Learning Artifact (Prototype): Drew Whitworth The Book as a Technology
This is a learning artifact created as a part of a project which has the aims of examining how the world around can be used to generate a living curriculum by an individual wanting to generate and engender their own education. This is in keeping with the exploration of the Ragged University project to research the means to develop education which can function beyond the enclosures of finance and exclusive cultural configurations.
This post is an account of documenting the process of making a learning artifact created from being a member of the public who informally sat in on a session given by Drew Whitworth, an educator at the University of Manchester who teaches Educational Technology and Communication.
The artifact here is the first part of a process which the author is developing as a part of a self directed educational perspective – what are the activities, resources and affordances which an individual can draw upon in their own environment and habitat so that the human development processes which are found within the Higher Education institution can be manifest outside ?
As someone who is especially interested in the learning opportunities which universities produce which members of the public like myself can take part in without the need of finance, I have found many events produced by academics at the University of Manchester fertile places. Over the years it has been a learning journey in itself to discover the curiosity and interest of educators at this university in the informal education work of the Ragged University project. Through building dialogue directly with academics, educators and researchers the amount of lifelong learning which has been facilitated and encouraged has been a surprise inspiration.
This opportunity to attend a session and try out an educational experiment came about when Eric Lybeck, at the University of Manchester, held a conference on the 15th of July 2022, which was open for members of the public to attend. The theme of the conference was ‘Levelling Up Education: New Approaches to Place, Work and Education‘ and afforded the opportunity for me to tune into the pedagogical thinking going on by a range of educators. Whilst I was attending as a member of the interested public, I was made to feel welcome and came into contact with many conversations which gave me the information and means to construct learning trajectories I could follow whilst not being a part of the academy.
Drew Whitworth gave a presentation at this conference on Discursive Mapping which looked at Informed Learning Through Place-Based Pedagogy in Higher Education that I made a series of notes of to inform a learning practice suited for my own learning context. As Drew states throughout his work, “context matters” asking the question “what makes things useful”. For my context, Higher Education Institutions are not useful as I do not have the means – primarily finance – to participate in what goes on inside the academy.
It is through concentrating on my context and researching histories, methods, and strategies, that a perspective emerged that orientates basing a view of education on adaptations that manifest the benefits of learning in ones own life. Placing learning and education as social behaviours innate to human beings, the project emerged to explore how projects of education can be manifested under circumstances which are hostile to participation in the systems of formal education.
It became apparent that drawing understandings from the histories such as the Barb Wire Universities and the Hedge Schools of Ireland, and combining practical and theoretical understandings well rehearsed in formal education – the subject of pedagogy – it seemed obvious to work on fleshing out practices which pose the world as a learning environment.
This is one such experiment aimed at gleaning insights which contribute to this goal. Knowing about the history of the 19th Century Auditor culture of Russia, it was at this conference that I asked Drew if it would be possible to use any dead/empty space in a lecture theatre in order to put into practice an attempt at embodying a learning strategy. Learning from the teaching and thinking which Drew offered generated a creative space to explore how a member of the public can draw upon otherwise latent opportunities to learn from the pedagogical thinking which he has invested his life in.
Here, in this post, you can see my mapping of the process of a sort of autopedagogy (self directed learning) where I have exercised skills to make an audio recording which becomes a part of a freely available knowledge commons available for everyone on the internet; and using this, develop a process of refinement to create a learning artifact – the doing of which has necessitated learning and exercising of a range of research, production and communications skills.
Below you can see the learning artifact prototype which exemplifies the initial stages of an exercise I see as offering means of education to the independent learner. Taking the audio recording which was processed into a video so that it becomes more accessible to broader communities such as the deaf community, I have made a transcript of what Drew Whitworth said in his session.
Below the video of the audio recording you can see the next stage of refinement which comes of the exercise of creating a transcript of what was said in Drew’s session. This rudimentary transcript has then been lightly treated so that it is a readable document typeset in the digital space of the internet on this website.
As a prototype stage it sets up the next part of the methodology which will be to create from the skeleton below an enriched and annotated version that develops the raw audio file into a piece of visual multimedia alongside a written document that highlights, edifies and communicates deeper understandings of the insights which Drew as an educator is trying to get learners to apprehend.
This mapping of the development of learning artifacts draws from conversations which have been had with Prof Keith Smyth in the past around his – and his colleagues work – which involved looking at learning artifacts as embodied means of being able to retrospectively recognise the learning which an individual has had to have done in order to manifest a given digital artifact (they were looking at blog creation at the time).
The Practical Technique of Creating a Transcript
The first stage of creating a transcript was to use an audio recorder on the day. For these purposes I used the Zoom H1n Handy Recorder which is reasonably priced and also fits within a glasses case to protect it when carrying it around in a bag. I have also experimented with using old Iphones which have become obsolete as phones, as I could buy one for £10 and they make excellent audio recorders.
The principle is the same, almost any audio recorder will do, and doing this kind of exercise will enable the learning and strengthening of a range of technology skills from using the hardware, to transferring the file onto a computer, to using software to clean up and ‘master’ the audio file, to using video editing software to produce a video from the audio file to go onto Youtube – arguably one of the most accessible publication platforms with barriers to usage. Here is a tutorial which I created on producing an audio file for podcast using the free and open source software Audacity:
I shall produce separately a tutorial on how to produce a video using the free and open source video production software Kden Live. For the purposes here I want to focus on the textuality mainly rather than a focus on multimedia. For an easy way to turn an audio file into a video for this exercise use THIS ONLINE TOOL.
The use of Youtube offers certain benefits but comes with certain curses – for example, Google’s compulsion of hoovering up user data and dousing people with advertising (which can be controlled with certain free browser addons SEE HERE). The blessings are that the learning artifact becomes accessible to others and you can set it to create subtitles from the audio which you can download before doing a check of their accuracy and correct them as a basis of making a manuscript.
The alternative to this route of creating a transcript is the old fashioned – but very practically valuable – way of using secretarial skills to listen through and type up the transcript. This is a more labour intensive way of doing it but it really forces you to become more adept at using your computer in elementary ways; organising your screen space, touch typing/audio typing, active listening and language sense making whilst parsing what you are hearing and typing out. For an example where I used this process to generate a transcript and learning artifact CLICK HERE.
For those who are interested in the transcript made previous to the light treatment of the text to produce a readable document you can download the text file by CLICKING HERE. As you can see, the website DownloadYoutubeSubtitles.com it affords you to get the subtitles which Youtube has autogenerated downloaded onto your computer ready for you to do a verification process and make corrections. This website is a good tool to be able to use almost any Youtube video as a basis of generating a learning artifact as a self development exercise with the aim of producing an annotated learning resource as a contribution to an open knowledge commons.
By using Openoffice (but saving as the more universal Microsoft word document format), I can resize the application window to take up the right hand side of the screen. Then, in a browser, by opening the Youtube video in a browser and resizing it to take up the left-hand side of the screen, I find this arrangement the best for doing the verification of the auto-generated subtitles. Arranging things this way means that I can easily move between the browser and the word processing application without having to open and close windows; both applications can be displayed simultaneously facilitating a good work flow. To illustrate this method I have made a basic video below.
