The tumblog experiment in this course essentially demonstrates how students experience “disaggregation and reaggregation – taking things apart, scattering them across the network, and then having them put back together by the machine.”
To me the tumblog experience was also about the creation of an online blogging identity through the weeks, and understanding the digital and eLearning community, by being immersed in the culture. There has been constant reassessment and negotiation of the boundaries, and defining the relationship of digital culture and elearning culture (Edwards, 2010).
I have experimented with multimodal, transliteracy elements, and considered how my tumblog content may exclude or include readers, and how visual digital literacy is enacted in different publications, and considered how or what people present or project as themselves online. There were also the constant considerations for what might an academic discourse and essay look like if text was not the dominant medium. My creation of several digital artefacts such as the virtual ethnography are examples of images taking precedence over text.
I have felt like I am both a virtual ethnographer and a futuristic archaeologist, trying to come to terms and make sense of the rich cultural life of the elearning and digital world, which although I am part of, I have only been on the periphery of this world. The study of posthumanism and narratives of dystopia and utopia have really forced me to think about what digital culture really means in a variety of context and locations.
The tumblog also reflected the rhizomatic development of links and ideas where I have digressed to non-digital cultures a few times, to enable me to look at the topic afresh. Some examples of this were in the automobile Prezi in Week 5, and also the posts related to fashion or hair design. One of the more pertinent fragments drawn from the internet was the paper from Heidegger on Ontological Education which gives the background for where posthuman ideas evolved from.
I rather prefer Heidegger’s idea of deconstruction which is “not to destroy our traditional Western educational institutions but to ‘loosen up’ this ‘hardened tradition and dissolve the concealments it has engendered’ (Thompson, 2001). In contrast, the posthuman idea of man and nonhuman existing in the same continuum is continually presented as a novel condition for humanity, for which no previous educational approaches suitable. However, I found that the authors never explained why previous technology did not divorce humanity from itself. I argue these technologies have made us more human than less, which I will develop in my final essay.
Finally, reflecting on the selected imagery that captured my thoughts and emotions by Kasey Mccahon, called Connected in Week1, I can compare this with the Portrait of a Posthuman by Eva Rorandelli, which sums up some of the Posthuman elements in human identity, posted in Week 12. My vision of digital culture, derived from the mash-up of different sources from the web, through reflection, discussion, will now be consolidated in my final assignment.
This week has been devoted to researching articles and ideas for my final assignment.
I started by googling for issues of posthuman identity and found the portrait of a posthuman by a visual artist. The description of her work is useful as a starting point for reference to identity, where the human is seeking a comfortable position for herself in the world she inhabits. I thought the selection of fabrics to reflect identity was also an important one. It led me to think about the identity of an educator, which is discussed in the essay on Heidegger.
The second and third posts are focused on pedagogical approaches. This time I tried searching using the words: ontology, identity, becoming, design. A Phantasmal Media Approach to Empowerment, Identity and Computation was an interesting find, and it gives me more to consider about the idea of identity in the virtual world. I thought the dynamic construction of social categories identities (body language, discourse, metaphorical thought, gesture, fashion) as an addition to the normally used categories such as class, gender, sex, race and ethnicity was realistic and I can see that for the younger generation the other categorisation is more prevalent.
The final link was a paper on Heidegger about Ontological Education, or: How We Become What We Are (Iain Thomas). This will be an important reference for my final assignment. I will compare Heidegger’ with the language used in the cyborg pedagogy. There is correlation between the two.
My final post for this week contains some preliminary thoughts on my final assignment. The narrative is written down to allow for the flow of ideas to begin.
I have spent some time responding to final posts by colleagues, especially those that touch on their final assignment.
Selecting an assignment topic for me has been like a shot in the dark: although the philosophical arguments on posthumanism have been really difficult to get into, I have determined to look at it in greater detail. I started my tumblog by claiming that I want these course materials to be digestable and readable by non-experts in this area. However, there has been a lot of specialised terminology introduced: utopia, dystopia, commodifying, digital visual literacy, transliteracy, multimodality, MOOC, reflexivity, virtual ethnography, ontology, becoming, substance, matter, arrival, panopticon, digital culture, agency, cyborg, posthumanism, rhizomatic, rhizomANTic, and disembodiment. I have some idea about each of them, but I know it will be hard for anyone else who has not gone through the course.
So the biggest challenge for me is to be able to deconstruct posthumanism in the context of digital culture, and consider how this impacts eLearning culture, and hence learning itself.
