Politics v personhood: #iltaedtech17 conversations

This week’s  EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) had the theme: TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. Some very interesting conversations have come out of the event, and you can explore the conversation on Twitter #iltaedtech17 or explore the hashtag and archive on TAGSExplorer as well as ILTA’s webpages for the programme and live streaming links with videos to follow shortly.

Last year at the event Audrey Watters gave a keynote talk called ‘The Rough Beasts of Education Technology‘ and at the time Audrey was looking at a future before the Brexit referendum or the Trump administration. One of the themes from Audrey’s talk last year that continued to resonate with me when listening to this year’s speakers was the role of machines in the future of education. Whether it’s AI, AR, VR or machine learning, one of the dominant narratives is one of inevitability, of machines taking the place of human beings, of technology dominating how we meet the challenges of our age. At the same time, there were many sessions I attended that a a focus on up-skilling and supporting staff in the deployment of Learning Technology, with the aim of building competence, confident and leadership.

Reflecting on the keynotes and breakout sessions I find myself exploring the tension between the politics of globalised, technological capitalism on the one hand and how our sense of being a person is defined by how we learn and teach on the other.

I heard of many examples of technology being used to scale up provision of teaching and assessment, to deliver content in more personalised, flexible ways, to collect and analyse data and make use of it to increase retention or enhance outcomes. The use of technology in this context is a response to solving the challenges presented by the labour market, the political climate, the shareholder – and reflects a transactional relationship between the learner and the institution that accredits the outcome. There is a sense of inevitability, of technological determinism, that points to a future in which we as human beings only find a use in education for ‘what we are good at’ or rather for what machines are not yet deemed good enough, like providing guidance or critical dialogue.

At the other end of the spectrum where a range of sessions that were focused on putting Learning Technology in the hands of the teachers and learners in more creative, empowered ways – to enhance not replace human learning and teaching. These highlighted how difficult it is to keep up with innovation and use of technology, how big a challenge it is to address ethical implications or build critical approaches while keeping pace with an ever changing technology landscape. And there were many, many examples of Learning Technology at its best: broadening access, supporting learning, transforming teaching and connecting people. One of these was awarded the Jennifer Burke Award at the conference for the #coolPE project, ‘focused on preparing pre-service teachers for the inclusive classroom in a digital era’. It showcased powerful examples of using Learning Technology to address issues like body image, bullying and confidence.

My own short talk at the conference was about how openness in professional practice in Learning Technology can promote equality. Before the conference I did a lot of reading about efforts to promote equality in different contexts, such as gender equality, pay equality, marriage equality and so forth. After the conference I thought more about how our rights are affected by the decisions of those who control the technology that increasingly shapes our understanding of who we are. These kinds of questions have been explored by writers far more eloquent that what I can write here, but it is important that events like this enable us to reflect as part of a community and continue the conversation.

Big challenge ahead: talking about equality #iltaedtech17 #femedtech #oer17 #altc

This week I am looking forward to giving a short talk at the EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). This year’s theme is TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. 

The event has what looks like a great programme. My own focus is on exploring how openness can be a tool for Learning Technology professionals to promote equality. I am going to look at three specific examples of this, starting with work that’s happening close to home in the ALT Member Community and in particular our local Member Groups – illustrating this with the visual thinkery created for ALT by Bryan Mathers. The other two examples I want to talk about are the emerging FemEdTech network and the voices still echoing from the OER17 conference. I’ve shared my slides below and I look forward to the conversations and feedback in response to my contribution – and a special thanks to Catherine Cronin who has already provided me with some very helpful comments!

Below is the full transcript of my talk:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you how individuals are taking action to promote equality in Learning Technology, equality in our profession and across sectors – equality for individuals and within institutions.

Equality. We are facing a big challenge. Looking around this room everyone among us has witnessed inequality in some form. On a global scale policy and strategy are necessary to address some of the most fundamental challenges that stand in the way of greater equality for all – but what I’d like to explore is how taking action on a personal basis, taking action as part of our professional practice, can make a difference. Make a difference through openness – openness as in for example sharing OERs, using open licencing, through open governance and open practice at all levels.

The first example is the work of ALT’s Member Groups, and also Special Interest Groups who share their practice and collaborate openly, all across the UK and beyond. Aligned to ALT’s aims the Learning Technology professionals who are active in these groups share the values we have set out as a community and sharing their experiences, both failures and success. These groups, by being inclusive and community-led, have contributed to making our membership more diverse and their work continues to contribute to strengthen equality in our profession.

