Tag Archives: culture

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

TWEET: What we’re learning from online education

“Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary”

This quote from NY Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman sets the scene for this TED talk from Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera.

The talk is relevant to both the community culture and algorithm cultures of this course.  From a community perspective Koller describes cultural norms in MOOCs that we have also seen develop during this course, including students asking  and answering each others questions and forming into smaller study groups of their own volition.

From an analytics  perspective Koller talks about the way massive open online courses have enabled turning “the study of human learning from a hypothesis driven mode to the data driven mode”.  Koller states that the data Coursera collects enables fundamental questions such as “what are good learning strategies versus ones that are not” to be examined.  She also talks about the personalisation that is possible by virtue of having large volumes of data available, making it easier to spot anomalies and address them with targeted guidance for students.

Interestingly she doesn’t see MOOCs making traditional universities  obsolete, but calls upon them to move away from the lecture based format and embrace active learning.

She finishes with a vision of the possibilities that online education brings for fundamental change in the world.

TWEET: Oxford University MOOC

Well this will be one to watch!  While I’d imagine that the faculty at Oxford are already embracing many of the new literacies that MOOCs have helped bring the the fore, I can’t help but think of the ‘old’ universities such as Oxford as being  more likely to have traditional approaches to pedagogy.

When I saw the announcement linked in the tweet above a description of the practices of new literacies from Lankshear and Knobel (2007) in Stewart (2013) sprung to mind:

The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy. 

I wonder how much Oxford’s first MOOC will embrace these practices…


Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2007). Sampling “the new” in new literacies.  In Stewart, B., (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Technology, 9(2), pp.228–238.

How do ‘how to’ guides compare to Kozinets (2010)

The ‘netnography’ exercise demonstrated a method of understanding an online community by observing it as an active participant.  This in turn provides some insights into what appear to build communities (and what doesn’t).

In my professional practice I support an online community so this exercise has been useful in giving me a framework to study it.  From a purely practical standpoint I was also interested to find out what literature existed around how to establish and build a community from scratch.  There are numerous guide books available and many are of the ‘how I made my fortune / get rich quick variety”, but there are others that appear to be grounded in research and I was interested to see how well this mapped to the Kozinets (2010) chapter.  This Thinglink  shows that a particular example I selected at random maps well to Kozinets’ findings and other literature referenced in the chapter.  For some reason the Thinglink refuses to embed in this post so I’ve provided a link instead.



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

TWEET: “All communities have five dilemmas they have to cope with”

The set of unwritten norms of conduct that guide the behaviour of a group, expressing what is considered “right” and “wrong” Reznal Odnanref.

This final quote, which I have singled out above, is a good mantra for the ethnography exercise in the communities block.

Images inspired by the TED Talk  linked above and based on the work of Geert Hofstede

Fenando Lanzer makes some interesting points in this TED talk on the subject of the psychology of culture.

I found the section on hierarchy versus equality tricky.  Lanzer suggests that it is the people at the bottom of the social pyramid that determine whether there is a large ‘power distance’ i.e. whether or not a society is hierarchical.  He maintains that, in a dictatorship, the people at the bottom allow themselves to be dictated to.  To a certain extent I understand the point he is making, indeed we have seen the reverse of this in action when brutal dictatorships have been overthrown by popular uprising.  However, I doubt that many people living under such regimes would consider that they have any say in deciding whether the society they live in is hierarchical or not.

Considering Lanzer’s premise in the context of online communities though, I can see that the opposing options I’ve presented visually above do represent some of the types of ‘cultural norms’ that can become established as a community grows.

I also think the point he raises about the way an individual is treated in different cultures is very relevant to this digital cultures course.  We have multiple ‘selves’, our work self, family, social, academic and so on.  These might be selves where we are physically present (I’ve seen this referred to as our ‘meat self’) or our disembodied presence online.  In each of the ‘places’ we take these multiple selves there will be a prevailing culture and often a number of subcultures.  We have to adapt to a different set of cultural norms for each environment, choosing to comply with them or not.

From an educational perspective it seems sensible to consider that our students will  arrive, physically or virtually, with expectations of cultural norms based on their experiences elsewhere, or they may be presented with a situation, such as an empty discussion forum, where they will take part in developing new norms.