As you will see in the following Learning Artifact Prototype below I have introduced easily some of the videos which Drew showed in Manchester University on the day, having been able to locate them on the internet by using my digital research skills by cross referencing the hand written notes I made on the day in search engines – DuckDuckGo primarily. I have also included Drew’s referencing of Gaver’s paper having located a copy of that on the internet too.
This all lays the foundations for a deep reading of his work and the concepts he is communicating in the typesetting of the detailed annotated fine copy of the learning artifact which will be published as a part of this series of articles. In the next part of the process I will be using more research skills, deep reading and effort-laden writing alongside more multimedia production skills to produce a learning resource which other people can use – but, perhaps most importantly, an embodied artifact of my efforts which lives up to Drew Whitworth’s standards for ascertaining if the learners have apprehended and operationalised what he thinks is important in his teaching.
Artifact: The Book as a Technology by Drew Whitworth
This is the basic produced audio file along with the transcript which I have created ready for the next stage where I use the content of the recording to form a curriculum of sorts by researching the information and themes highlighted and annotating the text and audio file to ultimately become a piece of multimedia. The idea of contributing to building free knowledge resources on the internet and thinking about these as a sort of functional artwork in themselves is operative here.
We’ve talked about what a learning environment is. This idea of a dynamic ecology; something that learners could configure for themselves and would also have configured for them by various institutions that they may engage with; and of course with producers like technology companies themselves.
Still we did not really ask this question of ‘why ?’. Why is it that particular technology that’s getting incorporated into learning environments, particularly by the learners themselves, by the users, let’s say. Also teachers make decisions about why they use technology too and we will start this investigation.
We will be looking at this notion of affordance and if you do not know what that word means we will explore it here. There is a paper on which I’m not telling you to read but it’s recommended reading; in other words, it’ll help you to read it and help you understand some of these ideas because apart from the first page, perhaps it is quite a straightforward paper with lots of illustrations. It might seem old the examples are nevertheless good ones in this paper.
Situating Action II: Affordances for Interaction: The Social Is Material for Design by William W. Gaver
We will run through some of the key points about what affordance is and why it matters. This explanation has got a nice video of a cute baby as well, it’ll be fun. Then we’re going to do this case study of the book. I hope at least some of you brought a book. We will look at the book as a technology and if you don’t think the book is a technology, by god it is.
I will show you plenty of examples going back 1500 years of the book as something that developed over this time. The book is a technology that develops, it is not something that was invented all brand new one day in 710 A.D. Somebody said “everybody, we’ve got books now we can use the text”.
We will do this exercise where we really look at and examine the book as a way of stepping back from the technology and really asking why is it designed the way it is ? What makes it useful ? Because this is the key point: things have to be useful. You can invent a technology, pour hundreds of thousands of dollars or yen (or whatever) into it and still nobody wants to use it because it’s not useful to you.
On the other hand, really strange little things can prove to be useful and we keep them around ourselves for years and habits develop around them; practices and routines and so on.
What we’re mainly talking about today is this usefulness at an individual level. What makes something useful to you ? What makes something useful to a person, a user, a reader, a learner ? We will be talking about this as a more collective point – so the point that technologies are also shaped by various social forces including politics, economics, decision making, the practices of institutions and of groups and communities themselves.
A thought exercise; this is not a ‘right answer’ style question. A picture of a tree – what makes a tree useful, potentially ? What can you do with a tree ? You can do lots of things with trees. What makes a tree potentially useful ?
- Branches provide cover from sunshine… It’s a hot sunny day, you’re doing a walk; I did a really hot walk in July and it was really hot and we loved it. Trees provide shelter
- They produce oxygen… They eat carbon dioxide to do it; trees as a whole are extremely useful in that respect
- Absorbing water… This particular tree used to stand in my garden but we cut it down it had to be cut down because it was absorbing all of the water and nothing was growing so then we cut it down and things started growing
- To make furniture… You can make furniture with it
- Fruit if it’s the right kind of tree it could produce fruit as a food source.
- Habitat for animals… Things live in it, you could climb it if you want to see things, if you’re so inclined and so on and so on and so on
The point is context matters and something like a tree, and as we will see shortly, something like steps or something like this room or something like Facebook or WeChat – it’s not useful to everybody in the same way at the same time.
It depends what your needs are at a given point in time and whether also you have the capacity to make best use of that resource.
Look the tree in the middle there is a tree that stands outside a school in my home town Hebden bridge and it’s always got something like that on it and people are constantly decorating it for whatever particular event is happening at the moment; probably because kids in the school do it.
So the creativity and the possibilities of simply decorating a tree are endless depending on the context at a particular point in time.
Firewood is one possible way of using a tree… sometimes you need stuff to burn if you’re sitting outside and it’s cold in the middle of the night a tool like the axe would probably be helpful or a chainsaw or something.
The physical capacities to utilise the affordances of something are important. For example, creatures make use of the tree in ways which their physical capacities allow them. We mentioned things living in the trees – well that bird is a nut hatch. They can walk up and down the trunk of a tree – they can do this kind of thing. You could not do this kind of thing unless you’re spider-man; we are not going to be able to do this kind of thing – we cannot make use of that affordance of a tree as somewhere to stand which is basically what he or she is doing
You can get very creative with all of this particularly if you think of the tree as representing wood. There’s lots of things you can do with wood if you’re able to do it but you can’t do everything with a tree. For example you can’t pick the tree up walk around with it for a while and then put it back where you found it, unlike a book.
So the affordances of a particular thing are not infinite but they are perceived. This is the important thing; affordances are a combination of innate capacities of a technology – whatever it is. The way that a technology has been built and designed or like a tree, just an object; this doesn’t apply only to artificial objects like technologies or books but it’s it applies to trees
We’ll see this idea applies to other features of a landscape but also it is a combination between this notion of how was something designed, what was it designed to do, what can it do innately, but also what capacities can we perceive in it.
Can we think of new and possibly interesting and creative ways of using this thing that we might not have perceived in certain ways before ? – and indeed in ways that the designers may not have perceived. I’m going to show you a video here; it’s pretty good too.
Affordance is a perceptional relationship between functional properties of environments and skills of individual users. The simple design of this chair offers different affordances to different individuals.
Exploring environments and learning affordances begins very early in life. Look at young Bennett having just learned to walk; he is still learning how his body allows him to interact with the world around him. For him the chair is climbable and because of his smaller size it allows him to hide and crawl beneath it. A young adult like Moon Dazar may not be able to crawl beneath this chair but for him it is stand-able affording him the possibility of changing a light bulb. For this professor the chair is sit-able providing a good resting place for reading.
Behaviour settings are bounded areas in space and time and offer multiple affordances that, when perceived, support particular behaviours.
This outdoor classroom provides an area that can afford different behaviours during the day. This morning, while it’s empty, Bennett is able to expand his climbing skills previously learned on the chair. He has read the steps as climbable and is tall enough to do that on his own. Most likely the designers did not consider this additional use.
Later that morning a class meets in the area. The steps that were just climbed upon now provide great seating for students to listen to their professor for the next hour. It is easily perceived as a seminar setting and behaviours within the space are conducted. As the lecture ends it’s time for lunch the area is no longer read as a classroom but as a social area for everyone to enjoy each other’s company and eat.
