All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class

These are my current thoughts on a book I’m currently reading about the 2016 UK Brexit referendum – All out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class

So, this book describes actions without giving value judgements other than those attributed to sources. So from my perspective, I might describe the actions and possibly the character of the main actors in the story as thus:

Remain / In

David Cameron

Well-meaning but naïve. Was hamstrung by an inability to get any kind of substantive deal (from the perspective of the public) from the EU on immigration initially. Made a huge mistake in underestimating the feelings of a good deal of the population towards immigration and the EU. Thought he could take the deal he’d salvaged on denying benefits to EU citizens (until they’d worked for 4 years here) home to the UK and people would be OK with it when in fact, they wanted their government to have full comtrol over their borders. Cameron wanted to shore up his party and shut up what he felt was a toxic minority of Tory eurosceptics (and a small handful of Labour).

He came across as an open, liberal, progressive realist that rarely let the demands of the campaign influence what he thought was wider good governance and diplomacy. Basically, nice and pragmatic but ultimately not a cynical and calculated enough operator. Led a campaign focused too much on instilling (Project) Fear as opposed to distilling the positive messages that could have been disseminated regarding EU membership though this flaw in the campaign was more directly attributed to others.

George Osborne

Another open, liberal, progressive Tory. These lads are more Lib Dems than your traditional view on Tories. Knew from the beginning that the referendum was a terrible idea and it would very possibly scupper his opportunity to take over as PM afterwards. Threw the notion of getting the top job under the bus as a final gambit to try and secure EU membership by threatening a punishment Budget after a Leave vote. Perceived as demonstrating a commitment to the EU ideal stronger than his career aspirations. Comes across as very smart, very shrewd, and utterly wasted.

Labour Corbynites

Seamus Milne and John McDonnell

Milne is the ‘thin man’ strategist that would consistently doctor press releases and speeches to omit key campaign phrases to the detriment of the core message. Rarely if ever attended strategy meetings and along with McDonnell decided to actually change the message of the Labour In campaign to Remain and Reform, undermining the overall Remain campaign which was trying to either focus on the benefits of remaining in the EU or describing the disastrous fallout of leaving.

It was described by one source how certain intellectuals never want to see to be going along with others they felt were their intellectual inferiors, so they would change something to look smart. That’s giving them the benefit of the doubt on that one. The other perspective is that it was another of their ploys to sabotage the campaign. 50% of Labour voters didn’t vote and 50% of those voters didn’t know what the party officially stood for with the EU.

Milne and McDonnell seemed to ‘handle’ Corbyn with a number of anecdotes describing how Corbyn would make tea and defer to Milne on what his own thoughts were and try and hurry campaign meetings on so McDonnell could make a speech about something unrelated to Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn

At best not bothered, at worst completely complicit in the strategy of Milne and McDonnell or even just managed by them completely. I think he was complicit. I don’t think he’s a moron but I do get the impression he’s heavily influenced by the other two.
Corbyn apparently initially was forced into allowing the Party to officially be in favour of the UK remaining within the EU and beginning the ‘Labour In’ campaign because senior Labour MPs said that this was their condition for being a part of his shadow cabinet. Members like Hillary Benn, Yvette Cooper, and Tom Watson. Thereafter, he began to do…. well, nothing. And if he did do anything it was obstructionist and difficult. Corbyn never shared a platform or was seen with any Tories (until Jo Cox was murdered) nor would he share a stage with Gordon Brown or Tony Blair to demonstrate a united front.

In fact, on the orders of Milne, a press release was changed from Labour being ‘united’ to Labour being ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of remaining in the EU. This seemed to be a pattern from Milne of setting the hard left away from the centrists. Far from being a party that was racked by the centrist attitude of not wanting Corbyn, it was one that both sides didn’t want each other. Whether it was the chicken or the egg in regards to which one came first, the behaviour and actions of Corbyn, Milne, and McDonnell in this particular campaign would indicate that they do not do what the party as a whole decide they want to do, they will do whatever they want.

Ultimately, it’s felt that Corbyn et al. saw this all as a win win. If Remain won, he’d be seen as the guy that was in charge of Labour when this came to pass, and were they to lose, well, that’s what they wanted anyway and I think that Milne, who seems quite the Machiavellian character, might have predicted would cause a leftist backlash that the hard left could take advantage of.

It’s been commented on since how different Corbyn was in the Labour leadership campaign and in the general election to that which we saw in the referendum. The Labour Party membership and Momentum were not utilised, not mobilised.

The Corbyn faction then had the idea to go to Turkey, meet refugees there, and make a speech on opening borders. It was described by one source as an idea that it would be difficult to beat in terms of it being the worst possible thing to do.  I assume that other Labour MPs shut this down as the notion of Turkey joining the EU and the current refugee crisis at the time were political kryptonite to the Remain campaign.

Well, it was either crass stupidity or a far more overt tactic to sabotage the campaign from within. It was signed off by Milne. They had the idea, they were going to do it. And then they didn’t. Maybe it was one step too obvious.

Labour In

Pretty anonymous bunch really. Remainers were disgusted by Corbyn’s faction’s actions but also thought the rest of Labour didn’t turn up. The Labour In leader was Allan Johnson who’s a solid politician but when he was turning up in places on the Labour Battle Bus (which McDonnell wouldn’t get on, calling it ‘too Blairite’), he would give speeches to which people would just respond with ‘well, those are his thoughts’ because without Corbyn backing up what Labour In were saying, these were personal feelings of MPs as opposed to a party’s official position. Corbyn’s speeches on the other hand were a litany of complaints about the EU and the message that was asked of him to communicate, ‘That’s why I’m for the EU and we should Remain’ was left unsaid. Corbyn would say that this was the position of his party he was putting forward that they should remain and try and reform. And in the light of the widely publicised failure of Cameron to reform the EU only a couple of months prior, this had the opposite effect.

Labour in general was in a terrible state, however, as mentioned and this was all fuelling the divisions therein. Labour seemed more focused on their internal existential and ideological crises than on this supposed crises of state. They were too worried about who might lead the people to actually lead the people.

Leave / Out

Boris Johnson

Was  in direct competition with Osborne for the PM job and is assumed to have taken the gamble to jump on the Leave bandwagon to rise out of a win as the man to take over from Cameron who’d have to go. Comes across as very indecisive but a hugely handy weapon due to his massive, massive popularity across the country. According to research, no one seemed to mind his gaffs because it was him doing them. Would have happily smashed through a wall into No. 10 like an oblivious Mr Bean in a car with no break fluid.

Michael Gove

The very bright performing monkey of the Old Etonian Tories that had come from a very meager background to walk the corridors of power. Decided to fuck the Blue Bloods over and follow his old Oxford mate Johnson over to the Leave campaign. Probably a career move on his part as well. He seems very enigmatic. Very interesting. Not got yet to his ultimate betrayal on Johnson after the campaign.

Nigel Farrage

Left off the official Remain ticket much to his chagrin, he nonetheless rambled around the country like a landed gentry hooligan. Was at least indirectly responsible for one of the greatest PR coups of the campaign. He organised for a load of fisherman to congregate and sail up the Thames with messages regarding reclaiming UK fisheries. But he was met with Bob Geldof and a load of other celebs and Remain supporters on their own boats. Geldof shouted abuse at Farage while the rest of them threw vicks at the fishermen (who are widely seen as poor, working class, and some of the people that have certainly lost out due to globalisation). Farrage did always have one thing right though, make it about immigration and Leave will win.

Dominic Cummings

He was the Leave campaign’s chief strategist. He was pretty much the boss. Cummings is basically one of those guys in The West Wing who’s brilliant and actually makes all the decisions that the representatives are credited with. He’s a political analyst. Hardly anyone has heard of him. He writes a lot about education. Wants to apply meritocratic and technological principles to making the UK wicked at making people learn.

Fifteen years ago he led up a strategy to modernise the Tory party before fucking it off because they weren’t doing it right and calling Ian Duncan Smith incompetent on the way out. Then he worked for Gove in education as chief of staff for seven years.
He never actually joined the Tory party though. David Cameron called him a ‘career psychopath’.

He said talk about immigration. Talk about Turkey. And we’ll win.

He got everything right.

 

 

Is War a Racket?

American military helicopter in flight

The legitimate purpose of a government is to protect you and your property and keep an eye on infrastructure so that we aren’t drowning in floods on the way to our bullshit jobs where we work to buy stuff and pay for services that keep other people in both real and bullshit jobs and pay taxes so that we get those supposed protection and infrastructure services. But, that’s all supposed to be internal. You pay taxes for your own protection and your own infrastructure.

