New Generation Learning Conference, Dalarna University 2012

February 28, 2012

The NGL Conference came to an end on Thursday with some final presentations and a closing debate.

Rosamund Sutherland and Ton de Jon were the main presenters on the day. One subject that Rosamund Sutherland and many others took up was that of the digital tools that are used during instruction and the importance of using them in the correct way.

“Developing these in a professional manner is key… Many teachers don’t actually know how they should use the tools,” stated Rosamund Sutherland.

Lots to gain from using digital equipment

That there is a lot to gain from using digital equipment is clear to Rosamund. In her main subject area, mathematics, digital equipment is not used as much as it is in many other subjects.

“It has a great potential that is not being made best use of in England.”


There were many positive thoughts about online learning at the NGL Conference. However, there was also an element of criticism. In the final discussion, the commercial aspect of digitalised learning was brought up and the risk of companies developing software that is not even necessary and that costs upon purchase and then as a result of future support services.

Andrew Casson, Director of Education and Research at Dalarna University, stated that staff must be educated so that they are able to identify what is required and consequently avoid making the mistake of purchasing unnecessary software.

Terry Andersson felt that the purchase of commercial products was a natural development.

“Previously, we have invested a great deal of money in, for example, libraries. This is a natural process. It’s business, and it will continue to be business,” he stated.

I was interviewed by Alastair Creeland on my paper on the use of learning platforms. You can hear it at


Social Networking

January 4, 2012

Social networking software such as Facebook and Twitter are providing opportunities for personal expression, the creation of communities, collaboration and sharing. Other examples include blogs (personal web-based journals), moblogs (blogs sent from a mobile phone), wikis (modifiable collaborative web pages), and podcasting (subscription-based broadcast over the web) supported by technologies such as RSS (really simple syndication – an XML format designed for sharing news across the web). They enhance or gain value from social interactions and behaviour. They can also provide opportunities for collective intelligence and thus add value to data. Digital video, photography and music technologies have democratised the process of content creation and distribution. Recent studies of children and young people’s online behavior indicate that there are a wide range of activities undertaken, from using the internet for homework and research to a wide range of entertainment and edutainment activities. The benefits for children are well documented, but so too are a number of risks of which young people must be made aware.


Initial concern for children was largely centred on their use of social networking sites and the possibility that young people could be ‘groomed’ by those with a malicious intent. This is made possible by the amount of personal information that children can disclose online allowing predators to manipulate children by becoming their online friend, often hiding their true age and identity and developing close friendships by pretending to share common interests in music, personalities, sport or other activities for which children have expressed a specific liking. The huge publicity surrounding chat rooms and the decision by some leading commercial companies to close their chat rooms to children led to the focus switching to social networking applications. In some respects these are more of a problem than chat rooms, as young people share ‘friend lists’ and pass on contacts one to another. As instant messaging programmes allow private one-to-one correspondence with or without the use of webcams, they also can give even greater privacy to predators developing relationships with children online. It is important to understand that social networking sites are public spaces where adults can also interact with children, which obviously has an implication on child safety. Whilst encouraging young people to be creative users of the internet who publish content rather than being passive consumers, there is a balance to be weighed in terms of the personal element of what is being published. The concerns are shifting from what children are ‘downloading’ in terms of content to what they are ‘uploading’ to the net. In some cases very detailed accounts of their personal lives, contact information, daily routines, photographs and videos are acting as an online shopping catalogue for those who would seek children to exploit, either sexually or for identity fraud purposes. These sites are very popular with young people as not only can they express themselves with an online personality, but they can use all the applications the site has to offer to chat and share multimedia content with others – music, photos and video clips. Unfortunately, these sites can also be the ideal platform for facilitating bullying, slander and humiliation of others. The better sites are now taking this issue seriously and ensuring that they have safety guidelines and codes of practice in place. In drafting an AUP, students, where appropriate additional consideration should be given to boarding pupils. For example, additional privileges may be given after school with access to allow less restrictive filtering but keeping in line with the overall ethos of providing a safe environment. The management of mobile devices and laptop dongles that allow unrestricted access in dormitories should also be carefully managed with a view that such usage should be viewed on its merits and with due consideration to the in loco parentis nature of boarding supervision.


Clearly banning activity of any sort merely heightens the desire of young people to explore and push the boundaries. We have a responsibility to understand what children are doing by talking to them about their online activity and educating them to the possible downsides – encouraging safe use and enjoying the benefits whilst minimising the risks. It is recommended that schools and academies use CEOP materials to educate children about risks and benefits, look at recommending social networking sites that safely enhance education experiences. Schools and academies should also look to provide timely and accurate information for parents and teachers, provide safety tips and good advice and stay up to date on developments.

Next Generation Learning Conference 2012

November 14, 2011

I was pleased to be invited to speak at the “Next Generation Learning Conference ” in Falun, Sweden in 2012.

The conference is being hosted by Dalarna University in collaboration with KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and is a Nordic conference on the implications for learning and education of the digital revolution. The conference is aimed at development and research projects on NGL in both educational and professional settings.

