Note to Reader

This thesis inline with all my practice is being created in the open, this means the text you read here is highly iterative and will not be in a fixed state until late summer 2021. This means that if you see text in parentheses and italics this is a specific note that this is incomplete, subject to change or a note to myself. The text will also have missing sections, be torn apart, re-ordered and re-uploaded many times and sometimes the site may even be empty as revisions take place. Comment is very much welcome and encouraged at my forum https://discourse.adamprocter.co.uk.

  • Last Revision 26th Feb 2021

Academic Thesis: Declaration Of Authorship

I, Adam Procter declare that this thesis and the work presented in it is my own and has been generated by me as the result of my own original research.

(TITLE OF PHD)

I confirm that:

  1. This work was done wholly or mainly while in candidature for a research degree at this University;
  2. Where any part of this thesis has previously been submitted for a degree or any other qualification at this University or any other institution, this has been clearly stated;
  3. Where I have consulted the published work of others, this is always clearly attributed;
  4. Where I have quoted from the work of others, the source is always given. With the exception of such quotations, this thesis is entirely my own work;
  5. I have acknowledged all main sources of help;
  6. Where the thesis is based on work done by myself jointly with others, I have made clear exactly what was done by others and what I have contributed myself;
  7. Either none of this work has been published before submission, or parts of this work have been published as: please list references below:

Signed: A PROCTER

Date: (TBC)

Copyright statement

The author wishes this thesis to be made available under the most permissive Creative Commons license available.

This is currently CC0, which states:

To the extent possible under law, Adam Procter has waived all copyright and related or neighbouring rights to (Title of Thesis Text). This work is published from: United Kingdom.

Further details on CC0 available at: creativecommons.org/publicdom…

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON

WEB SCIENCE INSTITUTION

Winchester School of Art

(Title of Thesis text)

by

Adam Procter

Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

August 2021

Thanks

Throughout this process I have worked openly and tried to talk and show my work to as many people as possible all of which has helped shaped my thinking. So thank you to all of you.

I must however attempt to thank directly a few people.

My supervisors Seth Giddings and Hugh Davis for being insanely supportive of my process and always encouraging me. I recall when I first approached Hugh his reply was “I have no need to take on any more PhD students, but I like what you are talking about.” It was such a confidence boost back them and all our sessions have always been like that. Our last session in person and before Hugh’s (almost full retirement) I was super nervous to show him the current version of nodenogg.in and explain what I had been finding out, I couldn’t read his reaction and then he said “great you’re done, write this up” I am still shocked today. 👏

I want to thank Seth for putting up with me asking literally the same question every supervision, just using slightly different words. 😣

I also want to thanks Jussi Parikka originally part of my supervision team in who he had the ability to take the terrible text or clunky explanations I gave and reflected them back in ways that not only sounded great but explained what I was thinking better. If I had been able to use him to translate my text and speech into this thesis I have a sneaking suspicion it would have been better. 🤷‍♂️

I would like to thank Mathew Louis Parker for helping me to really solve some of my early issues I wanted to resolve via technology choices and for sending me a link to CouchDB and helping me actually understand enough of git to realise key parts of my practice.

Toby Milner-Gulland who was instrumental in contributing code not only in the form of prototypes but also his pull request and work on the repo of the alpha nodenogg.in. And for letting me ramble on over discord about the same old stuff, especially during the 2020 lockdown.

I want to thank my family, they have allowed me the time to pursue this work although my wife seemed to think my PhD day was my day off, and would constantly check with me on the end date as she was sick of paying the fees. It would be remiss at this point if I didn’t apologise to the University of Southampton’s finance team for always having problems with my fees, I suspect they may have had my face on a dartboard.

And my biggest thanks is with the BA Games Design & Art students who happily used nodenogg.in in its various forms and other software as I tested out ideas and gather thought and feedback. This would not have been possible at all without them.

Ed D’Souza and more recently Larry Lynch respective Heads of School at WSA who have been incredibly supportive and Tim Metcalf my ever suffering line Manager. The other programme leaders during my time at WSA past and present, Rose, Amanda, Deirdre, John, Amanda and Cecilia.