Of course, a long time ago, governments started to work out that you could use those taxes to pay for armies to open up new markets and secure new cheap resources and labour to make rich people and politicians richer at the expense of the newly subjugated and exploited foreign populaces. But imperialism all got to be a bit too politically incorrect for the populaces at home who benefitted from the aforementioned subjugated and exploited foreign peoples and ate and got fat and read books that helped them believe that far-away funny looking tribes were people too, just like them.

So the overt imperial actions weren’t right and proper anymore. So, they had to work out how they could still grow their corporate empires, open up new markets and secure cheap resources. And, with the help of politicians that were either family, businessmen themselves or easily bought poorly paid public servants, they fostered plutocracies, oligarchies and later corporatocracies. These were fantastic because the public paid taxes and thus externalised the costs of opening those markets and securing those resources while they could reap the rewards. Good old lemon socialism of socializing costs while privatising profits.

However, you need a pretext to get around that sticky issue of why those armies are going abroad to do all this. So you drag media institutions into your corporate empire to control the narrative and get some spooks on the ground to do your bidding in exchange for some nice kickbacks and well-paid security jobs once they’ve had enough of getting government salaries. This lot fabricate global scenarios where the army’s needed as a sort of global policeman to control those pesky foreign uneducated savages that haven’t civilised quite as much as we have with our iPads and our Dunkin Donuts and our Strictly Come Dancing.

Now, if you’re a smart businessman you can also make the guns and the lovely helmets and the uniforms and supply the food that an occupying army eats. And again, the great thing is that this is all funded by taxes paid by Joe and Sally Bloggs that never see the receipt and the guy doing the procuring is also open to a nice kickback so you can charge whatever you bloody want. What a coup. Sometimes quite literally.

So, you’re now a diversified corporation with media, military arms and equipment, food and beverages, and a hundred other diverse business interests. Even when you think the original markets you were targeting have been saturated and you’ve secured the maximal volume of resources you were looking for, you still have these other wings of your business. And that tax money will stop rolling in and actually possibly be spent on what it should be being used for at home if you don’t quickly find something else for the army to do so you can keep clothing, arming, and feeding them at fabulously profitable prices.

You’ve also got in your employ politicians and spooks that aren’t happy with making 50K a year and want to remain relevant. A few of those politicians also get voted in by people that either work for the military, have worked for the military, or whose living depends on the military, so they won’t be voting for your politicians if they lost their jobs.

You’ve therefore  got a heady mix of factors creating an inexhorable force lurching from one conflict to another. Sucking up taxes, keeping hundreds of thousands in jobs, and making you, the canny corporate CEO, a rich man and providing fantastic returns on investment for your shareholders.

So, you’ve got some country’s administration that doesn’t want to open up their market to you. Could be a secular society, all going along ok. It’s not perfect but give them time and distance and they’ll develop. But that doesn’t help your business interests. It doesn’t help your share value grow. You’d better get the spooks and the editors on the phone and start whispering in a few ears via those lobbyists you’ve got on staff in the corridors of power. You could fix up to have a lovely new war.

There’s a load of lovely cash to be made from all those taxes as usual and at the end of it you’ve got the new market, the resources, and you can diversify further into building and civil engineering to fix the country that’s just been blown to bits by the missiles you sold to all those lads wearing the uniforms you made while eating the pizzas you sell and drinking the beverage you’re now able to start putting into your new franchise shops in the cities and towns of this newly regime changed country. It’s a win win…..win win win.

Oh and don’t forget, back home you’ve got everyone tuning into the coverage every day on your television channels, boosting your ad revenues and increasing the exposure of your other products. Meanwhile, you’re creating loads of new terrorists by blowing up their families and that makes the folks on their sofas in Mansfield and Salt Lake City scared so the politicians and the spooks have got an excuse to get some more nice kickbacks when they procure all that great new snooping software and tech. Guess who makes that?

A Social Learning Network – Part 2

After a relatively long break, this is the second part of my blog on creating a social learning network or SLN. This will not be as detailed as the previous as work on the SLN was halted for reasons I’ll discuss later, but as usual this blog provides me with a repository for my research, work, and collected thoughts which I can look at later and hopefully other readers might make sense of benefit from.

This blog will really answer the very important question below:

How can we get our learners interested in a SLN? 

The continued success of Facebook demonstrates that the public are in general interested in social-networking. So why use a platform like Ning and not use Facebook itself which is, of course, the runaway market leader in social networking?

Well, institutional/authority participation in Facebook can be seen as an intrusion into someone’s private domain. A lot of people tend to feel inclined to compartmentalize their online identities, ‘work here, studies here, life here’. I myself do this. It has become apparent that I use Facebook for more playful social networking and LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and my blog site for more academic and professional pursuits.

‘Ning provides an ave­nue for instructors to take advantage of social networks in a neutral setting, offering functionality and an experience that are familiar and comfortable to students. By creating social networks around academic topics, or even about specific projects for a course, an instructor can facilitate a strong sense of community among the students, encouraging personal interactions that can lead to the creation of new knowledge and collective intelligence’ Link

When we create our own SLN for a specific audience we have the opportunity to create the network in a way that behaves as we believe it should – but we have to always think about the end-user. How should it work FOR THEM and not us. Unique challenges result from who your end users will be.

There is a potential issue regarding how Facebook is constantly changing/evolving and as a result the norms and expectations related to wider social network use might change too so if we create a SLN we need to be mindful that it will likely always be evolving too. Standing still is rarely a good option in any field, but when it comes to the Internet, learning, and technology in general, this has to be doubly important to avoid, particularly if you are operating in a competitive field.

Unfortunately…

….while I was developing of the social learning network, we received the news that the department for which the SLN was being created was to close down and as a result the funding for the monthly subscription would cease and therefore the site would no longer be accessible.

The above news was very disappointing because as someone that works in the field of instructional design, you want to see things you research and develop come to fruition and you can learn from the failures and success of what you’ve created. The further implications on a personal level will be discussed in a future blog.

Further reading

Some further reading for social learning network use, development, and the Ning platform can be found below. I hope I’ll be able to return to it soon to fully develop and launch one.

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-05112010-235930/unrestricted/Park_Y_D_2010.pdf 

http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1078/2077 

http://www.ascilite.org/conferences/sydney13/program/papers/Hughes.pdf 

http://etec.hawaii.edu/proceedings/2009/hoffman.pdf 

https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7036.pdf

 

A Social Learning Network – Part 1

In my work, I’ve been tasked with creating a social learning network. In this blog and those follow, I’ll gather my thoughts and draw on a number of resources to try to make sense of its design and implementation.

Ultimately, across the two or three blogs I’ll add, I’m going to try and answer the following questions:

  • What is a social learning network?
  • Why would we want a social learning network? 
  • How can we create our own branded social learning network? 
  • How can we get our learners interested in it?
  • How can we promote self-directed learning? 
  • Can we foster an environment where students generate their own content?
  • How can we secure buy-in from teachers? 
  • Can this social learning network provide increased web presence which translates to increased business?

Over the course of the blogs covering this design, ultimately I’ll explore how in order to create differentiation from our competitors and add real value to course offerings, how can we create a branded social learning network that engenders productive learner interaction, self-directed learning, student-generated content, and has buy-in from teachers.

In this first blog, I’ll try and address the first three questions.

What is a social learning network?

Well, obviously, first it’s a social network so you can think Facebook to a great respect but in the case of a social learning network, the interactions would be between learners and teachers around materials specifically posted as learning objects or artefacts that are the culmination of learning  activities.

The ideal scenario in a social learning network is that it provides a space where learners can ‘acquire, master, and then themselves disseminate knowledge to others’ (Wiki). For example, a learner could create a video of her discussing a particular concept covered on a course and then post it for other students to watch and comment on or students could read an article posted by the teacher and post a similar one themselves.

It also provides a medium for students to collaborate online. Combining their skills to produce something or simply using the network as a communication channel to discuss work allocated by the teacher and achieve understanding and solve problems together.

Why would we want a social learning network? 

A company concerned with educating/training would want a social learning network for a number of reasons of which what I have just discussed would be of great import. In the communication age, leveraging the power of the internet has to be a must. Not only does it afford the possibilities for collaboration, dissemination of information and materials, and communication; it is a practical acknowledgement of how we now learn and even think.

Every field of study can no longer be seen as a static collection of concepts. Knowledge is continually evolving, more information is being created and made available immediately. As educators we have to plug into that and facilitate our learners becoming a part of a network of potential resources where they can explore a subject and become agents in their own learning journey through self-directed learning and the continued learning that comes from having these new connections to the potential sources of information we try and place in their reach.

