penwing's DD208 blog
Tutorial 1

Saturday October 16th (yeah, I’m a bit late with this). Exciting. First tutorial. Meeting other students (some recognisable faces), discussing course issues. Meeting the tutor, working out what she is like, what we can get away with in assignments for her etc.

There’s about 9 of us in the room waiting. 13:00… 13:07… 13:15 someone asks “how long should we give her?”. Just as we try to work out who we can ring (none of us have regional office’s number on us - D’Oh, but my OU file is maaaaasive, and the dog might have eaten it anyway). I’m the lucky person to be called by Regional Office. Our tutor is stuck in, what sounds like, awful traffic (she’d been stuck for over an hour by this point). Tutorial cancelled.

But us, hard working, dedicated students have a half hour natter anyway. A lot of concerns over some more technical aspects of the way that the course is organised were discussed. The availability of the DVD transcripts (invaluable for those of us who equate DVDs with fun and relaxation) on the course website excites. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get an answer to how our tutor views examples from outside the course materials being included  in TMAs (given the words I’d have loved to talk about the bus child story I mentioned earlier in TMA01) - some tutors like it, some frown on it - go consistency!

It was interesting. I tried to get some discussion going of the issues but it was difficult without having anything prepared or any real leader or authority to guide us and draw ideas and information out of us.

TMA 01

So, TMA01 is in. Due date is noon tomorrow so I’m just under 19 hours ahead of schedule. This is amazing for me. I struggle to do assignments unless I am pressed up against the deadline. I get interested in the topic and research and read more and download stuff and find other books and articlesandthenallmywordsruntogetherandImakesillyspeelingmistaks…

*Ahem*

Unfortunately, due to other commitments, Monday and Tuesday nights were taken up (Film and gig if you’re interested) and so my normal last minute panic could not happen. I forced myself (after giving the oven a quick clean) to get the essay done on Sunday (after failing to do so on the Saturday). for a 600-800 word essay my first draft had… 977 words. I had to excise a whole section I liked and add a mediocre conclusion. I had a little bit of time today to do final checks between work and gig so I managed to salvage one section from the excision and fit it in and stay within the word count.

I’d still have liked more words and would have liked to include the whole lot, but I know me. A 1000 word essay would have had 1250 words and contain segments I just didn’t want to throw on the scrap heap.

So it’s done. I’ve talked about how surveillance (which I’m still only spelling correctly off the bat 70% of the time) gives us examples of crime and welfare, their entanglements and their tensions. I wasn’t able to expand on a potential creation of a two-tier society, but I did get imposition of norms in as criticisms. Overall I’m fairly happy.

Next up… we have a book. A Book!! Actual words I can read whenever and wherever I want. None of this DVD malarkey (except we do have to draw an example from the DVD for the next essay - but shhhh on that)

ICC - DVD1 - Chapter 1

So, I took a deep breath and watched the introductory chapter of the DVD on Surveillance (and can now spell that word correctly about 70% of the time 8-). I’m still not a fan of DVDs. I watched the chapter last weekend but took no notes, this time I started off trying to do a spider diagram but quickly realised that a spider diagram is not helpful for looking at entanglements so quickly drew up a table to cross-ref Welfare, Crime and Society. 

Two major things things popped out - the use of surveillance to create a feeling of security - whether this is through visible cameras, security and police presence and the use of surveillance to identfy - through the Education Centre project.

The first of these shows a split between the desirable and the undesirable. Young people particularly get the raw end of the surveillance stick. Will Heeson describes there being nothing to do in the area and the centre manager describes the area surrounding the centre as being a particularly poor part of the country. Young people though are forced to break up their groups and are treated with suspicion. 

The “Mall Walkers” also describe how they feel safe in there in ways they don’t in, for example, the park across the road from them. I can’t help but wonder if that’s because young people hang out there in leiu of anywhere else to go. Surveillance may create a safe environment but does it then push the undesirables into unsurveilled areas and make the rest of us feel less safe? What defines an “undesirable”? 

The Deputy Information Commisioner talks about the idea of profiling for potential criminality leading to potential stigmatisation. I think we already see an example where the centre defines safe and bars groups of more than five - that in turn makes those things unsafe even outside the centre and stigmatises young people, not on the basis of what those particular young people have done but on the grounds of “the centre thinks that groups of young people are bad, so too must I”.

The DVD also talks about the way that the school system monitors pupils at risk of exclusion eventually to refer them to the learning centre programme, This form of surveillance, obstenisally for welfare purposes, no doubt has routes in crime prevention policy with the belief that those who drop out of school will always turn to a life of crime. This raises questions of universal welfare programmes and whether one size can fit all - although the manager of the centre brags of the 100% attendance rate and suggests many participants go on to become peer mentors there must be some who see this not as a great opportunity but as a punishment for not fitting in - intersection of welfare and crime?

I will have to watch the chapter again when preparing for TMA1 but I didn’t pick up much in the welfare and crime entanglements - mostly in the society intersections.

