Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Surprising search results from Flickr

Friday, January 13th, 2012

We’re working on a new online course on Microeconomics and have been looking for pictures to help illustrate the themes covered by the course.

It was surprisingly easy to find great Creative Commons licensed images in Flickr, some by the simple expedient of using the themes we wanted to illustrate as search terms.

This is what “supply and demand” returned:

Street filled with taxis and only one potential customer standing on the pavement

Supply and Demand (http://www.flickr.com/photos/atencion/46862708/) / MaX . (http://www.flickr.com/photos/atencion/) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Empty gondalas waiting for customers on a rainy day

The Law of Supply and Demand (http://www.flickr.com/photos/storm-crypt/3479382935/) / Storm Crypt (http://www.flickr.com/photos/storm-crypt/) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Not only are both images beautifully shot, they help to illustrate the factors that affect the competitive market.  So, which aspects of supply and demand are being illustrated here? Submit your answers below and win the admiration of your peers.

 

Visitors and Residents – an update

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Last week myself and Lynn Connaway of OCLC gave an update on the JISC funded Digital Visitors and Residents project for the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme. It was an online session with a healthy flow of text-chat discussion/banter.

Thanks to the support of the JISC infoNet folk the session is also available to play back ‘live’ or in audio form. Dr. Bex Lewis (@drbexl/@digitalfprint) also constructed some very useful live notes which contain key screenshots and links.

A number of themes/questions emerged from the session some of which Helen Beetham has captured in a blog post which I have reproduced (including comments) with very minor edits below. The ensuing discussion in the comments (possibly) demonstrates how closely the notion of digital literaces is tied to fundamental conceptions of education and the function of universities. I wonder if this is because taking a literacies approach helps to direct discussion away from simplistic tech = efficiency notions which often lurk within teaching and learning related projects?

The Digital Visitor and Residents project will report on its activity and findings in phases 1 and 2 towards the end of January. The report extends much of what is discussed in the online session by suggesting the implications of our findings for the sector. As the project progresses into its 3rd phase next year we hope to evolve these implications into pragmatic recommendations for the sector. In the meantime we will continue to raise themes that we think are of value as we discover them in our data.

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Taken from HelenB’s e-learning blog
http://design-4-learning.blogspot.com/2011/12/digital-visitors-and-residents-some.html

Digital visitors and residents – some thoughts

I took part in an online seminar on the Digital visitors and residents project at a Collaborate seminar organised by the JISC last week. I think this is a useful metaphor to have in play, and the findings of the project which look extremely valuable in extending our understanding of what motivates students to engage in the digital environment. There are obvious links with the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme: by helping explain what strategies students are using, the project can help us understand what educators might do to validate or further develop those strategies, or introduce others that might give students greater repertoire and fluency.

Some of the early findings obviously replicate work that has been done in the past to problematise the digital natives narrative, to demonstrate that personal/social skills with technology are not highly transferable to learning, and to recognise that students have many strategies for using technology to support their studies which do not necessarily coincide with what institutions see as ‘good’ study skills (the Learners’ experiences of e-learning studies confirmed both of these).

I do have some thoughts about the metaphor itself, which I shared at the seminar. For example:

  • Is the place vs tool metaphor one that the project is using, or one they are finding that participants use in thinking about the online space?
  • How far is the metaphor a design artefact of the environment and how far is it a property of the individual’s stance towards the environment? For example, ‘windows’ are intuitively spatial. Drop down menus are intuitively tool-like. Most software interfaces combine both to give different messages to the user about how to behave.
  • We know that people’s behaviour in online environments is very strongly influenced by those environments – arguably more than any innate factors including age, confidence with technology etc. At least, it is a question that can be researched: to what extent is behaviour in online environments an aspect of relatively stable aspects of the person and to what extent it is environmentally determined? This might vary depending on the environment in question (and even on the person??)
  • I am assuming that the metaphor distinguishes behaviours and not individuals. i.e. we are all visitors and residents in different contexts.
  • As described in the seminar, the visitors-residents continuum seems to combine a range of behavioural and perceptual aspect: the metaphors we use when we engage with technology; whether we are behaving as individual or social participants/learners; whether we are behaving as consumers, collaborators or producers of content etc. There is an empirical question here: to what extent are these different factors linked? Is this a question the project is trying to answer?