As a corporate training department, part of our remit should be to not only educate learners with what is within a particular book. We should not limit ourselves to achieving the specified learning objectives. We should be in the business of producing learners who are prepared continue that learning in a specific field independent of those interactions they have with us. To create life-long, or at least career-long learners who will provide value for their employers. And in terms of the cost/benefit to those employers, our clients, we want to provide as great a benefit as we can for their investment.

There is also the value in relation to sales of having that supplemental offering to our products with the aforementioned learning benefits as well as consolidating our brand as an organisation at the forefront of our field.

How can we create our own branded social learning network?

While there are other platforms that could be used, we’ll be using Ning. I’ll be detailing the benefits of Ning and why it will be an appropriate choice for what we wish to do, but I’ll admit that perhaps one reason that Ning was initially raised as a possible SLN provider is that it has been used by the organisation before.

Its use was actually unsuccessful, and I’ll be exploring perhaps why that was the case in a future blog and applying those lessons learnt to the design and implementation of this SLN for the corporate training department.

Ning

Here’s a brief video detailing what Ning is and how it can be used.

So, Ning is an online platform for people and organisations to create custom social networks. Ning allows us to create our own name for the SLN and brand it with personalised design choices, images, and theme colours etc.

It’s important to perhaps note what Ning isn’t. It’s not a Learning Management system. It’s not directly a method for us, for example, to make materials available to students that missed classes or a platform on which we can add traditional e-learning lessons.

But…what it doesn’t have, the open internet does.

Picture of web apps and social network sites that can be used within Ning

The wider web offers so much functionality to use within Ning

So Ning can provide a customizable hub for wider web use.

Functionality

So lets look at the functionality of Ning and explore how we can exploit it for what we want to do.

Groups

Ning groups example page

Ning groups example credit – http://www.ning.com/ning3help/create-groups/

So first there’s the functionality that we can create groups within our network. A group can be assigned to an individual class and also to the subject area that that class might be studying. Groups can be set up like Matryoshka dolls, one within the other with differing levels of access to individual students by virtue of those groups being public or private and assigning admissions.

Accessibility

These groups can have individual URLs for ease of access and bookmarking. Students and clients can be filtered into their respective groups/sub-groups via email invitations or via profile questions. Each student will have access to their specific class and subject area group and any other groups that are open and might be of interest to them.

Ning group naming function

Ning group naming function – credit http://www.ning.com/help/?p=5200

Critically, students can sign in via existing social network memberships, i.e., if they have Facebook accounts they can simply click to join with that and they’ll have instant profile presence. From my own experience, this is a great labour-saving function and when we’re trying to coax in users that might not be overly enthused by what this product might be, the ease of access and perhaps the comfort that it integrates with their existing social networks might be of great help in at least ‘getting them through the door’.

Alternative social network login access image

Alternative social network login access – credit http://www.ning.com/blog/2010/11/introducing-social-sign-in.html

In relation to the devices that can be used, Ning can be accessed via all devices as it uses responsive design which is ‘is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)’ (Wiki). It also makes use of HTML5 which means the latest multimedia should be easily readable on devices.

Content functionality

Within these groups which can be categorized according to general subject area or specific class groups, we can add blogs, videos, images, links and so on.

We can also add RSS feeds covering areas pertinent to that particular subject or class. For example, we could add feeds adding info on business news for a specific Business English class and the Business English subject area itself, or feeds related to recruitment to a class for a class made up of recruitment consultancy staff.

RSS Feeds info from Ning website

RSS Feeds info – credit http://www.ning.com/help/?p=3257

This negates the need for constant manual updates on our part to ‘make it look busy’. This would hopefully promote student-centred exploration of the topic being covered in the classes and begin to make learners aware of the possibilities afforded to them by plugging themselves into these networks of resources to enhance their abilities.

Leveraging the wider web

As I mentioned earlier, this SLN is not a traditional LMS. However, we can also add links to any of the materials we want to make available to subject area groups or specific group classes via cloud storage options such as Dropbox or Google Drive. We can upload videos or audio recordings of classes via sites such as YouTube. Adding videos of classes, lectures, or class activities provides learners with the opportunities to review what’s been done or gain new insight into a subject area.

SLN as a shop window

However, for some videos that we produce, we may want to add them to open groups for other learners and our clients who will have access to the SLN themselves. We might also at some stage want to start offering videos of classes to showcase what we do in other subject areas that can be viewed by students and clients within the community. They may see possible products that they would like to take or invest in in the future. The SLN can provide a shop window as well as an environment to promote learning.

Student-generated content

Students can add their own videos of class activities or things done outside or any links they have found and written work for others to read either via their own initiative or as guided by the instructor. These can provide a rich resource of blended learning and student-generated content for us to exploit in class as well as providing further resources for the immediate group and wider community.

Repositories for future materials

When content is added to groups by either learners or instructors, this can provide repositories for future use for instructors in future classes and it remains as possible material for clients to view to aid repeat-business.

Metrics, Measurement, Analytics

Ning has analytics functions. We can gather contact and demographic information, see who is active, who isn’t, and where and decide what is and isn’t working as a result. This is a very helpful tool in improving our products but there are ethics involved regarding using it to gauge learners engagement levels or output of students if elements of SLN use become more than supplementary offerings and become intrinsic parts of courses. I wrote a blog on the ethics of analytics use here.

Future API functionality

Ning state that they will have API functionality in the future. This essentially should mean that were we to want to create interactive e-learning content with tools such as Captivate or Articulate in future, we might be able to add it to our SLN. For example, short graphic user interface lessons could be added with games and quizzes. If we ever wanted to use the SLN as a place where intrinsic parts of course content took place, this would be a great option to have.

Summary

This could, if exploited correctly engender a change in our general work-practice culture. It could promote greater integration of online, digital elements and student-generated content into our classroom teaching, and change our view of what we do to focus more clearly on preparing learners for continued self-directed independent learning in future.

The goal here isn’t more work for classroom instructors; It’s leveraging the power of the internet and digital media which could ultimately mean less work and more engaging and richer learning scenarios.

However getting the approach right and achieving buy-in from all stakeholders including instructors, learners, clients, and administrative staff is vital. This is what I’ll be exploring in future blogs where I’ll be exploring some of the relevant research.

Conspiracy Theories, Confirmation Bias, and our Search for Narratives

I’ve said before that this blog is called Multiple Tracks as I’d like to write about a number of things. It’s also a repository for my thoughts and I’ve often felt that adding long verbose posts to Facebook is somewhat of a waste due to the fleeting nature of the format. So in this blog, I’ll briefly discuss my thoughts on something that came up today as a result of a Facebook post by a friend that also relates to a wider perspective I’ve developed on the world.

The video he posted was this:

I’ve rarely given the 9/11 conspiracy much time. Noam Chomsky calls it ‘a distraction’ and I’d generally agree with that, perhaps. He and a number of others ask a few simple questions that cut to the heart of the matter. If the government were to have actually done this in order to build support for a war in Iraq, then why blame Saudi nationals, their allies? It’s there on a plate to blame Iraqis. No need for the WMD narrative and so on.
Then there’s the fact that there’s a lack of credibility to the idea that so many people, working for so many different agencies, institutions, and organisations; so many disparate moving parts, would be able to keep this a secret, and keep it a secret for 14 years.
One of the best books I’ve ever read is The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In it he talks, as many other have, about how humans look for patterns. We try to make sense of the world by building a familiar narrative to meld together the chaos so that our tiny minds can conceive of agency and causation, good and evil, light and dark.
The JFK assassination was perhaps an earlier exemplification of how something so incredible, so unexpected, and so life-changing can happen that people simply can’t believe it was the random act of such a small and insignificant person. It had to be something bigger, something darker.
Taleb also introduced me for the first time to the concept of confirmation bias. Humans, very often to fit these narratives that we have framed, look to support their hypotheses by finding only information that does so and disregarding that which doesn’t. That video, for example, appears to be exactly this, a single track of cherry-picked disparate facts that fit the 9/11 conspiracy narrative. All conveniently compressed into an easily sharable 5 minute video.
I rather ascribe to perhaps something which I’ll coin right now, ‘the Conspiracy Theorist Industrial Complex Conspiracy Theory’ where conspiracy theory celebrities like Alex Jones and David Icke make millions of dollars every year and their audience continue to huddle in corners of the internet discussing FEMA Camps and chemtrails, while the true ills in society go unchallenged other than by the few genuine activists engaging in real debate, hitting the streets to demonstrate, or simply doing their best to affect real change in their small sphere of influence.
To not be guilty of confirmation bias myself, I’ll admit for the record, that I don’t totally disregard the idea that there was government ‘False Flag’ involvement in 9/11. I’ll just say that I’m undecided yet very sceptical but I’d certainly prefer to be counted among those people doing their best to affect that small real change locally and hope that this can someday be a part of something bigger and better.