My starting point is Haraway. I had spent a whole week reading and re-reading Haraway before anything of what she wrote made sense. Finally, through discussion with peers, and friends who have a background in philosophy, I was able to deduce a few basic premises of Haraway:
a) Her belief that boundaries that we are familiar with, have to be disrupted and redefined. She has identified four decenterings that need to happen:
decentring of europe from the centre of the universe,
decentring of humanity from centre of organic life ,
decentring of consciousness of all the modes of active agencies and active beings in the world,
decentring of the natural from the artificial so that the liveliness of the entities that we call technological have to be accommodated in some ways.
b) This ‘pleasure in confused boundaries’, placing the non-human on the same continuum of human, reconstruction of meaning contextually, intervening or disruption of the traditional, are all part of the language of posthumanist writers. However there are many interpretation of posthumanism.
c) Haraway’s assigning ‘liveliness’ in nonhuman objects, seems to assume that human beings are tied up in a connection with nonhuman objects and it ‘becomes’ part of this big picture rather than being considered as the centre of things. This also implies that the notion of agency, attributed to the human, diminishes. As a result, there is a mixing of agencies and ontologies in exploring the co-constitutive life. The idea technological and bio-determinism hold strong in Haraway’s philosophy. Humans are not the only actor in making things happen.
d) The paper on Cyborg Manifesto which Haraway had written in the 1980s, for a socialist-feminist paper, was considered a joke by Haraway herself as she did not think it would be published. After watching some of her more recent lectures, one begins to have more understanding of her style of presenting her thesis. Her approach includes a preamble of her past and where she came from, all in the context of what she is about to say. This answers for the very long preamble of Cyborg Manifesto, and also the premise of which Haraway was taking as a Marxist and feminist. Essentially it examines the relationship between human and technology. The use of the word Cyborg has its reference to the military use of animals with cyborg capacities.
What implications have these ideals for education?
A few academics have bravely written articles on their gatherings and becomings, and how they have experimented in their own classroom. I find the use of the posthuman language a little disturbing because it is excluding many people from understanding the text. I had to try to get used to the terminologies, and to attempt to adopt some of them, to enable me to cross the obstacle of seeing this as a possible and useful way to describe pedagogy.
Who is posthuman? This afternoon I am pondering the question of identity and agency in the posthuman world. It seems from the description of the visual artist, the self is no longer very stable, in fact it is illusive. Using Eva Rorandelli, the artist’s words: “frozen in awkward positions without a sense of themselves.” It is changing or perhaps morphing into different selves, reflected “in the body-extending costumes to make hybrid textile “skins”” constantly finding a position that would be befitting for the context and situation.
Is this the kind of intervention that posthumanism writers refer to? Disturbing the traditional boundaries, and getting people to think and rethink who humans really are, and perhaps their responsibilities in relation to the different connections they now become aware of?
If we were to relate this to the identity of an educator, how different is this from the notion of being a reflective practitioner? Is this calling for adaptability, flexibility and deconstructing the power relations of the educator and his students? I believe that providing leadership and direction in learning is still the mainstay of the educator. His other identities should not erase the identity of the educator, it should enhance the person, and perhaps makes him more in tune and relevant? Perhaps.
This last week’s tumblog has been focused on reviewing the various articles on Posthumanism to help shape my final assignment. I used the discussion questions to guide my reading and was only able to begin to consider question 4 in the list: What other connections might there be between cyborg theory and the pragmatics of online pedagogy and course design. Hence the posts have been about filtering and researching (or gathering) the various links and work already written about the subject, and some reviews of the articles.
In Penderson (2010) Is posthuman educable?, I looked at the reference to humanist traditions and the different strands of interpretation of the posthuman adoption of the past. In my second post, a link to a blog discussion on connectivism as posthuman pedagogy which questions the absence of epistemology in the theory. In my third post, I decided to collect a few more links for reference to what is being done already on posthuman pedagogy or its interpretation for education. And my last post this week, I attempted to reflect how I could embrace the language of posthumanism in my post, and also focused on Gough’s rhizomANTic paper which illustrated an example of anthromorphism or reflexivity, and finally in Angus et al (2001), I raised some questions on the interpretation of connections used by posthumanist writers.
On reflection, I am slowly beginning to think beyond the binaries of promise/threat and dystopia/utopia. I am able to proceed to the second process of scattering the ideas on my blog this coming week.
Angus, T, Cook, I, Evans, J et al (2001) A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy?International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, vol 10, no 2, pp.195-201.
Reflecting on this course’s tumblog experience, I can see this process working out well. In this last block of studies, I am effectively taking apart Haraway, Hayle, Edwards, Penderson, Angus and Gough and then writing reflections on these (scattering) and publishing them on the tumblog. In time I will be putting this back together again as a single final write up and presentation. There is an active and continuous construction and reconstruction of the boundaries for building up my understanding and critique of the posthumanist philosophy and its implications on education.
The reconstruction of boundaries is prevalent when one is making sense of a more difficult subject. Some of these areas are:
a) the comparison of the nonhuman with human subjects in Gough and other writers in the same continuum:
Essentially Gough’s rhizomANTic is example of anthropomorphism, where humans try to project their own perspective onto non-human things. We want to believe that there is something that connects us to each other, as part of a higher-order collective, and if ants can be seen this way, maybe human’s could, too.
