End of Course Summary



The time has come to unplug from IFTTT and pool my Lifestream somewhere other than here. Before shunting the flow, a few moments of reflection.

While the Lifestream follows course content and therefore associated themes, it is also indicative of my own thinking and research practices, combined with the influence of the ‘assignment’ on these practices. To clarify, due to the assignment requirements for feeds from diverse sources, my usual pathways through the Interwebs were diverted to Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr, sites that are less frequently part of my academic repertoire. Additionally, my usual ‘hold all’, Evernote, fed awkwardly into the lifestream, so I found myself using different ‘tools’ such as Pocket and Diigo, for articles with and without images respectively. Also, my activity on Twitter was more prolific than usual. Each of these changes in my own practices in a sense is representative of the assignment’s agency over me, which derives its power from the salience of the student role for me, but nonetheless which I am co-agent in. There were times, however, when the Lifestream was less representative of my engagement, when solitary acts went unrecorded. Inherent in ‘capturing’ learning in this way, or through learning analytics, is a tension: do we privilege the behaviours we see as most valuable or does our ability to record particular behaviours result in an undervaluing of unobserved – but valuable – behaviours?


Although the course was divided into blocks, with cybercultures including an exploration of transhumanism politics and an interrogation of what it means to be human, community cultures focusing on ethnography, participatory literacies and community policing and digital labour, and algorithmic cultures unveiling concerns around bias, and the need for accountability and transparency, a key theme also persisted throughout all three blocks. This was the blurring of boundaries and/or entanglement, whether between dualisms such as mind/body and human/machine, between digital technologies and social practices or between human and non-human agency.


Exploring the blurring of the human/machine dualism in cybercultures involved both acknowledging the increased plasticity and hyperreality of the body enabled by technology (Williams & Bendelow, 1998), and recognising that the body has always been a site of cultural activity and quest for social distinction (Bourdieu, 1984). As such, while the materiality of the posthuman body is constructed (Hayles, 1999 / e-reserve PDF), it always has been – but now digital technologies are also co-creators of culture.

Similarly, in community cultures the influence of technological infrastructure (coupled with human agency such as pedagogical intent) on dialogue between participants became apparent. This is not to say that technology determines social practice, but rather that the two are co-constituent, each exerting pressure, along with the practices of commerce.


Algorithms too co-create, through a complex entanglement of human and non-human agency (Matias, 2017). At this point, the challenge seems to be to maintain and clarify human agency, both at an individual level, and at a societal level so that human values are not subsumed by myths of algorithmic objectivity and service to commercial gain.

Of course, these are simplifications, lacking many of the links to education that were evident in the Lifestream. However, perhaps what is needed in considering the relationship between digital education and culture is an understanding of the same entanglement and co-constituency – and a similar effort to deconstruct myths amid questions of agency and value, and predatory commercial interests.


Thanks Jeremy, James and peers – a tremendous 12 weeks indeed!

Link to my final assignment, the future of higher education & ​the ‘big data imaginary”: http://reneehann.weebly.com/

Week 11 Summary

In week 11, I’ve consciously tried to wind back or wind down the Lifestream a little. I understand it is still assessed at this point – but by wind down I don’t mean stop. Rather, I mean ‘refocus’. I’ve tried to be selective about the content I’m feeding in, in order to focus on the assignment, and just feed content associated with that. It’s hard though, as in a sense adding to the Lifestream has supplanted my old habits of storing ‘to read’ texts elsewhere, and telling ‘the story of’ digital cultures through the Lifestream (and my own attempts to subvert algorithms that may be at play) has actually become quite addictive.

That said, I’ve been pursuing two themes in relation to the final assignment: the way that ‘imaginaries’ help create (educational) futures, and the notion of ‘algorithmic literacy’ and the potential to develop this. There’s been more of the former in the feed, but in part I think this may be just because it is better represented in media and research – I’m not convinced that the latter is the less worthy route to pursue.

Here are the ways I’ve been thinking about those themes, and some other bits of ‘life’ that have appeared in the stream:

Date/link to post media linked to (topic)
28 March Tweet Poor statistical models used in predictions (‘weapons of math destruction’. Cathy O’Neil)
28 March Comment on blog role of algorithms in destabilising the single-author (Matthew’s blog)
28 March Pocket Ben Williamsons’ blog post on how the imaginaries of ‘education data science’ combined with affective computing and cognitive computing are leading to a new kind of ‘agorithmic governance’
29 March Pocket Ben Williamsons’ analysis of UK media’s editorial line on algorithms
29 March Diigo How the metrics of a site (FB in the study) prescribe what social acts are appropriate. Evidence that society is shaped by tech as well as the reverse.
30 March liked on YouTube Audrey Watters’ talk at University of Edinburgh. Relates to both role of ‘imaginaries’, and also – though less so- to need for algorithmic literacy.
31 March Pinterest Podcast from Culture Digitally featuring Tarleton Gillespie and Ted Striphas. Links to a need for algorithmic awareness and/or literacy.
31 March Tweet Book announcement: Digital counterculture& the struggle for community. Link to our community block, and to cyber cultures.
1 April Diigo Kirby’s 2010 paper on the role of film in promoting technological ‘imaginaries’, and thereby making them possible realities.
2 April Tweet Confirming assignment dates
3 April Diigo Snip from programme I was presenting in– meant as an explanation for lack of focus!