Learning Analytics Ethical Considerations and Implementation Recommendations

So, in this blog I’m going to discuss the ethical considerations and implementation of learning analytics in a corporate training context. This specifically leads on from the flipped learning project design I’ve discussed previously. The discussion is therefore focused on my particular context, but I think the overarching ideas relating to ethics and implementation can be considered in many other contexts and fields.

Learning Analytics Cycle

The Learning Analytics Cycle by Doug Clow @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

Organisation Context

So, to introduce the context, the learning analytics implementation is for the British Council Thailand’s Professional Training Centre (PTC) in Bangkok. I’ll detail the primary ethical considerations and recommendations on good practice in the implementation of learning analytics in the development and use of the new flipped learning department product in a Thai corporate training context.

What are Learning analytics?

Learning analytics can be defined as how data about learners is measured, collected, analysed, and acted upon to optimize learning and the learning environments in which that learning occurs.

Potential benefits

Learning analytics may provide us with the means to bridge the gap that relates to a number of potential issues such as students lack of engagement, motivation, and difficulties with online materials as well as the fact that the teachers do not have the visual and interaction cues that signal those difficulties. With learning analytics we could identify those at-risk students or those that are not engaging with the materials to plan interventions that will support their learning journey.

Analytics will be used in this context as part of the online aspects of the flipped learning courses to identify whether learning designs are being adhered to. This will ensure learners are prepared for the in-class sessions. Through the analysis of learners’ habits, actions, interactions, failures and successes in their use of the LMS, the content, and devices used, the PTC can make predictions of learners’ requirements, and how to improve materials, communication, and access to inform the development of our courses going forward. This will make our product more effective and therefore we will become more competitive and increase our likelihood of receiving future business from clients.

Potential Barriers

The introduction of learning analytics and therefore the flipped learning product itself will not be successful if:

  • there is no buy-in from students and educators, they must appreciate that it complements the teaching and learning processes
  • responsible parties do not have sufficient time or training to use it
  • learners do not have sufficient time to study the materials

Also, we cannot measure all online learning undertaken by prospective students. Some of that learning will happen outside of our LMS on websites and social networks that we may not be able to extract data from.

What are ethics in Learning Analytics?

Ethical issues for learning analytics fall into three overlapping categories: where data is located and how it is interpreted; informed-consent, privacy and de-identification of data; and how it is managed, classified and stored.

What makes data in a learning context unique and distinct from data’s use in marketing, for example, is how it relates to moral practice, the identification of students as developing participatory agents in its collection and use, and the necessity for being transparent in that use.

Areas of concern

Areas we need to be mindful of can be:

  • Mislabelling students based on incomplete, incorrect, or inaccurately collected information
  • Not considering the factors relating to students’ personal lives, emotional states, social, and economic factors that are not observable
  • Restricting avenues of learning to our materials and course alone in preparation for what may occur in the in-class elements, i.e., maybe a student prepares with books they have access to

Critically, in this Thai corporate training context, we need to consider the power-relations between all stakeholders, learners, teachers, clients, administrators, and management. We need to adopt a socio-critical perspective which necessitates being cognizant of the manner in which cultural, political, social, physical and economic contexts in Thailand inform our decisions in learning analytics. This should naturally apply also in any context. Put simply, think of who you’re dealing with and consider the culture in which your work is being applied.

Considerations for introducing / using analytics

Learner Perspective

Learners’ expectations and perceptions must be managed carefully. Their engagement with online materials should be engendered by the learning design and not the threat of failure on the course or the notification of their superiors of inappropriate or incomplete use of the materials such as skipping quickly through lesson pages.

Internet Surveillance image of eye on computer screen

Internet Surveillance by Mike Licht @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

This type of surveillance atmosphere may result in demotivation and resentment, potentially affecting future revenues. It will be necessary to personalize reporting that can be understood by learners and clearly relate to the enhanced effectiveness of their learning. Transparency and the opportunity to provide qualitative feedback is a requirement.

Educator Perspective

In our flipped learning online designs we will try to promote continued learning by adopting the principles of Connectivist learning theory, where we look to foster within learners the appreciation of their finding and becoming a part of networks of specialist connections where they can source and provide information. We must, therefore, consider how this portion of learning is ensured.

Generally, the learning designs might reflect this in work then conducted in class such as the learners presenting what they learned and found online or providing evidence in printouts etc. as instructed by specific tasks that pushed them to look beyond the boundaries of the e-learning environment and into the wilds of the Internet proper.

However, we can also look to employ web-forums so that learners produce and reflect on the evidence there. Analytics can produce information as to whether this has been done. However, some learners will find these activities more difficult due to their English competency. There is also the contextual factor of face in Thai society which may make these kinds of interactions, where their work is out there for everyone to see, difficult.

Finally, whoever is chosen to interpret the accumulated data needs to understand the context of that individual learner at that point in the course and how their interpretation of the data and their resultant actions have ethical consequences. Essentially again, we have to consider that our learners are people and our actions might have far-ranging consequences for them.

Organisation Perspective

It is likely that any organisation will have to be judicious in what information is shared with clients. Learners will have to be made aware of what is collected, why, what it is used for, and what will be provided to their superiors.

It might be that the interventions or lack thereof would be based on shared characteristics or trends in the cohorts. For example, if the cohort as a whole which will be involved in the in-class productive elements of the flipped learning courses are not engaging with the online parts of the course, then that may have to be raised with the client but not before we investigate whether there is an issue with the materials or the technologies used in its delivery.

However, interventions must be weighed against priorities. Do we maximise the effectiveness of our learning designs, or ensure profitability? We may run the risk of alienating learners with certain interventions and this may adversely affect our chances of getting clients to return to us in the future by virtue of negative feedback from learners provided to their superiors. On the flip-side, some employers may welcome that stringent approach. One might suppose that this would be something to be considered at the initial stages of discussion with the (prospective) client based on accrued information from past dealings or knowledge of their general working environment and policies. Information such as this is becoming more and more available through webistes such as Glassdoor.com where ’employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management’ (Wiki).

Useful resources

Here are a few helpful resources that could help an organisation interested in applying learning analytics. I’ll explain their strengths and weaknesses as to show how they can be used, but also what needs to be considered in relation to that potential use.

Resource 1

Ethical use of Student Data for Learning Analytics Policy FAQs

Strengths

  • Good overview of considerations for the ethical use of student data
  • Gives information on how personal information can be updated
  • Details what tutors have access to and why
  • Could be used as a model

Weaknesses

  • Does not set out how data might be secured
  • Potential differences in learner/educator relationship between OU and other contexts
  • No information on ethics relating to making data available to superiors which might impact learners’ progress in careers

Resource 2

Using information to support student learning

Strengths

  • Attractively designed document
  • Could provide a model
  • Sets out principles of ethical use
  • Sets out the shared responsibility of the student and the organisation for their learning

Weaknesses

  • Clients may desire a more stringent surveillance
  • Courses generally tailored to individual clients
  • Document would be expensive

Resource 3

Policy on Ethical use of Student Data for Learning Analytics

Strengths

  • Detailed information covered in Resource 2
  • Can be made available to learners and clients for deeper understanding

Weaknesses

  • Long and detailed
  • Possibly unlikely to be read by most learners

Recommendations for good practice

Finally, based on what has been discussed above, I’d like to make some recommendations.

Recommendation 1

Ensure learners have full understanding of what is collected, why and the benefits afforded by it. It should also be clearly explained to them that they will have opportunities to provide feedback on this area of their course. This and the transparency of use is a potential antidote to the resistance that might be felt in regards to the interpretation of learning analytics as surveillance.

Recommendation 2

Involve teachers/trainers that will be conducting any in-class elements of the courses in the discussion regarding what analytics should be sought and used. Teachers should also have full participation in intervention processes as to give feedback on the individual learners’ in-class performance. This could necessitate training and would have to be built into the teacher/trainer’s schedule which might adversely affect profitability of the product due to staffing hours and might need to be figured into course prices.