The young ones have become restless they run off towards the lawn next to where everyone is socializing. The kids now enjoy a separate behaviour setting, one that affords running and exploration behaviour not appropriate where the others are eating and talking.
If you look closely around you, you will begin to see how affordance and behaviour settings affect the ways in which we interact with our surroundings and each other.
Affordance and behaviour settings
A behaviour setting is a setting for behaviour which is bounded by place and time. We are in this room right now. A whole lot of things have come together so that we can be in this room and I can use it to teach; it affords the practice of teaching; it affords certainly the practice of lecturing.
I am here, you are all looking at me – it is no coincidence; this is called a lecture theatre. Many of you have come from a media background and this idea of thinking about the appropriateness of a particular medium is not unusual.
Some things are appropriately watched in the theatre like a rock concert. For example, we’d much rather watch a rock concert live with all the decent noise than I would on a little screen, on my phone, or a football match. Indeed all the seats at a football match are going towards the pitch because that’s what you want to watch.
Similarly here we are in a behaviour setting which affords this kind of teaching. As we will see later this is not an ideal room for the activity that we’re going to try but I hope you found and saw the difference with the tutorial rooms that you were in on Friday where there is not necessarily an obvious front; where you can sit around the table and it’s just smaller; it’s a smaller and more intimate behaviour setting. It affords different types of behaviour than is possible in here and it’s not just the design of the room itself.
So in a large and very complex teaching institution like the University of Manchester, for a start we need a room booking system. I didn’t ask for this room – it’s tolerable but it’s okay I prefer the other room – the Friday room but we had to have a room booking system that allows everybody really to know that the course EDUC70141 (itself part of a system) is a code that identifies this class – this idea of a class, and of course within the system.
We can book this room. You will know to turn up here and show your attendance card – if it works – which is somehow coded and keyed to the same system. This technology – the fact that this room affords the possibility of doing two things on different screens is different to other rooms which do not necessarily have this particular affordance.
This one does and all of these things have been designed into the system but at the same time one perceives all of the different possibilities that are inherent in the behaviour setting as they showed you there. I don’t think this would be a great place to have lunch really; its not very cosy really; and it’s so steep – I worry about falling down these stairs.
I mean imagine the baby going up there. We’d all be waiting at the bottom to catch it but that nice little classroom in the video that they had there afforded them to eat their sandwiches; it afforded a bit of opportunity for play; it afforded a kind of socially intimate classroom setting; it was in North Carolina state I assume and the weather I assume is quite nice, particularly at certain times of year unlike in the UK; but climate is part of the whole thing in a warmer climate. We would be more likely to have outdoor classrooms etc. etc. etc. and on we go.
The key point about this idea of affordance is that something affords possibility.
I mean if you’ve obviously learned English and the common use of the word afford is in terms of cost i.e. I can afford it, I can afford that restaurant; oh I can’t afford that car or whatever but it is all the same root word. It means to make something possible and so technologies afford particular practices and behaviours and actions; they make them possible and they are, as I said already, a combination of what features have been designed into a technology.
All the things I’ve just said about the way that this room has been designed to afford the practice of lecturing. On the other hand video conferencing, for example zoom; video conferencing would make it possible for me to deliver teaching to people who are not in the in the room. I did my distance learning tutorials on Thursday night and we had well people based in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and various parts of the UK in the evening and so on.
I was at home and I could not have done these things without the technology but it afforded me the possibility of remote teaching and of course it’s designed to do that. If not teaching them, at least meeting but it is also about perception and this really is a key point. If you don’t perceive the affordance of a technology, you don’t notice that it can be used in a particular way, or if you try it and it doesn’t work or if you’re just not feeling like there is a particular need at any point to use a technology for a purpose.
If you didn’t perceive or the fact that it might not have been designed for a purpose, then you would never explore these new possibilities, and of course that happens a lot. I’m not saying that somehow people are deficient if they don’t suddenly find ten creative uses for a paper clip every morning but it is important that this happens.
I noticed this with online teaching; one of the differences between online teaching, even online lecturing and this kind of thing, is that it’s very difficult to have a kind of audible background chat; it’s rude. I mean you could whisper and get away with whispering if you’re at the back, I’m sure; but if you were to be heard I’d probably get a bit annoyed and people would look around and stare at you; a fair point.
So this room doesn’t really afford this idea of background chat while the lecture is taking place. You could do it with technology though – you might already be doing it – WeChat-ing each other going ‘god why am I here? The sun’s shining, it’s Tuesday morning’; and on Zoom or Illuminate or Adobe Connect or any one of these other video conferencing technologies, this is actually quite possible and actually quite interesting.
Having had online lectures and run plenty of them, particularly during the Covid years, people used the chat box to type messages and hold different conversations can be happening in the Zoom chat that supplement the lecture or the conversation that is taking place audibly using our speakers and microphones.
Zoom or these other video conferencing tools have certain similarities and afford certain behaviour that is similar to this lecture theatre. In other words they allow me to just drone on, they do allow me to show slides; for example, I could have run that video. I did this presentation two years ago online and it worked fine.
Working through Zoom also affords different possibilities as well. It affords this idea of a background chat, it affords the idea of breakout rooms; for example – I mean we’ll split into groups in some ways later on but it doesn’t mean suddenly we’re all in separate places right. In zoom you can do that.
There are also things that are harder on zoom; I can’t see everybody’s face, you can’t have 85 people using the chat at once – it just gets kind of silly, so some things are easier and some things are harder. Another good example of affordances is SMS text messaging. I realize SMS text messaging itself seems a bit outdated now and we’ve all moved on to Messenger or WhatsApp, WeChat and all these other things, but nevertheless still we do sometimes get an SMS message and of course there was a time when everybody was using this technology but SMS text messaging was not designed into mobile phones in order that people could text each other.
It was designed into phones initially so that engineers could get test messages. My Google Pixel 6 – it sometimes tells me ‘look I need to do an update; you haven’t updated your phone for seven days’ – you just used to get things that would say ‘SIM update’ or you could send test messages to them. This is why SMS messaging was designed into phones originally.
The group that found that it afforded them possibilities for using the phone in a way that had not been done so before were the deaf; people who are hard of hearing or deaf couldn’t hear phone speakers and they realized that what they had with the SMS text messaging was a way that made the phone useful to them in a way it had not been used before.
As they found it difficult to hear because normally the using of the part of the earphone was was not useful to them they discovered the engineers test messages realising that SMS meant that you could send messages to people; also they didn’t need to be able to answer you immediately – it’s asynchronous rather than synchronous.
If you’re not sure about the difference check it because it’s important. Synchronous is communication that both people have to be in the same place at the same, – well at the same time – it’s ‘sync-chronus’ meaning ‘same time’. Speaking in the same room is synchronous, a telephone call is synchronous, Zoom is synchronous.
Asynchronous is not at the same time; so email text messaging Facebook, Teams; these are asynchronous. You can post a message and have it read five seconds later or five days later, the messages are still there so SMS text messaging afforded the deaf a use of the technology that actually was both synchronous and asynchronous.