Week 10 Summary

In the final teaching week of Education and Digital Cultures, my Lifestream blog seems to have divided into several tributaries, winding towards the final assignment. The first tributary meandered through some of the work of peers, with visits to Daniel’s blog, which houses an impressive attempt to coordinate peer notetaking; Stuart’s blog, where I found an excellent, coordinated algorithmic analysis with Chenée; Matthew’s blog, to talk about algorithmic impacts on notions of singular authorship (pending moderation); and Dirk’s blog, in search of answers about how data was created and missing meaningfulness. This tributary then diverted to relatively social engagement in Twitter, with discussion of breaking black boxes, which I did symbolically by cracking open my computer shell for a repair, and spam.

The second tributary was concerned with the role of ‘data’ and algorithms in research process and products. My exploration began with discussion of a blog post from Knox (2014) regarding  inverting notions of abstraction. A reading of Vis (2013) continued these explorations, with a focus on how data are selected, how visibility is instrumentalised, and the unreliability which is induced by monetisation. Next, through Markam (2013), I questioned the neutrality of ‘data’ as a research frame, and was wooed by her calls to embrace complexity, and acknowledge research as a ‘messy,  continual, dialogic, messy, entangled, and inventive’ process. This tributary culminated in a damming of sorts (or, damning), with my analysis of our Tweetorial’s algorithmic interpretation by Tweet Archivist.

In the final tributary, I investigated the entanglement of human and technical agency, driven by wider concerns about the governance of society and how ‘citizens’ can maintain a voice in that governance when so much influence is exerted through commercial and technical agency. Divisions in (and the co-evolution of) agency were explored through discussion of Matias’ (2017) research into algorithmic nudges with /r/worldnews (and in these notes on a Tweet), and developed based on a blog post in which Rahwan (2016) writes of “embedding judgement of society, as a whole, in the algorithmic governance of outcomes.” A peer (Cathy) helped me to connect this with predictive analysis ‘nudges’ in education, where I similarly see a need for collective agency to be used to integrate human values and ensure accountability. This line of thinking also links to ethical concerns about new technologies raised in our cybercultures block.




Week 9 Summary

This week the focus on algorithms turned more specifically to learning analytics (LA), with a video lecture by Ben Williamson (2014), and George Siemens’ (2013) paper on the emergence of LA as a discipline. In my own explorations, the focus has been more on how analytics might be used to improve learning, and obstacles to this, including the potential subversion of analytics by competing organisations. For the opportunities to improve learning, I wrote in response to Lockyer, Heathcote and Dawson‘s proposal for a check-points and processes framework to evaluate learning design,  Durall & Gros‘ (2014) suggestion that LA could be used by students as a metacognitive tool to underpin self-directed and self-regulated learning and Wintrup‘s assertion that LA could be used by teachers and students to work on the process of learning (2017). Wintrup’s paper also contributed significantly to the development of my understanding of the risks of using LA to “improve” student engagement and learning, alerting me to a lack of alignment between the way ‘student engagement’ is used within LA and the way it is used in established research (Koh, 2001, for example). Wintrup also writes about how our ability to measure specific data points can result in these points being viewed as significant within assumptions about quality, and resultantly shaping learning in potentially unwelcome ways. This notion of analytics producing worlds rather than just reporting on them (Knox, 2015; Kitchin & Dodge, 2011) was also taken up in discussion of an article on the potential for AI to be used by authoritarian regimes, and in reference to IBM’s visions of cradle to career tracking.

The impact of how – and by whom – analytics are applied was a recurring theme within most posts this week. It also appeared in the Tweetorial – to which many of my lifestream posts this week relate. These will be unpacked more fully in week 10, but the main concerns expressed within discussions I took part in related to ownership of data, the intrusion of corporate motives into learning, value-laden assumptions implicit in LA, and the partial nature of the picture that LA offers about learning and student engagement.






Week 8 Summary

A little tool I hoped to use to help with my summarising this week – still programming its algorithm, though; it’s not quite ready to select what is relevant.

The first week of our algorithmic cultures week seemed ‘noisy’ – perhaps because there is so much recent news on the impact of algorithms, and studies into the same, for peers to share through Twitter. Certainly, it has felt like our investigations are timely.

