Replied to Data isn’t oil, so what is it? by Matt Locke (How To Measure Ghosts)

Perhaps then we’d understand how we can handle this data in a more responsible way. A metaphor that puts our personal experience at the forefront will help us find out where to draw lines in how our lives are stored and processed, and to understand that the lines will need to be different for different people. I don’t know what the right metaphor is – memory and history are the concepts I’ve been mulling over, but they have already been used in computing in ways that blur and dull them.

Matt, I am really intrigued your point about effective metaphors. I really liked John Philpin’s suggestion of data as energy:

Imagine if every single person on the planet had their own dashboard that allowed them to indicate their needs, desires, wants and flag it so that anyone who felt that they could satisfy those needs, desires and wants could respond with an offer human-readable terms of the contract, pricing, expected timelines, etc.

However, the problem with ‘energy’ as a metaphor is that it just does not stick. I think that data as people struggles in the same way.

All these metaphors imagine public data as a huge, passive, untapped resources – lakes of stuff that only has value when it is extracted and processed. But this framing completely removes the individual agency that created the stuff in the first place. Oil is formed by millions of years of compression and chemical transformation of algae and tiny marine animals (sorry, not dinosaurs). Data is created in real time, as we click and swipe around the internet. The metaphor might work in an economic sense, but it fails to describe what data is as a material. It’s not oil, it’s people.

I therefore wonder what the ‘hole in the ozone layer’ might be?

Liked The Science and Poetry of Messy thinking by Derek Jones (

So here’s the List of Fun Things to Try with Conceptual Metaphors:

  1. Start with conceptions, not solutions or tech. Instead of saying ‘I need a Virtual Design Studio’, ask yourself what the studio space should feel like (using conceptions). What is the ‘quality without name’ you’re looking for (just because you can’t name this it doesn’t mean you can’t describe it)? Have a look at the dimensions listed here for ideas and use these to brief, specify and discuss requirements with others. You do not have to fall into the trap of using reductive tech language to ask for what you need for your students.
  2. Use conceptual metaphors, not tech names. Someone else mentioned this at the CHEAD event, but to call a lecture a ‘Webinar’ is to deliberately draw attention to the technical medium. We don’t call seminars ‘f2f-inars’ … (OK, clunky example…). If an event is a tutorial then it’s OK to call it a tutorial regardless of where and how it’s arranged – it’s the human value that’s more useful to communicate than the medium or mode.
  3. Make some key things more complex, not less. If you need a particular atmosphere or feeling (a ‘quality without name’) in your studio or class then state that clearly. Be confident about your uncertainty – describe this as boundaries of knowledge rather than just ignorance (you’re technically an agnotologist). But don’t hide it either – be open about how we use uncertainty with colleagues and especially students (give them something solid if they need it).
  4. Be critical and reflective when you do this. I haven’t touched on the dark side of this type of cognition (it can be very dark indeed) so make use of the other major tool in our design toolkits – our ability to evaluate the process at the same time as engaging in that process. Using some simple, critical frames to help you critique from other perspectives.
Bookmarked Digital mudlarking by mweller (

If you are an ed tech practitioner then, the sense is less of a excavation, and more one of hurried gathering. Ed tech practitioners operate like mudlarks, gathering artefacts that have been exposed by the last technology tide (see below reservations on this). These artefacts can be seen as nuggets of good practice, research or concepts that have application across different technology. Things like how to support learners at a distance, how to effectively encourage online dialogue, ethics of application, etc.

Martin Weller wonders about another edtech metaphor, this time of digital mudlarking.

It is interesting think about uranium alongside John Philpin’s suggestion that data is energy.
Bookmarked Redefining School Leadership by Dr Deb Netolicky (the édu flâneuse)

The Cheshire Cat provides a creative reimagining of the school leader as someone who makes careful decisions about how to best serve their communities, how to foster trust, and how to distribute power and agency, including when to appear and disappear, when to step forward and step back, when to direct and when to empower.

Dr Deborah Netolicky discusses the metaphors for leadership focusing on the Cheshire cat. This is a summary of her article ‘Redefining leadership in schools: the Cheshire Cat as unconventional metaphor’.
Liked Students as customers by Clint Lalonde (EdTech Factotum)

I do believe that educators need to continually kickback at the notion that students are customers because it fundamentally changes the nature of our relationship, boiling it down to dollars and sense. Getting a post-secondary education isn’t like buying a new car. Deep learning has to be driven by something other than economics and the more the language of consumerism seeps into our conversations, the more education adopts values that mimic the market. And we are not the market.

Richard Wells builds upon a preview post. I have written about trees before and the way in which they each grow in their own way, depending on a multiplicity of reasons. Interestingly, Yong Zhao suggests that gardeners are in fact dictators. In part, this is what Bernard Bull touches on when explaining that how we pick the produce impacts what produce we pick. What I find intriguing about gardens is that they do not stop growing if we stop caring for them, something that I learnt when my mother died.
Bookmarked I am a data factory (and so are you) by Nicholas Carr (ROUGH TYPE)

The shift of data ownership from the private to the public sector may well succeed in reducing the economic power of Silicon Valley, but what it would also do is reinforce and indeed institutionalize Silicon Valley’s computationalist ideology, with its foundational, Taylorist belief that, at a personal and collective level, humanity can and should be optimized through better programming.

Nicholas Carr reflects on the metaphors that we use and demonstrates some of the flaws, particularly when they are used against us inadvertently. This is something brought to the for with Google’s effort to support wellbeing. As Arielle Pardes explains:

While Google says “digital wellness” is now part of the company’s ethos, not once during the Google I/O keynote did anyone mention “privacy.”

📓 Educational Metaphors

In a post exploring a vision for education, Bernard Bull provides a metaphor of the ‘field’:

Education is neither art nor science. It is a field that encompasses both, not to mention ideas and practices that do not necessarily fit neatly into the category of art or science. The word “field” might be a useful metaphor. We talk about fields of study. What do we mean by this? The word “field” derives from the Old English “feld”, or cultivated land (in contrast to woodlands). There is a thoughtful, even systematic cultivation of select crops in a field, compared to the randomness of the woodlands. What you plant, how you grow it, and how you cultivate it depends upon the context. There are affordances and limitations to those decisions, informed by sometimes competing and conflicting values. This is why I’ve long argued for the value of a diverse education ecosystem. Or, if it helps, picture a massive community-based garden, with different people and individuals planting and cultivating alongside one another. Some opt for a beautiful selection of flowers. Others go for a wide array of vegetables. Some choose raised beds while others stick with old-school rows. There will we some shared rules for those who play and plant in this field, but there is room for variety.