Micheal Joseph for kindly proof reading, although he may not want to be mentioned, however his help with commas and such was so important but also as a complete outsider he would often question my writing that was direct but so useful.

Doug Belshaw for just being Doug.

And it almost goes without saying Yates, Langford, Lister, Aldred, Jaygo, Nick and Daniel.

Preface

In this thesis I intend to use the personal pronoun. My practice and thinking for the last few years is interwoven with the work I undertake with students as a Principle Teaching Fellow and BA undergraduate Programme Lead and so I cannot refer to this work in an abstract and purely academic way. 👨‍🎓

Also to note within the thesis where the term user would typically be the convention I will deliberately use the term human or player in its place for example;

when using Microsoft Clippy, users complained about the fact Clippy was always asking if they were writing a CV

Would be written;

when using Microsoft Clippy, humans complained about the fact Clippy was always asking if they were writing a CV

This may at times render the text as clunky however the term user implies being used and there also needs to be a distinction that a human being is making the interaction and thus extending themselves with the machine. The term player will be used mainly in the context of single-player versus multiplayer but also portrays the important role play has within idea generation. 👾

The central output of my practice is nodenogg.in and using it within Art & Design studio education. nodenogg.in is a digital canvas for multiplayer thinking.

nodenogg.in interface Feb 2021

The scope of my practice and thesis focusses specifically on how the representation of information and ideas generated by a community of practitioners within the studio environment of a UK Higher Education Institution Art School could impact learning, ideation and how we make things.

Over the last few years my practice has been focussed on thinking about and trying various tools and systems in a studio based design teaching environment.

However my practice culminates and centres around human centred design practices, a community of learners and the implications of augmenting our thinking in conjunction with computing, software and network capable devices within this thesis, my online outputs and my tool nodenogg.in.

However there are various elements of my practice that revolve around this core and I hope to convey the highly multidisciplinary nature of my thinking. My practice includes and has always been to work in the open as much as possible. So throughout the time of my PhD I have messaged, blogged, created media, discussed, presented and uploaded various ideas and prototypes online, excited feedback and welcomed contributions in the forms of discussion and code.

My practice is part of the wider practice of building “Tools for Thought” (Rheingold, 1985) couple with the process of thinking-through-making (Ingold, 2013). 🛠

Timothy Ingold, is a British anthropologist, and Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. Ingold argues that creativity emerges from the ongoing process between practitioners, materials, tools and the physical environment and this is what shapes the objects and learning via the complex and reciprocal relationships between these elements.

Howard Rheingold is a writer and designer and one of a handful of pioneers who saw how computers and then the Internet could transform how we think. Lev Manovich the renowned media theorist and Professor of Computer Science states on Rheingold’s book;

Tools for Thought (Rheingold, 1985) is organised around the key insight that computers and software are not just “technology” but rather the new medium in which we can think and imagine differently. (Manovich, 2013, p13)

Ted Nelson pioneer of information technology, philosopher, and sociologist who coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia argues that the design of the systems we use now is based on the imitation and thus limitation of paper.

Conventional electronic documents were designed in the 1970s by well funded conventional thinkers at Xerox PARC, who asked, “How can we imitate paper?” (Nelson, 2016)

This PhD however is not an attempt to criticise or downplay the history of modern computing and the role of structure and organisation we have within our current desktop, mobile and other systems that present information to us. 💻

Neither does it look to romanticise the raft of early Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) pioneers such as JCR Linklider, Ivan Sutherland, Douglas Englebert, Seymour Papert and Alan Kay. ✨

However my practice and the associated thesis is in part exploring and playing with concepts as Culkin (1967, p70) states in his commentary on Marshall McLuhan whose work is considered among the corner stones of media theory, “We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us”. And so the concept of how we interact with the information presented to us and the thoughts we have is directly connected to each other.

