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Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

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So What Does an Armchair Auditor Do All Day?

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I’ve no idea… Because there aren’t any, apparently: Poor data quality hindering government open data programme. And as I try to make sense of that article, it seems there aren’t any because of UTF-8, I think? Erm…

For my own council, the local hyperlocal, OnTheWight, publish a version of Adrian Short’s Armchair Auditor app at armchairauditor.onthewight.com. OnTheWight have turned a few stories from this data, I think, so they obviously have a strategy for making use of the data.

My own quirky skillset, such as it is, meant that it wasn’t too hard for me to start working with the original council published data to build an app showing spend in different areas, by company etc – Local Council Spending Data – Time Series Charts – although the actual application appears to have rotted (pound signs are not liked by the new shiny library and I can’t remember how to log in to the glimmer site:-(

I also tried to make sense of the data by trying to match it up to council budget areas, but that wasn’t too successful: What Role, If Any, Does Spending Data Have to Play in Local Council Budget Consultations?

But I still don’t know what questions to ask, what scripts to run? Some time ago, Ben Worthy asked Where are the Armchair Auditors? but I’m more interested in the question: what would they actually do? and what sort of question or series of questions might they usefully ask, and why?

Just having access to data is not really that very interesting. It’s the questions you ask for it, and the sorts of stories you look for in it, that count. So what stories might Armchair Auditors go looking for, what odd things might they seek out, what questions might they ask of the data?

Written by Tony Hirst

August 29, 2014 at 9:46 am

Running “Native” Data Wrangling Applications in the Browser – IPython Notebooks (and R?) in Chrome

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Using browser based data analysis toolkits such as pandas in IPython notebooks, or R in RStudio, means you need to have access to python or R and the corresponding application server either on your own computer, or running on a remote server that you have access to.

When running occasional training sessions or workshops, this can cause several headaches: either a remote service needs to be set up that is capable of supporting the expected number of participants, security may need putting in place, accounts configured (or account management tools supported), network connections need guaranteeing so that participants can access the server, and so on; or participants need to install software on their own computers: ideally this would be done in advance of a training session, otherwise training time is spent installing, configuring and debugging software installs; some computers may have security policies that prevent users installing software, or require and IT person with admin privileges to install the software, and so on.

That’s why the coLaboratory Chrome extension looks like an interesting innovation – it runs an IPython notebook fork, with pandas and matplotlib as a Chrome Native Client application. I posted a quick walkthrough of the extension over on the School of Data blog: Working With Data in the Browser Using python – coLaboratory.

Via a Twitter exchange with @nativeclient, it seems that there’s also the possibility that R could run as a dependency free Chrome extension. Native Client seems to like things written in C/C++, which underpins R, although I think R also has some fortran dependencies. (One of the coLaboratory talks mentioned the to do list item of getting scipy (I think?) running in the coLaboratory extension, the major challenge there (or whatever the package was) being the fortran src; so there maybe be synergies in working the fortran components there?))

Within a couple of hours of the twitter exchange starting, Brad Nelson/@flagxor posted a first attempt at an R port to the Native Client. I don’t pretend to understand what’s involved in moving from this to an extension with some sort of useable UI, even if only a command line, but it represents an interesting possibility: of being able to run R in the browser (or at least, in Chrome). Package availability would be limited of course to packages compiled to run using PNaCl.

For training events, there is still the requirement that users install a Chrome browser on their computer and then install the extension into that. However, I think it is possible to run Chrome as a portable app – that is, from a flash drive such as a USB memory stick: Google Chrome Portable (Windows).

I’m not sure how fast it would be able to run, but it suggests there may be a way of carrying a portable, dependency free pandas environment around that you can run on a Windows computer from a USB key?! And maybe R too…?

Written by Tony Hirst

August 22, 2014 at 9:42 am

A Conversation With Data – Isle of Wight Car Parking Meter Transaction Logs

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Killer post title, eh?

Some time ago I put in an FOI request to the Isle of Wight Council for the transaction logs from a couple of ticket machines in the car park at Yarmouth. Since then, the Council made some unpopular decisions about car parking charges, got a recall and then in passing made the local BBC news (along with other councils) in respect of the extent of parking charge overpayments…

Here’s how hyperlocal news outlet OnTheWight reported the unfolding story…

I really missed a trick not getting involved in this process – because there is, or could be, a significant data element to it. And I had a sample of data that I could have doodled with, and then gone for the whole data set.

