Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It has been a busy year, with so much much accomplished, and so much left to do, that sometimes I wonder that I have time for it all. A new baby (Avery, born week before last) has added a third child to the mix as well, though I have to say he is a complete pleasure, and will likely be brought up by his older sisters if they have anything to say about it.

I've often found that momentum inspires yet more momentum, and the busier I am, the more I find I can accomplish. I like being busy, but one side effect of all this activity has been that I have had less and less time to read. There is, lets be clear about it, very little spare time in my life! That was until I discovered audiobooks.

No, most audiobook retailers don't have all the titles you have access to in paperback. The range is limited, particularly with regard to no-fiction titles. There is also the disappointment you can experience when you realise the actor reading to you has a voice you just can't stand.

There is however nothing like listening to a book read by the author, with their inflections, their use of tone and emphasis that brings a book to life in a unique way. The flexibility an audio book offers is also without comparison. The benefits in terms of being able to make better use of your time are  outstanding, and have me back to reading a book a week for which I am very grateful for.

There is a particular benefit in being able to engage in another activity while you listen. I take a walk every day, regardless of how busy I am, and listen to half an hour to an hour of my latest audiobook. I've found, particularly with regard to non-fiction titles, that I retain more in this way, and I put this down to my being able to engage in physical activity while I consider and explore the book.

Perhaps it seems a little strange to be expounding the virtues of something that might be described as low-tech, particularly on a site about digital narratives. It's true, audio books have been with us for a long time, and aside from the fact that they have moved into digital format, little has changed in the product you receive.

Of course I also pick up a book to read as well. You just can't replace the experience of curling up with a good book ... but embracing audio titles as well has meant when I don't have time to read, I can have the next best thing.

Audio books in the classroom are of course, something that is worth considering. If you have reluctant readers, I've found putting an audiobook on is something that they will often engage with. It's not a bulletproof way of capturing their interest, but more often than not, I've found that even reluctant students will settle into an audiobook.

If you want to explore audio books, Audible have a year round promotion that offers a free audiobook. Just be careful to cancel your subscription within that first month to ensure you don't end up as a paying subscriber the following month!, The Audiobook Store, are two other alternatives to consider. I've not used them, but they seem to offer a similar service to Audible. is also worth a look, as they have a large selection of FREE audio books.  A good way of discovering new titles that are of a high quality, is to browse through The Audies, a yearly competition for books on audio. It's worth looking at Bolinda we well, who have a fantastic range, and content that you won't necessarily find on other resources.

Finally, check out your local library, mine has a quite staggering amount of audio book titles, with new ones each month. I find I supplement my online subscription with these titles and that keeps me well and truly stocked with all the books I need.

Happy reading!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bumper sticker politics

There are few better ways in which to explain the limitations we place upon our forms of expression than the humble bumper sticker. I saw one on the way in to work today, which screamed out in uniform block letters, support for a political party. The gleaming sedan, with fat tyres and music blaring screamed around the corner ahead of me, and as I followed in my small blue car (so small, you could just about put it in your pocket), it made me wonder about how we rebel.

I'm not sure why it bothered me so much. Perhaps it was the fact that the driver was happy to allow his defiance to be ordered and shaped, delivered in expected format, designed to be easily consumed. Our choices, or rebellions are often made in this way.

I could take my considerations further, wondering about what he thought his car, the loud music and the fat tyres told others, what those elements expressed about his state of rebellion. For me, they seemed to scream a rebelion within safe boundaries. A smaller, more uniform rebellion, without teeth or real conviction.

When we shelter what we consider to be unorthodox views in unwritten guidelines of expectation, we remain safe. And safe is good, meeting expectations is not so bad. It's good to be part of something, healthy to be part of community (usually). Stickerbook rebellion has little to do with real rebellion, and more to do with us stepping out and seeking out a smaller uniform minority to stand with.

So what does this have to do with creativity? Often our acts of rebellion are creative, they help to define us and shape who we become. We rebel in all manner of ways, against the expectations as we grow up of our guardians, against our peers and society as we seek to find our place in it. And sometimes our acts of rebellion forge new paths, cast new light for the rest of our community.

