Do digital natives learn electronically? Or “The Panspectron and the Ivory Tower”

Can information technology help us “in the real world”, as students and scholars?  Marc Hudson attends a link-heavy lecture and comes away inspired and a bit overwhelmed.

The startling factoids come thick and fast in Professor Derek France’s talk;

  • Over 90 percent of students have a smart phone or mobile device,
  • The average number of computing devices per student is 4.3,

However, they’re not necessarily using them to best effect.  Professor France cited a report saying that students were “largely unaware of the potential of smart phones to support learning.”

The lolcats seem to be winning over the exams and essays.  It was, he said at the end of a 45 minute whistle-stop tour of apps for learning, the responsibility of academics to support these “digital natives.”

Professor France, who is Professor of Pedagogy in Geographical Sciences at University of Chester, was delivering a keynote lecture at the University of Manchester.  His presentation “Enhancing Fieldwork Learning with Mobile Technologies” – set the tone for a “Faculty Teaching and Learning Showcase.” organised by people within the Faculty of Humanities.  In plain English, that’s a day-long opportunity for academics and students to explore the potential and the pitfalls of information technology.

Professor France, clearly a web2.0 evangelist, practiced what he preached.  After an introduction that included the inevitable slide of logos of the social media behemoths (Youtube, G+, Linked In, Tumblr, Grindr*, etc) he used to find out who in the audience uses devices such as iPads in their teaching.  To participate, people send a text to one of four numbers. The results appear in real time on the screen.  In this case, of the 26 respondents there were 9 “nevers”, 7 “once a years”, 2 “once a terms” and 7 “once a weeks.”  Clearly the  University of Manchester digital revolution is still in the Sierra Maestre hils.

Continuing on the theme of interaction, the attendees then were asked to discuss among themselves for two minutes the  benefits and barriers to the use of digital technologies in fieldwork.

On the positive side – it “engages students, can save time, and aid with active mapping/real-time mapping”, Problems including signal and limited battery life.

The rest of the presentation was made up with brief pithy descriptions of some of the available websites and applications.  Professor France also made the important caveat emptor point that, such is the nature of web2.0 that not all of these companies will definitely be here forever [or indeed, for ten years/months/weeks/days]. A selection of them are below , with their self-descriptions.

Geomeasure “A simple to use area and distance measurement tool for maps. Have you ever wondered “How much acreage is that farm?” or “What is the distance between your house and subway station?”. Are you curious to find out who has the most property in your neighborhood?”
Skitch “See something that sparks an idea? Use Skitch to snap it, mark it up with simple tools, and send it on in an instant. Your bold ideas stand out even brighter with Skitch.”
Evernote “From short lists to lengthy research, no matter what form your writing takes, Evernote keeps you focused on moving those ideas from inspiration to completion.”
Splice “Splice together HD photos and videos in an amazingly simple way. Add music tracks from your iPod library, sound”
Geospike “Keep a travel journal, without writing one.”
Livescribe pens “Livescribe paper-based computing platform includes a smartpen, dot paper and … people capture, use and share audio and visual information with pen and paper.”
Dropbox “Securely share, sync, and collaborate”
Sugarsync “SugarSync is a cloud file sharing, file sync and online backup service that is simple, powerful and easy to use.”
Copy – “Copy helps keep your amazing things (like photos, videos and documents) handy everywhere, safe and easy to share with others. Get 15 GB of FREE storage …”

polldaddy “Create stunning surveys, polls, and quizzes in minutes. Collect responses via your website, e-mail, iPad, Facebook, and Twitter.”
polleverywhere “Poll Everywhere gives you the power to design and customize polls to your own specifications. Match your presentation template, use your organization’s logo…”
SurveyMonkey “Create and publish online surveys in minutes, and view results graphically and in real time. SurveyMonkey provides free online questionnaire and survey ”

