ETAG Digital Solutions for Tourism Conference 2016

This morning I’m at the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group’s Digital Solutions for Tourism Conference 2016. Why am I along? Well EDINA has been doing some really interesting cultural heritage projects for years

Introduction James McVeigh, Head of Marketing and Innovation, Festivals Edinburgh

Welcome to our sixth Digital Solutions for Tourism Conference. In those last six years a huge amount has changed, and our programme reflects that, and will highlight much of the work in Edinburgh, but also picking up what is taking place in the wider world, and rolling out to the wider world.

So, we are in Edinburgh. The home of the world’s first commercially available mobile app – in 1999. And did you also know that Edinburgh is home to Europe’s largest tech incubator? Of course you do!

Welcome Robin Worsnop, Rabbie’s Travel, Chair, ETAG

We’ve been running these for six years, and it’s a headline event in the programme we run across the city. In the past six years we’ve seen technology move from business add on to fundamental to what we do – for efficiency, for reach, for increased revenue, and for disruption. Reflecting that change this event has grown in scope and popularity. In the last six years we’ve had about three and a half thousand people at these events. And we are always looking for new ideas for what you want to see here in future.

We are at the heart of the tech industry here too, with Codebase mentioned already, Sky Scanner, and the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh all of which attracts people to the city. As a city we have free wifi around key cultural venues, on the buses, etc. It is more and more ubiquitous for our tourists to have access to free wifi. And technology is becoming more and more about how those visitors enhance their visit and experience of the city.

So, we have lots of fantastic speakers today, and I hope that you enjoy them and you take back lots of ideas and inspiration to take back to your businesses.

What is new in digital and what are the opportunities for tourism Brian Corcoran, Director, Turing Festival

There’s some big news for the tech scene in Edinburgh today: SkyScanner have been brought by a Chinese company for 1.5bn. And FanDual just merged with its biggest rival last week. So huge things are happening.

So, I thought today technology trends and bigger trends – macro trends – might be useful today. So I’ll be looking at this through the lens of the companies shaping the world.

Before I do that, a bit about me, I have a background in marketing and especially digital marketing. And I am director of the Turing Festival – the biggest technology festival in Scotland which takes place every August.

So… There are really two drivers of technology… (1) tech companies and (2) users. I’m going to focus on the tech companies primarily.

The big tech companies right now include: Uber, disrupting the transport space; Netflix – for streaming and content commissioning; Tesla – dirupting transport and energy usage; Buzzfeed – influential with huge readership; Spotify – changing music and music payments; banking… No-one has yet dirupted banking but they will soon… Maybe just parts of banking… we shall see.

And no-one is influencing us more than the big five. Apple, mainly through the iPhone. I’ve been awaiting a new MacBook for five years… Apple are moving computing PCs for top end/power users, but also saying most users are not content producers, they are passive users – they want/expect us to move to iPads. It’s a mobile device (running iOS) and a real shift. iPhone 7 got coverage for headphones etc. but cameras didn’t get much discussion, but it is basically set up for augmented reality with two cameras. Air Pods – the cable-less headphones – is essentially a new wearable, like/after the iWatch. And we are also seeing Siri opening up.

Over at Google… Since Google’s inception the core has been search and the Google search index and ranking. And they are changing it for the first time ever really… And building a new one… They are building a Mobile-only search index. They aren’t just building that they are prioritising it. Mobile is really the big tech trend. And in line with that we have their Pixel phone – a phone they are manufacturing themselves… That’s getting them back into wearables after their Google Glass misstep. And Google Assistant is another part of the Pixel phone – a Siri competitor… Another part of us interacting with phones, devices, data, etc. in a new way.

Microsoft is one of the big five that some thing shouldn’t be there… They have made some missteps… They missed the internet. They missed – and have written off phones (and Nokia). But they have moved to Surface – another mobile device. They have abandoned Windows and moved to Microsoft 365. They brought LinkedIn for £26bn (in cash!). One way this could effect us… LinkedIn has all this amazing data… But it is terrible at monetising it. That will surely change. And then we have HoloLens – which means we may eventually have some mixed reality actually happening.

Next in the Big Five is Amazon. Some very interesting things there… We have Alexa – the digital assistant service here. They have, as a device, Echo – essentially a speaker and listening device for your home/hotel etc. Amazon will be in your home listening to you all the time… I’m not going to get there! And we have Amazon Prime… And also Prime Instant Video. Amazon moving into television. Netflix and Amazon compete with each other, but more with traditional TV. And moving from Ad income to subscriptions. Interesting to think where TV ad spend will go – it’s about half of all ad spend.

And Facebook. They are at ad saturation risk, and pushing towards video ads. With that in mind they may also become defacto TV platform. Do they have new editorial responsibility? With Fake News etc. are they a tech company? Are they a media company? At the same time they are caving completely to Chinese state surveillance requests. And Facebook are trying to diversify their ecosystem so they continue to outlast their competitors – with Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, etc.

So, that’s a quick look at tech companies and what they are pushing towards. For us, as users the big moves have been towards messaging – Line, Wiichat, Messaging, WhatsApp, etc. These are huge and there has been a big move towards messaging. And that’s important if we are trying to reach the fabled millennials as our audience.

And then we have Snapchat. It’s really impenetrable for those under 30. They have 150 Daily Active Users, they have 1 bn snaps daily, 10bn videos daily. They are the biggest competitor to Facebook, to ad revenue. They have also gone for wearables – in a cheeky cool upstart way.

So, we see 10 emergent patterns:

  1. Mobile is now *the* dominant consumer technology, eclipsing PCs. (Apple makes more from the iPhone than all their other products combined, it is the most successful single product in history).
  2. Voice is becoming in an increasingly important UI. (And interesting how answers there connect to advertising).
  3. Wearables bring tech into ever-closer physical and psychological proximity to us. It’s now on our wrist, or face… Maybe soon it will be inside you…
  4. IoT is getting closer, driven by the intersection of mobile, wearables, APIs and voice UI. Particularly seeing this in smart home tech – switching the heat on away from home is real (and important – it’s -3 today), but we may get to that promised fridge that re-orders…
  5. Bricks and mortar retail is under threat, and although we have some fulfillment challenges, they will be fixed.
  6. Messaging marks generational shift in communification preferences – asynchronous prferred
  7. AR and VR will soon be commonplace in entertainment – other use cases will follow… But things can take time. Apple watch went from unclear use case to clear health, sports, etc. use case.
  8. Visual cmmunications and replacing textural ones for millenials: Snapchat defines that.
  9. Media is increasingly in the hands of tech companies – TV ads will be disrupted (Netflix etc.)
  10. TV and ad revenue will move to Facebook, Snapchat etc.

What does this all mean?

Mobile is crucial:

  • Internet marketing in tourism now must be mobile-centric
  • Ignore Google mobile index at your peril
  • Local SEO is increasing in importance – that’s a big opportunity for small operators to get ahead.
  • Booking and payments must be designed for mobile – a hotel saying “please call us”, well Millennials will just say no.

It’s unclear where new opportunities will be, but they are coming. In Wearables we see things like twoee – wearable watches as key/bar tab etc. But we are moving to a more seamless place.

Augmented reality is enabling a whole new set of richer, previously unavailable interactive experiences. Pokemon Go has opened the door to location-based AR games. That means previously unexciting places can be made more engaging.

Connectivity though, that is also a threat. The more mobile and wearables become conduits to cloud services and IoT, the more the demand for free, flawless internet connectivity will grow.

Channels? Well we’ve always needed to go where the market it. It’s easier to identify where they are now… But we need to adapt to customers behaviours and habits, and their preferences.

Moore’s law: overall processing power for computers will double every two year (Gordon Moore, INTEL, 1965)… And I wonder if that may also be true for us too.

Coming up…

Shine the Light – Digital Sector (5 minutes each) 

Joshua Ryan-Saha, The Data Lab – data for tourism

Brian Smillie, Beezer – app creation made affordable and easy

Ben Hutton, XDesign – is a mobile website enough?

Chris Torres, Director, Senshi Digital – affordable video

Case Study – Global Treasure Apps and Historic Environment Scotland Lorraine Sommerville and Noelia Martinez, Global Treasure Apps

Apps that improve your productivity and improve your service Gillian Jones, Qikserve

Virtual reality for tourism Alexander Cole, Peekabu Studios

Using Data and Digital for Market Intelligence for Destinations and Businesses Michael Kessler, VP Global Sales, Review Pro

Tech Trends and the Tourism Sector

Jo Paulson, Edinburgh Zoo and Jon-Paul Orsi, Edinburgh Zoo – Pokemon Go

Rob Cawston, National Museum of Scotland – New Galleries and Interactive Exhibitions

Wrap Up James McVeigh, Festivals Edinburgh



Reflections on speaking at TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016: Identity

Last Wednesday, I had the absolute pleasure of being part of the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016, which had the theme of “Identity. I had been invited along to speak about our Managing Your Digital Footprint work, and my #CODI2016 Fringe show, If I Googled You, What Would I Find? The event was quite extraordinary and I wanted to share some thoughts on the day itself, as well as some reflections on my experience of preparing a TEDx talk.

TEDxYouth@Manchester is in it’s 8th year, and is based at Fallibroome Academy, a secondary school with a specialism in performing arts (see, for instance, their elaborate and impressive trailer video for the school). And Fallibroome was apparently the first school in the world to host a TEDxYouth event. Like other TEDx events the schedule mixes invited talks, talks from youth speakers, and recorded items – in today’s case that included a TED talk, a range of short films, music videos and a quite amazing set of videos of primary school kids responding to questions on identity (beautifully edited by the Fallibroome team and featuring children from schools in the area).

In my own talk – the second of the day – I asked the audience to consider the question of what their digital footprints say about them. And what they want them to say about them. My intention was to trigger reflection and thought, to make the audience in the room – and on the livestream – think about what they share, what they share about others and,hopefully, what else they do online – their privacy settings, their choices..

My fellow invited speakers were a lovely and diverse bunch:

Kat Arney, a geneticist, science writer, musician, and author. She was there to talk about identity from a genetic perspective, drawing on her fantastic new book “Herding Hemingway’s Catsâ€� (my bedtime reading this week). Kat’s main message – a really important one – is that genes don’t predetermine your identity, and that any understanding of there being a “Gene for… xâ€�, i.e. the “Gene for Cancer”, a “Gay Gene”, a gene for whatever… is misleading at best. Things are much more complicated and unpredictable than that. As part of her talk she spoke about gene “wobblesâ€� – a new concept to me – which describes the unexpected and rule-defying behaviour of genes in the real world vs our expectations based on the theory, drawing on work on nematode worms. It was a really interesting start to the day and I highly recommend checking out both Kat’s book, and the The Naked Scientists’ Naked Gentics podcast.

Ben Smith, spoke about his own very personal story and how that led to the 401 Challenge, in which he ran 401 marathons in 401 days. Ben spoke brilliantly and bravely on his experience of bullying, of struggling with his sexuality, and the personal crises and suicide attempts that led to him finding his own sense of self and identity, and happiness, through his passion for running in his late 20s/early 30s. Ben’s talk was even more powerful as it was preceded by an extraordinary video (see below) of the poem “To This Dayâ€� by performance poet Shane Koyczan on the impact of bullying and the strength in overcoming it.

VV Brown, singer, songwriter, producer and ethical fashion entrepreneur, gave a lovely presentation on identity and black hair. She gave a personal and serious take on issues of identity and appropriation which have been explored (from another angle) in Chris Rock’s Good Hair (2009). As well as the rich culture of black hairdressing and hugely problematic nature of hair relaxants, weaves, and hair care regimes (including some extreme acids) that are focused on pressuring black women to meet an unobtainable and undesirable white hair ideal. She also spoke from her experience of the modelling industry and it’s incapability of dealing with black hair, whilst simultaneously happily engaging in cultural appropriation, braiding corn rows into white celebrities hair. V.V. followed up her talk with a live performance, of “Shift” (see video below), a song which she explained was inspired by the gay rights movement, and particularly black gay men in New York expressing themselves and their sexuality.

The final invited speaker was Ben Garrod, a Teaching Fellow in evolutionary biology at Anglia Ruskin University as well as a science communicator and broadcaster who has worked with David Attenborough and is on the Board of Trustees for the Jane Goodall Institute. Ben spoke about the power of the individual in a community, bringing in the idea of identity amongst animals, that the uniqueness of the chimps he worked with as part of Jane Goodall’s team. He also had us all join in a Pant-hoot – an escalating group chimp call, to illustrate the power of both the individual and the community.

In amongst the speakers were a range of videos – lovely selections that I gather (and believe) a student team spent months selecting from a huge amount of TED content. However, the main strand of the programme were a group of student presentations and performances which were quite extraordinary.

Highlights for me included Imogen Walsh, who spoke about the fluidity of gender and explained the importance of choice, the many forms of non-binary or genderqueer identity, the use of pronouns like they and Mx and the importance of not singling people out, or questioning them, for buying non gender-conforming, their choice of bathroom, etc. Because, well, why is it anyone else’s business?

Sophie Baxter talked about being a gay teen witnessing the global response to the Pulse nightclub shooting and the fear and reassurance that wider public response to this had provided. She also highlighted the importance of having an LGBT community since for most LGBT young people their own immediate biological/adoptive family may not, no matter how supportive, have a shared experience to draw upon, to understand challenges or concerns faced.

Maddie Travers and Nina Holland-Jones described a visit to Auschwitz (they had actually landed the night before the event) reflecting on what that experience of visiting the site had meant to them, and what it said about identity. They particularly focused on the pain and horror of stripping individual identity, treating camp prisoners (and victims) as a group that denied their individuality at the same time as privileging some individuals for special skills and contributions that extended their life and made them useful to the Nazi regime.

Sam Amey, Nicola Smith and Ellena Wilson talked about attending the London International Youth Science Festival student science conference, of seeing inspiring new science and the excitement of that – watching as a real geek and science fan it was lovely to see their enthusiasm and to hear them state that they “identify as scientists� (that phrasing a recurrent theme and seems to be the 2016 way for youth to define themselves I think).