One of the dimensions along which visitors and residents were said to differ is whether their behaviour is ‘instrumental’ or ‘networked’. For me, the web 2.0 era is essentially one in which to be networked IS to be instrumental. Asking a question of my twitter followers is me being instrumental. In exercising my agency I recognise the value of collaboration.

So, this post is meant to open a conversation that I hope will be a productive one!
Posted by HelenB at 03:25

7 comments:

David White said…

These are all very useful questions that contribute to what is an evolving idea.

My experience is that at the simplest level people find the V&R continuum helpful in coming to an understating of their own practice. Often it becomes a useful validation of Visitor style approaches (Yes, this is about behaviour and context) and counters some of the more damaging aspects of techno-evangelism that circulate.

In answer to the ‘environment’ question I find Google Docs is a useful example: When I’m using Google docs I tend to engage with it in exactly the same manner as I would Microsoft Word – to me it’s a tool (I act in a Visitor mode). However, as soon as somebody else appears and starts to edit alongside me the tool becomes a ‘space’ and my engagement with it shifts (My mode of engagement becomes more Resident). So my notion of ‘space’ is somewhere-where-there-are-other-people. My ‘Social Threshold’ post goes through this is a bit more detail: http://goo.gl/b0il2

Your point about the possible stable aspects of a person vs environment is a tricky one because, for example, I will lurk in Twitter sometimes and sometimes I will be active. It depends on what I stand to gain and the context of the moment. So I don’t think it’s possible to develop a fixed model of person + environment = mode of engagement. It may be possible to develop the most probable mode of engagement given certain factors which is something I hope the project will be able to address.

Yes there are a lot of factors here and rather than become too entangled in them I try to cut the Gordian knot by always asking what the learner thinks they are trying to achieve – why did they choose to engage in a certain way? Having said that, I’m very interested in exploring possible links between Visitor and/or Resident modes of engagement and the way in which learners perceive the process of learning itself.
14 December 2011 08:55

HelenB said…

Nice comment Dave, and thanks for adding more detail to the V&R analysis.

I like the nuanced metaphor you are offering and I especially like that it is a useable one (it is a tool for understanding what we do/who we are, therefore a Good Thing to have). But deep down I suppose I believe that the really important difference between people in all their spheres of action is one of capital/power. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, the internet’s knowledge resources are no different from other resources of intellectual capital in this respect. If you are already reasonably well endowed, you perceive it as a tool, a space, a library, an extension of personal agency. If you are not, you perceive it as a place to shop and watch other people’s home videos. Or perhaps you see it as frightening, disempowering, a labyrinth, a pit of immorality. Arguably, the internet just makes it easier for those who know what they want to know to find it, and those who already know who to know, to build their networks.

So how people behave – and the metaphors available to them for understanding their own behaviour – for me always have to be seen against that larger picture and the metaphors should not take on a life of their own.

Also I think we need to be aware of devices, interfaces and services as designed for use (design as a means of achieving power over the user as well as providing a service). They have designs on us, even though we can appropriate them for our own ends individually and collectively. So perhaps for me a sign of digital literacy development would be (a) an awareness of the metaphors we are being offered as users, as being the first step to a conscious adoption or resistance to them (b) a capacity to generate alternative metaphors as users, and (c) eventually a capacity to design new metaphors for ourselves and others by developing (co-developing) new interfaces, communities, networks, and uses. I’m not sure how this trajectory maps to the visitor-resident continuum.

Seb Schmoller has this evening drawn my attention to a nice article on the digital divide in Scientific American: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/12/14/digital-divide-and-social-media-connectivity-doesnt-end-the-digital-divide-skills-do/
14 December 2011 12:45
David White said…

The learners we have been interviewing are predominantly driven by convenience, this is their primary reason for engaging online even when they know that what they might find is only going to be ‘good enough’ and that other sources or places might be ‘better’. It is interesting to consider how much power we are prepared to give up to devices and services in the name of convenience.