William Playfair, considered the founder of graphic representation of statistics and inventor of the line graph, bar chart, pie chart and circle graph states;

As knowledge increases amongst mankind, and transactions multiply, it becomes more and more desirable to abbreviate and facilitate the modes of conveying information from one person to another, and from one individual to many. (Playfair, 1786)

So how could the way we convey, make and represent the information generated and presented to this community of practice have a direct impact on what is made. I will argue that what is made is directly affected by the systems we use within this environment and I will demonstrate this through research, a series of interventions and experiments that have been undertaken during 2016 through to 2020 within this community. I will then discuss the considerations such interventions digital tool makers and those that use them must urgently consider in order to respect the augmentation of ourselves. Aral Balkan renowned digital rights activist states;

Once we understand that we extend our selves with technology and that our technology and data lie within the boundaries of the self, then we must insist that the constitutional protections of the self that we have enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and implemented within our myriad of national laws are extended to protect the cyborg self.(Balkan, 2017)

Trust the Journey

The culmination of the alpha tool nodenogg.in and the thinking around this tool has been heavily influenced by a number of contexts that surround its creation. So to understand the design decisions in some depth the context plays a larger role. I will walk you through a retrospective of the journey, introduce various prototypes as this process unfolds and reflect on having humans directly involved in the process of design and ideation as well as underpin the tool within a theorical context.

A note here as well in that you should not look for a chapter entitled, Literature Review. As with all of this work this process has been woven throughout the entire process so as we progress through the journey I shall be placing key literature inline at the points where they fit. Some will have been pre reading and become relevant later and some was post reading as I found out more and more on the journey. Alongside the references I have tried to include from my numerous sources, a comprehensive bibliography which contains the wider breath of reading, listening and video material, that you are invited to explore anytime.

I want to rewind back to 2003/2004. I had recently completed my MA in Art Design & Internet Technologies which had culminated in an Exhibition in the Hat Factory in Luton showcasing my flash multiplayer interactive environment. From anywhere in the world you would arrive in this virtual park, walk around, as a small animal with others live online, where you could upload, watch and review image and video work alongside perimeter based chat. Looking back now it was akin to a mash up of Animal Crossings meets Social Media.

meanwhile interface

This work was inspired by what was being called web 2.0 and the idea of collaborative practice, transforming the way we understand and participate in the world.

I attempted to explore the idea of virtual space that was not just collaborative but had a spatial element and the concept of sharing at its heart. This tool was designed to bring makers together into a physical space to share and critique each other’s work. Today a web app called gather town is gaining momentum using similar thinking to meanwhile. gather.town(https://gather.town/)

But how is this relevant, almost a decade before I started my PhD? Because the web had inspired me, the idea of sharing and collaborative practice seemed to unlocking, the way to new ideas and new thoughts. Learning while having access to the web was going to be transformative for everyone.

Yet what we have as of 2020 is very much a consumption, advert driven web. And I hope you will see in this project, where I started from the position that the web had lost its focus and usefulness, that I came to realise that the web is not the only means of interacting with hypermedia and nor should it be.

The start of this project was looking at the place where we as academics share the seeds of this exploration for our students - the Learning Management System (LMS)

The Problem with the LMS and related systems

Dr. Alan Bainbridge, Doctor of Clinical Science in the School of Childhood and Education Sciences Faculty Canterbury who has been working within Higher Education since 2001 noted in the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education;

Despite the widespread application of digital technologies in higher education there is scant evidence to suggest that these have had a significant impact on student learning. (Bainbridge, 2014, p1)

The LMS (Learning Management System), the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) or MLE (Managed Learning Environment) are at the heart of all HE institutional mechanisms and are intended to support teaching and learning. However, in fact, these platforms are essentially designed in support and extension of the administrative needs of an institute. The LMS is built around serving as an institutional level course management system attaching students and staff to the correct content for the individuals programme of study.

Reports connected to the use of the LMS (Mott, 2013) show that they are primarily used as content distribution and administrative tools while any so called interactive learning tools, such as blogs, wikis and quizzes are used only sparingly. Stephen Downes (2007) who has explored and promoted the educational use of computer and online technologies since 1995 points to this being one of the many limitations of the LMS because of its emphasis on managing, and therefore over-structuring learning, which then conflicts with how we actually learn.