You’re both texting each other at the same time and it might you might as well be having a text based synchronous conversation but at the same time if one of you has to break off the conversation because they’ve got to go to a class or have their dinner and come back to it in half an hour, and your conversation is still going – this was very useful for the deaf. They started to use it and the practice spread until pretty quickly really it became something that the phone companies noticed people were using and so started charging us for it as part of your plans.
So this use of SMS text messaging evolved over time. When we get onto the book as a technology I’ll show you some other things that evolved over time. Here’s another great example – Lego. My wife’s a big fan of Lego to the extent that a lot of this stuff is hers. The practices that Lego affords are becoming infinite. There’s a show every year in Manchester, they usually have it in June or July called Bricktastic.
I’m always taken to this because my wife; well I don’t mind, some of the things are cool. I mean the stuff that you see in this show is just extraordinary all the things that you can do with it. It started out in about 1950 I think as a Danish carpenter building these little bricks and just that was it started there Lego is Danish for ‘let’s play’ in case you didn’t know. Well it’s from the words anyway and now you can do almost anything with this.
I mean that Lego figure on the right, that’s at least five foot tall; Lego therapy – it’s possible – people do this kind of thing it’s like art therapy; this was a whole exhibition of Lego where you had kind of historical scenes. That’s supposed to be the agora, the democratic forum of ancient Greece. The Lego sculptures can be really huge. This picture of the people at the top; somebody brought in a bunch of Lego and we were using it to think through and brainstorm ideas in a meeting at work.
The affordances that people have found for this basic idea of a plastic brick that could fit onto another plastic brick in various different colours is just extraordinary, and if you ever want to win a bet with a trivia question – the answer to the question which company in the world makes the most tires for cars its not Dunlop or Goodyear; it is Lego. This is true. Lego makes more tires by number than any other company in the world for its little vehicles.
I said I would talk about Gavers point. Gaver starts with this exploration of affordances. It’s a key point that this applies to really every everyday technologies like door handles.
That’s a bit cruel that one but hey, funny cartoon anyway. I think right – somebody’s completely failed to notice that the door handle you pull. This is all in Gaver’s paper, so have a look.
Some of you’ve got Apple Mac’s, some of you’ve got PCs but the basic idea of a scroll bar remains the same. If you’ve got what looks like a button on the screen, it’s not an actual button, not a button like I have here. You’re not actually pressing it. What you’re doing is clicking on your mouse button and the software, the interface, translates this notion that a click on the mouse button means whatever’s under the cursor – ‘do something with it’.
If that thing looks like a button, then a button on screen affords it’s pressing but it doesn’t afford clicking and dragging for instance like a scroll bar does. We’re all familiar with the idea now that it means that there’s something above and below where we already were in a digital space, so we can scroll up and down by clicking and dragging on the scroll bar; or of course for Mac users using your two fingers on the mousepad.
I’m one of the 10 percent that does it my way where you scroll down and it goes up. Are you one of the 90 percent who really confuse me who’ve got it configured so you’re moving down. Why would you have it that way round ? I just don’t understand it because I feel differently. I feel like it’s more useful the other way around but all of these things are becoming conventions that we are familiar with. They’re all based on this familiar idea of pushing, pulling, clicking, dragging. Our hand movements are translated into things on the screen. There’s plenty in that paper.
If you wanted to make use of the affordance of a tree to build furniture you need to have some kind of axe or chainsaw not to mention a sawmill probably, and lots of other technologies along the way – hammer and chisel and nails and so on. Nevertheless you could turn a tree into a chair eventually if you had all the necessary tools and you had all the necessary awareness of how to link all of these possibilities and these affordances in a chain.
You want to get a response from that button you clicked you want to see something like that – you click on update and this is my WordPress blog; one of them anyway; you click on update and it turns to updating and that’s good because that feels like ‘oh yeah I actually have done something’.
You get little clicks on your phone sometimes or when I’m putting my pin number into a cash machine you get a little bleep sometimes but not always; and then I’m not always happy if I don’t get a bleep or you need to see the little asterisks when you’re putting in your password or your pin number to see if have you put in enough characters.
All of these things help; they matter. They make this digital interface easier to use; they afford these possibilities. If you take these ideas more broadly, and think about the design of educational technologies more broadly, and what makes them useful, these little things can just be the helpful things sometimes.
If you don’t get a response of any kind you wonder whether you’ve actually done what you thought you were supposed to be doing. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d click on it about five more times and then you realize that you bought something five times; that’s why it says never press refresh while you’re doing this.
Affordances can be tasted and smelt. Milk smells bad when it goes off because our body is saying ‘oh no, don’t drink that – full of bacteria, nasty thing’. Rotten meat smells awful so you don’t eat it. If you get a cake that comes out of the oven looking like that you’ve done something wrong. This is feedback.
Your cake comes out of the oven looking like that and you did something wrong and it’s trying to tell you this. So food and it’s texture and it’s taste and its smell; all of these things are part of it and all of these things help us build up a picture of the resources around us in the environment; which ones are attractive and useful to us, and which ones are not. This applies to technology just as it does with anything else. You might not smell the affordances of technology.
If these phones were just that little bit bigger they wouldn’t fit in our pockets. I know pockets are not designed into women’s clothes often enough. My wife is always complaining about this thing. I can put my phone in my pocket; if it’s a bit bigger I couldn’t; if it was smaller I would struggle to see it. It’s got to be a certain size for me to be able to read it and use it. So there’s a kind of optimum size for technology sometimes and all of these things are important.
Good design of educational environments; good design of technologies generally; good design of just about anything. It’s not just about the content, it’s not just about adding functionality upon functionality, it is about how well the users perceive a particular resource to be useful to them. Is it useful ? Can I make use of this ? Can I make use of this without spending six hours to learn to do something that it’s just going to take me 20 minutes. Can I learn to do something quickly and easily ? Do I see how I can make use of this tool ?
What I’m going to do is start to talk about books. I’m going to just show you this quick film now. I’m going to show you some examples from books. I said the book was a technology and the book is very definitely a technology. It is a technology that people have adapted and learned to make and to use in various different ways over the years and I will talk about some of this.
We laugh and they are taking the mickey slightly but some of the things that they were talking about are actually extreme shrewd. I got interested in the medieval book. I think it is interesting to look at the ways that information practice is evident in the ways that these books were made and particularly the ways they were used.
What you have to realize is that books were a technology that people had to learn to make and had to learn to use and had to learn to make them in ways that were economical and effective that transmitted the information from from book to book. When you were handwriting books – before print – books would be written by hand. This is a complicated process that involved lots of stages.
These monks; they didn’t go down to the nearest shop with their five groats and buy a nice blank book so they could come home and start writing like we might do now. For a start you had to make the book from scratch. Books were made of parchment not paper. Do you know what parchment actually is ? No – it’s not made of wood. Parchment, that’s skin, calf skin usually.
So you had to skin the calf, you had to tan it, you had to treat it, you had to stretch it. This was expensive stuff and it couldn’t be wasted. So parchment was often used and reused and some very famous scripts, some very famous texts, actually only exist sometimes as bindings for other books. They were found because the parchment had been re-used to bind another book. So the ink would be scraped off and written on again and again.