Meanwhile performances included an absolutely haunting violin piece, Nigun by Bloch, performed by Ewan Kilpatrick (see a video of his playing here). As brilliant as Ewan’s playing was, musically the show was stolen by two precocious young composers, both of whom had the confidence of successful 40 year olds at the peak of their career, backed up by musical skills that made that confidence seem entirely appropriately founded. Ignacio Mana Mesas described his composition process and showed some of his film score (and acting) work, before playing a piece of his own composition; Tammas Slater (you can hear his prize winning work in this BBC Radio 3 clip) meanwhile showed some unexpected comic sparkle, showing off his skills before creating a composition in real time! And the event finished with a lively and charming set of tracks performed by school alumnae and up and coming band Cassia.

All of the youth contributions were incredible. The enthusiasm, competence and confidence of these kids – and of their peers who respectfully engaged and listened throughout the day – was heartening. The future seems pretty safe if this is what the future is looking like – a very lovely thing to be reminded in these strange political times.

Preparing a TEDx talk – a rather different speaking proposition

For me the invitation to give a TEDx talk was really exciting. I have mixed feelings about the brilliantly engaging but often too slick TED format, at the same time as recognising the power that the brand and reputation for the high quality speakers can have.

I regularly give talks and presentations, but distilling ideas of digital identity into 14 minutes whilst keeping them clear, engaging, meeting the speaker rules felt challenging. Doing that in a way that would have some sort of longevity seemed like a tougher ask as things move quickly in internet research, in social media, and in social practices online, so I wanted to make sure my talk focused on those aspects of our work that are solid and long-lived concepts – ideas that would have usefulness even if Facebook disappeared tomorrow (who knows, fake news may just make that a possibility), or SnapChat immediately lost all interest, or some new game-changing space appears tomorrow. This issue of being timely but not immediately out of date is also something we face in creating Digital Footprint MOOC content at the moment.

As an intellectual challenge developing my TEDx talk was useful for finding another way to think about my own presentation and writing skills, in much the same way that taking on the 8 minute format of Bright Club has been, or the 50 ish minute format of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, or indeed teaching 2+ hour seminars for the MSc in Science Communication & Public Engagement for the three years I led a module on that programme. It is always useful to rethink your topic, to think about fitting a totally different dynamic or house style, and to imagine a different audience and their needs and interests. In this case the audience was 16-18 year olds, who are a little younger than my usual audience, but who I felt sure would have lots of interest in my topic, and plenty of questions to ask (as there were in the separate panel event later in the day at Fallibroome).

There are some particular curiosities about the TED/TEDx format versus other speaking and presentations and I thought I’d share some key things I spent time thinking about. You never know, if you find yourself invited to do a TEDx (or if you are very high flying, a TED) these should help a wee bit:

  1. Managing the format

Because I have mixed feelings about the TED format, since it can be brilliant, but also too easy to parody (as in this brilliant faux talk), I was very aware of wanting to live up to the invitation and the expectations for this event, without giving a talk that wouldn’t meet my own personal speaking style or presentation tastes. I think I did manage that in the end but it required some watching of former videos to get my head around what I both did and did not want to do. That included looking back at previous TEDxYouth@Manchester events (to get a sense of space, scale, speaker set up and local expectations), as well as wider TED videos.

I did read the TED/TEDx speaker guidance and largely followed it although, since I do a lot of talks and know what works for me, I chose to write and create slides in parallel with the visuals helping me develop my story (rather than writing first, then doing slides as the guidance suggests). I also didn’t practice my talk nearly as often as either the TED instructions or the local organisers suggest – not out of arrogance but knowing that practicing a few times to myself works well, practising a lot gets me bored of the content and sets up unhelpful memorisations of errors, developing ideas, etc.

I do hugely appreciate that TED/TEDx insist on copyright cleared images. My slides were mostly images I had taken myself but I found a lovely image of yarn under CC-BY on Flickr which was included (and credited) too. Although as I began work on the talk I did start by thinking hard about whether or not to use slides… TED is a format associated with innovative slides (they were the original cheerleaders for Prezi), but at the same time the fact that talks are videoed means much of the power comes from close ups of the speaker, of capturing the connection between speaker and the live audience, and of building connection with the livestream and video audience. With all of that in mind I wanted to keep my slides simple, lively, and rather stylish. I think I managed that but see what you think of my slides [PDF].

  1. Which audience?

Normally when I write a talk, presentation, workshop, etc. I think about tailoring the content to the context and to my audience. I find that is a key part of ensuring I meet my audience’s needs, but it also makes the talk looks, well, kind of cute and clever. Tailoring a talk for a particular moment in time, a specific event or day, and a particular audience means you can make timely and specific references, you can connect to talks and content elsewhere in the day, you can adapt and adlib to meet the interests and mood that you see, and you can show you have understood the context of your audience. Essentially all that tailoring helps you connect more immediately and builds a real bond.

But for TEDx is the audience the 500+ people in the room? Our audience on Wednesday were mainly between 16 and 18, but there were other audience members who had been invited or just signed up to attend (you can find all upcoming TEDx events on their website and most offer tickets for those that are interested). It was a packed venue, but they are probably the smallest audience who will see my performance…

The video being during the event captured goes on the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016 Playlist on the TEDxYouth YouTube channel and on the TEDx YouTube channel. All of the videos are also submitted to TED so, if your video looks great to the folk  there you could also end up featured on the core TED website, with much wider visibility. Now, I certainly wouldn’t suggest I am counting on having a huge global audience, but those channels all attract a much wider audience than was sitting in the hall. So, where do you pitch the talk?

For my talk I decided to strike a balance between issues that are most pertinent to developing identity, to managing challenges that we know from our research are particularly relevant and difficult for young people – ad which these students may face now or when they go to university. But I also pitched the talk to have relevance more widely, focusing less on cyber bullying, or teen dynamics, and more about changing contexts and the control one can choose to take of ones own digital footprint and social media content, something particularly pertinent to young people but relevant to us all.

  1. When Is it for?

Just as streaming distorts your sense of audience, it also challenges time. The livestream is watching on the day – that’s easy. But the recorded video could stick around for years, and will have a lifespan long beyond the day. With my fast moving area that was a challenge – do I make my talk timely or do I make it general? What points of connection and moments of humour are potentially missed by giving that talk a longer lifespan? I was giving a talk just after Trump’s election and in the midst of the social media bubble discussion – there are easy jokes there, things to bring my audience on board – but they might distance viewers at another time, and date rapidly. And maybe those references wouldn’t be universal enough for a wider audience beyond the UK…

In the end I tried to again balance general and specific advice. But I did that knowing that many of those in the physical audience would also be attending a separate panel event later in the day which would allow many more opportunities to talk about very contemporary questions, and to address sensitive questions that might (and did) arise. In fact in that panel session we took questions on mental health, about how parental postings and video (including some of those made for this event) might impact on their child’s digital footprint, and on whether not being on social media was a disadvantage in life. Those at the panel session also weren’t being streamed or captured in any way, which allowed for frank discussion building on an intense and complex day.

  1. What’s the main take away?

The thing that took me the longest time was thinking about the “take away” I wanted to leave the audience with. That was partly because I wanted my talk to have impact, to feel energising and hopefully somewhat inspiring, but also because the whole idea of TED is “Ideas worth sharingâ€�, which means a TED(x) talk has to have at its core a real idea, something specific and memorable to take from those 14 minutes, something that has impact.

I did have to think of a title far in advance of the event and settled on “What do you digital footprints say about you?”. I picked that as it brought together some of my #CODI16 show’s ideas, and some of the questions I knew I wanted to raise in my talk. But what would I do with that idea? I could have taken the Digital Footprint thing in a more specific direction – something I might do in a longer workshop or training session – picking on particularly poor or good practices and zoning in on good or bad posts. But that isn’t big picture stuff. I had to think about analogy, about examples, about getting the audience to understand the longevity of impact a social media post might have…

After a lot of thinking, testing out of ideas in conversation with my partner and some of my colleagues, I had some vague concepts and then I found my best ideas came – contrary to the TED guidance – from trying to select images to help me form my narrative. An image I had taken at Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival earlier this year of an artwork created from a web of strung yarn proved the perfect visual analogy for the complexity involved in taking back an unintended, regretted, or ill-thought-through social media post. It’s an idea I have explained before but actually trying to think about getting the idea across quickly in 1 minute of my 14 minute talk really helped me identify that image as vivid effective shorthand. And from that I found my preceding image and, from that, the flow and the look and feel of the story I wanted to tell. It’s not always the obvious (or simple) things that get you to a place of simplicity and clarity.

Finally I went back to my title and thought about whether my talk did speak to that idea, what else I should raise, and how I would really get my audience to feel engaged and ready to listen, and to really reflect on their own practice, quickly. In the end I settled on a single slide with that title, that question, at it’s heart. I made that the first stepping stone on my path through the talk, building in a pause that was intended to get the audience listening and thinking about their own digital identity. You’d have to ask the audience whether that worked or not but the quality of questions and comments later in the day certainly suggested they had taken in some of what I said and asked.

  1. Logistics

As a speaker there are some logistical aspects that are easy to deal with once you’ve done it a first time: travel, accommodation, etc. There are venue details that you either ask about – filming, photography, mics, etc. or you can find out in advance. Looking at previous years’ videos helped a lot: I would get a screen behind me for slides, there would be a set (build by students no less) and clear speaker zone on stage (the infamous red carpet/dot), I’d have a head mic (a first for me, but essentially a glamorous radio mic, which I am used to) and there would be a remote for my slides. It also looked likely I’d have a clock counting down although, in the end, that wasn’t working during my talk (a reminder, again, that I need a new watch with classic stand up comedy/speaker-friendly vibrating alarm). On the day there was a sound check (very helpful) and also an extremely professional and exceptionally helpful team of technicians – staff, students and Siemens interns – to get us wired up and recorded. The organisers also gave us plenty of advance notice of filming and photography.

I have been on the periphery of TEDx events before: Edinburgh University has held several events and I know how much work has gone into these; I attended a TEDxGlasgow hosted by STV a few years back and, again, was struck buy the organisation required. For TEDxYouth@Manchester I was invited to speak earlier in the year – late August/early September – so I had several months to prepare. The organisers tell me that sometimes they invite speakers as much as 6 to 12 months ahead of the event – as soon as the event finishes their team begin their search for next years’s invitees…

As the organising team spend all year planning a slick event – and Fallibroome Academy really did do an incredibly well organised and slick job – they expect slick and well organised speakers. I think all of us invited speakers, each of us with a lot of experience of talks and performance, experienced more coordination, more contact and more clarity on expectation, format, etc. than at any previous speaking event.

That level of detail is always useful as a a speaker but it can also be intimidating – although that is useful for focusing your thoughts too. There were conference calls in September and October to share developing presentation thoughts, to finalise titles, and to hear a little about each others talks. That last aspect was very helpful – I knew little of the detail of the other talks until the event itself, but I had a broad idea of the topic and angle of each speaker which meant I could ensure minimal overlap, and maximum impact as I understood how my talk fitted in to the wider context.

All credit to Peter Rubery and the Fallibroome team for their work here. They curated a brilliant selection of videos and some phenomenal live performances and short talks from students to create a coherent programme with appropriate and clever segues that added to the power of the presentations, the talks, and took us on something of a powerful emotional rollercoaster. All of us invited speakers felt it was a speaking engagement like we’d never had before and it really was an intense and impactful day. And, as Ben G said, for some students the talks they gave today will be life changing, sharing something very personally on a pretty high profile stage, owning their personal experience and reflections in a really empowering way.

In conclusion then, this was really a wonderful experience and a usefully challenging format to work in. I will update this post with the videos of the talks as soon as they are available – you can then judge for yourself how I did. However, if you get the chance to take part in a TEDx event, particularly a TEDxYouth event I would recommend it. I would also encourage you to keep an eye on the TEDxYouth@Manchester YouTube channel for those exceptional student presentations!


Association of Internet Researchers AoIR2016: Day 4

Today is the last day of the Association of Internet Researchers Conference 2016 – with a couple fewer sessions but I’ll be blogging throughout.

As usual this is a liveblog so corrections, additions, etc. are welcomed. 

PS-24: Rulemaking (Chair: Sandra Braman)

The DMCA Rulemaking and Digital Legal Vernaculars – Olivia G Conti, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States of America

Apologies, I’ve joined this session late so you miss the first few minutes of what seems to have been an excellent presentation from Olivia. 

Property and ownership claims made of distinctly American values… Grounded in general ideals, evocations of the Bill of Rights. Or asking what Ben Franklin would say… Bringing the ideas of the DCMA as being contrary to the very foundations of the United Statements. Another them was the idea of once you buy something you should be able to edit as you like. Indeed a theme here is the idea of “tinkering and a liberatory endeavour”. And you see people claiming that it is a basic human right to make changes and tinker, to tweak your tractor (or whatever). Commentators are not trying to appeal to the nation state, they are trying to perform the state to make rights claims to enact the rights of the citizen in a digital world.

So, John Deere made a statement that tractro buyers have an “implied license” to their tractor, they don’t own it out right. And that raised controversies as well.

So, the final register rule was that the farmers won: they could repair their own tractors.

But the vernacular legal formations allow us to see the tensions that arise between citizens and the rights holders. And that also raises interesting issues of citizenship – and of citizenship of the state versus citizenship of the digital world.

The Case of the Missing Fair Use: A Multilingual History & Analysis of Twitter’s Policy Documentation – Amy Johnson, MIT, United States of America

This paper looks at the multilingual history and analysis of Twitter’s policy documentation. Or policies as uneven scalar tools of power alignment. And this comes from the idea of thinking of the Twitter as more than just the whole complete overarching platform. There is much research now on moderation, but understanding this type of policy allows you to understand some of the distributed nature of the platforms. Platforms draw lines when they decide which laws to tranform into policies, and then again when they think about which policies to translate.