Photosynth “Capture your world in 3D”
Pages “Pages is the most beautiful word processor you’ve ever seen on a mobile device. This powerful word processor helps you create gorgeous reports, CVs and documents in minutes. Pages has been designed exclusively for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch with support for Multi-Touch gestures and Smart Zoom.”
Numbers “Numbers is the most innovative spreadsheet app ever designed for a mobile device. Created exclusively for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, Numbers includes support for Multi-Touch gestures and Smart Zoom so you can create powerful spreadsheets using just your fingers.”
Keynote “Keynote for Mac makes it simple to create and deliver beautiful presentations. Updated for OS X Yosemite, Keynote employs powerful tools and dazzling effects that bring your ideas to life.”
Good Reader “GoodReader® is the super-robust PDF reader for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.Mashable describes it as “a Swiss Army knife of awesome!” With GoodReader on your iPad/iPhone, you can read virtually anything, anywhere: books, movies, maps, pictures.”
Mendeley “Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network. Make your own fully-searchable library in seconds, cite as you write, and read and annotate your PDFs on any device.”
Papership “Annotate,Manage,and Share your Papers”
Googlescholar“Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”
Fotobabble “Photo and Audio Powered Social Media”
Fieldtrip GB “Fieldtrip GB is a mobile mapping and data collection app that is available for iPhone and Android devices. It has been developed by EDINA, based at The University of Edinburgh, with support from Jisc. It will allow students, lecturers and researchers to collect data against high quality cartographic maps.”
Storify (France: “to scoop up data, then you and/or students can reflect on it”) “Storify is the easiest way to find, collect, and share what people are saying all over the web. Join top companies, brands, and agencies as well as millions of users on the best platform for leveraging social media.”
Wordle “Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source”

The good professor concluded with one final piece of excellent practical advice.  Field work – especially on misty Welsh mountains – can be a moist business.  Investing in ziplock bags and rice will help everyone keep their digital devices functioning…

PS. Panspectron? Imagine all that technology in Minority Report. In the hands of Big Brother.

*Actual facts may vary. Always read the label.

On the Stepper: 13th January: Climate reports, Stockholm syndrome and Green Bans

On an “Australian science/politics in the 70s and onwards” binge at mo’ (trying to be more systematic in my PhD reading).

Garratt, JR, Webb, EK and McCarthy, S. (2011) Charles Henry Brian Priestley. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 57, 349-278.

Didn’t read all of this, but the bits that relate to his climate work. He led the panel that wrote the first Australian Academy of Science report on climate change;

“During the following two years, extensive publicity was given internationally to suggestions by some European and American scientists that a new ice age was approaching and that droughts in the Sahel and India, and wheat failures in the Ukraine, were among the symptoms of this change. After concern was expressed at the World Food Conference in November 1974 about the possible effects of this predicted climate change on agricultural productivity and the global food supply, the Australian Government requested the Australian Academy of Science to report to it on these assertions. A committee on climate change was established by the Academy in March 1975 with Priestley as its Chairman; its report was handed down in March 1976 (AAS 1976). The main conclusion, that there was no convincing evidence of an imminent climatic change, either on a global scale or in Australia, must be set against the evidence then available in 1975. Another far-sighted conclusion stated, ‘All past climate changes have been due to natural events on an astronomical or global scale. Human activities are now developing in ways that could have an appreciable effect on the climate within decades.’ Two decades later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was to take up this very issue in its first report on climate change. In 1976 the Committee’s report was well received, both at home and abroad, with little adverse publicity given to it at the time. The report’s main conclusions were in tune with studies elsewhere that global warming through an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may constitute a more serious cause for concern than the possibility of an ice age.”

(Garratt, et al, 2011: 374)

Then a bit of the Australian Quarternary Newsletter No 8, November 1976, which had a report on a Natural Hazards Symposium held in May 1976 in Canberra.. Need to track down an article by B. Thom Natural Hazards and future climate change. (well, “need” means – Marc about to over-research and under-write.”)

Quarternary, bless it, makes wordpress’s spell-check light up –

The Quaternary Period /kwəˈtɜrnəri/ is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).[4] It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present.[4] The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today). [wikipedia]

Then Elliott, L. (2011) Australia’s engagement with the UN on environmental issues: Benefits and balance in Cotton, J. and Lee, D. (eds) Australia and the United Nations. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia

Lots of useful background info – Australia’s manoeuvres at Stockholm in 1972 take on an ironic tinge later (but that’s for another blog post).

Last and most certainly not least;

Ferguson, P. (2009) Patrick White, green bans and the rise of the Australian new left. Melbourne Historical Journal 37, pp. 73-88.

Wow!! I don’t understand why, at the posh school I went to in Adelaide in the 1980s, that they never taught me about the gay writer and the communist trade unionist who got on fine with feminists and aborigines and so on, and stopped developers pillaging Sydney for fun and profit. Don’t understand at all…

It’s a bloody good essay. And now I have to stop myself from reading too much about the “Green Bans” that the NSW Builders’ Labourers Federation used to protect Sydney…

Writing goals Week 2, 2015 (Jan 12th to Jan 18th)

Directly relevant to PhD

a) 2500 words on the coming of climate change awareness in Australia (1987 to 1990) – who, how, why; and the response from coal interests.

Indirectly relevant to PhD

b) 10 “All Our Yesterdays” posts

“Don’t get it write, get it written.”

