I’ve been delving deeper into the Internet of Things (IoT) MOOC and I find it ironic that a course essentially about the communication between devices doesn’t champion communication between participants. I am surprised at how little interaction there is between participants. It is difficult to connect with others as there isn’t any social media space connected to the course. It seems the only contact people have with each other is if they ‘like’ a comment, to which doesn’t happen very often. The most ‘likes’ I’ve seen on a post, so far, is four. Participants have the ability to reply to a comment and while this occasionally does happen it seems to happen in a void where people who posted the first comments don’t reply to the thread. There is such limited potential to develop autonomous channels of communication (Stewart 2013) that much of what is communicated is repetitive and limits inquiry outside the content presented on the course.
This apparent lack of communication has led me to question the whether educational communities can be established in an xMOOC. I wonder how communities might be built without extended connectivity. How do those communities go about interacting if they aren’t assisted through the platform via social media? Is FutureLearn as the private platform, where the IoT MOOC is hosted, discouraging communities from connecting? Social media sites like Twitter are not being exploited, this makes connecting with others more difficult. The limited contact participants have with each other does not promote an environment of community learning.
It is also very difficult to find people with whom to connect. Comments are presented in Facebook wall fashion but it’s quite difficult to see how active a person has been. There is no search function for why they might be interested in the topic. There is no way of knowing whether they a product developer, researcher, business, or just interested in finding out more? Even once ‘following’ another participant there is no way of directly communicating with them.
Geographical location seems important for the course content because the capabilities of connectivity for the IoT is dependent on connectivity. Again, there is no way to search for people who might be able to offer suggestions or alternatives for specific geographic locations because finding out where people are based is impossible unless they put it in their profile, which most don’t.
As a participant, I have a feeling of being blind to the community in IoT because can’t see individuals. It is similar to standing in a crowded station blindfolded. I can hear the announcements (from the teacher), I can hear specific comments from other participants, but don’t know how they fit into the greater context or whether there are any real conversations happening. Which leads me to question whether people at the same train station can be considered part of a community? Ultimately they have the same place/space in common, they all will have travelled by train but eventually they will be travelling to different destinations, probably with their headphones on and trying to avoid eye contact.
This brilliant article about the history of moderation was shared by Renée Furner with me via Twitter. It gives a glimpse of how devastatingly difficult it is to choose what people should see and what they shouldn’t, and the far reaching implications for our online communities.
Broadbent’s research focuses on the ‘democratization of intimacy’. The video above highlights how interactions have changed between individuals and their loved ones since connectivity with phones and the Internet has improved. She makes reference to how institutions have prevented people from connecting to one another because communication channels have been locked down, historically. She says we are conditioned to focus and pay attention on the tasks we need to complete for work or school and this perpetuates isolation.
Kozinet (2010) makes reference to how Correll (1995) suggests that ‘community experience is mediated by impressions of real-world locations’. I wondered, while watching Broadbent, whether the reason there seems to be a lack of meaningful interaction on MOOCs is because people have been conditioned to focus on the task dictated to them by institutions, thereby denying development of intimate interaction between participants. If we assume that the MOOC model could represent the academic institution, people are focused on the tasks they should complete and are not of building intimate relationships that will help develop learning.
Another idea is that we restrict with whom we choose to become intimate. Those people we choose to connect with on a regular basis are important because we have a long standing emotional connection to them. A MOOC is such a vast space full of people it is difficult to discern who of the many, will provide meaningful learning opportunities.
How do we express what we really mean? Especially when there is much depth to the topic we are discussing. The expression of depth and meaning was quite challenging when making our visual artefact. This is evident through the conversations that have subsequently transpired. The intention of the creator is not always the same as the interpretation of the reader or viewer. Getting meaning across is no small feat! I struggle with this when writing academically and it was exacerbated further when I tried to portray my critical thinking in a picture.
It was while I was grappling with ‘online interaction’, ‘initial assumptions’ and ‘developing nuanced understandings of the online social world’ (Kozinets 2010) of participating in the online community that is Education and Digital Cultures, that I had a discussion with two other participants that left me utterly perplexed. Perhaps this is what Kozinets (2010) meant about ‘interpretive social cues'(p 24) developing between communities. The discussion is below:
What ultimately left me perplexed is how a conversation started by discussing MOOCs ended up with ‘[t]he sex industry’ being ‘an early adopter of new tech’. Did I miss something? Some earlier conversation where this would make sense? Is this part of the heirachy of our own online community of which I am not a part? Perhaps I’m looking too hard for meaning and this is simply an effort to build rapport in our online community. It’s lead me to question; how do we construe meaning from online exchanges that are less than 140 characters long? Is what we are trying to express being accurately conveyed? Do our readers/viewers understand what we mean? How do we record and interpret qualitative data objectively if a) the meaning is not clear; b) if we are part of that community ourselves?
I suppose what I’m wondering, as we head off to do our own ethnographic studies in our MOOCs, is how to construct meaning out of comments and behaviour online when it is clear that we cannot take all information we see at face value. I look forward to finding out.
I thought this was interesting in relation to digital cultures because the photograph was taken in 1909 and demonstrates how long our fascination with machines, who are made in our image, have existed.