If you look across at a list of Twitter policies, there is an English language version. Of this list it is only the Fair Use policy and the Twitter API limits that appear only in English. The API policy makes some sense, but the Fair Use policy does not. And Fair Use only appears really late – in 2014. It sets up in 2005, and many other policies come in in 2013… So what is going on?

So, here is the Twitter Fair Use Policy… Now, before I continue here, I want to say that this translation (and lack of) for this policy is unusual. Generally all companies – not just tech companies – translate into FIGS: French, Italian, German, Spanish languages. And Twitter does not do this. But this is in contrast to the translations of the platform itself. And I wanted to talk in particularly about translations into Japanese and Arabic. Now the Japanese translation came about through collaboration with a company that gave it opportunities to expand out into Japen. Arabic is not put in place until 2011, and around the Arab Spring. And the translation isn’t doen by Twitter itself but by another organisaton set up to do this. So you can see that there are other actors here playing into translations of platform and policies. So this iconic platforms are shaped in some unexpected ways.

So… I am not a lawyer but… Fair Use is a phenomenon that creates all sorts of internet lawyering. And typically there are four factors of fair use (Section 107 of US Copyright Act of 1976): purpose and character of use; nature of copyright work; amount and substantiality of portion used; effect of use on potential market for or value of copyright work. And this is very much an american law, from a legal-economic point of view. And the US is the only country that has Fair Use law.

Now there is a concept of “Fair Dealing” – mentioned in passing in Fair Use – which shares some characters. There are other countries with Fair Use law: Poland, Israel, South Korea… Well they point to the English language version. What about Japanese which has a rich reuse community on Twitter? It also points to the English policy.

So, policy are not equal in their policynesss. But why does this matter? Because this is where rule of law starts to break down… And we cannot assume that the same policies apply universally, that can’t be assumed.

But what about parody? Why bring this up? Well parody is tied up with the idea of Fair Use and creative transformation. Comedy is protected Fair Use category. And Twitter has a rich seam of parody. And indeed, if you Google for the fair use policy, the “People also ask” section has as the first question: “What is a parody account”.

Whilst Fair Use wasn’t there as a policy until 2014, parody unofficially had a policy in 2009, an official one in 2010, updates, another version in 2013 for the IPO. Biz Stone writes about, when at Google, lawyers saying about fake accounts “just say it is parody!” and the importance of parody. And indeed the parody policy has been translated much more widely than the Fair Use policy.

So, policies select bodies of law and align platforms to these bodies of law, in varying degree and depending on specific legitimation practices. Fair Use is strongly associated with US law, and embedding that in the translated policies aligns Twitter more to US law than they want to be. But parody has roots in free speech, and that is something that Twitter wishes to align itself with.

Visual Arts in Digital and Online Environments: Changing Copyright and Fair Use Practice among Institutions and Individuals Abstract – Patricia Aufderheide, Aram Sinnreich, American University, United States of America

Patricia: Aram and I have been working with the College Art Association and it brings together a wide range of professionals and practitioners in art across colleges in the US. They had a new code of conduct and we wanted to speak to them, a few months after that code of conduct was released, to see if that had changed practice and understanding. This is a group that use copyrighted work very widely. And indeed one-third of respondents avoid, abandon, or are delayed because of copyrighted work.

Aram: four-fifths of CAA members use copyrighted materials in their work, but only one fifth employ fair use to do that – most or always seek permission. And of those that use fair use there are some that always or usually use Fair Use. So there are real differences here. So, Fair Use are valued if you know about it and undestand it… but a quarter of this group aren’t sure if Fair Use is useful or not. Now there is that code of conduct. There is also some use of Creative Commons and open licenses.

Of those that use copyright materials… But 47% never use open licenses for their own work – there is a real reciprocity gap. Only 26% never use others openly licensed work. and only 10% never use others’ public domain work. Respondents value creative copying… 19 out of 20 CAA members think that creative appropriation can be “original”, and despite this group seeking permissions they also don’t feel that creative appropriation shouldn’t neccassarily require permission. This really points to an education gap within the community.

And 43% said that uncertainty about the law limits creativity. They think they would appropriate works more, they would public more, they would share work online… These mirror fair use usage!

Patricia: We surveyed this group twice in 2013 and in 2016. Much stays the same but there have been changes… In 2016, 2/3rd have heard about the code, and a third have shared that information – with peers, in teaching, with colleagues. Their associations with the concept of Fair Use are very positive.

Arem: The good news is that the code use does lead to change, even within 10 months of launch. This work was done to try and show how much impact a code of conduct has on understanding… And really there was a dramatic differences here. From the 2016 data, those who are not aware of the code, look a lot like those who are aware but have not used the code. But those who use the code, there is a real difference… And more are using fair use.

Patricia: There is one thing we did outside of the survey… There have been dramatic changes in the field. A number of universities have changed journal policies to be default Fair Use – Yale, Duke, etc. There has been a lot of change in the field. Several museums have internally changed how they create and use their materials. So, we have learned that education matters – behaviour changes with knowledge confidence. Peer support matters and validates new knowledge. Institutional action, well publicized, matters .The newest are most likely to change quickly, but the most veteran are in the best position – it is important to have those influencers on board… And teachers need to bring this into their teaching practice.

Panel Q&A

Q1) How many are artists versus other roles?

A1 – Patricia) About 15% are artists, and they tend to be more positive towards fair use.

Q2) I was curious about changes that took place…

A2 – Arem) We couldn’t ask whether the code made you change your practice… But we could ask whether they had used fair use before and after…

Q3) You’ve made this code for the US CAA, have you shared that more widely…

A3 – Patricia) Many of the CAA members work internationally, but the effectiveness of this code in the US context is that it is about interpreting US Fair Use law – it is not a legal document but it has been reviewed by lawyers. But copyright is territorial which makes this less useful internationally as a document. If copyright was more straightforward, that would be great. There are rights of quotation elsewhere, there is fair dealing… And Canadian law looks more like Fair Use. But the US is very litigious so if something passes Fair Use checking, that’s pretty good elsewhere… But otherwise it is all quite territorial.

A3 – Arem) You can see in data we hold that international practitioners have quite different attitudes to American CAA members.

Q4) You talked about the code, and changes in practice. When I talk to filmmakers and documentary makers in Germany they were aware of Fair Use rights but didn’t use them as they are dependent on TV companies buy them and want every part of rights cleared… They don’t want to hurt relationships.

A4 – Patricia) We always do studies before changes and it is always about reputation and relationship concerns… Fair Use only applies if you can obtain the materials independently… But then the question may be that will rights holders be pissed off next time you need to licence content. What everyone told me was that we can do this but it won’t make any difference…

Chair) I understand that, but that question is about use later on, and demonstration of rights clearance.

A4 – Patricia) This is where change in US errors and omissions insurance makes a difference – that protects them. The film and television makers code of conduct helped insurers engage and feel confident to provide that new type of insurance clause.

Q5) With US platforms, as someone in Norway, it can be hard to understand what you can and cannot access and use on, for instance, in YouTube. Also will algorithmic filtering processes of platforms take into account that they deal with content in different territories?

A5 – Arem) I have spoken to Google Council about that issue of filtering by law – there is no difference there… But monitoring

A5 – Amy) I have written about legal fictions before… They are useful for thinking about what a “reasonable person” – and that can be vulnerable by jury and location so writing that into policies helps to shape that.

A5 – Patricia) The jurisdiction is where you create, not where the work is from…

Q6) There is an indecency case in France which they want to try in French court, but Facebook wants it tried in US court. What might the impact on copyright be?

A6 – Arem) A great question but this type of jurisdictional law has been discussed for over 10 years without any clear conclusion.

A6 – Patricia) This is a European issue too – Germany has good exceptions and limitations, France has horrible exceptions and limitations. There is a real challenge for pan European law.

Q7) Did you look at all of impact on advocacy groups who encouraged writing in/completion of replies on DCMA. And was there any big difference between the farmers and car owners?

A7) There was a lot of discussion on the digital right to repair site, and that probably did have an impact. I did work on Net Neutrality before. But in any of those cases I take out boiler plate, and see what they add directly – but there is a whole other paper to be done on boiler plate texts and how they shape responses and terms of additional comments. It wasn’t that easy to distinguish between farmers and car owners, but it was interesting how individuals established credibility. For farmers they talked abot the value of fixing their own equipment, of being independent, of history of ownership. Car mechanics, by contrast, establish technical expertise.

Q8) As a follow up: farmers will have had a long debate over genetically modified seeds – and the right to tinker in different ways…

A8) I didn’t see that reflected in the comments, but there may well be a bigger issue around micromanagement of practices.

Q9) Olivia, I was wondering if you were considering not only the rhetorical arguements of users, what about the way the techniques and tactics they used are received on the other side… What are the effective tactics there, or locate the limits of the effectiveness of the layperson vernacular stategies?

A9) My goal was to see what frames of arguements looked most effective. I think in the case of the John Deere DCMA case that wasn’t that conclusive. It can be really hard to separate the NGO from the individual – especially when NGOs submit huge collections of individual responses. I did a case study on non-consensual pornography was more conclusive in terms of strategies that was effective. The discourses I look at don’t look like legal discourse but I look at the tone and content people use. So, on revenge porn, the law doesn’t really reflect user practice for instance.

Q10) For Amy, I was wondering… Is the problem that Fair Use isn’t translated… Or the law behind that?

A10 – Amy) I think Twitter in particular have found themselves in a weird middle space… Then the exceptions wouldn’t come up. But having it in English is the odd piece. That policy seems to speak specifically to Americans… But you could argue they are trying to impose (maybe that’s a bit too strong) on all English speaking territory. On YouTube all of the policies are translated into the same languages, including Fair Use.

Q11) I’m fascinated in vernacular understanding and then the experts who are in the round tables, who specialise in these areas. How do you see vernacular discourse use in more closed/smaller settings?

A11 – Olivia) I haven’t been able to take this up as so many of those spaces are opaque. But in the 2012 rule making there were some direct quotes from remixers. And there a suggestion around DVD use that people should videotape the TV screen… and that seemed unreasonably onorous…

Chair) Do you forsee a next stage where you get to be in those rooms and do more on that?

A11 – Olivia) I’d love to do some ethnographic studies, to get more involved.

A11 – Patricia) I was in Washington for the DMCA hearings and those are some of the most fun things I go to. I know that the documentary filmmakers have complained about cost of participating… But a technician from the industry gave 30 minutes of evidence on the 40 technical steps to handle analogue film pieces of information… And to show that it’s not actually broadcast quality. It made them gasp. It was devastating and very visual information, and they cited it in their ruling… And similarly in John Deere case the car technicians made impact. By contrast a teacher came in to explain why copying material was important for teaching, but she didn’t have either people or evidence of what the difference is in the classroom.

Q12) I have an interesting case if anyone wants to look at it, around Wikipedia’s Fair Use issues around multimedia. Volunteers take pre-emptively being stricter as they don’t want lawyers to come in on that… And the Wikipedia policies there. There is also automation through bots to delete content without clear Fair Use exception.

A12 – Arem) I’ve seen Fair Use misappropriated on Wikipedia… Copyright images used at low resolution and claimed as Fair Use…

A12- Patricia) Wikimania has all these people who don’t want to deal with law on copyright at all! Wikimedia lawyers are in an a really difficult position.


Association of Internet Researchers AoIR 2016: Day Two

Today I am again at the Association of Internet Researchers AoIR 2016 Conference in Berlin. Yesterday we had workshops, today the conference kicks off properly. Follow the tweets at: #aoir2016.

As usual this is a liveblog so all comments and corrections are very much welcomed. 

Platform Studies: The Rules of Engagement (Chair: Jean Burgess, QUT)

How affordances arise through relations between platforms, their different types of users, and what they do to the technology – Taina Bucher (University of Copenhagen) and Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam)

Taina: Hearts on Twitter: In 2015 Twitter moved from stars to hearts, changing the affordances of the platform. They stated that they wanted to make the platform more accessible to new users, but that impacted on existing users.

Today we are going to talk about conceptualising affordances. In it’s original meaning an affordance is conceived of as a relational property (Gibson). For Norman perceived affordances were more the concern – thinking about how objects can exhibit or constrain particular actions. Affordances are not just the visual clues or possibilities, but can be felt. Gaver talks about these technology affordances. There are also social affordances – talked about my many – mainly about how poor technological affordances have impact on societies. It is mainly about impact of technology and how it can contain and constrain sociality. And finally we have communicative affordances (Hutchby), how technological affordances impact on communities and communications of practices.

So, what about platform changes? If we think about design affordances, we can see that there are different ways to understand this. The official reason for the design was given as about the audience, affording sociality of community and practices.

Affordances continues to play an important role in media and social media research. They tend to be conceptualised as either high-level or low-level affordances, with ontological and epistemological differences:

  • High: affordance in the relation – actions enabled or constrained
  • Low: affordance in the technical features of the user interface – reference to Gibson but they vary in where and when affordances are seen, and what features are supposed to enable or constrain.

Anne: We want to now turn to platform-sensitive approach, expanding the notion of the user –> different types of platform users, end-users, developers, researchers and advertisers – there is a real diversity of users and user needs and experiences here (see Gillespie on platforms. So, in the case of Twitter there are many users and many agendas – and multiple interfaces. Platforms are dynamic environments – and that differentiates social media platforms from Gibson’s environmental platforms. Computational systems driving media platforms are different, social media platforms adjust interfaces to their users through personalisation, A/B testing, algorithmically organised (e.g. Twitter recommending people to follow based on interests and actions).

