Some updates from recent activities

Advisory group
I recently got back from a trip to South Africa where I was part of an advisory committee drawing out concepts of ‘Digital Education Leadership’. The project is commissioned by the Commonwealth of Learning as part of their Commonwealth Digital Education Leadership Training in Action (C-DELTA) programme.

Working with a sterling group of people from across the globe (and excellent hosts), we set out a plan for a curriculum framework for prospective digital education leaders, one which speaks to the needs of educational institutions, broader civil society organisations, and governments.

The framework is one which is central to how we understand digital literacies, and how they emerge in the social practices of particular contexts. The leadership aspect is central to how digital technologies can be harnessed to help people transcend poverty and other barriers, to become a driving force in lives.

See more at:

Impact events
I enjoyed presenting with my project team at the Universities of Manchester, Central Lancashire, and Lancaster last month. These were ‘impact’ and dissemination events for the Dynamics of Knowledge Creation project that I am working on. The events were called ‘Getting Writing Done’, and focussed on the challenges now arising from changes in how higher education is managed, funded and evaluated. There was a lot of useful discussion around the issue of how academics make choices on a day to day basis about the writing they do, especially in dealing with new and high pressure environments. I will also be delivering a more detailed version of this at the University of Manchester’s Academic Careers Day.

I have written another methods-related paper. This paper, entitled ‘Classroom digital literacies as interactional accomplishments’, is a detailed and step-by-step account of my research methods during my study of assignment writing and digital literacy. It will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book published by Peter Lang, Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory, and Data in Sociocultural Investigation. Please contact me if you would like an author’s version of this publication.

Dr Steve Wright and I have a publication in the proceedings of the Networked Learning Conference (2016). It is based on the ‘CAQDAS and research practices in STS and Mobilities’ project funded  by ECSGS. The purpose of the paper, and focus of the project, is to argue for a deeper way to acknowledge how qualitative data analysis softwares shape research outputs and lead a researcher down a certain path. Contained within these software packages are a multitude of ‘actors’ that must be contended with. The paper is available here.

Photo 30-04-2016, 09 39 13

Langa © ibrar bhatt

Reflections on writing my monograph 2

When it comes to reformulating/revising/building or cutting up a doctoral dissertation into a more accessible book, how one handles the review of the literature is not so straightforward – so I am finding.

The Literature Review chapter of a PhD serves a certain purpose. It situates your research focus within the context of a wider academic community in your field, and is the foundational basis upon which you build your rationale. It also reports your critical review of other work, among other things. But how do you turn that into a chapter of a more accessible book?

I asked a few well-established academics, and below are their responses:

You are no longer writing for the nit-picking examiner – now it is aimed at interested fellow colleagues and enthusiastic students.

A discussion of the literature relevant to the theme of the book, not an exhaustive study of everything done in the field.

Overview the main debates, but without the pressure to argue from first principles.

Plan it round the key themes needed to situate the book.

Often thesis reviews are a bit turgid in style giving the fine details of methodology or significance levels to back up the studies covered and demonstrate they are valid.

You can afford to be a bit bolder in a book and you don’t have to go back and justify everything from first principles.

How has the field got to this point? Talk about the different perspectives on the topic and the logics that they draw from – in a manner that would be useful to a new, more general audience.

This is a shift in position, and allows you to be more selective, and leave things out if something doesn’t fit the story-line that you’re aiming for.

Keep it theory grounded, but less theorist grounded.


denim chair cyprus © ibrar bhatt

A year’s reading in review (2015)

The following is a brief overview of some of the books I have read this year, and what I got from them explained simply. Some of them I have read in their entirety, and for others I engaged substantially with certain chapters only. I am providing this overview as I have benefited from other people’s reviews and reading lists a lot, so I thought I’d offer my account here.

Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979), by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar

This is Bruno Latour’s seminal study of how scientists create facts in laboratories for us folk outside of them. This is my second reading of the book, and my aim was to better understand Latour’s method of fieldwork. To me this is about going slowly, plodding through the tiny steps of how the lab’s actors (people and things) translate and create knowledge and, at every one of its junctures, to theorise about how it is and how it could have been otherwise.

Key learning: in fieldwork plod slowly and follow the effects of every thing, look at how things become and mull over how it could have been otherwise.

Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (1961), by Erving Goffman

This text is not just about humanising those who may be dehumanised (i.e. the mentally ill), but it is about understanding that every institution has a life beneath its surface. So the two sections I read deeply are ‘Characteristics of Total Institutions’ and ‘The Underlife’. Goffman’s field notes are lucidly written and arm him with a multitude of examples of how the routine and taken-for-granted interactions of asylums – and all ‘total institutions’ – position their occupants a certain way, and that paying attention to these is vital to our understandings of institutions and their people.

Key learning: every institution has an underlife; figure out the practices of that underlife; that everything should be taken note of and that I should journal on a day-to-day basis on lots of issues.

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004), by Sue Townsend

I have always loved Adrian Mole, and the whole series since I was a kid. This book is about the dysfunctional Adrian Mole at 35 years old.

Key learning: antiheroes are much more relatable; poignancy with humour is better than humour on its own.

On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (2013), by Alexander Horowitz

Horowitz gives an account of 12 walks (including one alone) around the same city block with different people alongside her providing a commentary on the surroundings, e.g. a blind person, a dog, a type designer. Her basic argument is that we are trained to ignore, and that simple procedures to deal with that are illuminating, if we just take the time to see.

Key learning: make the familiar strange; help make the familiar strange by getting other people to see and explain stuff; there is loads to see and learn in a walk down the street; pay attention to rocks, concrete, cracks.