My lifestream has also been busy, with 18 posts. Some of these (1, 2, 3) were focused on managing IFTTT, with week 8 seeing me introduce Pocket as an additional lifestream feed. Two posts were related to digital art, which I suggested worked to provide an alternative discourse on algorithms from that of impartiality and objectivity, and explored sociomateriality through engaging humans and non-humans in joint construction of artefacts.

Another theme which arose was the potential for algorithms to reinforce existing inequalities. I examined this in several contexts, including education, in response to Matt Reed’s post on stereotype threat within predictive analysis); bail hearings in New Jersey, where it is hoped algorithms will help overcome human bias; and the mathematical inability to create an algorithm that is both equally predictive of future crime and equally wrong about defendants regardless of race. I also interrogated a proposal that a more diverse tech industry could prevent discriminatory algorithms.

The role of algorithms in information prioritisation was also attended to. I responded to a post by Mike Caulfield (2017) on the failure of Google algorithms to identify reliable information, a video on Facebook’s turn to algorithms as opposed to human editorial, and included a Washington Post graphic which illustrates different Facebook feeds for Conservative and Republican supporters.

Finally, in a post illustrating my own algorithmic play, I showed that Google is selective in what it records from search history, that Google ads topics are hit and miss due to not understanding the meaning attached to online actions (demonstrating Enyon’s [2013, p. 239] assertion about the need to understand meaning, rather than just track actions), and the desire for validation when the self is presented back through data (following Gillespie’s 2012, p. 21 suggestion). For me, the findings of my play seemed trivial – but such a stance belies the potential for algorithms to have real (and negative) impact on people’s lives through profiling.

Week 7 Summary

For such a busy week my lifestream seems relatively quiet. Mostly, I have been commenting on other people’s micro-ethnographies, and working on creating my own: final observations, analysis of data and presenting findings. The lack of observable data generated while working on my ethnography acts as evidence to a post from last week in which I referenced Lesley Gourlay (2015): the narrative of student engagement privileges publicly observable ways of being a student and undervalues quiet, solitary acts. Yet, in the end, the product of my silence is observable – both in the prezi-come-video ‘breaking up with MOOC’ and the wordier, text-based sway presentation ‘looking for community’.

Key themes arising out of my own ethnography and those of my peers included:

  • an instructionist or behaviourist focus and transmission pedagogies (Dirk)
  • discordance between subject matter and delivery (Helen)
  • constructionist pedagogy and participant formation of connections around the materials within their own, place-based communities (Clare)
  • The scale of the MOOC, course design and student motivations impeding community formation (Stuart)
  • the potential to enrich and strengthen community through an expansion of participant roles to teachers, contributors and storytellers, and the role of personally meaningful disclosure in creating a sense of kinship (Anne)
  • the role of the LMS/digital infrastructure in opening up or shutting down participant interaction (mine)
  • the impact of shortness of time and lack of anticipated future interaction on the developmental progression of communities (mine)
  • the importance of personal motivations (Dirk, Linzi) and validation (Linzi)
  • financial incentives for MOOC providers (Linzi)
  • the role of empathetic listening in community building (Anne).
Kozinets, 2010, p. 28. The interaction period in my MOOC was too short to see norm development or much beyond identity exchange.

In other (non-comment/non-ethnography) posts, connections were made to some of the ideas arising out of the ethnographies. From Pinterest, a connection was made to the importance of empathetic listening in building a MOOC community, as well as to the value of facilitating location-based communities for MOOC participants. Another Pin, from Martin Weller, focused on the need for financial sustainability in order to make MOOCs viable. Through Diigo, I shared an article which gave me insight into research approaches for examining social learning within MOOCs.

Also through Diigo, I followed up on my questions about materiality and discourse from last week. I hope to return to these ideas, looking further at agency.

And now: onward to algorithmic cultures!

Week 6 Summary

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.

Thinking about embodiment and power also reflects an understanding of lives as enmeshed in both on and offline spaces, which was taken up briefly with reflection on cyberbullying and recent changes in teen cultural practices linked to digital technology. Further reflection came from an attempt to understand the relationship between materiality and discourse as co-constituent.

Finally, the liberating narrative of web 2.0 was questioned through a post on Plaut’s analysis of Kutiman’s Thru You album, which suggests that rather than being participatory or collaborative, his work employs  what Haraway (1988) called the “God trick of seeing everything from nowhere.”





Week 5 Summary

This week in my Lifestream and in #mscedc in Twitter I’ve witnessed:

  1. An increase in ‘social’ posts
  2. An increase in conversations (as opposed to just sharing links) in Twitter
  3. Convergence of conversations and areas of investigation/inquiry

The increase in social posts could potentially be explained using Kozinets’ developmental progression of participation, which suggests that with increasing time and number of communications, participants’ communications move from topical information exchange to become coloured with ’emotional, affiliative and meaning-rich elements’ (Kozinets, p. 28).