As evidence of this claim of anthropomorphism, it is worth noting that most writers assume we can transfer observations from the ant world to the human world, without devoting any exploration to why such transferance doesn’t make sense. For example, ants do not have a written language. They transfer information through the exchange of chemical signals, and much behaviour is simply inherent in their genetics. An ant doesn’t have an education program to become an ant. An ant simply functions as an ant from birth.
In contrast, tragic examples from human history show that babies and children, must be extensively educated to gain language, and many critical life skills such as reading, writing and science. The wolf-boy of France who was found living in the wild did not have an innate ability to function in human society after growing up for so many years outside of it. Ants don’t face this learning investment, and so this is just one of many differences between the two types of societies which make comparisons and conclusions very limited.
In the last part of the essay, the author suddenly invokes the perspective of a student self-directed examination of the connections of things in ordinary life with distant sources and peoples as some how related to the concept of an ant colony. This is only possible if we believe that people function like ants, or that ant colonies represent some complex human interactions as an educational construct. Unfortunately, there is no investigation or explanation of such connections.
As a pedagogy, the self-directed exploration of connections is not stand-alone. It would never work unless students had already received extensive training in science, history, geography, biology and so-on previously – and we must agree that those skills would have been gained by traditional methods: demonstration of technique, discussion of theory, opportunity to practice and perfect new skills with coaching and assessment.
From a more charitable perspective, the suggested cyborg pedagogy is an example of putting in practice the integration of many skills and experiences. For example, the previous study of economics and supply chains (Angus et al, 2001) can be practically mixed with studies of ecology, sociology and environment. Ergo, following the commercial acquisition of coffee granules informs the study of the agricultural and social practices that provided it in context with the environmental impact and/or benefits. From this analysis, we can assert that cyborg pedagogy is more about finding connections between diverse studies, than it is about finding connections about the things themselves. Cyborg pedagogy does not operate on its own. At best, it is more like an imaginative creative writing course than a learning environment.
b) the decentring of the human or human factor seem to make sense at one level where the power of construction and reconstruction is given to the student rather than the teacher dictating the boundaries, however, is it suggesting that education that reflects this model should replace traditional methods? Angus et al (2001) has demonstrated the process and the result of the experiment where the students make the connections between things, and see the relationships differently. Does the encouragement of this kind of exploration set students up for challenging the body of knowledge to the extent of revising history for example or question the existence of the self or the notion of right and wrong? How does posthumanist view facts?
I am intrigued by the choice of words so far used to describe the humanist traditions.
In Penderson, it is the reference of “instabilities of humanist traditions/ideals of education and “institutionalised production, mediation, and development of knowledge”. (Penderson, 2010; 241)
Instability conjures for me a sense that the foundations of the humanist traditions have some cracks and are slowly breaking up. The position that Penderson takes is that it permeates in the production, mediation and development of knowledge. Hence, a radically new way of looking at knowledge is called for.
The dualism that is under scrutiny is the one that frames most of humanist education- the divide between human and non-human.
Interpretation of posthumanism in education varies. Some are more sympathetic to the humanist traditions, others see this as a paradigm shift.
The former is reflected in Stables and Scott’s (2001) vision of posthumanist environmental education curricular which to Penderson is still rooted in the humanist regimes:
“…reworking of a humanist assumptions with greater valorisation of non-human….increasingly recognising non-human life as necessary and not just as desirable and self-renewing resource (pp277-278)
The latter proposes that human, nonhuman including machines should be placed on the same continuum rather than as separate poles, one which Penderson describes as anti-speciest approaches. Drawing on Pickering (2005) “…mutual becoming’ of the human and the nonhuman requires a shift in the unit of analysis…where he sees posthumanism as a tool to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries…a dialectic that produces a new kind of posthuman object, or assemblage, with a certain kind of inner unity.”
Citing Gough (2004), he imagines teaching and learning as
“material-semiotic assemblages of sociotechnical relations embedded in and performed by shifting connections and interactions among a variety of organic, technical, ‘natural’ and textual materials.” (2004:2)
Interestingly, this has resonance with the dystopic views which also indicates that it is philosophy couched in the less positive view against commodifying (Capitalist agenda), or privileging the privileged, exclusionary politics.
So where does this leave the educator of the present and the future? What can I draw from this as a curriculum designer, or a teacher for example? Do we need to untangle or choreograph the pedagogies from the different mix and mashed up influences and relationships with interspecies assemblages and dominant agendas?
Week ten started with a skype session which helped to make some sense of the concepts of cyborgs and posthuman to a certain extent.
Haraway’s writing was a struggle, and I decided to set it aside and try to look at any descriptions or visuals to help unravel the posthuman concept and I found “A Sum of Parts: Posthuman Humans“ and the Posthuman Future which demystified some of the academic articles. This is a part of the assembling process, which takes things which are related but in a different modality to help build a picture of a topic you are studying. The ability to branch out in the comfort of one’s home, and with the aid of google search, is something which I would define part of the enabling provided by technology.