From week 1:

2500 words on “capsule biographies” of lobby groups“proxies” in the (Australian) coal wars –  DONE

Indirectly relevant to PhD

2500 words on “the Road to Toronto” – state, corporate and public responses to/awareness of climate change in the USA and Australia up to June 1988’s “Changing Atmosphere” conference .  If only to get the history jones out of my system.  SORT OF DONE (But not to my own satisfaction)

On the stepper 11th January 2015: Wind power romance, past warnings, science hacks, climate histories

Trying to form a new habit – typing up what I read “as I go”. And connected to that, giving an account of what I read while on the stepper for 90ish minutes a day (mostly). The habit is not “fully bedded in” as a habit yet, but I refuse to use that as an excuse to stop bedding it in…

Today (11th January):

The second half of Hendry, C. and Harborne, P. (2011) Changing the view of wind power development: More than “bricolage.” Research Policy 40, pp. 778-789.

This was mentioned in a reading group/symposium yesterday by one of my supervisors. It’s a response/elaboration to a paper by Garud and Karnoe comparing the Danish and US wind energy industries and how they came about. Hendry and Harbone heartlessly puncture the lovely romantic notions that Tinkerers Matter throughout the process (they did, but once you get to a certain point, there’s no substitute for “science” and deep pockets. Reminds me a bit of Manuel de Landa in “War in the Age of Intelligent Machines,” where he makes the point that there are tactics, but strategy will overcome them, and there is strategy, but in the end, logistics – being able to feed, clothe, arm and replace members of your army at a more efficient rate than your enemy – is what matters.

Next I read King, J. (2008) “Looking back in Anger” Sydney Morning Herald April 30th

Presumably the hook to the commissioning editor was around the “2020 Vision” conference that Rudd’s Labor government had organised.   It was a reflection by him and other folks on an October 1998 conference “The Australian Environment: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead” – organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation and with speakers including Petra Kelly, David Bellamy (obviously before he decided climate change wasn’t real) and Milo Dunphy.

Some great quotes – useful for PhD – by Robyn Williams and so on.

Short version: “We knew, we were warned, and we bollocksed it up.” I’ll get that in my PhD, even if I have to do it as an acrostic in the conclusion!

Then Metcalfe, J. and Gascoigne, T. (1995) Science journalism in Australia. Public Understanding of Science 4, pp. 411-28.

Surveys show that media attention to science and technology has increased considerably over the past decade. Yet coverage seems shallow and technology-based, and does not appear to have succeed in making a real impact on people or in changing the ways they think about science and technology and its impact on their lives. The challenges currently facing science journalism in Australia include: the need for more in-depth and critical analysis of science and technology; overcoming the negative or trivial perceptions of editors, chiefs of staff, news directors and other gatekeepers about the importance of science and technology stories; and integrating science and technology with social, economic and political issues.

Useful for PhD in that there was no “Walter Sullivan” (legendary science journo at New York Times who knew EVERYONE) figure to serve as an agenda setter/issue entrepreneur in the 80s.

Finally Clark, W. Jager, J. Cavender-Bares, J. and Dickson, N (2001) Acid Rain, Ozone Depletion, and Climate Change: An Historical Overview, in Social Learning Group (2001) Learning to Manage Global Environmental Risks Vol 1 A Comparative History of Social Responses to Climate Change, Ozone Depletion, and Acid Rain

Incredibly useful (content and reference list), and written by people Who Were There.

This from page 29 leapt out but did not surprise me:

“Research on acid rain dates back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century. Robert Smith’s 1872 treatise Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology laid out many of the essential elements of the acid rain problem as they are known today. These included, but were not restricted to, sources in coal combustion, atmospheric transformation and transport, and impacts on plants and materials. Unfortunately, Smith’s integrated approach did not resonate with the science or policy concerns of the day and was ignored.”

Let’s airbrush the black people out of the narrative, eh?

It’s easy to spot when the “right” is distorting the past for the purpose of shaping the present and future. It’s easy to denounce their focus on kings and queens and Great Men, and the technologies of innovation that create a “whiggish” narrative of white power (in every sense).

It’s easy to get outraged by the silences and silencing when THEY do it.

But I went (a while back) to an event where not one, but two people glided and elided over the crucial role of the US Black Civil Rights movement in the late 50s and early 60s.  That movement was the initiator movement for the “new left” – the anti-war, feminist, gay rights and ecology movements.  It was some of those people and many of those ideas and tactics that have made the world a less shitty place. People died. People knew that their activism could easily cost them their lives. (I’m talking about the Freedom Summer, especially, something I’ve done a bit of reading on.)  They knew the dangers, the dilemmas. They innovated.  They created.  But since they were black, they don’t seem to get the kudos perhaps?
So when we just leap from “anarchist theory” to “feminism” we are no better that the right. In fact, we are worse, because we pretend to be “friends” while writing people who struggled and faced REAL repression out of the story.
It disgusts me*.

