2016 Film review

Continuing my not-edtech related end of year roundup, as well as trying to read a book a week, I tried to see a new film weekly. This was largely successful, but they weren’t all cinema trips so the film may have been delayed somewhat from release, and I didn’t get around to seeing lots of films I should have (eg Nocturnal Animals).

In general terms, like most years but even more so, this was a crap sandwich, with good stuff at the start and end, but a real mess in the middle. Even the blockbusters were exceptionally awful. Batman vs Superman, Independence Day 2, Suicide Squad – these were like Donald Trump’s toilet, flashy, expensive and full of shit. But if comic book movies continued to be devoid of any value, there were some other genres that fared quite well: horror saw some atmospheric, taut, films with secondary interpretations (The VVitch, Blackcoat’s Daughter, Don’t Breathe, Green Room). Animation began to emerge from Pixar domination, and quirky, whimsical indie movies provided blessed relief (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sing Street).

Because I’m not adverse to an end of year list, here’s my top ten:

Hateful 8
The VVitch
The Big Short
10 Cloverfield Lane
Eye in the Sky
Son of Saul
Hell or High Water
Captain Fantastic
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Rogue One

You’ll probably have seen most of these, but the Blackcoat’s Daughter (aka February) may have passed you by. I loved it – moody, brooding horror with an amazing score, it deserves to be better known. A special mention for turkey of the year, the truly, truly, awful Zoolander 2.

Increasingly I found it difficult to watch films in isolation of the context of the rest of 2016. I couldn’t get behind the “the best of New York came together” message of Sully in a year of Trump and Black Lives Matter. I couldn’t pretend Eddie the Eagle represented a version of Britain I could identify with after Brexit. And I couldn’t watch Son of Saul and flatter myself that it could never happen now. Even Rogue One had some people rooting for the Empire. I get the feeling this will be a recurrent theme in 2017.

Books & pointless charts revisited

I challenged myself to read a book a week again this year. I haven’t quite managed it, up to 48 with a couple of weeks to go. As with last year, I thought I’d generate some pointless charts (pinching Jane Bryony Rawson’s idea).

If you twisted my arm to make a list, I’d say my favourites that I’ve read this year are:

Mendeleyev’s dream – Paul Strathern
We have always lived in a castle – Shirley Jackson
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
North Water – Ian McGuire
His Bloody Project – Graeme Burnet
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge

I read a bit of non-fiction this year, but my range has been mostly literary fiction with a smattering of crime.:

I tend to use the Kindle for convenience, but also this year I hurt my eye at one point, so reading was difficult so listened to a couple of audio books:

An even split between male and female authors this year:

Were these books newly published (say in the last 2-3 years) or older? Mainly older, but the Booker and Bailey’s prize provided a useful way into some new fiction:

The full list is as follows:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
David Bowie’s Low – Hugh Wicken
Agatha Christie – Murder in Mesopotamia
Mendeleyev’s dream – Paul Strathern
Napoleon’s Buttons – Penny Le Couteur & Jay Burreson
Madame Curie Complex – Julie des Jardins
Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
The Museum Guard – Howard Norman
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
We Have Always Lived in a Castle – Shirley Jackson
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
The Code – Ross Bernstein
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
Paradoxical Undressing – Kristin Hersh
Butterfield 8 – John O’Hara
Gwen John – Sue Roe
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
The Cornish Coast Mystery – John Bude
It’s All in Your Head – Suzanne O’Sullivan
Zukeina Dobson – Max Beerbohm
Night Watch – Patrick Modiano
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
Sussex Downs Murder – John Bude
Vinyl Detective – Andrew Cartmel
101 albums you should die before you hear – Everett True
The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney
Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
The Betrayal – Helen dunmore
Freakonomics – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
North Water – Ian McGuire
Trout Fishing in America – Richard Brautigan
Gut Symmetries – Jeanette Winterson
The Many – Wyl Menmuir
A Mind to Murder – PD James
Strangers – Anita Brookner
Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love
Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge
His Bloody Project – Graeme Burnet
The Dinner – Herman Koch
The Blue Room – Georges Simenon
The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Doris Lessing – The Grass is Singing
100 Prized Poems – William Sieghart (ed)
Eileen – Otessa Moshfegh
Reading the Silver Screen – Thomas Foster

The paradoxes of open scholarship

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(Photo by Andrew Branch – CC0)

I was asked to do a webinar presentation on open scholarship for the ExplOERer project. I started pulling together some slides from previous presentations but when I looked at them they just seemed from a different era. Over the years I have talked about blogging, digital scholarship, open practice, etc. My take on it has become gradually more nuanced – back in the mid-2000s it was all “OMG this stuff is awesome!” But I’ve balanced that with negatives and caveats as its gone on. But it has largely remained a pro-piece.

