On the 19th of June TIPL had its last meet-up of the academic year.  David Jackson, a PhD student based at MIRIAD, came to the meeting to talk to us and let us play with Storyjacker: “Storyjacker is a platform that encourages people to write more meaningful stories together online. It does this using writing games featuring mechanics such as competitive reward, player-devised challenges and random elements. It has tested well, primarily in workshop scenarios with both creative writing and other arts students.” Screen shot 2014-06-20 at 16.52.22

In 3’s we had a go at writing short stories using Bamboo on Storyjacker. Bamboo pits three writers against one another to suggest story lines and write the story in response to plot twists and turns that are suggested by the software. Two people write and the third decides which one is the best and through this process the story emerges.

We said that the best story would be published on the blog and without ceremony or legitimate process I declare my team’s story the best. Enjoy!


story pdf

We had a blast using Storyjacker and I’d recommend any aspiring writer or group of friends give it a go. We ended wondering if Storyjacker or something similar could be used to help with academic writing. So example, two variables are stuck in a lift together – write the next line. Now build in an turn, cultural or ontological. The funding climate shifts, disguise your research interests in using statistical methods to please the funders. Write in an act of god (e.g., you are funded). Okay so that’s a narrative of doing research but you get the idea…

James Duggan



School Library Camp @MMU

Last weekend I was involved in running a School Library Camp at MMU. This event was one of five camps being held around the UK on the same day. Darren Flynn from Dixons Allerton Academy in Bradford came up with the ambitious idea to hold simultaneous events, allowing school librarians from different regions to attend an event close to home, but still share ideas with colleagues from other parts of the country via social media.

Library Camps adopt an ‘unconference’ format where there’s no pre-planned programme; participants set the agenda on the day. The camp starts by people making suggestions for what they’d like to talk about and throughout the day, attendees are free to move between sessions as they wish. At the North West School Library Camp, we used post-it notes to give everyone a chance to suggest ideas then grouped these to create a timetable for the day. Sessions covered a wide range of topics from information literacy, transition between educational stages/institutions; and evaluating the impact of the school library; to how to use Twitter, the role of e-books and library pets!

library camp 1

Listening to the discussions, I was reminded of conversations which James Duggan and I have had recently on the topic of phronesis or ‘practical wisdom’, the ability to apply rules of thumb or working principles, often in ‘messy’ contexts. It’s something which professionals become more skilled in through practice, but most of us are fortunate enough to get a head start by learning from more experienced colleagues: other teachers, researchers, lecturers etc within our organisation. For school librarians, however, opportunities to acquire ‘practical wisdom’ from others are usually few and far between. Most are the only librarian working in their organisation, so they have to rely on external contacts and events for the sorts of opportunities most professionals take for granted in the workplace.

The vast majority of discussions at the School Library Camp were about precisely this type of highly practical, but complex, knowledge, for example, how to ensure you have career progression opportunities; how to demonstrate the value of your work to the SLT and governors; and how to encourage both teachers and students to make better use of the library. None of these questions has a straightforward answer of course, but through sharing ideas and experiences, school librarians were able to think about new ways to develop themselves and their libraries. Attendees had a wide range of experience, from students considering future careers options to librarians with more than 30 years’ experience in schools, but it was clear that, regardless of the length of their experience, they were all keen to use the event to find new ideas and approaches.

library camp 2

Technology has, undoubtedly, helped to reduce the isolation of school librarianship, for example, there is a School Librarians’ Network mailing list which is highly active. But the School Library Camp demonstrated the value of face-to-face contact too for sharing practical wisdom and the informal, participant-led approach of a Library Camp/unconference format seems well-matched to the notion of phronesis. It seems this sort of event may be one way of supporting the development of this type of knowledge among professionals with limited opportunities to do so in the workplace.

Sarah McNicol

Have Robot, Looking for Ideas

Members of TIPL (Cathy Lewin, Nic Whitton, Sarah McNicol and James Duggan) met with Keeley Crockett, David Mclean and Annabel Latham from the School of Computing, Maths and Digital Technology to discuss what we could do with Nao?

