Week 8 – Rewind…

    Has a sore sore sore throat. Meh. Not feeling even slightly like I’ve gotten any productive homework done/possible… [suchprettyeyes] 11:07pm via Twitter

The first thing to say is that this is, of course, a belated lifestream summary so a little on why that is. During week 8 I was busy reading ethnographies, bookmarking interesting things and thinking about the readings (now readable in Cyborgs and Post Human Adventures) but, at the close of the week the very real physical world intervened when I came down with what was either a cold or the flu. Either way I ended the week with another post to write hence the delay here.

And here’s where digital culture and traditional recording culture start to, if not clash, then at least challenge each other. If I’d been collecting materials and thoughts in person and had then fallen ill I would have had either a pile of papers or a series of thoughts in my head. I wouldn’t have felt well enough to collate the notes and it would make sense to summarise these even if a few weeks late as the lifespan of an assessment object to hand in in a more tangible permanent format seems conceptually longer. However because I had been taking notes online my notes were nicely preserved and orderly (and public) but, at the same time, I wouldn’t generally write a blog post about an event weeks after it had taken place and it does seem strange and artificial to do so here. Conceptually I see the lifespan of a blog as long but I see the time period in which it remains relevant to blog as significantly shorter than I would a report or, perhaps, even some form of hand or type written journal. The reason is access. If I expect my work to be accessed all in one block at the end of a period then a write up at any stage makes sense – that’s the assessment format here and that’s the reason I am blogging. For a blog the window I expect people to access and read it is a not quite real time basis – maybe once or twice a week or once every couple of weeks – and that suggests that what I post should be relevant in that reading window. For instance on my very informal personal blog I will post intermittently but if something is interesting and I don’t blog it in a week or two I’ll tend not to blog at all relying, instead, on real time updates to Twitter.

In effect there are expiry dates for information in my mind and I think that is one of the weirder and more subtle challenges to bringing pedagogical method and, particularly, even minimum conventional requirements for assessment into the wilder digital space. The problem is that to assess in any continual post-to-post way would be to exclude the collected work and wisdom of a fuller body of work and, crucially, to establish – for a week or several – a real challenge around any first impressions made in initial exploratory postings that could be the first blog post of some students. That is all, of course, to overlook the substantial issue of realistic time and staffing facilities for assessment. It is simply not practical to do what might be useful – perpetual lightweight assessment on almost an apprenticeship model. Ongoing commenting and guidance is of course important in most teaching methods but actually assigning grades or deciding to pass or fail a student halfway through a module (say) would be significantly more controversial and go against academic tradition. And yet packaging and archiving a snapshot of a blog at the end of 12 weeks of a module is, to an extent, to mock the concept of a blog as an alive, participative space. Indeed the relevance of a blog is generally partly determined by the date of last update.

As I try to work out just what I should do with my blog at the close of this module I cannot help but wonder what further fragments of myself I am sprinkling around the web. I have an IDEL blog, now and EDC blog and, soon, a digital game-based learning blog. As soon as a module finishes though the term “blog” seems to degrade and instead a label that fits the archive/one time journal format might be better. Laboratory notebooks are a format very much intended as a real time record of process that supports later completed academic work and publications but these too are changing. The modern lab book is as likely to be in the form of a blog (albeit a specialist implementation – e.g. Southampton Chemistry Blogs) as it is to be a traditional paper notebook with it’s mixture of lined and graphed pages for working notes.

Of course there are additional issues here. The word “book” (lab book or otherwise) is an even more disputed term in an online world than “blog”. The semantics of the internet are still evolving but as more teaching and assessing appears new labels must start to appear around “elearning” that go beyond spaces whose online status is indicated by clumsy prefixes such as “i-”, “e-”, “virtual”, “cyber”…

To the best of my knowledge there is no suitable term to cover a real time recording of process and thought on the web but I think this a gap to be filled. Whatever it is will suit this work – a blend of real time updates of thoughts and non-sequential postings that fulfil course criteria whilst adding additional reflection – rather better than the phrase “blog” with all the cultural baggage that label entails.