In order to take a relational view of affordances, and do that justice, we also need to understand what users afford to the platforms – as they contribute, create content, provide data that enables to use and development and income (through advertisers) for the platform. Returning to Twitter… The platform affords different things for different people

Taking medium-specificity of platforms into account we can revisit earlier conceptions of affordance and critically analyse how they may be employed or translated to platform environments. Platform users are diverse and multiple, and relationships are multidirectional, with users contributing back to the platform. And those different users have different agendas around affordances – and in our Twitter case study, for instance, that includes developers and advertisers, users who are interested in affordances to measure user engagement.

How the social media APIs that scholars so often use for research are—for commercial reasons—skewed positively toward ‘connection’ and thus make it difficult to understand practices of ‘disconnection’ – Nicolas John (Hebrew University of Israel) and Asaf Nissenbaum (Hebrew University of Israel)

Consider this… On Facebook…If you add someone as a friend they are notified. If you unfriend them, they do not. If you post something you see it in your feed, if you delete it it is not broadcast. They have a page called World of Friends – they don’t have one called World of Enemies. And Facebook does not take kindly to app creators who seek to surface unfriending and removal of content. And Facebook is, like other social media platforms, therefore significantly biased towards positive friending and sharing actions. And that has implications for norms and for our research in these spaces.

One of our key questions here is what can’t we know about

Agnotology is defined as the study of ignorance. Robert Proctor talks about this in three terms: native state – childhood for instance; strategic ploy – e.g. the tobacco industry on health for years; lost realm – the knowledge that we cease to hold, that we loose.

I won’t go into detail on critiques of APIs for social science research, but as an overview the main critiques are:

  1. APIs are restrictive – they can cost money, we are limited to a percentage of the whole – Burgess and Bruns 2015; Bucher 2013; Bruns 2013; Driscoll and Walker
  2. APIs are opaque
  3. APIs can change with little notice (and do)
  4. Omitted data – Baym 2013 – now our point is that these platforms collect this data but do not share it.
  5. Bias to present – boyd and Crawford 2012

Asaf: Our methodology was to look at some of the most popular social media spaces and their APIs. We were were looking at connectivity in these spaces – liking, sharing, etc. And we also looked for the opposite traits – unliking, deletion, etc. We found that social media had very little data, if any, on “negative” traits – and we’ll look at this across three areas: other people and their content; me and my content; commercial users and their crowds.

Other people and their content – APIs tend to supply basic connectivity – friends/following, grouping, likes. Almost no historical content – except Facebook which shares when a user has liked a page. Current state only – disconnections are not accounted for. There is a reason to not know this data – privacy concerns perhaps – but that doesn’t explain my not being able to find this sort of information about my own profile.

Me and my content – negative traits and actions are hidden even from ourselves. Success is measured – likes and sharin, of you or by you. Decline is not – disconnections are lost connections… except on Twitter where you can see analytics of followers – but no names there, and not in the API. So we are losing who we once were but are not anymore. Social network sites do not see fit to share information over time… Lacking disconnection data is an idealogical and commercial issue.

Commercial users and their crowds – these users can see much more of their histories, and the negative actions online. They have a different regime of access in many cases, with the ups and downs revealed – though you may need to pay for access. Negative feedback receives special attention. Facebook offers the most detailed information on usage – including blocking and unliking information. Customers know more than users, or Pages vs. Groups.

Nicholas: So, implications. From what Asaf has shared shows the risk for API-based research… Where researchers’ work may be shaped by the affordances of the API being used. Any attempt to capture negative actions – unlikes, choices to leave or unfriend. If we can’t use APIs to measure social media phenomena, we have to use other means. So, unfriending is understood through surveys – time consuming and problematic. And that can put you off exploring these spaces – it limits research. The advertiser-friends user experience distorts the space – it’s like the stock market only reporting the rises except for a few super wealthy users who get the full picture.

A biography of Twitter (a story told through the intertwined stories of its key features and the social norms that give them meaning, drawing on archival material and oral history interviews with users) – Jean Burgess (Queensland University of Technology) and Nancy Baym (Microsoft Research)

I want to start by talking about what I mean by platforms, and what I mean by biographies. Here platforms are these social media platforms that afford particular possibilities, they enable and shape society – we heard about the platformisation of society last night – but their governance, affordances, are shaped by their own economic existance. They are shaping and mediating socio-cultural experience and we need to better to understand the values and socio-cultural concerns of the platforms. By platform studies we mean treating social media platforms as spaces to study in their own rights: as institutions, as mediating forces in the environment.

So, why “biography” here? First we argue that whilst biographical forms tend to be reserved for individuals (occasionally companies and race horses), they are about putting the subject in context of relationships, place in time, and that the context shapes the subject. Biographies are always partial though – based on unreliable interviews and information, they quickly go out of date, and just as we cannot get inside the heads of those who are subjects of biographies, we cannot get inside many of the companies at the heart of social media platforms. But (after Richard Rogers) understanding changes helps us to understand the platform.

So, in our forthcoming book, Twitter: A Biography (NYU 2017), we will look at competing and converging desires around e.g the @, RT, #. Twitter’s key feature set are key characters in it’s biography. Each has been a rich site of competing cultures and norms. We drew extensively on the Internet Archives, bloggers, and interviews with a range of users of the platform.

Nancy: When we interviewed people we downloaded their archive with them and talked through their behaviour and how it had changed – and many of those features and changes emerged from that. What came out strongly is that noone knows what Twitter is for – not just amongst users but also amongst the creators – you see that today with Jack Dorsey and Anne Richards. The heart of this issue is about whether Twitter is about sociality and fun, or is it a very important site for sharing important news and events. Users try to negotiate why they need this space, what is it for… They start squabling saying “Twitter, you are doing it wrong!”… Changes come with backlash and response, changed decisions from Twitter… But that is also accompanied by the media coverage of Twitter, but also the third party platforms build on Twitter.

So the “@” is at the heart of Twitter for sociality and Twitter for information distribution. It was imported from other spaces – IRC most obviously – as with other features. One of the earliest things Twitter incorporated was the @ and the links back.. You have things like originally you could see everyone’s @ replies and that led to feed clutter – although some liked seeing unexpected messages like this. So, Twitter made a change so you could choose. And then they changed again to automatically not see replies from those you don’t follow. So people worked around that with “.@” – which created conflict between the needs of the users, the ways they make it usable, and the way the platform wants to make the space less confusing to new users.

The “RT” gave credit to people for their words, and preserved integrity of words. At first this wasn’t there and so you had huge variance – the RT, the manually spelled out retweet, the hat tip (HT). Technical changes were made, then you saw the number of retweets emerging as a measure of success and changing cultures and practices.

The “#” is hugely disputed – it emerged through you couldn’t follow them in Twitter at first but they incorporated it to fend off third party tools. They are beloved by techies, and hated by user experience designers. And they are useful but they are also easily coopted by trolls – as we’ve seen on our own hashtag.

Insights into the actual uses to which audience data analytics are put by content creators in the new screen ecology (and the limitations of these analytics) – Stuart Cunningham (QUT) and David Craig (USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism)

The algorithmic culture is well understood as a part of our culture. There are around 150 items on Tarleton Gillespie and Nick Seaver’s recent reading list and the literature is growing rapidly. We want to bring back a bounded sense of agency in the context of online creatives.

What do I mean by “online creatives”? Well we are looking at social media entertainment – a “new screen ecology” (Cunningham and Silver 2013; 2015) shaped by new online creatives who are professionalising and monetising on platforms like YouTube, as opposed to professional spaces, e.g. Netflix. YouTube has more than 1 billion users, with revenue in 2015 estimated at $4 billion per year. And there are a large number of online creatives earning significant incomes from their content in these spaces.

Previously online creatives were bound up with ideas of democratic participative cultures but we want to offer an immanent critique of the limits of data analytics/algorithmic culture in shaping SME from with the industry on both the creator (bottom up) and platform (top down) side. This is an approach to social criticism exposes the way reality conflicts not with some “transcendent” concept of rationality but with its own avowed norms, drawing on Foucault’s work on power and domination.

We undertook a large number of interviews and from that I’m going to throw some quotes at you… There is talk of information overload – of what one might do as an online creative presented with a wealth of data. Creatives talk about the “non-scalable practices” – the importance and time required to engage with fans and subscribers. Creatives talk about at least half of a working week being spent on high touch work like responding to comments, managing trolls, and dealing with challenging responses (especially with creators whose kids are engaged in their content).

We also see cross-platform engagement – and an associated major scaling in workload. There is a volume issue on Facebook, and the use of Twitter to manage that. There is also a sense of unintended consequences – scale has destroyed value. Income might be $1 or $2 for 100,000s or millions of views. There are inherent limits to algorithmic culture… But people enjoy being part of it and reflect a real entrepreneurial culture.

In one or tow sentences, the history of YouTube can be seen as a sort of clash of NoCal and SoCal cultures. Again, no-one knows what it is for. And that conflict has been there for ten years. And you also have the MCNs (Multi-Contact Networks) who are caught like the meat in the sandwich here.

Panel Q&A

Q1) I was wondering about user needs and how that factors in. You all drew upon it to an extent… And the dissatisfaction of users around whether needs are listened to or not was evident in some of the case studies here. I wanted to ask about that.

A1 – Nancy) There are lots of users, and users have different needs. When platforms change and users are angry, others are happy. We have different users with very different needs… Both of those perspectives are user needs, they both call for responses to make their needs possible… The conflict and challenges, how platforms respond to those tensions and how efforts to respond raise new tensions… that’s really at the heart here.

A1 – Jean) In our historical work we’ve also seen that some users voices can really overpower others – there are influential users and they sometimes drown out other voices, and I don’t want to stereotype here but often technical voices drown out those more concerned with relationships and intimacy.

Q2) You talked about platforms and how they developed (and I’m afraid I didn’t catch the rest of this question…)

A2 – David) There are multilateral conflicts about what features to include and exclude… And what is interesting is thinking about what ideas fail… With creators you see economic dependence on platforms and affordances – e.g. versus PGC (Professionally Generated Content).

A2 – Nicholas) I don’t know what user needs are in a broader sense, but everyone wants to know who unfriended them, who deleted them… And a dislike button, or an unlike button… The response was strong but “this post makes me sad” doesn’t answer that and there is no “you bastard for posting that!” button.

Q3) Would it be beneficial to expose unfriending/negative traits?

A3 – Nicholas) I can think of a use case for why unfriending would be useful – for instance wouldn’t it be useful to understand unfriending around the US elections. That data is captured – Facebook know – but we cannot access it to research it.

A3 – Stuart) It might be good for researchers, but is it in the public good? In Europe and with the Right to be Forgotten should we limit further the data availability…

A3 – Nancy) I think the challenge is that mismatch of only sharing good things, not sharing and allowing exploration of negative contact and activity.

A3 – Jean) There are business reasons for positivity versus negativity, but it is also about how the platforms imagine their customers and audiences.

Q4) I was intrigued by the idea of the “Medium specificity of platforms” – what would that be? I’ve been thinking about devices and interfaces and how they are accessed… We have what we think of as a range but actually we are used to using really one or two platforms – e.g. Apple iPhone – in terms of design, icons, etc. and the possibilities of interface is, and what happens when something is made impossible by the interface.

A4 – Anne) When the “medium specificity” we are talking about the platform itself as medium. Moving beyond end user and user experience. We wanted to take into account the role of the user – the platform also has interfaces for developers, for advertisers, etc. and we wanted to think about those multiple interfaces, where they connect, how they connect, etc.

A4 – Taina) It’s a great point about medium specitivity but for me it’s more about platform specifity.

A4 – Jean) The integration of mobile web means the phone iOS has a major role here…

A4 – Nancy) We did some work with couples who brought in their phones, and when one had an Apple and one had an Android phone we actually found that they often weren’t aware of what was possible in the social media apps as the interfaces are so different between the different mobile operating systems and interfaces.

Q5) Can you talk about algorithmic content and content innovation?

A5 – David) In our work with YouTube we see forms of innovation that are very platform specific around things like Vine and Instagram. And we also see counter-industrial forms and practices. So, in the US, we see blogging and first person accounts of lives… beauty, unboxing, etc. But if you map content innovation you see (similarly) this taking the form of gaps in mainstream culture – in India that’s stand up comedy for instance. Algorithms are then looking for qualities and connections based on what else is being accessed – creating a virtual circle…

Q6) Can we think of platforms as instable, about platforms having not quite such a uniform sense of purpose and direction…

A6 – Stuart) Most platforms are very big in terms of their finance… If you compare that to 20 years ago the big companies knew what they were doing! Things are much more volatile…

A6 – Jean) That’s very common in the sector, except maybe on Facebook… Maybe.


Association of Internet Researchers AoIR 2016 РDay 1 РJos̩ van Dijck Keynote

If you’ve been following my blog today you will know that I’m in Berlin for the Association of Internet Researchers AoIR 2016 (#aoir2016) Conference, at Humboldt University. As this first day has mainly been about workshops – and I’ve been in a full day long Digital Methods workshop – we do have our first conference keynote this evening. And as it looks a bit different to my workshop blog, I thought a new post was in order.

As usual, this is a live blog post so corrections, comments, etc. are all welcomed. This session is also being videoed so you will probably want to refer to that once it becomes available as the authoritative record of the session. 

Keynote: The Platform Society – José van Dijck (University of Amsterdam) with Session Chair: Jennifer Stromer-Galley



Association of Internet Researchers AoIR 2016: Day 1 – Workshops

After a few weeks of leave I’m now back and spending most of this week at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Conference 2016. I’m hugely excited to be here as the programme looks excellent with a really wide range of internet research being presented and discussed. I’ll be liveblogging throughout the week starting with today’s workshops.

I am booked into the Digital Methods in Internet Research: A Sampling Menu workshop, although I may be switching session at lunchtime to attend the Internet rules… for Higher Education workshop this afternoon.

The Digital Methods workshop is being chaired by Patrik Wikstrom (Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia) and the speakers are:

  • Erik Borra (Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands),
  • Axel Bruns (Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia),
  • Jean Burgess (Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia),
  • Carolin Gerlitz (University of Siegen, Germany),
  • Anne Helmond (Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands),
  • Ariadna Matamoros Fernandez (Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia),
  • Peta Mitchell (Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia),
  • Richard Rogers (Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands),
  • Fernando N. van der Vlist (Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands),
  • Esther Weltevrede (Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands).