Anyway, I finally made a start on looking at the data I did have with a view to seeing what stories or insight we might be able to pull from it – the first sketch of my conversation with the data is here: A Conversation With Data – Car Parking Meter Data.

It’s not just the parking meter data that can be brought to bear in this case – there’s another set of relevant data too, and I also had a sample of that: traffic penalty charge notices (i.e. traffic warden ticket issuances…)

With a bit of luck, I’ll have a go at a quick conversation with that data over the next week or so… Then maybe put in a full set of FOI requests for data from all the Council operated ticket machines, and all the penalty notices issued, for a couple of financial years.

Several things I think might be interesting to look at Island-wide:

  • in much the same was as Tube platforms suffer from loading problems, where folk surge around one entrance or another, do car parks “fill up” in some sort of order, eg within a car park (one meter lags the other in terms of tickets issued) or one car park lags another overall;
  • do different car parks have a different balance of ticket types issued (are some used for long stay, others for short stay?) and does this change according to what day of the week it is?
  • how does the issuance of traffic penalty charge notices compare with the sorts of parking meter tickets issued?
  • from the timestamps of when traffic penalty charge notices tickets are issued, can we work out the rounds of different traffic warden patrols?

The last one might be a little bit cheeky – just like you aren’t supposed to share information about the mobile speed traps, perhaps you also aren’t supposed to share information that there’s a traffic warden doing the rounds…?!

Written by Tony Hirst

July 25, 2014 at 6:04 pm

MOOCs as Partworks

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A couple of recent posts crossed my feeds recently mooching around the idea that doing is MOOC is Like Reading a Newspaper; or not: MOOC Completion Rates DO Matter.

First up, Downes suggests that:

The traditional course is designed like a book – it is intended to run in a sequence, the latter bits build on the first bits, and if you start a book and abandon it p[art way through there is a real sense in which you can say the book has failed, because the whole point of a book is to read it from beginning to end.

But our MOOCs are not designed like that. Though they have a beginning and an end and a range of topics in between, they’re not designed to be consumed in a linear fashion the way a book it. Rather, they’re much more like a magazine or a newspaper (or an atlas or a city map or a phone book). The idea is that there’s probably more content than you want, and that you’re supposed to pick and choose from the items, selecting those that are useful and relevant to your present purpose.

And so here’s the response to completion rates: nobody ever complained that newspapers have low completion rates. And yet no doubt they do,. Probably far below the ‘abysmal’ MOOC completion rates (especially if you include real estate listings and classified ads). People don’t read a newspaper to complete it, they read a newspaper to find out what’s important.

Martin (Weller) responds:

Stephen Downes has a nice analogy, (which he blogged at my request, thankyou Stephen) in that it’s like a newspaper, no-one drops out of a newspaper, they just take what they want. This has become repeated rather like a statement of fact now. I think Stephen’s analogy is very powerful, but it is really a statement of intent. If you design MOOCs in a certain way, then the MOOC experience could be like reading a newspaper. The problem is 95% of MOOCs aren’t designed that way. And even for the ones that are, completion rates are still an issue.

Here’s why they’re an issue. MOOCs are nearly always designed on a week by week basis (which would be like designing a newspaper where you had to read a certain section by a certain time). I’ve blogged about this before, but from Katy Jordan’s data we reckon 45% of those who sign up, never turn up or do anything. It’s hard to argue that they’ve had a meaningful learning experience in any way. If we register those who have done anything at all, eg just opened a page, then by the end of week 2 we’re down to about 35% of initial registrations. And by week 3 or 4 it’s plateauing near 10%. The data suggests that people are definitely not treating it like a newspaper. In Japan some research was done on what sections of newspapers people read.

He goes on:

… Most MOOCs are about 6-7 weeks long, so 90% of your registered learners are never even looking at 50% of your content. That must raise the question of why are you including it in the first place? If a subject requires a longer take at it, beyond 3 weeks say, then MOOCs really may not be a very good approach to it. There is a hard, economic perspective here, it costs money to make and run MOOCs, and people will have to ask if the small completion rates are the most effective way to get people to learn that subject. You might be better off creating more stand alone OERs, or putting money into better supported outreach programmes where you can really help people stay with the course. Or maybe you will actually design your MOOC to be like a newspaper.