I agree that it’s important to make visible the age old power/capital situations which are being mirrored online. In my opinion learning how to ‘see’ media and the internet in these terms is an important literacy. This, I think, is especially important for those looking to gain credibility or power via Resident style approaches. Having said this I don’t see the value of focusing directly on inequalities online. I can attest to the fact that it’s much easier to get to the information in Wikipedia than it is to get into the Bodleian. What makes me suspicious is the denigration of extremely accessible forms of knowledge online by those who currently hold positions of intellectual power. – My point being that the web is in some ways so empowering that we occasionally find it culturally unacceptable or perhaps we find it difficult to adjust to the new ways in which power can flow.

The Visitors and Residents metaphor is a relatively basic tool for unpicking the complexity of our engagement with technology and, possibly more importantly, our engagement with others via technology. As with any metaphor it can only be taken so far before it fractures but it is proving to be a useful lens for coming to an understanding of how learners are appropriating (and being pushed around by) technology. It has also been useful in understanding why certain institutional technological interventions/services fail even though their web based counterparts are highly successful.

I have seen the metaphor appropriated in a variety of ways and had useful conversations around the different contexts it can be used in. For me it’s value is the understanding it facilitates.
15 December 2011 02:14

Martin Oliver said…

“How far is the metaphor a design artefact of the environment and how far is it a property of the individual’s stance towards the environment?”

…presumes a neat division exists between the two, whereas elsewhere in the post (e.g. in relation to visitor in one context, resident in another) the two intertwine in a much more ANT-like way.

I tend to wonder, how much is the metaphor recognisable to an individual, given their previous experiences – and is it so recognisable that they fail to notice it? So – like some of the other learner experience work – I’m really curious about the way biographies shape our ability and inclination to read and use what we encounter.

Really liked the point about the Internet as tool/space/shop/scary labyrinth. As you say in the original post, being really ‘digitally literate’ could or should include being able to read such metaphors in a critical way, and even construct alternatives. I was in a digital literacies meeting today (http://blogs.ubc.ca/newliteracies/) where Mary Lea made a passionate plea not to loose that critical tradition in digital literacy work – a plea made because it seemed to be getting lost in the more skills/cognition take on digital literacies that was at the fore in several of the presentations.

BTW, in relation to the presentation – it may just be me worrying unnecessarily, but I really hope that the interest in demographic prevalence analyses doesn’t re-create the native/immigrant binary by the back door.
15 December 2011 12:04

HelenB said…

Thanks Martin for adding your voice to this exchange. I don’t think I disagree with anything David is saying: I think it’s just a matter of emphasis. Yes, ‘it’s much easier to get to the information in Wikipedia than it is to get into the Bodleian’, but let’s not elevate this to a ‘new pedagogy’ or imagine that it abolishes other inequalities of access. Critical thinking and acting requires more than information. Universities are not the only source of critical thinking in/of/about digital media, perhaps not even the most influential but let’s define what Universities ARE good for in this age of information. For my money it’s public/open scholarship plus developing digital literacies of the critical variety.
For a fabulous example of both, here’s a web site/activist project/geography programme at Exeter that I’ll be learning more about tomorrow. I can’t wait:
http://www.followthethings.com
http://www.followthethings.com/FIY.html
15 December 2011 13:28

David White said…

I use the Visitor and Resident metaphor as a method of understanding what is going on out there in terms of practice. I try not to be too prescriptive about the actions that could be taken having gained a better understanding (although I’m happy to make suggestions 🙂

For me the skills/cognition route is an odd one given that we are supposed to be ‘higher’ education. It hints a an underlying learning-technology-as-a-machine mindset. This is where I think the ‘web as a space/place as well as a tool’ idea can be useful in encouraging a critical approaches.

@Martin I’m trying to avoid a demographic based analysis by talking about Educational Stages not age. It’s complicated by the fact that most undergrads are between the ages of 18 and 21 so the notion of educational context and age tend to be coupled. Ideally I would like to extend the project to investigate a wide range of lifelong learners. This should lead to results which break the educational context – age link. Within the current project we have tried where we can to interview a-typical students within the educational stages but our sample is quite small so I’m not convinced this will be enough to counter the problem.