But when we become used to a softer guided rebellion, perhaps we lose a little of this new light, this spark of defiance. When we purchase the bumper sticker instead of standing up for real beliefs amongst friends, when we show our appreciation with a facebook thumbs up rather than giving up our time to passionately support a cause .. we lose a little of ourselves I feel.

It's not that rebellion has died with so much of our time now being spent online, it's the potential for it to be harnessed and shaped as we spend more and more of our time there that concerns me. The internet is still a lively place, full of life and innovation, but the social media conglomerates appear to be taking over. They aren't shifting slowly, this isn't a glacial change, it's rapid and in some ways, too quick to reflect upon properly.

When we live much of our lives online, our creativity and rebellion are shaped by the environment we explore and the tools we use, what we produce is inevitably influenced.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

There is something about the revolutions in writing that captures our imagination, new writing that we're ready for, that arrives and then we wonder how time had been spent without it for so long. 

I am reading Raymond Chandler at present, partly because I never have and partly because I had been in search of a cheap paperback. Our copy of The Big Sleep was selected not only because it was a desperately cheap and worn copy, that had lain unread in our shelves for years, but because I would not be sorry should I drop it into the bath I intended to read in. 

That I loved it, would be an understatement. Partly submerged, I found myself transported to the world of Philip Marlow, without question the most notable example of everything we have come to understand a hardboiled detective should be. The writing is tight and efficient, and wonderful.

Thinking about the book later, (I didn't drop it by the way) I considered that while we have seen new writers challenge and embrace writing for the web in exciting new forms, none have yet made the impact that Chandler did. None yet at least. One of his more enthusiastic admirers was Auden incidentally, which I find quite intriguing; though both were masters of the economy of language. 

It makes me wonder when we will be ready for a new form of story, a web novel that takes full advantage of the medium. The hardware we read on has become more portable, we are already interacting with the texts we read, the software and ingenuity are with us already. More importantly, the market is ready, or almost ready, or such a novel.

It is I think, only a matter of time before a new writer that takes full advantage of all these things and writes a novel designed to take best advantage of this new interactive space. A writer that will embrace digital story writing in a way that we haven't yet seen widely celebrated. A writer that makes a change as notable as Chandler's did in his day to the way we understand and enjoy story.

I wonder who that new writer will be, and what new and creative form their writing will take online. There are an increasing number of contenders, but none that have yet captured our imagination in quite the same way as Chandler did. None yet at least. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I have been neglecting my RSS feed lately, and so one of my tasks this holidays was to work my way through a vast number of blog posts and notifications that I had allowed to pile up during marking time.

I make it sound like an arduous task, but really, it's a rare pleasure. I find it's an opportunity to fill up my Evernote database with fascinating journal material, read articles relevant to my interests and simply enjoy the thoughts of talented teachers and learners.

It occurred to me however, as I worked my way through the many posts, that most of the blogs I have slowly added to my Google Reader feed over the years, are by people working in education. That's not a problem really, the quality of their considerations is almost always extremely high. It did start me thinking about who I wanted to direct my attention toward in the future however.

I select novels and audio books with care, as I do podcasts. I generally only have a narrow window of time each day to enjoy them after all, and so I'm careful to consider what is worth my time. I weigh up my options, and select topics I know I'll draw something new and unexpected from. I apply the same critique to those people I follow on Twitter. I tend to try and follow new people that I feel add something unique and powerful to the discussion. It doesn't mean I'm not interested in what they have for breakfast as well, it just means I'm conscious of wanting to use Twitter to its greatest advantage in the time I have available to use it.

With this in mind, I've shed half of the sixty or so blogs I've been faithfully following, and I'm striking out with a dozen new ones that I think might challenge me in new ways. I'm looking forward to seeing what's new out there, and hearing from some different minds on subjects I'm not as familiar with.

I'm on a hunt for more, and plan to add another ten at least, exploring a range of subjects. Blogs for example, like the one kept by Seth Godin', which explores business models and marketing techniques, but often has parallels to my work in education. I've chosen some psychology blogs, design blogs, and blogs about science and environment amongst others.