So…

I buy three newspapers a week – the Isle of Wight County Press (to get a feel for what’s happened and is about to happen locally, as well as seeing who’s currently recruiting), the Guardian on a Saturday (see what news stories made it as far as Saturday comment, do the Japanese number puzzles, check out the book reviews, maybe read the odd long form interview and check a recipe or two), and the Observer on a Sunday (read colleagues’ columns, longer form articles by journalists I know or have met, check out any F1 sports news that made it into that paper, book reviews, columns, and Killer again…).

So I skim bits, have old faithfuls I read religiously, and occasionally follow through on a long form article that was maybe advertised on the cover and I might have missed otherwise.

Newspapers are organised in a particular way, and that lets me quickly access the bits I know I want to access, and throw the rest straight onto the animal bedding pile, often unread and unopened.

So MOOCs are not really like that, at least, not for me.

For me MOOCs are freebie papers I’ve picked up and then thrown, unread, onto the animal bedding pile. For me.

What I can see, though, as MOOCs as partworks. Partworks are those titles you see week on week in the local newsagent with a new bit on the cover that, if collected over weeks and months and assembled in the right way, result in a flimsy plastic model you’ve assembled yourself with an effective cost price running into hundreds of pounds.

[Retro: seems I floated the MOOC as partwork idea before - Online Courses or Long Form Journalism? Communicating How the World Works… - and no-one really bit then either...]

In the UK, there are several notable publishers of partwork titles, including for example Hachette, De Agostini,Eaglemoss. Check out their homepages – then check out the homepages of a few MOOC providers. (Note to self – see if any folk working in marketing of MOOC platform providers came from a partwork publishing background.)

Here’s a riff reworking the Wikipedia partwork page:

A partworkMOOC is a written publicationan online course released as a series of planned magazine-like issueslessons over a period of time. IssuesLessons are typically released on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis, and often a completed set is designed to form a reference work oncomplete course in a particular topic.

Partwork seriesMOOCs run for a determined length and have a finite life. Generally, partworksMOOCs cover specific areas of interest, such as sports, hobbies, or children’s interest and stories such as PC Ace and the successful The Ancestral Trail series by Marshall Cavendish Ltdrandom university module subjects, particularly ones that tie in to the telly or hyped areas of pseudo-academic interest. They are generally sold at newsagents and are mostly supported by massive television advertising campaigns for the launchhosted on MOOC platforms because exploiting user data and optimising user journeys through learning content is something universities don't really understand and avoid trying to do. In the United Kingdom, partworksMOOCs are usually launched by heavy television advertising each Januarymentioned occasionally in the press, often following a PR campaign by the UK MOOC platfrom, FutureLearn.

PartworksMOOCs often include cover-mounted items with each issue that build into a complete set over time. For example, a partwork about artMOOC might include a small number of paints or pencils that build into a complete art-setso-called "badges" that can be put into an online "backpack" to show off to your friends, family, and LinkedIn trawlers; a partwork about dinosaurs might include a few replica bones that build a complete model skeleton at the end of the series; a partwork about films may include a DVD with each issue. In Europe, partworks with collectable models are extremely popular; there are a number of different publications that come with character figurines or diecast model vehicles, for example: The James Bond Car Collection.

In addition, completed partworksMOOCs have sometimes been used as the basis for receiving a non-academic credit bearing course completion certificate, or to create case-bound reference works and encyclopediasa basis for a piece of semi-formal assessment and recognition. An example is the multi-volume Illustrated Science and Invention Encyclopedia which was created with material first published in the How It Works partworkNEED TO FIND A GOOD EXAMPLE.

In the UK, partworksMOOCs are the fourth-best selling magazine sector, after TV listing guides, women’s weeklies and women’s monthliesNEED SOME NUMBERS HERE*.... A common inducement is a heavy discount for the first one or two issues??HOW DO MOOCs SELL GET SOLD?. The same seriesMOOC can be sold worldwide in different languages and even in different variations.