Now, the emerging femedtech network is a new initiative that is led by Learning Technology professionals who are taking personal action to promote equality and to do so through open practice, conversations and events. It’s an important effort to create a safe space that is also open and inclusive. We want to celebrate and extend the opportunities offered by education in/and/with technology – to women, and to all people who might otherwise be disadvantaged or excluded. If you haven’t already, I urge you to look at the work that this network is beginning to undertake.

My last example are the voices still echo-ing from the OER17 conference convened earlier this year by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski. Josie, Alek and the organising committee made a concerted effort this year to create a more diverse, inclusive programme with a distinctive all female keynote line up and a programme that inspired a lot of critical reflection and conversation long after the event – and indeed that conversation is still going on. Catherine Cronin, who was part of the closing plenary at the conference, later reflected that the themes of criticality, equality and social justice were at the heart of OER17. It was a powerful example of many individuals taking action together – through openness – and making a difference.

Days like today give us that opportunity, to reflect on how we, as individuals, as a professional community, can take action to achieve greater equality through openness, to harness technology to do so – and then to go and make a difference.

Creating a #cpd #cmalt portfolio as a solo undertaking

At a recent session with a group of Learning Technology professionals we discussed how to best compile a portfolio for CPD and accreditation such as for the CMALT scheme. One of the options we discussed was to join forces either as a group within an institution or with peers elsewhere. In many instances that involves meeting up for writing sessions, progressing through the process at the same pace and sharing work in progress. There are a lot of advantages to this, but what if you don’t have that option? I wrote my own portfolio pretty much in isolation until it was very close to completion (full disclosure: it did take me three attempts over a 5 year period to actually complete it, so my approach is not necessarily the one to follow. On the other hand, I’ve learnt from the mistakes I made). So this post contains a brief overview of how to compile a CMALT portfolio as a solo undertaking.  

Step 1: I started with the structure, copying the heading structure that’s required into a blank Google doc. At the start is the contextual statement, the future plans section is last and in between are all the required Core Areas as well as a placeholder for the Specialist Area.

Step 2: I then looked at the structure and tried to write down 1-2 examples of work I had done in each section. I added no details at this stage, just enough information for me to be able to identify what I meant. It was very quickly apparent that I had a lot of examples in some sections, none in others. So I moved some around which could fit into other sections. Once I had covered all Core Areas it was easier to decide what to pick for my specialist option, basically something I hadn’t already covered.

Step 3: Once I had the structure and at least 1 example in each area, I started with the section I thought would be easiest (1b in my case) and added a description and some evidence. Once I had those, I added the reflection at the end. That’s what I did for each section in turn. Some took longer, usually because evidence was time consuming to collect or reflection felt harder. Because I already had a scaffold (i.e. the heading structure and at least 1 example for each section), working on the portfolio moved ahead at a much better pace. In previous attempts I hadn’t planned ahead and found the blank pages ahead daunting each time I moved on to a new section.

Step 4: Once all the required and the specialist areas were complete, I took a step back and started writing my contextual statement and the future plans section. That was a lot easier with the rest of the portfolio in place because the examples I used shaped what I wrote. Also, having reflected on my work made thinking about the future much more straight forward.

Optional step 5: Because I wrote my portfolio in isolation, without peers or feedback or someone to compare it with, I felt some feedback would be useful before I submitted it. I sent it to a few people and they came back with useful comments which were incorporated. I also shared it with colleagues who were directly mentioned.

Hearing about the sharing and support that groups or peers provide sounds like a great way to undertake CPD. In my case, writing my portfolio was mainly confined to odd anti-social hours and I needed to progress at my own pace. If, like me, you are on your CPD or #CMALT journey in a solo capacity, I hope this post is helpful and good luck!

Cemeteries of the web: parallels between Victorian burial culture and digital infrastructure

For over ten years I’ve been working in Learning Technology, but before then I spent five years doing research as an Anthropologist. I wrote a thesis about cemeteries and more specifically about the contested nature of cemeteries as cultural and material spaces. I often get asked what the link is between my work in Anthropology and Learning Technology and for me there are many. One of the strongest is that in both cases what I am most interested in is how we deal with change – and what’s left behind.

