Middle Aged = Digital Native?

subnetworks-space-invadersIt’s been a busy few months with a pretty full social calendar, a dissertation to finish before the end of September, and a landslide of work-based projects, all of which have conspired against me to stop my blogging.

And, to be brutally honest, despite the aforementioned social life outside of work, I’ve been feeling listless, unenthusiastic and devoid of mojo for a couple of months.  And, it goes without saying that when you feel as if all the pleasure you once had for all things learning technology-esque have buggered off, it’s pretty much impossible to think of anything to blog about.

However, an office move, a couple of work-based quick wins, an invitation to sit on the advisory board for an international conference and a couple of speaking engagements have all pulled me out of my temporary rut.  The icing on my ‘happy cake’ was provided at a Jisc event yesterday when a delegate approached me to say how much they enjoyed reading my blog nposts. Well, clearly, I have a public to entertain!  Which is why I was rather pleased when, whilst floundering in the bath last night I had an idea for a post that captured my interest.  So here it is.

At yesterday’s event, one or two common themes cropped up across the day.  One of these was the notion that the digital native did not exist.  As some of you may know, I hate pigeon-holing, and am frustrated at the notion that ‘anyone under 25 is a digital wizard, and anyone over 30 is a digital dinosaur.’  You may as well say that anyone with a shoe size larger than 8 will only eat pepperoni pizza while those with smaller feet will always stick to spaghetti. Nonsense.

Yet it appears that putting every aspect of one’s behaviour, personality, abilities and preferences into clearly labelled boxes is here to stay, so I’ll add my two penneth and posit that people of my age (I’m 45) are probably at the BEST age to understand technology and to ‘get’ the concept of digital literacy. And that’s because we know when to use if to enhance what we are doing  and when to stick to ‘old school’, non-techy methods. And that’s p[robably got something to do with the fact that we were there at the start.

When I was 7 I played my first ever video game.  It was 1977, it was Space Invaders, and yes, I was very lucky because my parents were publicans who were fortunate enough to have one of the very first arcade gaming machines in the country in their pub. I remember being fascinated and terrified in equal parts – after opening the doors of the pub for the evening I was happy to watch my dad zapping that curtain of crab-like, pixelated blobs moving down the screen, terrified that a customer might come in before he lost his three lives and the joystick would be passed over to me to finish his turn.  (Before being sent upstairs – not  good for business to have a 7 year old running around the public bar demanding ‘gimm and tommics’ at 6.00 in the evening).

Soon it was the 1980s and the first rudimentary home computers were making their mark. I remember getting a scorchingly average grade in my CSE Computer Studies exam in 1986. Thing is, as much as I liked trying to programme in BASIC, I was entranced more with the Commodore 16 my parents had bought my brother and I for Christmas in 1986 and had become obsessed with playing Mercenary and those text-based ‘choose your own adventure stories’, so had never really practiced coding.  But with a Commodore at home and a suite of BBC B models at school, I can say that I was there, right at the start of the digital revolution.  We had a top loading video recorder at home too.  And a microwave. Ha!  Who are the digital natives NOW then?

Thing is, because I was there when technology started to become mainstream but before it became an established part of daily life, I still have a heap of non-digital skills that I use regularly.  Note taking, when done with a pen and paper, is much more meaningful than simply taking a photo of notes on a whiteboard, or recording a lecture to listen to or watch again later.  That act of putting pen to paper – of having to think about forming the correct shapes in the correct order – commits the word to your brain in a way typing never will.

And books!  Yes, those proper, smelly books, with their cracked and bent spines standing proudly on shelves – nothing can beat that (other than wandering into Waterstones and browsing for an hour). And yet it feels incredibly liberating to go on holiday armed with 16 books on a Kindle that weighs less than a bag of ‘Monster Munch’.

I was there when the Internet started to become popular, so was able to navigate it while it was still constructed of 16 pages. On the way, I learned about how I projected myself online, and how best to manage my growing digital identities (professional / social).  I did this just in time for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to start making their mark.

I know instinctively when technology will make a difference and, vitally, where it doesn’t. I have learned as the Internet has grown how to be secure. My parents did not post photos of my achievements all over Facebook, so my childhood was very secure and totally private. I played outside, developed social skills by talking to my friends and see the value of disconnecting and living as I did pre 1995, with no telephone, and no tethering to the digital. Indeed, once a year I purposely stick all my gadgets in a cupboard and take a tent to the middle of nowhere so that I can have one of those ‘digital detoxes’ that seem to be trendy amongst Guardian readers.