* Possibly useful starting point? BBC News Magazine: Let’s get this partwork started

The Wikipedia page goes on to talk about serialisation (ah, the good old days when I still had hoped for feeds and syndication… eg OpenLearn Daily Learning Chunks via RSS and then Serialised OpenLearn Daily RSS Feeds via WordPress) and the Pecia System (new to me), which looks like it could provide an interesting starting point on a model of peer-co-created learning, or somesuch. There’s probably a section on it in this year’s Innovating Pedagogy report. Or maybe there isn’t?!;-)

Sort of related but also not, this article from icrossing on ‘Subscribe is the new shop.’ – Are subscription business models taking over? and John Naughton’s column last week on the (as then, just leaked) Kindle subscription model – Kindle Unlimited: it’s the end of losing yourself in a good book, I’m reminded of Subscription Models for Lifelong Students and Graduate With Who (Whom?!;-), Exactly…?, which several people argued against and which I never really tried to defend, though I can’t remember what the arguments were, and I never really tried to build a case with numbers in it to see whether or not it might make sense. (Because sometimes you think the numbers should work out in your favour, but then they don’t… as in this example: Restaurant Performance Sunk by Selfies [via RBloggers].)

Erm, oh yes – back to the MOOCs.. and the partworks models. Martin mentioned the economics – just thinking about the partwork model (pun intended, or maybe not) here, how are parts costed? Maybe an expensive loss leader part in week 1, then cheap parts for months, then the expensive parts at the end when only two people still want them? How will print on demand affect partworks (newsagent has a partwork printer round the back to print of the bits that are needed for whatever magazines are sold that week?) And how do the partwork costing models then translate to MOOC production and presentation models?

Big expensively produced materials in front loaded weeks, then maybe move to smaller presentation methods, get the forums working a little better with smaller, more engaged groups? How about the cMOOC ideas – up front in early weeks, or pushed back to later weeks, where different motivations, skills, interest and engagement models play out.

MOOCs are newspapers? Nah… MOOCs as partwork – that works better as a model for me. (You can always buy a partwork mid-way through because you are interested in that week’s content, or the content covered by the magazine generally, not because you are interested in the plastic model or badge.

Thinks: hmm, partworks come in at least two forms, don’t they – one to get pieces to build a big model of a boat or a steam train or whatever. The other where you get a different superhero figurine each week and the aim it attract the completionist. Which isn’t to say that part 37 might not be stupidly popular because it has a figure that is just generally of interest, ex- of being part of a set?

Written by Tony Hirst

July 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Anything you want

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F1 Timing Screen as a Spreadsheet?

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One of the comment themes I’ve noticed around the first Challenge in the Tata F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize, a challenge to rethink what’s possible around the timing screen given only the data in the real time timing feed, is that the non-programmers don’t get to play. I don’t think that’s true – the challenge seems to be open to ideas as well as practical demonstrations, but it got me thinking about what technical ways in might be to non-programmers who wouldn’t know where to start when it came to working with the timing stream messages.

The answer is surely the timing screen itself… One of the issues I still haven’t fully resolved is a proven way of getting useful information events from the timing feed – it updates the timing screen on a cell by cell basis, so we have to finesse the way we associate new laptimes or sector times with a particular driver, bearing in mind cells update one at a time, in a potentially arbitrary order, and with potentially different timestamps.

f1-innovation-prize_s3_amazonaws_com_challenge_packs_The_F1_Connectivity_Innovation_Prize_–_Challenge_1_Brief_pdf

So how about if we work with a “live information model” by creating a copy of an example timing screen in a spreadsheet. If we know how, we might be able to parse the real data stream to directly update the appropriate cells, but that’s largely by the by. At least we have something we can work work to start playing with the timing screen in terms of a literal reimagining of it. So what can we do if we put the data from an example timing screen into a spreadsheet?

If we create a new worksheet, we can reference the cells in the “original” timing sheet and pull values over. The timing feed updates cells on a cell by cell basis, but spreadsheets are really good at rippling through changes from one or more cells which are themselves reference by one or more others.

The first thing we might do is just transform the shape of the timing screen. For example, we can take the cells in a column relating to sector 1 times and put them into a row.

The second thing we might do is start to think about some sums. For example, we might find the difference between each of those sector times and (for practice and qualifying sessions at least) the best sector time recorded in that session.

