Spirograph togetherness

One person can be part of many communities. Communities can be seen as overlapping and connected circles. Though each individual is the connection for the coming together of those particular communities – they are the thread running through, much like the single pencil line of a spirograph.



Of course words are a limiting form of expression

1. when you lose them you must use more to find them or express the concept sought
2. they are a flat mode of delivery
3. a vocabulary is finite to aid communication with others not able to think what you are thinking, with parameters set by language
4. they are associated with known concepts and ideas

I have been stumped for the last few days, trying to think how best to articulate ‘community’ given the new online sphere and the traditional view of community brought into question – when it hit me – words are great for expressing the known and problematic for the new. New thoughts require new words or new takes on the existing.

(ironically, with this tool in hand, suddenly words became more useful!)

Our notion of community is based on the tangible – physical co-location or even virtual spaces – although what the internet highlights all too readily is the manifestation of one ‘community’ in multiple space – e.g. Justin Bieber Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, society meet-ups – despite the obvious connection.

Yet it is possible to still feel part of a community even if no longer active within in, or never having been directly involved – perception of association.

Take for example a housewife involved in a single 4chan campaign but unable to spend any time online these days because her children’s needs have changed – she may still feel connected to that group as its values still appeal to her, yet should her lack of physical activity on the site perturb her from feeling part of the community?

It’s one of the biggest reasons for alumni faculties for organisations or groups – retaining that connection and thus sense of community, even if never participating in ‘alumni’ activities.

Association becomes even more important (and interesting) when you think about those who feel part of a given community, e.g. parents at the school gates, only by association to someone assigned to that community, e.g. the friend who always walks her dog at 4pm and bumps into others at the gates even though she herself does not have a child at the school to pick up but is so frequently there others feel she is part of that ‘community’.

Community will mean different things to different people – to those within and those looking from outside – and there is no way of imposing meaningful in-group/out-group divides. It is down to perception of belonging.

Association to the theme is also incredibly important.

Mums at the school gates may meet for coffee – same people, different environment, same community.
Fans of Justin Bieber may express themselves on different social platforms but it is their connection to theme JB which is the glue that brings them together.

So a community is an intangible association with others that can manifest in tangible ways, but is also fluid enough to allow community to continue even if the association itself is altered.

I would quite like one word for this… come to think about it, is it unity? hummm….




What do Bieber and Geocaching have in common?


Chickens and eggs, also irrelevant

Online communities, much like the people within them, come in many shapes and sizes. They also appear for different reasons and to fulfil different purposes.


[F] Take facebook as a first example. This was an online site that filled a need for functionality to keep tabs on an ever expanding social network, especially whilst at University. The community was there before but exploded through new functionality.

[N] Forums and notice board facilities for niche groups, e.g. specialist bike part trading or stamp collectors, were also pre-existing of the internet but a loci of focus raises awareness that there are lots of others in that niche and sped up inter-group communication.

[T] Twitter on the other hand is very different – they created a new need (to use the quick-comms facility) and now have a bustling user base of millions.

[B] Blogs are a new twist on an old diary entry, whereby others interested in certain themes raised could stumble upon a fellow blogger and follow their musings.


Quickly thinking about these, they are not as clear cut as they initially appear…


[T][B][F] I would say I am part of the twitter/blogging/facebook communities – I engage with these online mediums. I am part of these user bases.

[T][F] I am connected with lots of other people/organisations, but I would not say I felt a sense of belonging to any online communities within these sites, just to the sites themselves.

[T] The communities I feel a part of trigger my twitter followings – clusters of organisations – rather than feeling my community is on twitter, I use twitter to strengthen my communities.

[N] When I visit forums, I always feel there is a greater sense of belonging, although I do not ‘belong’ to any forum-based communities.


I feel more of a sense of belonging to the internet as a community than the sub-sets within it. I feel like a global citizen more than a resident of the Newington (Edinburgh) community.

However, I also have very few non-internet based hobbies and have always enjoyed my own company. I have never felt a need to be surrounded by others to feel a sense of belonging but have always found it easier to be part of larger communities, e.g. a school, mixing between smaller local groups than to be fully committed to one group completely.


This makes me think personality type could play a role in online communities – not just in the type of communities involved in but also in the perception of community itself.


Does size really matter?

Often when trying to understand an online phenomenon, looking to the non-online version (if applicable) is a useful tool to start with for comparative purposes later of how the entity has changed in its online guise.

“Online communities” – topic of exploration this week

Task: Find an online community and study it.

