Week 6 began with another video from Chris Poole and an attempt to understand 4chan. I interrogated the role of anonymity, pondered whether a sense of ‘eventedness’ was created by the temporal limitations of the space combined with its massive audience, and connected the site’s recent financial trouble to Lister et al.’s (2009) suggestion that sustainability is gained through commercial viability.
Poole suggested that the proliferation of SNSs was a loss for the Internet. This point was also taken up by Mike Caulfied, who blogged about reduced social practices (‘share and argue, argue and share’) and inadequate collaboration skills amid the dominance of a Usernet style Internet (SNSs). His concerns aligned with those generated from my MOOC about the role of non-human actors (in this case the platform infrastructure) in providing or denying opportunities to connect.
Students’ position within a sociomaterial assemblage was also investigated through a post linking blog posts by Amy Collier and Audrey Watters and a presentation by Tressie McMillan Cottom. It examines how technological tools can reproduce inequalities within our online communities by informing how course technology is designed using data which has reduced identity markers. The resultant ‘ideal’ student is disembedded from their social reality, and the embodiment of their online experience is denied. Rather than being a democratising anonymity, the result can inhibit community support structures from forming, and perpetuate existing power structures.
After a diversion to Collier’s post 1 of the same title (very ‘old skool’ of me, but after the first paragraph I knew I wanted to know what had gone before, to contextualise what I was reading) I read post 2, and followed a link to
You might have noticed, though, that the Lifestream feed comes from YouTube, not the Berkman Klein Centre: I chased it down there to ‘feed’ my lifestream, to ensure ‘varied’ media content (the last step felt contrived – living the life fantastic through the lens of an assignment;).
Enough about where it came from (thank you though, Twitter, for your surveillance on this occasion). Let’s talk content.
In her blog posts, Amy Collier provides a really solid introduction to what embodiment is, and why it matters both on and offline. She writes,
Embodiment does not just mean having a body. Embodiment involves the loads of meaning attached to our bodies and the ways in which our bodies are at the center of our experiences and therefore our existence. Its the social, political, and cultural attachments, so to speak, of the body and how those are experienced by a bodied human. Some of this involves our identity and how we perform it; some of it is what identity and performances people attach to our bodies. Embodiment is also about how we know things, believe things, and feel things through the “lens” of our bodies.
Collier goes on to talk about how
there is a misconception that, when we “go digital,” the body becomes irrelevant,
and provides examples of how embodiment online can be both explicit (through kinaesthetic gaming, haptic feedback, tangible user interfaces and virtual reality) and implicit (wherever the body is mediated or represented or reconfigured online). Then, in post 2, Collier takes up why embodiment matters online. Poignantly, she cites bell hooks (1994):
The person who is most powerful has the privilege of denying their body.
Collier’s point is, in suggesting that our bodies are erased when we go online, or in accepting mind-body dualism, we ignore the social and political experiences of embodiment online. Further, in failing to acknowledge that only white male bodies are given the privilege of neutrality, we perpetuate existing power structures and political and social inequities.
Tressie McMillan Cottom adds a further dimension to this discussion by bringing in sociomaterial factors. She says that, within a techno-determinist framing, inequality is seen to be magically erased through access to information/technology and that this perception is perpetuated in part because we build tools that do not see or measure inequality. As McMillan Cottom comments, clearly this is not the same as inequality not existing. Further, the data collected is used to reproduce inequalities, in that it is used to create new tools, or, ‘tool to the norm’. McMillan Cottom refers to this norm, for whom supposedly ‘disruptive’ HE innovations such as the MOOC are designed, as the ‘autodidact’:
the self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, culture, history, markets and inequality regimes (McMillan Cottom, 2013)
According to McMillan Cottom, when education is designed for this ‘ideal’ learner, mechanisms which allow learners to connect are often left out. Anonymity is held to be democratising and privileged, but this can stop people from ‘finding their people’, from forming supportive groups, and from measuring their success against others.
An important point that McMillan Cottom raises with regard to the supportive communities that she has researched is the importance of trust. I’ve previously looked at trust dynamics (Wenger, 2010) from the perspective of knowledge, where knowledge is perceived to be located, and the role of trust or belief in being able to learn from others in the establishment of community. McMillan Cottom, however, broadens my understanding of trust within community dynamics. In the groups she studied, students share non-academic advice, and in this case need to trust where the information is coming from. i.e. They need a sense of shared (non-academic) experience to validate the advice they receive. This can not be achieved without identity signalling.
There’s a lot to take away from all three authors in this Tweet inspired journey – Amy Collier, Tressie McMillan Cottom and Audrey Watters – on factors affecting community cultures, and the experience of them. All three write/speak with greater depth and richness (and on wider themes) than I can do justice to here. I’ll end with a quote from Watters:
Bodies matter when we learn; communities and affinity and situatedness matter; digital learning, even though some of it is “virtual,” does not – or should not – change that.