However, in a post-truth context, in which aspects of openness have played a part, and also in which education itself is seen as part of the conspiracy, this no longer seemed appropriate. And yet, I still see all those positive aspects of open practice around me. So, instead of being pro or anti I think the way to view it is as a set of contradictions, or paradoxes. We have to get used to holding conflicting views simultaneously in our head. We have to be both a dog person AND a cat person. The presentation is below, but I think the final paradox is the key one: It has never been more risky to operate in the open and yet it has never been more vital to operate in the open.

A recording of the webinar is available if you’re of a masochistic bent.

It’s not just a story

F(ine) ARTS @ The Fake - June 12, 2013

Since the BAD day in the US I have set up three direct debits. I didn’t plan to, they just arose (and to be frank, they’re for small amounts). They are to Hack Education (sorry Audrey, should have done it ages ago), The New York Times and Stand Up to Racism. As I said, it wasn’t part of a plan, they were individual responses to prompts, but now I look at them they all have something in common, which is that they offer a counter narrative: to the Silicon Valley technodeterminism; to Trump’s post-truth approach; to the dominant anti-migrant story in the UK.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about education’s response to all this. Bonnie Stewart argues we need to start being proactive, in a way, creating a digital literacy narrative. This is true of education itself I think. When we have populist MPs like Jacob Rees Mogg declaring that experts are similar to astrologers, there is an urgent case for education to have a strong narrative about its purpose.

This falls on all of us in education, but particularly those in positions of authority. For many years now we have seen Vice-Chancellors appointed on their ability to make universities behave like businesses, to develop radical new models of higher education. What we need now from Vice Chancellors (and Chancellors, Pro Vice Chancellors, eminent Profs, public intellectuals, etc) is an ability to articulate clearly, and with passion, the importance of higher education to society and to individuals. And not just in a return on investment, monetised manner but in terms of preserving democracy, cultural values and social cohesion. Because narrative, more than facts, is important – it used to be said that the victor writes history, but now more than ever it seems the one who writes the version of history they want, becomes the victor.

Social media do-over

Holiday home

A bunch of us have been looking at Mastodon Social over the past week as an alternative social media platform. Kate Bowles and Maha Bali amongst others have been having some good discussion about how we want social media to work for us now. Kate, rightly I think, argues that we’re not looking for a replacement to Twitter, but an alternative. Mastodon as an open source platform that seems to have its heart in the right place might be that. But even if it’s not, I think the activity there is an indication of our changing attitude to social media.

Being on Twitter since reasonably early days (2007) has been like watching a city develop rapidly from a small town. And like a city Twitter now has many amazing things and people. It also has a very dark side and its share of crime. The hardened city dweller begins to yearn for a more simple, friendly life. An alternative social media platform then is more like a holiday home in a nice rural community, everyone knows your name, it’s got a couple of nice coffee bars but not much else. You mainly go for the walks and the quiet pace of life.

Reflecting on the activity on Mastodon made me realise two things. Firstly, we’ve become acutely aware of the role of social media in recent politic events – it’s not an innocent anymore. Secondly, we’re all social media experts now, in that we’ve been using it intensely for year. When we joined Twitter it was with an exploratory attitude, “what will this space turn out to be?”. Now it is more instructive, directed – we know what we want from a social media space and how can we fashion this one to be like that?

Even if Mastodon fades, I think this new attitude to social media will be revisited with increased vigour over the next few years. If we accept it isn’t going away (although I admire those who consciously decide to opt out) then establishing the sort of online community you want to spend time in is worthwhile.

Break my arms around the one I love

Embrace Sculpture

I’ve written before about my love of blogging. But post-Trump victory, I’m questioning everything. On the plus side it has seen a flurry of great blogging. With news forced to normalise it, and fake news a testimony to our ability to drown in comfort rather than face truths, blogs are the place to turn to for informative comment often.