Audrey Waters, a renowned education and technology journalist covering the field since 2010, who also followed the state of the LMS and the associated technologies states;

The LMS, the VLE, is a piece of administrative software — there’s that word “management” in there that sort of gives it away for us in the US at least — software that purports to address questions about teaching and learning but often circumscribing pedagogical possibilities. (Waters, 2014, p22)

Bainbridge goes further in his summary suggesting that these tools have been imposed on the learning spaces just to bring in those designed to surveil.

Digital technologies are being imposed upon formal learning environments, particularly focused within HE and often associated with the ‘student experience’ agenda. This imposition often reflects what amounts to a thought-less approach to teaching and learning, in which pedagogy is side-lined by neoliberal practices of efficiency and surveillance. (Bainbridge, 2014, p2).

Looking at what enhancements could technology bring Adrian Kirkwood, previous of Open University and now consultant on Teaching and Learning with Technology writes with Linda Price Professor of Educational Technology at Kingston University that “In education it is often taken for granted that technologies can ‘enhance learning’” (Kirkwood, Price, 2014 pp. 6–36) stating that the “Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme (TELRP) (http://www.tel.ac.uk/)” although having received £12 million in funding (2007–12) a 2014 presentation the Director of the research programme provides a clear introductory statement:

Does technology enhance learning? It’s not unreasonable to ask this question, but unfortunately it’s the wrong question. A better question is: how can we design technology that enhances learning, and how can we measure that enhancement?

This statement suggests although there was substantial funding there was little evidence on enhancing learning in the conclusion of the paper Kinkwood and Price state;

The potential of technology to transform teaching and learning practices does not appear to have achieved substantial uptake, as the majority of studies focused on reproducing or reinforcing existing practices.

Blackboard is one of the largest installed LMSs across the globe and caters for a host of courses within both Further Education and Higher Education.

Figure 5: Blackboard install base

So we will use Blackboard as the archetypal example, but understand that other systems, Moodle, Canvas etcetera have also taken similar approaches to the design structure and GUI representations in their main products.

Blackboard attempts to simulate a real-world situation. The simulation is an office environment where there are administrative processes to connect staff or students to specific files and folders. The system can be imagined as a locked filing cabinet where each person knows the specific code to access a specific folder within a given cabinet.

Figure 6: Shows the folder and files structure from within Blackboard

This process inherently upholds the top down hierarchy: for example, a folder that a student has access to is not a location where they can put new items. The permissions give the tutor read and write access whereas the folder is presented to the student as read only - they cannot add to this folder. This is the default. This settings are dictated from the administrative database which has to categorise individuals against roles as tutor or student. Thus, by their design these systems become a holding location for materials that staff are obligated to provide. The system provides one improvement over paper copies, namely that the student is not able to lose the document.

This is exactly how Blackboard has and is used primarily at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. Like many that have used systems like this, they have lamented that there must be a better way, even undergraduate students on Design or User Experience (UX) courses will often attempt to redesign the LMS as part of their major projects, which is fair enough, they study design for years and one of the main interfaces they are presented with on a daily basis is clunky and difficult to engage with.

My own research in this area was building on a funded project I had undertaken with the University of Brighton and JISC Higher Education Academy Open Educational Resources Programme (2009 - 2012). As part of this research I produced a report and subsequent paper for the First International Workshop on “Understanding Delight in Design: User Experience, Technologies and Tools”, entitled “The need for delight in online education materials” (2012) at the University of Birmingham and a follow up conference presentation at the University of Brighton, Drawing on All Resources: developing open educational practice in art, design and media, titled “User Experience (a hidden barrier) in OER” (2012). My initial argument was that these tools had yet to take on the same level of delight that other tools students where exposed to outside of the institutes own tools.

Shortly after this (2013) I also ran a project(https://notes.adamprocter.co.uk/posts/brief/) within the University of Southampton for the Technology Enhanced Living and Learning Board (TELL) attempting to apply some of these principles I had gathered onto EdShare, EdShare is powerful digital repository solution optimised for open education built upon the open source repository software EPrints which is supported and developed by the University of Southampton. The project ended up producing a few recommendations that were implemented at the time and a few mock ups produced in HTML and CSS showcasing more intuitive approches to navigate and view the materials. The mockups(http://meanwhile.soton.ac.uk/edshareproto/#) and blog(http://meanwhile.soton.ac.uk/redux/) are still online.

