Tag Archives: Ethnography

Weaving stories

Wall hanging

Pinteresting …

It was revealing to notice an exchange between two students on my Mooc. One of the activities on the course was to suggest different uses for pictured everyday objects in order to break their association with what they ‘do’ and encounter them in new ways.

One of these objects was a stick and one student posted the suggestion that it could be used to hang something woven as a wall hanging, an object you might find featured on the social networking site Pinterest.

Another student commented on this post, an occurrence which departs from the predominant use of the discussion boards in the mooc as they are most often used to post responses to the mooc activities rather than exploited by students as opportunities to communicate with each other. (Although when students do communicate with each other, it is in a helpful and affirming way.)

The second student was amused that the first had suggested such a use for the stick and said that she’d had the exact same thought. She remarked, (using different words), that they were both aficionados (Kozinets’  “devotees” (2009, p.33) of the same social networking site.

It was fascinating to see in this educational community space two students recognising a shared interest expressed in terms of the technology that best enables an aspect of its pursuit online. Pinterest is a site well-known for its adoption by creative craft communities. This community appears to conform to Kozinets’ description of forums which have “social dimensions ‘baked in’ to their formats” (p.32). It was an interesting perspective, too, on the technological affordance which Pinterest is, to see how aptly it fits its use or has been colonised and shaped by its users:

Technology constantly shapes and reshapes our bodies, our places, and our identities, and is shaped to our needs as well. Understanding of the way this transformation unfolds requires us to keep a keen eye on particular and general contexts … A thorough understanding of these contexts requires ethnography.

(Kozinets, 2009, p.22)

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

Some mooc notes

The communication between students in the mooc I have enrolled in is markedly different to that afforded by, and encouraged in EDC. Here, we can contact and engage each other via blog posts and comments (on both our own and the EDC blog); we can communicate on the mscde hub and on twitter; we can email each other or use direct tweets for less public messages; we can see each other in hangouts; we have reached out to other communities and contacts to expand our community.

Even contained within the most restrictive LMS and confined to a discussion board, learners in courses on the xMOOC spectrum nonetheless are exposed, in effect, to a fledgling network.

(Stewart, 2013)

The network on the mooc I am enrolled in (most suitably described as an xMooc I think now) could definitely be described as fledgling, but I am not sure that it is “sow[ing] the very seeds of new literacies that challenge and undermine that instrumentalist perspective on education and expertise” (Stewart, 2013, p.234) to which Stewart lays claim (some unstructured thoughts on Stewart, 2013 here).

For the most part, as far as I have observed, the participants fit into the Newbie category defined by Kozinets because they can each be aptly described as

a new member who is using the community to learn about the core consumption activity

(Kozinets, 2010)

although, over time, I think their commitment to the community might grow and their interaction and participation types change.

At the moment, I have no way of knowing if my fellow-students on the mooc fit into Kozinets’ Network category. They may have strong participation in other communities and have “reached into” the mooc for the specific purpose of following and being credentialed for the course.

My forays into the mooc have probably passed unnoticed by the other students. I have not posted anything regarding the motivation behind my presence, although I did email the course leader to ask for his permission. His response came promptly and was kind and interested, asking whether I would give him a copy of the report and to get in touch if I needed him to act as ‘informant’. I am prompted to think about how,

even online, the relationship between ethnographer, reader and research subjects is still inscribed in the ethnographic text

(Hine, 2000)

Although what form the text should take hasn’t fully emerged yet :).

I am also interested to read Hine on informants:

while pursuing face-to-face meetings with online informants might be intended to enhance authenticity via triangulation (Silverman, 1993; Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995), it might also threaten the experiential authenticity that comes from aiming to understand the world the way it is for informants.

(Hine, 2000, p.49)

My mooc has turned connectivist! Lots of activity in the Discussion Forums – much food for ethnographic thought.

Hine, C. (2000). The virtual objects of ethnography, Chapter 3 of Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66

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

Stewart, B., (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Technology, 9(2), pp.228–238.


Mindmapping one of the primary readings (Kozinets, 2010) has enabled me to outline a temporal and physical landscape of the online communities and the ethnographical research into them the author describes and pin it to the walls of my lifestream by the four corners.

Creating the map merely by quoting and grouping what seem to me to be salient points has helped fix them in my mind and will hopefully act as an aide-memoire for future reference. The map has a link to the Kozinets article, but could be improved by linking to the other papers.


Mise en abîme

The Conscious Mind edX Mooc

I have enrolled on the edX Mooc The Conscious Mind: A Philosophical Road Trip. It is all about phenomenology so I think it will be interesting to make an ethnographic study of students studying this subject. In an introductory video the course leader explores active observation as a means of getting at a multiplicity of viewpoints, or accessing alternative viewpoints, in order to see and understand something more clearly or to admit of other ways of perceiving. This detailed method of looking at the world seems to fit well with the ethnographer’s goal of understanding what lies behind an entity’s representation or manifestation as if in ‘first person view’.

Tweet! Community Order

I was struck by a news item this week about the use of bodycams for teachers as a means of addressing disruptive behaviour in the classroom. It seems an extreme measure and appears to tackle the symptom of a breakdown rather than the cause. The use of bodycams for recording pupils without consent raises topical crucial issues of privacy, trust and surveillance and may only serve to further fracture relationships within the learning community. The report made me think of this as an essentialist and instrumentalist use of technology in an offline community to deter or improve behaviour.

Is it any easier to maintain order in an online community? I recall the first week in IDEL when we explored inflammatory and other anti-social behaviours in discussion forums.

Observing the learning community’s online ‘netiquette’ was established at the start of the Mooc I have enrolled in. However, a less comfortable means of ‘encouraging’ participation is apparent when completing the participatory exercises. If students participate, answers are marked correct only for having taken part. When omitting to participate and choosing to say so, answers are marked as incorrect. This seems to be a nudge to follow the course in a prescribed way and feels slightly controlling. Whilst it may be intended only to ensure students contribute to the community for the good of all, it has hints of marshalling individuals to increase completion numbers or fulfil other concealed motivations. Of course, I may have misinterpreted or understood the course mechanisms at this early point.

Non participation penalties