this semester’s first seminar

[February 14. 1:15 pm CET]
Supporting learner engagement in the process of self-directed inquiry in open and flexible international learning environments
Brian Hudson, Department of Interactive Media and Learning, Umeå University

In this seminar I will talk about recent research with students at masters level that has explored the opportunities afforded by new technologies for collaborative learning. This has highlighted the importance of “social infrastructure” in supporting learner engagement in open and flexible learning environments, including online learning environments. The associated development has involved working with students in international contexts with the aim of developing knowledge and understanding of educational research methodologies and methods and the subsequent application of these to teaching and learning situations that utilise new technologies. I will also talk about current work that involves supporting dissertation students in their engagement with the process of self-directed inquiry. In particular I am interested in exploiting the affordances of new technologies for promoting peer support through encouraging their commitment to the online learning community as part of the continual construction of their professional identities. Findings will be reported from recent experimental work with the use of web-based group video conferencing technologies to support virtual seminars.

The seminar will be live broadcast, archived and mp3:ed.

Brian will make a great addition to ICT and learning/digital culture community here at Umeå University and we are happy he has accepted a chair at this university.

Right after Brian’s seminar (3.15 pm) there will be an art performance in the lab by Lisa Alfredsson:

Släppte ut den [let it loose]
Såg den [saw it]
Tyckte om den [liked it]
Tog hand om den [took care of it]

All welcome!

new screens and web cameras

We recently installed a number of new flat screens (24″) and some other technology in the lab. There is something to developing and refining a studio space like HUMlab. I could feel the difference when I entered the lab. Large 21″ CRT screens replaced with LCD screens. Earlier I was a little bit concerned that our setup required screens with some physical prominence but after the new installation I am very happy. The lab has become more open and translucent:


Also, we installed a number of web cameras and wacom boards. These also add to the feeling of the lab and in a few weeks, Linda Bergkvist will teach a Photoshop class where she will focus on using digital drawing tablets.


And of course HUMlab needs webcams. Design is very important and I like both the design and functionality of these.

teaching photoshop

When someone asks me to teach them to paint, I really don’t know what to say.

Perhaps I could teach them what I know of Photoshop. I’ve painted in Photoshop for about eight years now. Every year I learn new things, with every new edition, I have to re-learn many things. Much of what I know is intuitive. It’s not so much skills as it is a work flow: the order in which I use the tools and the position of my hand on the keyboard. It is not eight years of learning every single asset that Photoshop has – it is eight years of painting in a particular program, learning what tools I need, and adapting what the program supplies me with to the work I have to do. It’s like riding a bike in that I rarely give any thought to how my feet move on the pedals or how I tilt my body to make the bike turn in one direction or the other. The trick is to learn enough to make sure the tool is an asset – not something standing in your way.

To teach someone the purely technical things I know about Photoshop wouldn’t take very long at all. There’s the toolbar, there are the filters, this is how you use quick masks. To teach someone the way Photoshop and I work together, how I’ve adapted to the program – and how it’s adapted to me… that’s another matter altogether. I’m not even sure it can be done. What I can teach, however, are ways to make it easier. Paths you can take when learning. Things you might make good use of, if you’re planning to make good use of Photoshop as a painting program. Little inside tips: everything from a good spot to hold your left hand while the right one holds the pen to why the pen’s eraser isn’t really such a good idea. Easier ways to perform certain tasks.

What I can’t dream of teaching someone is what lies behind it all. Not the skills I’ve learned during eight years of constant Photoshop use, but those I’ve picked from a lifetime of sketching, drawing, painting, working in clay and papier mache and all manners of different stuff. These are skills that it would take a teacher well beyond my level to pass down to others. I don’t have the words to describe what I do. If my work in Photoshop is intuitive, it’s still nothing to how I ‘feel’ for the shapes and forms that I paint. Painting is inspiration driven, it is emotional and it is personal. It is a constant dilemma for me, trying to find ways to help with the practical skills – anatomy, photoshop and colour use, for example, without delving into the personal ones that reach a bit deeper and are far more difficult to grasp. To tell the truth, I don’t want to teach someone to paint the way I do. I would be doing a disservice not only to myself but to the person I would be teaching. I can’t even see how it could be done, without that person living my life, spending the same amount of hours painting, having the exact same dreams, interests and views. The things that are still just technical skills – are still technical skills that I picked up while painting almost every day for most of my life. How can you dream of cramming that into a single, simple lesson? And who would want to turn their personal paintings into clones of mine, anyway?

So if I have three hours to spend, handing over some of what I’ve learned to those who want to listen… what will I teach? Not how to paint: that is a lifetime process, not a three-hour-class. I’ll teach ways to make it easier. To avoid the bumps in the road that I’ve encountered. Show things that will, hopefully, make the learning progress faster and tips and tricks on how to figure things out. I’ll try to give you the absolutely-nots along with the musts.

Above all, I’ll hope to make it understood that you can’t get discouraged if it’s hard. It is. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of time, but it’s all worth it. Learning is part of what makes it so wonderful. There is no secret trick you’ll learn – and bam, the next day you’re an expert. For all of us, it’s a matter of honing your skills and you can’t do this if you give up as soon as the going gets rough. Photoshop or Painter are tools of the trade: learn how to use them and you soon forget they’re there. That is the big trick, here – to find a way to work in your program of choice without really reflecting much on the program. That way you can focus, instead, on the work that you do rather than the how of how you do it.

