Thursday, 30 June 2011

The “Free World” of “Value Added Transactions” and the "Liberation" of Public Property

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"Holding A Body For Ransom"

The McClatchy-Tribune article may have reminded readers of Zhang Yi's award-winning photograph, "Holding a Body for Ransom," which quickly went viral on the Internet after it was taken last October. The photo appears to show a corpse fisher refusing to hand over the body of one of three university students who lost their lives while helping to rescue drowning children in the Yangtze River in Hubei province. The fisherman reportedly collected more than $5,000 - and heaps of media abuse - before finally turning over the bodies of the students. 

This image has been haunting me. Such an incredible indictment of the logic of commodification. It may be old news to some, but I've never claimed to be omniscient. Anyway, "corpse fishing" is only a few steps removed from the nineteenth century Burke and Hare murders; a reminder of capitalism's "back to the future" logic. Sometimes though a picture truly is worth a thousand words....

HONG KONG - Of all those around the world whose trades and professions are misunderstood and unfairly maligned, surely China's corpse fishers rank near the top. Since ancient times, these villagers have taken on the macabre task of salvaging human cadavers - victims of drowning, suicide and murder - from China's rivers and returning them to their families. For this lurid public service, they were traditionally thanked and appreciated.

Now that China has become the second-largest economy in the world, however, what once was considered largely a service has turned into a booming commercial business for some body fishers, provoking increasing anger among relatives who must pay exorbitant fees for the retrieval of their loved ones and prompting 
alarmed articles in the Western media about this gruesome practice. Admittedly, the rhetorical temptation is irresistible. Here, surely, is the perfect symbol of the dark side of China's embrace of capitalism: Even anonymous corpses floating in the country's rivers have become a pricey commodity. 

These are grisly tales of greed and the base exploitation of grief. It is tempting to find in them a dark morality play about China's lost soul in which the corpse fishers represent the sick new avarice of the nation. But these stories are only part of a much broader narrative about what has been lost and gained during China's 30-year economic boom.
The villain of this bigger piece is not Wei or any of his fellow body fishers, whose services are still very much required on the country's rivers. After all, if they don't pull the dead out of the national current, who will? Forget the local police, who want nothing to do with water-logged casualties of 21st-century China. Provincial authorities are even more averse to the stench of death. And the central government would only choose to act if a river became choked and toxic with human cadavers.

With an increasing number of bodies to fish, China's much-maligned river undertakers are thriving in their business. Organized crime has been one of the big beneficiaries of China's economic rise, and the country's rivers testify to that: bodies bound and gagged are an important part of the average corpse fisher's trade. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ponderers, Sloggers, Slackers and More: Understanding the profiles of bloggers to help promote academic self-regulation.

Every once in a while you can come across an article so extraordinary you are left wondering how it has not managed to penetrate the blogosphere- especially when it is about the blogosphere's reflexivity, or lack thereof! I feel grateful to Mark McMahon then for providing this material that can obviously expand a lot on what I have said about the blogosphere over the years in relation to academia. Indeed, one of the most innovative aspects of McMahon's piece is that he sets out the steps that can be taken to improve blogging as a form of learning. Not only bloggers, but anyone interested in pedagogy more generally, should find his suggestions highly worthwhile. Teachers of all stripes will probably recognise these patterns in their students--and yes--in their colleagues as well! Hell, anyone honest enough will recognise aspects of themselves in these categories. As for me, I can sometimes be a "worker blogger" and "a slogger blogger", but I'd like to think that I'm a "ponderer blogger" for the most part. I'm certainly not harboring any delusons about being an "uber blogger" though.

I was partially prompted to post this because I've been very disappointed by some of the stuff I've seen. One example that comes to mind--by no means atypical--is the whole flamewar about "grey vampires", insofar as its proponents are quick to label critics as having only a paralyzing effect on "digital discourse". Sadly though, in such instances, the benefits of "digital discourse" appear to be simply taken as read, rather than explained, letalone defended, in the depth they require to be substantiated. As McMahon in effect demonstrates, the risk is that such individuals are themselves falling victim to "bragger blogger" syndrome, "in which a high level of self-concept combined with a low level of metacognition meant that they were unable to critique their own work". By extension, this can result in an inability to accept criticism from others. 