Reading secondary articles of Edwards and Angus et al provided some practical examples of how posthuman pedagogy is applied. The first reading of the pedagogic applications were rather unsettling particularly the placing of humans and nonhuman on the same continuum. The language of posthumanism permeates in the literature and I am trying to find a way to conceive in my mind how it would work in an education system or curriculum.
The week ended with investigations on the premise of Haraway’s writing, which surfaced more questions about the validity of the arguments presented. I am inclined to challenge the assumptions and perhaps attempt to redefine what an alternative Cyborg or Posthuman pedagogy could look like which will eventually be part of my final assignment question.
Angus, T, Cook, I, Evans, J et al (2001) A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy?International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, vol 10, no 2, pp.195-201.
I find this really quite interesting. The Cyborg Pedagogy reflects much of what we try to do to raise awareness of our connectedness with the world but it has given a new and refreshing way to look at it. A new cultural framework so to speak. The idea of responsible experimentation is a compelling one for the type of education which centres on a particular area of concern rather than on the individual.
My only struggle at the moment is the continuum of human and non-human paradigm. I would like to read more about this to ensure I understand what the implications are for education, and also a way of life for many.
Angus, T, Cook, I, Evans, J et al (2001) A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy?International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, vol 10, no 2, pp.195-201.
Edwards provided a number of binaries that illustrate the epistemological-ontological separation.(Edwards, 2010: 8)
epistemology – ontology
meaning – matter
significance – substance
subject – object
theory – practice
knowing – becoming
reflecting – intervening
thinking – doing
representing – experimenting
This sums up his description of a post-human education which I would like to consider further this week:
“Here a post-human condition could position responsible experimentation as a gathering of the human and non-human to establish matters of concern…it is not the human subject who learns through experimenting rather than representing, but the thing that is gathered which is an enactment of human and non-human elements.There is a decentring of the knowing/learning human subject within educational practices.”(Edwards, 2010: 13)
This last week, I was responding to the ethnographies of the group, and those from the group. I have screen captured the responses as below:
The varied routes and presentation of the ethnography show how this course has allowed the freedom to explore one single topic. The study of the internet communities has been an extremely interesting process for me and it is evident from the reviews and post of others, as a group we have found this a very useful methodology to uncover the definition of communities.
The process of which the ethnographer becomes part of the object of study is interesting. It becomes a journey unique to each person, and the learning process is more meaningful.
Moving on to the reading for week 9 was a challenge.
Reading and rereading of Haraway, starting with Pickering then moved on the Hayles. The posts this week reflect the frustration. I have noted some interpretation and questions about the articles which I am hoping will be clarified as I move on to week ten.
The skype chat session clarified for me some questions I still had about posthumanism but not enough. I have posted a lecture by Haraway, From Cyborgs to Companion Species, which I hoped will help understand her work.
I was also trying to catch up on the group’s post, but have not been able to respond till I have grasped what posthumanism really is.
This topic is completely out of my comfort zone. It reminded me of when I had to learn physics or Descartes, neither of these made sense to me! Perhaps I need an idiot’s guide to Posthumanist and Cyborgs.
So here’s me trying to make sense of it all – I hope the application of these in Week 10 will help alleviate the difficulty reading through the materials.
Towards embodied virtuality, Hayles (1999)
If I look at the set of notes I took from pages 2-3 of Hayles, I begin to get an idea of posthuman as a machine, but has a consciousness without depending on the body, and if the limbs are there, it is to be manipulated by the informational pattern and consciousness. It has an identity, and its’ relationship with intelligent machines is seamless.
The description below seems to have appeared in Haraway (2007), Hayles (2005) and Pickering (2005)
“The Posthuman subject is an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction”(p3)
But this quote below suggests to me that a posthuman is closer to being a human yet with the possibilities of information technologies, and it has the concept of agency and choice.
…my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity….”(p5)
If it is not referring to human, why use the word post-human? Perhaps the confusion is the inclusion of the word human? Or are these just concepts trying to reconceive what being human really is? And the inclusion of Haraway’s writing is really about making sense of the world of human beings in the digital environment? As Amy has kindly explained, from the feminist tradition, it is a challenge to look at the world, not from a man’s or in Haraway’s writing a ‘white’ man’s viewpoint, with the Christian tradition of being cast out of the garden. In the feminist perspective, things are not in straight lines but it grows organically, not in some neat boxes. Things are messy, in Amy’s words.
My focus this week was to construct my ethnography. Little did I know that I would be writing up something completely different from Street Arts! It has been a steep learning curve, but I have learnt much from the reading, researching online ethnography and Street Arts, and finally the process of writing up an ethnography, in a topic which is all too familiar to me.
