Category Archives: Human Post

Start the week

This is a quick mind-map made after reading Jeremy Knox’s paper on Active Algorithms, 2015.

The article was a really useful and clear link between the community cultures we have been studying on ECD and algorithmic cultures we are beginning to look at now, demonstrating how the technical (algorithmic), social and material come together to constitute situations in which agency becomes blurred and impossible to locate.

I explored the concept of sociomateriality in my last mscde module, focusing on using it as an approach for IT personnel to examine the ways in which technologies are designed, supported and used. Knox’s paper has added an extra dimension to this study of sociomateriality by thinking of it in spatial terms – the contingent and complex enactment of a learning space as enabled by the social and material.

There is a tendency to think of coding and algorithms as being non-human agentic forces, forgetting the very human intention that has gone into their compilation. Rather, in the non-human camp, and after my experience of ifttt, I would add breakdown and intermittent loss of connectivity and functionality as threads in the entanglement. These happenings are a very real and affective part of our experience of technology and they are often due to emphatically material failure.

I have now just started reading the Gillespie article which makes me want to investigate our creeping acceptance of algorithmic control. We acquiesce in Google’s algorithms because we find it such a useful search engine, we make ourselves marketing targets because online retailers are so convenient. We submit to the narrowing chambers of our social media sites threaded with popular news items, even fake ones, because it is great to keep up with our friends.

It is interesting that the government carefully researches ‘nudging’ us to make ‘better choices for ourselves’ (Behavioural Insights team) whilst watching our global corporations use every trick in the book to relieve us of our cash.

Week 7 Monsters, mammoths, mammals and mammon

Monsters, mammoths, mammals and mammon

Image: Flickr J. Michael Lockhart, USFWS

Henry James (1921) called Tolstoy’s War and Peace a ‘loose baggy monster’, just the epithet I need to describe this week. It’s been a bit all over the place and I haven’t stuck to the point. To begin with, I finished my micro-netnography which, as I hinted to Eli, had me take a detour both from the need to focus narrowly on one aspect of the mooc, and from the role of documenter by getting embroiled in philosophical distinctions. To turn this to advantage, I learnt a little phenomenology, found a friendly connection with the course leader (limes!) and thought about the necessity, the value and the restriction of setting specific tasks, the first two seeming to outweigh the last.

I created a precarious soundtrack for my philosophical road clip which got mangled in the upload to YouTube, so, now short of time, I bolted on a happy tune and left it at that. This was, of course, a mistake, quickly picked up by Daniel, but which made another important lesson for me. In the same way that words matter (noun and verb), my dissonant soundtrack performed a different meaning to the one I intended to express (at least some of the time). This cinematic literacy, evident in all my coursemates’ netnographies, is something I’m not well versed in, leading to an imperfect understanding of digital (and analogue) cultures.

All over the place, too, because I picked up an interesting podcast and paper which probably look forward to the next block rather than summarising this, added some random infrastructure thoughts and threw in the conservation ecology of the black-footed ferret.

James, H. (1921). Preface to The Tragic Muse. London: Macmillan & Co.

Netty Mologies

Lister (2009) states,

to understand contemporary net based media one must spend time online, not reading books (p.164)

This could equally apply to online communities and we can begin to understand different online groups and their cultures by participating in moocs, spending time on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, belonging to special interest groups or playing online games (in other words, just being online).

Another way of beginning to understand online communities is to examine the lexicon and neologisms they develop. In his book Netymology, Tom Chatfield (2013) explores internet etymology which enables fascinating insight into how the digital both reflects and creates digital cultures.

The words we use say more about us than we usually realize. In a sense, they also use us – and never more so than when we’re speaking about what it feels like to be us

(Chatfield, 2013, p.22).

Here Chatfield is talking about  our memory and how past connotations of the word have been superseded by new, technological ones. He continues,

Just as steam-powered machinery left its metaphorical mark during the industrial revolution, the language we bring to bear on our own minds is increasingly shaped by computing: from talk of “processing” and “downloading” ideas to acts like “rebooting” our attitudes …


This seems to echo my thoughts on computing terminology and the performativity of language. Lister, talking about Wikipedia and Google, remarks how these names have become common parlance,

The enormous success of Wikipedia has prompted all kind of other “Wiki” based knowlege generating and sharing processes such that wiki has become a noun referring to a shared knowledge site as Google has become a verb meaning to find information


Chatfield informs us that the word “wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word for “fast” and the word “paideia” is Greek for “education”. The computing connotations of the word “wiki”, explains Chatfield, go back to 1995, when a programmer called Howard Cunningham used the word to describe his creation of a website that lots of people could edit quickly.

