From Wired magazine

Interesting article from Wired, 25th February 2017

In this article, Henri Gendreau traces the growth of ‘fake news’ – fake trends on Facebook, the concept of ‘fake news’ becoming known and publicised, the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of his engagement with ‘fake news’.

It’s a(nother) good example of the ways in which algorithms can shape culture, and again in a wholly negative way. It tends to be negative, doesn’t it? Or at least, it’s the less positive stories that are making the news.

So how do we deal with it? As a teacher of information literacy, these are both golden and worrying times – the need for critical information literacy has never, ever been greater.

Comment on Stuart’s blog

This is a really interesting post, Stuart – thanks! I’m going to listen to the Ted talk myself later 🙂

I was really interested in your comments about different levels of experience and signposting; the MOOC I’m doing is about journalism and has a lot of professional journalists enrolled, yet the course content is definitely of a level suitable for someone like me – literally the lowest common denominator there. It also feels extremely Western in its approach but the participants are extraordinarily international.

I wonder how much you think the signposting is intentional, and whether there’s any way that ethnography or netnography could capture some of the detail around how course content is signposted…

Cheers for the blog post 🙂


from Comments for Stuart’s EDC blog

Did you ever see such a thing in your life(stream)? Week 6 summary

WEEK 6?! How has that happened?! Sorry, I digress.

My focus this week has been the micro-ethnography task, so the lifestream has taken a bit of a back seat, which probably isn’t the best use of my time, but I’m enjoying it. And I also realised that I’m definitely falling behind in terms of contact with the other people on my course so this is my note to self to get going on that this week. (I started, by the way, with a couple of tweets; this one to Dan, for example). Sorry, I digress, again.

But to the lifestream. There have been two main themes this week, I think. The first, and probably the dominant one, converges around the notions of publicness and privateness; I’ve been thinking about disclosure and exposure, and how these might be seen to intersect with power and privilege. There was an article in the Independent, for example, about the ‘protected speech’ rights of AI, and it raised issues around the collection and distribution of personal data, and framed it in a corporate context.

There’s some crossover here with the micro-ethnography work I’ve been doing – a sense, perhaps, that responsibility for the protection of personal data lies with the potential distributor (with Alexa, or with me as researcher), regardless of how willingly it is shared by the person(s) to whom it relates. This linked into my consideration of the ethical and human ramifications of my lack of self-revelation in the discussion boards I’m studying.

The second, but connected, theme centres on assumption and presupposition, and how this might impact upon our views of disclosure and exposure. An article in The Guardian, for example, focused upon the revelation of prejudice even in situations where we’re anonymised; and I spent some time considering my own biases as a researcher in the MOOC.

Both themes were brought together, ultimately, in a blog post about MOOCs and what openness means in relation to them. At the core is the sense of how nebulous and multifaceted the concept of ‘openness’ can be, and the perils, perhaps, of being swept away its more positive connotations.

An open door, looking out onto historical monuments

Ethnography chat with Dan

I’ve been really impressed with the detail Dan has gone into on his netnography; it puts mine to shame in terms of many things but particularly the level of immersion achieved. But I thought I’d tweet specifically about the love letter/break-up letter methodology, because I’ve used it several times to get students’ feelings about things, though I’ve never written a proper one myself.

It’s got me thinking about the netnography methodologies that we’re all using; what I’ve chosen to do certainly doesn’t feel rigorous enough. I know this is a low-stakes exercise, but that doesn’t really let us off the hook as far as methodology development goes…

What do we mean by ‘open’?

In this blog post I want to think about what makes a MOOC open, and what openness means in this context. I’m taking as my starting point Marshall’s observation that  MOOCs “have been positioned as providing a means of addressing disparities in access to higher education for disadvantaged students, nationally and internationally” (Marshall, 2014, p. 254). This certainly aligns with my initial understanding of what ‘open’ implied, and yet I’ve come to consider it a fairly problematic understanding of the term.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Early rhetoric about MOOCs, particularly in the media but also in some scholarship, occasionally focused on their capacity to fundamentally democratise higher education (cf. Koller, 2013). Here openness is availability and freeness: anyone can participate, there are no access restrictions. We do seem to have moved on from this triumphalism to a more realistic understanding that MOOCs can potentially and theoretically broaden access to higher education. They’re more open, if not actually open.

And that reservation is I think because of the understanding that to participate in a MOOC you still need material access to a computer. You still need to benefit from the physical infrastructure, and the social infrastructure, and I’d say most importantly of all: you need the relevant digital skills. And yet, according to the ONS, in 2016 11% of households in the UK did not have an internet connection. Of that 11%, 21% reported that this was due to a lack of skills. “Nearly half of pensioners still hav[e] no internet access at all”, reports the ONS. For me, this fundamentally undermines any assessment of the first ‘O’ meaning ‘availability’.

There’s also plenty of research to back up assertions about the link between socio-economic status and MOOC participation. Hansen and Reich (2015), for example, looked at 68 Harvard and MIT EdX courses run between 2013 and 2015, and examined the socio-economic status of about 15% of the million or so sign-ups. They found that on average participants were significantly more affluent, not just than the national average, but of their neighbourhoods. They have higher average levels of educational attainment. Overall, not only were people with higher socio-economic statuses likely to participate in MOOCs, but they were more likely to complete them.