Recommendation 3

As opposed to a purely administrative role, the responsibility of interpreting the learning analytics data should be someone with the relevant educational training and understanding of the materials and pertinent ethics. This might safeguard against someone jeopardising existing client relationships by being too systematic in their decision-making regarding what they perceive as actionable insights. Creating a role with specialized responsibilities might ensure that good informed judgements on interventions and client notifications of learners’ misconduct are made.

Finish Line sign

Finish Line by Jayneandd @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

To conclude, the main theme that can be drawn from the above, perhaps, is that while learning analytics can be powerful tools in learning contexts, affording us to have a greater perspective and improved insights on the learning that may go on outside of the four walls of a classroom or training room, we must consider the consequences of how they are implemented and when we take action on what we see.

Comments as always are welcome.

Flipped Learning

In this blog, I’ll explain how I have become so interested in and enthusiastic about the potential of flipped learning. This is a moderately adapted report I wrote for my current corporate training centre (the PTC) within the British Council in Bangkok.

Flipped Learning image

Flipped Learning by Deirdre2 @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

It’s a report on e-learning innovation and it’s split into four sections. In the first section, I provide a definition of innovation in e-learning. In the second section, I discuss the PTC’s current context and detail three e-learning interventions that might be positively employed within the department. In the third section, I detail some concerns while the final section will consist of a brief conclusion.

Innovation in E-learning Definition

At the core of innovation is change. Change can be the development and implementation of new devices or practices to replace or complement existing tools and operations. However, innovation is defined by the context in which it exists. A familiar process in one context used for the first time in another to affect change would constitute innovation. In e-learning, a central consideration would be whether the introduction of a new technology positively affects or facilitates a change in pedagogy within that context or whether it is a new tool used in the continuance of traditional styles of instruction.

PTC Context

The British Council Thailand’s PTC is responsible for providing corporate clients from a variety of sectors with corporate training and English language instruction.

At the time of writing, sales were low with few new classes opening and the team and to meet management utilization targets, the numbers of trainers had been contracting. Market research had yet to be undertaken to ascertain why. However, informal anecdotal evidence suggests that though the PTC could capitalise on the British Council’s prestige as an educational provider, its price-point for its products is perceived as too high when there is little differentiation in products from cheaper competitors. This, to my knowledge remains the same today.

In relation to e-learning products, while the British Council develops and provides online e-learning products, but at this point the PTC offers no e-learning products or services to clients.

As a result of the above, I felt that the department required attractive differentiation from its competitors while also providing a more inexpensive solution for clients. But to safeguard the department and the wider organisation’s reputation as a high quality provider, any shift had to be based on solid pedagogical principles to ensure learning goals were achieved.

So what is Flipped Learning?

A flipped classroom is a rearrangement of how and where learning takes place. In contrast to a traditional classroom, the focus is shifted from teacher-centred instruction to student-centred learning. Direct instruction no longer takes place in the classroom with the teacher. It occurs online. Class time is dedicated to more collaborative, project-based learning.

Flipped Learning process diagram

Flipped Learning process diagram

Online instruction does not necessitate the teacher to be present and the materials, once designed can be used again and again in later classes. This decreases the cost of courses for the PTC, resulting in a more inexpensive product.

How can this be facilitated?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a necessary technology to implement new methods of instruction in the information age. An LMS is a software application that allows a user to automate the administration, assembly, and delivery of digital learning content. If flipped learning is the goal, the LMS is what facilitates the online delivery. There can be the application of structure to specific courses with modules of online instruction culminating in modes of assessment to ensure understanding before in-class components.

It is the experience of many educators that some learners fail to understand some concepts and therefore flounder in freer activities. This is often true in English mixed-ability classes. However, with online learning facilitated by the LMS, Students can as Vygotsky put it ‘theoretically pace their learning….using student-centered pedagogies aimed at their readiness level or zone of proximal development, where they are challenged but not so much so that they are demoralized’. For example, if an instructor provides a video giving instruction on a particular concept, learners with lower aptitudes can pause and rewind it or choose to read captions or transcripts if available. Another benefit from the teacher’s perspective is that less focus is applied to ensuring lower-level learners are up-to-speed, giving more time to focus on feedback and the individual needs of all.

Also, as educators in the field of corporate training, our responsibility is to enhance learners’ ability to operate in their context with the training provided. In the information age, engendering a more connectivist approach to learning would potentially address this. Connectivism relates to how learning is now a process of making and maintaining connections to nodes of specialized information sources to facilitate continual learning. In the traditional classroom instruction model, information is imparted in a one-size-fits all manner. In contrast, in a flipped classroom course using an LMS, this approach can be replaced by a greater emphasis on active learning where it is the student’s responsibility to understand the content and solve problems. The student learns in a way that best suits them individually. This factor and incorporating tasks into the learning designs where information can be specifically gathered outside of the course framework from websites, their own experience, or from a peer group online or otherwise, might result in the learner making those connections that will benefit them in future.

Flipped Learning Research

Research by the Flipped Learning Network in conjunction with ClassroomWindow found the following for teachers:

  • Associated Flipped Learning with improved student performance and attitudes, and increased job satisfaction
  • 66% reported increased standardised test scores
  • 80% perceived an improvement in students’ attitudes towards learning

The Flipped Learning and Democratic Education survey in 2012 reported the following in relation to students:

80% of students agreed that they…

  • Had more constant and positive interactions
  • Had greater opportunities to work at own pace
  • Had increased access to course material and instruction
  • Had more choice in how they demonstrate their learning
  • Viewed learning as a more active process

70% of students agreed that they…

  • Were more likely to engage in collaborative decision making
  • Were more likely to engage in critical thinking and problem solving
  • Teachers were more likely to take into account their interests, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Were more likely to have a choice in what learning tasks they engage in

Learning Analytics

Learning analytics is, says George Siemens ‘the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning’. They can function to make sense learners actions achieving their learning goals and aid institutions in improving their learning designs.

So, through the analysis of learners habits, actions, interactions, failures and successes in their use of the LMS, the content, devices used, and data from social networks, and semantic data, the PTC could make predictions of learners’ requirements, and how to best adjust curriculums, materials, communication, and access to optimize the learning experiences. This would result in effective and sustainable products that were constantly adapting to shifting learning, social, and technological trends.

I’ll cover the ethics of learning analytics in a future blog.

Concerns

A primary concern is access to devices, bandwidth, and learners’ technological competence in engaging with materials and achieving the course objectives on the LMS. A possible solution is materials being available in alternative formats. To ensure the PTC’s adherence to the principles of universal design in relation to accessibility and the British Council’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion, this should be the case, regardless. A key element to initial needs analysis for PTC representatives would now incorporate an analysis of the above factors.

Another concern is the additional responsibility placed on learners outside their existing responsibilities. It is possible that if the time to undertake the online elements of courses are shifted outside of work hours, there may be resistance to it and decreased participation. Clients should make appropriate decisions regarding the cost/benefit analysis of not scheduling time for study. Furthermore, the PTC would need to delineate the benefits of undertaking the online element as to engender greater intrinsic motivation.

Conclusion

As I stated at the beginning of the blog, I’m very enthusiastic regarding this medium of learning, particularly so when you try to in-build connectivist theory within the learning designs to promote continued learning. While this scenario is for non native speaker learners, I feel that it can relate to many different spheres and industries and is, of course, already being implemented all over the world. Some organisations are just a little slower than others.

An Exploration of Radicalisation Using Digital Storytelling

So in this blog, I’d like to run through one of the interesting projects I’ve been a part of for my MA course on E-learning innovation with the Open University.

This was a project where I’d be working with a geographically dispersed group of people to design a learning artefact on a subject that we had little experience of and facilitating others to learn about that subject through the medium of Digital Storytelling. This is an adaptation of the report I wrote on my experiences. It will be helpful for me to review what we did and it may be of use to anyone reading if they have to undertake something similar.

Situation

We were given the task of using digital storytelling to explore social/cultural/ethical dilemmas and instructed to choose either a professional domain, or a school subject, where learners would need to develop an awareness of a social, cultural or ethical issue and make informed and considered judgements with a view to learning whether digital storytelling could provide an effective educational tool.