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (1989), by David Fromkin

I started reading this again since the Syria crisis entered the public conversation. It’s a highly informed take on the origins of the wars in the Middle East, and their connections with British empire and its decline.

Key learning: how empires rise is one thing but more important is how they decline; studying how they decline is key to understanding the mess which follows; bad stuff is triggered by bad stuff so at least try to disentangle it; openly appreciate nuances when policy is based on a reductive narrative (e.g. ‘good vs bad’).

The Book of Wisdoms (Kitab al Hikam): a collection of Sufi aphorisms, by Ibn Ata’illah (tran. Victor Danner)

I read this many years ago and picked it up again at the re-publication of a famous translation of the Sufi classic. I like that the Arabic is with its vowellation so that I can read it and attempt translations in my head, but then see Danner’s version underneath. I have a deep connection with some of the aphorisms here and I was overjoyed to get this as a gift.

Key learning: Every action can be a spiritual action; maintain knowledge of a classical language (any one will do).


Tito Cafe, Sarajevo © ibrar bhatt

Reflections on writing my monograph 1

I am currently contracted to complete my monograph, with Routledge, at the end of 2016. I have been writing it like mad recently. Not ‘from scratch’ though as the research is from my doctorate. Reformulating and developing sections of my research, and making it more accessible, is enjoyable most of the time, but not always.

Revisiting my writing and ideas when they were meant for a fairly closed group, and now trying to envisage a global audience is not always easy: e.g. teacher-researchers interested in writing, lecturers and academics in the sociology of education. The book is entitled Assignments as controversies, and explores case-studies of assignment writing in the situational contexts of classrooms.

At the moment I envisage eight chapters, and four of them are ready in draft form. The easy four, not the first four. That is always my personal rule: start with the bits you like best and then run with it.

Always in need of inspiration, I have picked up some of the most useful writing tips that have helped me get going with this project. They’re from various leading writers, and I hope you also find them beneficial:

To ensure that you proceed slowly, write by hand. (Annie Proulx)

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.(David Ogilvy)

Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it. (Nietzsche)

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. (Neil Gaiman)

Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are ok (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear). (Diana Athill)

Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? (George Orwell)


Text of Ghazali’s ‘Ihya ulum al-din’ | ibrar bhatt

SRHE conference papers

I enjoyed delivering two papers at this year’s SRHE conference at Celtic Manor in Newport (Wales), the first of which was on my research of student assignment writing and the second on the Academics’ Writing project.

The Prezi for the first one is here (unable to embed in wordpress), and the paper is linked to in a previous post.

The argument that some of the practices drawn into students’ academic tasks could be described as ‘curation’ stimulated some good discussion around plagiarism, assessment frameworks, the literacies that assignments are supposed to assess, and information literacy skills. Some of the tweets below encapsulate these ideas and, overall, I found the discussion useful for my forthcoming book on assignments.


The second paper, on the Acads writing project, is here:


There are definitely strange things happening to disciplines in Higher Education. Since identities permeate academics’ writing practices for research, teaching, and even admin work, the paper generated a lot of interest and discussion afterwards. Some of these were also tweeted about:


buyuk han © ibrar bhatt

Conference paper: Being an academic

This is the second conference paper that I will be delivering at the SRHE Annual Conference this December in Newport:

Being an academic: The changing writing practices of academics and how they influence professional identity

Keywords: academic writing, higher education, literacies, ethnography, knowledge creation

This paper explores how changes in higher education are transforming academics’ writing practices and sense of professional identity. It reports on preliminary findings from an ERSC-funded project that involves interviewing a range of academics from three different disciplines across three contrasting higher education institutions in the UK about their literacy practices around research, teaching and admin-related writing. The data reveal that research-related writing and the creativity it entails lie at the core of what it means to be an academic, but that assessment exercises such as the research excellence framework and attendant pressures to publish in certain forums were influencing both people’s writing practices and their accounts of their academic identities. The implications of this for scholarship are discussed.

The paper draws from the data of the ‘Dynamics of Knowledge Creation‘ project at Lancaster University.

The paper submission is available here


sangatte breakwater © ibrar bhatt

Forthcoming conference paper: curation

The following is the abstract to my forthcoming paper to be presented at the SRHE (Society for Research into Higher Education) Annual Conference in Newport (Wales), in December 2015. The paper extends ideas from my PhD and connects with some other recent writings.

Paper title: ‘Curation’ as a new direction in digital literacy theory (paper 0024 at SRHE Annual Research Conference 2015).

This paper theorises the practices of curricular assignment writing. I approach the writing of assignments as an assemblage of digital literacies that emerge as learners use whatever tools – digital and otherwise – are to hand. Building on recent work in literacy studies, and using a sociomaterial approach, I theorise learners’ complex digital literacy practices through their academic assignment writing. Importantly, some practices are in contrast to the digital demands imposed by normative classroom culture and policies, and others are related to how learners manage multitudes of resources, online and offline. I subsequently advance new directions in digital literacy theory as drawn from the data. One such idea is ‘curation’ as a digital literacy practice. I argue that understanding curation as a digital literacy practice adds value to current debates in the fields of digital literacy and educational technology, especially as researchers apply a more critical and fine-grained lens towards technologised learning practices.

Keywords: Literacy, Composition and Rhetoric, Educational Technology, Digital Literacy, Actor Network Theory, Academic Writing, Digital Media & Learning, Technology Enhanced Learning, Digital Literacies, Sociomateriality

The full paper will be posted here eventually:

paris graffiti © ibrar bhatt

paris graffiti © ibrar bhatt


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