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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?


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