The third thing we might do is to use a calculated value as the basis for a custom cell format that colours the cell according to the delta from the best session time.

Simple, but a start.

I’ve not really tried to push this idea very far – I’m not much of a spreadsheet jockey – but I’d be interested to know how folk who are might be able to push this idea…

If you need example data, there’s some on the F1 site – f1.com – results for Spanish Grand Prix, 2014 and more on Ergast Developer API.

PS FWIW, my entry to the competition is here: #f1datajunkie challenge 1 entry. It’s perhaps a little off-brief, but I’ve been meaning to do this sort of summary for some time, and this was a good starting point. If I get a chance, I’ll have a go a getting the parsers to work properly properly!

Written by Tony Hirst

July 17, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Anything you want

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Tracking Anonymous Wikipedia Edits From Specific IP Ranges

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Via @davewiner’s blog, I spotted a link to @congressedits, “a bot that tweets anonymous Wikipedia edits that are made from IP addresses in the US Congress”. (For more info, see why @congressedits?, /via @ostephens.) I didn’t follow the link to the home page for that account (doh!), but in response to a question about whether white label code was available, @superglaze pointed me to https://github.com/edsu/anon, a script that “will watch Wikipedia for edits from a set of named IP ranges and will tweet when it notices one”.

It turns out the script was inspired by @parliamentedits, a bot built by @tomscott that “tracks edits to Wikipedia made from Parliamentary IP addresses” built using IFTT and possibly a list of IP ranges operated by the House of Commons gleaned from this FOI request?

Nice…

My immediate thought was set up something to track edits made to Wikipedia from OU IP addresses, then idly wondered if set of feeds for tracking edits from HEIs in general might also be useful (something to add to the UK University Web Observatory for example?)

To the extent that Wikipedia represents an authoritative source of information, for some definition of authoritative(?!), it could be interesting to track the “impact” of our foolish universities in terms of contributing to the sum of of human knowledge as represented by Wikipedia.

It’d also be interesting to track the sorts of edits made from anonymous and named editors from HEI IP ranges. I wonder what classes they may fall into?

  1. edits from the marketing and comms folk?
  2. ego and peer ego edits, eg from academics keeping the web pages of other academics in their field up to date?
  3. research topic edits – academics maintaining pages that relate to their research areas or areas of scholarly interest?
  4. teaching topic edits – academics maintaining pages that relate to their teaching activities?
  5. library edits – edits made from the library?
  6. student edits – edits made by students as part of a course?
  7. “personal” edits – edits made by folk who class themselves and Wikimedians in general and just happen to make edits while they are on an HEI network?

My second thought was to wonder to what extent might news and media organisations be maintaining – or tweaking – Wikipedia pages? The BBC, for example, who have made widespread use of Wikipedia in their Linked Data driven music and wildlife pages.

Hmmm… news.. reminds me: wasn’t a civil servant who made abusive edits to a Wikipedia page sacked recently? Ah, yes: Civil servant fired after Telegraph investigation into Hillsborough Wikipedia slurs, as my OU colleague Andrew Smith suggested might happen.

Or how about other cultural organisations – museums and galleries for example?

Or charities?

Or particular brands? Hmm…

So I wonder: could we try to identify areas of expertise on, or attempted/potential influence over, particular topics by doing reverse IP lookups from pages focussed on those topics? This sort of mapping activity pivots the idea of visualising related entries in Wikipedia to map IP ranges, and perhaps from that locations and individuals associated with maintaining a set of resources around a particular topic area (cf. Visualising Delicious Tag Communities).

I think I started looking at how we might start to map IP ranges for organisations once….? Erm… maybe not, actually: it was looking up domains a company owned from its nameservers.

Hmm.. thinks… webstats show IP ranges of incoming requests – can we create maps from those? In fact, are there maps/indexes that give IP ranges for eg companies or universities?

