brought fire from the heavens and thereby Nemesis onto himself; he was chained to a Caucasian rock. An eagle preyed on his liver, and heartlessly healing gods kept him alive by regrafting it each night. The encounter with Nemesis made the classical hero of this epic tragedy an immortal reminder of inescapable cosmic retaliation….
Everyman now becomes Prometheus; he has fallen prey to the envy of the gods in his inordinate attempt to transform the human condition. Nemesis has become endemic; it is the backlash of progress.” (Illich, 1989/199, p. ¶ 3)
And Latour also has an article on caution in design, we never know anything fully, the knowledge is distributed…and we never know how our plans will pan out, there is always the unanticipated sequalae.
How then do we move forward,: by being grounded in practice…by research empirically based, by producing troubling stories…by knowing ht emyriad of detail involved is to know also that things can always be otherwise.
A humility to move forward knowing one never knows it all, that the whole picture is always only known from ones own situated reality, that other realities exist…that with the best of intentions, the tensions sometimes create, always create other outcomes…
nonetheless, to study what is to inform how things might also always be otherwise.

slide 12
repeat:Nothing is ever solved in the abstract, practice is always local, performed,

slide 13 and 14, participants to draw together the threads.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

CCK11# On Becoming a (digitally literate) person

If i had a hammer...or a harpsichord.... I'd do different things ....

That i am in a course that uses web2.0 makes a course that cannot function without certain ways of being.

Knowing more rather than less about these effects becomes critically important.

Lankshear and Knowbel’s investigation of new literacies emphasises insider understandings of practice, particular values being shared by those involved:
"The more a literacy practice that is mediated by digital encoding privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over normalization, innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, do-it-yourself creative production over professional service delivery, and so on, the more sense we think it makes to regard it as a new literacy."(Lankshear & Knobel, 2007, p. 228)

In teaching and learning through a medium involving new digital literacies there are ways of being, and things learned, that may not be overt. Being (more rather than less)conscious of the influence, of the agency held by the distributed network, requires us to challenge every time a dismissive statement such as 'its just a tool' is made.
eg... newspapers are just a tool,
.. so is tv...
BUT they position the 'user/consumer in certain ways...
so too do classrooms...
so too does powerpoint...

so too does web 2.0

Dont be fooled that this suggests in any way shape or form that tools are neutral;
they have influence, for better or for worse.
Technology is not just a tool, it affects how we interact, and it would be a mistake to consider it merely as the bearer of a message.

Todays wee rant was inspired by comments on Jenny Mackness' blog re attacks on connectivism