However the scale and complexity of EdShare prohibited further development of this new design into an actual live repository and although initially it looked promising the costs of developing on top of the Perl system were highly prohibitive and the ability to further fund this work was not within the gift of the TELL Board. Although in all this work the vast most of people freely admitted Blackboard had and has problems, EdShare was not given any additional funding internally to move beyond a simple repository and its root in ePrints, a research repository, dictate much of the system, EdShare continues to do well outside of the University of Southampton and is a very widely adopted Open Education Repository.

Although it seems obvious it was clear that a paint job on top of a system that inherits the administrative back end of the University would only go so far. Even in 2020 a new front end to our blackboard was designed.

Such a small change doesh appears to improve navigation however it doesn’t fundamentally alter the issue that a digital repository of teaching and learning materials does no more than a well organised filing cabinet in the studio and yet Blackboard costs can be huge for an institute: figures of $300,000 are not unusual.

So as Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple, famously rebuffed a pointed question at the 1997 at the Apple Developers Conference

you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.

Don Norman, director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego and regarded as an expert in the fields of design, usability engineering, and cognitive science states;

Its not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.  (Norman, 2004)

Drawing on my own experience and talking to staff about the requirements specifically for creating learning materials within Winchester School of Art, draw me to two specific conclusions. Staff needed to create brief(s) and slidedeck(s) and provide that information to students in a timely and organised manner.

In observation I noticed a huge amount of time was spent by staff designing the briefs and presentations and then a lot of time was spent organising them into the file and folder structure of the LMS.

Each member of staff perhaps working from a Keynote (slide deck) or Indesign document (brief) template, often not, would add information for the brief or the presentation whilst being overly distracted by the design of each piece of work, yet the key information, the images and the text was the true focus, often formatting would get in the way, other tasks would also interrupt this exercise. Many of the staff come from a design and art background and s they used tools there where familiar with and taught as authoring tools or client work and pitching but not necessarily the most suitable for creating the learning objects needed.

In the publish phase which would often involve many steps staff would often upload propriety files keynote or powerpoint files students couldn’t open, some Blackboard spaces would be organised one way and some another. This then would often be resolved with training and technical guidance to encourage staff to author and publish (to Blackboard) in a specific way.

All of these choices did little to support the staff, who especially didn’t like to be told to use Microsoft word and guidance was often forgotten or relied on each staff member to recall and input, even a copy and paste from the previous year would result in administrative overheads.

Outside of design and more specifically in knowledge working and programming, there had been a rise of distraction free writing tools and ensuring such tools used the interoperable nature of plaintext.

I personally had moved to using Ulysses, a distraction free mac app and Deckset a markdown based slide deck creator for my own workflow. These apps specifically via the use of markdown, markdown is a lightweight syntax for formatting plain-text by simply adding symbols such as the hash (#) or the asterisk (*) you could use these characters to indicate the meaning of the text, a series of hashes to denote various headers and asterisk to emphasis or show strong importance for words or sentences. Some of the apps like Ulysses also strips away formatting when coping and pasting from other sources and some added in additional plain text conversion to denote things such as slide separations. Tools like Ulysses and Deckset took all the formatting choices away from the interface and allowed me to focus on the task at hand, writing the content and gathering the media, moving and editing slides was a simple cut and paste.

Figure 1 - Deckset and FoldingText

In Figure 1 on the left is the slide deck, formatted and ready to present and on the right is the authoring file (in this instance displayed in FoldingText). Editing the text file updates the slide deck, which uses a template, of your choosing, to render the completed presentation. The slide deck software performs the function of presenting and exporting as a PDF, both the original plain-text and the PDF are universally accessible.

