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Introduction: Encounter in the edtech sprawl

It was a rainy night and the neon lights of the arcades were reflected in the pools of water on the streets… in the air was the smell of wok fried herbs and spices from the street food vendors and a chill wind was coming up from the docks. Above the rushing crowd of late night shoppers and workers hurrying to the train home stood the towering office blocks and residential high rises. … Welcome to the edtech sprawl… where the future is all light up in neon… a dark figure… follow her footsteps… and meet our heroine:

The ‘Neon Flaneuse’ 2019

Welcome dear reader…

This is the first post of a brand new blogging project and that’s a special moment. But before we jump right in, here is how this all began:

The idea of the Neon Flaneuse was originally inspired by the Call for Proposals of the Domains19 conference for which I wrote the following submission:

The Neon Flaneuse: taking steps towards empowered professional practice

The flaneur or flaneuse, a person who saunters around observing society, a loafer, a lounger, was a popular figure in 19th century Paris. A model of the urban explorer in shopping arcades lit with gas lights. Walter Benjamin later popularised the figure of the flaneur in his Passagenwerk as an archetype of the modern, urban experience. 

The flaneur combines a keen sense of observation and curiosity with a the slow pace of leisure and contemplation. A tortoise, the preferred pet of the flaneur, could set the pace of exploration. Yet as the industrialisation of cities increased and the pace of life grew more rapid, the figure disappeared. Enter: the neon flaneuse, the explorer of edtech sprawls who turns her critical gaze on the rapid pace of innovation, who poses questions about our relationship with technology, data and an uncertain future. 

This short talk lights up in neon light not students or institutions but the people that make it all happen: whether your work is teaching, technology or training others, you can take steps towards empowered professional practice by exploring: 

  • How to work in the critical age of educational technology? 
  • What are the risks and upsides to working, thinking and reflecting in the open?
  • How can we promote equality through empowered professional practice? 

Join the Neon Flaneuse on a walk through examples of professional practice including the critical age of edtech chronicled by Martin Weller in his blog series on 25 years in edtech and the work of open scholars like Sheila MacNeill, Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton which have inspired my work on open practice

Like the flaneuse of the 19th century, it can feel like we are running out of space to wander, explore and ponder and out of time and privacy in a world of social networks and constant connectivity. Like the flaneuse of the 19th century we work in a context where the dominant perspective is still that of the privileged, male, white classes – a gaze that we need to develop awareness of and critical approaches to challenge and subvert. 

The final avenue of exploration will be the growing #femedtech network, a professional network curated via the @femedtech Twitter account. As one of the volunteers active in the network I will share ideas and lessons learnt as well as a call to action to get involved in promoting equality for everyone in educational technology and establish a more empowered professional practice in the process. 

So join me and the Neon Flaneuse on this saunter through the edtech sprawl of professional practice as we explore how we might light up the future. Hoverboards welcome 🙂

… As it happens, I wasn’t able to go to the conference or deliver that session as planned, but I liked the idea so much that it kind of stayed with me. At the same time, I have been thinking about how I could make something more of my fledgling thoughts about edtech, art and anthropology. 

So this newly minted blogging project, which will hopefully become a sketchbook of drawings and words and maybe even GIFs, is a bit of an exercise in connecting the dots between my different academic interests but also a prompt for me to think about educational technology in a different way, taking a step back from the work I do day to day.

It’s the darkest time of year and like many I sometimes struggle to find ways to express my thoughts or find the will to keep writing, to keep articulating and sharing, to use the voice I have and value it regardless of what else might be going on. So as well as being about art, anthropology and edtech this is a venture of joy and resistance.

I want to use the metaphor of the Neon Flaneuse to explore, to wander, to get lost in new ideas and ramblings. To create something that will give me joy and provide inspiration. It’s about the kind of alternative futures, the hope that Laura Czerniewicz so eloquently searched for (and found) in her OEB keynote. It’s my way of thinking about the stories that Audrey Watters reminds us we need to tell about edtech, its history, theory and its future. Our future.

I’m not sure where this will go over the next year and that is a good thing. I have this big blank canvas on my own domain to play with and I’m going to follow my feet and see where it takes me, tortoise in tow.

Soundtrack for this post:
A rainy night in Soho by The Pogues – further listening suggestions for the playlist are welcome 🙂