I’ve also been catching up on a year’s worth of The Contrafabulists podcasts and episode 18, recorded 14 August 2016, deals with questions around permanency online, ownership of domains and digital infrastructure – our control or lack thereof over these issues and so forth (it’s a great podcast series by Audrey Watters and Kin Lane so if you haven’t listened to it, I think you should).

Whilst listening it struck me that there are interesting parallels between what I studied and what this episode of the podcast was about, between Victorian burial culture and digital infrastructure. Here are some examples:

The illusion of permanency: one commonality for example is that a lot of digital infrastructure gives a promise of permanency in order to secure our engagement and content and Victorian entrepreneurs created urban cemeteries with the same promise. In the digital realm your posts, pictures or updates remain in place while their are valuable to the platform, but can disappear or become inaccessible with no or little notice. The newly created burial space in Victorian cities would similarly be described as a place for eternity, not just safeguarding bodily remains, but securing status and remembrance for future generations. And like its digital counterpart, cemeteries, too, could disappear for building projects or urban development with gravestones stacked unceremoniously against a wall or used as paving material.

Ineffective legal/governance frameworks: another commonality and a key issue common to both is lack of an effective legal/governance framework. For example platform user agreements that are too complex to understand or difficult to enforce – but in particular frameworks that do not take into account what happens when things change, what happens beyond the current profit predictions. Like the commercial cemetery companies in Victorian London, tech companies often operate and grow on the basis of quickly realised profits. Not many plan for the long term.

Perpetuating inequality: similar to the way in which digital infrastructure helps shape and control the actions of and narrative around our lives, Victorian cemeteries were design to do the same. Through their architecture, which echoed classical eras, through their layout, which privileged the wealthy and powerful, to the burial culture, which assigned places to men, women and children according to their status and station as well as religion, and even extending to the landscape and natural elements like plants and views, every element of the space was designed to construct a narrative of power. The history that Victorian burial culture records is the history of the ruling class.

There are many other examples, but what is most pertinent for me is that at the height of their popularity, Victorian cemeteries and the burial culture they embodied seemed unassailable, completely dominant. They had a deep impact on contemporary culture and development. What they celebrated and assigned value to was shaped by but also influenced Victorian society and culture in turn, spreading far beyond London and even England’s physical borders across the world throughout the British Empire. There was no notion that not even a century later very little of this culture would endure. Today, many of the most political, most powerful spaces of Victorian burial culture have become nature reserves, tourist attractions or slowly decaying urban wastelands.

Similarly, parts of our digital infrastructure can seem so dominant, to ubiquitous that it is hard to imagine what’s beyond them. In both cases we have limited control over what matters to us and enforcing it comes with compromises. In general digital platforms  operate on the premise that we either ignore or accept an uncertain future or otherwise make our own provision to whatever extent that we can – by securing our own domains and data.

CPD #cmalt as a springboard into openness and ownership

Recently there have been a lot of interesting posts on Twitter #cmalt about how compiling a portfolio of your professional practice can be an open process (if you have not come across the #cmalt accreditation scheme, have a look at the ALT website or watch this).

My own portfolio was accredited through CMALT in early 2016 and since then I’ve shared both posts about the process and the portfolio itself. But reading the recent posts made me think afresh about how undertaking CPD like compiling a CMALT portflio can be a springboard into openness and ownership – and some of the considerations I had when deciding on these issues.

Considering others: in the context of a portfolio that describes and reflects on professional practice taking colleagues into consideration is key. Even though the CMALT process requires you to focus on writing in the first person, to reflect on your individual practice, anyone with management responsibilities or who works as part of a team, needs to consider how others are portrayed in what they share. In my case, I asked colleagues for permission if it was necessary to refer to them directly and I chose examples of practice specifically because they were suitable for sharing.

Continuous reflection doesn’t have to be open: one of the key benefits of gaining CMALT for me is that it prompts me to continue my reflections on an ongoing basis as I collect evidence of practice for the update to my portfolio every 3 years. Some of this is work in progress or hastily written, so I don’t share it. I choose what I share, when and with whom and it’s valuable to have safe, closed spaces within my CMALT folders and documents that encourage critical reflection as well as recording achievements. The process of deciding what is open and what is less open in itself is a valuable experience.