I’ll be taking notes throughout but the session materials are also available here:

Patrik: We are in for a long and exciting day! I won’t introduce all the speakers as we won’t have time!

Conceptual Introduction: Situating Digital Methods (Richard Rogers)

My name is Richard Rogers, I’m professor of new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam and I have the pleasure of introducing today’s session. So I’m going to do two things, I’ll be situating digital methods in internet-related research, and then taking you through some digital methods.

I would like to situate digital methods as a third era of internet research… I think all of these eras thrive and overlap but they are differentiated.

  1. Web of Cyberspace (1994-2000): Cyberstudies was an effort to see difference in the internet, the virtual as distinct from the real. I’d situate this largely in the 90’s and the work of Steve Jones and Steve (?).
  2. Web as Virtual Society? (2000-2007) saw virtual as part of the real. Offline as baseline and “virtual methods” with work around the digital economy, the digital divide…
  3. Web as societal data (2007-) is about “virtual as indication of the real. Online as baseline.

Right now we use online data about society and culture to make “grounded” claims.

So, if we look at Thanksgiving recipe searches on a map we get some idea of regional preference, or we look at Google data in more depth, we get this idea of internet data as grounding for understanding culture, society, tastes.

So, we had this turn in around 2008 to “web as data” as a concept. When this idea was first introduced not all were comfortable with the concept. Mike Thelwell et al (2005) talked about the importance of grounding the data from the internet. So, for instance, Google’s flu trends can be compared to Wikipedia traffic etc. And with these trends we also get the idea of “the internet knows first”, with the web predicting other sources of data.

Now I do want to talk about digital methods in the context of digital humanities data and methods. Lev Manovich talks about Cultural Analytics. It is concerned with digitised cultural materials with materials clusterable in a sort of art historical way – by hue, style, etc. And so this is a sort of big data approach that substitutes “continuous change” for periodisation and categorisation for continuation. So, this approach can, for instance, be applied to Instagram (Selfiexploration), looking at mood, aesthetics, etc. And then we have Culturenomics, mainly through the Google Ngram Viewer. A lot of linguists use this to understand subtle differences as part of distance reading of large corpuses.

And I also want to talk about e-social sciences data and method. Here we have Webometrics (Thelwell et al) with links as reputational markers. The other tradition here is Altmetrics (Priem et al), which uses online data to do citation analysis, with social media data.

So, at least initially, the idea behind digital methods was to be in a different space. The study of online digital objects, and also natively online method – methods developed for the medium. And natively digital is meant in a computing sense here. In computing software has a native mode when it is written for a specific processor, so these are methods specifically created for the digital medium. We also have digitized methods, those which have been imported and migrated methods adapted slightly to the online.

Generally speaking there is a sort of protocol for digital methods: Which objects and data are available? (links, tags, timestamps); how do dominant devices handle them? etc.

I will talk about some methods here:

1. Hyperlink

For the hyperlink analysis there are several methods. The Issue Crawler software, still running and working, enable you to see links between pages, direction of linking, aspirational linking… For example a visualisation of an Armenian NGO shows the dynamics of an issue network showing politics of association.

The other method that can be used here takes a list of sensitive sites, using Issue Crawler, then parse it through an internet censorship service. And variations on this that indicate how successful attempts at internet censorship are. We do work on Iran and China and I should say that we are always quite thoughtful about how we publish these results because of their sensitivity.

2. The website as archived object

We have the Internet Archive and we have individual archived web sites. Both are useful but researcher use is not terribly signficant so we have been doing work on this. See also a YouTube video called “Google and the politics of tabs” – a technique to create a movie of the evolution of a webpage in the style of timelapse photography. I will be publishing soon about this technique.

But we have also been looking at historical hyperlink analysis – giving you that context that you won’t see represented in archives directly. This shows the connections between sites at a previous point in time. We also discovered that the “Ghostery” plugin can also be used with archived websites – for trackers and for code. So you can see the evolution and use of trackers on any website/set of websites.

6. Wikipedia as cultural reference

Note: the numbering is from a headline list of 10, hence the odd numbering… 

We have been looking at the evolution of Wikipedia pages, understanding how they change. It seems that pages shift from neutral to national points of view… So we looked at Srebenica and how that is represented. The pages here have different names, indicating difference in the politics of memory and reconciliation. We have developed a triangulation tool that grabs links and references and compares them across different pages. We also developed comparative image analysis that lets you see which images are shared across articles.

7. Facebook and other social networking sites

Facebook is, as you probably well know, is a social media platform that is relatively difficult to pin down at a moment in time. Trying to pin down the history of Facebook find that very hard – it hasn’t been in the Internet Archive for four years, the site changes all the time. We have developed two approaches: one for social media profiles and interest data as means of stufying cultural taste ad political preference or “Postdemographics”; And “Networked content analysis” which uses social media activity data as means of studying “most engaged with content” – that helps with the fact that profiles are no longer available via the API. To some extend the API drives the research, but then taking a digital methods approach we need to work with the medium, find which possibilities are there for research.

So, one of the projects undertaken with in this space was elFriendo, a MySpace-based project which looked at the cultural tastes of “friends” of Obama and McCain during their presidential race. For instance Obama’s friends best liked Lost and The Daily Show on TV, McCain’s liked Desperate Housewives, America’s Next Top Model, etc. Very different cultures and interests.

Now the Networked Content Analysis approach, where you quantify and then analyse, works well with Facebook. You can look at pages and use data from the API to understand the pages and groups that liked each other, to compare memberships of groups etc. (at the time you were able to do this). In this process you could see specific administrator names, and we did this with right wing data working with a group called Hope not Hate, who recognised many of the names that emerged here. Looking at most liked content from groups you also see the shared values, cultural issues, etc.

So, you could see two areas of Facebook Studies, Facebook I (2006-2011) about presentation of self: profiles and interests studies (with ethics); Facebook II (2011-) which is more about social movements. I think many social media platforms are following this shift – or would like to. So in Instagram Studies the Instagram I (2010-2014) was about selfie culture, but has shifed to Instagram II (2014-) concerned with antagonistic hashtag use for instance.

Twitter has done this and gone further… Twitter I (2006-2009) was about urban lifestyle tool (origins) and “banal” lunch tweets – their own tagline of “what are you doing?”, a connectivist space; Twitter II (2009-2012) has moved to elections, disasters and revolutions. The tagline is “what’s happening?” and we have metrics “trending topics”; Twitter III (2012-) sees this as a generic resource tool with commodification of data, stock market predictions, elections, etc.

So, I want to finish by talking about work on Twitter as a storytelling machine for remote event analysis. This is an approach we developed some years ago around the Iran event crisis. We made a tweet collection around a single Twitter hashtag – which is no longer done – and then ordered by most retweeted (top 3 for each day) and presented in chronological (not reverse) order. And we then showed those in huge displays around the world…

To take you back to June 2009… Mousavi holds an emergency press conference. Voter turn out is 80%. SMS is down. Mousavi’s website and Facebook are blocked. Police use pepper spray… The first 20 days of most popular tweets is a good succinct summary of the events.

So, I’ve taken you on a whistle stop tour of methods. I don’t know if we are coming to the end of this. I was having a conversation the other day that the Web 2.0 days are over really, the idea that the web is readily accessible, that APIs and data is there to be scraped… That’s really changing. This is one of the reasons the app space is so hard to research. We are moving again to user studies to an extent. What the Chinese researchers are doing involves convoluted processes to getting the data for instance. But there are so many areas of research that can still be done. Issue Crawler is still out there and other tools are available at

Twitter studies with DMI-TCAT (Erik Borra)

I’m going to be talking about how we can use the DMI-TCAT tool to do Twitter Studies. I am here with Emile den Tex, one of the original developers of this tool, alongside Eric Borra.

So, what is DMI-TCAT? It is the Digital Methods Initiative Twitter Capture and Analysis Toolset, a server side tool which tries to capture robust and reproducible data capture and analysis. The design is based on two ideas: that captured datasets can be refined in different ways; and that the datasets can be analysed in different ways. Although we developed this tool, it is also in use elsewhere, particularly in the US and Australia.

So, how do we actually capture Twitter data? Some of you will have some experience of trying to do this. As researchers we don’t just want the data, we also want to look at the platform in itself. If you are in industry you get Twitter data through a “data partner”, the biggest of which by far is GNIP – owned by Twitter as of the last two years – then you just pay for it. But it is pricey. If you are a researcher you can go to an academic data partner – DiscoverText or Hexagon – and they are also resellers but they are less costly. And then the third route is the publicly available data – REST APIs, Search API, Streaming APIs. These are, to an extent, the authentic user perspective as most people use these… We have built around these but the available data and APIs shape and constrain the design and the data.

For instance the “Search API” prioritises “relevance” over “completeness” – but as academics we don’t know how “relevance” is being defined here. If you want to do representative research then completeness may be most important. If you want to look at how Twitter prioritises the data, then that Search API may be most relevant. You also have to understand rate limits… This can constrain research, as different data has different rate limits.

So there are many layers of technical mediation here, across three big actors: Twitter platform – and the APIs and technical data interfaces; DMI-TCAT (extraction); Output types. And those APIs and technical data interfaces are significant mediators here, and important to understand their implications in our work as researchers.

So, onto the DMI-TCAT tool itself – more on this in Borra & Reider (2014) (doi:10.1108/AJIM-09-2013-0094). They talk about “programmed method” and the idea of the methodological implications of the technical architecture.

What can one learn if one looks at Twitter through this “programmed method”? Well (1) Twitter users can change their Twitter handle, but their ids will remain identical – sounds basic but its important to understand when collecting data. (2) the length of a Tweet may vary beyond maximum of 140 characters (mentions and urls); (3) native retweets may have their top level text property stortened. (4) Unexpected limitations  support for new emoji characters can be problematic. (5) It is possible to retrieve a deleted tweet.

So, for example, a tweet can vary beyond 140 characters. The Retweet of an original post may be abbreviated… Now we don’t want that, we want it to look as it would to a user. So, we capture it in our tool in the non-truncated version.

And, on the issue of deletion and witholding. There are tweets deleted by users, and their are tweets which are withheld by the platform – and the withholding is a country by country issue. But you can see tweets only available in some countries. A project that uses this information is “Politwoops” ( which captures tweets deleted by US politicians, that lets you filter to specific states, party, position. Now there is an ethical discussion to be had here… We don’t know why tweets are deleted… We could at least talk about it.

So, the tool captures Twitter data in two ways. Firstly there is the direct capture capabilities (via web front-end) which allows tracking of users and capture of public tweets posted by these users; tracking particular terms or keywords, including hashtags; get a small random (approx 1%) of all public statuses. Secondary capture capabilities (via scripts) allows further exploration, including user ids, deleted tweets etc.

Twitter as a platform has a very formalised idea of sociality, the types of connections, parameters, etc. When we use the term “user” we mean it in the platform defined object meaning of the word.

Secondary analytical capabilities, via script, also allows further work:

  1. support for geographical polygons to delineate geographical regions for tracking particular terms or keywords, including hashtags.
  2. Built-in URL expander, following shortened URLs to their destination. Allowing further analysis, including of which statuses are pointing to the same URLs.
  3. Download media (e.g. videos and images (attached to particular Tweets).

So, we have this tool but what sort of studies might we do with Twitter? Some ideas to get you thinking:

  1. Hashtag analysis – users, devices etc. Why? They are often embedded in social issues.
  2. Mentions analysis – users mentioned in contexts, associations, etc. allowing you to e.g. identify expertise.
  3. Retweet analysis – most retweeted per day.
  4. URL analysis – the content that is most referenced.

So Emile will now go through the tool and how you’d use it in this way…

Emile: I’m going to walk through some main features of the DMI TCAT tool. We are going to use a demo site ( and look at some Trump tweets…

Note: I won’t blog everything here as it is a walkthrough, but we are playing with timestamps (the tool uses UTC), search terms etc. We are exploring hashtag frequency… In that list you can see Bengazi, tpp, etc. Now, once you see a common hashtag, you can go back and query the dataset again for that hashtag/search terms… And you can filter down… And look at “identical tweets” to found the most retweeted content. 

Emile: Eric called this a list making tool – it sounds dull but it is so useful… And you can then put the data through other tools. You can put tweets into Gephi. Or you can do exploration… We looked at Getty Parks project, scraped images, reverse Google image searched those images to find the originals, checked the metadata for the camera used, and investigated whether the cost of a camera was related to the success in distributing an image…

Richard: It was a critique of user generated content.

Analysing Social Media Data with TCAT and Tableau (Axel Bruns)

Analysing Network Dynamics with Agent Based Models (Patrik Wikström)

Tracking the Trackers (Anne Helmond, Carolin Gerlitz, Esther Weltevrede and Fernando van der Vlist)

Multiplatform Issue Mapping (Jean Burgess & Ariadna Matamoros Fernandez)

Analysing and visualising geospatial data (Peta Mitchell)



eLearning@ed/LTW Monthly Meet Up #4: Learning Design

This is a very belated posting of my liveblog notes from the eLearning@Ed/LTW Monthly Meet Up #4 on Learning Design which took place on 25th April 2016. You can find further information on the event, and all of our speakers’ slides, on the eLearning@ed wiki.

Despite the delay in posting these notes, the usual cautionary notes apply, and that all corrections, additions, etc. are very much welcomed. 

Becoming an ELDeR – Fiona Hale, Senior eLearning Advisor, IS

Unfortunately I missed capturing notes for the very beginning of Fiona’s talk but I did catch most of it. As context please be aware that she was talking about a significant and important piece of work on Learning Design, including a scoping report by Fiona, which has been taking place over the last year. My notes start as she addresses the preferred formats for learning design training… 

We found that two-day workshops provided space to think, to collaborate, and had the opportunity to both gain new knowledge and apply it on the same day. And also really useful for academic staff to understand the range of colleagues in the room, knowing who they could and should follow up with.