Team members:

Name and Profession Responsibilities Technical competencies Location Further notes: aspirations / hopes for project etc.
Bob Bennell –Police Trainer Examine new ways to deliver training, reduce necessity for classroom-based 20 years experience in IT UK Would like to use Google Hangouts and desires to explore storytelling to bring subjects to life
Stephen Penney (Steve P) – Deputy Headteacher Safeguarding SMSC (British values), community/employability links, teaching, and teacher training UK
Huw Davies Works at a private English language school and has a part time job teaching second year students at a university Japan (GMT+9) Doing the module for personal interest. Has no experience of a project of this type and indicated that he’d be working while most were asleep
Steve Bell (Steve B) – E-learning professional Has worked in e-learning across wide variety of levels and contexts Web and software development experience and has high levels of experience utitilising Google apps including Sites UK Has no context in mind for the project but wants to incorporate Google apps into all levels of communication and build
Gareth Davies – Corporate Training Consultant Works in business training, English language instruction, and academic preparation. Has experience of using Learning Management systems, e-learning authoring tools, and minimal use of Google apps Thailand (GMT+7) Expressed an interest in using video editing software in future but no preferences regarding context for the project
Simon Hobbs Working with county councils to develop leadership and management training UK Keen to use e-learning more in professional role

Task

The group members came from diverse professional backgrounds, and a number of the members in the initial introduction thread stated no particular preference for a topic. Stephen Penney raised the idea of radicalization as he felt that Digital Storytelling with the focus of a current social/cultural issue might lend itself to the topic.

Steve B noted that there were two very different approaches available to us in designing a digital storytelling learning design. The first was to facilitate learners in telling their own stories. Alternatively, we would create a digital story targetting specific learning objectives.

Huw said he felt the latter approach would be best. This was supported by Steve P, making reference to an example of good practice by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and adding that an exploration of why people become radicalized or migrate could be an option.

Ultimately, in our second online meeting, we clarified our ultimate goal of creating a learning resource to raise awareness about radicalization in the UK with a target audience of young people.

Roles

Role Name Reasoning
Team Leader Huw A process of elimination left the Team Leader role to Huw
Connector Simon To monitor for connections in our ideas, themes, research
Media Manager 1 Gareth Preference due to potential responsibilities providing desired practical experience
Project Manager and Media Manager 2 Steve B Professional experience as a manager and experience of managing Google apps respectively
Researcher Bob Across the group, members had little experience of digital storytelling, so Bob volunteered to collate research on that aspect
Subject Matter Expert Steve P Steve P was the sole member with experience related to the topic area of radicalization

Actions

Communication

Steve B set up a Google+ community space for our project team. He designed it as to have one central point for communication and resource sharing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.33.31

Links were provided to the project’s website, a shared Google folder where we could upload and store materials and later host our individual stories. There were also links to Google Docs documents for a Project Plan drawn up by Steve B that we could all access and modify, and a contact sheet for all members. Importantly, Steve B set up a Meeting Room for Hangouts which we could use at any time in order to chat about the progress of the project or to ensure that there were no technical issues prior to one of our weekly Sunday meetings.

All meetings were scheduled for 2pm BST on a Sunday by mutual agreement. With myself and Huw in Asia this was an ideal time. The meetings took place on 24/5, 31/5, and 7/6. After the third meeting, communication was solely via the Google+ Community using Google Hangouts.

Obstacles

As media manager, one obstacle I had at the beginning was never using Google sites before. However, with Google and YouTube tutorials I learnt its functionality by making changes while reacting to the needs of the group in the development of the project. Requests and following the progress of the design were made simpler via some of the functionality of the Communities page.

When an issue was raised for specific members, typing, for example, ‘+Bob Bennell’ would send them a notification.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.38.29

Also, any post made necessitated it be categorized according to the area of the project to which it was related.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.39.13

This made it easy to find information according to the area you were working on at any given time.

Development

Team members’ levels of participation/input seemed to fluctuate, and, therefore, a lot of what we did was not entirely synchronous. A great deal of work was done after mutual agreement in meetings and prior to the next one. However, the Community providing such an easily navigable source of information and easy communication was invaluable.

We created imaginary personas from which were extrapolated factors and concerns to consider in regards to our learning design that resulted in forces that might shape our project and its implementation. The process was helpful in reminding us of the technical, methodological, cultural, and demographic diversity of our potential target learners and it will be something I may use again in future.

However, as was discussed in the second Hangouts meeting, as there was a lack of a unifying theme with most, this diversity indicated that it would potentially be counter-productive to develop our project with such a finite number of personas in mind. We felt that it would be more appropriate to the context of the issue discussed to keep a more open mind and make it as universally accessible as possible in terms of the choices of how we facilitated learning and the subject matter discussed around the topic.

Technical and Pedagogical Approaches

We had tacitly agreed in one of our discussions in Meeting 3 to maximize the number of modes in which to present our stories. This decision was made due to the fact that we were working asynchronously, had differing levels of technological competence, and for the sake of our stories appealing to as broad a range of learners and learning styles as possible.

From our preliminary research we compiled a bank of theoretical frameworks, case studies that shared similar fields and/or objectives to that which we envisaged as our own, and we had a list of potential subject areas to address. We identified that the subject matter was too multi-faceted and complex to be able to cover in its entirety, but we could look at our prototype as the beginning of a larger project with the unused themes being addressed at a later date having received feedback and made adjustments based thereon.

Our digital story was non-linear due to the nature of having these separate stories covering so many aspects of the subject matter which learners could access in any order they wanted, but the central thesis of informing learners about the subject of radicalization ran as a throughline connecting them.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.46.41

Results

From our theoretical frameworks and case studies, we derived design patterns and principles which aided us in conceptualizing and storyboarding our stories. Personally, I had been finding it very difficult to conceptualize what I was to do, but found this process and reading the preliminary research found by others and referring to the ongoing discussion in the increasingly invaluable Google Community space very helpful. Essentially, through a process of researching the topic area and finding appropriate authoritative work that could be explored for our prospective learners, we had the necessary content. Then by looking for similar digital storytelling projects and researching what they had learnt in regards to good practice and potential avenues of improvement and exploration, we found a method of delivering the content.

Finally, we created our prototypes based on our conceptualizations and added them to the site.

The Prototypes

The five digital stories that comprised our overall prototype were:

Radicalization in the Digital Era – A non-linear interactive digital story exploring how people can become radicalized in the digital era created with Twine, an open-source tool for creating interactive, nonlinear stories.

Ask the experts – A video of a Q&A with an expert discussing radicalization from a historical perspective.

Right and Rights – A second Twine-created non-linear interactive digital story exploring ethical dilemmas related to rights.

The Story of Radicalization – An exploration of the history of the concept of radicalization in a Google Slides presentation.

Has the Media Hijacked Radicalisation – A discussion of whether the term “radicalisation” been hijacked by the via a Google Slides presentation.

Evaluation

In writing the heuristics with which users could evaluate the prototype and its individual stories we wanted to ensure that what we had produced met the following criteria:

  1. Easy to navigate and understand for all users
  2. Learner outcomes clearly indicated and measurable
  3. Featured content overall engaging to a high proportion of learners
  4. The material leads towards additional information off site
  5. Materials promote critical learner reflection resulting in building personal strengths relating to understanding the social and ethical goals of the project
  6. Compliant with relevant ethical standards
  7. Organised in a manner clear to learner
  8. Featured interactive stories situate activity appropriately, define goals, constrain actions, provoke thought, and spark emotional responses
  9. Featured interactive stories are compelling by being interesting, immersive, appropriate in scale/length, having a sense of agency ‘being in control’, and replayable

My personal evaluation of the prototype

Heuristic Score 1 = Weak 5 = Strong Reasoning
1 3 No obvious areas of concern. Navigation straightforward but language could be less complex at times. User feedback key in this area.
2 2 Learner outcomes sometimes expressed for the learners but no learner quantifiable outcomes plugged into the design.
3 4 Varied modes and subject matter should equate to higher degrees of engagement in learners. User feedback again of importance here.
4 1 Other than self-directed by the learner, there is no linking to off-site material
5 2 The materials are varied and do attempt to promote emotional reactions and critical thought of complex issues, but there is are no activities or areas for discussion of concepts.
6 4 Much work was done to ensure ethical standards were met and it appears that the materials reflect that.
7 3 Ideally, more pictures and a more distinct site would be used to present the individual stories but clear and concise with short descriptions of content.
8 4 Feedback required but criteria appears to have been met.
9 4 Ideally, there would be more multimedia as to make the pages more engaging but otherwise, while feedback is again desired, the criteria appears to have been met.

Unexpected outcomes

Personally, I had not expected to be creating non-linear interactive digital stories. I had expected to be using video editing software. I also had not considered how much I would personally learn about the topic covered in the overall design too.

Reflections

The Process and the Product

Overall, the process was an excellent learning experience. I have learnt a great deal about what would be involved in the creative design process regarding research and conceptualization in areas I have little familiarity with, and I have a lot more insight into how to work as part of a geographically dispersed team.