Now to find the time to catch up on them all :-)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Our local swimming pool was a shiny new indoor centre, that had been built within the last decade, and had replaced the far smaller outdoor one that had fallen into disrepair. The new complex had a gleaming curved dome roof and boasted twelve kinds of aerobics; spa and sauna rooms and a large cafeteria that overlooked an oyster shaped diving pool.
The old outdoor pool it replaced had been relegated to the gardens out the back The gardens were a favourite in summer with locals who were less interested in swimming, and more appreciative of the opportunity to lie in the sun on lush green lawns that led all the way down to the back fence, where the old rectangular pool lay, hidden amongst the trees.
Dilapidated changing sheds stood at one end, with clammy concrete walls and bowed wooden bleachers on two sides, flecks of peeling paint littered the ground below. Inside, hard wooden benches ran in rows, with battered changing lockers running down one wall.
Walking past late one I noticed that the old pool floodlights were on and on closer inspection, discovered a small swimming squad splashing about. Up on the hill, the new enclosed pool had a hazy halo of light suspended above the glassed roof, and an army of gym junkies and lap swimmers, thrashing about to a distant thudding beat. Outside was quiet and still.
The following night, I packed my towel, bathers and goggles and slipped out the side door of the main complex, and followed a cracked concrete path to the outdoor pool.
There is something special about having such a large public space to yourself. The silence feels more pronounced, and I felt that night an unexpected notion of ownership. It was my pool, and my secret.
The next night, I went again, and despite several visitors that came out to put a toe in the colder water and then retreated hurriedly inside, I had it to myself. I was hooked, and I began swimming four, sometimes six nights a week.
There was a magic about reaching the poolside each night. I had never been particularly enthusiastic about sport, never tried out for a team unless goaded into it. Swimming it seemed however, was my thing. As the weather turned, and the nights became colder, I revelled in the freezing water, feeling my skin contract tightly with the chill.
Steam rose from the water surface on those brisk nights. I’d rush down to the change rooms, and then head outside to the diving blocks at the deeper end. There is a moment of exhilaration when you dive into cold water and feel its bite and a flood of bubbles, the tug on your skin as you push through and down to the bottom of the pool. I’d touch my hand on the tiles, a salutation to the space, and then push up with my toes from the bottom, finally broaching the surface.
Some people claim that they have an affinity with the water, but I think that we all do, some of us have just missed the opportunity to discover it.
There were also surprising visitors to the outdoor pool.  There were swim squad members who appeared two nights a week, when lanes in the indoor pool were full. Young adults with powerful shoulders slipped through the water like silver fish under the rusting florescent pool lights.
There were divers, who once a month, resplendent in wetsuits and oxygen bottles, masks and snorkels, sat at the bottom of the deep end of the pool and practiced hand signals and safety routines.  Looking down at them going about their business at the bottom of the pool as I swam, I often felt as though I might be observing otherworldly visitors.
Some nights as the weather warmed, a clutch of swimmers would brave the night air and slip down to the pool to join me, and I’d be glad of their company. I was always happiest on those nights however, when I had the space to myself, with a sky full of stars and a feeling that the space was mine alone. 

Image sourced from SXC 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Part of the hive

Collaboration is a word that's bandied about (does anyone say bandied about any more, or is it just me?) allot these days. We have new ways of connecting and working together that are helping us achieve things that would never have been possible only a few years ago.

Take the NYT Global Mosaic project that launches tomorrow for example. This inspiring idea offers us yet another new way to explore how alike we are, and helps us appreciate how different we can be! There are numerous global collaborative projects blossoming each day seeking to bring us together ... but The Hive is one that particularly caught my eye.

I'm intrigued by it, because it explored the idea of more abstract participation. What does it mean if our involvement is more incidental? What if we're able to help to achieve a greater good in some way, but only having to pay cursory attention to our contribution, if at all?

The Hive enables it's participants to be a present, active part of the project with little thought to their involvement. The technology around their necks receives a remote instruction, and takes a picture.

I don't think projects like this will lead one day to mindless participation, I strongly believe it's leading to a time when we can be more deeply connected in an issue.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things You Learn

You may have noticed, that blog posts have been a little absent on TDN recently. Well, there's a good reason (no really) ... I've been working on a new project.