I’m rambling again…

PS Related: Repository Googalytics – Visits from HEIs which briefly reviews the idea of tracking visits to HEI repositories from other HEIs…

Written by Tony Hirst

July 11, 2014 at 7:45 am

Posted in Anything you want

Foolish is as foolish does… fragments…

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It’s been that CDSA paperwork time of year again, and if nothing else it has forced me to start pulling together some fragments of ideas backed up by other peoples’ (or people’s – I never can remember) words…

So here are some fragments that are, I think, aligned to some of the things that I’ve thought for a long time and have been thinking again more recently, things that resonated with me as I read them just now…

The way in to this this time round for me was part of a talk by Prof Richard Keeble at the University of Lincoln School of Journalism Research Symposium last week, when he mentioned the role of the fool as a safety valve or regulator in the classical court…

First up, from “Class Clown and Court Jester“, David Chevreau, MA thesis, UBC, April 1994

p10-11
The fool can fill a number of specific roles in the group. He represents the rejected values, lost causes, fiascoes, and incompetencies of the larger gathering. His lowly yet valued position in the office of scapegoat and butt of humour gives him license to depart from the group’s accepted social norms with a unique impunity.
Footnote 10 – The fool is a rebel, outcast, prophet and whipping boy, and his office is a well defined social phenomenon.

As a scapegoat, you can speak the truth and people can choose to listen or not. The truth can be ignored if spoken by the fool, because the fool said it..

p13
Unperturbed by misplaced authority, the Class Clown seizes an opportunity either the naivete of the natural innocent or the insight of the wizened fool.

I’m often confused…

p16
The Fool exists on the fringe of social convention, and thus has a license which frees him from responsibility and consequence.

Scruffy hippy…

p18
It is difficult to accuse a Fool of meaning anything, for his foolish words may be nothing more than the babbling of the idiot or a disguise which reveals hidden truth to some but appears to be senseless chatter to others.

WTF is he on about?

p22
Transgressing the bounds of propriety in his failure to cope with convention the Fool does not suffer the usual loss of dignity associated with social failure.

FFS… swearing again…

p22
Standing at the fringe, the Fool may be a disinterested truth-teller whose apparent madness masks his breadth of perspective. The Fool is a detached observer who lives at the boundary not just between order and chaos but also between what is and what appears to be, and is often confused with the silly and deluded.

So, I deserve a Chair, right?!:-)

p23
The Fool perceives that the world has more to do with seeming than with seeing, for too much of our world is actually unknown and irrational. To take the imposition of order too seriously is the height of folly, and so the Fool, standing aside, sees through the illusion.

Ooh, big data… and squillionty billionty pounds will be made from open data… innit.

So that was that one…

Here’s another take… As I read (/red/) this, I also though about my own role within the university… As above,so below…? “Institutional Heterogeneity and Change: The University as Fool”, Donncha Kavanagh, Organization Volume 16(4): 575–595 ISSN 1350–5084 , 2009.

First, the scene is set…

p577 “Detailed study of the history of the University suggests that it is an institution that acts and has a role akin to the Fool in the royal court of medieval times.”

The paper then explores this idea in narrative form…

Fool as normative narrator:
p586 “The Fool is a story-teller, but its stories are always embedded in a framework of norms and values that connect the moment into longer conversations over time and space.”

There is a context to what we do, and a tradition that informs it, in both form and in content…

p587 “Akin to the medieval fool, who is not there to merely tell stories, the University is expected to provide a normative narrative or a critical interpretation of the world. … the University’s long tradition of academic freedom mirrors the Fool’s position as the Sovereign’s independent critic. … The university does not just (re-)tell stories, parables, and proverbs. Its power also comes about from its material ability to sort things out (Bowker and Star, 1999 [Bowker, G. and Star, S. L. (1999) Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. London: MIT Press.]); it is a sorter par excellence.”

The university helps make sense of the world… it can do this by putting things into perspective, or ordering them/organising them, in a particular way (that is, is can “sort” them, as you might sort a sock drawer, albeit one that doesn’t necessarily contain any actual pairs of socks…)

p588 “Through these twin processes of normative narrating and sorting the university constructs and maintains what I term the semiotic nexus. The semiotic nexus gives meaning to an institution — be it the University, its sovereign or one of the other institutions in the realm—through telling a multi-part, compelling, value-laden tale about the institution and its place in the world. The university is not the only institution engaged in this process of ‘making meaning’—narrating is a form of theorizing that everyone engages in—but it plays a central role in determining what counts as knowledge, as well as defining what is valuable, peripheral, obscene, sacred, profane, reputable, opinion, fact, etc. The University, like the Fool, personifies truth and reason, in that it is required to tell the truth, to abolish myth, and to distinguish fact from mere opinion. In other words, the University’s normative story-telling ability allied to its sorting practices and technologies are basic to how the University realizes its imagined community of academics, how it at once becomes an institution itself, and also how it maintains and sustains the semiotic nexus underpinning other institutions. In other words, these practices play a significant role in the process of institutionalization.”