Contributing to our understanding of professional practice: as well as sharing my portfolio I have also added it to the sharing initiative run by ALT. It’s not openly accessible to everyone, but only to members or individuals registered for the cmalt scheme. I think this offers the advantage of being able to contribute to a wider picture of what professional practice in Learning Technology looks like as well as helping others find useful examples in their sector, job role or specialist area. It also provides an alternative way of sharing practice instead of putting your portfolio out on the public web.

Taking ownership of what you share: I compiled my portfolio using Google Apps for Education (more info) and I use the same tools now to track my CPD and collect evidence as I go along. Loosing access to portfolios or evidence on institutional systems is a real risk for many and I wanted to keep my content for the long term. Recently, I have decided to take that a step further and started transferring my portfolio onto this site, my own domain (thanks to Reclaim Hosting!).

Some of it is already available now at http://marendeepwell.com/cmalt/  and in the fullness of time it should enable me to take even more ownership of my professional practice and the recognition I gain.

Time to be… open #OER17

We’re getting ready for the OER17: The Politics of Open conference this week. As one of the organisers of the event my main focus has to be on making sure everything runs as well as it can – but it’s also an opportunity for me to spend a few days with a community who shape the future of open education around the globe. And this year the conference has a stellar line up across 2 days with sessions set to challenge the politics of openness from the personal to the national.

Image of ALT laptop stickers
Stickers featured in the workshop

There already is a plethora of blog posts by practitioners reflecting on and setting out their thoughts, hopes and inspirations. It makes for inspiring reading and personally I can’t wait to see some of these conversations play out at the event. I might have to write a follow up blog post (with a particular focus on a workshop I will be running jointly with Bryan Mathers called ‘From Voice to Visual – the making of an open strategy’ ). For now, here is what I’ve got in mind for my own #OER17, beyond the running of it:

First, I’ll be looking out for new opportunities for Learning Technology to scale up, support and strengthen Open Educational practice. Technology isn’t always the answer, but I often think it can do more for openness.

Second, I’ll be making time to have conversations. This year I am prioritising people over the programme… so if you are at the event in person or joining into one of the streamed sessions (or my first venture into Virtually Connecting thanks to Maha Bali!) come and say hello.

Third on my list for this week is to enjoy OER17. That might seem like an obvious one, but it’s worth remembering. Over the past 12 months I have seen volunteers and colleagues pull together an event that has grown in participation, influence and voice. It’s going to be an amazing opportunity for everyone to come together and hopefully translate into practice and policy what they experience this week – taking action for open education.

Equality, empowerment, accreditation and beyond. My fantasy conference proposals… #altc

Every year around this time when I encourage my peers to submit proposals to the ALT Annual Conference, I reflect on the fact that as one of the organisers I can’t submit a proposal myself. And given that as a Learning Technologist this is one of the key events in my diary each year, I have often thought about what I would submit if I wasn’t affiliated with ALT. So here are some of my fantasy proposals, ideas in the making, that I won’t be submitting (again) this year. If you have your own ideas then your chance to submit your 250/500 word proposal is still open until 20th (or soon to be 27th) March. Take your chance & make your voice heard.

Poster, Theme: Wildcard: Poster showing how peer accreditation for Learning Technologist works based on the CMALT framework, which is mapped to a number of other accreditation pathways including the UKPSF, the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework and Blended Learning Essentials. CC licenced so that the model can be adopted by participants in their own contexts.

Lightening Talk, Theme: Empowerment in learning Technology: Empowered #edtech governance. A fast paced, visual take on how to work collaboratively with decision makers to build new strategies, using work with cross-sector stake holders as examples. Would include a 1 page “recipe” handout to take away and try out in your own organisation.

Presentation, Theme: Learning Spaces: this presentation would be led by three apprentices/interns whom I have worked with in the past year and they would take participants on a tour of their learning spaces, both physical and virtual. The tour guides would explain how spaces are used and lived in, why and for what purpose. We would reflect on issues like privacy and agency in different spaces and importantly what happens in the spaces and time periods between things, i.e. between institutions, between life stages, between qualifications. We’d question how Learning Technology can provide continuity for life long learning both online and in person.

Panel, Theme: Empowerment in Learning Technology: Working in Learning technology one of the things I am passionate about is equality. Particularly for those working as open practitioners there are so many ways in which inequality and discrimination can impact on our ability to achieve our aims. This panel would bring together 5 exceptional practitioners to share their own strategies for empowered practice in Learning Technology and to reflect critically on how their approaches are challenged. We’d invite participants to contribute their own tips and tools in advance and during the discussion, ending up in a series of posts providing practical information that would be useful to both learners and professionals.