I have divided the ethnography into three sections: the journey or getting there, being there and finally the implications for eLearning. Each of these sections required a lot of thinking, and I feel really quite pleased that I have tried to make or analyse Kosinets’ ideas on online participation.
At some stage I was beginning to feel weary about the ethnography particularly the issue of ethics on such a sensitive area. I was weighing both ethical questions and the defence that I was part of the community. I resolved this by cutting down more slides, and kept the discussion of the digital culture rather than the content.
By Sunday, I was able to start looking at the published ethnography, and tried to understand each person’s view and framework for their exploration and their chosen media for the final presentation.
For a better view, try clicking on the full screen icon.
I have gained some insight into online ethnography through Hine’s article and I wanted to see what he means by connective ethnography particularly the notion of “getting there” rather than “being there”, how to allow the subjects to judge what is authentic, and how online ethnographies despatialize notions of communities., and focus on the cultural process rather than physical place’.
(Please see multimodal presentation above for the rest of the first section on the approach and strategy used for my ethnography. I have initially written only the text below but as I was building the presentation I wanted to expand and explain the steps towards doing an online ethnography of this nature. I was not intending to post the full text below but the platform used, presented some issues for me as I was trying to ensure that nothing was left out. There is little way of making sure of that, especially for a long presentation. Hence the inclusion of the text for ‘post-arrival stage’ and the analysis below) Statements from core reading to challenge or to validate
I was interested to gain a better understanding of what makes an online community and test out the idea that:
“All communities are imagined and held together by shared cultural practice (rather than just face-to-face interaction)”, Anderson (1983)
I wanted to see if my subject in my ethnography fit into the idea of a bund which is an elective grouping, bonded by affective and emotional solidarity, sharing a strong sense of belonging, and if the communities I find try to reclaim a virtual Gemeinschaft? (a community with shared mores, belief and norms; it believes in the good beyond self.)
I want to answer the questions of a.) what does it mean to become a member of an online community and b.) is it really a good thing to become part of that online community? For example, I want to understand if there are any social codes developed. In particular, I want to understand if these social codes are established as group norms and where do I see these surfacing.
I also wanted to validate two other aspects. First, to see if Kozinets’s discussion of online communities is right: that the online environment is personally enriching social world. Secondly, I wanted to validate that Wellman (2001b) observed a type of networked individualism – online communities lack formal institutional structure means that communications will depend on the quality of social ties that the individual forms with the group.
Kavanaugh and Patterson (2001, p507) suggested that the longer people are on the Internet, the more likely they are to use the Internet to engage in social-capital-building activities and relationships, Mc Kenna and Siedman (2005, p 212) ‘if anything, Internet use appear to be bolstering real world community involvement. How deep, long-lasting, meaningful, and intense are those social relationships?
My immersive experience
At the outset, I was interested in a particular person’s blog named Auntie Em’s CCRM journey where the writer blogged in great detail about the journey she was taking to have her own babies through In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). After two weeks, since I wrote to ask permission, she finally wrote back and gave the go ahead. Prior to this, thinking that the door was closed on the IVF blog, I navigated to the IVF Forum which I used to visit. Unfortunately, the IVF Forum came back to me with a definite no, as it was one which you have to sign in as a member to post. This meant the members expect a level of privacy.
During this interlude, where I thought I had no sources in the IVF world, I was forced to investigate a completely different subject, namely street art, which is less private, and permissions are generally not required. After following this street art tangent, I am now back on track with my original IVF community investigation as well. I will mention all three areas and sites, as a way of comparison, without infringing on privacy issues. My main focus, however, will be Auntie Em’s (IVF) blog.
What drew me to this subject? I was personally involved in a journey, similar to the one that Auntie Em took, in the same clinic and as it happened, at around the same time. Her twins were born two days before my daughter. I and many other women were following her blog as events progressed, either as a reference point or to cheer Auntie Em along as she took on this difficult journey. I never did sign in to post but I sent personal messages two or three times at the end of her journey to thank her for sharing so honestly and accurately about her experience which had helped me navigate my own way through IVF treatment.
I stumbled upon Auntie Em’s blog while looking out for information on ladies who were treated at the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM). As it was my second IVF experience, having failed in the first attempt, I wanted to be able to refer to a community where I could draw from their experience. For the first attempt, I was lurking in Fertility community.com and Fertile Thoughts.com. I browsed every site which talked about In Vitro Fertilization to first understand the treatment and secondly to help in the search of a clinic that has a high success rate. I learnt many cultural processes of the community this way.
Whilst going through an unknown journey in a highly specialised field, where the medical terms and treatment protocols are difficult to comprehend, I chose to rely on my own research so that I became an informed client and eventually a patient, under the umbrella of infertility. My experience of lurking in the forums was one which turned out to be highly addictive, and exhausting. It was a time when I wanted to know what other IVFers did as they went through each process. I wanted to guide my expectations as much as possible and through many perspectives.