Instinctively, I felt I knew what a community was – a network of support, usually coupled with a sense of belonging, of like-minded or similarly experienced people e.g. a sports society or local mother and toddler group.

However, despite using all three terms synonymously in my definition, I had absolutely no idea what made a group or a society or a community what it was and whether there was any distinction between them – a useful definition for choosing an ‘online community’ to analyse.

So I went browsing on the internet to find out what ‘community’ meant…

A body of people or things viewed collectively. – OED (#1)

This seemed to give very little further insight, so I continued my quest…

Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a small village that shares common values. – Wikipedia, “Community”

Two interesting elements here: size and values.

Although I had expected a sense of belonging, the notion of values underpinning a community seems more applicable to certain communities than others. Feminist communities have a very clear values base of equality and respect, with magnetism to such collectives if you share their principle beliefs. However, Geocaching – whereby you hide a box and tell others of its GPS coordinates – seems less ‘values’ orientated and more around a shared interest in active games (although an appreciation for the outdoors could be indirectly linked).

Size was the next thing that struck me – how large is a small village? And when does a unit become too large to be called a community?

Micro- > Meso- > Macro-level analysis

According to social science analysis levels, communities fall within meso-level scales – a fairly large category spanning from a clan/tribe up to a city or state. Using such benchmarks, this formula would make a community between 100 individuals – 10 million in size.

So let’s compare this to some typical online communities: 4chan = 110,000 active users currently (*tick*); Hash House Harriers Edinburgh = 120 members (*tick*); @JustinBieber, twitter account = 35 million…

Errr… that’s enormous… over 6 times larger than the whole population of Scotland :S

So Bieber fever hits Macro-level. Bieber is more akin to a ‘nation’ than a community – Twitter king of a country between the size of Kenya and Sudan.

But has this helped at all better understand what a community is? No.

Size has done nothing but further cloud understanding – a red herring of the non-online world when applied online.

This made me think of the MSc Digital Education Manifesto:

The best online courses are born digital.

Could the same be true for definitions?

Could the constant referral to the non-digital be clouding judgement of a truly new form online?

There may be a common etymological root, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

Interestingly, this seems to be precisely what has happened…

An online facility, such as an electronic bulletin board, forum, or chat room, where users can share information or discuss topics of mutual interest. – OED (#8)

I might be back to where I started but it was definitely worth the (virtual) journey! :)


What is a(n online) community?

Can a person be a community…

And when do fans become community, become religion…

Can a website be a community…

Or is it a collective activity that makes it so…

Does community require engagement to be self-beneficial…

And must you self define as belonging to the entity for an external to deem the collective a community…

Or can community be assigned without knowledge of the participants…

Must engagement be sustained in order to apply and classification predicated on the snapshot or can retrospective assignment be given, despite no current activity…

And can you be part of the community without being observable?


Mass cooperation




Travelling books

Whilst the world makes noise being busy, a silent community shares peacefully…


I met one once but chose not to participate that time – when I went back, it was gone.


How hackers changed the world



When spies fall in love <3

Today it struck me… I am a spy gone native, a spy who fell in love with the target.

I started the MSc Digital Education (among other reasons) as a way of improving my understanding and representation of a cohort I had never been but worked on behalf of every day. The was not new to me, I had been a student sabbatical officer of a large diverse student body and so the ability to infer the needs of a group to which I did not necessarily define was fairly intuitive. But these were only and could only be inferences – I did not actually know what it was like to be a distance learner. So I signed up, applied and got in! I knew I was going to really enjoy the course and was really excited to see more of what it was like over the other side of the fence.

But I fell hard – I didn’t just enjoy the course I <3 loved <3 the course!!! I had not realised just how hard I would fall for fully online education methods (although I had an inkling, and had always had an interest in online developments) to the point where I question if I could ever go back to a fully on-campus traditional experience. Now, fortunately for me, this is not the fifth Bourne film, so I do not need to jump off buildings to escape the University from knowing how much I like the course – they are supportive of the relationship – but the readings this week made me view my ‘representational research project’ in a more ethnographic light. I had essentially gone in to a new community to find out how it worked and what it was like to better inform future developments, but had become so immersed in the experience that I have ended up self-identifying as one of the community – the target! Is this true online ethnography? Well, let’s see where block 2 takes me, but shhhhhhhh *it’s a secret!* ;)


Race to create ‘insect cyborgs’


Do we need invasive surgery to ultimately control the actions of a rat or insect when we can make something fully robotic already?


Digital divide – cultural relativism?

What does it achieve?
Does it tell us anything about ourselves or how a society works?
Does inter-culture division only cloud judgement of what is important?