Nao is an autonomous, programmable humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics. The things that Nao can do are:

  • —Fully programmable, open and autonomous
  • —Easy to use and understand: achieve better project results and improve learning effectiveness
  • —Attractive and motivating: highly increase and catch audience attention
  • Camera
  • —higher sensitivity in VGA for low light perception.
  • —For image processing – up to 30 images/second in HD resolution.
  • —has a great capacity to sense his environment – move headby 239°horizontally and by 68° vertically, and his camera can see at 61° horizontally and 47°vertically.
  • Object Recognition
  • —NAO has the capacity to recognize a large quantity of objects. Once the object is saved if he sees it again, NAO is able to recognize and say what it is.
  • Face Detection and Recognition
  • —It’s one of the best known features for interaction. NAO can detect and learn a face in order to recognize it next time.
  • Text to Speech
  • —NAO is able to speak up to 9 languages.
  • Automatic Speech Recognition
  • —Speech recognition is at the heart of intuitive human-robot interaction. Nuance provides stable and powerful speech recognition. NAO is now able to hear you from 2 meters away, recognize a complete sentence or just few words in the sentence. The result: more fluidity and natural conversations.
  • Sound Detection and Localization
  • —Our environment is made of sounds that NAO, like us, is able to detect and localize in the space thanks to microphones all around his head.

Or, if you prefer videos.

Also, he can dance:

So the question is what education research we can do with him? Any ideas?

James Duggan 

Social Action Platforms – a very measured rant

I was invited to a workshop as part of the Mapping Social Design project and asked to give a 4 minute ‘rant’ on social action platforms. I wrote with my thumbs then said with my mouth…

There is something beautifully simple and seductive about social action platforms but they’re also a bit of a black box with ‘Internet solves the problem’ written on it. Scott’s ‘Seeing Like a State’ explains the destructive consequences of top-down, technical and rational policies and technologies in imposing a simplified perspective on a complex world, such as big dam projects, agrarian reforms… and extending this, we see this in parts of the welfare system as well.

There is a constellation of digital and social tools that potentially could enable communities to work with the grain and granularity of their own local complexities.

Amongst these SAPs are websites that enable a user to describe a project or problem and get members of the community to resource it, such as SpaceHive and OpenIdeo. Although there are a few examples of successful platforms, there are many more failures and the potential remains unrealised especially in terms of focusing and cohering local-level, grassroots civic projects.

There are lots of reasons for this but given the limited time, I’d like to focus on the partial social in social action platforms. Here ‘social’ could mean social good or social media tools but what I don’t think it relates to is the everyday social fabric of communities as they come together to develop projects to improve things.

Some of the issues are to do with using online technology and a social enterprise business model. The wider the geographical scope, the greater the number of projects and money raised and so the more commission going back into the platform. But people live in places. I think there’s something different and substantial about communities doing local projects that the platforms don’t engage with.

Not everyone has a new, discrete, fundable project but people have lots of small, diffuse and different things going on and might like to know who in their city could and would help them, if anyone is doing anything similar and so on.

At this point I should say that I tried unsuccessfully to develop an alternative social action platform called ‘Weave’, a place-based social action platform cum ecosystem to bring together people at the local level around social innovation and civic projects. As the plans got more comprehensive and complex, links to the council and enterprise hubs and so on, we decided we had to focus on something simple around the social.

I was interested in how FaceBook built and marketised the social graph by enabling users to share pictures of lol cats and see who was single or not.

From this we came up with gratitude as a proxy or analogue for the exchanges and relationships that were integral to the emergence and flourishing of civic projects. Gratitude is social and relational, I thank you; has a strong cultural, religious and normative base – from telling children to say ‘thank you’ to cards, flowers and chocolate boxes…

Gratitude is also useful. Take the sentence ‘John thanks Jane for help designing a website for his new project’. Here we learn that Jane has web development skills, that she knows and will help John and so maybe people like him, we also, learn about John’s new project. At under 140 characters it can be Tweeted and FaceBooked etc. Significantly, John has an incentive to log on and thank Jane and she is flattered to log on and accept. At least that’s the theory.

Beyond the individual level, gratitude can be re-interpreted as an incentive for a variety of organisations to collaborate. For a university gratitude is research impact or community engagement, for businesses it’s CSR, for local politicians it’s campaign content. All of this can be brought together around the identity of a place, e.g., WeaveMCR with Black Birkenstock events to recognise and inspire wider engagement.

So we created Thnku a simple web interface that enables users to thank other users and pin thanks under categories… but that’s as far as we got.

One view might be that social action platforms have come as far as they should. Not everything needs to be replicated online, serendipity exists in the real world too. I think there’s a place for them though but connected to the real world rooted to the people and organisations in places. Implementation is another matter.

More widely, unpicking the social in social action platforms reminds us of the blind spots in technologies and our ideas as they conceptualise, reconstruct and afford new social relations but always the importance of weaving them into the warp and weft of the social life of complex communities.

James Duggan