So what are the alternative meanings?

Rodriguez (2013) tries to describe how MOOCs are ‘open’ in lots of ways all at once. The c-MOOCs, he says, are open because they allow for ‘all degrees of involvement’, because ‘everyone who wishes to participate can do so’; x-MOOCs are less open because ‘the course materials are made available under a custom copyright license’. There’s a sense here that openness is defined as a lack of, or a dismissal of, the rules and norms that usually govern the way higher education is coordinated and conducted. There’s an indication of openness as a sort of difference, even of anarchy.  Similarly, Alraimi et al. (2015) identify openness in terms of being ‘less like traditional higher education’ and ‘more like everyday life’.

Stewart (2015) implicitly connects openness to her discussions of scale and massiveness. Openness here is understood in the sense of being public, or out in the open (p. 232). MOOCs are open in the sense that they’re not ‘closed’, not private. This to me aligns far more with understandings of openness from a research standpoint – open access, for example.

I’m starting to reach the conclusion, then, that openness just means all of these things. And more. That it’s shorthand for ideals like visibility, accessibility, flexibility, freedom, choice. But I wonder how open a MOOC – especially one hosted by a commercial, for profit company like Coursera or Udacity – can truly be, and whether openness is in fact nothing more than a chimera.


Alraimi, K. M., Zo, H., & Ciganek, A. P. (2015). Understanding the MOOCs continuance: The role of openness and reputation. Computers & Education, 80, 28–38.
Hansen, J. D., & Reich, J. (2015). Democratizing education? Examining access and usage patterns in massive open online courses. Science, 350(6265), 1245–1248.
Koller, D. (n.d.). MOOCs can be a Significant Factor in Opening Doors to Opportunity. Retrieved 25 February 2017, from
Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35(2), 250–262.
Office for National Statistics. (n.d.). Internet access – households and individuals. Retrieved 25 February 2017, from
Rodriguez, O. (2013). The concept of openness behind c and x-MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Open Praxis, 5(1).
Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness+ openness= new literacies of participation? Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 228.

MOOC assumptions

In the small amount of UX and ethnographic work I’ve already done, I’ve learned the value of admitting and questioning the biases and assumptions we might naturally hold. So I’ve spent a little time this week, in preparation for the micro-ethnography, thinking about what I might assume about the participants on the course, and whether those assumptions are fair.

I’ve come up with three things:

a) they’re human

But maybe they’re not. I’ve seen The New Adventures of Superman, and I cannot therefore discount the concept of robotic investigative journalism.

b) they know what a MOOC is

Leaving aside any epistemological dilemmas about the nature of knowledge, I’m not sure this is true. How much determinism can we assume? Heaven knows what I’ve signed up to without knowing it. So, erm, let’s switch this to…

b, again) they’ve heard of MOOCs, or they’ve been told about them, or they’ve stumbled across them randomly on the internet

Which feels like a spectacularly unhelpful statement. Finally, I ended up with:

c) they have an email address

This is probably all I can assume with any certainty. They have access to a computer, and to the internet – but we can’t be sure about the level of that access. What they do have is an email address and – crucially – the relevant skill set to set that up, to enrol and participate.

AI and free speech

Independent, 23rd February 2017

Just something that popped up while I was looking at the news, and I thought it worth sharing; there are several converging issues here, of the blurring of any still-existing boundaries between human and machine, of the presumption that there are still boundaries of some description, of surveillance and secrets and the confidentiality of information.

Something from Scannable

Scannable Document on 24 Feb 2017, 10_53_23

February 24, 2017 at 10:53AM
Open in Evernote


I’ve been thinking this week about presence and absence, partly in response to a decision I made at the beginning of the week not to reveal myself as a researcher on the discussion board for my MOOC. This was for several reasons, but mainly that I sort of missed the boat:

(a) the discussion boards I’m predominantly looking at are historical (i.e. they’re two weeks old), so new posts would be missed

(b) there isn’t anywhere else obvious to me where a post like this would be seen; there is a ‘general’ board, but there are very, very few entries on it

Anyway, this quotation from Hine was caught me at just the right time while I was considering this and made me consider my own status and identity – in the MOOC setting, as a researcher – and the impact that might have. Today (two days later), as I sit having finished (but not yet posted) my artefact, I’m still wondering about this…

Social media and the public sphere

Jurgen Habermas

“the public sphere is rooted in networks for the wild flows of messages – news, reports, commentaries, talks, scenes and images” (p. 415)

From Habermas, J. (2006) “Political Communication in Media Society: Does Democracy Still Enjoy an Epistemic Dimension? The Impact of Normative Theory on Empirical Research.” Communication Theory 16(4): 411-26.

Habermas argued that a public sphere adequate and appropriate to democratic states or polities relied upon two things:

  1. quality of discourse
  2. quantity of participation

And although this is an extremely rudimentary understanding of Habermas’ works, I can’t help but think that you could substitute ‘public sphere’ for MOOCs here, and it’d still be true…