Really expensive and prestigious books like the Lindisfarne gospels… the Lindisfarne gospels is a very, very beautiful book; huge book as well… this was made of unborn calf vellum. How you go about getting the the skin of an unborn calf I don’t even really want to think about; but that’s the softest and most prestigious material. Parchment is expensive and valuable and of course it took a lot of time to copy a book.
New books appeared during the medieval era but it was very rare for somebody to actually sit down and write a book in the way that I might do it. Even the books that I’ve written, I’ve still needed a technological device and a printer, and a publisher, and an editor, and a proofreader. An author of a book in the medieval era might might have written it – there were some people who did both jobs. Usually you would be dictating it then the author would be a scribe who would write down the words of a famous speaker or a book that you see here.
The technical term for a book that we might use now is actually a codex. So a single codex or book might have various different texts in it. It might be a compilation because, again, parchment was expensive. Libraries; there wasn’t a lot of space in them and were books were heavy and expensive and difficult to carry around, particularly if they were over a certain size. So a single codex might contain many different texts, and you had to find your way around this.
This is an amazing book; this is called the Mac Durban gospels. This book I saw last summer; this book was created in about 750 A.D. so that makes it about 1300 years old. It was beautiful, it’s a lovely book. For a start what you will see in the writing, it’s all in Latin; it’s not very big. You can see the size of the finger there, but there is a lot of space around that.
I’ve already said parchment was really expensive and valuable so why leave all this blank space ? What you see there was probably written anything up to 100 to 200 years after the original text; not just two years, but possibly centuries after. Those are marginal notes; it’s what’s called a gloss. It’s a commentary. You see the blue and red letters there, you see the blue letter; you see below it there’s a little note between the two lines; people used to do this kind of thing and still do.
You’re not supposed to do it. Technically the library should tell you off if you’re writing in books but I’ve done it all the time. I like reading other people’s notes as well, I think it’s great. Seriously; I like seeing what other people thought was interesting and this is partly the point here. Do you see the little hand ? You see the little hand at the top between the two columns ? This is somebody going ‘look here ! Look at this thing !”. It’s called a diaper and it’s what people used to do.
People learned to do this kind of thing, so not only did it become acceptable to put this little thing on and say “I’m telling you what’s interesting here; I’m giving you a commentary, an annotation of this bit of learning”; but you had to be able to read that, and this is this idea of developing what I would now call information literacy or a technological literacy.
People became familiar with the signs and the symbols that said ‘look here’s something interesting’. This is scholarship that developed over time and these various different ways that people introduced telling somebody else what’s interesting in the book – what’s useful about this book – to make it more useful.
When they first wrote things down so few people could read – publishing a book was not something done so people could put their feet up at the end of a hard day’s slaving in the brewery or whatever of the monastery and go ‘oh yeah, the latest novel from the venerable bead is out’. You didn’t do that kind of thing. Books were there to transmit information.
If you couldn’t really read, certainly there were very, very few people who read books out loud, except in prayer which is different. You didn’t need spaces between the words; a lot of early books don’t have spaces between the word because you didn’t need them. But as more and more people started to do that, you’ve got spaces between the words you can see. Here the spaces are marked with little dots and some of these are just abbreviations so people had to learn the abbreviations as well.
People annotated books for all sorts of reasons. This is a ‘Book of Hours’, a Book of Hours is like a religious prayer book but not for priests. A Book of Hours is the kind of thing that you would carry around with you if you were a noble or a lord; it’s like a status symbol. It was like a Filofax for the 80s or your posh phone – you should have a Book of Hours, and a Book of Hours basically gave you the prayers that you were supposed to say at particular times of day hence ‘the Book of Hours’.
It would also give you a calendar; what you’re seeing here is the calendar at the front of the book. Thinking about all of the ways in which a book like this is made useful to people; you had to be able to find your way around these prayers. If you just simply got a book full of prayers -big deal – the point was to help you work out which prayers you should be saying at which particular times of day and indeed which days of the year.
So you would have a calendar at the front of the Book of Hours, which this is. Those initials you see there are the names of the days of the week. Some of them are in red because the red days are special days; they are feast days, or festivals, or saints days – hence the phrase in English ‘red letter day’. If you have heard this phrase ‘a red letter day’, it is an important and prestigious day or sometimes a dangerous day – a significant day. It comes from this phrase.
This Book of Hours was owned by king Richard III – as in Shakespeare Richard III was supposed to be a sort of evil king. If you think that the British royal family has been this sort of unbroken progression for hundreds of years leading to, as he is now, king Charles III – that’s not true. Kings were slaughtered and bumped off and imprisoned in castles and starved to death and killed with red hot pokers and stuff like that.
King Richard III was, I believe, the last English king to die in battle leading his troops in 1483. Anyway he was considered something of an evil chap but perhaps his reputation was undeserved and, anyway, Shakespeare wrote about him. This was king Richard III’s Book of Hours. That writing that you see there says in Latin “on this day, he was born, king Richard III in Fotheringay in Yorkshire”. I think Richard III has written his birthday in his diary – I love it. He’s got his calendar and he said it’s my birthday, I’m writing my birthday: this is actually what it is.
So you can annotate books, you can write on them, you can personalize them, you can have some really quite remarkably beautiful illustrations like that one; I’ll come back to that table of contents in a minute. So in all of this blank space which people might have written their notes in and stuff like that.
Now I would not have known what that was had not professor Michelle brown, taught us; and she really did know absolutely everything about everything that had happened in Europe before about 1400 – and I mean everything. So she explained what these were; these are the gospels, like I said, the Mac Durnan gospels. I am no Christian expert here but the four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; a lot of them are sort of telling four versions of the same story. They’re like reboots or remakes of Christ’s story.
So some tales like, the feeding of the five thousand – some of them appear in more than one gospel. Some of them appear in only one gospel; some of them appear in all of them, some of them appear in maybe two or three of them. What you see here is a medieval – actually not even medieval, this is 750 A.D; this is a cross reference, it’s like a footnote. So this whole idea of the academic footnote starts here.
What this is, actually if you look at the top box; we must be looking at John here because what you see at the top, the little number two at the top you see it looks like an ‘m’ and a ‘t’ with a line over it and then an ‘l’. The ‘m’ and the ‘t’ is Matthew the ‘l’ is the Roman numeral 50: verse 50 of Matthew or chapter 50 of Matthew. Similarly Mark chapter 41. Luke chapter 56. The same story that we are looking at here, the same bit of the gospel is cross-referenced to say this also appears in Matthew chapter 50, mark chapter 41 and Luke chapter 61.
People wanted to find their way around things and what you see here is one of the earliest tables of contents that existed. How we use information is something else that has evolved over time and it evolved for these guys too. We are talking hundreds of years here but over a long period of time scholarship changed when the Mac Durban gospels was written – and pretty much throughout human history up until about 1000, towards the end of the 11th century – so about 1080 I think first university was founded, but until there were any universities people did their scholarship in monasteries.
That’s what you did, you were a monk. You might have, I suppose, had a non-religious outlook but if you wanted access to the knowledge of the world you needed to at least profess a religious outlook and get into a monastery one way or the other. The way that people used to study these great works is that they would do what’s literally called ‘meditatio’, which is from where we get the word ‘meditation’. The Latin word for a particular style of learning and it really did mean to sit and engage yourself with one book for a very long period of time. You would study that book in its immensity. Everything about it; you would meditate on that one book.