I feel that central to any success for the project was the communication channels of the Google+ Community and how that served as a central area for all activity. I fear that without Steve B’s experience and his proactive engagement, our project would have been very different. This is an important point for me. When you’re low on experience, look to leverage the experience of others as much as possible, but always ensure that you make that person aware of how grateful you are and look to reciprocate in any way possible.

However, the group suffered to a degree as a result of a lack of regarding who did what. While a couple of members certainly took the lead, in this context we could not expect someone to be particularly forceful in telling others what to do and by when. Therefore, in future, I would look to ensure that there be clearer roles and assignation of tasks.

Simon Hobbs disappeared shortly after the roles were chosen. He was to be the connector, looking for linkages between ideas and research which possibly serves as a clue as to why there was less cohesiveness in what we were doing. Our work was disparate and individualised. There was little communication and feedback on what was updated to the site. Little feedback was given to the learning designs themselves and no discussion was evident in regards to their being a balance of pedagogy in our designs.

Crucially, there was a failure to think beyond the creation of our individual stories to create a rounded learning artefact with an introductory exercise introducing the subject of radicalisation, the middle section of individual stories, and then final activities or discussion where learners could use and demonstrate their learning which could also provide measurable outcomes.

Personal Contribution

Firstly, I have to again make reference to how instrumental Steve B had been in so many of the tasks that would have been solely my responsibility had he not been in the group. I feel I would have struggled a great deal and would not have been able to set up the integrated platform as he did.

Also, while I attended all of the meetings, I feel I did not greatly influence the direction in which the project went. My story, also, was heavily reliant on the work of others. Ultimately, the conceptual framework I used and the application used to create my interactive story had been found by Steve B.

Nevertheless, the case study material I utilised to ensure the authenticity and ethical and sensitive treatment of the story created was sourced by me and the story itself was an interesting and potentially immersive learning experience.

I feel that as the project developed, I communicated and contributed more. I took the initiative to improve the aesthetics of the site, and reacted to any issues with permissions or the site’s pages.

My Prototype

The research I used to explore the theme of radicalization in the information age was mainly Terrorism, Communication and New Media: Explaining Radicalization in the Digital Age and Radicalization in the Digital Era 

To explore the radicalization of people via digital media, I created a non-linear interactive digital story using the application Twine where the user reads the story in the third person of a protagonist and make choices as to that person’s actions.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 17.06.50

Radicalization Twine Storyboard

As you can see in the storyboard above, the story branches off in various directions based on those choices. The choices relate to decisions made regarding exposure to digital media that may have the effect of radicalizing that character, allowing the user to experience how this might happen to someone. Ideally, I would want the possible scenarios’ journeys to be based on real cases of radicalization but potentially branch off in directions that result in results for the character that are very different to reflect the fact that it is possible that radicalization of one sort or another can happen to anyone.

The Twine can be accessed here or can be downloaded and opened in your browser here

The story begins with the following question:

Who am I?

The answer to this is can be defined as the knowledge and experiences you possess and the actions you tale. A final component of that definition is the network of relationships we are a part of at any given time. Your friends, family, work colleagues.

How is communication technology changing this?

Communication technology such as the Internet and instant messaging extends our relationships beyond those face-to-face relationships. They extend our reach far beyond the limits set on us by geography. You are about to read a story. In this story you can make choices. These are the choices of another person but in taking this journey with him, you can perhaps appreciate how it is that someone might come to make choices that may seem utterly alien to you and possibly even evil. This story tells us of how someone very ordinary, just like you or I, can become radicalized by the choices he makes tied with the person he is.

The story introduces us to John Roberts. John Roberts is a young man in his early twenties. He lives in a quiet working class village in the midlands. He attends the local college where he studies computer science. His father is an unemployed ex-factory worker while his mother is a carer. He’s a shy and quiet boy with few friends who generally keeps to himself.

John has a decision to make. This isn’t a huge decision. It’s a simple everyday choice. The kind of choice we make every other minute. It’s a choice of what to expose ourselves to. A choice of what we see and read and the legion of cumulative forces that have brought that particular option to the screen or newspaper we are currently training our eyes on.

The choices John makes from here affect the person he is. Ultimately, John has moved from the indirect relationships of this imagined community of people whose connections are governed by their shared political beliefs alone to a direct relationship via electronic correspondence with a representative of a group that moves beyond the action of debate and information dissemination. As the correspondence continues, it becomes clear that the world-view narrative of this group matches that of John’s very closely. John, disenfranchised with the current politics of the ineffectual mainstream parties decides that he wants to prove his dedication to the cause.

Desiring above all to affirm his beliefs with action of his own, John makes a final choice.

Who is John today?

John today is still the combination of the knowledge he possesses, the network of relationships of which he is a part, and the actions he takes. However, all three of these factors have shifted and changed as a result of the choices made, the new relationships that have been fostered and the new knowledge resultant of those relationships. John finds himself now an extreme actor, radicalized by the narrative that was the result of the many other narratives that he came into contact with via social networks, the media, and his family. This is not a condmenation or a justification of who he is today. It is simply his story.

Beijing to London by Land and Sea – Part 7 Stockholm and Copenhagen to London

Stockholm

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I got off the ferry at breakfast time and followed some of my fellow passengers to the Stockholm underground where I took a train to Gamla Stan, the old town. I followed the signs to Ridderholmen and found my hotel, The Malardrottinghen Hotel, a renovated ship…..or is it a boat….maybe a yacht….I’m patently not very nautical. Regardless, I threw my luggage in my cabin before heading out to explore the city.

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Stockholm is a beautiful, modern, clean city. It’s very forward thinking but still very mindful of its past. With its cluster of islands connected by bridges, it’s also a wonderful city to walk around, and I was lucky that day, Easter Monday as the sky was blue, the air was crisp, and there was very little traffic.

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My plan was to get to the Vasa museum a few kilometres away but I wandered pretty aimlessly and got a little lost. Unlike Ulan Bator though, I was happy to get lost in Stockholm as it ensured that I would see a great deal more of the city than had I taken the direct route.

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Stockholm City Hall

For example, I unintentionally found myself outside the Stockholm City Hall, the venue of the annual Nobel Prize Banquet.

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There’s a lot of Turkish food in Stockholm, so I picked up a kebab for lunch.

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A true test of a great city is how good its selection of Adidas trainers in an Originals shop is. Stockholm’s was excellent. There you have it.

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Along the Strandvagen where many tourists walk to and from the island Djurgadsvagen that seems dedicated to museums such as the Vasa and other cultural sites there are moored lots of older wooden boats decorated and furnished with individual character. Sadly, perhaps some of them need a little maintenance as one of them had sunk.

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Two old women on a bridge chatting about stuff

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 Unfortunately, the Vasa was closed for renovation to reopen in the summer so I went next door to a modern art museum called the Spritmuseum. The Spritmuseum is dedicated to alcohol. There was an exhibition of Absolut related art there featuring work by Warhol, Hirst, and Annie Liebovitz while upstairs there were some instillations dedicated to the act of drinking and creating the sensations of drunkenness and having a hangover. I actually had a hangover and if you’d ever wondered whether two minuses make a positive in hangover terms, you needn’t any longer as simulating a hangover while suffering from one makes no difference whatsoever.

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 This above was a dark room where you could lie down and watch a video of a drunken night out through the different stages of inebriation.

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As I said, Stockholm is a great city to walk around. Apart from the fact that it’s so very beautiful, clean, and well-maintained, the pavements are very often as wide as the roads.

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On the walk back to my hotel, I walked through the old town to find a restaurant to get dinner in later. Unable to find any reasonably affordable local cuisine, I had some kofte for dinner. Maybe I would have just settled for the kofte anyway. It was lovely.  

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 I then went on the piss at an Irish pub called Wirstroms. It was pretty good. There was music being played but it wasn’t too loud and it was run by real Irish people so didn’t seem particularly plastic. The beer was savagely expensive though. I paid around £8.50 for around a pint. It was, however, good beer and at 7%, it did the trick.

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Inside Wirstroms

I was going to head back to the hotel, but on the way I passed a live music bar. The brilliantly named Stampen is a free to enter jazz and rhythm and blues bar. That night was the birthday of one of the regular performers there, an American by the name of Brian Kramer. I was going to have just the one beer but I ended up having four or five as the music was so good and the people, a mix of tourists, locals, and muso friends of the singer were so friendly.

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Stampen

So around midnight I walked the five minutes back to my hotel and fell on my arse for the second time during the trip on this ice.

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I woke up and had a marvellous breakfast and set out to get the 5.5 hour train to Copenhagen.