Workshop, Theme: Wildcard: Learning Technology: top 10 complete failures. This is one of the sessions I’d like to go to but somehow it doesn’t seem to make it onto any conference programme. Presumably because no institution pays for their staff to go and share the details of how they lost money or worse when Learning Technology failed. And indeed because no one wishes to have this particular reference added to their CV. Still, other conferences now include specific sessions where we explore what happens when things go wrong. What happens when projects don’t deliver, students don’t use the tools or academics simply don’t co-operate. The list of forgotten, crumbling Learning Technologies is long. This workshop then would include the brave colleagues I have known and worked with over the years who would be prepared to share their perspectives so that we don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again. Participants would be contributing their own stories. Ideally one or two policy makers and industry experts would be contributing, too.

You probably have your own ideas as to what sessions you’d like to go and see at the conference. Submit them… .

My #EdTechRations outtakes

I recently wrote a post about contributing to a new book edited by David Hopkins called Emergency Rations #EdTechRations .

Not everything I wrote made it into the final version and I wrote quite a bit about how I work in addition to describing the things I can’t do without. So below is my contribution with additional comments and images that shows what it looks like as work in progress.

When I wrote the intro I thought about what makes certain things indispensable to me and why.

As is becoming increasingly common, my place of work can vary a lot from day to day and mostly I work on the go, between meetings or on the way to give presentations. I don’t often meet the people I work with  in person. Instead we communicate virtually. Still, I have to be able to collaborate effectively, so most of the technology I can’t do without helps me to keep in touch and to work together.

I try to find a balance between being contactable and getting space to think and get things done. So while I do have a smart watch, phone or laptop with me most of the time, I often switch all notifications off or enable flight mode.

Chromebook & Google Apps for Education

For about two years now a basic Toshiba Chromebook has been my constant companion. Bought initially to provide short term support during large events I have ended up using it for everything.

As a piece of kit it certainly has its limitations, but for me, there are significant advantages: to start with it is cheap, robust and data is not stored on the device so I cannot lose it. It starts up quickly, it is easy to use and provided you either learn or know how to use the apps it runs it delivers a great user experience. I have learnt some short cuts that really make a difference and the support documentation online is constantly growing. I am very partial to the mobile devices I have running iOS because I prefer the user interface, but on the laptop ChromeOS does a good job and is constantly improving.

Having limitations in what I software I can use has also had two other benefits: first, it has made my work more collaborative as practically everything I work on is shared. Secondly. It has forced me to take a simpler approach to complex tasks. I like the elegant simplicity I have become accustomed to.

I use as many different operating systems as possible because I like to keep in touch with what iOS/MacOS, Android and Windows feel like. Google Apps for Education help me switch between different devices and operating systems (nearly) seamlessly. Becoming more expert at using and administrating GAFE has had the welcome additional benefit of enabling me to support colleagues across the organisation better. I have also found it a useful tool for supporting professional development, such as building a shared, open CMALT portfolio .

I have written quite a bit in this blog about CMALT (you can see a list of previous posts here). One of the things I wish I had was a better way of recording evidence of professional development on the go. I have tried all sorts of apps and forms, but haven’t found anything that really fits the bill.

Headset, mobile data storage, power packs

Other bits and pieces that I usually have somewhere in my bag are a headset or headphones, a variety of options for data storage big and small and also at least one power pack to charge up mobile devices. I am not very good at carrying around the right kind of adapters for various things, so I rely on being able to plug in my Chromebook and everything else has to survive the day without top up. I am not choosy about which particular make I have as too often these small items get borrowed by co-presenters or colleagues and end up to need replacing.

Reading some of the other contributions to the book I was inspired by how much others think about the kinds of technology I described above. My shopping list has grown considerably since. These are often small essentials that can make a big difference.

The other things I reflected on was the non-digital items I have included. Obviously educational technology doesn’t have to be digital, but most of the time that’s what we seem to end up talking about. I am still glad I included things like pen, paper and shoes… .

Pen & paper

However much I use my watch, phone or laptop, I use pen and paper every day and it is something I could not do without. It doesn’t matter what kind of digital technology I have at my disposal there are always times when putting pen to paper is my first choice. Drawing, sketching, writing – there’s no substitute for me. I have a green Moleskine notebook that I take everywhere and solutions to some of the most complex things I do at work start life as a scribbly drawing on the pages of that notebook marked clearly by the uneven movement of the train.