It was only after I found Auntie Em’s blog that my search for information became less exhausting. This was a great source because her blog was just focused on her experience, it was chronologically ordered and it was detailed and comprehensive. She also linked to other bloggers whom she was following, and thus there was a community of women who were going through the same treatment in the same location, but with different medical backgrounds. Because of this network aspect, I did not have to look at other sites anymore. I could just focus on these ladies’ experience. I shared their joys, their world, and their disappointments, but I did not sign in to post.
Since I did not post, looking back, I wonder: was I a member of the community? I definitely identified with them. Why was I not contributing to the community? By reading their posts, I could see that the connections between these ladies who blogged were clearly very strong. At that time, I felt I was just a novice in my experience, and I was not comfortable outlining in detail my own journey the way they did. I felt these ladies knew each other very well, and I suspected that some may have taken their connections offline with real-life relationships. I felt I was part of the community merely by the fact that we shared the same doctors and went through similar stages in our experience. I did not have to make myself visible to have a connection with them. Certainly, the idea of a bund which is an elective grouping, bonded by affective and emotional solidarity, sharing a strong sense of belonging is evident in this particular blogging community. This feature of the Auntie Em blog is definitely what helped me feel connected to the community, as if I was a participating member, even though I was just a lurker.
On the other hand, whilst visiting the IVF Forums, I always felt more of an outsider: a lurker and a newbie. There were many reasons for the way I felt. First of all, there were a lot of codes used in the forums, which I did not understand. Secondly, it also felt at times, that some people in the forums knew each other already either through the discussion threads or because some of the discussion threads hinted at real-life connections. Because of these feelings it seemed that it would be just too time consuming to create new virtual relationships, by responding or posting anything in a forum which was extremely active and constantly being visited by many people.
Perhaps if I had taken the chance to invest in being an active contributor and graduated to maker, interactor or networker (Kozinets, 2010) to the forum, and participated in the forum threads, I would have felt that I was part of the IVF Forum community, too. Nonetheless, during the time I was visiting the site, it did feel like being in Wellman and Gulia’s online life as city life; or, more accurately, as living ‘in the heart of densely populated, heterogeneous, safe, big cities.’
Slevin’s suggestion that “the benefits of membership are often described in terms of the individual member’s quality of life, rather than in the quality of relationship between subjects. (Slevin, 2000)” is only true in some instances. Forums which you could use as a platform to promote one’s work, like those I have seen on Street Art sites, would fit into this category. In contrast, sites which find intensely personal and emotional support for its members, such as those in IVF forums, tended to focus more on the quality of relationship between participants and topics. I would like to think that these different type of connections correlate to a subjective personal quality value of the exchange and that this builds trust between the members.
As far as the Auntie Em blog, there is no explicit statement of what is expected for being part of the experience with Auntie Em, or community except to join her on this journey. However, what is clear to participants is that each of these blogs exist partly because the authors want to share their journey with others. How is a community defined in this context? Perhaps Anderson’s (1983) “all communities are imagined and held together by shared cultural practice “ (rather than just face-to-face interaction) explain the level of connectedness of all of these communities perfectly.
Although street art is a cultural phenomenon, its practitioners and followers are largely pursuing personal, revolutionary goals, which celebrate their differences and originality. They are connected mainly by their desire to become disconnected from other things. In fact, copying the approach of other artists leads to a lower reputation, and so this culture is in competition both with its members and with the society that it orbits. In contrast, the members of the IVF forums are not trying to be original. They are trying to find commonality, and acceptance, and a group of people who want the same things and want the same experiences. In this way, the cultural practice is correlated to the level of connectedness desired and experienced by the participants.
Kavanaugh and Patterson (2001, p507) suggested that the longer people are on the Internet, the more likely they are to use the Internet to engage in social-capital-building activities and relationships. This is probably very true for IVF bloggers. There is real communication and community building going on, and the question is: how deep, long-lasting, meaningful, and intense are those social relationships? This is difficult to measure, but in the Auntie Em’s blog, there is a great following as other bloggers often refer to her site, and from the exchanges, it seems that from time-to-time, the online community through the shared “consumption (Kozinets, p31)”, in this case, children born through IVF, there will always be a connection. In comparison, I am uncertain if the IVF forums would actually create the same level of meaningful and intense social relationships which were evident in the Auntie Em blog, but this is something for a bigger study, and also for the time being, no permission is given to study the other IVF Forum sites as they are of a personal nature.
I do not feel that the IVF communities around the bloggers are trying to reclaim a virtual Gemeinschaft, compared to some of those I saw on Street Arts. Sharing of personal journeys for the benefit of other people, and showcasing your art work for gaining reputation and admirers are two very different sets of motivations. Bloggers of IVF experience are not writing to demonstrate their skills, where street artist maybe promoting their work or an event which is related to their work. There are no rules imposed by bloggers apart from signing in to post, and by the structure provided by a blog.