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I took the SJ2000, another wonderfully modern fast train.

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There was a nice little bar/dining area.

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In Malmo station, videos of individual train windows were projected on the walls showing train journeys through a diverse set of sceneries. It was these kind of little artistic flourishes injected into the mundane that impressed me in Stockholm and this attention was apparently that existed elsewhere. It made an otherwise everyday platform into an interesting and memorable experience. If you’re British, reflect on how many times you’ve had a memorable experience in a train station that didn’t involve a homeless person relieving themselves or football fans hitting each other.

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Between Malmo and Copenhagen, the train passed over the 5 mile long Oresund Bridge. The bridge leads to an artificially created island lying in the middle of the strait where the train enters a tunnel for a further 2.5 miles to the Danish island of Amager. It’s a fucking engineering marvel and there’s probably an episode of that Megastructures show about it. There is a show about a murder on the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen where the respective police forces have to work together, doubtless with much contrasting cultures-based hilarity.

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I got to Copenhagen mid-afternoon on the 2nd of April. I had a few hours to kill so I wandered around the station area, had a £7 pint of Danish beer, ate a pizza from a 7/11 and a couple of cheeseburgers while watching the very multicultural Copenhagen people going about their business.

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The taxi rank looked like Brands Hatch.

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I didn’t spend much more than a couple of hours in Copenhagen. It looked rather bland compared to Stockholm from the little I saw but it was as expensive if not moreso. I’d naturally love to return. One thing I have taken away from this trip is that Scandinavia is absolutely a top destination. Beautiful, seemingly well organised. If you love chaos as I do sometimes, it’s not the place for you. If you like the orderliness of the world’s best queuers, efficiency, and a great emphasis on things being aesthetically pleasing or a respite from the regular chaos of 99% of the rest of the world, then it’s the ideal place for you.

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So, from Copenhagen I took an overnight sleeper to Cologne.

The sleeper train was actually arguably the oldest and least comfortable that I’d slept in. My body was simply too long for the length of the compartment. I slept poorly.

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I was sharing the compartment initially with just one other person a Danish/German lady by the name of Britt. She was heading to Germany for some treatment for an ongoing medical condition as she said that in that area Denmark was in the dark ages which surprised me. We spoke about our respective travels and her German grandfather who’d fought with the Nazis in the Second World War. It was a lovely conversation and serves as an example of why travel such as this can be so good.

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We crossed another one of those massive lovely bridges again as the sun was setting. It was marvellous.

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I got to Cologne very early in the morning and said goodbye to Britt who was catching a connecting train almost immediately.

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I had a couple of hours to wait until I caught the ICE fast train to Brussels, so I had a quick walk outside to have a look at the huge gothic cathedral near the station and watch Cologners amble to work. 

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The scenery on the way to Brussels was all very Belgian, fields and fields and a few more fields. The train was beasting along far too quickly to take any pictures. This portion of the trip was all somewhat of a whirr. The fast ICE train and the Eurostar make this part of Europe seem tiny. After travelling so slowly over such large expanses of Asia and Europe up to that point, these short few hours flew by. Something that’s affected me greatly is that nowadays, a three hour journey seems like a trip to the local shop to buy bread. 

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After crossing through Denmark, Germany, and Belgium without a whiff of customs intervention, getting onto the platform for the Eurostar finally featured some good old fashioned British queuing and credentials checking. Unlike what the Fascist Right would have you believe in the UK, the floodgates are most certainly not open when compared to continental Europe.

The Eurostar train was rather underwhelming from outside, mainly as it was so filthy. The train was rammed. Full of Belgians off to London to buy Belgian chocolates from Harrods. 

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I headed to the restaurant car for my last beer of the trip.

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I got to St. Pancras early afternoon on the 3rd of April having left Bangkok on the 18th of March. 

I had a pint in an empty pub in Victoria where I met my sister. She gave me the keys to her flat and I hopped on the Tube to Bermondsey. 

After a few days of hi-jinx in London, including my degree ceremony and drinks in Camden, the Financial Square Mile, and about ten other areas that really compounded my suspicion that the disparity of wealth in the UK between London and just about everywhere else is fucking startling, I took the overground to Watford. 

I watched my football team Cardiff City bag an important draw against fellow promotion chasers and Elton John favourites Watford FC and then caught a bus full of very drunken valley boys back to the South Wales Valleys for last orders in my local in Ystrad Mynach.

Final Reflections

I’d already travelled a fair bit in my life. I’ve gone coast to coast across Australia, travelled up the west coast of the US from LA to San Francisco, and taken buses and trains the length and breadth of Thailand and Malaysia. But at the end of this journey, I felt a genuine feeling of accomplishment. It’s a well-travelled path in points, I’m sure, and maybe for many other more seasoned travellers, this journey might not have been as great an achievement. For me, however, I can’t deny that I felt that sense of pride in completing the journey without a hitch.

From a personal perspective, that, I feel, has been the most beneficial aspect of the trip, planning and making the journey alone. Unencumbered with the constant connectivity of email, mobile phone, and social networks, for long periods of time, I was utterly alone without anyone truly knowing where I was. It’s a great feeling and one that many people who have travelled, particularly in less-developed areas can relate to though I rarely hear or read that aspect of travelling articulated. Generally you’ll be told how beautiful the beaches were, how serene and innocent the native people are, but rarely will you hear them telling of how they felt and how this might have changed them. But that’s why we travel isn’t it? To live in a moment and be changed by it?

Would I have done anything differently today? The journey took two and a half weeks and cost around 2.5K sterling. Naturally, slumming it in 3rd with the soldiers, builders, and fake brand mules would have been considerably cheaper. Also the added frisson of being molested by a drunken train guard or having a lovely violent vodka fight would have added a degree of colour lacking in a trip that might seem rather clinical and overly focused on making connections. 

Some people were surprised at the time of year that I went. Quite apart from the fact that I had no choice in the matter as to when I could make the journey, the cold was an integral part of why it was so special.

I was hardly ever cold. I think that one time, crossing that bridge in Ulan Bator, fighting through a gust of air from Siberia, cooled by the mighty expanses of the Gobi, was the one and only time I suffered with the temperatures. Like Billy Connolly said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.’ I had thermals and a new double layered Gore-Tex Berghaus coat, a good hat, and gloves which I rarely wore.

Ultimately, the frozen rivers and seas and the snow was part of the reason I enjoyed it so much. You get to appreciate the truly inhospitable climates in which we as a species eke out a living. Travelling through the Siberian tundra, you would see these incredibly isolated small villages where people just had to go about their business. In the UK, if there’s a day of snow, the supermarkets run out of bread and eggs. Five inches of snow and the entire populace turn into extras from a Mad Max film fighting over boxes of Rice Crispies. Here, in five feet, people are living their day to day lives.

This particular route I came to realise as I took it, had the unexpected effect of giving me a greater appreciation of not just the terrain and the people thereon but the slow yet distinct changes in culture and appearance as the land was traversed. From the still very alien culture of the Chinese and their distinct features, travelling east to west, cultures and facial features slowly, mile by mile, became more familiar and relatable.

There were the short glances of connections where culture and language made interaction impossible and possibly undesirable on the parts of the locals in Beijing. Then there was a degree of shared culture which helped me bond with my Russian companion on the Rossiya train but where interactions were limited by our lack of a lingua-franca. And then aboard an overnight train from Copenhagen to Cologne there was the long conversation with someone that could have been a lifelong friend yet whose grandfather had fought on opposite sides to my own during the Second World War seventy years earlier.

Seven years ago, I was (looking back) depressed and going nowhere in life. As a response, I decided to move to live and work three quarters of the way around the world in southeast Asia. I really think that I was a very different person then. These past seven years, making that new beginning with no friends and family as a direct support network and building that new network while working and studying towards a degree and then an MA have, at times, been difficult. Anyone that has ever made this move should tell you the same thing but it makes you so much stronger and more independent.

Who someone is can be defined as the knowledge and experiences they possess and the actions they take. The final component of who someone is can be the network of relationships they are a part of at any given time. Their friends, family, work colleagues. When you live and travel extensively abroad, most of these factors undergo change, particularly the latter. The actions you take that might differ to what you did or didn’t do in the past can exemplify this transformation.

Can a journey define you? I’d like to think yes and no, but I’d really like to think that this journey at that particular point in time defined me and how much I’d achieved in seven years. Arriving in London and meeting my parents for the graduation ceremony in the Barbican there seemed a perfect culmination to the trip. Pity Cardiff couldn’t have gotten the win at Watford though.