But ad hominem attacks are not the point of this post. I prefer to forgive and forget. Anyway, I think ad hominem attacks have already done enough damage and no doubt partly provoked the whole "grey vampire" backlash in the first place. So, it's time instead to move forward. McMahon is invaluable in this regard because he is not preoccupied with self-justification; he is making constructive criticisms which everyone can benefit from. And so now, without further ado, to a few of his key points:

Patterns of Self-Regulation in Blogging

To expose the types of thinking evident in blogs, six examples are presented that
represent the ‘typical’ blogger in terms of the elements of self-regulation discussed.
These are:
• the Slogger Blogger – demonstrating volitional control;
• the Worker Blogger – demonstrating cognitive strategy use;
• the Eager Blogger – demonstrating motivation;
• the Ponderer Blogger – demonstrating the reflection inherent in selfmonitoring
• the Bragger Blogger – demonstrating high self-concept; and
• the Über Blogger – demonstrating a high level of metacognition.
These are discussed through textual analysis of learning outputs that best exemplify the above characteristics. While it may at first appear to be a somewhat reductive approach to defining a complex process, it is hoped that it will provide a simple framework to assist future students in understanding themselves and the strategies that work best for them.

Strategy Use in Blogs – The Slogger Blogger and the Worker Blogger

The best evidence of strategy use is in the blogs within the unit on Writing for Games lay in the specific activities that students selected. Typical cognitive strategies evidenced by Worker Bloggers were:
• summarising readings;
• describing designs;
• sourcing other forms of information; and
• writing personal anecdotes.

Most students in the group were able to produce elements of the above. These varied, however, in the extent to which they demonstrated higher order thinking. Worker Bloggers could select strategies and apply them to their assignments. Summaries were the most common of those demonstrated by weaker students in that they tended to describe what the week’s reading was about. This involved some necessary selection of detail but not always an ability to effectively critique work. Similarly being able to express opinions, identifying links and articulating design ideas in an unintegrated way are all symptomatic of students who operate purely at the strategic level but without engaging in self-regulatory processes.

The best of these were also Slogger Bloggers, who showed an ability to manage effort. One ‘slogger’ provided lengthy descriptions of the reading but even then there was little that related back to the week’s topic and other materials such as the lecture notes. Failure to apply volitional control, on the other hand, resulted in little or no work contained within the blog. These Non Bloggers are typically the students that fall by the wayside over the semester. Only one student in this group could be classified as demonstrating high volitional control but weak cognitive strategy use.
This student simply reiterated the contents of that week’s lecture,with each post beginning, ‘This week was about…’. Ultimately there was little evidence of the student having done anything other than attend the class and reword the lecture material.

Non Bloggers may be amenable to a more rigorous and frequent approach to assessment to provide an external mechanism to ensure consistent effort. Slogger Bloggers, however, appear to have the opposite problem, where they cannot match their effort with a consistent level of quality. For those that do not have existing cognitive strategies, direct instruction may be helpful. The assumption that all students already have existing skills in areas such as summarising or internet research proved an inaccurate one, at least for the student in this cohort.

Motivational and Self‐Monitoring Processes in Blogs – the Eager Blogger and the
Ponderer Blogger

While most of the students in Writing for Games could submit their work and use received strategies such as summary appropriately, they did not always demonstrate a high level of motivation or self-monitoring. Ponderer Bloggers did more than apply strategy - they connected strategies together to enhance them and reflect on their value. A good example of this was one student who identified key elements of a reading on genre that were perceived as particularly relevant and then discussed in terms of how it applied in films as well as games. The student identified a contrasting perspective and sought to reconcile it with the one in the reading. As self-monitoring is a key regulatory process that assists in the formation of strategies it is important to provide students opportunities to reflect on their performance and to go beyond being purely Worker Bloggers. While it was not a component of this particular activity, one of the intrinsic benefits of blogging environments is its potential as a medium for peer review. Allowing for social remediation that is geared towards learners’ zones of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) provides a strong point from which to reflect as well as exposing learners to multiple perspectives on an issue. Such techniques may be able to support Ponderer Bloggers in developing new strategies.