But on the downside, as David Kernohan points out, much of the grinding engine of paranoia and hatred is driven by these same tools and approaches. The ones I’ve happily championed for years. And more fundamentally I think we have to question the role of education, educational technology and educators now. As a blogger I don’t want to write about the new world, because there are others who have a better understanding of the socio-political threads coming together in this new fabric, and I don’t think I have anything new to say (apart from a long primal scream). But I can’t write about anything else. This post then really is just flagging up some blogistential angst. Damn Trump and his ilk, they’ve even contaminated this space.

While I figure this out for me, here’s a selection of some great posts:

Sherri Spelic – Incuriosity is a thing

Jesse Stommel – This paragraph was written before the world went to shit

Mike Caulfield – Fake news does better on Facebook than real news

Audrey Watters – Education Technology under Trump: A syllabus

Tressie McMillan Cottom – Digital redlining after Trump

Helen Beetham – Ed Tech and the circus of unreason

Lorna Campbell – The wrong side of history

Amy Collier – Love/Resistance

And while we’re here, let’s have some National:

Acts of resistance

Resistance

So I had the Trump chat with my daughter last night. It’s a useful way to frame your own reaction, as you have to balance the anger, depression and anxiety with some practicality and hope. She wanted to know what she could do, and I explained that one thing to remember is that time and demographics are against the Alt-right world order. In 10 years time Brexit or Trump would not have been successful (probably). And also their own incompetence and failure to deliver on their vague promises will be their undoing. So just getting through the next 5-10 years is a strategy in itself. In our discussion (it was actually more her analysis than mine) we thought of it in terms of resistance:

  • Staying healthy is an act of resistance – whatever you need to do to get through it is fine. There is no one way to do this, but being there when the chance for the backlash comes is important. We are those demographics.
  • Being kind is an act of resistance – these politics are based largely in hate, fear and paranoia. Kindness sounds weak but it requires strength.
  • Encouraging diversity is an act of resistance – the people who voted for Trump are the ones who think a remake of Ghostbusters with all women leads destroys their childhood. Fuck them, let’s see more of this everywhere.
  • Supporting others is an act of resistance – there are others who will be affected more adversely, and whatever we can do to support those helps, be it marches, donations, speaking up.
  • Education is an act of resistance – the Trump campaign declares open hostility to knowledge and expertise. Combatting this attitude itself negates their appeal.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Take care.

OpenEd16 & my manel shame

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I’ve been at OpenEd in Richmond this week, and I feel bad about this post, because it’s been an amazing conference. For example, I’ve just come from post conference drinks with Audrey Watters, Ken Bauer, Christina Hendricks, Autumm Caines, Laura Gogia, Jim Luke, and so on. Anything that brings those people together in one place is worth applauding. So what follows is meant in the best possible friendly critique manner.

OpenEd conference needs to do better at, well, being open. Before we start, I’ll say I dislike the way people use ‘open’ as a means to bash others eg “if you’re open why do you charge conference fees at all?”. I understand the realities of running a conference. But I think OpenEd could do better here. My example involves myself and a moment of shame I felt, but I think it’s symptomatic, so this isn’t just catharsis. I was asked relatively late to be on a panel, talking about the Future OER essays people were asked to contribute. I like to be accommodating so I agreed. But I didn’t pay it much attention (in an effort to redeem myself here, I was presenting, taking part in 3 Virtually Connecting sessions and had arranged numerous meetings with people). Then, when it came to walk on stage I was one of 7 men to just one woman on the panel. I mean, really? In open ed, you could throw a cookie in the air and it’d land on any one of a number of women doing amazing things. It almost seems like it’d be harder to have a 7:1 ration than not.

I called this out when asked to introduce myself, but I know I lack a good degree of moral courage. I should have a) paid more attention when asked to be on the panel and b) walked off the stage when I saw it’s make up. This shit isn’t hard, it just takes a millisecond additional thought.