On April 20th, I'm launching a new website about learning and change. It's part online magazine, part resource, and a place where how learning changes us, and the new directions it draws us in are explored.

For the first edition, there are a number of outstanding contributing authors. Some you'll recognise as regular bloggers, some are involved in teaching and learning, others follow different passions in life. All have a unique perspective on learning and change.

As for The Digital Narrative website, rest assured it's still a passion, and I'll continue to blog here!

Now, get out your diary, and book the 20th of April in your calendar so you don't forget to visit Things You Learn for the launch!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Search and search again

I came across an article in the NYT quite by accident today. In it, the auto suggest feature of search engines was briefly discussed, and the random eloquence that might emerge from the everyday questions we ask online.

To explain, this is the feature now present on most search engines, that suggests as you type, possible questions you might be intending to ask. Which questions it prompts us with are determined by their frequency, drawn from innumerable search enquiries humanity makes every second online.

There have been a number of articles about this feature, and the sometimes strange reflection of humanity it seems to offer. As I search in Google for 'how to leave' for example, the results that are suggested are:

Once you start to pay attention to these prompts, drawn from the questions WE are asking ... they can become quite absorbing.

The Many Eyes project has explored our fascination with this data in spectacular fashion, by building tools that allow us to view this information visually. In 2009 they released 'Web Seer', a visualisation tool for web suggestions.

Here are the Web Seer results for my question, and an appropriate alternate enquiry. Simply by introducing two questions that can be compared, the information gains a fascinating new depth.

Now think about this product in terms of story, our stories. The Web Seer results for my questions alone are beautiful, heartbreaking and above all, honest. There is a bare truth about this data that is difficult to turn away from.

How we understand our stories, how we see and interpret the life around us is changing.

Our stories remain the same, and it is simply the retelling that changes, but the way in which we tell them, and the opportunities to explore them are moving dramatically into new territory every day.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Act like me

Everybody conforms in some way. It's common to ignore the evidence in front of us in order to fall in with the expectations of those around us.

We take the path more travelled because, well, it's easier to go along with the consensus. And sometimes there's a comfort in knowing you're traveling with the a crowd, even if they are heading in the wrong direction.

But the striking thing about conformity is that for each voice that rises up, even a single voice, the group's consensus can be considerably shaken. A single, competent individual can sway a majority view extremely effectively. Numerous studies have shown that one person in the crowd can persuade as many as two thirds of that subscribing group to adopt an opposing point of view.

Think about that for a moment, one person in the crowd can shift the focus of two thirds of that group opinion, as long as they are consistent, and competent.

Now think about your influence in terms of social media. How big is your crowd? How many follow/friend/subscribe to your thoughts? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?

Of course, there are a dozen other influencing factors involved. Do the group know each other? Are there cultural influences that might affect the outcome? Is there social pressure to conform? But these traditional influences on the crowd opinion change when you take your argument online. Often there's a leveling effect online that works in favour of the strongest argument.

Just look at the education demographic on Twitter: classroom teachers, administrators, students, specialists, lecturers, all from different walks of life, all exploring teaching and learning together. Learning in a space that strips away many of the traditional peer influencing factors.

Even if you have only a small following, if your argument is strong enough, it can be disseminated quickly and powerfully online.

So why am I talking dissent? Why am I so concerned about where the crowd is going?

It seems to me that influence over the crowd dynamic is shifting as fast as the pace of technology quickens. What if that more easily influenced two thirds in the crowd was that proportion of the population of Facebook or another vast social network?

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Memento

The word memento comes from the Latin phrase memento mori which translates as 'remember you must die'.

Vanitas, like the image above, carry reminders of our mortality, and were common in the 16th and 17th centuries. Time pieces, rotting fruit and delicate, easily broken objects were some of many reminders of the fragility of life, the notion of time passing, decay and of course, death. You'll notice the skull in the back right of the picture, which was one of the most common images found in Vanitas, for obvious reason!

Vanitas were intended to remind you of your religion, that your time on earth was fleeting and that there were higher obligations to consider. Another common interpretation is that vanitas were there to lift you up when you felt low, and bring you down when you were were too euphoric. A steadying influence if you like. They were also used to inspire reflection, and to remind an audience to enjoy what time they had remaining.

