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On a second half of a course in Gothenburg

This post is a sequel to On a first half of a course in Gothenburg

I came back from the second meeting in Gothenburg for the course on participatory media. It was very nice because I could take Doris with me this time, so she could see a piece of Sweden in person.

I’m really thankful to the University of Gothenburg and all academics associated with this particular course (and another one I took in 2010), as it was the fourth time I went to Sweden for academic affairs and swedes have really made me feel at home, enhancing my motivations to go on, sharing interesting ideas, and overall spending a good time as colleagues.

For this meeting I prepared a paper (which was a little messy) about the concepts of engagement and affinity spaces (James Paul Gee) within my own PhD research. An interesting fact is that I got to meet Etienne Wenger in a seminar in Tallinn University just before leaving for Gothenburg, it was nice to present to him an extremely short overview of my research, however, and perhaps most importantly is that I got his blessing to detach my research from the theory of community of practice and use affinity spaces instead. I mainly decided towards this course of action as Gee really makes good points into when it’s good to go for one or another.

The most promising direction to go with for this course paper, is to further develop this paper with the concept of affinity spaces, which I am doing now. I believe when I’m done I will look to publish it, but more on that later…

Next, I will just share some interesting and disorganized ideas I wrote down during this second meeting:

People lack concepts to describe social media practices, this is pretty evident if you do practice oriented or behavioral research with people on social media or other technological topics. I believe that nearly everything you do with technology tends to be under an automatic “pilot function” of our brains. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we mostly learn by doing in our connected lifestyles. For example, tell me how do you search for further information for some piece of news you just saw on your social sites… there is no straightforward answer to that, and you might run into more obstacles with one topic than with another. Or for example, speak to me about how you decide to share something with one friend or another, and what is the best way you could do it. This statement relates to my research in some way, and there are two ways to do this research at a conceptual level regarding my interactions with the participants, I can either give no concepts at all and have them explain to the best of their knowledge what they are doing and what are their challenges, and then try to figure out of the data, where do every bit of their answers fit into a conceptual framework. The other direction, which is the one I would take, is to initiate participants to concepts, but not in the sense that they have to accept these concepts. Rather, to mediate them and reach a common understanding with them about the concepts. For example, we need to speak on similar terms about information literacy, digital literacy, and new literacies. I have to figure out where on the Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky is the quote: “concepts are tools to reflect and act”, as none can say it better.

Really funny statement: “KGB style VLEs, as they see data about everything” what can I say? It’s funny that I am meeting people who dislike VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) aka LMSs (Learning Management Systems) just as me. And I finally found out an article which don’t speak highly of them. I love this quote so much in said article: they “attempt to render the online learning space familiar through a conservative dependence on predigital metaphors.” Apart from the fact that they are basically surveillance systems is the fact that their design is top down, usually made by IT guys who have little or a really huge imagination, often disconnected with any criteria of accessibility, usability, and/or information architecture. Too many clicks, clumsy, labels don’t make sense, all operations are overly redundant…

Another cool quote: “technology is there to suck the information out of us”, this is a very interesting statement about social networking technologies, because really, this technology is put into place to get information from you, everything is based on your real life profile (the use of the real life you is encouraged anyway). Interestingly, and within my research, where I have to discuss on one side the content I organized for the study and the interactions among participants, I find that the difference between content and interactions is very fuzzy when it comes to social media (and by extension a research on social media), you could almost say that one is another! Funny how we could see The Matrix metaphor on Facebook, where you are the product.

Web 2.0 is a technical concept/descriptor which refers more to the technological platform and the technical aspects of the net which makes it 2.0, and this term is less and less visible in the literature. Rather, we can use a wide variety of names, like social media and remix culture, participatory culture, which are more social oriented or content terms.