Things changed when the universities began. The first university in the world ? Does anybody know ? And it’s not Britain we were second. It is Italy; the University of Bologna in Italy is the world’s oldest surviving university. 1080 I think. Oxford is second, about 1096. When these universities opened the style of scholarship changed. Instead of looking at one book for a long period of time, you did pretty much what we’re asking you to do now which is look at a lot of them; synthesize knowledge from a number of different books and this was called ‘lectio’. It’s the origin of modern scholasticism.
The point is that you needed therefore to get access to the information in that book more quickly than you did before. To simply have worked through the entirety of the book hoping that eventually you would find the bit you wanted because that is what you were doing; you would spend a year reading through a book. You didn’t need instant access to information unless, in the past, you were a priest – which is why you had that cross-reference earlier because if you wanted to put together your sermon, you wanted to find out who did all the different stories in the gospels .
Once you get to the stage where you’re looking at lots of different books, you need information quickly. This table of contents, which is what it is, was added to that book about 200 years after that book was first written. Somebody wrote out a table of contents and bound it into the book up front; previously there hadn’t been one. They decided that the table of contents would make that book more useful; it is as simple as that. A way of navigating around the information that is within this book.
Illustrations like this, which is another Book of Hours; in fact it might even be Richard III’s Book of Hours again. Also bearing in mind that a lot of people couldn’t read. They might not be completely illiterate but they would struggle. Images helped and what you actually have here is pictures; firstly you’ve got Capricorn on the right hand side right – that’s Capricorn, so that’s a zodiacal sign saying this is the sign of the zodiac for this month. What should you do when it’s Capricorn ? You should slaughter your hogs; kill those pigs man, brine them, preserve them, salt them; get on with it.
Little pictures would guide people through the story. Illustrations developed to help people who couldn’t read. I showed you Mappa Mundi; similar idea, all of the illustrations and the text on the map working together to help guide people who could not read. So illustration, it’s not just something that makes a book look pretty but it’s something that might help you understand the information within it and navigate your way through it. Early musical notation.
It’s time to take a couple of minutes to begin this task of looking at books. So get your books out, if you’ve got books get them out. Just to sum up some of the things that were just saying just now and some of the things that come out of the video. So that’s a picture of the table of contents again. We laugh at the two Norwegian monks for saying ‘oh I need a guide to the other book. How do I use this book ? I have to have a guide to it’ but this is actually what this is. This is a real life example of a guide for the user, it’s what a table of contents is.
None of these things are unique and innate to the book. I am hoping that in the room there will be books that have page numbers and books that do not. There will be books that have page numbers but don’t need them. Think about this, just hold these thoughts in your mind. Do you need page numbers in every book that has page numbers ? Most of these books didn’t have page number; page numbers were pretty late to development.
Alphabetization, alphabetical order – most of you are Chinese, you don’t have an alphabet; well you don’t, you have script – it’s different. You don’t have an alphabet. I have no idea how you arrange things in your dictionaries but I must be certainly not a b c d e f g h I j k l m n etc. The alphabet is a completely arbitrary order, why is the alphabet in the order that it is ? I don’t know. The alphabet is a completely random order of stuff right but it is an order that we are all familiar with largely.
The alphabet is not an order that is somehow natural or innate or correct. It is an order that has developed over a long period of time and the first scribes who used it; the first recorded book to be created in what you might call alphabetical order came in about 1100. It was such a new and radical thing that when subsequent people copied it they didn’t understand the point of that alphabetical order, so they didn’t copy the order and it was lost again for a while before it came back in about 1200, 1300s.
People didn’t want things in alphabetical order in the past they wanted things in logical order right or chronological order. Like the bible, at least the old testament is in essence in chronological order. Genesis, Exodus, the other ones, Leviticus; this is the story of the Jews essentially in chronological order. People would discuss things in logical order. If you used alphabetical order you were seen as a bit of an ignoramus because you were seen to some as admitting to everyone else that you didn’t understand the logical structure of the argument and points that you were making. So putting everything in alphabetical order was seen as somehow ignorant because it was a cop-out and you didn’t have to think about the logical order of things.
Now we use it; now we’re familiar with it; some of your books will be – I’m assuming – in alphabetical order, I know a lot of mine are anyway. Please, please to really try to take this task seriously. Don’t just have a cursory look at the book – ‘oh yeah, it’s a book, put it down and do WeChat for the next 20 minutes’. I’ve got three that I’m just going to hand out. Please really consider this task seriously.
Look at the affordances of the different books that you have; there are two different types of affordances going on here. Firstly look at all of the books as a set; I did not ask you to bring in a scroll or bring in a phone or a TV – this is a different medium, the book. All of these books have certain things in common that’s why we call them books.
So think about firstly what is the affordance of every book. What does every book have ? What kind of behaviours does it make possible ? What can you do with these books that you can’t do with certain other file formats ? And if you’re not thinking of anything now, talk to people in the room about this; look at the book, feel the book, consider the book, reflect on the book; what behaviours does a book make possible ? What can you do with a book ? All books.
There are things that every book in the room has in common with every other book that are innate to it as a file format, if you like; but then have a think about the different types of book that are in the room. Think about the different types of book whether they’re in Chinese or English or Javanese or whatever. Think about the different types of book and how these books are made useful to you, as a user of the information that is in that book.
Every one of these books will be helping you navigate your way around this. So look at the book; talk to each other about books. I am going to pass out three books and I want these back, particularly watchmen, this is one of the greatest books ever written by the way but it’s unusual you will see why. So please really look at books, really feel them, think about them; look at the ways that information is organized in them. Step back and think ‘is this book useful to me and why ?’ – not because of the content of the book because of the way it’s designed.
What is similar to all of these books and what is particular to different types of books ? And if you really feel that you’ve had enough of the books that you’ve got swap them around – circulate the books. There are many different types of book in the room; move them around, swap them, look at different types of books; look at lots of different types of books – this is a very active task.
Talk to each other; try to use the book, so for example how would you find something there are two different ways that you could use the information in that book. If I wanted to say to you ‘how would you get from a particular place’; if you want to find a particular street, there it is.
So I think that’s a great novel right that is a great novel right but what’s unusual about it ? – it has pictures, it is a graphic novel there is lots of different types of information in a book; it does not have to be words. Think about the ways that you might make a book more useful to yourself. Books on screens do not count, we are looking at paper books.
Think about a book which is not designed to be read from start to finish. Where’s my metro book ? Look at the maps in that book, talk to each other about those. What about the maps in that book ? Are they easy to use ? Why are they easy to use ? Why isn’t metro map easy to use ? Metro maps are not like normal maps, they are different, okay. What helps you use that book ? Talk about how you would use a book, how do you read a book ? How do you find where you were finishing the book the night before ?
If you did that task actively you should have access to some of these questions or at least opinions about them. So what is common to all of these books ? Let’s start with the basics, what is shared by every book in this room ? They are sources of information. Think of this as a file format, but it is a file format that has particular features. For a start a book can be open or closed; this matters – a book can be open or closed so what does every book have that allows you to close it for example ? A cover. Look at your book covers; does anybody have any books with a completely blank cover ?