Scoping report recommended developing reusable and collaborative learning design as a new university services within IS, which positions the learning design framework as a scaffold, support staff as facilitators, etc.

There are many recommendations here but in particular I wanted to talk about the importance of workshops being team based and collaborative in approach – bringing together programme team, course team, admin, LT, peer, student, IAD, IS Support librarian, IS EDE, Facilitator, all in the room. Also part of staff development, reward and recognition – tying into UKSPF (HEA) and the Edinburgh Teaching Award. And ensuring this is am embedded process, with connection to processes, language, etc. with registry, board of studies, etc. And also with multiple facilitators.

I looked for frameworks and focused on three to evaluate. These tend to be theoretical, and don’t always work in practice. After trying those all out we found CAIeRO works best, focusing on designing learning experiences over development of content, structured format of the two day workshop. And it combines pedagogy, technology, learner experience.

We have developed the CAIeRO into a slightly different form, the ELDeR Framework, with the addition of assessment and feedback.

Finally! Theory and Practice – Ruth McQuillan, Co-Programme Director, Master of Public Health (online)

Prior to the new MPH programme I have been working in online learning since 2011. I am part of a bigger team – Christine Matthews is our learning technologist and we have others who have come on board for our new programme. Because we had a new programme launching we were very keen to be part of it. So I’m going to talk about how this worked, how we felt about it, etc.

We launched the online MPG in September 2015, which involved developing lots of new courses but also modifying lots of existing courses. And we have a lot of new staff so we wanted to give a sense of building a new team – as well as learning for ourselves how to do it all properly.

So, the stages of the workshop we went through should give you a sense of it. I’ve been on lots of courses and workshops where you learn about something but you don’t have the practical application. And then you have a course to prepare in practice, maybe without that support. So having both aspects together was really good and helpful.

The course we were designing was for mid career professionals from across the world. We were split into two teams – with each having a blend of the kinds of people Fiona talked about – programme team and colleagues from IS and elsewhere. We both developed programme and course mission statements as a group, then compared and happily those were quite close, we reached consensus and that really felt like we were pulling together as a team. And we also checked the course for consistency with the programme.

Next, we looked at the look and feel aspects. We used cards that were relevant for our course, using workshop cards and post it notes, rejecting non relevant cards, using our choice of the cards and some of our own additions.

So, Fiona talked about beginning with the end in mind, and we tried to do that. We started by thinking about what we wanted our students to be able to do at the end of the course. That is important as this is a professional course where we want to build skills and understanding. So, we wanted to focus on what they should know at the end of the course, and only then look at the knowledge they would need. And that was quite a different liberating approach.

And at this point we looked at the SCQF level descriptors to think about learning outcomes, the “On completion of this course you will be able to…” I’m not sure we’d appreciated the value and importance of our learning outcomes before, but actually in the end this was one of the most useful parts of the process. We looked for Sense (are they clear to the learner); Level (are they appropriate to the level of module); Accessibility (are they accessible).

And then we needed to think about assessment and alignment, looking at how we would assess the course, how this fitted into the bigger picture etc.

The next step was to storyboard the course. And by the end of Day One we had a five week course and a sixth week for assessment, we has learning outcomes and how they’d be addressed, assessment, learning activities, concerns, scaffolding. And we thought we’d done a great job! We came back on day two and when we came back we spend maybe half a day recapping, changing… Even if you can’t do a 2 day workshop at least try to do two half days with a big gap between/overnight as we found that space away very helpful.

And once finalised we built a prototype online. And we had a reality check from a critical friend, which was very helpful. We reviewed and adjusted and then made a really detailed action plan. That plan was really helpful.

Now, at the outside we were told that we could come into this process at any point. We had quite a significantly complete idea already and that helped us get real value from this process.

So, how did it feel and what did we learn? Well it was great to have a plan, to see the different areas coming together. The struggle was difficult but important, and it was excellent for team building. “To learn and not to do is really not to learn. To do and not to learn is really not to know. And actually at the end of the day we were really enthusiastic about the process and it was really good to see that process, to put theory into practice, and to do this all in a truly collaborative experience.

How has it changed us? Well we are putting all our new courses through this process. We want to put all our existing courses through this process. We involved more people in the process, in different roles and stages, including students where we can. And we have modified the structure.


Q1) Did you go away to do this?

A1) Yes, we went to Dovecot Gallery on Infirmary Street.

A1 – FH) I had some money to do that but I wasn’t kidding that a new space and nice food is important. We are strict on you being there, or not. We expect full on participation. So for those going forward we are looking at rooms in other places – in Evolution House, or in Moray House, etc. Somewhere away from normal offices etc. It has to be a focused. And the value of that is huge, the time up front is really valuable.

A1 – RM) It is also really important for understanding what colleagues are doing, which helps ensure the coherence of the programme, and it is really beneficial to the programme.

Q2) Dow different do you think your design ended up if you hadn’t done this?

A2 – RM) I think one of my colleagues was saying today that she was gently nudged by colleagues to avoid mistakes or pitfalls, to not overload the course, to ensure coherence, etc. I think it’s completely different to how it would have been. And also there were resources and activities – lectures and materials – that could be shared where gaps were recognised.

A2 – FH) If this had been content driven it would be hard as a facilitator. But thinking about the structure, the needs, the learner experience, that can be done, with content and expertise already being brought into that process. It saves time in the long run.

A2 – RM) I know in the past when I’ve been designing courses you can find that you put activities in a particular place without purpose, to make sure there is an activity there… But this process helped keep things clear, coherent and to ensure any activity is clearly linked to a learning outcome, etc.

Q3) Once you’d created the learning outcomes, did you go back and change any of theme?

A3 – FH) On Day 2 there was something that wasn’t quite right…

A3 – RM) It was something too big for the course, and we needed to work that through. The course we were working on in February and that will run for the first time in the new academic year. But actually the UoE system dictates that learning outcomes should be published many months/more than a year in advance. So with new courses we did ask the board of studies if we could provide the learning outcomes to them later on, once defined. They were fine.

A3 – FH) That is a major change that we are working on. But not all departments run the same process or timetable.

A3 – RM) Luckily our board of studies were very open to this, it was great.

Q4) Was there any focus on student interaction and engagement in these process.

A4 – FH) It was part of those cards early in the process, it is part of the design work. And that stage of the cards, the consensus building, those are huge collaborative and valuable sessions.

Q5) And how did you support/require that?

A5 – FH) In that storyboard you will see various (yellow) post its showing assessment and feedback wove in across the course, ensuring the courses you design really do align with that wider University strategy.

Learning Design: Paying It Forward – Christina Matthews

There is a shift across the uni to richer approaches.

I’m going to talk about getting learning technologist involved and why that matters.

The LT can inform the process in useful and creative ways. They can bring insights into particular tools, affordances, and ways to afford or constrain the behaviours of students. They also have a feel for digital literacy of students, as well as being able to provide some continuity across the course in terms of approaches and tools. And having LT in the design process, academic staff can feel supported and better able to take risks and do new things. And the LT can help that nothing is lost between the design workshop, and the actual online course and implementation.

So, how are we paying this forward? Well we are planning learning design workshops for all our new courses for 2015-16 and 2016-17. We really did feel the benefits of 2 days but we didn’t think it was going to be feasible for all of our teams. We felt that we needed to adapt the workshop to fit into one day, so we will be running these as one day workshops and we have prioritised particular aspects to enable that.

The two day workshop format for CAIeRO follows several stages:

  • Stage 1: Course blueprint (mission, learning outcomes, assessment and feedback)
  • Stage 2: Storyboarding
  • Stage 3: Rapid prototyping in the VLE
  • Stage 4: Critical friend evaluation of VLE prototype
  • Stage 5: adjust and review from feedback
  • Stage 6: Creating an action plan
  • Stage 7: reflecting on the workshop in relation to the UK Professional Standards Framework.
  • For the one day workshop we felt the blue print (1), storyboard (2) and action plan stages (6) were essential. The prototyping can be done afterwards and separately, although it is a shame to do that of course.

So, we are reviewing and formalising our 1 day workshop model, which may be useful elsewhere. And we are using these approaches for all the courses on our programme, including new and existing courses. And we are very much looking forward to the ELDeR (Edinburgh Learning Design Roadmap).


Q1) When you say “all” programmes, do you mean online or on-campus programmes?

A1) Initially the online courses but we have a campus programme that we really want to connect up, to make the courses more blended, so I think it will feed into our on campus courses. A lot of our online tutors teach both online and on campus, so that will also lead some feeding in here.

Q2) How many do you take to the workshop?

A2) You can have quite a few. We’ve had programme director, course leader, learning technologist, critical friends, etc.

A2 – FH) There are no observers in the room for workshops – lots are wanting to understand that. There are no observers in the room, you have to facilitate the learning objectives section very carefully. Too many people is not useful. Everyone has to be trusted, they have to be part of the process. You need a support librarian, the learning technologist has to squarely be part of the design, student, reality checker, QA… I’ve done at most 8 people. In terms of students you need to be able to open and raw…. So, is it OK to have students in the room… Some conversations being had may not be right for that co-creation type idea. Maybe alumni are better in some cases. Some schools don’t have their own learning technologist, so we bring one. Some don’t have a VLE, so we bring one they can play with.

A2 – CM) In the pilot there were 8 in some, but it didn’t feel like too many in the room.

Q3) As a learning technologist have the workshops helped your work?

A3 – CM) Yes, hugely. That action plan really maps out every stage very clearly. Things can come in last minute and all at the same time otherwise, so that is great. And when big things are agreed in the workshop, you can then focus on the details.

A3 – FH) We are trying to show how actually getting this all resolved up front actually saves money and time later on, as everything is agreed.

Q4) Thinking way ahead… People will do great things… So if we have the course all mapped out here, and well agreed, what happens when teams change – how do you capture and communicate this. Should you have a mini reprise of this to revisit it? How does it go over the long term?

A4 – FH) That’s really true. Also if technologist isn’t the one delivering it, that can also be helpful.

A4 – CM) One thing that comes out of this is a CAIeRO planner that can be edited and shared, but yes, maybe you revisit it for future staff…

A4 – FH) Something about ownership of activities, to give the person coming in and feel ownership. And see how it works before and afterwards. Pointing them to document, to output of storyboard, to get ownership. That’s key to facilitation too.

Q4) So, you can revisit activities etc. to achieve Learning outcome…

A4 – FH) That identification of learning outcomes are clear in the storyboards and documents.

Q5) How often do you meet and review programmes? Every 2 years, every 5 years?

A5 – FH) You should review every 5 years for PG.

Comment) We have an annual event, see what’s working and what isn’t and that is very very valuable and helpful. But that’s perhaps unusual.

A5 – FH) That’s the issue of last minute or isolated activities. This process is a good structure for looking at programme and course. Clearly programme has assessment across it so even though we are looking at the course here, it has that consistency. With any luck we can get this stuff embedded in board of studies etc.

A5 – RM) For us doing this process also changed us.

A5 – FH) That report is huge but the universities I looked at these processes are mandatory not optional. But mandatory can make things more about box ticking in some ways…

Learning Design: 6 Months on – Meredith Corey, School of Education 

We are developing a pilot UG course in GeoSciences and Education collaboration, Sustainability and Social Responsibility, running 2016/17. We are 2 online learning educators working from August 2015 to April 2016. This is the first online level 8 course for on-campus students. And there are plans to adapt the course for the wider community – including staff, alumni etc.

So in the three months before the CAIeRO session, we had started looking at existing resources, building a course team, investigating VLEs. The programme is on sustainability. We looked into types of resources and activities. And we had started drafting learning outcomes and topic storyboarding, with support from Louise Connelly who was (then) in IAD.

So the workshop was a 2 day event and we began with the blueprinting. We had similar ideas and very different ways to describe them so, what was very useful for us, was finding common language and ways to describe what we were doing. We didn’t drastically change our learning outcomes, but lots of debate about the wording. Trying to ensure the learning outcomes were appropriate for level 8 SCQF levels, trying not to overload them. And this whole process has helped us focus on our priorities, our vocabulary, the justification and clear purpose.

The remainder of the workshop was spent on storyboarding. We thought we were really organised in terms of content, videos, etc. But actually that storyboarding, after that discussion of priorities, was really useful. Our storyboard generated three huge A0 sheets to understand the content, the ways students would achieve the learning outcomes. It is an online course and there are things you don’t think about but need to consider – how do they navigate the course? How do they find what they need? How do they find what they need? And Fiona and colleagues were great for questioning and probing that.

We did some prototyping but didn’t have time for reality checks – but we have that process lined up for our pilot in the summer. We also took that storyboard and transferred that information to a huge Popplet that allowed us to look at how the feedback and feed forward fits into the course; how we could make that make sense across the course – it’s easy to miss that feedback and feed forward is too late when you are looking week by week.

The key CAIeRO benefits for us were around exploring priorities (and how these may differ for different cohorts); it challenged our assumptions; it formalised our process and this is useful for future projects; focused on all learners and their experience; and really helped us understand our purpose here. And coming soon we shall return to the Popplet to think about the wider community.


Q1) I know with one course the head of school was concerned that an online programme might challenge the value of the face to face, or the concern of replacing the face to face course, and how that fits together.

A1) The hope with this course is that the strength is that it brings together students from as many different schools as possible, to really deal with timetabling barriers, to mix students between schools. It would be good if both exists to complement in each others.

A1 – FH) Its not intended as a replacement… In this course’s mission statement for this, it plays up interdisciplinary issues, and that includes use of OERs, reuse, etc. And talking about doing this stuff.

A1) And also the idea is to give students a great online learning experience that means they might go on and do online masters programmes. And hopefully include staff and alumni that also help that mix, that interdisciplinary thing.

Q2) Do you include student expectations in this course? What about student backgrounds?