@Helen What is interesting me is the extent to which learners are developing their own literacies and the extent to which they can access information outside of traditional contexts. Much of what is happening isn’t new in essence (as we so often find once we decide that something being ‘digital’ doesn’t automatically make in ‘new’) but the scale of activity has powerful implications.

Overall the message is very encouraging. Time and time again learners indicate their desire to be taught and to improve their critical thinking. There is a huge respect for the idea of the university and for the expertise that it represents. It reminds me that while the sector should understand it’s position relative to the web and the ‘network’ it needs to hold true to it’s tradition of critical thinking and of disrupting lazy world views.
16 December 2011 01:59

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Garden history, biblical archeology and mysterious numbers.

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Martin Heemskerck Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Martin Heemskerck

 

Course launches have just completed and over 1300 students have embarked on another term of online learning with us.  This term we have launched 3 new courses: Archaeology of the Bible Lands The Number Mysteries and English Landscape Gardens: 1650 to the Present Day , and I am very pleased to have discovered an image which combines a biblical garden with a vaguely  Escher like (that’s mathematical!) ambiance.

Having been in involved in the development of all our courses, I do think that these are 3 of the most enjoyable courses we have ever created and the students on them are going to have a fabulous time.

Enrollments have closed for this term, but if any of these, or our other 50+ online courses look interesting to you, do come and visit to make your choices for January, when we will also have a new Macroeconomics course available to help you understand what economists think is happening to the world right now.

Image: Hanging Gardens of Babylon / Carla216 / CC BY 2.0

Link curation at scale

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
The weakest link

http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinbell/465459020/

In our report OER: The value of reuse in education,  we focused our attention on the reuse of online resources whether licensed or not .  There was no doubt that making no distinction between licensed OER and stuff on the web reflects the experience of the majority of HE practitioners, who use “stuff” relatively indiscriminately in low risk contexts.

However when not writing reports we develop and deliver a large portfolio of online courses  where we make extensive use of online resources.  These are mainly from large institutions such as other universities, or museums, but very rarely cc licensed.  As a result we mainly link out to these rather than incorporating them into course materials, as clearing copyright at that scale is not manageable as we know from our Mosaic project.

We are currently launching to over 1200 students, something that brings home the value of open licensing in purely pragmatic terms.  50+ courses a term, with between 5 and 300+ links per course checked 3 times in the lead up to  a course run  = a lot of work. Obviously we have tools that automate this up to a point, but they only tell you whether a link is live, not whether it ends up where you expect, and then there is what you do when a link is broken……This is a major overhead and it is getting worse.  A colleague suggested this post should be called “This has been a *@#! term for links”

So yes licensing is complicated and we should not see it as the be all and end all of OER, but when open licenses are  in place, by letting us bring resources into our course so we don’t have to check thousands of links each term, they allow us to design and deliver better courses. Long may it continue.

Image: the weakest link / darwin Bell / CC BY-NC 2.0

 

Disappearing digital resources

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

One of the most striking aspects of our JISC funded Open-Educational-Resources Impact study was the extent to which using digital resources has become embedded in teaching practice. Digital resources are ‘disappearing into use’ as they become part of the fabric of higher education.

We interviewed strategists, academics and students to find out how they found and used digital resources. It wasn’t surprising to find that students were Googling for anything they could get their hands on but the extent to which academics are doing this as well was unexpected. The difference between the groups was that staff have the expertise required to critically evaluate what they find while the students are nervous about waiting-time using resources which might prove to be off-topic. They are also uncertain of how to cite non-traditional resources or if they should admit to using them as all. This is a good example of where digital literacy and traditional research skills are both essential.

But what about licensing? Well, those whose practice was highly visible on the web and therefore closely tied to the reputation of their institution were keen to use openly licensed materials. E.g. an online distance elearning team or groups that make modules which are rereleased out onto the web. Those in course or programme teams were less focused on licensing because their practice is largely private – within the VLE, in the lecture theatre etc. In day-to-day teaching the technicalities of reuse come second to the potential of a resource to make the student’s learning experience richer.