I’ve noticed that people find it very hard to play… I can play all day… Erm… I can only play?!

p589 Play in the fool
“The Fool is a ludic spirit within the institutional complex, and play—a free activity standing outside of and opposed to the seriousness of ordinary life (Huizinga, 1955)—is its modus operandi. As with the child, the Fool is allowed, expected and given time and space to play. Through playing with language the Fool sparks a new (yet old) understanding of the here and now. This incandescent quality at once makes events alive—giving them immediate meaning—while simultaneously framing them within a longer temporal structure or longue durée that articulates the empirical with a transcendent truth. Each ‘play’ then endures as a new mental creation, to be repeated and retained in memory, echoing older refrains of truth and tradition. Following Huizinga, play is primordial and because of its close links with the sacred, it works to keep old norms and beliefs alive. The Fool as playmaker extraordinaire is central to this continual process of institutional re-creation through which an institution breathes, lives and renews itself.
Yet, because it takes work to create order within play, play always (sub- liminally) reminds us that the world is fundamentally chaotic and that any meaning within this chaos is always provisional and artificial. The Fool’s work of play then is to institutionalize order and at once to open up order to de-institutionalization. Through its role as playmaker, the Fool puts an institution ‘into play’, which means that work must be done to either recreate or de-stabilize the institution. In this way, the Fool’s ability and license to play is paradoxically central to both institutionalization and de-institutionalization.”

FWIW, seeing that mention of Huizinga, I’m reminded of how play is a serious business… see for example, Getting Philosophical About Games. The Magic Circle applies similarly to the little closed off workds we lock ourselves into when doing a research project. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that research is anything more than play, (though it’s often less…). Note also that that Digital Worlds blog post was itself is an ‘output’ from an uncourse I played with creating a few years ago. The material ended up being used by an actual OU course that followed on. I don’t think anyone in the OU really got it. Then MOOC hype shite came along and nothing really changed.

Playing the fool is a responsbile job, If you aren’t responsible, you can step beyond the bounds of playful foolishness and start “stirring”, or trying to use the cloak of foolishness to cause trouble directly…

“Another transgression occurs when the Fool cannot see beyond the play-making; i.e. the Fool becomes a Trickster, a Lucifer figure working solely to undermine and destroy order. This happens when the Fool forgets that part of the Fool’s role is sustaining order in the institutional complex.”

Beware Anansi taking over, in other words…

The “Emperor’s New Clothes” is one of my favourite stories. The boy is portrayed as foolish in his innocence, but he speaks a truth as a naif, or innocent. We see how corollaries to that story can be played out by the wise fool, rather than truth telling innocent…

p590 fool as educator
“Pursuing the metaphor of the Fool presents an interesting perspective on the University as an educational institution. While the Fool is an educator of sorts, she does not really ‘own’ knowledge that she ‘passes on’ as per our conventional understanding of pedagogy. Unlike the teacher who is usually cast as the learner’s caring coach, the Fool is an irritant, a provocateur, whose modus operandi is to provoke new wisdom in others. The Fool’s approach is, quite literally, to play the fool, acting as a lucid and ludic lens through which others perceive and recognize profound truths, truths that indeed may be lost in the conventions of learning and scholarship. The fool (like the child) is not expected to ‘know’ anything and is therefore free to act the fool, because she cannot, by definition, ‘know any better’. Paradoxically, this epistemic vacuum is also a potential source of great wisdom, which is why the idea of the ‘wise fool’ has such a long tradition. Moreover, the oxymoron ‘wise fool’ is also reversible: he that believes himself to be wise is necessarily foolish. For the Fool also reminds us that knowledge of the mystery of life is always beyond even the wise; at best we can only know that there is much of which we are and can only be ignorant.

[The university] must be the institutional manifestation of an oxymoron, remembering that this word comes from the Greek, oxumo ̄rone, meaning ‘pointedly foolish’.”

– Fin

Written by Tony Hirst

July 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Anything you want

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