Next Generation Learning Conference include, but is not limited to, the following topics:

  • Mobility and learning
  • Self-paced learning and open educational resources
  • Information-tools and knowledge processes
  • New knowledge processes within the working life
  • Web-based higher education
  • Collaborative learning
  • Learning environments and the modern school

You can read more detailed descriptions of each topic on their respective page at

Sexting, Griefing, Piracy, Privacy and Massively Multiplayer Thumbwrestling

October 31, 2011

Last week I was fortunate to be at the First International Symposium on Digital Ethics hosted by The Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University, Chicago. The first keynote speaker, Jan McGonigal (author of “Reality is Broken”) had us playing Massively Multiplayer Thumbwrestling, a good way to boost oxytocin levels and a metaphor for online gaming. All the presentations were excellent indeed but for me there were several highlights: Jo-Ann Oravec talked about the ethics of sexting and
issues involving consent and the production of intimate content. Richard Wojak examined griefing through the virtual world and the moral status of griefing. Brian Carey took a controversial look at piracy and the times when it may be ethically permissible. Alex Gekker offered some fascinating insights into ‘Anonymous’ and the governmental oversight of the internet. A lunchtime treat
was Julian Dibbell reprising his seminal 1990s piece originally published in the Village Voice entitled “A Rape in Cyberspace“. Charles Ess provided an insightful view into privacy, the self and new media.

There is much to be learnt in this provocative and emergent area, and I look forward to hearing and sharing some further thoughts
on digital ethics.

Tweetcloud for @albinwallace Twitter feed for past 3 years

October 10, 2011

Tweetcloud for @albinwallace Twitter feed

Bubbles, white noise and why it all seems so familiar

October 7, 2011

As the postmodern storm clouds gather on the social media
horizon, partially fuelled by research by such eminents as Turkle and Pariser,
I am inclined in my middle years to reflect on my own social media bubble and to
nostalgically reminisce on my interactions with technology and how it was in
some ways ever thus; up close and personal with the technology.

As a child in working class London we had a valve radio,
a thing of great beauty and resonance and I used to sit with my ear pressed up
against the musty cloth of the speaker listening to the Clitheroe Kid,
oblivious to the domestic hum around me. Whatever happened to that valve-driven
beauty, resplendent in its walnut cabinet? Its sound was warm and inviting, the
glow behind the dial alluring as my eyes gazed upon the exotic places listed on
its circular face; Paris, Luxembourg, Munich.

Then television hit. And it hit hard. Sharp edges, tinny
sound, primal, violent Warner Bros cartoons. Always going out of tune, replaced
with visual and aural static that also captivated me. Alone in the lounge room,
Bugs Bunny and the white noise alternating as the station went in and out of
tune in time with the London buses that passed our basement flat. The static
fascinated me and in time I suspect I became the only person who actually
bought Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and listened to it late at night whilst
studying. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first record player I got was a portable, blue
machine best suited to playing 45s. I saved up and bought Sergeant Pepper and
as a 10 year old I was terrified, fascinated and thrilled by what seemed like
music from the abyss, albeit played on a machine ill-suited to the purpose.

Then I got my first stereo and things became even
weirder. A cheap, plastic artefact with a cool, smoked lid I put on the White
Album and was transfixed by the sinister voice of Revolution 9 passing between
the speakers. For my birthday I received a pair of cosy, padded headphones and
for the first time was able to recapture the in utero warmth of the valve
radio, albeit with the “Number 9” loop passing from one ear to the other via my
brain. This was my first truly immersive technological experience.

Cassette players became part of the scene and along with
them the commodification of music as we swapped albums, copied them onto
cassette, made mix tapes and innocently engaged in music piracy. All those
years ago.

The CD revolutionised everything. All of sudden, gone was
the crackly, hissy warmth of co-constructed worlds of popular music. Replaced
with precision, minimalism, exactness without authenticity. We listened to each
and every instrument without hearing the whole piece. We painted by numbers and
bought CDs which demonstrated the clinical excellence of digital recording,
mixing and delivery.

My first computer was a VIC-20. I wrote programmes in the
middle of the night. I was thrilled by the control the new technology offered
me. When, in the mid-80s, I used an acoustic coupler to hook up to my first
bulletin board I was amazed at the seeming possibilities. “Hello”, I wrote and
then could not think of anything else to say.

My first laptop gave me portability which was in fact no
portability at all, and my first skirmish with the internet made me realise that
the world was about to irrevocably change.

In rapid succession came the WAP phone, broadband, the
Smart phone, the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad and I eagerly consumed each
one until before I knew it I was hooked, linked into a world of tweets,
messages and emails that were starting to resemble the static and the white
noise of early television. Lou Reed would be proud.

Last night I was trawling iTunes on my iPad looking for
episodes of the Clitheroe Kid. The bubbles change but the song remains the

Digital Indigestion

February 22, 2011

About 12 years ago, an event occurred in my personal life that changed everything dramatically. The details are not important but the net result was that I lost nearly all my stuff. Except for my clothes, some CDs, a lot of books and various bits of ephemera. The event was traumatic and changed my life considerably. On the bright side, it resulted in a new, streamlined me. A thinner, more economical, sleeker and low-maintenance version of myself that revelled in a new asceticism. Never, I swore would I accumulate stuff again. Unnecessary baggage.

Ha. Fat chance. 12 years on and I have more stuff than ever. Too much stuff. I put it down partially to my slightly obsessive personality. Music for example. My iPod, which started off with a modest collection of some 500 tunes now has over 20,000 pieces of music on it. I mean, what’s the point? I might as well listen to the radio as use the shuttle function. And when you get a collection that large it becomes impossible to choose. It’s like a wine list that’s too long. In the end, you throw your arms in the air, shut your eyes and point at random. My Kindle is the same. Swollen with hundreds of free ‘classics’. It has become increasingly hard to choose what to read. My television has over 1000 channels. I cannot choose what to watch. My listening, reading and watching habits have been sabotaged by too much choice which is really no choice at all. In desperation I turn to the Internet and type ‘cats’ into Google. I receive 100 million pages to choose from.

There is no alternative. I put the iPod on shuffle, read two pages from each of the squillion books on the Kindle, whilst simultaneously surfing the web, browsing the television and for good measure checking Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and a quick burst of COD. But something is missing. Oh, yes. I need to do my homework too. Just as well I can multitask. Or not.

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