Are we losing sight?

In a world full of colour, the vibrancy of the visual, it has never been more important to strengthen our visual foundation. Yet with cuts in arts funding omnipresent and national curricula predisposed to regarding visual appreciation as something done in an hour of Art per week, can it really be said that we have full sight of creating a society for the future, as the world becomes more visually stimulating that ever before.

We shop with our eyes.
We eat with our eyes.
We do most things with the visual these days… but we do we support future eyes to grow?


Scratch ‘n’ sniff make-believe

Whilst reading Taylor earlier this week, I was transported back to an olfactory memory during the 90s – a truly revolting BBC Red Nose Day Scratch ‘n’ Sniff book, where every box smelled like the same nauseating and artificial death pit, despite being associated with different environments/things on the corresponding tv show (I think ‘soap’ was the only one that didn’t make me want to burn the book, even though this too could have had deathly consequences!)

For me, this is a pretty vivid memory. I even remember large, brightly coloured boxes with numbers inside flashing on the screen to signify scratching the numbered box in the book. This is definitely a thing that happened. I promise!

However, after a good 30 minutes of searching on Google and only one reference to the event in a forum post, I began to question my own memory. How could no one have taken a picture and uploaded it to Flickr?!

Catching up with Spalter & Van Dam (2008) and Merchant (2007) threw a new perspective on the situation. These articles highlighted how sceptical we are as a culture of visual artefacts – digital pictures can be enhanced and ‘photo-shopped’ to deliver the desired outcome, even if that were not the original image, and it is difficult to know if/when this augmentation has occurred without author reference to the development.

The other side of this opinion is that we have become equally distrusting of anything that has not been digitally captured. Unless someone takes a picture of a unicorn in their front room, it is unlikely anyone will believe them when they recount the event. Likewise, no one would have believed the lady put the cat in the bin if it hadn’t been caught on camera.

We apparently distrust the visual evidence we receive, whilst being incapable of believing anything without it.

On a smellier note, the inability to find a picture of the Red Nose Day S’n'S booklet left me questioning my own knowledge base – without evidence to support the case, the memory becomes as believable as the unicorn – a fragment of my imagination, shared by another 90s engage-er on a solitary forum. Without a picture, it could just be coincidence!

[N.B. this RND event was way before the mobile phone became commonplace, cameras were not instagram apps, and cassette tapes required intervention of pencils or tiny fingers to wind up pre-play!]

Yet these two views are of the same coin – we are now a society more empowered to question. We do not believe everything we hear – on the contrary, we are actively encouraged to question what we do. Information is everywhere, but it is saturation and skills required to source the media-untampered facts. Memories are susceptible to damage, decay, planting, gap filling, general misinterpretation upon recall and thus often of limited value (in some cases) without strong evidence bases of neutral form, e.g. video, pictures, dna traces!

More information makes us question more, even ourselves. I’m not saying I now retract my Scratch ‘n’ Sniff memory, but a few digital pieces of the puzzle would be helpful to try and piece back together the little faith I had!

We were originally wary of shifting rapidly among different disciplines but found that the students had no difficulty with this at all - the need to teach one subject at a time may exist mostly in the mind of an older generation.
Spalter & van Dam (2008)

Oppression of the written word

Every time I see the word ‘literacy’, I think of the ability to engage with and make meaning of the written, text-based, alphabetised language. To be literate in other mediums seems to be not literate but instead something else – fluency of another form. Language in its emergent nature has sedimented this lexeme in our vocabulary with the association of text-only. Is it possible to reclaim the word and broaden its meaning for other purposes without removing the historical trace? Do we need to burn all the dictionaries (or at least the section LIE-LISP) to give the word a new lease of life?

It’s quite astounding how limiting words can be but how fundamental they are today to our way of thinking.


An interesting dichotomy


In light of Taylor, this article made me smile – $40,000 per annum fees for an immersive educational experience, which one could argue is how education /should/ be, i.e. akin to traditional community learning. Is this the /true/ cost of education?!


Shallow Yield?

- Fallow Field, Grigar (2004)

Does prescription more readily yield stagnation than dynamism in ‘hyperlinked’ fiction? Stopping to click disrupts flow and immersion.


Thomas (2007)

Stiegler’s work draws attention to the degree to which theorizing about technology is often polarized between anxiety and euphoria. His response is to refuse to distance technology from life; and to suggest that human individuation and technology have always had a transductive relationship. Our sense of transliteracy is informed by such a relationship.


