Category Archives: Block 3 – Algorithm culture

Time ladies and gentlemen please

Public house ‘last orders’ bell

Despite being tasked with keeping the ‘lifestream’ going this past couple of weeks, whilst ‘tidying it up ready for submission’, I’ve found the latter has left almost no time for the former.

I’ve just finished adding metadata to the content I’ve linked to, and completing and publishing draft posts that I didn’t have time to work on earlier.

Feedback from my tutor Jeremy on the weekly synthesis needing to be just that I’ve found tricky to deal with, as my published posts detail my thoughts at the time and tutor and fellow student comments won’t make sense if I go back and edit them, so I’ve left them as they are.  Hopefully that’s not a bad decision.

So just the final summary to complete and then it’s full speed ahead on the web essay.  Arrrgggghhh!

TWEET: why people really love technology

I’m gathering together content to present a dystopia versus utopia view of technology for my ‘web essay’ and this interview provides some useful views.

Interesting views on social media

In an article on Todd Wasserman suggested that“The switch from desktop to mobile appears to have changed how people behave on social media, or at least, how they define it.”  

Wasserman’s reasoning is a follows “A few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that young people were exhibitionists at heart who had no reservations about sharing their data with the world. Mobile changed that. When you sit down at your computer to write, you might expect your words and actions to be seen by the world. On mobile, though, we’re used to sending messages only to our closest friends and family. Snapchat’s success bolstered that view.”

I can see the logic in this argument but at the same time my own experience suggests that mobile is fast becoming the new desktop.  Whereas a few years ago I would have spent a considerable amount of non-work time on a PC, many of the applications that would have required a PC are now available more conveniently on a mobile device.  I don’t spend any less time in front of a screen, if anything my time ‘online’ has probably increased, but more of that time is on mobile devices.  I’m not sure I’m any more, or less, concerned about privacy when using a mobile device or a desktop computer.  However, Wasserman refers primarily to people much younger than me in his article and he does point out that there are differences in which social media platforms particular age groups use.  This article was written a couple of years ago and, in my household at least, I can see evidence that supports his view, with both of my sons switching to messaging apps to communicate with their friends and making much less use of apps such as Facebook over the past couple of years.

What I find interesting in Wasserman’s assumptions and predictions in this article is the suggestion that the tool (mobile versus desktop in this case) influences online behaviour.  This is contrary Kozinets (2010) view that ‘technology does no determine culture’.  Kozinets proposes that ‘they are co-determining, co-constructive forces’, although he goes on to acknowledge that ‘our culture does not entirely control the technologies that we use, either. The way that technology and culture interact is a complex dance, an interweaving and intertwining.’ Once again we come back to the point also raised by Bayne who refers to the ‘complex entanglements’ of the social and the technical.  However, if there is reason to believe that the shift to mobile is having an impact on people’s online behaviours this has implications for those of us wishing to use online digital tools for educational purposes.


Wasserman, T (2014) What Facebook Will Look Like by 2024,

Bayne, S. (2014) What’s the matter with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning?’ Learning, Media and Technology, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2014.915851 (journal article)


Europe will produce the next Facebook within 10 years: Skype co-founder

In this video Niklas Zennström (co-founder of Skype) says he’s confident Europe will have technology firms that rival the likes of Facebook in the next 10 years.  Given his background it’s intriguing to me that his views are not more global, although he does mention in the video that it’s less important where a company chooses to become publicly listed.

I find myself wondering whether the ‘tech world’ will become increasingly global, such that it won’t matter where a company is listed and it won’t matter where their employees are situated either. For example, a UK based company I work closely with on the development of the online learning community I manage (I’m resistant to it being labelled an ‘LMS’), has part of its technical team in Roumania.  This is not outsourcing in the traditional sense, this is an extension of the UK team into another country.

