Granny dumping

I came across this appalling phenomenon for the first time yesterday. I was discussing the care of the elderly with a friend who told me that ‘granny dumping’ is becoming increasingly common in India. My friend is Indian.  On returning home I searched for this on the internet and am even more shocked to find that this is a world-wide phenomenon that has been happening for years. Elderly people are abandoned by their relatives who then make themselves uncontactable; they are left outside a hospital, bus station, or in any public place unknown to them. In India they are taken to festivals at a distance from their villages and left there.

It is because of situations like this, because my own mother has dementia, because I am ageing myself (aren’t we all!) and because the number of people over 65 in the population is increasing dramatically (see Older America for US figures), that I have signed up for Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker’s Growing Old Around the Globe MOOC.



Image from the course Facebook site

In their introduction to the MOOC Sarah and Anne write

The world is ageing – people are older and societies are facing hard realities. What are we to make our lives in this time of global ageing?

Growing old is discussed today in ominous terms – concerns about disease, dysfunction, and destitution are daily discussed by media and policy makers. What are individuals, families, communities and societies to make of an ageing world? We analyze contemporary topics in psychological and social ageing from a global perspective. Each week, we pose a question to be explored and discussed online. Participants are encouraged to contribute their experiences and perspectives as we create a global community to discuss age, ageing, and the science of gerontology in action.

Thank you to Sarah and Anne for inviting me to be a Teaching Assistant on this course. I am very much looking forward to it.

The Twitter stream for this course is @OldGlobeMOOC where Sarah is already posting some resources and I have posted the link to the Facebook site above.

What is a scholar?

George Veletsianos’ presentation to Week 33 of Change Mooc  has been very timely for the First Steps in Learning and Teaching Mooc  that I am planning with colleagues  at the moment.

George has posted a recording of his presentation to his blog and it is worth listening to. (See also – Another very interesting part of this presentation was the chat that it provoked. This focused on the question on ‘what is a scholar?’ a question that novice academics must surely think about. I have pulled together some of the key ideas and questions that came out of this chat. I’m not going to try and identify those responsible for each comment – but these are the people who contributed (in no particular order): Lisa Lane, Keith Hamon, Stephen Downes, Verena Roberts, ljp and Bon

This is how I have interpreted the key ideas – but I have also included quotes from the chat below.

  • You have to be networked to be a scholar
  • These days you not only have to be networked to be a scholar – you also have to be networked online
  • As a scholar you need to have your work critically assessed and this happens by submitting your work online
  • Sharing is an essential element of scholarship
  • Blogging can be scholarship
  • There is no such thing as a non-connected scholar
  • Scholarship relies on interaction
  • Institutional management processes are a constraint on scholarship

The discussion started with the question of whether in this digital age a scholar can be a scholar without being online. The conversation (chat) included these comments……

‘the act of becoming a scholar is (now / in the future) the same as the act of *creating* an online social network’ 

‘your activities may be online and off, but your *scholarly* activities (papers, presentations, discussion, etc) ought to be online – otherwise the

y’re just private & therefore not very scholarly’

‘I think we all became scholars by participating in networks, online and off’

‘… the extent that they are not online I think they are over time becoming less and less “scholars”

I became a scholar BY participating in online social networks (no chicken, no egg)

Then there was the question of whether you need to have your work critically assessed by online networks to be a scholar

‘…you can’t submit your work to critical assessment (these days) without really being online, and a person who does not subject their work to critical assessment is arguably not a scholar’ 

Sharing was considered an essential element of scholarship

‘..sharing is what makes scholarship valuable’

‘I can’t think of any scholarship that isn’t shared eventually’

That makes most blogging qualify as scholarship?’

‘… no but it does mean that blogging can be scholarship’

‘Do you have to be with a University and digital in order to be a scholar?’


What are the institutional constraints on scholarships?

‘ …institutions cannot change quickly enough to support the kind of work we are doing’‘management is based on [a] measurement, and [b] best practices and these are antithetical to good work’ 

we keep having to go outside institutions to do good work?

as a grad student, this academia beyond the institution potential is what i find most profoundly absent withIN the institution. little support and no scaffolding. people can’t model or even recognize what they don’t understand.

because our institutions keep wanting to ‘manage’ us

because the institutions cannot change quickly enough to support the kind of work we are doing, for instance here today

& management is based on [a] measurement, and [b] best practices and these are antithetical to good work

I wonder whether creating an environment for scholarship is an institution’s responsibility any more?

Can a person working on his own be a scholar?

I don’t think you can say an individual working on his/her own can’t be a scholar.

if a person is working on his/her own, then, what is it that makes them a scholar (and not, say, a carpenter)?

no scholar works on their own – that pile of books IS a network of scholars

There is no individual working alone – we are all born out of a discipline, or network of study, and we conduct our study (even alone) within the context of that network, using its language, tools, resources, reference points, even if we extend them or change them

generally, I think we would agree that just reading a bunch of books is not by itself ‘scholarship’

Maybe its about the interaction as well? Its difficult to interact “with” a book…have to interact in order to be a digital scholar?

a “bunch of books” + peer review of ones own work can equal scholarship

actually successful readers are highly interactive with the books they read

All these comments and questions seem to me to be directly relevant to the work of lecturers in Higher Education, whether or not they are new to the job.