The OER Impact project analysed the link between the value of use and its impact in teaching and learning. There is a full research report and a shorter ‘accessible’ report available for download from JISC. Or you can watch the short video below to get an overview of our findings.

The video is published under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY)

OER Impact project team-

Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning:
Mr David White
Ms Marion Manton

Learning Technologies Group:
Dr Elizabeth Masterman
Ms Joanna Wild

New courses: lose yourself in the 19th century and find the great american novel

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

NapoleonIt is that time of year again and we are in the middle of our online course launches for another term.  We are offering  40 courses this term including our new courses in Nineteenth Century European LiteratureAge of Revolution and  The Modern American Novel: an introduction.

Developing the first two in parallel was a wonderful experience and I would recommend anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the era to study them together.  When the novels you are reading are written by people living the history you are studying it gives a whole extra dimension to each.  The 19th century French society that Madame Bovary inhabits is shaped by the revolutions that had gone before – radical or otherwise.

The Modern American novel takes you from Gatsby to Beloved and American Pastoral  – a completely different world but just as fascinating.

So if you would enjoy exploring these worlds over the next couple of months or are interested in Archaeology, Art History, English literature, Creative Writing, Economics, History, Local history or Philosophy do take a look at what is available.

Image: napoleon / Sarah / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Maps for Modern American Novel course now online

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Hi all,

Some supplementary maps for our forthcoming Modern American Novel course (launching 4th May) are now online at http://maps.conted.ox.ac.uk/americannovel/index.php

Take a look and enjoy.

Re-using 2 minutes guides

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last term we added a 2 minute guide to our comprehensive online  support site. This site has always been designed for the least technically confident user imaginable, as we know from our support calls that they are the ones who need the help.  However in  the last couple of years it has become clear that the  majority of our students are competent IT users who didn’t look at our support site because it was too large.  Paradoxically this meant they missed out on the information even a confident IT user really did need –  hence our 2 minute guide.

In developing the guide I decided to take the OER route as surely we were not the first to write such a thing.  The nadir of this process was finding a 2 minute guide as a 5 minute video.  However,  in the end, old fashioned non OER reuse was the solution – I asked permission and paraphrased something someone else in the Department had written.

So an everyday story of pragmatic reuse.  Something I have recently been reminded about both in the context of our OER Impact work and our recent google analytics report which showed that the average time spent on the 2 minute guide page was 2.02 minutes – shall I let the person who originally wrote the content know?

Image: 1305 Seconds / Rob Lockhart / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Cascading

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

After over two years work we have reached the end of the JISC-funded Cascade project – wrapping this up and the final reporting requirements are a big part of the reason why I have blogged so little in recent months.  This was a huge project looking at a very broad cross section of activities in the Department for Continuing Educatiosplashn at Oxford.

Technology-enhanced curriculum delivery is a large area and has the ability to affect everything we do; therefore, it was essential to closely define the scope of the project. Following a detailed scoping exercise, we focussed on areas where using technology offered the greatest potential impact, either through financial efficiencies, greater effectiveness, or application across a number of activities. This resulted in a project that developed sustainable new services that provide:

  • VLE support for award-bearing courses, incorporating online assignment-handling and access to generic content;
  • Wider availability of online enrolment and payment services;
  • Support for the course design process.

We quantified the benefits these services offer the Department in terms of greater efficiency, improved service or innovation, and have developed tools, processes and documentation to streamline and embed them in our work.

The cuts in funding faced by the Department as a result of the ELQ policy is now being mirrored across Higher Education as a whole, making many of our project outputs more relevant than ever to a wider audience. In particular they offer:

  • Suggestions of areas where other institutions might achieve comparable benefits;
  • Information on how to achieve such benefits;
  • Shared outputs upon which others can build;
  • Open source code for enhanced assignment-handing in Moodle;

allowing others to benefit from our developments. All outputs are available on the Cascade project website’s outputs page, and in the next few weeks I will blog in more detail about some of these.

Product or Public Good?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I was delighted to be invited to speak about our Study of Online Learning our group authored for the HEFCE Task Force at this years ALT-C conference. I  focused on the issues that I felt arose from the long awaited report which is due to be published shortly.