* Probably because I have myself done this in the past and probably will in the future.

Writing goals Week 1, 2015 (Jan 5th to Jan 11th)

Directly relevant to PhD

2500 words on “capsule biographies” of lobby groups“proxies” in the (Australian) coal wars –

BCA, MCA, ACA (defunct), IPA, CIS, Lavoisier, Galileo etc

ACF, TWS, Green Party, Greenpeace, Australia Institute, Climate Institute etc

Indirectly relevant to PhD

2500 words on “the Road to Toronto” – state, corporate and public responses to/awareness of climate change in the USA and Australia up to June 1988’s “Changing Atmosphere” conference .  If only to get the history jones out of my system.

“Don’t get it write, get it written.”

The Joy of … Big Numbers; the Simpsons, Hype Cycles and George Monbiot

Here’s 3 quotations about energy provision. They’re from 1973, 2001 and 2010. Skim, don’t ponder. I’ve put the relevant bits in bold. The tl;dr is that politicians like Big Numbers (duh).

“Project Independence was an initiative announced by U.S. President Richard Nixon on November 7, 1973, in reaction to the OPEC oil embargo and the resulting 1973 oil crisis. Recalling the Manhattan Project, the stated goal of Project Independence was to achieve energy self-sufficiency for the United States by 1980 through a national commitment to energy conservation and development of alternative sources of energy. Nixon declared that American science, technology and industry could free America from dependence on imported oil (energy independence). He called for the construction of 1,000 nuclear power plants by the year 2000.”



“For the electricity we need, we must be ambitious as well. Transmission grids stand in need of repair and upgrading and expansion. The demand for electricity is vast, but it also varies from place to place and from season to season. An expanded grid system would allow us to meet demand as it arises, sending power where it’s needed from where it’s not. If we put these connections in place, we’ll go a long way toward avoiding future blackouts.

“But that will only work, of course, if we are generating enough power in the first place. Over the next 20 years, just meeting projected demand will require between 1,300 and 1,900 new power plants. The low estimate is 1,300 new plants; the high estimate, 1,900 new plants.  That averages out to more than one new power plant per week every week for the next 20 years.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, April 30, 2001”
Annual Meeting of the Associated Press,Royal York Hotel, Toronto, Ontario

and finally

“With reference to an energy scenario featuring high levels of global coal use, the International Energy Agency CCS Roadmap recommends an ambitious roll-out in which 100 CCS projects are operational by 2020, rising to 3,400 by 2050 (IEA 2010).”

Mander, S., Gough, C., Wood, R., Ashworth, P. and Dowd, A-M. (2013) New energy technologies in the media. A case study of carbon capture and storage pp.225-6. In Roberts, T., Upham, P., Mander, S., McLaclan, C., Boucher, P., Gough, C. and Abi Ghanem, D. (eds) (2013) Low Carbon Energy Controversies. London: Routledge.

Geroge Monbiot makes a similar argument about the attraction of new extractive industries. You get to pose in a hard-hat and be, well, thrusting. And there’s the whiff of technophilia there, far sexier than insulating houses (which can end badly – see the Australian Governments pink bats experience.)

“So we miss part of the story when we imagine it’s just about the money. It’s true that industrial lobbying often defeats a rational assessment of our options, especially, perhaps, when Lynton Crosby has the prime minister’s ear. But cultural and psychological factors can be just as important. Supporting shale gas rather than the alternatives means strutting around with a stiff back and jutting jaw, meeting real men who do real, dirty things, shaking hands and slapping backs, talking about barrels and therms and rigs and wells and pipelines. It’s about these weird, detached, calculating, soft-skinned people becoming, for a while, one of the boys.”

George Montbiot, “What is behind this fracking mania? Unbridled machismo” Guardian, August 19th 2013

One helpful way to think about this is via “hype cycles”.

Now, that classic Simpsons episode “Marge versus the Monorail” is great, but it will only get you so far. You need to clock this.

Hype Cycles, as developed by the IT research and advisory firm Gartner.


There are criticisms of the theory of hype cycles, but rather than cut and paste a slab more of wikipedia, I’ll give the final word to an anonymous UK journalist, interviewed in Mander et al. (2013, p. 231) about Carbon Capture and Storage;

“[It’s] really interesting over the last five to six years is as far as I can see, there has been no improvement or demonstration of the technology at all and yet the idea has moved from the fringes to very much in the main stream.”

Words, ideas, videos