Morbid stuff huh?

Which leads me to a recent discovery, a new Vanitas app recently released for the iphone.

I have to say I was intrigued when I saw it, and have enjoyed opening and closing my Vanitas box over the past few days. What particularly drew my attention however, was the other work Tale of Tales are doing with video games and story.

Games that lack a linear narrative to tug you through to the end, or a constant stream of weapon improvements to feed your addiction to upgrade. These games are instead for exploration and reflection. They are intended to challenge our perceptions of what games should or can be.

Personally, I love the work they are doing. It's powerful, thought provoking, and games like The Graveyard seem to suggest a drifting story that is just waiting for you to fill in the blanks.

These games inspire imagination, in a way that 99% of what's on the market today is unable to achieve.

Take a wander through their site and see what you think. I'm going to watch for future developments closely.

The image at the top of the page is titled Vanitas Still Life by Pieter Claesz 1628

Friday, February 5, 2010


Fonts are one of those quirky things that people get obsessive about, compulsive, compulsively obsessive even. And they are amazing when you explore them a little more closely.

Choosing the right font is important, the typeface you select can have a considerable influence over how your message is interpreted. The right font can help warm your audience to your writing. A rigid font can suggest you interpret material more formally, there are some that can leave you cold, and some that are casual and distinctive.

The influence of your choice of typeface on your audience can be powerful, and its authority over your readers is often something they are quite unaware of. It reminds me of subliminal advertising strategies tried in the past.

Teaching students about fonts can also be very revealing. It's like owning a blue volkswagon. It's only once you have one, that you'll seeing them every day. Introducing the influence of fonts to children is powerful ... once they appreciate their impact, they'll start discovering them everywhere.

There are some wonderful places to source great fonts, and I'd encourage you to seek them out.

Da Font is perhaps one of the best, with over 10,000 fonts (yes, ten thousand) to select from ... it's also one of the easiest to navigate. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


This set of images is so absorbing, that I'm going to do something you should never do when you write a blog post, I'm going to send you somewhere else. That's right, I'm asking you to take a look at these images and then come back to TDN, and read the rest of this post.

It's a risk, I'll acknowledge that. You could get caught up in something else, and I wouldn't blame you. The web is full of shiny distractions demanding our attention. But I'm hoping you'll remember to return afterward, and if you need a mantra, I've included one below.

I must return to TDN, I must return to TDN (and repeat)


So welcome back. This post, the first of the new year 2010, is about abandonment. It's a difficult topic to approach, as it inspires so many different emotions and many of them are unsettling. Abandonment is personal.

I should point out at this early point that I was never abandoned as a child. I don't have issues of attachment. I did have a long romance with the idea of being adopted, and abandoning my OWN family while caught up in the swell of teen angst many years ago. This post however is not about that, or any thinly veiled or perhaps unresolved feelings from my past. No, this story is about houses.

Well, let's rephrase that, it's about these houses, the ones in the photos.

Kevin Baumen, he's the guy who took the pictures, states on his site that 'the actual number of abandoned houses in Detroit is more like 1200'. The homes encompass an area of approximately 138 square miles. The scale is astonishing.

The thing that struck me about the images on Kevin's site, was firstly what criteria he'd used to select the pictures for his one hundred shots. Perhaps the depth of character they inspired? Certainly the sense of abandonment captured in each shot.

I found myself looking in the windows to see more, examining the periphery of each shot, trying to discern whether the next house was also abandoned, and if not, who might be living there.

Good photo's of course, capture more than simply what's there. They suggest a mood, and inspire us to invest something of ourselves in them. There's more to see than what's been captured in these pictures. More than the long grass on the lawn and smashed windows, boarded up doorways and broken front steps. These aren't the things that disturb and unsettle us.

What's most disturbing is what's missing. The families and couples, single people and grandparents, dogs and guinea pigs. These homes were places where birthdays were celebrated and domestic disputes spilled over. They were home to singing, and shouting, the smells of cooking and a sense of security.

It's the absence of these things that bothers us most ... perhaps. Abandonment as I said earlier, is personal.

What did they inspire in you? What story do you think they are telling?