I had a Walkman when I was a teenager and a Discman in my 20s so getting an iPod in my 30s felt like normal progression rather than something new. Developments in technology don’t scare or overwhelm me, but neither am I on the eternal hunt for an upgrade to my smartphone or 1,000 more Facebook friends.

So today I will copy and paste this document from my OneDrive to my blog site,  I will have a quick blast on Witcher III on my PS4 when I get home, check Facebook on my iPad after dinner and go to bed with a cup of tea and a book. Made of paper. With smells.

What I did on World Book Night

Before you read on, be warned.  This blog post contains nothing relating to technology nor does it explicitly talk about education, though it perhaps skirts around both topics. 


Still there? Excellent.  I’ll get to it.


This year I decided to get involved in World Book Night, something I was aware of but had never really explored. Now, looking at the frequency of my blog posts makes me realise that I am, fundamentally, a lazy blogger. This is most ironic, as a lazy blogger is an un-read blogger. But I really don’t have the linguistic prowess to answer your question: what’s World Book Night? I ramble, digress, go off topic and can’t keep things simple. So here’s what the WBN website says:


“World Book Night is a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift books in their communities to share their love of reading.


In 2012 World Book Night will be celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Germany and USA on April 23.


In the UK, 20,000 passionate readers will gift 24 copies of one of their favourite books to encourage those who don’t regularly read to fall in love with reading. In addition World Book Night will be giving a further 620,000 books over the course of the year directly to the hardest to reach readers through prisons, care homes, hospitals, sheltered housing, homeless shelters, libraries and through other partner charities.


Take a minute to remember what it was that made you first fall in love with reading: the incredible passion you felt, and still feel, for books, for stories; the excited feeling you still get when you pick up a book that you just can’t wait to read and think about the places it will take you, the people you’ll meet and the joy you’ll get from reading it.


Now think about the millions of people who have never been on that journey or who, somewhere along the way, have forgotten how incredible it can be. Think about the power of putting a book in to their hands and saying ‘this one’s amazing, you have to read it’.


World Book Night reaches out to those who don’t regularly read by using passionate book lovers around the country to become reading ambassadors and to do just that within their communities, book by book, reader by reader, hand to hand, getting the whole country reading.


25 titles are specially chosen and printed in World Book Night editions. Givers apply for a particular book (they get a first, second and third choice) which they must commit to gift to those who don’t regularly read, to share and spread their love of reading. Givers collect their books from their local bookshops and libraries, putting the very heart of our reading communities at the very heart of World Book Night.


It is difficult to quantify the value of reading on people’s lives, especially given the shocking statistics in the UK that outlines that one person in six struggles to read and write. Poor skills compromise health and well-being, confidence and employability. World Book Night’s charitable mission is to advance the education of the public by assisting in the promotion of literacy and the celebration of books and reading by creating unique moments which focus attention on adult literacy. By focusing on the enjoyment and engagement of reading we aim to reach and inspire those who have never discovered the value or pleasure of reading.


Over half of adults of working age (56%) have literacy skills below the level of a good GCSE; 16% are at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old.1  The report Literacy: State of the Nation found that one in six people in the UK struggle with literacy; a quarter of young people do not recognise a link between reading and success in later life; and men and women with poor literacy skills are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty.


Statistics show that:

•    22% of men and 30% of women with literacy below entry level 2 live in non-working households;

•    41% of employers are concerned about their employees’ basic literacy skills;

•    63% of men and 75% of women with very low literacy skills have never received a promotion at work;

•    Increased literacy rates improve the chances of using a PC at work from 48% to 65%;

•    Individuals with poor basic skills are much more likely to report being ‘not at all’ interested in politics (42% for men and 50% of women with poor basic skills compared with 17% for men and 21% for women with good basic skills);

•    Women with low literacy skills are five times more likely than those with average or good literacy skills to be depressed.


This is at a time when adult engagement in literary activity in the UK is low. A 2005 Book Marketing Limited study showed that ‘‘a third of people have not bought a book in the previous 12 months and 34% of people never read.


Research into libraries’ use of reading for pleasure with adults with literacy needs establish that simple interventions such as World Book Night can make a real difference to people’s motivation to learn, as well as in developing their confidence and skills.


World Book Night are committed to reaching the hardest to reach potential readers. In 2011 we worked with Lemos and Crane to target prisons with a pilot programme which saw 7000 books delivered in to more than 90 prisons and young offenders institutes around the country. You can read a brief report on 2011’s prison programme here. Books are supplied not just for prisoners but also for prison staff and prisoners families so that shadow reading is possible, creating the opportunity for shared experience and understanding. In 2012 we’re substantially increasing our reach in to prisons with almost 70,000 books being delivered in to more than 110 prisons and young offenders institutes. We are also working with English PEN on a series of prison visits by writers and with Prison Reading Groups on close prisoner reading support.