Nomadic Peoples and Nomadic Technologies

I have just returned from the local courthouse here in Umeå where a judgement was announced regarding the right of the local First Nations people, the Sámi to move their reindeer herds over land that is not actually owned by them. Three Sámi villages had mounted a case against local landholders in the Vilhelmina township area. The judgement was made in their favour based on recognition of ancient use of the land. This is relevant to me at that moment (apart from a personal interest) as part of the Sámi-Pygmy Cultures around the Fire project that Billy Marius is making in HUMlab. It also sparked other questions and ideas regarding mobility or nomadism in the 21st century.
Continue reading “Nomadic Peoples and Nomadic Technologies”

seminars on campus

Two upcoming seminars with clear HUMlab interest:

January 19, 3.15 pm, D108, Humanities building
Humanvetenskapernas vetenskapliga uppdrag och humanioras i synnerhet
Arne Jarrick, Department of History, Stockholm University
Deputy Director General, The Swedish Research Council
Organizer: Department of Historical Studies
[On the scientific “mission” of the Human sciences and the Humanities in particular – I will report on this seminar elsewhere – link will be posted here]

Febaruary 2, 3.15 pm, A116, Humanities building
Samiskan i Ryssland: språksituation och språkdokumentation
Organizer: Department of Philosophy and Linguistics
[On the Kola-Sámi Documentation Project (KSDP)]

mightier than the sword

In a long forgotten case of genocide in Rwanda, radio was used to broadcast lists of people to be taken care of (hacked down with machetes) as soon as possible. And while radio is still a force to be reckoned with on this continent, due to sat phones and internet cafes, blogs may be the new weapon of choice for militants. Currently in Sudan, two leading rebels are at war with each other…through their blogs! Some quotes from a recent news article exemplify the power of independent media and the dissemination of all types of information…

“The Internet is a war weapon,” Aboude Coulibaly, director of the New Forces rebel group in Ivory Coast, wrote in a recent e-mail. In 2002, the group used its Web site and TV station to launch a mutiny that toppled the government. “In these matters of revolution, we have to be wired to win,” he wrote.

“How important is blogging for the continent? In the long term, it’s critical,” Zuckerman wrote in an e-mail. “Not only do blogs provide an alternative space for free speech in countries where the press may not be independent, free or strong, they also enable people in Africa to challenge media representations in the U.S. and Europe.”

This is a double edged sword. On the one hand, radio stations and the TV stations are the first targets of a coup, so if we want to know what is *really* going on, blogs can be a great source (as they were in Iran before the large-scale governmental crackdown). On the other hand, blogs can be used as a weapon of war- a post, uploaded in seconds can decide the fate of one or many. I guess it goes back to the techno-phobic argument of ‘the evils of technology’. Technology in itself is not evil; it is what you do with it. I am saddened that blogs are being used as a weapon, but this is also a reflection of their potential importance – and the importance of a lone voice shouting in a sea of many.

the importance of individual cases/examples/meetings

When we had a workshop on datamining in December several of the speakers stressed the importance of caring about individual examples, data tails (rather than averages), the value of qualitative analysis (as well as quantitative) etc. In the process of establishing a meeting place like HUMlab I think it is also worth stressing the importance, validity and power of individual examples or cases. Sometimes seemingly small things make a real long-term difference. Or one meeting may change the way you think about yourself and the world. I think this is an extremely important perspective looking at the long-term process of esatblishing something like HUMlab.

I was thinking of Marius who has spent a few days in our lab and to me, meeting him, learning more about his project, sharing some of his energy and seeing him work with HUMlab staff and graduate students have been very rewarding. Actually more than rewarding. My passion for HUMlab somehow feeds on such meetings. They do not have to happen every day or even every month – but in themselves they can validate an enterprise such as HUMlab. I really believe that.

the sims – and custom content

Recently, I picked up playing Sims 2 again.

It amazes me how, though the game in itself is fun, it is the custom content and the mod community that truly makes it worthwhile. The designers that worked on the game produced mismatched sets of furniture, dull skin tones and blank eyes – the mod community has given us new furniture, new skins and adorable, gleaming, glittering, wonderful eyes. The community is huge, I can’t even count the number of sites. My bookmark list is filled to the brim and overflowing with links to sites that I regularly check for updated content.

Every week, I, and my fellow addicts, search the web for the best, newest, neatest additions – everything from a new kind of lamp with a different type of light, to a pair of high heeled shoes where the game creators originally gave us only flats. I can’t even say for sure what my obsession with it is. I’m not even using half the stuff. It’s like shopping, except it doesn’t cost me any money, and I can’t actually wear, or use any of the stuff in real life. You get the shopping high with very few of the perks and none of the bad stuff – ‘cept the obsession.

Did I say it doesn’t cost anything?

That’s not entirely true, anymore. Re-joining the Sims community, I was shocked to find that some creators force you to ‘donate’ to their sites, in order to download their files. A new bedroom set might cost, say, $3 – though for copyright reasons, they claim it’s donation to keep their sites running… not actual pay. People are actually making money, making pretend clothes, furniture and hairstyles for pretend people. So now I need to pay for a new, pretty shirt for my Sim as well as that pair of shoes I want to buy downtown? What the hell?

So I said to myself, no way, I’m not doing that.

A week later, I found an awesome bedroom on a site somewhere, and I donated money to get it. I’m still ashamed. I can’t believe I actually paid for this pretend bedroom. Done is done, though, and knowing the shop-o-holic in me, I might well do it again.

What is it with these new games that involve you to such a level? MMORPGs where people buy weapons on ebay and then fight over their items – in real life! Sims 2, where you can go shopping online – for things that don’t really exist. Games, where you pay first for the actual game… then for the expansions… and then, like an idiot, you actually go ahead and pay other players for the niftiest, coolest stuff to use in your game.

One reason to why I always loved the Sims games was the open, wonderful community around them. I’m hoping that this new element of greed (that’s what this essentially is, isn’t it?) won’t eat away at that warmth.