In the case of retrospective editing and curating of the course blogs here I find myself significantly torn. In theory I wish to make my blog readable and I, of course, want to make sure the work suits the assessment criteria but, in practice, this sprawling awkward shape is what my blog has been, how it has proved useful for me, where the comments are and it is the honest chronological record of my work. Several weeks ago I considered changing the look and feel of the site to be a little clearer and tidier but I felt that was a matter of evolving the blog on and wondered how the look and feel at the times that other people have read the blog could be captured when it comes to assessment. I re-designed my blog in the first weeks of course but as few people had read or commented on the site yet – and it was still clearly under construction – and the work was nowhere near assessment it seemed fine to do so. Recently I have felt more and more self-conscious that the aesthetics, layout and formatting of the site matter in assessing the content since it’s contextual state – readability, site design, links to others, comments and replies to these etc. – is this piece of work’s ordinary native state. It is not an essay and thus some sort of record of progression would, ideally, be packaged up along with the data when it comes to assessment.

In fact the idea of retrospective edits is always controversial online. Whilst the current UEA Climate Change debacle highlights the potential virtue of curation – and the role of disposal and privacy in the curation of the data record – it also flags up the dangers of opacity. The Guardian has moved to a system of transparent edits (listed in the “Article History” link where both corrections and updates are recorded – e.g. in the recent article “Not Jewish but Jew-ish”) so that you can always see what has been altered, added, retracted etc. You may get only a snapshot in time on the page but the previous versions are available to compare. In the case of the lab book analogy it would be seen as highly inappropriate to go back and correct or reinvent the ongoing work process as this is a record of the evolution of ideas and so errors and tangents are part of the valued record. However you might not present the full record as evidence for every piece of work, rather the relevant portion of the work. As an assessment of your participation in the learning and process of the lab though it is – like these blogging spaces – a tougher call to know what and when to edit and when that is a matter of idealised correction or a matter of sorting wheat from chaff (if that really is significantly different).

Borges (in Baudrillard (1)) allegory of simulation – the idea that to make a map of the world of sufficient accuracy you would need to create a map the same size – or larger – than the world in order to adequately represent it. By the same token would the record of experiencing a course and tracking your thoughts and deeds really add up to, in fact, more material and time to read and/or assess than the time and quantity of materials that compose the actual course itself? It’s a daunting thing in terms of containment, assessment, measuring effort and input. But it’s a thrilling thing in terms of thought, development of ideas, sharing of comments and feedback and the concept of course as mature community of peers. Digital culture is often about the now, the agile, the good enough at the time approach. I think something I’m only belatedly thinking of in our discussions of digital cultures is how one squares norms of practice with norms of education and how artificial such a fusion can or has to be. I realise I am shockingly short of conclusions here but I just wanted to stop and query the assessment portion of this course and how it fits with the work since the blog and the lifestream pose a significant asset and living space for the course but the process of assessment specifically pauses or ceases that life. Perhaps the same would happen anyway with the close of the course but since I think of blogs as living spaces it seems that to cease updating and to place a pause on activity around the space is a little like going fishing and admiring your catch – it will cope without water for a short time but leave it to long and it will no longer be a fish. It might be a tasty dinner but it won’t go back to being part of it’s former ecosystem again, at least not as a living breathing beast interacting with others. Or perhaps that too pessimistic. Perhaps one should revel in plate of delicious assessment sushi (to stretch a metaphor to alarming breaking point).

In any case, I have become distracted here so I shall refocus. Whatever this space is, and whatever the virtues or issues of updating it after the fact, here is what I got up to in Week 8 according to the highlights of my lifestream:

Sorry for the insanely long delay… my ethnography is live! http://bit.ly/P8Ct2 #ededc [suchprettyeyes]3:30pm via Twitter

Posted Comments on: Week 7 Summary – Lost in #Torchwood.11:25am via Generic

Shared 20 Questions with Mimi Ito | Standard Imagination interviews cultural anthropologist, Mimi Ito about her findings in The Digital Youth Study..9:41pm via Delicious - this was a link shared with me originally via the comments on my ethnography


The above relate to my reading and commenting on the digital ethnographies. I spent most of this week delighting in the work of my course colleagues by reading and commenting on almost all of them (to the few I didn’t get to my sincere apologies – I will try and look and comment in the next few days as they are so much fun to read through!). My bookmarks and WordPress comment stream reflect this. I was also lucky enough to received really useful and insightful comments on my own work which was hugely motivating force and allowed me to gather so many ideas and reflections on what I had done and could do. It was a really exciting process to create my ethnography and a hugely exciting process to then look up from my time fiddling with my own work to find out what amazing things others had been up to. It was like doing art a-level again in some ways as it was like we all had our own little digital workspaces in a big friendly studio and were coming together to compare and learn from each others inventive creative work.