April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. It is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death day of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed it the international day of the book and that we choose it to celebrate World Book Night. April 23rd also marks the city of Barcelona’s celebration of St George’s Day. St George is the patron saint of Catalonia as well as England and traditionally, to celebrate this day, Spanish gentlemen gave their ladies roses and the ladies returned the favour with a book. Considering the rich literary history of this day, it seemed more than fitting that April 23rd should be chosen as the day of celebrating reading and the giving of books.”


So what’s not to love? If you’d like to find out more, and maybe think about becoming a giver next year, visit the WBN website here. Or take a look at what I did this year below. It was a fantastic experience and I’m really looking forward to struggling home under the weight of 24 books next year!




STEP 1: Pick up my allocated books from St Austell Library.  Take them home, almost giving myself a hernia in the process.  (It’s a mile and a half from my house to the library and I do not drive.)


STEP 2: Unpack books, then write my name, the location the books were picked up from and each book’s unique identifying number.  Sadly, my handwriting is just nasty, so I’m hoping people can read the numbers at the very least…otherwise there will be no way of tracking where the books have travelled to and how many people have read them.


STEP 3: Give the books out to a variety of places – the first being the Learning Centre at Cornwall College’s St Austell campus…

STEP 2: Into town now with the rest of the books.  First stop, STAK: St Austell’s soup kitchen


STEP 3: Second (and final) stop: the Go! St Austell Shopmobility Bookshop. Do check this link – to find out more about the Shopmobility scheme and the bookshop.


Review of The Mahara 1.4 Cookbook by Ellen Marie Murphy

The Mahara 1.4 Cookbook by Ellen Marie Murphy claims to present readers with ‘over 50 recipes for using Mahara for training, personal or educational purposes’, and this reviewer is happy to say that it delivers exactly that!

Mahara is a widely used open source ePortfolio system that allows users to build dynamic and engaging portfolios in no time.  This book thinks outside the ePortfolio box and shows readers how to apply for jobs, create a body of work, organise work for certification and accreditation, support teaching and learning, develop classroom projects and even create their own social network. So, in a nutshell, it looks at features users may not have explored and shows how to use them in ways they may not have considered and is of particular interest to anyone interested in building an ePortfolio or in helping others to develop their own.

The book also provides guidance in the use of open source programmes and applications such as Gimp, Picasa and Audacity that can be used in tandem with Mahara and provides the reader with techniques for creating dynamic and engaging templates, showcases, portfolios and professional resume packages.

The book is split into 8 very specific chapters that cover 8 very individual projects: Mahara for the Visual Arts looks at showcasing and reflecting upon a body of work while Literature and Writing examines how Mahara can assist with first and second language acquisition, journals and poetry books and provides a short tutorial on using Gimp, a free image manipulation programme.  The Professional Portfolio reflects upon resumes, CVs, letters of application and references while Working with Groups looks at building a newspaper, setting up web pages and how to make templates, with a very useful tutorial looking at how to create a group newspaper using newsfeeds from student journals.  The Primary Education Portfolio is a fantastic chapter for anyone wanting to use Mahara imaginatively and looks, among other things, at creating classroom pages to share with families, setting up a slideshow to create a book and using ‘secret URLs’ for setting access levels: something vital if working with younger students.

The Social Portfolio is a fun look at how to ‘pimp’ a profile page, add slideshows, write on a user’s wall, and even add features such as a visitor counter and Twitter feed, whereas The College Application Portfolio talks about building a college entrance portfolio creating an academic achievements page and recording extracurricular activities and work experience logs.  Finally, Certification and Accreditation Portfolio for Higher Education looks at how to build the ECIS International Teacher portfolio, creating access pages for outside viewers and archiving portfolios.

At a personal level I do like the way the chapters concentrate on individual projects and uses for Mahara, enabling educators and learners who may be hard-pressed for time to dip into chapters that are relevant rather than having to read the book from cover to cover. This is definitely not a wordy publication, with each chapter’s introduction clearly stating what the chapter is about briefly and succinctly.

Instructions, as with all books by PACKT are clearly written and chronological with keywords emboldened and box outs show warnings or important notes, tips and tricks. Colour illustrations contextualise written instructions, making this a book for people with a range of learning styles.

Definitely recommended reading, whether you are new to the concept of ePortfolios and thinking of using Mahara or already use it but want to see what it can really do.