My question

Is the identity of people working in Higher Education changing?

Or do you keep your identity intact in a special place known only to you as one chat participant commented ……

Final quote from the chat…

I keep my identity in a small cardboard box in the attic

I love this comment 🙂

Scholars’ participation and practices online

This is the title of George Veletsianos’ talk to Week 33 of ChangeMooc.  George is asking questions which are directly relevant to the Mooc that I am planning with colleagues from Oxford Brookes University – George Roberts, Marion Waite, Liz Lovegrove, Joe Rosa, and Sylvia Currie from British Columbia.

I like the way George has related his post to ChangeMooc to previous speakers in ChangeMooc – Howard Rheingold in Week 15, Tom Reeves in Week 23 and Martin Weller in Week 3. It seems that there is a growing awareness of the issues he is raising, namely:

What are the opportunities and difficulties, for scholars, associated with open sharing of knowledge and practice?

In our First Steps in Learning and Teaching MOOC (#fslt12) , we will be encouraging people who are new to learning and teaching in Higher Education to engage in open academic practice. I will be interested to see what responses we get to this. Will we only have people sign up for the MOOC if they are already comfortable with working openly online? What about the people who are not only new to learning and teaching in Higher Education, but also new to ‘openness’ online?

Martin Weller in his talk to the HEA Workshop held at Oxford University the other week –  said that ‘Openness is a state of mind’.  I agree – but for a novice this openness must be much more difficult to achieve. The risks to reputation, career, credibility and so on, must be much greater.

George Veletsianos’ topic this week is an important one for anyone working in Higher Education, or thinking about working in Higher Education. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the live session, but I will listen to the recording with interest.

Changing attitudes to leadership

Dr Martha Cleveland-Innes asks (in changeMooc) this week – ‘Who needs leadership?’

This was a thoughtful presentation. I liked the measured pace and the challenge to traditional ways of thinking about leadership.

It seems that there is no longer in this post-modern era a grand theory of leadership . Leadership theory is either so broad that it is meaningless or so granular that it is too narrow to be useful. Leadership is thought to be contextually based.  If it can be defined at all (Dr Marti Cleveland Innes suggested that it is beyond our ability to define it) then leadership depends on having ‘the right person at the right time, in the right place doing the right things’. A very tricky ‘definition’ because of that loaded word ‘right’.

It was suggested that in today’s world, leadership is no longer thought of as being in an individual, but because we live in a complex, distributed and networked world, we should all be leaders.  As Marti mentioned on her blog complexity theory is now being applied to leadership. (As an aside: ‘Everyone a leader’ is similar to the ‘Everyone a teacher’ argument – see Howard Rheingold talking about peeragogy ).

That we should all be leaders suggests that anyone can be a leader, that is anyone who has followers. A leader has to have followers. This video, also shown in Marti’s presentation, might suggest that it doesn’t take much to get some followers. It also raises the question of whether people who have a large number of blog, Twitter or network followers (or just any number of followers) are therefore automatically leaders.

There’s no doubt that if everyone in a given group or network is a leader, then everyone is also a follower and a view of leadership as invested in one charismatic person would have to change. The questions we ask about leadership would have to change.

But do we really think that there is no longer a place for the charismatic leader. World events, such as what is happening in Burma at the moment would suggest otherwise. Aung San Suu Kyi is clearly thought of as a charismatic leader – a leader of change.

Leadership and the type of leadership that we experience and want is strongly affected by context and culture. So charismatic leadership seems to be just what Burma needs at this current time, but is charismatic leadership what we need for education (my own context is education in the UK)?

Marti mentioned in her presentation that education is notoriously difficult to lead because institutions of Higher Education are notorious resisters to change. That fits my experience. Perhaps education is an example of a system that is too complex to be led by an individual, and all who work in higher education need to see themselves as leaders of change. Perhaps change in Higher Education can only come from the bottom up, through covert, subversive action.

But I know of many charismatic school head teachers who have pulled failing schools out of the mire and turned them into examples of excellence.  So what are the contextual and cultural differences between schools and Higher Education that call for different styles and a different understanding of leadership?

As always a Changemooc session leaves me with more questions than answers – always the sign of a good course:-)

Understanding Digital Citizenship

Alec Couros was the speaker in Changemooc this week.

He is clearly a popular speaker and there were a number of people attending who obviously regarded him with a great deal of affection.