Etymologies give us an historical perspective as we note that even neologisms are built upon stems of words with long histories or are based on existing ideas. What we often describe as new technology is better understood when we know the past it drags behind.

To illustrate, I have taken just a few of the terms Chatfield presents and put them on a glog:

Etymology Glogblog

Chatfield, T. (2013). Netymology, Quercus, London.

Micro netnography

The Philosophical Road Trip – my micro netnography

The mooc I participated in was about a branch of philosophy called Phenomenology. Phenomenology contends that reality resides within human consciousness and not independent of it. The philosophy focuses on the first person view and involves detailed examinations of the world as it is perceived by the human subject. Such a focus seemed to fit well with an ethnographic study which attempts to explore a culture in great part by participating within it, thereby gaining an understanding of the point of view of the subject(s) of the study.

In their paper, A phenomenology of learning large: the tutorial sphere of xMooc video lectures, (Adams et al, 2014), the authors state their intention to focus on ‘singular, lived particularities’ (p.202) and in a similar way, I chose some of the individual lived experiences of the mooc to evoke an idea of the lifeworld of the student. I wanted to convey some of the systems of meaning that operated in the mooc, reflect the voices I heard, the cultural norms that were evident and some idea of the practices undertaken. I was not wholly successful in this, not least because of my poor command of iMovie!

Phenomenologists urge the co-dependence of the subject and the object, claiming that neither one can exist without the other. This means that no objective account of a community is possible without it being coloured by the disposition and perspective of the observer. For the phenomenologist, exploration of the conscious mind prompts questions of how to ‘share subjectivity’ (‘inter-subjectivity’, a place where our holographic alter-selves can commune) and calls into question any guarantee of objective authenticity in the ethnographical object. The video clip is, then, my netnography.

In similar recognition, Hine (2000) questions any objective ethnographic account,

“A search for truly authentic knowledge about people or phenomena is doomed to be ultimately irresolvable” (p.49).

But she also suggests that for the ethnographer, a balance between participation in the cultural community being studied and a ‘zooming out’ to comment upon it seems required. This balance, for Hine, is best maintained by the inclusion of personal narrative into the ethnography, as she quotes Pratt,

“Personal narrative mediates this contradiction between the involvement called for in fieldwork and the self-effacement called for in formal ethnographic description … by inserting into the ethnographic text the authority of the personal experience out of which the ethnography is made.” (Hine, 2000, p.48)

I have attempted to demonstrate an analytical retreat from the participatory fray in the mini-clip. I didn’t enlist the help of informants with which to triangulate my account as I chose not to let my fellow students know I was observing in case it unduly influenced the experience of the community. I did seek the approval of the course leader, assuring him that any student data would be anonymised, and he responded positively, imposing no further conditions. Online, it has been easy for me to lurk in the shadows or remain an unobtrusive but participating presence, a situation easier to achieve in a mediated environment. I experienced a tension surrounding my non-disclosed presence, but in fact, not a great proportion of the communication took place between students which would have compounded the unease.

My impression of the community was that it comprised a friendly collection of individuals pursing a common goal in parallel with each other, heeding the ‘teacher’ rather than a connectivist, constructivist group learning from each other. In spite of encouragement from the course leader, students tended towards a single post in each discussion; a result, perhaps, of the mooc’s required participation in which the power structures at play may inhibit unforced involvement and in which the constraining and prescriptive edX platform may have played a role. As much or as little as we shape our software, it shapes us with its inbuilt unfreedoms and control. It was interesting to note that the course leader himself voiced some frustration with the platform.

Hine’s discussion of authenticity and identity online did not seem particularly relevant to the netnography because I wanted to evoke an experience of the mooc and not debate the authenticity of my fellow-students’ identities. For me, the project was to describe things as they were and not fabricate a measure of what they might otherwise be.

The subject of online identity was alluded to in one of the Discussion Forums, but my role as netnographer was to relate this interesting phenomenon rather than use it to question the foundations of the netnography. (Something I didn’t actually do in the clip as it turned out.) The debate about online authenticity was completely germane to the subject of the mooc as it extended discussion of Sartre’s exposition of ‘The Look’: how our consciousness of ourself as a ‘being-for-itself’ comes into existence when we are made suddenly aware that we have become the object of another’s consciousness – when we are observed. I would have liked to incorporate a notion of this in the video which invoked interesting thoughts of lurkers in online communities too.