The constant = tired

It’s often thought that making things more connected and ‘more digitalised’ is a way of saving time. Yes, you can do things quicker, but so is everyone else! Sometimes the constant stream of communication can be overwhelming, saving time to spend more time doing more of the things you’re trying to save time doing and doing them in a time saving manner only to find there is no time spare, every bit is spent!


Evolution of communication

Communication Snobbery

Noise > Spoken word > Image > Written text > Lengthy prose, embedded structures

… then the internet came

Lengthy prose > webpage short text > twitter even shorter > youtube videos > spoken word (recorded)

Communication has cyclic development. So why not cyclic appreciation too – why is there such snobbery, e.g. Twitter = regression of comms to a primitive form, to hold on to ‘Hard Times’ embedded clauses?!


(Pre-hyperlink) hyperlinked reading

I’ve always been that person who prefers non-fiction reference books, skim reads fiction, jumps chapters, skips to the end to confirm plot assumptions, and seldom finishes an entire book (it has to be pretty exceptional!) ever since a young age. I love reading on a computer screen, opening hyperlink tabs, using ‘find word’ searches, and find the linearity and inflexibility of paper oppressive. I also have a very low threshold for boredom.

It’s interesting how opinions differ on the format of text. Despite the ‘digital age’, we are by no means all going ‘native’ (yet!)


Widening the reach

MOOCs are to education what images are to written communication – a beautiful tool to widen reach and understanding.

It is often said that a picture can say a thousand words, and many have recently joked why use pictures at all! Words, whilst blessed with the ability to conjure vivid imagery and concepts in the minds of reader, are limited by their own accessible promise – if the reader does not know the meaning of the word, the meaning is lost and the words fall short. They are elitist in their accessibility. An image, in contrast, can be enjoyed by all, irrespective of the viewer’s lexical repertoire.

So why not just use images?

Although images enrich understanding, they too are subject to interpretation – the author of the communication may deem a single image the sole component necessary to convey the intended meaning, yet this will be subject to prior understanding of the context (if context at all is made explicit). Take for example the image above – the potential educational metaphor is less apparent when buried within a piles of holiday pictures or on a fishing website! If only images were used, they would require additional information in their profile to be fully appreciated in the intended manner.

Balance is important.

Kress (2005) makes a important point of change, especially in the nature of communication – the build on, chapter by chapter original book format > the hyperlinked, read what you need, dynamism of digital texts. Text has become more accessible. Pictures, format, tone, length… all contribute to improved engagement.

When I first started University, I would come across articles every now and again which were difficult to read. Now, as a fairly competent reader, this was not due to an inability to process the words, but rather to parse the sentences – each verbose section adding nothing but complication to the already tenuous prose. At the time I would think ‘wow, one day, I will understand this difficult concept’ then find another source that said the same thing in half a dozen words, with a simplicity to aid uptake. Who are the former designed for? If your purpose of writing is to communicate, why make it more difficult than is necessary?

The majority of this was status – you wrote in a particular style to impose status in the field. A write of passage (see what I did there!) which acted as an unofficial filtering system for future academics – if you can read and understand it, great you’ll succeed; if not, you’re out.

However, over time through a number of initiatives (including drives to widen access to education and increase numbers entering University) this verbosity is less tolerated – peer reviewed journals (although still stylised and largely inaccessible to the general public) have an appreciation for clarity of expression and new academics are encouraged to get those outwith their field to read their papers prior to submission.

The nature of text has changed – not just the mode of delivery (paper > digital, more images and less text) but the method and tone too. And as a result of these changes, so has the reach of the text – an estimated 2.4 billion use the internet today, which can communicate information to a larger audience than a paper book due to improved speed of information transference.

This made me think more about MOOCs. Their potential is as revolutionary as the Plain English campaign or the internet itself with regards to extending the reach to the general public. Another chip away at higher education elitism. Another way for people to engage with Universities, which in turn improves purpose of an institution – more people connected to actively exchange knowledge with!

MOOCs aren’t perfect and they’ve got a lot to learn but they have potential and that’s exciting!

Networks, my boy, must be two things: one, like a net, they must catch everyone; and two, they must work.
- Prof John Smyth


Kids app ‘translates’ grown-up paper

An app that transforms adult newspapers into child-friendly text and animations has been launched in Japan.



EDC MOOC response

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Importance of experience

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Are MOOCs like Disney films?

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And as if by magic, hundreds of thousands of people appear in the same place to join in with a really exciting (educational) dance routine (except, sometimes with a MOOC it’s a bit more free-style)…

The utopian vision of education brought to life through Disney high definition!