I am serious, there will be some. Right you have one, that is a library book. There’s one; they are probably blank for two one of two reasons; one is that they will have been rebound by the library at some point and/or they will have had a dust jacket that has been lost. I’m going to show you a film and you’ll see an example of this. What is common to all the others is that the covers are not blank; there are things written on the cover.
So what is on the cover of these books ? The title, the author, publication information, on the back there will probably be a blurb or an abstract of the book. Why are these things there ? Why put that information on the book ? To attract people to buy it; to also help them decide whether they want to get it off the library shelf and whether it’s worth their time. It’s an abstract – it’s a summary of the book. Some of the books have information on them to make it more useful. I will show you the examples of this that I put on my little film.
Books also have another thing in common, they don’t just have a cover – what’s inside the book physically ? Not words, physically; what is it made of ? What is a book comprised of ? What do these books have ? Pages. They have pages – a book is made of a number of pages. These medieval books that we were looking at… you don’t chop up a skin – a parchment – into these pages and then file them individually; you fold the parchment and you create what’s called a ‘choir’. A choir is a number of sheets usually eight; you then cut them and you fold them and you bind them separately inside the books.
Different choirs were often given to different scribes and one of the ways that medieval scholars worked out who wrote what is by looking at whether the handwriting changes, and often you see books where every eight pages the handwriting changes because they farmed out the job of writing it to several different scribes and each one of them got a choir. So the idea of a page is something that’s developed over time but is not necessarily natural.
People didn’t use number pages but you can do various things with every book simply because it’s created in part of pages. How do you know where to pick up a book again, that you had to finish the night before, to go to sleep ? So we asked the question does every book need page numbers ? Okay, some of you had novels, right; does a novel really need page numbers ? Someone said yeah; there’s no right answer or wrong answer.
You would remember the page number where you were. I wouldn’t have a slightest idea what page number I was on, I would put a bookmark in. You can do that with a book okay; never, never turn the corners over – I might write in books but turning the corners over – that’s immediate death, okay, execution. Put a bookmark in and where you were. You can do that with a book and it’s really easier to do that with a book than it is with a computer; like I know now that our computers will open up files where we were before but this doesn’t always make it easy to jump between books – to move constantly from one part of a file to another part of a file. So we can put bookmarks in.
Why are we saying that novels don’t necessarily need page numbers – because how is a novel read; how do you typically read a novel ? Do you start halfway through ? You would read it start to finish right. There are plenty of books in this room that are designed to be read from start to finish. But there are lots of types of books in this room that are not designed to be read from start to finish. So we’ve got study skills books; a textbook; the bible; a dictionary.
Let’s take the dictionary. We have a dictionary here; German-Spanish. What’s the Spanish word for ‘fenster’ – tell me how you would find that in the book that’s not alphabetical ? We have a dictionary phrase book; now I just asked Claudia a question here because I thought it was organized alphabetically – fenster is a German word for window. I thought you were going to be able to look and go to ‘f’ right but that book is organized by category not alphabetically, so maybe it’s less useful for a query like that but maybe it’s more useful if you want to actually go to Spain and order a beer or get a hotel. So it’s a phrase book rather than the dictionary.
Does anybody have a book that is organized alphabetically ? There is a system in the book; the book is not just a random series of words right, it is not just a random series of concepts or events. It is an organized structure of finding the information that is in this. Dragging this back to educational digital technologies for a moment I hope that you at least find my blackboard site reasonably okay to navigate. I hope that you can at least follow the chronology of the weeks and the blocks; it’s arranged in chronological order, my site, that’s the way it is.
There is a top level of the hierarchy that is the blocks and then within each block there are the weeks and that’s how it is. So there is an organizational system in place here. Claudia’s dictionary or phrase book is organized categorically; by category but not by alphabet; some of you’ve got a book that is organized by alphabet. Now not all of the information in these books is textual – there are plenty of books here with illustrations of various kinds – even that textbook has illustrations in it. They’ve got pictures and diagrams, graphs, charts and so on.
Watchmen, that book really is one of the greatest novels ever written and if you’ve never read it or even seen the movie you really should; although the movie’s got one really grim bit in it I can’t watch – when you see the guy walking up with a chainsaw my advice is close your eyes for 10 seconds. What is unusual about that book but in terms of it being a novel ? That is a graphic novel; that novel is told mostly by pictures, not all of it though.
If you flick through that you will see that there are some passages of the book that are text, they’re words, okay. There’s one reason why it’s such a good book really – it is a work of genius. You had the history of comic books up there. Are there any other books where the visual is important ? It’s a comic; a manga. Are there any photo books for instance or books of pictures. We had Lord of the Rings; Peter Rabbit, Beatrice Potter’s illustrations.
Lord of the Rings has lots of maps. Lord of the Rings is interesting because Lord of the Rings is one of the very, very few novels I have ever encountered that has an index. At the end of volume three of Lord of the Rings there is an index; I assume they still print the index in the modern volumes. I hope they do. But most of the time you don’t need to find your way through a novel because you’re doing it from start to finish but if you’ve got a book that you need to jump into it matters.
So we’ve got a phrase book here but one that has organized partly around pictures and so on – that’s quite interesting. Textbooks; chapters in books if you’re not planning to read the whole of an academic book but you just want to know one chapter there are different ways of finding it. You would find it by looking at the table of contents but you might also look at the back where there’s an index. Now what is the difference between a table of contents and an index ?
There are differences. An academic book – or a reference book – does it have both a table of contents at the front and an index at the back ? Yes. If I want you to find what page does chapter five begin on which one of the two would you look at ? The table of contents. If I was to ask you which page does the idea of post-modernism appear on ? Index. Two different pointers to the same information.
The A to Z of Manchester; the Manchester guide book. This is pretty old-fashioned, nobody uses these any more. This is a road map of the whole of Manchester. You would use Google map now but this is an atlas; think of this as an atlas. I will bet you every atlas still looks like this; I’ve got atlases at home – because they’re too big so I didn’t bring them in. If I want to find the information in here I would do it in two different ways depending on how I was going to use it.
At the front there is a kind of summary of all of the pages. So if I want to go from this bit of Manchester – which is kind of Bolton – and say I wanted to go from Bolton to Rochdale; Bolton is there and Rochdale is there. If I wanted to do that drive, I would know that Bolton’s page 32 to 33 and Rochdale’s pages 26 to 27, and I can turn to Bolton. If I wanted to do the journey using this book that’s how I would start. But if I wanted to find a particular street Say I wanted to find the very wonderfully known Whitworth street, which is of course named after me – I would look at the gazetteer.
Whitworth close – that’s grid reference 1a – page 100. What I’m looking at now is the gazetteer at the back. This is an alphabetical index to all of the streets that appear in this atlas. This would be absolutely no use to me if I wanted to drive from Bolton to Rochdale. If I want to find a specific street in Rochdale or Ashton or wherever, I’ve got another index – I’ve got another way of organizing the material. So I’ve got page 100 1a. Here the page numbers are really important. Page one hundred, row one, column a.
There is a system for pointing me to the right information in this book and if I want to find a particular street it’s much easier to do it through the index at the back than the table of contents at the front. But if I want to find more general information – in this case how to do a broader journey, I would probably go to the map at the front or you would find the chapter that you needed from this book at the front. Different ways of organizing the information to point people to the right direction.