Remnants of the old media/old culture survive/clash with new media, I have said before – though I’m not sure if in the blog- that this is a very interesting time to live in because of these tensions, among other things of course. More than once we can take a look at how television is trying to be a social media or to emulate web-like devices. When, at the beginning, Youtube was somehow modeled after old media. We can see this tension also looking at the relevance of newspapers and newspaper-like old media in front of news blogs, and specially RSS, which can be tailored to suit any taste. Digital devices which, for many reasons, can be more effective/likeable ways to get your news. Also thinking about this, it’s very interesting as Rick Falkvinge points out the fact that young people “take sharing in the connected world so totally for granted, that they discard any signals to the contrary as ‘old-world nonsense’”

The issue that “educational research doesn’t get done because of the issue of informed consent.” This is a big challenge, of course I’m not saying that you should jump over ethical and privacy considerations. This challenge is present in any kind of research with people, and it’s funny how social science, information science or educational research doesn’t involve any blood sampling or anything, but anyway it’s difficult to get volunteers for it. I know it very well, as some differences of opinion and organizational policies proved catastrophical for my research and delayed it for some months. And it’s something that some of the literature on action research on education talks about: the difficulty to do traditional research from education, the design of research, consent from the participants, to do it without compromising your time as a teacher, the difficulty of documenting it, and let’s not talk about how badly some circles view action research. However, it’s a shame if research in education can’t be done easily, as academia needs to be researched on and renewed. An action research perspective is extremely important, as critical practice leads to understand power and oppression. Perhaps (and I have faith in this) by really telling students what and why you are researching, you will get some students to participate in your studies sooner or later.

If there is informal learning, then there is informal teaching! This was an interesting discussion within the course. If you could learn informally, say, reading Wikipedia articles, then, I believe that for example people guiding others in forums or teaching how to play guitar on Youtube are informal teachers. They are not necessarily doing this while attached to their regular duties within an organization, they are mostly doing this for free, because they like to (or just ’cause). The motivations of these kinds of users might be a very interesting topic to research.

Two distinct narratives regarding the nature of social media, one as a real communication media (different than one way media like TV or Radio), really connecting people, with an emancipatory potential, enhancing and encouraging collaboration and sharing; the other a dark one, being a covert instrument of control and surveillance. Funny though, these two narratives are not mutually exclusive. We can see that, either in eastern and the western countries, governments have been enforcing control (or censorship) over the Internet, over different things, and for many different reasons (Falkvinge summarizes this last point wonderfully) BUT, governments tend to be not as tech proficient as people, and their protection from harm can have serious privacy and ethical implications. Which takes me to the next point.

V for Vendetta, I can’t take it off of my mind when dealing with this topics of control and surveillance, this comic book is perhaps as important for these times as 1984 has been for more than 50 years. Even if V is pre-social media, it’s a great textbook for this age of social media, activism, whistleblowing, Pirate Parties, and the awakening of the people in general.

This got a little too long, what do you think?

Springster is Official!

On a first half of a course in Gothenburg

I’m participating in this course about participatory media which brought me for its first half again to the nice city of Gothenburg (Sweden).

It has been very interesting for me to find out that most of my colleagues have a Library and Information Science background and that so many of them are researching the use of social media for educational purposes. I have myself seen this trend to increase in all the international courses and workshops I have attended in the recent years. I think the most important questions posed on this matter within these days are:

  • Why are you doing it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Which tools are you going to use and why?
  • Philosophical/Epistemological/Theoretical background is extremely complex
  • Of course, you mustn’t ignore that technology is but a tool and does not shape change by itself.
  • The question of how to assess the learning of students is a big question, no easily answerable. It’s one of my concerns in my study, although is not one of the important ones.

I was curious that one colleague is studying the divide between the social media and the real world within a higher education environment, as myself I found in my research that you could have pretty opposite opinions on it from the students “suffering” with these experiments that we researchers do. On one side I have seen that it has been very positive as in such a way that students have told me that they didn’t think about using social media in education before (young participant), that it’s inspiring in a way to enrich his own practice (senior participant); and on the other side, one student (young participant) getting really pissed off because I sent all participants a message about our activities through Facebook’s private messaging system.

Also of note, was the “scientific dinner”, meaning a dinner where colleagues and senior professors gather and speak about research, and well, of course some miscellanea and jokes. I kind of miss that… In any case, I am very happy and grateful to have the opportunity to meet my international peers and have this kind of exchange. It’s incredibly helpful.

I was very glad that after the short presentation of my research I got some of the few and nice words I have myself received towards my choice of research method: Participatory Action Research. Together with an appreciation of the challenges it poses, the resistance in some academic circles to accept it as a valid path, and its peculiarities in how it’s a study of subjectivities, emancipation and the enhancement of human knowledge, practices and experiences.
As it has happened in recent times, I feel the limitations I can have as a member of a research community because of the financial factor. But it’s part of this whole learning experience that I started when I left my country in pursuit of my professional career. Perhaps the best lessons in humility are learned by going through situations of need.