But I think it goes beyond that panel – there didn’t feel like the appropriate mix of voices beyond north America at that conference. It felt different from OE Global, which feels, well, global. I understand it is predominantly the conference for open ed in North America – that’s what it is, so that community will dominate. But I think we could do better. In a Virtually Connecting session later, I commented that often we (Virtually Connecting) feel grateful for conferences letting us be part of it (and OpenEd did a really great job here, for which they should be applauded), but also they should feel grateful to Maha and team for bringing in some different voices to the conference also.

I won’t address all the issues why it’s good practice to get these different perspectives involved, as so many better informed people than me have written about it, but just to add that it’s not a luxury, it’s vital. Anyway, I’ve learnt never agree to be on a panel without asking a few questions first, and for my failure to do that, I apologise.

Let’s think inside the box

Intergalactic (Cardboard edition)

I’m interested in the way language influences our behaviour (without getting into linguistic determinism), and one aspect I think we’re witnessing is the seepage of Silicon Valley language and values into society. In the software world terms such as ‘radical’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘revolutionary’ are all used freely, and always with positive connotations. However, the same terms have now been taken up across society, and particularly in politics. Both Brexit and Trump could match those adjectives, but I would argue they are not positive forces. These are larger examples of a smaller phenomenon that values a radical new solution over an improvement to an existing one. Competence is a much undervalued trait in this new world, because competence relies on working in existing paradigms, and well, we’re all about the new paradigms. Never has this contrast been so stark than with Trump and Clinton. Whatever your views of Clinton, she is very competent at being a politician. And Trump clearly isn’t, because he’s never been one (and doesn’t seem to possess any of the skills required).

But this post isn’t about politics, I just use those as examples of the end point of a larger trend, and to illustrate the point that ‘disruptive’ does not equate with ‘good’. In education terms, I feel this language has been influential also. Too many universities want to be start-up businesses, or expand into new overseas markets. They want to be something new, instead of being the best at what they already are. ‘Let’s Engage on a Program of Improvement’ is, admittedly, not as sexy as “Let’s start a revolution!”. Another aspect of the Silicon Valley language and mindset is that falsely posits the choice as either complete transformation or absolute status quo. I reject this choice, there is plenty of change and excitement to be done by working ‘inside the box’ (sadly ‘inside the box‘ has itself become a bit of a management guru approach already).

The use of technology in education I think provides an ideal example of this tendency. You can make the question about its use “how can we use technology to radically transform higher education into something different?” or it can be “how do we use technology to really improve what we do?” Those two questions lead you to very different answers. Too often I think being the person who wants to answer the first question will get you status, whereas the answer to the second question is what we really need. This is particularly true as we enter uncertain times as a result of the political context which arises from the same thinking.

We need a shift from the desirable adjectives being ‘radical’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘revolutionary’ to ‘competent’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘enhancing’. If you don’t think language is important in this, then try the following – the next time someone uses ‘disruptive’ in a meeting, act as if that is quite an offensive term and really question them on why they have used it (as I said before, do you really want disruption?). Maybe then people will start to question what it is they really want.

OER as educational heritage

Tragic face

There has been a pruning of A-level subjects in the UK recently, with Art history, Archeology, and Classical studies all for the chop. It’s like the Beeching Report for education. It is puzzling in many respects – everyone talks about how the workplace is becoming increasingly fragmented, diverse in terms of jobs. We are told things like 65% of today’s students will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet (which reminds me of Anchorman’s “60% of the time it works every time“), and yet we are making the education sector increasingly homogeneous. And with higher ed funding increasingly focused on STEM subjects, it is not just at secondary level that this restriction of choice will occur.

This perhaps hints at another role for OER, which is preserving some aspect of the necessary diversity in educational topics. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting OER should replace A levels in these subject, but rather arguing that if they are being scrapped, then thank goodness OER can at least keep them going in some format. OER provide good quality content that is specifically aimed at learners, which is distinct from other resources (documentaries, books) in the area. The OU’s OpenLearn site for instance has a fine collection of material on Art History. OER then can at least help the motivated learner stay in touch with a subject. There may be further possibilities however, in the often talked about model of accrediting informal learning. In such a model maybe we can bring some diversity to a curriculum by having OER electives. You may be studying Physics, say, but there is one open elective so you can add in an option of Archeology through the provision and accreditation of OER.

That is of course, nowhere near the same as having rich diversity in official courses, but it at least keeps appreciation of these subjects alive, until such time as a more enlightened educational regime is in place.

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