A2) We have tried to ensure that tutorial groups play to student strengths and interests, making combinations across schools. We are trialling the course with evaluation through very specific questions.

A2 – FH) And there will assessment that asks students to place that learning into their own context, location, etc.

Course Design and your VLE – Ross Ward

I want to talk quickly about how you translate a storyboard into your VLE, in very general terms. Taking your big ideas and making them a course. One thing I like to talk about a lot is user experience – you only need one back experience in Learn or Moodle to really put you off. So you really need to think about ensuring the experience of the VLE and the experience of the course all need to fit together. How you manage or use your VLE is up to do. Once you know what you want to do, you can then pick your technology, fitting your needs. And you’ll need a mix of content, tools, activities, grades, feedback, guidance. If you are an ODL student how you structure that will be very very important, if blended it’s still important. You don’t need your VLE to be a filing cabinet, it can be much more. But it also doesn’t have to be a grand immersive environment, you need it to fit your needs appropriately. And the VLE experience should reflect the overall course experience.

When you have that idea of purpose, you hit the technology and you have kind of a blank canvas. It’s a bit Mona Lisa by numbers… The tools are there but there are easier ways to make your course better. The learning design idea of the storyboard and the user experience of the course context can be very helpful. That is really useful for ensuring students understand what they are doing, creating a digital version of your course, and understanding where you are right now as a student. Arguably a good VLE user experience is one where you could find what you are looking for without any prior knowledge of the course… We get many support calls from those simply looking for information. You may have some pre-requisite stuff, but you need to really make everything easy.

Navigation is key! You need menus. You need context links. You need suggested link. You want to minimise the number of clicks and complexity.

Remember that you should present your material for online, not like a textbook. Use sensible headings. Think about structure. And test it out – ask a colleague, as a student, ask LTW.

And think about consistency – that will help ensure that you can build familiarity with approach, consistently presenting your programme/school brand and look and feel, perhaps also template.

We know this is all important, and we want to provide more opportunity to support that, with examples and resources to draw upon!

Closing Fiona Hale

Huge thanks to Ross for organising today. Huge thanks to our speakers today!

If you are interested in this work do find me at the end, do come talk to me. We have workshops coming up – ELDeR workshop evaluations – and there we’ll talk about design challenges and concerns. That might be learning analytics – and thinking about pace and workshops. For all of these we are addressing particular design challenges – the workshop can concertina to that. There is no rule about how long things take – and whether one day or two days is the number, but sometimes one won’t be enough.

I would say for students it’s worth thinking about sharing the storyboards, the assessment and feedback and reasons for it, so that they understand it.

We go into service in June and July, with facilitators across the schools. Do email me with questions, to offer yourselves as facilitators.

Thank you to all of our University colleagues who took part in this really interesting session!

You can read much more about Edinburgh Learning Design roadmap – and read the full scoping report – on the University of Edinburgh Learning Design Service website. 


A Summer of New Digital Footprints…

It has been a while since I’ve posted something other than a liveblog here but it has been a busy summer so it seems like a good time to share some updates…

A Growing Digital Footprint

Last September I was awarded some University of Edinburgh IS Innovation Fund support to develop a pilot training and consultancy service to build upon the approaches and findings of our recent PTAS-funded Managing Your Digital Footprint research project.

During that University of Edinburgh-wide research and parallel awareness-raising campaign we (my colleague – and Digital Footprint research project PI – Louise Connelly of IAD/Vet School, myself, and colleagues across the University) sought to inform students of the importance of digital tracks and traces in general, particularly around employment and “eProfessionalism”. This included best practice advice around use of social media, personal safety and information security choices, and thoughtful approaches to digital identity and online presences. Throughout the project we were approached by organisations outside of the University for similar training, advice, and consulting around social media best practices and that is how the idea for this pilot service began to take shape.

Over the last few months I have been busy developing the pilot, which has involved getting out and about delivering social media training sessions for clients including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (with Jennifer Jones); for the British HIV Association (BHIVA) with the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) (also with Jennifer Jones); developing a “Making an Impact with your Blog” Know How session for the lovely members of Culture Republic; leading a public engagement session for the very international gang at EuroStemCell, and an “Engaging with the Real World” session for the inspiring postgrads attending the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science Summer School 2016. I have also been commissioned by colleagues in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to create an Impact of Social Media session and accompanying resources (the latter of which will continue to develop over time). You can find resources and information from most of these sessions over on my presentations and publications page.

These have been really interesting opportunities and I’m excited to see how this work progresses. If you do have an interest in social media best practice, including advice for your organisation’s social media practice, developing your online profile, or managing your digital footprint, please do get in touch and/or pass on my contact details. I am in the process of writing up the pilot and looking at ways myself and my colleagues can share our expertise and advice in this area.

Adventures in MOOCs and Yik Yak

So, what next?

Well, the Managing Your Digital Footprint team have joined up with colleagues in the Language Technology Group in the School of Informatics for a new project looking at Yik Yak. You can read more about the project, “A Live Pulse: Yik Yak for Understanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Edinburgh“, on the Digital Education Research Centre website. We are really excited to explore Yik Yak’s use in more depth as it is one of a range of “anonymous” social networking spaces that appear to be emerging as important alternative spaces for discussion as mainstream social media spaces lose favour/become too well inhabited by extended families, older contacts, etc.

Our core Managing Your Digital Footprint research also continues… I presented a paper, co-written with Louise Connelly, at the European Conference on Social Media 2016 this July on “Students’ Digital Footprints: curation of online presences, privacy and peer supportâ€�. This summer we also hosted visiting scholar Rachel Buchanan of University of Newcastle, Australia who has been leading some very interesting work into digital footprints across Australia. We are very much looking forward to collaborating with Rachel in the future – watch this space!

And, more exciting news: my lovely colleague Louise Connelly (University of Edinburgh Vet School) and I have been developing a Digital Footprint MOOC which will go live later this year. The MOOC will complement our ongoing University of Edinburgh service (run by IAD) and external consultancy word (led by us in EDINA) and You can find out much more about that in this poster, presented at the European Conference on Social Media 2016, earlier this month…

Preview of Digital Footprint MOOC Poster

Alternatively, you could join me for my Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas 2016 show….

Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas 2016 - If I Googled You, What Would I Find? Poster

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas runs throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival but every performance is different! Each day academics and researchers share their work by proposing a dangerous idea, a provocative question, or a challenge, and the audience are invited to respond, discuss, ask difficult questions, etc. It’s a really fun show to see and to be part of – I’ve now been fortunate enough to be involved each year since it started in 2013. You can see a short video on #codi2016 here:

In this year’s show I’ll be talking about some of those core ideas around managing your digital footprint, understanding your online tracks and traces, and reflecting on the type of identity you want to portray online. You can find out more about my show, If I Googled You What Would I Find, in my recent “25 Days of CODI” blog post:

25 Days of CoDI: Day 18

You’ll also find a short promo film for the series of data, identity, and surveillance shows at #codi2016 here:

So… A very busy summer of social media, digital footprints, and exciting new opportunities. Do look out for more news on the MOOC, the YikYak work and the Digital Footprint Training and Consultancy service over the coming weeks and months. And, if you are in Edinburgh this summer, I hope to see you on the 21st at the Stand in the Square!



A Mini Adventure to Repository Fringe 2016

After 6 years of being Repository Fringe‘s resident live blogger this was the first year that I haven’t been part of the organisation or amplification in any official capacity. From what I’ve seen though my colleagues from EDINA, University of Edinburgh Library, and the DCC did an awesome job of putting together a really interesting programme for the 2016 edition of RepoFringe, attracting a big and diverse audience.

Whilst I was mainly participating through reading the tweets to #rfringe16, I couldn’t quite keep away!

Pauline Ward at Repository Fringe 2016

Pauline Ward at Repository Fringe 2016

This year’s chair, Pauline Ward, asked me to be part of the Unleashing Data session on Tuesday 2nd August. The session was a “World Cafe” format and I was asked to help facilitate discussion around the question: “How can the respository community use crowd-sourcing (e.g. Citizen Science) to engage the public in reuse of data?” – so I was along wearing my COBWEB: Citizen Observatory Web and social media hats. My session also benefited from what I gather was an excellent talk on “The Social Life of Data” earlier in the event from the Erinma Ochu (who, although I missed her this time, is always involved in really interesting projects including several fab citizen science initiatives).


I won’t attempt to reflect on all of the discussions during the Unleashing Data Session here – I know that Pauline will be reporting back from the session to Repository Fringe 2016 participants shortly – but I thought I would share a few pictures of our notes, capturing some of the ideas and discussions that came out of the various groups visiting this question throughout the session. Click the image to view a larger version. Questions or clarifications are welcome – just leave me a comment here on the blog.

Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016

Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016

Notes from the Unleashing Data session at Repository Fringe 2016


If you are interested in finding out more about crowd sourcing and citizen science in general then there are a couple of resources that made be helpful (plus many more resources and articles if you leave a comment/drop me an email with your particular interests).

This June I chaired the “Crowd-Sourcing Data and Citizen Science” breakout session for the Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network (FCERM.NET) Annual Assembly in Newcastle. The short slide set created for that workshop gives a brief overview of some of the challenges and considerations in setting up and running citizen science projects:

Last October the CSCS Network interviewed me on developing and running Citizen Science projects for their website – the interview brings together some general thoughts as well as specific comment on the COBWEB experience:

After the Unleashing Data session I was also able to stick around for Stuart Lewis’ closing keynote. Stuart has been working at Edinburgh University since 2012 but is moving on soon to the National Library of Scotland so this was a lovely chance to get some of his reflections and predictions as he prepares to make that move. And to include quite a lot of fun references to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾. (Before his talk Stuart had also snuck some boxes of sweets under some of the tables around the room – a popularity tactic I’m noting for future talks!)

So, my liveblog notes from Stuart’s talk (slightly tidied up but corrections are, of course, welcomed) follow. Because old Repofringe live blogging habits are hard to kick!

The Secret Diary of a Repository aged 13 ¾ – Stuart Lewis

I’m going to talk about our bread and butter – the institutional repository… Now my inspiration is Adrian Mole… Why? Well we have a bunch of teenage repositories… EPrints is 15 1/2; Fedora is 13 ½; DSpace is 13 ¾.

Now Adrian Mole is a teenager – you can read about him on Wikipedia [note to fellow Wikipedia contributors: this, and most of the other Adrian Mole-related pages could use some major work!]. You see him quoted in two conferences to my amazement! And there are also some Scotland and Edinburgh entries in there too… Brought a haggis… Goes to Glasgow at 11am… and says he encounters 27 drunks in one hour…

Stuart Lewis at Repository Fringe 2016

Stuart Lewis illustrates the teenage birth dates of three of the major repository softwares as captured in (perhaps less well-aged) pop hits of the day.

So, I have four points to make about how repositories are like/unlike teenagers…

The thing about teenagers… People complain about them… They can be expensive, they can be awkward, they aren’t always self aware… Eventually though they usually become useful members of society. So, is that true of repositories? Well ERA, one of our repositories has gotten bigger and bigger – over 18k items… and over 10k paper thesis currently being digitized…

Now teenagers also start to look around… Pandora!

I’m going to call Pandora the CRIS… And we’ve all kind of overlooked their commercial background because we are in love with them…!

Stuart Lewis at Repository Fringe 2016

Stuart Lewis captures the eternal optimism – both around Mole’s love of Pandora, and our love of the (commercial) CRIS.

Now, we have PURE at Edinburgh which also powers Edinburgh Research Explorer. When you looked at repositories a few years ago, it was a bit like Freshers Week… The three questions were: where are you from; what repository platform do you use; how many items do you have? But that’s moved on. We now have around 80% of our outputs in the repository within the REF compliance (3 months of Acceptance)… And that’s a huge change – volumes of materials are open access very promptly.


1. We need to celebrate our success

But are our successes as positive as they could be?

Repositories continue to develop. We’ve heard good things about new developments. But how do repositories demonstrate value – and how do we compare to other areas of librarianship.

Other library domains use different numbers. We can use these to give comparative figures. How do we compare to publishers for cost? Whats our CPU (Cost Per Use)? And what is a good CPU? £10, £5, £0.46… But how easy is it to calculate – are repositories expensive? That’s a “to do” – to take the cost to run/IRUS cost. I would expect it to be lower than publishers, but I’d like to do that calculation.

The other side of this is to become more self-aware… Can we gather new numbers? We only tend to look at deposit and use from our own repositories… What about our own local consumption of OA (the reverse)?

Working within new e-resource infrastructure – – lets us see where open versions are available. And we can integrate with OpenURL resolvers to see how much of our usage can be fulfilled.

2. Our repositories must continue to grow up

Do we have double standards?

Hopefully you are all aware of the UK Text and Data Mining Copyright Exception that came out from 1st June 2014. We have massive massive access to electronic resources as universities, and can text and data mine those.

Some do a good job here – Gale Cengage Historic British Newspapers: additional payment to buy all the data (images + XML text) on hard drives for local use. Working with local informatics LTG staff to (geo)parse the data.

Some are not so good – basic APIs allow only simple searchers… But not complex queries (e.g. could use a search term, but not e.g. sentiment).

And many publishers do nothing at all….

So we are working with publishers to encourage and highlight the potential.

But what about our content? Our repositories are open, with extracted full-text, data can be harvested… Sufficient but is it ideal? Why not do bulk download from one click… You can – for example – download all of Wikipedia (if you want to).  We should be able to do that with our repositories.

3. We need to get our house in order for Text and Data Mining

When will we be finished though? Depends on what we do with open access? What should we be doing with OA? Where do we want to get to? Right now we have mandates so it’s easy – green and gold. With gold there is PURE or Hybrid… Mixed views on Hybrid. Can also publish locally for free. Then for gree there is local or disciplinary repositories… For Gold – Pure, Hybrid, Local we pay APCs (some local option is free)… In Hybrid we can do offsetting, discounted subscriptions, voucher schemes too. And for green we have UK Scholarly Communications License (Harvard)…

But which of these forms of OA are best?! Is choice always a great thing?