Alec talked about digital citizenship in terms of Cyber-safety (keeping safe and being able to discern truth from hoaxes and myths); Memes (value laden digital viruses); Copyright/copyleft (we used to consume information, now we produce, remix, share); Network Literacy; Identity (81% of children under the age of two have some form of digital footprint and some even have a footprint before birth); and Activism. See

Alec hasn’t posted his slides yet – but there are plenty more here – but as he told us and exemplified he has developed his own style of online presentation, which I think was very effective. You certainly couldn’t get bored. He had a lot of slides, but a lot of those were simply images. Text on the slides was limited – and he talked over his slides with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. Perhaps most impressive was the number of videos he asked us to view during his presentation, which kept it interesting and lively. I think he must spend an awful lot of time online and particularly viewing videos as he seems to be all over the web.

Whilst there was a lot in his presentation that was new to me and fascinating, there were a couple of things that left me questioning.

The first was that during the presentation, the videos that were shown and many photos, left me with the word ‘voyeurism’ floating in my head. I felt as though I was being introduced into people’s lives where I had no right to be.  It left me wondering to what extent the internet encourages us to be ‘voyeurs’.

The second was that I wonder how ethical it is to share another person’s identity online – particularly if that person is a child. I have questioned this before in a discussion with Dean Shareski

I know with absolute certainty that I would not like people to be sharing personal details about me online without my knowledge, understanding or agreement and I doubt that children are in a position to agree to this.  It’s not that I have never mentioned my children online – I have, but I do not understand why a personal communication of love between a parent and child needs to be conducted in view of the whole world. Alec showed one such example of a father sending online messages to his newborn and growing child. What I don’t like about this is that the child cannot object to this. The child doesn’t even know the effect that this might have on their identity and is in no position to control it.

So I do not think that digital citizenship means that you have to be ‘watching’ the lives of people you do not even know, or that you have to share the details of your nearest and dearest with the whole world.

Embodied Learning

At what point do we forget or cease to think about intelligence as being embodied and think of it only in terms of our brains and minds. Little children naturally use their bodies for learning. Most children in nursery schools do not read and write. They learn through their bodies in the sand and water tray, on the climbing equipment, with bricks, Lego and so on. They learn by doing and acting on their environment using all their senses.

There was a fascinating programme on the Horizon Programme on BBC2 last night – The Hunt for AI, which explored the relationship between mind and body and the extent to which the body is ‘intelligent’.

The question asked by the programme was whether it is possible to build a machine (robot), which can mimic human intelligence. Is it possible to make a machine that can think?  Is it possible to capture the wonderful versatility of the human brain, human imagination and creativity?

The programme showed that there have been amazing developments in artificial intelligence and robotics since the days of Alan Turing’s work on the Enigma Machine. Most recently among these developments there has been the realization that in order to mimic the nature of human intelligence, robots or machines would need to have embodied intelligence, intelligence conditioned by the body. So artificial intelligence is now trying to replicate the human body.

Once you start thinking about the role of the body in learning – as we did in the paper we have just submitted to the Stirling Conference in June (see Abstract here – Theorising Education 2012 Abstract), then it is possible to think of many examples of embodied learning.

The example in the BBC2 programme was of the presenter trying to learn how to walk the tightrope. His instructor tells him to ‘turn his brain off and let his muscles do it’; she tells him that he is ‘thinking too much’.

As he said, learning to walk on a tightrope is similar to how a child learns to walk. It is instinctive. Ultimately everything we learn to do becomes automatic with practice.

But perhaps what was most intriguing about this example was that the presenter only learned to walk the tightrope when his instructor suggested that he sing at the same time. This very much relates to the discussion we have in our paper about multi-modal and cross-modal ways of working.

This was a fascinating programme and couldn’t have been more timely in relation to the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau on our paper – Synaesthesia and Embodied Learning.

Where do scholars reside?

Week 27 in ChangeMOOC showed us what a Scholar in Residence gets up to. Antonio Vantaggiato shared the work he started as Scholar in Residence at New York University last summer. This work focuses on exploring the myths surrounding teaching, learning and technology. These are listed in this index – and explored further in his slideshare presentation  and associated live presentation .

The work is a ‘book in progress’ on unpicking the myths. Antonio Vantaggiato is sharing his writing on his website  In his words:

The site is done with, which allows for discussion on each paragraph of the text, and this is what I hope would emerge as a product of participant’s work.

It is by no means an academic, or well-structured research work, but more of a popular discussion. I am using almost no journal or conference papers, but instead, articles from popular media. Plus, the interviews I am conducting (hope to count on you guys in the next future!) add to the ideas elaborated and to the site itself.

I plan to publish in the next weeks the latest interviews (I got Shirky already up, and this week I’ll have another interview done with Mikhail Gershovich, Luke Waltzer, Tom Harbison etc. at Baruch College, etc.)…

Perhaps even more intriguing, at this point than the discussion of the myths – is this way of working, not only because it is being done in the ‘open’, but also because of the departure from the use of journal and conference papers. So the process of writing the book is also an attempt to debunk some of the myths around what constitutes acceptable publications in the bubble of higher education. Presumably Antonio hopes to publish this book when it has been completed – or will the website be the book. I was interested that Stephen Downes regards his website as his book.

So will future scholars reside more on their websites rather than institutions of higher education?