To Valencia, IX Congress ISKO

This is the first and last time I take 3 flights in less than 12 hours, it was terrible, the “winter” of Tallinn had me with the flu and I felt horrible with so many takeoffs and landings. Experience at the airports was interesting: in Tallinn, all normal and no problems, in Copenhagen a nice weather and some warm, great attention on the Duty Free Shop, they serve free samples of alcoholic beverages, I tasted three different whiskeys and a Danish vodka, I almost lost the flight for this… Now, upon arriving in Madrid I had an encounter with the history of my country, right in the security part I felt I was in any Venezuelan public organization, the security people were like joking and they were never ending passing my luggage and lost my boarding pass , would have been on purpose? I hope that this incident is not the rule. Another funny thing is that this airport was announced by the speaker system something like: “At this airport we don’t make any significant announcements,” and for a bonus, there was a 5€ charge to connect to the Internet for half an hour, when in Tallinn and Copenhagen its free. Well, I waited a couple of hours to the next flight to the airport of Valencia, with my laptop, watching the extras of the 25th anniversary of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and taking a Fanta lemon, something that saved the day …

Arrived in Valencia at 11 pm and I knew there is a Metro of Valencia, but its store was closed, the information booth closed also and nobody form security in sight to ask me for my passport or to could help me  and the signs are a disaster in Spain: all and none roads lead to Rome. So I took a taxi to the hotel where I had a reservation, another funny note, after a day of searching online for hotels in Valencia, it seems that the Spanish city has no hotels, or Valencia’s hotels are outside of Valencia, anyway I found one hotel a kilometer from the Polytechnic University, the place I were to head the next day.The goal of all this? Getting to Valencia, Spain to participate as a speaker at the IX Congress ISKO, Spanish Chapter entitled: New perspectives for the organization and dissemination of knowledge. At this conference I took my paper: “Program for Information Competencies Development of the Pedro Grases Library: Present and Future.”

To be continued…

Tallinn First Impressions

On January 14 I arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. The flight was quick and easy, I even could sleep, I’m getting used to flying. Upon leaving the terminal, I took a taxi and asked the driver to take me to a cheap hotel near the apartment where I am now. It was pretty close, it is curious that just behind the university dorm and near a bar where we have gone several times. I was hungry and got a pizza at the bar and a one class course in Estonian beer, I bought several, very good indeed. I returned to the room and had fun with the television in Estonian and Russian. What I liked was the hotel window and the carpet, impressive, and I want one for my home. I woke up the next day and I asked to do the checkout one hours later -while I was watching a rerun of Die Hard, felt like home- because I was to meet the landlord a little later than the original checkout time, my request was graciously pleased, then I went to find an ATM to complete the money I needed to pay for the apartment, and oh, tragedy! I lost my debit card, I realized it several hours later. Luckily I was able to solve this problem without too much difficulty.

Tallinn seems interesting, the prices are like 1/3 of Oslo’s, the girls are beautiful and the beer is fantastic, but the weather … man it’s cold. Musically, if Oslo is A-ha or ABBA, Tallinn is Depeche Mode, not in vain, there are two DM bars. The apartment is big and cold, and I had to stay two weeks alone until my friends and of course colleagues arrived: Andrea, Italian, Sara, American and Mehrnoosh, Iranian.

I like the classes at Tallinn University, I’m taking the courses of Information and Knowledge Management and Human Resources Management, also Italian classes, now I have a lot of material to read and things to do … I especially like the Information and Knowledge Management because it’s a familiar topic and one I like, and the teachers, Sirje Virkus and Aira Lepik are very kind and friendly, they even organized a reception for the students from the Digital Library Learning, where they had the tables with the flags from all countries where we came, it was too much, really.

In Oslo

I haven’t published anything in quite some time, specially on what I’m doing now, I hope I can change that and spend some more time to blog. I take this opportunity to write the first major change for which I am going. Currently I am in the city of Oslo (Norway), in the first semester of the International Master in Digital Library Learning. The following are in Tallinn (Estonia) and Parma (Italy).

I’m currently taking the Digital Documents and Research Methods and Theory of Science courses at Oslo University College.

The change from Caracas to Oslo has been dramatic, almost insulting, especially with regard to security in the streets, Oslo is a very safe city, but that is another story, or rather, material for another post.

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