Business cards, flyers or other printed materials

I  work with many people who are skeptical about Learning Technology or indeed technology in general. No matter what the context is there is always someone who prefers to have paper in their hand. So in that instance all of the digital technology I carry around can be useless and I have to have some form of paper back up. Business cards or printed postcards or flyers can be useful here. They are also a good alternative for when the technology or connectivity let me down. And you never know who you might meet on a train.

Shoes…

However much I work virtually, walking places is a major part of my working life. Sometimes it is simply between one room and another within a conference venue, on other days it is through a new city. My watch or phone might be measuring the distance or help me navigate along my route, but clocking up the miles is hardest on my feet. Shoes that are still comfortable 12 hours into my day and get me as fast as possible from A to B are essential. Shoes can say a lot about a person. They are part of making a first impression, everyone sees them when you stand on stage or at the front of a lecture theater. Just like stickers on a laptop or pin badges on lapels shoes can make a statement about who you are and where you are going.

Did I miss anything? Some apps maybe, stickers, pin badges like my CMALT badge for example… 😉 and I think there may be a whole section to be written on umbrellas – a technology four thousand years old that I cannot do without.

Collaboration in practice: Contributing to Emergency Rations #EdTechRations

This week saw the publication of a new book edited by David Hopkins called Emergency Rations #EdTechRations. This is a volume of contributions from dozens of individuals across sectors and below is a short description of  what the book is about:

“What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?”

This book is a collection of 40 world leading teachers, academics, influencers, critics and practitioners who have answered the question “have you ever walked out the door to go to work, the shops, the gym, etc. and realised you’d forgotten to pick up your smartphone? And then turned around and gone right back for it?

It was fun to contribute my own emergency rations and I enjoyed having a writing challenge of a different kind for a change. Seeing the finished product drop through my letterbox and leafing through so many different contributions, mostly written in words, but also drawn and illustrated, made me reflect on what a productive collaborative effort this has been.

A lot of the work I do is collaborative and I know first hand that getting a large group of people to produce something specific for a specific deadline is no small task. We used a range of platforms from Slack to Google Docs and Twitter along the way and I learnt a lot from reading and commenting on drafts of colleagues and then going back to review my own.

In the end what I included only represents a small part of the content I ended up writing, but the other bits will end up in blog posts or journal articles over time.

A big thank you to David for pulling everything together!

For my part, I am going to use this experience to set my sights on more writing projects in future, both collaborative and individual. It’s been an inspiring experience to see collaboration in practice.

The Future of Education in the House of Stairs…

I am looking forward to participating in the OEB Midsummit in June. Speakers have been invited to provide a quote about the future of education and you can read what others have written already on the event’s website (click on a speaker’s name to see their quote).

Whilst I was thinking about what I might say, I read through what the others have written and one quote from Audrey Watters is “I’m afraid that the future of education will be built by people who read dystopian science fiction novels and liked the “innovations”.” That made me think about books I have recently been reading by William Sleator. I am only familiar with his young adult novels and one book in particular has stuck in my mind for the past 20 years or so: it’s called House of Stairs and was published in 1974.

When I read it as a young adult I was most interested in the individual characters, five 16-year old orphans, trapped in a seemingly endless space that is filled with white stairs. The stairs become their world, the landscape in which they negotiate each other and themselves. As their struggle to survive intensifies their relationships do, too. At the end of the book [spoiler alert…] they are rescued. Yet despite the relative safety they find themselves in, their experience alters their behaviour and lives irrevocably. Some resist, others comply, and all pay a high price. It is not a happy ending and the vision of a dystopian future where even the most basic of rights and choices are beyond the characters’ control stayed with me.

Reading it again recently I thought less about the individuals, although the story is still gripping, and more about those in charge. Those who watch over their experiment as it comes to its gruesome conclusion. The powers that be (political or economic) have needs that this experiment must meet and the fate of the young protagonists is only incidental, it is revealed, to the wider effort. They have no agency, no say over their fate or future.

To be able to think, analyse and reflect is empowering. Having agency, having the power to determine the shape of things to come, seems to me to be a purpose of education. In the House of Stairs only extreme resistance offers the chance to exercise your own will, to have any form of agency.

I just hope that the people Audrey Watters is talking about don’t have the same bedtime reading as me.