Other than the difficulties sometimes presented by time-zone differences and to a lesser extent cultural differences, I can see no reason why teams cannot be made up of individuals from across the globe, continuing to live in their current location but working together in one common ‘place’ online.  I’m sure CERN must have been doing that for years and looking to the education sector the MOOC model has already established how course groups from diverse locations and cultures can work collaboratively.

Is ‘making visible the invisible’ always a good thing?

I enjoy watching a good game of Rugby Union. In recent years the introduction of a Television Match Official (TMO), slow motion replays from every angle and a body camera worn by the  referee have, in general, added to the spectacle and safety of the game.   These innovations have indeed ‘made visible the invisible’, but is this always a good thing?

Rugby meme from

Minor infringements of the rules, or more accurately, what can appear to be  an infringement when viewed in slow motion, or from a particular angle are often reviewed by the referee and played back on screens where they can be viewed by the spectators.  In some scenarios this can add exciting tension to a game, such as when it’s unclear whether the ball wall grounded and a try scored.  However, in other cases tackles that appear high or late can appear much worse than they did in real time.  In these circumstances it must take a strong-willed referee to  ignore spectators spurred on by the on-screen images and baying for a yellow or red card to be awarded. There have been many instances where I’ve suspected that the referee has been influenced by the crowd’s reaction.

At the same time the referee’s camera provides a close up view of the ball being put into a scrum, which in my view is never straight, such that the opposing side’s hooker has almost no chance of getting a foot on the ball.  This seems to have become such an accepted state of affairs that there is no crowd reaction and players are never penalised for the obvious infringement of the rules.

So what has all this got to do with Algorithmic Cultures?  As Knox, J. (2014) suggests, learning analytics also ‘makes visible the invisible’’.  We saw some of this in the Tweetorial analysis last week.  Without analytics would we have had any idea of the gender balance between participants?  Would we have known who had the most mentions?’  More importantly are either of these statistics important, or are they more likely to obfuscate and detract from more relevant statistics?  Both of these stats have been at the heart of some debate amongst Tweetorial participants, both on Twitter and in blogs.  Whilst there hasn’t been the equivalent of the rugby crowd baying for blood, there has been some tongue in cheek analysis and suggestions of possible ‘gaming of the system’, neither of which might have come to light without the automated analytics making the relevant statistics visible.

Is ‘making visible the invisible’ always a good thing?  If it leads to healthy debate and new insights maybe it is.  Where it distorts and leads to unnecessary conflict I believe it can be detrimental to our efforts as educators.


Knox, J. (2014). Abstracting Learning Analytics. Code Acts in Education ESRC seminar series blog.

Cyberculture and privacy

Being actively engaged with a topic inevitably heightens one’s senses to any mention of it in everyday life.  One such example of this occurred this morning during my commute to work.  Half listening to the BBC’s Today Programme during the morning commute the subject matter turned to cyber security and I was immediately more attentive.

The item was referring to the use of social media tools by terrorists, both from a propaganda and organisational perspective, and the inability of security agencies to access encrypted messaging sent and received during the recent attack in London.

The debate centred on the relative benefits and pitfalls of social media providers creating a key or ‘backdoor’ to enable the security services to access encrypted messaging.  The opposing view presented was that the rest of the public would suffer a loss of privacy as a result and that such a backdoor would create a vulnerability that would be open to exploit.

This feels like another example of what Sian Bayne refers to as ‘complex entanglements’ (Bayne, S. 2014).  None of us want terrorists to be provided with unhindered means of organising attacks, and many might consider a loss of privacy a price worth paying.   But what if that loss of privacy allows state sponsored   meddling in our democratic processes.  What if our own security services were to misuse their powers and routinely access our day to day communications? (the  ‘snoopers charter’ debate).

This all felt very pertinent to the privacy aspect of this ‘Algorithmic Cultures’ block.  In one context collecting and presenting data in a particular way might appear entirely appropriate.  Perhaps what we need to consider is how else the data we collect might be used and by whom.


Bayne, S. (2014) ‘What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?’ Learning Media and Technology 40(1), pp.5-20