Many of the students appeared to have a high level of motivation. This was evident in the stated enthusiasm for the concept within class and in their blogs, with one student in an early activity where they were required to discuss their motivations for studying the unit arguing that this was an opportunity for him to combine two of his loves –creative writing and gaming. Previous teaching evaluations have demonstrated a strong orientation towards having choice in their blogging activities and may have explained the large number of Eager Bloggers that made up this group. The level of enthusiasm inherent in the tone of some of their writing when either agreeing or disagreeing with concepts or ideas reinforced this (‘This article summed up my ideas perfectly’) as well as the strong evidence in the form of the outputs of motivation through the effort evident in their work. For the two students who could not be classified as Eager Bloggers it became clear that personal relevance was a major factor in their motivation or lack of it. The first statement of one student on her first week’s blog was that she ‘didn’t like writing’. In order to address these Slacker Bloggers, teaching strategies need to be in place that go beyond purely extrinsic motivators such as assessment to provide more intrinsic mechanisms to motivate learners. Malone (1981) for example described motivational factors such as Challenge, Control, Curiosity and Fantasy. In having a strong sense of ownership of their work, and a lot of choice in terms of activities, most students could be described as demonstrating Eager Blogger characteristics.


 The separation of self-awareness to affective and cognitive components is a necessary but somewhat arbitrary one. Corno (1986), argued for metacognition as the dominant controlling process; that ‘affect is the subjective perception of emotional states; thus associated attempts to control negative affect fall within the domain of metacognitive control’ (p. 334). While this may be true, most would argue that knowing oneself and believing in oneself are still discrete states of awareness. To have belief that is not based upon an accurate model of ones abilities suggests that on its own self-concept is a limiting state. This evidenced itself in the form of Bragger Bloggers within the unit Writing for Games. Gaming often is associated with fan-based activity where the line separating knowledge of the medium as a consumer and ability to actually design games can be a difficult one for novices to understand. Bragger Bloggers were most visible in this study where students articulated designs that tended to replicate their own favourite games without providing much originality or creativity. In this sense, their high level of self-concept combined with low level of metacognition meant that
they were unable to critique their own work. Providing a ‘reality check’ for such students to ensure that they continued to question the value of their work became an important focus of the feedback provided throughout the semester. This was done by asking students to question the originality of their ideas and provide a mini ‘exegesis’ to accompany their designs, which both placed their work in a cultural framework but separated it from other typical examples. Further evidence of Bragger Blogging could be found in a tendency of some students to critique other examples without applying the same level to their own work.

The flipside of self-concept was evident in Blamer Blogging, which in the case of this study proved to be a more damaging concept. This was evident through self-blame or the application of defense strategies such as self-handicapping, defensive pessimism or self-justification. Examples of this were where one student regularly qualified his ideas as ‘not very good’ but failed to identify specific aspects that could be improved.

Another student in class admitted that he deliberately left his work until the last minute, not because he could not regulate his effort but because he could then justify a bad mark as a result of his laziness rather than his talent. It is therefore important that blogging environments encourage supportive feedback and allow the risk taking inherent in many creative processes. Enabling students to identify a specific number of strengths and weaknesses in their work allows self-assessment to be done in a way that is not punitive, as does ensuring that peer feedback is always focused on improvement rather than identifying problems.

As the dominant controlling process there is evidence to support the contention that metacognitive blogging is the ultimate goal to be achieved. The best examples of blogs were those that provided a clear development of design and an ability to both justify design features and identify areas for improvement over coming weeks. Such students are called Über Bloggers in this paper because they have share some qualities with the Nietzschian concept the Übermensch – a transcendent individual characterised by a Will to Power, which is not necessarily a state of domination over others but more one of creativity and self-efficacy (Nietzsche, 1977). Such students may be seen as manifesting the true potential of blogging. The most metacognitive of
blogs demonstrated the best of its subordinate processes – enthusiastic and timely posts that bore witness to the application of key strategies both for design and learning within a framework of reflection and self-evaluation.


The profiles discussed in this paper are not designed to be a complete or fully accurate depiction of the multiple forms of discourse in blogs as they relate to self-regulation. Rather, they are provided here as a point of discussion and basis from which to explore the value of blogging for effective learning. Nevertheless the following key findings may prove useful for those attempting to use blogs as a learning tool:

• Provide extrinsic volitional rewards and controls such as frequent assessment.
• Provide direct instruction on the strategies inherent in blogging within the
academic discipline.
• Encourage intrinsic motivation by providing challenge, engaging curiosity and
promoting choice and personal relevance.
• Encourage multiple perspectives, contextualisation and recontextualisation
learning content.
• Provide opportunities for peer review.
• Provide a supportive environment for risk taking, identifying strengths as well
as weaknesses and providing opportunities for improvement.
• Have students not just reflect on their work but themselves as learners,
through self-assessment, journaling their thinking processes and developing

Read the full article here.