Or view the talk in the ALT-C youTube channel

The vast majority of online distance offerings are postgraduate ‘professional’ courses. eg. Masters in Law, Medicine, Business, Engineering etc.

I made it clear in my presentation at ALT-C that I don’t see this as a problem in of itself. The institutions providing these courses have found that the online distance format works well for those in full-time employment and that these types of courses have a ready market. Setting up successful online distance programmes is challenging enough so it make sense to pick the low hanging fruit in terms of potential customers when developing new products.

Did that last sentence grate a bit? It does for me and not just because of the dubious grammar. As soon as we talk in terms of ‘customers’ and ‘product’ I get nervous. There seems to be something inherently at odds with the philosophy of higher education as I understand it when it is couched in economic terminology. This is then compounded by the apparent keenness of the government to involve private partners in the delivery of higher education programmes online with the possibility of giving some companies the right to award degrees directly.

ALT Proceedings

A fortifying cup of tea with some mini-chedders

I was at an amusing talk recently given by an American company who claimed that their “for-profit university was not preoccupied with money”. It’s very easy to sit in a university and poke fun at commercial educational providers, too easy in fact, especially as I’m quite happy to take my salary home each month. I haven’t done an MBA so I’m not an expert but I find it difficult to distinguish the financial approaches of public and private sector bodies sometimes. Universities are diverse businesses and have many money-making activities some of which are funded by the government and some which are straight commercial ventures. I believe that a simplistic argument around ‘for-profit’ and ‘not for-profit’ masks the real issue which in the case of online distance learning is to do with diversity.

Almost every institution in this field whether a university or a big corporate is providing an extremely narrow curriculum because certain courses have a better Return on Investment than others. The problem is not what we are providing online but what we are neglecting to provide. Where are the humanities and liberal arts? Where are the foundation and undergraduate degrees? There are a few examples of these (I cited The Sheffield College) but certainly not enough to reflect the character of our face-to-face universities.

The reason for this lack of diversity in both curriculum and academic levels is because non-STEM, non-Business, non-Postgrad courses have a less reliable income stream. It’s expensive to kick start an online programme. It’s a lot less expensive than building a lecture theatre or a library but because it’s a ‘new’ mode of delivery it’s assessed outside the economic machinery embedded in our institutions and has to be seen to pay-for-itself. Here is where the financial challenges bite. At ALT-C I made the statement that “Universities should enrich society not make society rich”. I admit that this becomes increasingly difficult when money is scarce but I feel that it’s important that we retain those aspects of our activity which work towards the public good. A public good which is not predicated on wealth and material growth but on wellbeing, one which equips individuals to be more than economic units.

Dave Walks

I got quite animated (Image: Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales" : Mark Gregory of Photoshy.com)

This challenge is distinct from abstract notions of ‘quality’. I can’t honestly say what the standard of teaching and learning is like on the offerings our study discovered but I see no evidence that a lucrative course is destined to be a less ‘educational’ experience than one that loses money. In many cases I suspect that the quality of online learning is higher than equivalent face-to-face courses because students expect significant amounts of contact when at a distance. In face-to-face teaching scenarios the lecture (a controversial subject this year) provides a very efficient sense of contact and notional cohort cohesion. For online this cohesion has to be built by regular feedback, tutor-student contact and peer-to-peer learning. The risk of a lack of social presence in a predominantly text based medium coupled with the influence of the micro-contact culture of the web means that only the online courses with excellent learning design will survive. The mode of delivery inherently demands good pedagogy and active engagement or students simply drop out.

I think it’s helpful to consider this area in terms of identity because this forces a consideration of values beyond the economic. As it stands the ‘digital identity’ of online higher education provided by the UK largely looks like a highly academic professional development programme. I must reiterate that I’m not criticising this activity in of itself rather I am holding out hope that future funding models will allow programmes outside this area to move online and better represent the varied and excellent teaching and learning this country is rightly known for.

If you are keen to discuss the role of technology within/around higher education in a political context then you might want to consider registering your interest for the proposed ‘Tech, Power, Education’ seminar series.

Slides from the talk: