PEST Factors of my OU Project

I’m going to use this space for some notes on my studies again. This time it’s the PEST factors associated with my project. PEST stands for Political Economic Social and Technological. My project is related to numeracy for early school leavers and involves using concepts from creative digital media as a jumping off point (in place of concrete materials in mathematical strategy terminology) from which to approach abstract concepts.

Political

So what are the political factors that might affect this project? One thing (that I have to admit I was conscious of) is the importance that is given to numeracy by decision makers in Ireland at the moment. It’s seen as an essential skill (which of course it is) and there is a general push towards projects that incorporate either numeracy or literacy. Similarly STEM fields (Science Technology, Engineering Maths) are seen as more profitable and ones worth investing in. So if I were to develop a tool that aided numeracy it would find itself in a favourable place politically than, say, something with more of an artistic slant. There is a movement towards STEAM (incorporating Art into STEM) which would also suggest a welcoming environment for my project.

Economic

My project centres around what is essentially a Labour Market Activation programme aimed at young people. With youth unemployment still unacceptably high in Ireland and across the Eurozone this is an area of some importance. The question is, of course, whether or not ones efforts are effective. From my own personal experience I know that many interventions at this level are not effective (or at the very least they have significant room for improvement). My hope is to provide a tool that sits within an effective program. A tool like this could never claim to be the sole difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness. The wider program must be effective overall. My aim is to address an area of weakness an convert it into a strength.

Social

The trends mentioned above sit within what I see as an inevitable change in society. The evidence for this is seen in the fact that similar changes are happening in other societies. The time in the life of a person that may be considered ‘youth’ is increasing all the time. Some theorists would regard 18-25 as a distinct stage in life between adolescence and adulthood and some policies now extend to those 35 and under. There are various reasons for this; the cost and time required to achieve a level of education and experience required to sustain an acceptable cost of living, the decimation of lower skilled jobs and the increase in transient labour. This can lead to the development of a various social issues many of which arise from the fact that a growing number of young adults are not working or studying and are becoming removed from society. This is the macro social context in which my project lies.

Technological

My project is dependent on recent technological advancements. It assumes a familiarity with certain concepts of digital media creation and uses those to build notions abstract concepts. This is to see technology as an advantage to be utilised. Engaging with it is somewhat inevitable and ought to be seen as obligatory (at least at some level) when dealing with young adults. I view it as an opportunity to improve engagement, as there is an existing understanding waiting to be tapped into.

Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship

I’m going to use this space to share a few thoughts on a paper I read as part of the Masters in Online and Distance Education I have been chipping away at for some time. This paper has the same title as this post and you can read it here.

It lists four assumptions about Open Scholarship:

  • Open Scholarship is based on a set of ideals similar to those upon which democracy and human rights rest
  • The belief that Open Scholarship has the potential to enhance the outcome of the scholarly interactive process
  • That there is a co-evolutionary relationship between technology and the culture surrounding it
  • Open Scholarship represents an improvement in practicality and efficiency for scholarship

The paper expands on these assumptions and presents the challenges and potential gaps in logic for each assumption as well as the evidence in favour. I find this kind of criticism refreshing as too frequently is technology represented as a ‘silver bullet’ for all that is wrong in education and that there are no drawbacks or false promises.

One quote in particular stood out for me. The paper quoted a 2008 paper (Caswell, Henson, Jensen, and Wiley) to make a point about the democratisation of education:

We believe that all human beings are endowed with a capacity to learn, improve, and progress. Educational opportunity is the mechanism by which we fulfill that capacity. Therefore, free and open access to educational opportunity is a basic human right, … [and] we have a greater ethical obligation than ever before to increase the reach of opportunity.

It caught my attention because it touched on a particular pet peeve of mine. It’s the ever growing list of things considered basic human rights. Internet access has been cited as a basic human right for example. To me assertions of this nature go some way to undermining the whole notion of basic human rights. These services are only recently technologically possible and already they are basic rights alongside the right to life, shelter and water. Some barriers do not necessarily constitute a denial of basic rights. Tuition fees are not the same as the lack of basic education for millions of girls.

Another thought I had was on the idea of ‘filter bubbles’. It absolutely is the case that predictive algorithms can give different people very different experiences of the internet. The wider argument is that groups of people who tend to agree with each other and have certain barriers to entry to their group can create echo chambers where assumptions are never challenged and group-think prevails. This phenomenon is manifesting itself in politics at the moment, I believe, where increasingly different groups are completely failing to understand each other because for so long they have been experiencing the world through very different prisms.

However I believe there is a flip-side to this, in particular there is a benefit to certain, moderate, barriers to participation. To comment on a Youtube video or news paper article requires passing the bare minimum of barriers and the result is predictable; nasty, childish arguments that help no one. If, however, a few moderate barriers are added, like the removal of anonymity, a payment to entry (as in some online courses) or the necessity of membership of some form of community (however tenuous) then suddenly there is a shift in attitude (in my experience). Some online communities can be extremely polite and helpful, a good example of this is technical message boards. Forums on online courses tend to be civil and polite too. I think it’s the humanising factor of having something in common, regardless of how small it is.

Those are my thought on that particular paper, in general I hope to get back in the habit of writing the odd blog post. It really helps to clarify my thoughts to write them down.

Esping-Andersen’s Typologies

I’m going to use this space to take notes on some articles I’ve read for a short course I’m doing online with the University of Oxford. Gosta Esping-Andersen is a Danish sociologist most famous for his book “The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism” in which he presents a typology of welfare states that groups all welfare regimes broadly into three categories. I’ve read two criticisms of this typology and will make some notes below.

The first was somewhat of a literature review in that it presented a series of criticisms from other academics and analysed the difference. For the most part these criticisms sought to redefine the typology to be more accurate which involved renaming categories, adding extra categories and analysing regimes using different methods. The results varied, in that the groupings of states altering depending on the criteria used to distinguish them. For example Australia was classed as a Liberal regime oringally by Esping-Andersen alongside the United States but was considered a Radical regime by Castles and Mitchell and a targeted regime by Korpi and Palme. With that being said there was a lot of consistency between the different typologies, some more than others.

The second criticism was a more targeted and specific example, not unlike a single example of the collection of literature that the first paper reviewed. It looked specifically at gender and the position of women and used that as its means of analysis. This was a significantly different way to analyse the data and as such produced a significantly different set of results.

I am asked if I agree with the criticisms in the literature but it’s difficult to have a strong opinion. There are different ways of grouping and analysing welfare regimes. Which method you choose depends on what you wish to achieve. The first paper suggested that there was a strong case for a fourth type in the typology. This is based on an analysis of the existing regimes. The question arises as to whether the types ought to be accurate to the existing data or ‘pure’ in the sense of adhering perfectly to a particular way of thinking. The existing regimes could be measured against hypothetical examples in this way. While focussing on creating a typology that explains the world we live in accurately one runs the risk of creating so many types that each type only has one datum.

I think it is of use to have datasets that distinguish different approaches and different results related to a particular variable. The variable could be decommodification of labour or it could be gender parity or it could be any number of things. The fallacy, in my opinion, is to hold that any one of these variables is the defining variable upon which all decisions should be made. I think it is important to have information that is value neutral and not to wed oneself to a particular way of analysing every issue. Gather all available data, analyse it and then interpret it based upon your moral principles.

Notes on an introduction by Hartley Dean

Once again I am using this space to make notes for a course I am taking. This time it’s a short CPD course offered online by the University of Oxford on welfare states.

We’ve been asked to make some notes on an introduction to Social Policy by Hartley Dean and a short video:

 

So we have been asked to make some notes on the extent to which he attributes a role to the normative, descriptive and explanatory study of the welfare state. Well to put it briefly I would have to say that he attributes a considerable role to the study of welfare states in so far as they are a common means by which human welfare is deliberately affected. I don’t think he would limit his study to systems that are best described as ‘welfare states’ nor would he restrict his role (or that of the student of Social Policy) to a removed form of study. There is a certain amount of advocacy involved in the work he describes. He talks about ‘magpies’ drilling into various disciplines for tools and content that are useful to them. This suggests a level of activity beyond study.

On a separate note the word ‘normative’, as used above, is of interest to me. My impression is that there is a suggestion here that welfare states can be useful in breaking undesirable social norms and there is no doubt that that is possible. What interests me is the complimentary study of undesirable social norms that are created and maintained by the welfare state (or by some welfare state systems, at least).

Something for further study I think!

 

What are Sinn Féin up to?

So there was an election some 40 odd days ago and we still don’t have a Government. In fairness there have been a lot of events since then (St Patrick’s Day, Easter and the commemoration of the 1916 Rising) but still it is a break with the norm in Irish politics. We usually have a Taoiseach chosen when the Dáil returns whereas on this occasion they have adjourned twice to allow more time for negotiations after a number of unsuccessful candidacies.

As far as I can see it there are four possibilities:

  1. A Fine Gael minority Government possibly supported by Independents and with the cooperation (or abstention) of Fianna Fáil,
  2. A Fianna Fáil minority Government supported by Independents and with the cooperation of Fine Gael,
  3. A grand coalition of both parties
  4. Another election.

These are the only options because pretty much every other party and T.D has ruled themselves out of forming a Government. So Fine Gael have been meeting with Independents, have met with Fianna Fáil, offered them a grand coalition and contested two elections for Taoiseach. Fianna Fáil rejected the grand coalition idea and seem to favour a situation whereby their abstention would allow Fine Gael and a few others (most likely Independents) to pass essential legislation.

So far so good right? The Irish people voted and their chosen representatives are negotiating and compromising to provide a Government that will reflect their collective will. If anybody deserves criticism for a delay here surely it is the people who have refused to take part in any Government right? Alternatively you could blame the Irish people for electing an indecisive Dáil or you could blame our excessively fair electoral system. I prefer to accept the imperfections of democracy as reality and am content to wait a while.

But what have we here? Sinn Féin are growing impatient with talks and want to get on with the job they were elected to do. Without digressing I can only briefly point out that Sinn Féin are in no position to complain about elongated talks given that, in my opinion, the deliberately protracted the negotiation process in Northern Ireland for almost a decade. The more relevant point here is that they are amongst the deputies who are shirking their responsibilities to the electorate. They were elected to the Dáil and their first job is to chose a Government. They have removed themselves from that process at a time of crisis and they have done so for political gain.

They are trying to give the appearance that they have some common sense bill that will solve the housing and homelessness crises and all that they need is for the Dáil to pass it. They want to give the impression that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are squabbling over the spoils of office while the ever noble Sinn Féin are concerned with the average citizens and their welfare. They have long been an advocate of the adoption of the D’Hondt system of allocating ministries. This is how the Stormont Assembly allocates ministries between parties. This recent gesture might be construed as being in the same vein. One might ask “Why don’t they all just govern together?”

So, how does it work for them “up there”? Well you could argue that it works out quite badly for the voters, who get stagnancy and intransigence. Nothing ever changes. There was a massive worldwide recession in 2008 that sent political shockwaves around the world. It produced extreme left wing parties and extreme right wing parties. Historically dominant parties were decimated across Europe and even the hegemonic two party system in the United States is teetering. Northern Ireland, however, is an exception. There are incremental changes only but largely it stays the same. Ian Paisley held North Antrim for 40 years as an M.P and passed it on to his son (also Ian Paisley). So there is very little change for voters and the political discourse varies from childish to and fro that helps nobody to borderline sectarianism that endangers everybody.

This is in contrast to the situation the politicians find themselves in. Political deadlock is quite nice if you are an employed politician. You can have a nice, long career without fear of new ideas coming along and kicking you and your old ideas out of office. You can show up, blame somebody else and go home. This is what Sinn Féin have in the North and this is what they would like “down here”. They don’t ever want to govern. If they did that they would run the risk of being held to account for something. That wouldn’t do.

And this pretty much explains what they are up to now. They like the current situation as they can complain and blame Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Homelessness and Housing crises are manna from heaven to Sinn Féin at the moment. They get to complain about them and thereby look like they care about the underprivileged (apologies for sounding cynical here but I can’t help it). The last thing they want is for somebody to solve any of those problems, that’s why they aren’t going into government. If they went into government they could possibly get some concessions or shape a policy on something important like that. They are never going to do that. They could get blamed for the inevitably imperfect situation that we find ourselves at the next election. They might also erode their base if they are successful and there are no social ills left to exploit.

If you think this is selling out their principals then you’re a little late to the party. Their original principals upon their foundation (in 1970, not 1905) were essentially the rejection of the Social Democratic orientation of what became known as Official Sinn Féin in favour of a more radical (but ill-defined and postponed) Socialism and their embrace of terrorist tactics in the pursuit of national unity. They abandoned these two principals a long time ago.

They have only one real goal anymore, besides getting themselves elected while shirking responsibility. They want to rewrite the recent history of Ireland, particularly the troubles in Northern Ireland, and position themselves as a part of the grand arc of Nationalist struggle in Ireland. That is all they really care about now. That and their careers, of course.

P.S: I’m really sorry about the cynicism

The Proclamation of the Republic – Dissected

So it’s Easter weekend 2016 and everyone is talking about 1916. What better time to take a look at the document at the heart of it all: The Proclamation. A lot is written about the Proclamation that is inaccurate or untrue and more still is written that involves a very generous reading of it. It’s time to set the record straight!

1916 Proclamation
1916 Proclamation – Source: Wikimedia.org

‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’

The document is addressed to Irishmen and Irishwomen and it goes on to ‘guarantee’ equal rights and opportunities to all its citizens. Some writers and politicians have seen in these simple words a commitment to a gender equality that escapes us still. They find a form of equality that goes beyond equal voting rights and anti-discrimination legislation. They see a commitment to the elimination of the gender pay gap and to the pursuit of equality of representation in politics. They see an ally to their present causes.

The problem is that there is very little detail in the document itself to support these views and there is some evidence to suggest that its framers would not share a lot of those views. For instance Ireland is referred to as a feminine entity which is in keeping with a traditional view of the special status and purity of women and all things feminine. Also the document refers to Irish manhood having been organised and trained and this was done, of course, by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This is entirely in keeping with the thinking of Pearse who wrote often of Ireland as an idealised woman and to the boyhood of Ireland about training for manhood with particular (traditional) roles in mind. Tellingly there were no female signatories to the Proclamation.

It’s reasonable to conclude that the leaders of the rising while believing in causes such as universal suffrage (which was topical in 1916) would have held views that were equally of their time about participation in the work force and domestic relationships.

‘Gallant Allies’

The reference to Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany as a gallant ally is often cited as slightly embarrassing but of little consequence. The excuse is made that Germany was the enemy of an enemy and therefore a friend and that the relationship was one of convenience and nothing more. I used to accept this but I’ve recently changed my mind. Pearse had a particular view of Germany at that time. In his eyes it was a modern day Athens that was fully realising the potential of its citizens. He consciously preferred the Prussian idea of the state in whose interest all citizens were directed over the British model of laissez faire capitalism, liberalism and individuality. There was more to the German connection than convenience.

‘Cherishing All the Children of the Nation’

This is perhaps the most misquoted part of the Proclamation. During the 2012 Children’s Referendum this line was spoken of regularly (often by people who should have known better) as if it were a reference to literal children. It is not. It is referring to the Unionists in Ulster and claiming them as equally Irish and of the same nation as the rest of the island. It’s actually quite obvious if you keep reading to the end of that paragraph.

It’s interesting to take a step back and think about this for a moment. Particularly given that this way of thinking persists to this day. It is suggested that despite the fact that Unionists have a clear sense of their own separation from the Irish nation that they are in fact mistaken, they have been tricked into this belief somehow and have a flawed conception of their own true identity. This is very dangerous point of view, in my opinion. It does not allow for self-determination rather a form of pre-determination. The Unionists are Irish whether they like it or not. They don’t have a moral right to reject one nationality for the sake of another. Their nationality is an intrinsic and unchanging part of who they are. It is thinking like this that has emboldened later Republicans to ignore the concept of Unionist self-determination and engage in violence, in my opinion.

 

‘In the name of God and of the dead generations’

Another persistent myth about the leaders of the Rising is that they were attempting to set up a secular Republic and that they understood secular to mean what means to certain people today. There is a common perception in Ireland today that a Republic, by definition, allows no public role for religion of any kind. For example the closing of pubs and off-licences on Good Friday is considered an insult to the leaders of the Rising by some of todays online commenters. I have no interest in defending this ban but I am constantly amazed that the same people who are so adamantly opposed to this relatively minor law will turn around and say that the leaders of the Rising did not fight for this; that there is some evidence that they believed in strict secularism. The first sentence of the Proclamation would suggest otherwise. Not only did they see a place for mentioning God but it was in His name that they claimed to act. They go on to request that He bless their arms. This is not secularism. Yes, the Proclamation says that the Provisional Government will guarantee civil and religious liberty but what is expected today by some of a secular Government goes far beyond religious liberty. The United Kingdom to this day guarantees religious liberty while still maintaining an official state religion.

 

‘Until our arms have brought the opportune moment’

Lastly, but possibly most importantly, we come to the entire rationale of the Rising. It is often claimed to be a testament to democracy, that the leaders had a strong belief in the rights of men and women to determine their own affairs. If this is the case then why did they so casually suspend democracy and declare themselves to be the Government ‘provisionally’. These are not the actions of people with profound respect for democracy. Rather, they acted in the way they did because they thought the constitutional approach of John Redmond and others was weak and ineffectual (a view which persists today in some unsurprising places). What might have happened if the Rising had not taken place is impossible to discern and the question about the morality of the Rising is for another day. My point is that the leaders of the Rising saw limitations to the democratic process and it was not the central motivation for their actions. Their actions were motivated by something else which ties together everything I have outlined above: Nationalism.

The leaders of 1916 were nationalists in the romantic European tradition. They believed that mankind desired happiness that could only be expressed through physical national freedom. They saw national identity as an intrinsic part of all peoples that manifested itself in art and culture. Pearse wrote about this concept in his pamphlet “The Sovereign People” making a direct connection between the sovereignty of a nation and the happiness of a given individual member of that nation. This explains why there was an acceptance of traditional roles for women, a place for God, a denial of the self-determination of Unionists and a casual dismissal of democracy. The national character had already been formed by God and it contained roles for women and men as well as forms of art and culture and it could not be changed to exclude Unionists or compromised by democracy. The leaders of the Rising were merely giving expression to this unchanging identity that yearned to be free. They saw it as the duty of all Irishmen and Irishwomen to do this so all other concerns about the democratic process were of no consequence.

We ought to remember this as we arrive at the centenary of this event. The leaders of the Rising subscribed to a view of nationalism that I would argue very few people share today. People today think of nationalism as the belief that all peoples who identify as a people should be self governing. This is not what the leaders of the Rising believed in.

P

Website Update

I’ve decided to turn this site into a straightforward blog. I’ve stripped everything back with a very basic theme. I might do up a new logo at some point. But basically I want to start blogging and let the writing speak for itself.

The other reason I’ve changed up this website is because I am no longer a self employed digital media consultant. I am happily employed with Young Irish Film Makers in Kilkenny so there is no reason for me to promote myself in the same way.

I won’t bother tweeting this post out or anything because it’s just really a test post to get me into the habit of blogging and to go through the process but from now on that is the plan: write down what I think and send it out into the world.

Hopefully this is the start of something interesting.

P

Reading Thorpe (2009)

I’m using this space for reflection on my coursework again. This time it’s a chapter by Mary Thorpe from 2009 entitled “Technology-Mediated Learning Contexts”.

The author starts by refuting the notion that technology mediated communication contexts are merely a replication of “real” communication contexts. She is critical of this assumption as it sees technology as somewhat of a barrier (or at least a potential one) rather than a facilitating medium for a new form of discourse, a different context with different characteristics and potentially different outcomes.

Thorpe refers to a study on a course conducted by the Open University. The course in question was a module on a third year undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies. One particular exercise involved individual online research followed by a collaborative collation of data and the formation of shared documents.

In this instance technology was more than a mediator it created a new context for learning to take place. A synchronous and dispersed collaboration on shared documents is not a direct replication of another context, it is new.

The second study looked at a facility entitled Talk2Learn which facilitated online discussion between teachers. This is an example of an online community being formed around existing communities of practice. While this is a beneficial use of the internet to contribute to discussion it is, in a way, reinforcing an existing model of communication. The potential exists for a wider interconnected “network” connecting various communities of practice to each other as well as deepening the discussion within each community.

Personal Learning Environments

 

 

PLE

I created the image above as a representation of my own personal learning environment. Basically its a representation of the technologies I use for my own personal learning. I’m sure the list is not exhaustive, there are probably a number of services that are so obvious I am forgetting them.

I split the diagram into three subsections (work, leisure and formal learning) and then tried to position different services in relation to the function I use them for. So WordPress is positioned between Work and Formal learning as I use it for both purposes but the OU Library service is position by formal learning only.

I think the role of various web services in education varies depending on the subject matter, the individuals involved and the level at which the course exists. I find blogging in a public space useful but is it reasonable (or advisable) to expect primary students to be publishing to the wide world? That’s an extreme example, granted, but it gets my point across. These services are each, individually, another tool available to a learner. As an educator you can prescribe, recommend or give information about various different tools. The more of them an educator is aware of the better but the key is still the educator’s judgement for their exact circumstance and purpose.

 

P

 

Dual Diagnosis

This week we are looking at Dual-Diagnosis, something we touched on before. This is generally defined as the coexistence of mental health and substance misuse problems for an individual. This can have the affect of an individual falling between services, with addiction services seeking to have the mental health issue dealt with first and mental health services seeking to have the drug taking issue prioritised.

Both afflictions can occur on a continuum with different implications. Often mental health issues can be exacerbated by drug taking. Hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia are among the symptoms that can be heightened by drug taking, depending on the substance taken.

Rates of dual diagnosis is difficult to determine in Ireland but some studies have shown outpatients with schizophrenia have prevalence rates of illicit substance use of 45%. Assessing an individual with psychiatric symptoms for substance misuse can be challenging. One tool for doing so is the BSAICID Profile:

  • B – Behaviour
  • S – Sensations
  • A – Affective Response
  • I – Imagery
  • C – Cognition
  • I – Interpersonal
  • D – Drugs

Mental health and substance misuse are treated separately in Ireland. I look forward to discussing the issue at tonights class.

Attitudes and Perceptions

Last week we looked at attitudes and perceptions related to drugs and drug taking. One of the key factors in determining an attitude is the concept of ‘deservingness’. This is described by Skinner (2007) and refers to the level to which one believes an individual’s circumstance is deserved. This is generally based on 3 factors:

  • A person’s responsibility for their situation
  • The relationship between a person’s behaviour and their situation
  • Feelings towards a person/ empathy

So for example an individual who is perceived to have chosen to take drugs and whose level of poverty is perceived to be a direct result of this choice might garner less sympathy than somebody who lives at a similar level of poverty for different reasons that are perceived to be beyond their control. We had an interesting discussion on this concept and how it applies to other issues besides drug taking and addiction. I personally believe that attitudes to members of the Travelling Community are often informed by the perception that they are, as a group, defined by an activity they choose to partake in, rather than a distinct ethnicity and/or culture.

We then looked at what influences perceptions (specifically perceptions of drug taking and those who partake in it). The major influencers are:

  • Family, friends peers,
  • Personal experience of alcohol and drugs
  • Experience with the alcohol and drug use of others
  • Educational and professional training
  • Society and culture

These are fairly obvious to list but worth noting and taking heed of. Perceptions are what influence attitudes and ultimately policy and initiatives.

Finally we looked at hidden populations of drug users. These include:

  • The homeless – Homelessness can contribute to someone taking drugs or, conversely, a drug taking habit can contribute to someone becoming homeless
  • The Travelling Community – Males are often the most at risk
  • Recreational Users – Often do not consider themselves addicts or even users in a conventional sense
  • Sex Workers – A 1999 survey found that 83% of sex workers in Dublin engaged in injecting drug practices

Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction is at the centre of an interesting debate. Should the efforts of Government agencies and other services be directed at stopping drug use or at reducing harm from drug use.

Stopping drug use has involved criminalising possession of drugs and making it illegal to sell it. It has also put the emphasis within addiction services onto curing addiction rather than enabling a safer life with addiction. A significant criticism of this approach is the massive effect it has on the criminal justice system.

A harm reduction approach involves reducing the personal and social harm caused by drug use. This ranges from:

  • needle exchange programs, that reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis,
  • providing safe facilities in which to use drugs
  • Drug substitution (e.g Methadone)

And they can include:

  • legalisation of substances (cannabis is legally sold in some jurisdictions now)
  • decriminalisation (Portugal has experimented with decriminalising possession of certain substances in small quantities)

A criticism of Harm Reduction approaches is that they don’t promote a drug free lifestyle and it doesn’t address the issue of addiction.

Personally I think that the ideal situation would be one where harm reduction and rehabilitation services are offered side by side. Trust can be built by harm reduction services that can then help people engage with rehabilitation services when they are ready. The evidence for the effect that criminalisation has on the criminal justice system is damning, in my opinion.

Models of Addiction

In week 6 we looked at models of addiction. A model in this instance refers to the way in which addiction is understood. So there are a number of different ways in which addiction can be understood. The way in which you understand a problem influences the way in which you deal with it, so models are important.

  • Disease/ Medical Model – This is where addiction is considered a disease. Benefits include a reduction in the blame that might be associated with an addict. This is also a criticism as it renders the addict powerless in their addiction, to a certain extent.
  • Moral Model – This is the idea that addiction arises in people with a lack of ‘moral fibre’ who are not strong enough to resist temptation. This is a common feature of faith based initiatives but is not limited to them or universal within them.
  • Genetic Model – This model suggests that certain individuals have a genetic predisposed susceptibility to addiction from birth. Similar to the disease model it has strengths and weaknesses
  • Psychological Model – This model is based on the concept that addiction is a symptom of deeper psychological issues
  • Social Learning Model – This model suggests that addicts tend to learn from their environment, a copy the habits of others, sometimes at a young age
  • Family/Systems Model – This is based on the idea of the family as a system that, when broken, affects the lives of all members in untold ways
  • Bio-Psychosocial Model – This is to a certain extent a combination of a number of different factors associated with other models.

Depending on the model of addiction that a service subscribes to different approaches will be taken. There is no one proven model that is superior, although some have been significantly undermined by research.Different individuals find different services effective.

An interesting feature that approaches differ on is coping responses. The idea is that before an addict embarks on a process of detoxification that they are already prepared for an inevitable slip up. The theory suggests that an addict is then ready to deal with a slip up, as opposed to thinking they are back to square one. I certainly think they are a positive concept. The criticism is that they put the notion of failure into the mind from the start. The counter argument to that criticism is that without a coping response the individual regards themselves as having failed and that they might as well go back to all of their old habits, rather than just get back on course. I find that counter argument compelling.

Drugs and the Media

I had to read two articles recently for my Community Addiction Studies course and comment on them, online.

The first was an article about the way in which Crack Cocaine was reported in the media, particularly in America in the 1980s and 90s. My thoughts are below:

I just read the first paper “Crack in the Rearview Mirror”.

I found it very interesting and actually shocking in many ways. The extent of the distortion in the media was hard to believe.

I seems to me that once the narrative was in place and it was useful to various causes they were uninterested in any counter arguments or inconvenient facts. They had a story and they were running with it because it suited a wider agenda.

I kept thinking of the “bath salts zombie” a few years ago. It’s probably an example of the kind of distortion modern media concocts, having the right amount of bizarreness to go viral.

In an Irish context one major difference we have with American society is the issue of race. I wonder is the equivalent issue here social class and can that be the factor that makes certain people “other” and therefore open to having implausible claims made about them and their activities.

There definitely seems to be that sense in the American examples given here. People had different opinions about drug use until it became identified as arising from black neighbourhoods. Suddenly everything could be believed.

Just my first thoughts on this.

The second article was an Australian study on media effects on drug policy. It identified 4 types of effect that the media can have on debate regarding drugs and drug use. These are:

  • Agenda Setting: Keeping certain topics in the public eye and not others
  • Framing: Influencing how certain topics are thought of
  • Influencing Political Debate: The paper gave specific examples of cases where policies had been influenced by the media
  • Influencing Attitudes: For example changing attitudes to the risk associated with particular activities

It was more broad and less specific than the previous article so my reaction was slightly different:

This second article I found to be less dramatic and shocking than the previous one. The tone is more academic and the content more broad. It is essentially an analysis of the effects the media can have on the debate about drug policy. While the previous article carried the allegation of massive distortions the effects measured here are more nuanced.

For example it describes how an Australian paper listed the deaths arising from heroin regularly on its editorial page. While there is no accusation that the numbers were inflated what is of interest is the implied message that goes along with such a prominent statistic. It state “Stop the Carnage” above the statistic so the question has to be asked: how can this ‘carnage’ be stopped? Are they suggesting a particular course of action, one that is not currently being enacted? There is a sense that their publishing of that statistic is a direct criticism of current policies, with the obvious inference that their are other (possibly tougher?) policies that could be put in place.

This is just one example, the article lists others. To a certain degree I found this article more relevant than the previous one. The sheer hyperbole and inaccuracy of the first article was, in my opinion, of its time and place and is therefore less relevant to Ireland today.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Outreach Project (D.R.O.P)

I recently paid a visit to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Outreach Project (D.R.O.P) as part of my Community Addiction Studies course. I deliver a training module there once a week so it was interesting to gain more information about it.

D.R.O.P is currently located on George’s Street in Dun Laoghaire but it originated on York Road. It has grown over time and expanded the range of services it offers. Currently it has 4 main services, each with various elements to them.

  • Rehab: This is primarily for individuals dealing with a heroin addiction. It adopts a holistic and group focussed approach that includes keyworks, training and counselling. This usually coincides with medical treatment implemented by another agency, typically a methadone program.
  • Family Support: This includes peer led groups and counselling services for family members of those affected by addiction
  • Community Employment: There is a CE scheme associated with D.R.O.P that places individuals into positions around Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. It has recently been cut back significantly, having previously been quite substantial
  • Cocaine Service: A different approach (from Rehab) is taken with the cocaine service to meet the needs of the individuals who avail of it. It is on a one to one basis with an emphasis on privacy.

There are also some pre entry supports for individuals not yet on a program.

I had a fascinating chat about the challenges and team structure of the organisation and I learned about the referral process. Individuals can be referred by a GP, the homeless services, another agency or by themselves if they wish. They are then assessed on their education and drug use among other things. Some of this information may be passed on to the Health Research Board to be included in statistics and to help target future services and planning.

We also talked about the Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA) which I had come across in last week’s notes.

 

Families and Addiction

I was unable to attend the Community Addiction Studies course on the week we were to look at the issue of families and how they are affected by addiction. I managed to catch up by accessing the Moodle site.

The central theme of this week was to underline that addiction can affect more than just the individual with an addiction. People who live with or are related to an individual with an addiction are affected too, in various ways. They can cope in various ways and they can contribute in various ways also. There are a number of theories about how individuals can be viewed through their family relationships and position within their community (e.g:Family Systems Theory). These theories then form the basis of different approaches to tackling addiction, both from the point of view of the individual with the addiction and from the point of view of their family (Community Reinforcement Approach, Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training, Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach).

The 5 Step Method is an approach developed in the UK that has been rolled out in Ireland by the National Family Support Network. It is aimed at addressing the needs of families affected by addiction. It rests on the theory that living with a relative affected by addiction can cause stress and that if this is not dealt with appropriately (through coping methods) it can lead to physical, emotional or relationship strain. It aims to ameliorate the risk of such strain by providing information about coping methods and available supports. The 5 Steps are intended to be followed by a professional working with the affected family member and not by the family member themselves. The Steps are are:

  • Listening in a non-judgemental way
  • Provide information
  • Discuss ways of responding
  • Explore sources of support
  • Arrange further help, if necessary

What is important here is that it is the affected family member who makes decisions about their own circumstance and not the professional applying the 5 Step Method. It is information that is being provided, not advice.

Patterns and Risks of Drug Use

This week in my Community Addiction Studies course we looked at the patterns and risks of drug use and in particular the factors that can have an effect on an individual’s drug use. We looked at individual factors, environmental factors and biological factors and how each factor can have the effect of either creating risk or protecting an individual from risk. I found it note worthy that there was only a single factor on the list of biological factors (predisposition) whereas there were numerous factors under the other headings.

 

Individual Factors

We had a lengthy discussion about how different aspects of an individual’s personal situation can impact on the risk of drug taking. Stress, anxiety and personality traits can all affect the risk of drug use as well as gender, intelligence and age. In some cases it was difficult to discuss each factor without resorting to stereotyping, particularly when giving hypothetical examples. I was particularly interested in the issue of gender and how social expectations around drug taking can differ depending on the gender of individuals involved.

 

Environmental Factors

We then discussed issues like socio-economic status, education, employment and culture and the affect they have on the risk of drug use. These are, I believe, the factors that get discussed the most when drug use and addiction are debated in public, and maybe for good reasons. They are the factors that public policy is most likely to have had an effect on.

I think it is worth noting that we were discussing factors that may have an effect on drug use. It isn’t the case that socio economic status causes drug taking or that any other factor does either.

 

Stages of Drug Use/ Wheel of Change

We then had a look at the 5 stages of drug use:

  • Drug Free
  • Experimental
  • Recreational
  • Problematic
  • Dependent

Finally we looked at the Wheel of Change, which I was familiar with. It is a simple circular diagram displaying the constant cycle of:

  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Relapse

While I had seen this before it hadn’t really occurred to me how powerful it can be to accept relapses as almost inevitable. Awareness of this model before a relapse occurs can help an individual get over a relapse and return to maintenance without punishing themselves too much.

Notes on an audio tutorial

Heather, Alex and myself discussed an article last night (Richardson, 2005), and I had a few thoughts that I’m going to take a note of here.

 

Online Vs Offline Courses

People who take a course choose to take that particular course knowing a certain amount about it. If they choose an online course they know they aren’t getting a campus experience. I am not getting a campus experience with the OU. I’m fine with that. Students sometimes desire a campus experience for non academic reasons.

This, of course, isn’t the only reason they might choose an offline course over the same course delivered online. The perceived quality of the course would be one reason. This perception could be accurate or inaccurate. Lack of familiarity with online courses or a previous negative experience would be another reason. Students might not be aware that the course is offered online either.

The group of students who sign up for a course delivered offline and the group who sign up for the same course delivered online will most likely have identifiable differences between them.

 

Depth of Learning

The depth of learning that students expect of themselves and of a particular course depends on what they are studying. Course that are aimed at entry into a particular profession are different from courses that don;t have one particular profession in mind. The attitudes to learning amongst teachers and students will therefore be different.

Different approaches to teaching and learning can be appropriate at different times, depending on the subject matter.

 

Discussion Media

The nature of a discussion will vary depending on the medium utilised. An asynchronous forum discussion will differ significantly from an audio conference. Forum discussions lend themselves to a more formal tone and content that the user feels comfortable standing over indefinitely. Audio conference can allow a user to open up and talk more about their experiences and themselves in general.

Blogging as a learning technology

I make use of blogging occasionally as a learning technology but I could probably do more with it than I currently do. One use I have made of it is for a web design course that I deliver. I have a dedicated blog for that particular course and I publish information that I think that group would be interested in. I don’t do much more than that for that group.

When I started using that I was adding something to what I already did. I was working outside of the hours I was paid and I thought I was a good tutor for doing so. But I was also passing up an opportunity. It’s only upon reflection now that that module is completed that I realised I could have been doing so much more with it. For one I had disabled comments. I do this across the entire website (digitalcommunity.ie) partially because I work in sometimes in schools and partially out of aesthetic concerns. In hindsight I should have put more effort into finding a solution to those issues and still allow course participants to comment.

The benefits to this are clear to me now. Where I had been publishing information online and directing the learners to view it I could have been developing a sense of community around the site where they could comment, ask questions and help each other out with technical issues. Our weekly sessions could then focus on design problems and group discussions. The affect of this might have been to make learners realise that learning doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom. Their perception of themselves as learners might change. As it happens this group of learners were well able to continue the learning process at home.

My use of blogging also reveals my own approach to teaching. I’m technically paid by the hour but there is a lot of paper work outside of that that I have always understood is there and is part of the job. What hadn’t occurred to me was that I could actually continue teaching outside of those hours as well as keeping up to speed on the paperwork. I suppose practical considerations (like pay conditions and time) always impose themselves upon learning. In this case, however, a little extra effort would greatly improve the work that I do. A lesson learned.

Assumptions arise in every profession. Teaching is no different. If you are paid to do a particular job under particular conditions there will always be a lingering temptation to tick the boxes, get the job done and head home. Even when you think you are going beyond your duty there is always a little more you could do. I think the point is that you need to examine the way in which you operate regularly and it needs to be out of your own sense of pride in your work and passion for your discipline than any outside incentive.

Incentives are finite. Passion can be limitless.

Psychopharmacology

The first two weeks of the Community Addiction Studies course have looked at various drugs and the effects they have on the brain. We’ve seen how drugs can be classified into different types based on the effect they have on the brain. So there are depressants like cannabis and alcohol that depress the functions of the brain and nervous system and then there are stimulants that have the opposite effect and stimulate the brain and nervous system. Hallucinogens affect the senses and opiates have sedative and pain relief effects. Solvents and headshop highs can have similar effects to other drugs, it depends on what the consist of. Headshop highs in particular tend to be legal variants of other illegal drugs. I have summarised and compiled what we looked at below.

Type Drug Method of Use Highs Lows
Depressants Cannabis Smoked or Ingested Euphoria, General Wellbeing Confusion Anxiety, Restlessness
Benzodiazapines Ingested or injected Calmness, Stress relief Affects mental and physical functions
Alcohol Ingested Lower inhibitions, increased confidence Depression, memory loss, impaired judgement
Stimulants Nicotine Smoked, chewed Stimulates and relaxes Bronchitis, cancer
Cocaine Sniffed or ingested. Inhaled (Crack) Increased confidence/ energy Post use exhaustion, nervousness
Ecstasy Ingested Euphoria, increased empathy Heart palpitations, dehydration
Amphetamine Eaten sniffed or injected Increased energy, sense of euphoria Exhaustion, paranoia
Opiates Heroin Injected or inhaled Relaxing, sedative effect Slowed breathing and heart rate, anxiety
Codeine Ingested Sedative, pain relief Impaired mental and physical ability, nausea
Hallucinogens Magic Mushrooms Ingested Heightened senses, disassociation Halluciantions, psychosis
Acid Ingested Intensified emotions and senses Bad trips, paranoia
Solvents Solvents Inhaled Euphoria Dizziness, nausea
Headshop Highs Mephedrone Ingested, snorted, injected Stimulant, exciting Hallucinations, nausea
Salvia Smoked or chewed Hallucinations, laughter Paranoia, terror

Some of this information I was already aware of, in particular the affects of alcohol on the brain. In this society even non drinkers can see how behaviour changes with alcohol use. A lot of this information, however, was new to me and in particular the way in which different drugs can be categorised like this. I have a much better sense of how everything fits together now. It’s all about what the different substances do to the brain. They can cause neurons to release chemicals that have a particular affect or they can stop them from releasing chemicals that have a different affect. I found some of the diagrams very useful in understanding this. It brought me back to Leaving Cert Biology! I’m looking forward to next week!

Community Addiction Studies

I’m going to use this space to fulfil my obligations to keep a journal for my Community Addiction Studies course.

I’m a glutton for punishment and I’ve recently taken up a QQI Level 5 course despite continuing to study online towards a Masters in Online and Distance Education with the OU. I suppose if I was to explain why I’m doing this to myself the answer would probably contain the phrase “life is short”.

I’m trying to improve myself professionally and in a holistic way. My elevator pitch describes my work as being in the area where Community Development, Education and Technology meet. Yep, I have an elevator pitch. So the Masters ticks two of those boxes but leaves the other blank. Can’t have that. Addiction is something I have encountered a number of times in my work and I feel the need to improve my knowledge of it.

So I wandered along to the first class of Community Addiction Studies on Tuesday. It was a small group which is good. It’s early days yet but I think I like the group, there’s good discussion amongst us and some very knowledgeable learners. We talked generally about the course requirements and looked at various substances. I think next week will continue on this topic. I have to choose a topic to write about which will be interesting. At the moment something on Ireland’s attitude to alcohol stands out as the best option.

My troubled relationship with blogging

I have a troubled relationship with blogging.

On the one hand I find it difficult to get around to it and sometimes do it purely out of necessity (or at least perceived necessity). I’m currently studying and it is recommended to keep a blog on my own learning. I’m guilty of doing what I feel is necessary and not much more, at times.

On the other hand when I do get around to genuinely sharing my thoughts I enjoy it. I am the master of my own thoughts after all and I enjoy the space and freedom of the format. There’s no maximum or minimum length, no required format. I like that. If I had more time I’d like to do more of it.

So I’m trying to make time. I’m also trying to engage with my course in a genuine way and not in a “tick the boxes” way. I think the key is to accept that not every post is going to be a master piece and not every post is going to be very long.

So with that….

Learning Design

This post is part of an activity for the module Technology Enhanced Learning – Practices and Debates that I am currently studying.

Below is a screenshot of a diagram I created using the OU’s Learning Design software Compendium LD.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.17.24

When the icon labelled “Presentations” above is clicked it leads to this diagram…

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.17.37

And when “Create Tracks is clicked it leads to this diagram…

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.17.49

 

 

 

 

So the idea is that a lesson I delivered recently can be displayed for others to understand. The first diagram gives an overview of the whole lesson and the other diagrams break down two activities. The learning outcomes, tools and participants are conveniently displayed. It’s an interesting introduction to Learning Design.

Defining Learning

I am currently studying for an MA in Online and Distance Learning with the Open University. We were asked to define learning ourselves and then research other definitions. Here is my response (slightly extended in this word count free environment!):

 

I defined learning as “the process of understanding”. I was conscious of definitions that had been given to us through readings so I avoided using terms like acquisition, participation and knowledge. Also in the spirit of the exercise I wanted to impart my own opinions about education.

I chose the word process rather than act or some other verb. This is because a process is continuous whereas an act is once off. A process might be made up of a number of acts. A process can also have a number of stages, which I think is a useful way to look at learning, and can potentially be perpetual, which would tie into the notion of life long learning.

I also chose understanding over knowledge. I regard understanding as a continuum. A learner can continuously grow their understanding of a topic over time. It may never be complete. Knowledge I would see as individual units that a learner can possess. Therefore I thought it beneficial to look at learning as the process of understanding rather than gaining knowledge because it implies that there is no end to learning. It can continue to grow deeper and spread out more broadly throughout the lifetime of a learner.

 

I then took to the Internet as directed and found dictionary definitions of learning. The first and most obvious difference I encountered is that learning can of course be a noun as well as a verb. That aside the definitions seemed to cluster around the traditional “acquisition of knowledge or skills” definition.

The OED includes “the action of receiving instruction” which for our purposes would seem quite passive. Instruction here does not need to be retained or processed in any way, merely received. It also describes learning as being “additional to natural development by growth or maturation”.
Dictionary.com offers synonyms for learning that include erudition, lore and scholarship. These are of course nouns, not verbs, and they derive from older uses of the word learning. They do, however, convey a sense of knowledge as timeless and unchanging and of the learners becoming aware of knowledge rather than developing themselves in any other way.

Wikipedia includes “modifying and reinforcing existing knowledge” as well as “acquiring new knowledge” and even goes as far as to include “synthesizing different types of information”. The additions here allow for the learner to have a degree of agency.

 

The differences here are derived, from differing intentions. The OED’s intention is to give a definitive explanation of every word in the English language. It has no interest in the pedagogical implications of its definitions.

My intention, however, was to define “learning” in a way that was, in my opinion, progressive for the educational community. Likewise Wikipedia is compiled by contributing users, a significant proportion of whom are academics. I get the impression that the definition given there has been written by members of the educational community.

It should be admitted that this was an exercise designed to stimulate thought. Even a strict definition of learning as “the acquisition of knowledge or skills” does not preclude one from valuing the acquisition of participatory skills, of more knowledge that leads to deeper understanding or of knowledge of one’s own learning style. The traditional definition is not pedagogically dogmatic.

Reading Anna Sfard

Today I read an extract from Anna Sfard’s “On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One” (1998) as part of my ongoing studies. I’m going to share my thoughts and a few notes here.

 

Defining Metaphors

Sfard identifies two competing metaphors that determine our conception of learning; a metaphor of acquisition and a metaphor of participation. She describes how the Acquisition Metaphor (AM) has dominated since the dawn of civilization. It envisages learning as the acquisition of knowledge, where knowledge is the sum of various concepts. If you understand a concept you have acquired some knowledge and have learnt something. She acknowledges that this approach “seems natural and self-evident” and highlights the use of terms like concept mapping and development of knowledge particularly in debates around mathematics.

She then identifies a more recent development, what she describes as the Participation Metaphor (PM). This is the notion that sees the process of learning as one that creates a person who participates within a community.

While the learners are newcomers and potential reformers of the practice, the teachers are the preservers of its continuity.

She highlights a subtle but telling change in the terminology used to describe learning. The term knowledge features less and the term knowing features more in the work of those subscribing to the PM school of thought. Knowledge is a noun, an unchanging object that is transferrable from one individual to another. Knowing is a verb, its use implying continuing activity.

Sfard also distinguishes how this dichotomy (between AM and PM) is not the same as the dichotomy between an individualist and a social perspective on learning. She describes how one can view learning as the acquisition of socially accepted concepts and how it is not accurate to see social interaction as the preserve of the PM school of thought.

 

 Living with both Metaphors

As her title suggest Sfard is working towards the idea of accepting both metaphors and outright rejecting neither. She correctly identifies that the dichotomy is between two different answers to the question “what is learning?” and not necessarily a dichotomy of approved practice. She warns against “theoretical excess” and sees the tension between two metaphors as a source of power. Having qualified that she is not recommending an “anything goes” attitude or the abandonment of empirical research she quite brilliantly summarizes:

It seems that the sooner we accept the thought that our work is bound to produce a patchwork of metaphors rather than a unified, homogeneous theory of learning, the better for us and for those whose lives are likely to be affected by our work.

 

Reflections on my own Learning

I’m a fan of reading. I read a lot about history in particular. Whether from a book or an online source I get an enjoyment from acquiring knowledge in that way, and I do tend to look at it in that way; acquiring knowledge. A knowledgeable person has organised some of their knowledge into a narrative or some form of structure in an attempt to communicate it. If I read it I’ll gain knowledge so in that way I subscribe to the metaphor of learning as the acquisition of knowledge. This was my initial thought on reading this extract.

But if I take a look at what I hope to achieve by reading (for pleasure or professional reasons) I come to a more nuanced position. Professionally I want to become more engaged in debates on the issues I’m interested in and in the field in which I work. I’m trying to use Twitter more and more. Initially I found it easier to retweet posts or share an article than to join in a debate (say one using it’s own hashtag). Over time I have grown in confidence (and I hope this will continue) and this is due to my ongoing learning. In that way I can see the logic of viewing learning as creating participants.

I wonder if the real reason I read is to acquire perspective rather than knowledge. The transfer of knowledge is one of the events that I want to happen to me, but I also want to be able to see things from another point of view and grow. After this I might be able to have an informed discussion with a peer. In a way the ability to participate is a product of acquiring knowledge.

 

Final Thought

Imagine your life as a continuum of learning. As you progress the balance between knowledge acquisition and active participation changes, but they exist together in some form of harmony.

 

Nana Asma’u – A 19th Century Islamic Feminist

nana
I came across Nana Asma’u while researching the education of women in the developing world. She was a 19th Islamic woman who did a lot of work to further female education in West Africa, where she was from. She was the daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate which is in modern day Nigeria. Contrary to what one might assume her belief in educating women and girls was grounded in her faith.

Here is an interesting talk about her:

If you have the time it’s worth reading about her here.

Inside the dlr LexIcon

 

dlr LexIcon

 

So I finally had the opportunity to look inside the dlr LexIcon today.  Like everyone else I’ve heard a lot about it and I’m aware of the controversy over it’s size and cost.  I’ve also heard praise for it from the likes of Frank McDonald in the Irish Times and local historian Peter Pearson.  So I deliberately held off from forming an opinion until I was in it myself.  That finally happened today and I’m going to share my thoughts with you here now.

Wow!

It’s beautiful.  Everywhere you look there’s a window with a stunning view of Dun Laoghaire.  It probably helped that this afternoon there was a perfect December blue sky but still I thought it was fabulous.

StairwayStarting from the outside one of the great things about it is the way it links the seafront with George’s Street and the shopping centre.  (I admit I had already noticed this before today).  There is a little plaza formed now between the main entrance to the LexIcon, the Maritime Museum and the Royal Marine which before this was almost a no go area.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMoving inside then there are a lot of books, which you would expect in a library, but also a lot of space to read and work, which is equally important.

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I suppose time will tell how extensive the collection of books is but it seemed to me to be very good.  There is space for it to grow also, which is important.

There’s more to it than just a lending library there’s an exhibition space and workspaces for artists and writers.  The exhibition space in particular interested me as it would be a good place to show off some of the work done by local groups I’ve worked with.  I can see something like the Old and New Exhibition working well here.

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The top floor is dedicated to local studies and has what must be the best view from any building in Dun Laoghaire.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESIt’s a tremendous addition to Dun Laoghaire and I for one have been won over by it.  For more information check out http://libraries.dlrcoco.ie/

HistorySpeaks.ie

 

logo

I have been working on a project entitled History Speaks since 2013.  The idea is to create animations about history, and then put them online in a timeline.

So I’ve been running workshops and getting class groups to create animations about a particular topic.  They research it in their own time and then I show up, along with my trusty side kick Daire.  You can check out the time line here or go to HistorySpeaks.ie

Who is Digi-Paul?

My name is Paul Curran and I go by the name of DigiPaul.   I’m a sole trader and it’s my trading name.

So what do I do?  One thing I do is I facilitate digital media workshops.  I sometimes work as an adult tutor, I sometimes work in schools and I sometimes work with youth groups and after school groups.  What the workshops are about depends on who is in the group and what they are interested in.  An adult group might be working towards a recognised qualification in Digital Media Technology or Digital Photography, or Web Design.  A school group might be creating an animation about something or somebody they learned about in school.  After school and youth groups could be doing anything from DJ-ing to film making.

So there’s a lot of variety in what I do but it always has some element of digital technology involved.  I started as the Community Digital Media Centre (CDMC) Coordinator.  The CDMC was based in Holly Court Loughlinstown from 2008 to 2011.  We had a room kitted out with iMac computers and digital cameras.  My job was to get people in the community using the room and the equipment.  The idea was that this would help people in the community by bringing them together, giving them a taste of the possibilities of digital technology and maybe opening up possibilities for the future.

The CDMC wasn’t my idea.  It was a collaboration between Southside Partnership, IADT Dun Laoghaire, dlr County Council and Holly House Community Development Project.  I was just their employee. Unfortunately in 2011 the funding for this project ran out.  We did commission an evaluation of the project.  Here’s a quote from what it said:

“The relative success of the implementation of the approach was greatly facilitated by the creativity, enthusiasm and ability of the Coordinator, who was strongly praised by everyone involved…… His ability to communicate with all people, young and old, and his support for and encouragement of their efforts is noted many times. He is very well qualified, both in terms of education and orientation, to the work, and he has responded in a flexible manner to the different challenges arising.” 

After the CDMC project finished I set myself up as DigiPaul.  I registered the trading name and got my own equipment.  So since 2011 I have been working in the community in and using digital media to do that.  For the most part I have worked in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown but I haven’t limited myself to that area.

Recently I have been working with Southside Partnership and IADT again in an effort to rekindle the CDMC project.  So far what we have come up with is DigitalCommunity.ie which is an online home for digital media projects made in the community.  We’re hoping to expand this to involve student volunteers from IADT and get more people taking part across Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.

Another project I have been working on is HistorySpeaks.ie.  This is a website for sharing animations about history that have been made in schools.  Some of the schools that have taken part are the same ones I work with in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown but the project has taken me as far afield as Borrisokane, Tipperary.  I’ve been facilitating this project since 2013 and I plan now to refine the methodology and get some tutorials up on the site.

This website is intended to tell people who I am and what I do.  Maybe you want to work with DigiPaul, or have him work for you?  Maybe you’re interested in my views on digital media and education?  Either way I hope you enjoy my website!

Paul

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It’s all about the Process

It’s all about the Process

Recently I have been thinking about the different things I do and what connects them.  The conclusion I reached was one word: “Process”.  Let me explain.

 

B.D. (Before DigiPaul)

Before I was DigiPaul and before I worked in the Community Digital Media Centre I was a Scout Leader in 47th Ballybrack Scouts.  (I’m still there now, although I don’t get out camping or hiking with them as much as I’d like anymore.)  I use the term Scout Leader because that’s the term that everyone understands but strictly speaking I should use the word “Scouter”.  The reason for this is because Scouting is a youth led movement and adults are there to facilitate not to lead.

So imagine you’re on a hike with a group of Scouts.  Instead of grabbing a map and telling the Scouts “Follow Me” a good Scouter will give the map to one of the Scouts and work with them to facilitate them to navigate for themselves.  A better Scouter will even pass the facilitating job to a Venture Scout (after Scouts young people move up to Ventures) and take a back seat entirely.

Sometimes this means taking the scenic route but that’s not important.  It’s the process that’s important.  Young people taking ownership of their own activities and learning by doing, with responsibility growing as they grow themselves.

 

Film Making with Young People

The experience of working in this way stood to me when I came to be making films with young people in Holly House.  There is a tendency for film making workshop coordinators to direct the film themselves.  This often leads to a film that the coordinator likes.   I prefer to work with the group to help them create a film THEY are happy with.

Now if you completely step back here you will end up with a chaotic film where every scene is shot in one take.  You have to get the group to appreciate the need for coverage (more than one shot of the same scene) in their films as well as a narrative arc but in a way this is no different to the need to not walk off a cliff when planning a hike.  The young people still take ownership of their project.  My role is to make sure they don’t fall off a creative cliff.

 

Working with Adults

Working with adults is different from working with young people but some of the same principles apply.  I facilitate digital photography workshops from time to time and these involve taking a group out to some scenic spot like Dun Laoghaire seafront.  So the group will all have their own cameras and be working at their own pace.

My role in this instance is to facilitate each learner to achieve the best picture they can from a given subject.  My number one rule is to not give up after one photograph.  Try different angles and settings until you have captured what it was that drew your eye in the first place.  It is still the learner that leads the process, I just facilitate.

Old and New

Old and New

Old and New was an exhibition that took place in April 2014 at Holly House Community Development Project.  It was the culmination of a number of months work for a group of parents from two local schools (St Laurence College and St Columbanus N.S).  The project was funded by Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board.

The exhibition was about Dun Laoghaire and Shankill and the memories that the different participants had of both places.

I was involved as a facilitator for the Digital Photography and Video side of the exhibition.  We had a number of screens running videos and slideshows as well as prints.  These elements were run in conjunction with a writing workshop, which was facilitated by another tutor named Helen.

I managed to get the material online recently.  You can see it at DigitalCommunity.ie/Old-and-New. Do check it out if you have the time.

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Networking Events: I recommend them!

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I want to say a few words here about networking events that I’ve attended.  These are events where business owners, self employed persons and people who are thinking about setting up businesses get together and talk to each other.  Often there is a guest speaker or theme to events and always there is an element of self promotion.

I’ve been involved in a few Business Networking groups since I went freelance in 2011 and I’ve always found them beneficial.  The above photo was taken at a network set up as part of the SURE project.   (I was actually involved in the SURE Project at a number of levels as it happens.  I was a member of the Local Support Group, I helped run a Facebook competition for them in local schools and I produced a video at the project’s conclusion.)  I also attended the MOJO group a number of times and I have been a long time member of the Start Network as well.

 

These groups were all a little bit different from each other in terms of the people who attended and the way in which they were operated.  That being said they all had the same goal; they were trying to support people running local businesses or people thinking about running local businesses.

Before I attended any of these meetings I was a bit reluctant to go to anything like this.  I was unsure what I would get out of it and anxious about having to sell myself without sounding cocky or boastful.  I suppose it was a fear of the unknown.

What I found was that I needn’t have bothered worrying.  The people at them were in a similar situation to me.  They worked for themselves, mostly, which can be an isolating experience in many ways.  For many of us it was a good experience to talk to others about our business (or business plan) and hear what other people think of it.  Sometimes you miss out on the back and forth of a normal workplace when you work alone.

Another thing about them is that they are often the first place business owners learn to pitch themselves, and you do have to be able to do this.  I’m as reluctant as anybody to appear as if I am boasting about myself or my business but sometimes you can do yourself a disservice by failing to promote your strengths.  These events helped me to get over that reluctance.

If you are self employed, running a small business or if you are thinking about that kind of path I recommend checking out one of these networks.  www.localenterprise.ie has all the details you might need for events like these all over Ireland.

Watch this space! DigitalCommunity.ie

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I’ve been working on this website for a while now and it’s ready for people to see (in a way it’s been coming for a few years).  It’s designed to be a home for digital media projects that have been created in the community.

There are animations from schools, videos from youth groups and games made in community projects.  Please check it out and see what you think.

Hopefully this is the start of something big!

 

 

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In praise of Plastic!

I’ve been using an app called Plastic for the last few months and I have to say I love it.  You can get it on the app store for free.

It’s an animation app that allows you to animate any image by giving it an invisible “skeleton” frame.   You can use preloaded models or artwork you have created yourself.

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image from itunes.apple.com

I use it almost exclusively with art work that students have created themselves.  I’ve found it has gotten me over the hurdle of transferring a good drawing into a good animation.  This allows students who have good drawing sills to really get the benefit out of their talents when they create an animation.

Another great thing about it is that it allows the use of video backgrounds.  So a student can create a scene where, for example, clouds are moving past and rain is falling.  They do this in iStopMotion (as there are many moving parts but no complicated movements), export it as a video and use it as a background.  They can then put their character over the background and they have an impressive animated scene.

I thoroughly recommend it.

Funday at St John’s National School

So there was a funday in St John’s National School in Ballybrack today organised by Ballybrack Killiney Parish.  This time I wasn’t wearing my DigiPaul hat I was wearing my Scouter hat which in reality means I was wearing my neckerchief (that’s the scarf we wear). 

I am the Group Leader in 47th Ballybrack (having been a cub, a Scout and eventually a leader) and we were asked to help out with the funday.  We were only delighted to run a few games so this morning we made the short trip from our Scout den to the school across the road loaded up with fun stuff. 

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The lads running into a Scout Parent

I’ve done some work in the school before (the Anne Frank animation is one of my favourites) so it was interesting to blur the lines between my professional life and my Scouty life (formerly known as my private life).

I often don’t appreciate how lucky I am to be able work in the community in the area in which I grew up.  I suppose like most people I tend to focus on the various tasks at hand on any given day.  Today I had a little reminder of how and why I got into this kind of thing in the first place.

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