I found I was able to build and edit presentations and briefs in a much more timely and focussed manner. Steve Wheeler a Learning Innovations Consultant and former Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at Plymouth University, whose career has focussed around media, technology and learning, predominantly in nurse education and teacher education call this transparent technology;

Transparent technology is a joy to use, you concentrate on what you can do with it, rather than what it does (Wheeler, 2014)

I imagined an app that combined not only the ability to create these briefs and slide decks in a focussed way but also to display the outputs in an intuitive and navigational space.

Now before we dig into this next phase of thinking through making, I want to discuss some parallel processes I was undertaking with the Games Design & Art studios

Slack

Let’s talk about Slack in Education, in 2014 I started running a brand new programme BA (Hons) Games Design & Art. I had previous used Slack and been encourage further when I heard about its full time use within the University of Greenwich course MA Web Design & Content Planning I had been introduced to at Web Teaching Day (2014).

Studio Culture & the Community of Practice.

The next element that starts to come into play when I started to explore the idea of student contributions was a key concept I have hang onto in dissolving the hierarchy in the space of learning. It turn’s out I have not been the first person to be concerned about this, Paulo Reglus Neves Freire a Brazilian educator stated in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a foundational texts of the critical pedagogy movement;

Education must begin with the solution of the student-teacher contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students. (Freire, 1970 , p54)

I have always been keen to promote the concept that as there is no hierarchy in the University and that we are all learning, some of is may have more knowledge or experience in some areas. I have always learnt from my students.

Learning is a collaborative, shared endeavour. No matter the form of learning you undertake be that within an active network of people or on your own the learning you undertake is either building on or building with others. This pursuit is never a purely individual exercise.

Wouter R. Van Joolingen is an Assistant Professor, Faculty of Educational Science and Technology, University of Twente, specialises in discovery learning and artificial intelligence and education.

Socio-constructivist learning theories perceive learning as a constructive, situated and collaborative process. These theories converge on the notion that learners develop understanding of a domain by working on authentic tasks in realistic settings. (W.R. van Joolingen et al, 2005)

Etherpad for Education

Etherpad changed things a lot, in the academic year 2016/2017, I was teaching the very first final year cohort of the new BA (Hons) Games Design & Art, I had designed and started in 2014. For the final year over the summer I devised a structure for the year that specifically involved a series of phases that each student would follow in Semester one, these phases would involve a lot of presentations as they developed and pitch concepts for a final game to be made in Semester two, I had no idea if the structure would work, If the type of games I imagined could be done, I had run final years before and managed many very successful projects but not as complex as this with all the students making games, however I was given the confidence by other staff and management and at the end of the year I was blown away by what the students produced.

Show at Winchester School of ArtShow at Hoxton Arches, London

Back to Etherpad and its revelation in my project. Etherpad is an open-source, web-based collaborative real-time editor, allowing authors to simultaneously edit text, and see all of the participants’ edits in real-time, with the ability to display each author’s text in their own colour.

WIP

This list hopefully gives the reader an idea of some of the topics coming and an aide-mémoire for me. The vast majority of the text will cover the discoveries in making what has become nodenogg.in (alpha) but the following headlines will be interwoven as the context has direct bearing on the making.

  • Problem - Edutech in bed with Surveillance
  • Solutions - Privacy of our thinking
    • local first
    • decentralised
    • anonymous
    • leaner analytics , learners first
  • Problem - Propriety software Not transparent nor interoperable
  • Solutions - Free/Libre Open Source Software
    • inclusive
    • humane rights
    • cyborg rights
  • Problem - Silos of content
    • share spaces
    • co-create over colloborate
    • inclusive
    • delightful
      • New tools create new ideas, that create new tools.
      • Modular
      • plug in

Technology

A quick note on technology used in nodenogg.in (alpha) . Detailed explanations on choices will be forthcoming in above thesis.

  • Vue.js
  • PouchDB & CouchDB
  • IPFS (interplanetary file system)

Code Repository (Gitlab)

Too long has the web, our means of connecting everyone, been stuck in a rut of mass consumption, mass advertising and mass surveillance, we must to wrestle it back into one of mass open decentralised co-creation. Here comes everybody!