Forums are slightly different than blogs as there is usually the facility to moderate and accept membership. In addition, in forums there is the idea of trying to manage the data of both members and of the content (discussion threads). For content readers, such as lurkers, interactors and networkers, the relationship between them and content directors (makers) appears to be different between Blogs and Forums. The principle differences are seen through the lenses of authority and authorship. For bloggers, when there is a community formed around blogs, there is a sense that the blogger possess some kind of authority in the field, and readers can develop a relationship with the blogger. In forums, outside of the moderator, there is perhaps less focus on authority, because it is assumed that anyone sharing an experience on the topic is sufficient. Forums are mostly populated by people looking for a collection of short answers to short posts and hoping to be able to sift through the results for a useful response by readers. In fact, discussion forums have less of a sense of authorship since they are designed for short messages and question posting, whereas the blog is centered on authorship of a longer narrative.
So what makes an online community? Online communities could be studied by analyzing the population of interaction types as suggested by Kozinets. For example, in both the forum and the blog, there is certainly evidence of all four types of Kozinets’s interaction, but there may be a different distribution of interaction types between forums and blogs, which could be seen as a sort of finger-print for the online community involved. Using this type of data analysis, it may be possible to draw correlations between collections of behavior, like promoting social change, bonding, cruising or geeking. As designers of online education communities, we know some behaviours create stronger and richer learning environments, and some detract from it. This kind of research could be very useful as a road-map towards designing and implementing more impactful and valuable learning experiences for our students.
Unfortunately, this level statistical research and analysis is beyond the scope of this current work, but even just a cursory look at these few sites yields tantalizing clues. For example, there is a burgeoning question: do any of the sites which I have visited for my ethnography demonstrate the communities as social agents for cultural transformations? Furthermore, and does the internet liberate and constrain? (Olaniran 2004, mentioned by Kozinet, 2010, p 39)
In some ways, I feel Auntie Em’s site, does act as social agent: to empower the women with knowledge, to feel a sense of togetherness as opposed to isolation and thus equipping its readers with some shared experience which better prepares them for treatment. The forum experience could meet these same goals, but does so in an exhausting way, as you have to trawl through pages of information to find what you need.
Continuing this cursory analysis using Kozinets’s interaction types, shows that on the forum, most posts are made by makers, and interactors whereas the blog appears to have more networkers compared to the forum. In both examples, Auntie Em’s site and the IVF Forum, there certainly are a lot of lurkers (277,537 for the blog)
These observations of interaction type concentrations correlate with my experience of being in the forum and blog. It appears that online communities with more networkers, rather than just makers and interactors, the value of the experience, especially for promoting social change, is much higher. This assumption is not directly explored by Kozinets’s chart on types of online participation which could lead learning community designers to give too much focus on makers and/or interactors.
Kozinets’s chart overlooks the possibility that without networkers, community ties may be strong, but they could also be a less valuable experience in terms of maximizing benefits to the participants. For example, with just devotees and insiders, the content might be too homogenous and resulting in a less valued community compared to other alternatives. It would be very useful to add a third dimension to Kozinets’s chart, which could be labeled “Value of Shared Connections”. This dimension could be a proxy for the relative potential value of the learning experience between learning environments.
This proposed dimension of development is based on the observation that since blogs tend to have more links or mention other people in the content (compared to forum posts which have much less external reference), this could be are indication of shared connections with the community. These are the minglers or networkers. Auntie Em’s blog has a list of bloggers, hence a small knit group but with more shared connections.
The value of shared connections correlating with the value of learning experience in education is not a new idea. It is one of the main criteria some people have in choosing their education environment, particularly when one looks at why some people seek out an elite learning experience. The elite learning experience may not have better measurable learning outcomes, but the lifetime benefits of its alumni can be measured as significantly more successful, and the likely cause of this difference is the network of people connections acquired through that learning environment.
Given all of these observations, it seems that there are good reasons for further study of this theory for improving learning potential encouraging shared connections among participants in online communities. Follow-up studies take time, but they are also recognized as providing strong evidence in support of the affect of different approaches and opportunities in education. There are also opportunities for conducting a study of a proper statistical sample of forums and comparing them with blogs to establish the degree to which each has a different distribution of lurkers, makers, interactors and networkers.
Studies should consider the various community enablers (mechanisms) such as blogs vs forums and try to understand whether blogs or forums tend to create more lurkers, more makers, interactors, networkers. Controls could be introduced to compare sites with and without active moderators, and whether effects are strong in small communities compared to larger communities. For example, it should be possible to measure the number of interactors compared to makers in forums as a percentage of the population over time, and then try to tease out some addition driving factors which make a forum a poor learning experience or a good learning experience.
Wellman (2001b) observed a type of networked individualism. Because online communities lack formal institutional structure, this suggests that communications will depend on the quality of social ties that the individual forms with the group. It seems a good assumption that strong social ties will increase the perceived value of the learning experience. For example, if students do not develop social ties with each other, it seems unlikely that they will respond positively to a survey on the perceived educational value of that learning environment. Without the benefit of social ties, students could easily conclude that self study is as good if not a better option.