Heidegger’s concept of time was a feature of one of the units and a notion of subjective timescales was attempted by the speeding up of the limes frames and the varied pace of the car clips. For copyright reasons I wasn’t able to use the Beatles’ Hey Jude track that was featured in the course. It was employed to illustrate how in each moment of listening we carry the remembrance of what we have just heard and the anticipation of the continuance of the song. This phenomenological perspective of time seems to fit neatly with Kozinets’ exposition of types of interaction in online communities where members become more committed when they “anticipate future interaction” and, perhaps, as they build up a store of remembered valued exchanges. For me, it was the course leader (whose voice was dominant) and whose friendly and expert exposition commanded an enduring sense of attention.

Hine describes how

‘the sustained presence of an ethnographer in the field setting, combined with intensive engagement with the everyday life of the inhabitants of the field site’ is what helps “reduce the puzzlement which other people’s ways of life can evoke.” (p.63).

In phenomenological style, she continues, quoting Gertz (1993),

At the same time, ethnography can be a device for inducing that same puzzlement by ‘displacing the dulling sense of familiarity with which the mysteriousness of our own ability to relate perceptively to one another is concealed from us’. (p.64)

This elliptically-expressed notion, that we are able to perceive of each other in new and enlightening ways if not dulled by familiarity is echoed in the mooc’s encouragement to seek out puzzlement and surprise; crucial tools employed by the phenomenologist to unlock new perspectives. To illustrate this idea, I wanted to find a clip of someone striking a piece of obsidian in just the sweet spot to open and reveal its hidden facets. Unsuccessfully searching on the internet, I happened upon a rich seam of online community featuring Minecraft in which obsidian has some currency. Regarded obliquely, I tapped the stone and revealed new perspectives of online communities I wasn’t expecting to find.

The Mooc’s experiential approach encouraged strategies for becoming an active observer. This active, first hand methodology was a really successful way of introducing philosophical ideas before reading about such concepts. They included the notion of the paucity of our imagination compared to the transcendancy of real objects – in other words how the latter reveal infinitely more to us as we continue to look at them than do objects in our imagination which resist closer scrutiny. Or, as an another example, how our perception of phenomenon goes beyond the sensory to include the extra- and super-sensory. The experiential activities blurred the on- and offline boundaries, happily complementing thoughts of the imaginary and the real, the actual and the superimposed, the embodied and the virtual experience.

As I tweeted whilst following the mooc, I found it difficult to untangle the subject of the course from my role as documenter, a problem I think this commentary reflects. I still have a long way to go on my trip!


Adams, C. et al. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: the tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35(2), pp.1–15.

Hine, C. (2000). The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66

Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Chapter 2 ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage. pp. 21-40.

Weekly Summary Week 6

Image: Ministry of Stories, Flickr,

A sense of anxiety has prevailed this week induced by time passing without being lifestreamed, (spent within other communities) and broken ifttt applets. Unease has emanated from that social media feeling of returning from the bar on the EDC pub crawl to find the rest of the group has decamped elsewhere. Am I not flagging because I’m flagging? I feel the ‘internet does this to me’ in the instrumentalist sense of it enabling a continually renewed offer, the uptake of even a fraction of which I can’t hope to accept, with its unending exhortation to consume everything now – even, and especially, education.

This sense is compounded by some of the articles flagged up by my fellow-students (sincere thanks to them) in which I read repeated calls to action to do something about our black-boxed algorithms, our democracy, our education system … the list continues in this digital community in which we ‘find ourselves’. How long do we have to be there before action is taken? It is being taken, but just not evident amidst the constant scrolling attention-grabbers and fake news items of the social media we enjoin our educators to use. Capitalism’s constant press is getting in the way of learning whilst urging us to sign up for more, creating a ‘behind the curve’ angst whilst the money-makers are acting now, making money.

There might be more links to this summary if it were a summary rather a list of things to attend to and broken applets, but my thoughts have been on a philosophical road trip, musing about the online lectureweaving wall hangings, the point of learning and styles of learning

Spirit of the lecture

The Mooc I am enrolled in depends much on the video lecture. I have found these both useful and engaging, experiencing a sense of ‘getting to know’ the lecturer and sharing in some of his light-hearted asides. The lecturer creates a sort of ‘community-by-proxy’, linking students together who have watched the video clips apart.

Adams et al (2014) employ a phenomenological methodology when focusing on Mooc lectures. They examine the lived experience of students to offer new perspectives and throw additional light on well-rehearsed arguments tending to polarise xMoocs with their transmissive pedagogies and cMoocs with connectivist/constructivist approaches.