ICC - Activity 3

Activity 3 asks us to look at what skills or activities we already have or carry out which are close to the learning outcomes for the course. So, I’m looking among the activities in my life:

  • Work
  • Going to gigs / role playing / going out
  • Reading
  • Blogging

Obviously, my social life is a massively untapped source of potential academic skills… wait, it’s not?

Work - time management, researching benefit rules, writing advice booklets and FAQs, writing letters explaining understanding of the law, assisting students to write statements, representing students in academic misconduct hearings. I guess I’m lucky here in the mass of different things I have to do and the academic setting I work within.

Reading - fiction holds a special place in my heart. I read a lot of science fiction and novels about the social effects of science and technology are some of my favourites. Certain of these novels can be helpful in illustrating or making me thing think about the concepts being discussed in the course (they certainly were in DD101). However, there is more than that. I read blogs, lots of blogs - I have linked to some that are particularly relevant but so many niche sites out there have links to what we’ll be discussing - often tangentially but this can help build the ideas into the wider world.

Blogging is an extension of that last point. It’s spreading the word on those, it’s adding my own comments. It’s giving me practice writing and communicating. 

What I’m hoping for is the new knowledge and the formulation of the tighter academic practices which I can bring to discussions and blogging. I anticipate it helping me to open up new tasks at work as well, but work is not my primary motivator for this course.

I am not particularly looking forward to the first unit. I like written materials. A lot. I’m not so keen on documentaries. I found in DD101 that I barely looked at the last DVD or the audio CDs because I’m just not good at that kind of listening/watching. This is something I’m going to need to overcome - not least because the first two TMAs ask for examples from the DVD. 

ICC - Activity 2

Doing this activity actually led to me thinking in terms of “this vs. that”. For instant, surveillance gives care vs suspicion, social justice gives prevention vs rehabilitation, security looks at needs vs privilege and community produces unity vs isolation. These items are given in different words in their examples.

My initial grid was much closer to institutions and legal systems/frameworks which exist to provide the themes in the two policy areas and I think reflects my own views of welfare policy (good idea, good thing to pursue - “a society should be judged on how it treats its weakest members”) and recent crime policy (bad - ASBOs, our over-reliance on CCTV, ID Cards, tagging). 

Activity 1 in the Introductory Course Companion asks us to look at this Guardian article on sanctions being mooted for failure of young people to comply with the new education policy.

Teenagers who break a proposed new law making them stay in education or training after 16 could face £50 fixed penalty fines or Asbo-style attendance orders under radical plans to raise the school leaving age in England outlined yesterday.

It asks us to  focus on two questions - aims of the policy and the consequences - or the welfare side and the crime side.

Interestingly although the phrase “right carrots and sticks” was mentioned in the article, discussion of the carrots was left to a line explaining that “Penalties and financial support for the least well-off have still to be settled…” suggesting that the “right carrot” is merely the extra education to be received and maybe some financial support for the least well-off. 

These rules are going to be applied across the board and seem to have little regard for the needs of vulnerable groups (single young parents, young people estranged from their families etc.) although the sketchiness of the whole article suggests that the proposals haven’t yet been thought through fully. 

Another line which caught my eye was Alan Johnson’s suggestion that the hard core who don’t want further education are all ending up in the Criminal Justice System or prostitution. This is a very negative view of young people and perhaps points more towards why the stick seems more fleshed out than the carrot.

ACS:Law and Data leaks

ACS:Law is a law firm which has been playing a major part in the fight against filesharers. Their tactic in brief is to get IP addresses (where stuff on the internet finds you) of filesharers, request subscriber information based on the IP address from the Internet Service Provider and then threaten the subscriber to try and get some money out of them. There are many many problems with this approach (for example, a subscriber is not the same as the actual user - see Open Rights Group for more reasons why this and the Digital Economy Act are the wrong way to deal with this problem) and one of them really came home to roost this week.

Anon (a group of individuals who organise through the web) launched an attack against ACS:Law and as a result all of ACS:Law’s data became available to the world. This included details of who is supposedly filesharing what. One of ACS:Law’s big clients in this matter is a group of porn studios so for some people their porn habits are now exposed to the world. 

In Chapter 1 of DVD1 Kirstie Ball from the OU and Peter Banford from the ICO talk about the importance of how surveillance data is used, stored and joined together. In this case, ACS:Law have taken data from two different sources, linked them together to create very personal and private data and then through lax security policies on that data have allowed it into the wild. This is an example of surveillance being used for one purpose having unintended consequences.

Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science Blog (and Guardian column) is, in my opinion, a must read. It highlights the way that science is used and abused by the media and in the process teaches a lot about the importance of the scientific method, the ways of collecting and analysing data and how to read science stories “safely” 8-)

In this week’s entry he looks at sentencing - particularly the idea from a recent study that we don’t always have a proportional link between number of victims (one way of measuring harm) and sentence length not necessarily in our crime policy, but in our application of it. The study looks at the seriousness and recommended sentencing of theoretical fraud cases with differing numbers of victims. The case with the higher number of victims was actually recommended to have a lower sentence than the case with lower victims.