Ultimately, research of this kind help compare new and existing tools with success at achieving a particular education goal. With this sort of data available, designers of learning environments could make changes to existing tools, verify the value of new ones and steer designers away from less effective ones.
Probably the strongest evidence of the value of including social media as part of online learning environments comes from an examination of the reasons behind the success of Facebook as a social media service. Facebook was so successful in growing its service and perceived value because from the very beginning, its focus was to attract people based on their connections in real life, and provide members a way to grow their pool of shared connections through friends and friends of friends. This approach meant that as the community grew bigger it also grew more valuable in terms of potential and capability because it was always finding new ways to get people to connect to each other. It was always about growing and encouraging shared connections. Its ability to simplify connection maintenance and expansion was so well designed, it has created connections across gender, age, nationality and beliefs to a far greater extent than other enterprises with similar goals.
When online community designers want to take some of the lessons of successful social networking and use those as a model for how to create learning communities with more potential and perceived value, this should focus first on increasing the number of shared connections and shared connection opportunities for participants. As long as learning communities are built around a collection of blogs and forums, the shared connection opportunities are likely to remain limited and small. The tools used by online communities for learning should be expanded to encourage the use of photos, video, audio and other creative media. For example, learning games should be as easy to customize and drop into a word-press template as a forum or blog is today. Most importantly, students should be recognized and rewarded for sharing their connections with their classmates, and not just providing their own participation. This shift towards the conscious value of connections and not an invisible contributor behind all people will increase learning potential dramatically through the contributions of groups of people outside the virtual classroom. The most successful learning communities of the future will find more ways to encourage people to create and share connections with new content and new way of arranging content on a regular basis.
Hine, C (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66
Bell, David (2001) Community and cyberculture, chapter 5 of An introduction to cybercultures. Abingdon: Routledge. pp92-112 [e-book] [PDF]
Kozinets, R. V. (2010) Chapter 2 Understanding Culture Online, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage. pp. 21-40
Rheingold, H (2000) Introduction to The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. London: MIT Press.
Gatson, S and Zweerink, A (2004) Ethnography online: natives practising and inscribing community. Qualitative Research, 4(2), 179-200.
Wellman, B. (2001b) “Physical Place and Cyber-Place: The Rise of Networked Individualism.” International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, 25: 227-52.
The posts this last week reflect my search on the street art community: to understand what street art is about, its culture, identify the players and actors, how public space is translated into digital spaces, and if the internet helped bring street artists together. And if it does, what they actually do.
I have finally arrived at my ethnography community. But to get there it took trawling through a lot of different sites. One of the sites I found was those who were involved in vandalism (graffiti). It was depressing to think about the legality of this act on the one hand and then on the other, the emerging street artists from the same community. The other was 12ozprophets which is a legacy of the forums from the past, but has blogs by various people where it is just a place to rant or to publicize their work. There really is no following or clear community activities which I could identify. The closest I came to was a street artist from Australia who has used all possible venues to publish his work or gain some following for his work.
I was about to give up and just do something different when the Ghost Bike project link appear on pages 3 or 4 of the google search. In 2003, someone stripped and painted a bicycle white to set up a memorial on the physical site for a cyclist who lost his life. It was also to raise awareness of the rights of cyclist on the roads in a world so overtaken by the automobile culture. Since then, the ghostbikes project is installed all around the USA, and also many other countries in the world. From the site you can see links to facebook communities of the different locations. The one that is most active in the LA page.
Search the field and connections -
street art community
street artist blogs
street artist communities/forums
What is the trend?
A lot of new forums set up, sites such as stencil revolution is revived in the last six months.
Looked at interesting sites, trace to a street artist in Australia, and then find that the street artist blogs, twitters, facebooks, pinterest and uses Instagram. The most community like is actually on Instagram.
And finally some communities such as 12ozprophets which although boasts of twenty over thousand members, is nothing more than a few threads which has many posts and the rest are just limited to a few.
And finally I came across the ghostbike project which to me epitomizes a community which grew because of the internet. It was the bringing together of memory, loss and the spread of the concept, resulted in many ghostbikes being installed in many different countries.
Is this a community? What binds them together? What is the role of technology in solidifying the community, and what are its other uses?
In the end, they could only remove his installation by high-pressure hosing the whole tunnel from end to end; but they didn’t stop there, they continued onto every other tunnel in the city, cleaning them all!
There is something quite profound in this. Several questions crossed my mind. Would this particular community have a strong sense of mission to change the world, to paint every empty wall in the city, and leave many traces before they are all erased from sight, and from memory? Does every online community have a sense of mission to change the world, to help or destroy others? How does this online community look like? How has technology and social media impacted the strength and character of the street art community?