I’ve got one more film to show you but we’ll finish off with this. Because when it was the covid years, I couldn’t do this class so I got my son to put this together. His camera work is a bit odd at times and there are points when you’re kind of looking at my hands rather than me.
Some points to summarize what we’ve been talking about here okay: Hello everybody. In this film I want to give you an introduction to a very familiar technology. Indeed it’s so familiar that you might not even think it is a technology. But it’s been around for hundreds of years and despite frequent claims that we will soon not see them any more, many more millions of these are still made every year. It is the book.
I want to think about some features of the book as a file format, if you like. I want to talk about things that books have in common and I want you to think of and remember the idea of affordance. The idea that people use technologies because they are useful. So let’s ask what makes a book useful. Obviously books come in all different sizes. I’ve got three here ranging from this booklet which has thirty two pages; this short novel which is 169 pages; and then probably the biggest single book I have is Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ about 1325 pages. The thing is though as soon as you look at how long it’s going to take you to read, no one is going to pick up The Stand and imagine they’re going to finish it in two days.
This is one of my favourite novels; I bought this copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at a gas station in Pennsylvania USA in 1989 and I’m sure I paid about $2.50 for it. It is battered but it’s still very readable; it is not a file format which is going to go obsolete overnight. I must have read this novel over 20 times for my $2.50. That is good value.
Talking about durability, this is the oldest book I own; at the bottom of the front page you can see it’s printed in 1751. I believe that is still quite readable; there’s some beautiful pictures – even if it does print ‘f’s instead of ‘s’s – so a little old-fashioned but we can still use it. Now, let me ask you -would you do this with your laptop ? I wouldn’t get into a bath full of water with my laptop but then again books are heavy particularly when you’ve got a lot of them; they take a lot of storage space too.
They have developed over time some adaptations to the file format. You can see how these books have their important summary information, the author and the title, on the spine that’s on display when the books are stored on these shelves. That is an important point, I bet even that book that doesn’t have anything on the cover has something on the spine – so you can store them like this. If you had no information on the spine and all the information was on the cover, if you were to find the books on the shelves you’d have to display them with their covers out. This would be highly inefficient; much less efficient than doing it like this. This is why books have this on the cover, and yes I do like Stephen King; I think he’s a remarkably good author actually and highly underrated.
Once you get a really famous author you will generally see that their names on the cover are the big thing because you want to read a Stephen King book – you don’t care what it’s called. When nobody’s heard of you, like Andrew Whitworth’s books don’t have Whitworth in big letters on the spine, trust me; because nobody cares about who wrote that book. But these are the different ways that you have of advertising and marketing and displaying the book.
Going back to my 1751 book, there is very little on the cover and spine. This gives you an indication that it has been rebound. Usually with newer books you will see pictures on the cover with the names of the author intended to make us want to buy it because we liked their previous work. On this particular book it comes on what’s called a ‘dust jacket’, which protects the cover of the book by itself; as you can see it’s getting a little tatty.
Paperback books will usually now have information on the back. You call this a blurb or an abstract and the idea is that you can find out what’s inside the book without paying to go through it, and this makes it look far more useful. So that’s the outside of the book taken care of now; let’s look inside the book. What can you do with the features of this technology to make the book more useful to you ?
For a start, regardless of whether the contents of a book are divided up into chapters, every book is of course divided up simply by the fact it has pages. This allows several other ways to make them useful. For a start, the reader can put a bookmark in between two pages so they know exactly how far they read to last time.
You can number the pages – this is very common and numbering the pages allows you to let the reader know how the book is divided chapters. You could put a table of contents with page numbers and you can also let them know where particular subjects are discussed inside a book by including an index.
Not every book needs this kind of arrangement and sometimes books are arranged differently as I will show you shortly. You can argue for instance that if you do have a novel, the page numbers are essentially irrelevant because it doesn’t really matter what page particular things happen on but I’m going to get you to think about this kind of thing in the related task – how do your books organize the information within them ? There different ways to organize information.
Dictionaries will do it alphabetically; travel guides like these will organize themselves regionally, both in terms of the whole series, and the way that the advice within them is divided up region by region of these different countries so they are organized around a geographical formation. Atlases are arranged geographically; the front of each map shows you exactly how each map relates to the maps on different pages the information being contained geographically. The atlas is also an example of the book that contains far more than just text.
This is a very famous graphic novel told mostly by pictures and speech bubbles and also text like that; the book can show a lot of different types of information. There are also certain limits to books. So of course the book can never answer your questions if the information within it changes; the book cannot update itself. Remember that idea right; there are points about all of these different media that apply generally.
You’ve got this idea you are able to interact with the content of the book right in various different ways. Now some of your books will have things, particularly the textbooks, I imagine where it says stop and think. I have done this on Blackboard with you; you go through the Blackboard site and among things organized there will be particular points where I’m saying ‘think about this’ okay. Partly it is the equivalent for the distance learners of things that we’re doing in our class.
As we move on and you will see this in block three, when I talk about pedagogy, the different types of media that are out there allow or afford different kinds of interactions. As I said here books are great but they can’t answer your questions and if the information changes in them then you need a second edition. The Alfred Wainwright’s walking guide to the Lake District fells is a very useful book to people like me who like to walk up mountains in the Lake District.
Lots of good graphical information and textual information but things change and these books were first written in the 1950s and 1960s; what happened in the 2000s – as you can see there – produced a second edition; and you can do this with books. The information was updated and challenged but the book can’t do this itself. I needed to buy these second editions – it wasn’t like my first edition updated itself.
Nevertheless as I said at the beginning there’s far too much information encoded it into books and still being published in books for them to go obsolete anytime soon. What I’m going to ask you to do now is think about some books of your own. The book; I hope you realize now, there’s a lot more depth in it and there’s a lot of ways in which the book helps the user navigate around. At the very least, take this lesson forward into any later work that you do.
You will look at Blackboard; you might think Blackboard is easy to get around – you might think it’s difficult to get around. Think about how you might make the information on your team’s channel easier to get around. There are ways in which you can format the information; there are ways in which you can show that for instance. You’ve got things like a heading – don’t underestimate the simple value of increasing the font size and saying ‘hey I’ve got a heading’.
All of these things have been developing for 1500 years. These are not things that were invented by Bill Gates in 1997. So a lot of these ways in which our information technologies help us navigate the information that they are providing to us are essential; and that is what makes them useful. Those are the behaviours that they afford.
Look we’re out of time but please, I will start a Friday class by looking at some of your learning environment maps so please post them to teams by the 20th. There’s no deadline as such and but it would be nice to have a look at them on Friday morning. So be ready to talk about why – remember you should only be putting things on your maps if you can say why it’s there. If you can’t think why it’s there don’t map it.
We’ll talk about social shaping of technology because, as I said, it’s possible that a technology could afford many things in your learning environment, be really useful, but for whatever reason you might not be allowed to use it or it might have damaging effects. And this is often politics. Does technology have politics ? The answer is very definitely yes, and we will talk about that on Friday and then use social media as a case study in week five. Please make sure you get your books back, and I want Watchmen back and my Metro map.