Ben’s comment here is about the fact that “laboratory” and “real world” are not always directly comparable. He therefore highlights and praises this report for looking at some real world cases and the actual sentences awarded and found that similar patterns still held.

The ONS recently released figures suggesting that the LGB population of the UK was significantly less than previously thought. This research is now being leaped on by opponents of equality for use in their social policy submissions. This article goes through looking at the problems with the (worryingly simplistic) ONS data collection. His conclusion - it would struggle to pass an undergraduate course. 

Stonewall have welcomed the report with only a comment on how, in their experience, over time the headline figure tends to increase as more people become comfortable answering the question. 

Brilliant example of crime policy blocking welfare policy and how those in charge of enforcing one are actually doing their best to assist the other. 

Time Management

Recently I had to do a Time Management course and one of the things they asked us to do was to free-write for 5 minutes on a task we were putting off:

I need to start looking through my OU course materials in a more structured way - the course officially starts at the beginning of October but it would be good to begin ahead of schedule. The website is not up yet (25th Sept?) and I am using that. I am looking around the subject at news articles etc. and looking at the exam info bits as I am worried about the exams and how I am going to handwrite (legibly) for 3 hours when I have done nothing of the sort for years. Is five minutes up yet?

Um… er…

Interaction between Crime & Welfare - ought to look at writing something about KC’s embracing payment by results of reducing re-offending rates.

Time & paper nearly out!

From that we were asked to pick out key points:

  • want to start ahead of schedule
  • want to check website - can’t until 25th Sept - but this is only really an excuse because I don’t want to do DVD work
  • I’m going to need some handwriting practice
  • want to look some more at Ken Clarke’s proposals around payment by results as I think this is another interesting welfare/crime/society crossover piece.

It doesn’t mention that I am struggling to pluck up enthusiasm for watching and making notes on the DVDs. Guess I ought to do that before looking at the payment-by-results thing.

This story seems to hit all three areas of the course. It concerns the welfare of a child who had to walk from the bus stop to her house, the (IMO over-) reaction of Lincolnshire Council in threatening criminal sanctions and the way that society made judgement to report this to social services. 

There was some excellent discussion on the Radio 4 Today show on Tuesday and Wednesday (although I’m not sure how long the audio will stay up for).

The role of the bus driver as part of society and informal surveillance is particularly interesting here as he made a judgement which was clearly at odds with the parent’s. Seemingly the council decided to agree blindly with the bus driver without looking into the situation from the parents’ viewpoint - that they had taught her how to cross the road, it wasn’t far, it was a quiet road (although again the bus driver disputes this).

Contributers to the Today programme suggested a more direct involvement between the bus driver and parents would have been a better way to deal with this rather than reporting it to the council and the delay in the council making a decision - this would certainly play into the idea of “Big Society” that Cameron in currently promoting with local people doing local tasks. But a number of questions are raised here - what level of jurisdiction should parents have? at what point should society start interfering, and at what point should they stop and refer to the welfare provision of the state? If society is to interfere based on surveillance like this what will that do us - will we become ever more suspicious and paranoid, will that drive us further apart and further into normative behaviour and fear of the Other?

This blog from a life prisoner is a fascinating view of life in prison and also provides interesting insights into prison as punishment and prison as rehabilitation. Ben is pursuing a PhD within jail (and there is a tutor’s-eye view of this in this year’s issue of Society Matters - I don’t know that it Ben’s tutor writing or not).

This course is all about the links between welfare and crime policies. This call from Barnardos combines both - calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 to 12 (for all but the “most serious” of crimes (which raises questions of ranking crimes and where should that cut off be?) and instead to focus on family intervention projects which look at the whole family, often focusing on assisting them out of poverty (therefore seen as a cause of crime? - what about children of middle or upper class families?).

Reflections on the first batch of goodies

So, last week the first batch of materials arrived and I’ve had a quick flick through the dead tree information so I want to give a bit more detailed reflection: what am I looking forward to? what do I think of the TMAs? what do I think of the materials?

The materials are, while being very similar to DD101 are also very different - the main books are a lot thinner which means it feels a lot more compressed and suggests I may need to look at other resources a little more - which is good - this is a Level 2 course and I really hope that I get inspired to read related material (For DD101 I was inspired into reading several journal articles and a couple of books - but this was considered unnecessary). 

It’s easy to see how some of the foundations laid in DD101 will be expanded on - DD101 started asking us how we define ideas and whether those definitions can be challenged - this looks to be a key idea we’ll be exploring more in this course - with “social justice” looking a great unit to start doing that in depth.

The TMAs… oh, some of these look juicy. There is a definite difference between level 1 and level 2. Where DD101 had a very definite chapter focus with each TMA, this asks us to draw on examples and ideas introduced across multiple chapters. The questions also seem to be much wider in the way they’re phrased. This could go one of two ways - choice paralysis (bad) or all neurons firing and far too much excitement and far too much to leave out (good, I think). Here’s hoping for the latter!

But TMA06 - hand writing? Writing by hand and submitting by post? And then actually having to do two such things in a proper exam… That I’m dreading…