The article offers a really interesting take on so-called participatory cultures through a look at the work of Kutiman.
In Thru You, Kutiman remixes the work of private citizens, who he credits, and who he includes in his work through visual citation* (i.e. the videos). However, despite their original videos being used (in remixed format), the producers of the original work are passive, or ‘non-participants’. Plaut asks:
why did popular media erroneously represent these people—even if fragments of their images and voices were available from public or corporate sources, essentially private citizens nonetheless—as an orchestra of collaborators?
The article highlights how the emancipatory and participatory narrative around web 2.0 can take on absurdity**. From the Huffington Post:
Kutiman … captured the Zeitgeist of the moment—a time when our rapidly evolving Internet culture is toppling old regimes and handing over control of popular information to people like you, me, Kutiman and his YouTube orchestra… In politics, economics, arts and culture, an era of privileged access is giving way to something that’s much more decentralized, participatory and personal. (Karr, 2009)
It begs the question, what counts as participation?
*While outside the remit of community cultures per se, the visual citation methods used, and Plaut’s analysis of transparency as reified offer an interesting read.
**That is not to say that that I do not appreciate Kutiman’s work – just that it is absurd to call the producers of the work he sampled collaborators.
In this blog post, Mike Caulfield laments the Internet falling short of its vision.
I bought into the early hopes that the World Wide Web was really going to be a World Wide Memex, where people used it like this, as a tool for thought. And at the core of that vision was that idea that people would be using the web to try to construct and share understanding, not to argue about it.
Rather than co-constructing understanding online, we ‘share and argue, argue and share’, all the while surveilled and offered purchase suggestions. Why do we do it? Caulfield suggests reward addiction and call of the ego:
Confirming beliefs makes you feel smart and arguing with people makes you feel smarter than someone else. Both allow you to snack on dopamine throughout the day.
Caulfield suggests we need to learn – and teach – better collaboration and communication, and stop indulging ‘engagement’. There is more to it than that though – he suggests that the change in cultural practices is connected to the dominance of the Usernet-style architecture of the places we communicate – SNSs, rather than the hyper-linked, memex-like vision of the web.
The post raises questions about the degree to which technological infrastructure influences social practice – and, by the same token, how consciously changing our behaviour could influence technology through the data the behaviour produces. Commerce complicates the issue, however. As Lister, et al. suggest:
economic conditions have a direct effect upon our user experience (p. 172).
My experience in my chosen MOOC has revealed how significant the role of non-human actors can be. Rather than the course infrastructure being a tool to support me at my command, it seems to obstruct dialogue. The instructor includes regular activities which involve posting to a particular forum (there are 290 threads for week 1 alone) and commenting on at least two other participants. The instructions end:
Engage and discuss with other learners below!
At the top of the thread there’s a button to ‘view my response’ – but it doesn’t work. The only way to find your previous post to see if anyone has responded to it is to recall how many days ago you commented, and then trawl through at least 3 pages of posts from the same day to find your own post. Similarly, in the general forum section outside the weekly blocks, there is a search field – only, it does not return results for what I have posted.
There is a lot of activity in the forums; people are clearly making their two comments on peers’ posts as required. Perhaps they are driven by desire for the small completion tick, which only appears by the activity once one has both posted and commented on others. Comments are, largely, thoughtful. Many are not particularly critical, but they frequently refer to the original post, ask questions, or add relevant content to the post. However, I am yet to see a single instance of an original poster replying to someone who has commented on her post.
It is incredibly frustrating: our participation is regulated, demanded even, through completion only being recognised after posting. We are told to ‘engage’. Yet, the only real navigation is forward and backwards between reams of comments. The technology closes down the opportunity for any kind of real engagement with other learners.
What could the motivation for this be? The illusion of constructivist learning?
Description: Being a teenager in 2015 is very different than it was in 1995. While most teenagers spent their free time watching a little TV in the 90s, there were far fewer screens to put in front of their faces. A social network was the group of friends you hung out with at school. Now, things have…
Pinned to #mscedc on Pinterest
Technology as a cultural construct: the influence on culture is clear.
Description: There is a lot to do before your kid’s school year gets started. Hopefully, having a talk about cyberbullying will be on your to-do list. According to a recent study by internet…
Pinned to #mscedc on Pinterest
I went to Pinterest seeking different media to ‘feed’ the lifestream. In this way, the assignment changes how I would normally ‘act’: it has socio-material agency over me!
With another tragic loss of life this week (14-year-old Megan Evans, in the UK) prompted by cyberbullying, we receive another reminder of how ‘enmeshed’ online and offline lives are.