Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fairy tales are more than texts

I've remarked before that you can usually spot a fairy tale scholar. They're much more likely to be wearing great shoes and to have a certain sartorial flare (this may also be true of Jane Austen scholars, but, then, she wrote one of our greatest versions of Beauty and the Beast, Pride & Prejudice). No, I'm not counting myself here... although I do own some great shoes.

I have recently discovered Pinterest, which is a source of wonderful procrastination and inspiration (it's terrifying how often the two are the one and the same thing). They have a special set for 'Fairy tales and secret stories'. I love the idea of 'secret stories' being linked to fairy tales. Fairy tales, as we know, are filled with little secrets. They're like those cabinets with secret drawers. They look like ordinary tales until you find just the right phrase or word to push, and then you discover the treasures.

Today, in 'Fairy tales and secret stories,' I saw an incredible image of dragon slaying by Boy_Wonder (Joel).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Context

It's always amusing when you take the long view of history and realise that we aren't the first to complain about students being distracted or unable to spell. Via Boing Boing this morning Ann Blair's Boston Globe piece, Information overload, the early years, noting: "The ancient moralist Seneca complained that 'the abundance of books is distraction' in the 1st century AD."

Perhaps more importantly for my line of work, Blair notes: "In the academic world, critics have begun to argue that universities are producing and distributing more knowledge than we can actually use." It is something that we're thinking about. Those articles we spend hours and hours writing and then revising? How many people actually use them? Are there better, more useful ways to discuss ideas? Are the means by which we place value on research antiquated?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Problem With Debates About Learning

Today I read a great piece in the Huffington Post by Don Tapscott: New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark.

What intrigues me about such debates - if you take into account the 'lively' comments section accompanying the article - is that these changes aren't really either/or propositions, nor are they really linked to human generations. Technological and media generations - yes. New technologies and media will prompt new responses. There's a strong temptation to claim that 'younger' generations, however, think differently because they use these new technologies and are exposed to new media. Yet, from my own experience, there are technologies and media I've picked up very quickly, because they suit the way I think and do things, not because I'm of the generation who grew up with them. I find the iPad helps me enormously, but I'm frustrated with mobile phones. I enjoy using Twitter, but I'm not really a gamer. These responses have nothing to do with my age or demographic and I haven't changed how I think. My use of the iPad and other media like Twitter reflects my early habits of reading several books at once, writing fan fiction and filking (before the latter were known as such). My dislike of mobile phones relates more to my general dislike of phones altogether (I do have a phone - it's a 1960s red bakelite phone that you literally dial) and just as I was never really mad about Monopoly, Scrabble, charades and games in general, I've not really been interested in gaming.

There are also, believe it or not, teenagers who have trouble working with technologies and media that are current. In terms of teaching, I notice all the time that students will respond in incredibly diverse ways to the techniques and approaches that I utilise. It's never a one-size fits all proposition. Technologies and media have simply highlighted a certain way of going about the processes of gaining and using knowledge and information. In a sense, it's enabled certain thinkers who were previously under a handicap when stuck with just textbooks and liquid paper.

Tapscott suggests: "Searching for information on the Internet is obviously a different exercise than reading a book. You read or scan until you have found what you wanted, and then you click on a keyword to hunt for more information. Unlike the journey you take when you read a book, no one is holding your hand or serving as your guide. You're on your own. But it requires the same skills you need to read a book -- plus the ability to scan, navigate, analyze whether information is pertinent, synthesize, and remember what question you're trying to answer as you click on the links."

Tapscott's comment reminded me of how I'd approach school assignments by taking information from random sources and putting it together in unlikely ways. I rarely utilised the books I was directed to absorb. I didn't have the internet, but I used books and magazines in much the same way I now use the internet. Of course, today when I happily click through google books, I remember my childhood of random library raids and think 'this is so much easier'. I'm enabled now. Just as alternative literacies have come out from under the shadow of the book.

In essence, I've not 'grown up digital'. I was just waiting for the digital age.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


A friend linked me this piece on "Invasion of the Aca-zombies" from The Australian.

Joseph Gora and Andrew Whelan begin with a curious observation of the current state of academia: "Universities are increasingly populated by the undead: a listless population of academics, managers, administrators and students, all shuffling to the beat of the corporatist drum." Happily, they also identify a resistance: "A tutorial here, textbook marginalia there, crack squads of indomitable postgrads, secretive cells of idealistic academics and even the odd public intellectual: all scattered signs that intelligent life persists."

Still, where's Lizzy Bennet when you need her?

Whelan, Chris Moore and Ruth Walker are putting together a book on the subject. The CFP can be found on their website.

One of my colleagues also blogged about this.

On a brighter note, I recently downloaded the iPad app for Jasper Fforde's new book, The Last Dragonslayer. Perhaps that's what we need in academia? More slayers...