By Vinciane Lacroix (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The authors characterise the online lecture as being a “hermeneutic speech act”. Hermeneutics is the study of text interpretation and, here, the authors are saying that the videoed lecture is a punctive and interpretive act – the lecturer is not simply transmitting ‘dead’ knowledge from a script, but imbuing it with subjective interpretation by a type of performance. This claim is borne out by a phenomenological approach as the philosophy argues that no object is perceived without a subject and for objects to be appraised at all, they must be apprehended by a perceiving mind. Therefore, with regard to the online lecture, no discrete knowledge remains unenlivened by the subject who delivers it with her own interpretive colour.

It is the enlivening and particular spirit the lecturer brings to the address that can strengthen the immediacy and potency of the lived now experience the students in Adams’ paper relate. The lecturer is “recovering to spirit what might be lost to the letter” (Friesen, 2011, p.98) and it might help foster the engagement and sense of belonging argued to exist only within cMoocs.

Friesen states,

“Texts or written words (and to a lesser extent, speech itself) are only so many supports or prompts to realize and sustain the life of the spirit or, more modestly, the development of understanding and meaning.” (Friesen, 2011, p.98).

Friesen remarks on the texts of both the speaker and the note-taker in the lecture hall, arguing that these are “important only insofar as they capture and enable the creativity and originality of the speaker” (p.99). It is this authentic capture of the experience of a thing which is attempted by the ethnographer and similarly examined by the phenomenologist. It is also this spirit which prompts, perhaps, the imaginative creation of an ethnographic object.

Every act of understanding is the inversion of a speech-act, during which the thought which was the basis of the speech must become conscious” (Friesen, 2011, quoting Schleiermacher,1998, p.98.)

Friesen gives an historical account of the lecture, relating Goffman’s (1959) contention that the lecture superimposes the dramaturgical upon the textual. The text of the address carries with it the accumulated authority of the academic which she imbues with a life-force in the delivery. The effect of this animation is not lost or diluted on the Mooc student to which Adams’ students’ and my own experience can attest. Practices around text and the lecture have evolved over time as mediating technologies have similarly progressed, creating new configurations for discourse. The use of video lectures or student-led communication pedagogies needn’t be set in opposition, but can both claim a place in online courses.

Friesen, N. (2011). The Lecture as a Transmedial Pedagogical Form. Educational Researcher, 40(3), pp. 95-102.

Adams, C. et al. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: the tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35(2), pp.1–15.

Weaving stories

Wall hanging

Pinteresting …

It was revealing to notice an exchange between two students on my Mooc. One of the activities on the course was to suggest different uses for pictured everyday objects in order to break their association with what they ‘do’ and encounter them in new ways.

One of these objects was a stick and one student posted the suggestion that it could be used to hang something woven as a wall hanging, an object you might find featured on the social networking site Pinterest.

Another student commented on this post, an occurrence which departs from the predominant use of the discussion boards in the mooc as they are most often used to post responses to the mooc activities rather than exploited by students as opportunities to communicate with each other. (Although when students do communicate with each other, it is in a helpful and affirming way.)

The second student was amused that the first had suggested such a use for the stick and said that she’d had the exact same thought. She remarked, (using different words), that they were both aficionados (Kozinets’  “devotees” (2009, p.33) of the same social networking site.

It was fascinating to see in this educational community space two students recognising a shared interest expressed in terms of the technology that best enables an aspect of its pursuit online. Pinterest is a site well-known for its adoption by creative craft communities. This community appears to conform to Kozinets’ description of forums which have “social dimensions ‘baked in’ to their formats” (p.32). It was an interesting perspective, too, on the technological affordance which Pinterest is, to see how aptly it fits its use or has been colonised and shaped by its users:

Technology constantly shapes and reshapes our bodies, our places, and our identities, and is shaped to our needs as well. Understanding of the way this transformation unfolds requires us to keep a keen eye on particular and general contexts … A thorough understanding of these contexts requires ethnography.

(Kozinets, 2009, p.22)

Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Chapter 2 ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage. pp. 21-40.

Week 5 weekly thoughts

Wall Door Ark Rampart Creative Commons Zero – CC0.

This week has been about ways of inhabiting and mapping spaces, about how text and language constitute community within them, inflected by affording mediating technologies. I’ve been dwelling in the ‘habitable sphere’ Hine mentions (2011) and Bayne’s ‘smooth space’ (2004).

My lifestream has automagically become a house with decorated walls; friendly, permeable dividers which delineate my area within the EDC community. The soundtrack has featured doors banging, voices and footsteps sounding and receding as fellow-students come and go. I’ve met them in various technologies and Eli has adorned our public place with a map of the physical sphere with our habitations marked upon it.

Friends have dropped by and I’ve popped out to graffiti other walls. I’ve relocated to my mooc space, noting tensions about travel. It’s a more structured and less penetrable lodging, where, as I spend more active engagement and lurker time, I’m getting to chart more of the territory. All the while, my lifestream pad has been getting increasingly untidy, littered with tweets which need gathering and sorting and full of uncommented posts which I’d be embarrassed for anyone to see before I’ve tidied up.

In all spaces I have been considering observation and perception – thoughts muddled with the phenomenology I’ve been reading about in the mooc – being both perceiver and documenter. Thoughts about whether phenomenology might help with the postmodern ethnographer’s crisis involving ‘reconsiderations of the nature of representation, description, subjectivity, objectivity …’ (Hine, 2000, quoting Marcus) or hinder it, or just stop where it is, examining my confusion …

Like a binary star, the subjective and objective orbit each other

(Mooc leader, Professor Dan Lloyd, Trinity College)

Hine, C. (2011) The Sage Handbook of Online Research Methods, Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances. Sage Publications Ltd.

Hine, C. (2000). The virtual objects of ethnography, Chapter 3 of Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage. pp. 41-66

Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces, E-Learning and Digital Media. Vol 1(2).  pp. 302 – 316

Says who?

I have been experiencing some tensions and uncertainties about conducting a netnography. As noted by Hine (2000), the virtual ethnographer no longer has to make an arduous journey to reach the field site, the journey conferring some authority on the documenter. It is easy to drop in on a mooc, so what sort of passport or stamp of authority have I obtained to comment on what I find? One solution Hine offers is active engagement in the course:

The ethnographer is still uniquely placed to give an account of the field site, based on their experience of it and their interaction with it.

(Hine, 2000, p.46)

But is this active engagement compromised if it isn’t wholly authentic, if my motivation for following the course differs from the other students? (How I might know that it does is another question.)  There are tensions for me, too, in assuming the role of documenter when I am a long way from fully understanding the subject of study and yet purporting to reflect an accurate account of the field site. This nagging anxiety remains even though I know that I am better able to attune to the experience of the other students precisely because none of us are masters of it.

There are yet more tensions when I come to think about interpreting (this word/idea is freighted and needs unpacking) and about subjectivity and objectivity. As a netnographer, I think I need to achieve as close an intersubjectivity as possible with the mooc students in order to best relate “the sights and sounds” of the mooc space.

Hine, C (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66

Some mooc notes

The communication between students in the mooc I have enrolled in is markedly different to that afforded by, and encouraged in EDC. Here, we can contact and engage each other via blog posts and comments (on both our own and the EDC blog); we can communicate on the mscde hub and on twitter; we can email each other or use direct tweets for less public messages; we can see each other in hangouts; we have reached out to other communities and contacts to expand our community.

Even contained within the most restrictive LMS and confined to a discussion board, learners in courses on the xMOOC spectrum nonetheless are exposed, in effect, to a fledgling network.

(Stewart, 2013)

The network on the mooc I am enrolled in (most suitably described as an xMooc I think now) could definitely be described as fledgling, but I am not sure that it is “sow[ing] the very seeds of new literacies that challenge and undermine that instrumentalist perspective on education and expertise” (Stewart, 2013, p.234) to which Stewart lays claim (some unstructured thoughts on Stewart, 2013 here).

For the most part, as far as I have observed, the participants fit into the Newbie category defined by Kozinets because they can each be aptly described as

a new member who is using the community to learn about the core consumption activity

(Kozinets, 2010)

although, over time, I think their commitment to the community might grow and their interaction and participation types change.

At the moment, I have no way of knowing if my fellow-students on the mooc fit into Kozinets’ Network category. They may have strong participation in other communities and have “reached into” the mooc for the specific purpose of following and being credentialed for the course.

My forays into the mooc have probably passed unnoticed by the other students. I have not posted anything regarding the motivation behind my presence, although I did email the course leader to ask for his permission. His response came promptly and was kind and interested, asking whether I would give him a copy of the report and to get in touch if I needed him to act as ‘informant’. I am prompted to think about how,

even online, the relationship between ethnographer, reader and research subjects is still inscribed in the ethnographic text

(Hine, 2000)

Although what form the text should take hasn’t fully emerged yet :).

I am also interested to read Hine on informants:

while pursuing face-to-face meetings with online informants might be intended to enhance authenticity via triangulation (Silverman, 1993; Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995), it might also threaten the experiential authenticity that comes from aiming to understand the world the way it is for informants.

(Hine, 2000, p.49)

My mooc has turned connectivist! Lots of activity in the Discussion Forums – much food for ethnographic thought.

Hine, C. (2000). The virtual objects of ethnography, Chapter 3 of Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66

Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Chapter 2 ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage. pp. 21-40.

Stewart, B., (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Technology, 9(2), pp.228–238.