Increased ‘conversations’ may arise out of increased trust in the learning potential or capability of our ‘learning partnership’ (Wenger, 2010), or perhaps from frustration with ‘shouting into the void’ in our chosen MOOCs for the micro-ethnography (at least, in mine).

Core themes which converged were moderation or policing of community values within online communities and the ability of ‘private’ sites with commercial interests to serve the interests of community. Alongside this, multiple conversations about whether community participation is necessary to success in MOOCs (and on courses in general) also converged.

Two conversations on participation converge:

Click the image to go to Thinglink and view the image, which has links to posts and media from the week


Conversations and inquiry into the role of moderation of communities and the significance of community infrastructure being privately owned and profit generating converge:

Click on the image to go to Thinglink


So far, my micro-ethnography notes remain offline as I’m conscious of inadvertently revealing more details about the data’s origins than I plan to.

Week 4 Summary

In week 4 in Education and Digital Cultures we moved from cyberculture to community cultures, with a reading and preparation week for a micro-ethnography of community within a MOOC commencing in week 5 (today).

The site of much of my posting this week

Posts in my lifestream reflected concerns about how to conduct the micro-ethnography, with a youtube video by a student outlining how to conduct a netnography (Kozinets’ 2002 term for ethnography adapted to the study of online communities) and a video of Kozinets outlining a case study of a netnography for marketing purposes. The former video alluded to the need for caution when declaring your research intentions because it can affect community members willingness to participate. Yet, such a declaration is required ethically (followed up in a post linked to a slide-presentation by Kozinets on the ethics of netnography, and discussion of the risks of ‘decloaking’ anonymised data). The difficulty of declaring research intentions unveiled further concerns about what constitutes an appropriate distance between observer and subject within netnography, which was taken up in Twitter discussion [1, 2, 3] with Chenée Psaros and through reading articles by Hine (2008a, 2008b) and Gatson and Zweerink (2004). The difference between an E3 (Hine, 2015) and a cyberspatial approach to netnography was also briefly investigated.

The notion of community cultures was introduced lightheartedly through a suggestion to Eli Eappleby-Donald that we use Hypothesis to peer annotate web documents for the course, a Twitter shout-out to a friend for advice on what MOOC to focus on, and Timothy Leary’s 1994 prediction that human communication would be taken up by ‘interscreening’. This discussion was deepened through examination of the values, ethos and characteristics of MOOCs, sparked by reading of Stewart’s (2013) paper, and followed up with a youtube clip exploring her earlier (2010) research with McAuley, Siemens & Cormier. Another idea from Stewart’s (2013) paper, that networked learning such as MOOCs can foster the development of participatory cultures and new literacies was interrogated with a focus on what counts as literate with new literacies (and on how these literacies are developed), and the role of meta-level processes in literacy (Belshaw, 2012).

Finally, throughout the week there was discussion between course peers about our visual artefacts [1, 2, 3, 4], which I will continue to comment on this week.


Week 3 Summary

Week 3 of Education and Digital Cultures has been difficult for me to manage as I have been without my usual Internet and device access, and my routine has been broken by being away from home, having more demands on my time than usual, and a solid dose of jet lag. The digital environment enables study at a distance, and flexibly alongside other commitments, but the same time it is relentless: we’re connected and able to continue our participation even when doing so creates stress and interferes with other priorities.

The week saw the passing of Toro Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, and, combined with reading Sterne’s (2006) chapter on the historiography of cyberculture, this led me to examine the parameters I set when I periodize cyberculture, and how these parameters affect what I include and exclude. It seems that, for me, community culture is significant, despite my tendency to focus on transhuman notions from within cyberpunk. This was also apparent through my reference to Bowie’s webcast in 1999.

Another key theme was the two-way relationship between technology and social practice, which grew out of reading Bayne’s (2015) paper, What’s the Matter with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’?This focus provided a link to the third block of the course, algorithmic culture, with readings on the internet of toys and the datafication of childhood, which suggested digital technologies are normalising surveillance within social practice, and an analysis of factors affecting adolescents’ news consumption, which suggested that social practices of parents affect adolescent media and device choices. The first two readings prompted thinking on the ethics of human/machine ethics, which I look forward to exploring further in future posts.

Finally, my posts this week explored a tension between ‘enabling’ and ‘enhancing’ medical technologies. The former was represented by a titanium chest implant, the latter a quest to achieve mind-uploading, and a bionic arm with additional features crossed the boundary, both enabling and enhancing. My explorations revealed a persistent discomfort regarding cyborg adaptations that question what it is that it means to be ‘human’, and what we value as ‘human’ performance, and perhaps call for increased ‘posthuman’ thinking on my part.