We still have outstanding OA issues. Is a mixed-modal approach OK, or should we choose a single route? Which one? What role will repositories play? What is the ultimate aim of Open Access? Is it “just� access?

How and where do we have these conversations? We need academics, repository managers, librarians, publishers to all come together to do this.

4. Do we now what a grown-up repository look like? What part does it play?

Please remember to celebrate your repositories – we are in a fantastic place, making a real difference. But they need to continue to grow up. There is work to do with text and data mining… And we have more to do… To be a grown up, to be in the right sort of environment, etc.



Q1) I can remember giving my first talk on repositories in 2010… When it comes to OA I think we need to think about what is cost effective, what is sustainable, why are we doing it and what’s the cost?

A1) I think in some ways that’s about what repositories are versus publishers… Right now we are essentially replicating them… And maybe that isn’t the way to approach this.

And with that Repository Fringe 2016 drew to a close. I am sure others will have already blogged their experiences and comments on the event. Do have a look at the Repository Fringe website and at #rfringe16 for more comments, shared blog posts, and resources from the sessions. 


The difference between human and posthuman learning – Prof. Catherine Hasse, Aarhus University – Belated LiveBlog

On 27th June I attended a lunchtime seminar, hosted by the University of Edinburgh Centre for Research in Digital Education with Professor Catherine Hasse of Aarhus University

Catherine is opening with a still from Ex-machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland). The title of my talk is the difference between human and posthuman learning, I’ll talk for a while but I’ve moved a bit from my title… My studies in posthuman learning has moved me to more of a posthumanistic learning… Today human beings are capable of many things – we can transform ourselves, and ourselves in our environment. We have to think about that and discuss that, to take account of that in learning.

I come from the centre for Future Technology, Culture and Learning, Aarhus University, Denmark. We are hugely interdisciplinary as a team. We discuss and research what is learning under these new conditions, and to consider the implications for education. I’ll talk less about education today, more about the type of learning taking place and the ways we can address that.

My own background is in anthropology of education in Denmark, specifically looking at physicists.In 2015 we got a big grant to work on “The Technucation Project” and we looked at the anthropology of education in Denmark in nurses and teachers – and the types of technological literacy they require for their work. My work (in English) has been about “Mattering” – the learning changes that matter to you. The learning theories I am interested in acknowledge cultural differences in learning, something we have to take account of. What it is to be human is already transformed. Posthumanistics learning is a new conceptualisations and material conditions that change what it was to be human. It was and it ultra human to be learners.

So… I have become interested in robots.. They are coming into our lives. They are not just tools. Human beings encounter tools that they haven’t asked for. You will be aware of predictions that over a third of jobs in the US may be taken over by automated processes and robots in the next 20 years. That comes at the same time as there is pressure on the human body to become different, at the point at which our material conditions are changing very rapidly. A lot of theorists are picking up on this moment of change, and engaging with the idea of what it is to be human – including those in Science and Technology Studies, and feminist critique. Some anthropologist suggest that it is not geography but humans that should shape our conceptions of the world (Anthrpos- Anthropocene), others differ and conceive of the capitalocene. When we talk about the posthuman a lot of the theories acknowledge that we can’t talk about the fact that we can’t think of the human in the same way anymore. Kirksey & Helmreich (2010) talk of “natural-cultural hybrids”, and we see everything from heart valves to sensors, to iris scanning… We are seeing robots, cybords, amalgamations, including how our thinking feeds into systems – like the stockmarkets (especially today!). The human is de-centered in this amalgamation but is still there. And we may yet get to this creature from Ex-machina, the complex sentient robot/cyborg.

We see posthuman learning in uncanny valley… gradually we will move from robots that feel far away, to those with human tissues, with something more human and blended. The new materialism and robotics together challenge the conception of the human. When we talk of learning we talk about how humans learn, not what follows when bodies are transformed by other (machine) bodies. And here we have to be aware that in feminism that people like Rosa Predosi(?) have been happy with the discarding of the human: for them it was always a narrative, it was never really there. The feminist critique is that the “human” was really retruvian man.. But they also critique the idea that Posthu-man is a continuation of individual goal-directed and rational self-enhancing (white male) humans. And that questions the post human…

There are actually two ways to think of the post human. One way is the posthuman learning as something that does away with useless, biological bodies (Kurzweil 2005) and we see transhumanists, Verner Vinge, Hans Moravec, Natasha Vita-More in this space that sees us heading towards the singularity. But the alternative is a posthumanistic approach, which is about cultural transformations of boundaries in human-material assemblages, referencing that we have never been isolated human beings, we’ve always been part of our surroundings. That is another way to see the posthuman. This is a case that I make in an article (Hayles 1999) that we have always been posthuman. We also see have, on the other hand, Spinozists approach which is about how are we, if we understand ourselves as de-centered, able to see ourselves as agents. In other words we are not separate from the culture, we are all Nature-cultural…Not of nature, not of culture but naturacultural (Hayles; Haraway).

But at the same time if it is true that human beings can literally shape the crust of the earth, we are now witnessing anthropomorphism on steroids (Latour, 2011 – Waiting for Gaia [PDF]). The Anthropocene perspective is that, if human impact on Earth can be translated into human responsibility fr the earth, the concept may help stimulate appropriate societal responses and/or invoke appropriate planetary stewardship (Head 2014); the capitalocene (see Jason Moore) talks about moving away from cartesian dualism in global environmental change, the alternative implies a shift from humanity and nature to humanity in nature, we have to counter capitalism in nature.

So from the human to the posthuman, I have argue that this is a way we can go with our theories… There are two ways to understand that, the singularist posthumanism or spinozist posthumanism. And I think we need to take a posthumanistic stance with learning – taking account of learning in technological naturecultures.

My own take here… We talk about intra-species differentiations. This nature is not nature as resource but rather nature as matrices – a nature that operates not only outside and inside our bodies (from global climate to the microbiome) but also through our bodies, including embodied minds. We do create intra-species differentiation, where learning changes what maters to you and others, and what matters changes learning. To create an ecological responsible ultra-sociality we need to see ourselves as a species of normative learners in cultural organisations.

So, my own experience, after studying physicists as an anthropologists I no longer saw the night sky the same way – they were stars and star constellations. After that work I saw them as thousands of potetial suns – and perhaps planets – and that wasn’t a wider discussion at that time.

I see it as a human thing to be learners. And we are ultra social learning. And that is a characteristic of being human. Collective learning is essentially what has made us culturally diverse. We have learning theories that are relavent for cultural diversity. We have to think of learning in a cultural way. Mediational approachs in collective activity. Vygotsky takes the idea of learners as social learners before we become personal learners and that is about the mediation – not natureculture but cultureculture (Moll 2000). That’s my take on it. So, we can re-centre human beings… Humans are not the centre of the universe, or of the environment. But we can be at the centre and think about what we want to be, what we want to become.

I was thinking of coming in with a critique of MOOCs, particularly as those being a capitolocene position. But I think we need to think of social learning before we look at individual learning (Vygotsky 1981). And we are always materially based. So, how do we learn to be engaged collectively? What does it matter – for MOOCs for instance – if we each take part from very different environments and contexts, when that environment has a significant impact. We can talk about those environments and what impact they have.

You can buy robots now that can be programmed – essentially sex robots like “Roxxxy” – and are programmed by reactions to our actions, emotions etc. If we learn from those actions and emotions, we may relearn and be changed in our own actions and emptions. We are seeing a separation of tool-creation from user-demand in Capitalocene. The introduction of robots in work places are often not replacing the work that workers actually want support with. The seal robots to calm dementia patients down cover a role that many carers actually enjoyed in their work, the human contact and suport. But those introducing them spoke of efficiency, the idea being to make employees superfluous but described as “simply an attempt to remove some of the most demeaning hard task from the work with old people so the wor time ca be used for care and attention” (Hasse 2013).

These alternative relations with machines are things we always react too, humans always stretch themselves to meet the challenge or engagement at hand. An inferentialist approach (Derry 2013) acknowledges many roads to knowledge but materiality of thinking reflects that we live in a world of not just case but reason. We don’t live in just a representationalism (Bakker and Derry 2011) paradigm, it is much more complex. Material wealth will teach us new things.. But maybe these machines will encourage us to think we should learn more in a representative than an inferentialist way. We have to challenge robotic space of reasons. I would recommend Jan Derry’s work on Vygotsky in this area.

For me robot representationalism has the capacity to make convincing representations… You can give and take answers but you can’t argue space and reasons… They cannot reason from this representation. Representational content is not articulated by determinate negation and complex concept formation. Algorithmic learning has potential and limitations, and is based on representationalism. Not concept formation. I think we have to take a position on posthumanistic learning, with collectivity as a normative space of reasons; acknowledge mattering matter in concept formation; acknowledge human inferentialism; acknowledge transformation in environment…


Q1) Can I ask about causes and reasons… My background is psychology and I could argue that we are more automated than we think we are, that reasons come later…

A1) Inferentialism is challenging  the idea of giving and taking reasons as part of normative space. It’s not anything goes… It’s sort of narrowing it down, that humans come into being in terms of learning and thinking in a normative space that is already there. Wilfred Sellers says there is no “bare given” – we are in a normative space, it’s not nature doing this… I have some problems with the term dialectical… But it is a kind of dialective process. If you give an dtake reasons, its not anything goes. I think Jen Derry has a better phrasing for this. But that is the basic sense. And it comes for me from analytical philosophy – which I’m not a huge fan of – but they are asking important questions on what it is to be human, and what it is to learn.

Q2) Interesting to hear you talk about Jan Derry. She talks about technology perhaps obscuring some of the reasoning process and I was wondering how representational things fitted in?

A2) Not in the book I mentioned but she has been working on this type of area at University of London. It is part of the idea of not needing to learn representational knowledge, which is built into technological systems, but for inferentialism we need really good teachers. She has examples about learning about the bible, she followed a school class… Who look at the bible, understand the 10 commandments, and then ask them to write their own bible 10 commandments on whatever topic… That’s a very narrow reasoning… It is engaging but it is limited.

Q3) An ethics issue… If we could devise robots or machines, AI, that could think inferentially, should we?

A3) A challenge for me – we don’t have enough technical people. My understanding is that it’s virtually impossible to do that. You have claims but the capacities of AI systems so far are so limited in terms of function. I think that “theory of mind” is so problematic. They deteriorise what it means to be human, and narrow what it means to be our species. I think algorithmic learning is representational… I may be wrong though… If we can… There are poiltical issues. Why make machines that are one to one to human beings… Maybe to be slaves, to do dirty work. If they can think inferentiality, should they not have ethical rights. In spinostas we have a responsibility to think about those ethical issues.

Q4) You use the word robot, that term is being used to be something very embodies and physical.. But algorithmic agency, much less embodied and much less visible – you mentioned the stock market – and how that fits in.

A4) In a way robots are a novelty, a way to demonstrate that. A chatbot is also a robot. Robot covers a lot of automated processes. One of the things that came out of AI at one point was that AI couldn’t learn without bodies.. That for deep learning there needs to be some sort of bodily engagement to make bodily mistakes. But then encounters like Roxy and others is that they become very much better… As humans we stretch to engage with these robots… We take an answer for an answer, not just an algorithm, and that might change how we learn.

Q4) So the robot is a point of engaging for machine learning… A provocation.

A4) I think roboticists see this as being an easy way to make this happen. But everything happens so quickly… Chips in bodies etc. But can also have robots moving in space, engaging with chips.

Q5) Is there something here about artifical life, rather than artifical intelligence – that the robot provokes that…

A5) That is what a lot of roboticists work at, is trying to create artificial life… There is a lot of work we haven’t seen yet. Working on learning algorithms in computer programming now, that evolves with the process, a form of artifical life. They hope to create robots and if they malfunction, they can self-repair so that the next generation is better. We asked at a conference in Prague recently, with roboticists, was “what do you mean by better?” and they simply couldn’t answer that, which was really interesting… I do think they are working on artifical life as well. And maybe there are two little connections between those of us in education, and those that create these things.

Q6) I was approached by robotics folks about teaching robots to learn drawing with charcoal, largely because the robotic hand had enough sensitivity to do something quite complex – to teach charcoal drawing and representation… The teacher gesticulates, uses metaphor, describes things… I teach drawing and representational drawing… There is no right answer there, which is tough for robototics… What is the equivelent cyborg/dual space in learning? Drawing toolsa re cyborg-esque in terms of digital and drawing tools… BUt also that diea of culture… You can manipulate tools, awareness of function and then the hack, and complexity of that hack… I suppose lots of things were ringing true but I couldn’t quite stick them in to what I’m trying to get at…

A6) Some of this is maybe tied to Schuman Enhancement Theory – the idea of a perfect cyborg drawing?

Q6) No, they were interested in improving computer learning, and language, but for me… The idea of human creativity and hacking… You could pack a robot with the history of art, and representation, so much information… Could do a lot… But is that better art? Or better design? A conversation we have to have!

A6) I tend to look at the dark side of the coin in a way… Not because I am techno-determinist… I do love gadgets, technology enhances our life, we can be playful… BUt in the capitalocene… There is much more focus on this. The creative side of technology is what many people are working on… Fantastic things are coming up, crossovers in art… New things can be created… What I see in nursing and teaching learning contexts is how to avoid engaging… So lifting robots are here, but nursing staff aren’t trained properly and they avoid them… Creativity goes many ways… I’m seeing from quite a particular position, and that is partly a position of warning. These technologies may be creative and they may then make us less and less creative… That’s a question we have to ask. For physicists, who have to be creative, are always so tied to the materiality, the machines and technologies in their working environments. I’ve also seen some of these drawing programmes…. It is amazing what you can draw with these tools… But you need purpose, awareness of what those changes mean… Tools are never innocent. We have to analyse what tools are doing to us