Wonders how many of my aardvark answers end up in dubious essays for school… probably not the recipes though [suchprettyeyes]2:26am via Twitter”

This was my tweet after getting several queries through Aardvark – one of many recent crowd-sourced question and answer systems on the net though this one has a very loosely coupled social networking aspect. When it first launched (I joined fairly early in the release) questions were fairly clearly from early web adopters – about travel, electronic purchases, and daft test questions about shopping or ideas. Now there are an increasingly large number of questions that look suspiciously related to homework. I Tweeted after receiving a question about modern art that I was sure was about to end up in a high school essay of some sort. That didn’t stop me answering it but did make me answer in fulsome detail and throw some questions back at the questioner. As she replied and asked follow up questions it led me to wonder whether it is better, worse, or just fine compared with traditional peer support. By combining my previous interest in giving answers with other members’ desire for answers Aardvark sets me up as a trusted voice but there is no standard of service here. I don’t have to give a truthful or accurate answer if I don’t want to and can certainly offer unqualified answers without any need to offer a disclaimer (I do for some things – like the answer I thought was destined for an essay!). What’s odd is that the method of delivery also adds a sense of authenticity – my first name, my age, my gender, my location get shown – it’s a weird way to check the authority of an answer but it has some helpful indicators in there as well as some misleading ones.

My quality/rating/reviews from other questioners don’t get shown but these things are measured in the system since you can rate any answers you have received as useful or not. Ebay has made good work of building authority rankings based on this very informal idea of peer review so perhaps it is likely to start forming part of these Q&A systems. In any case the idea of seeking homework help (at any academic level) from the web is a shift away from searching for data/help and that is a long way from asking local peers or tutors as preceded this. Perhaps the peer support is better on the web – the group is more diverse and more plentiful – but there is no way to know or check authority in semi-anonymous systems. This is already well known issue in teaching and assessment – hence systems such as TurnItIn – but it’s fairly weird to feel you might be assisting someone with their homework without knowing if it is helpful or harmful.

Experimenting with one of the worknetbooks this afternoon. Bit like typing on a calculator… most odd… [suchprettyeyes] 2:02pm via Twitter

Shared iPhone Developer Program – 3. Distribute your application.11:20am via Delicious

Queue mathematics: 10 people with 3 items each on self service or 5 people with full baskets on human till?! [suchprettyeyes]7:04pm via Twitter

So here I am taking the reverse role by crowd-sourcing my shopping decisions. To my surprise this resulted in about 5 answers from people bringing diverse knowledge into really quite unnecessary answers! I think this is actually one of the weird and lovely effects of ubiquitous computing (see first Tweet above) – you can have a continuous one-to-many conversation but receive a mixture of interesting one-to-many or one-to-one responses. You may feel slightly more detached from others’ in your supermarket queue (if such a thing is possible) but you feel continuously in touch with your friends and the chance to have your day lightened by silly or supportive comments can raise your mood. And your queuing productiveness!

Shared giCentre – Department of Information Science – City University London. 5:16pm via Delicious

Shared A Blog Near You Blog WordPress.com.3:51pm via Delicious

Ubiquitous access to the web means needing a way to deal with information better. The links above are two very cool options for finding and using information differently and thus, potentially for new and interesting educational uses (including the types of services my own organisation runs) of information, statistics, blogs: visualisation of data and geospatial contexts for data (WordPress now lets you mark up your blog with a location so that people searching for blogs and bloggers (more likely now that Google have enabled social search) can opt in to filtering blogs by area and – potentially – relevance to them.

Shared Repper -> create your own patterns!.5:19pm via Delicious

This is a much more playful link. Repper takes an already available or a user contributed image and runs a flexible user-controlled repeating algorithm to repeat the image into a kaleidoscopic image:

repper

This is a fun example of software as a service over the web – a sophisticated process that you can run from your web browser in a few minutes is compelling although, of course, it relies on appropriate (and appropriately licensed) images are the only ones uploaded. That trust in users is getting interesting as data provenance becomes easier through tools like image recognition software becomes more widespread (e.g. Mobile Acuity or Google Goggles) but for now tools like Repper have to rely on trust and warnings and the use of take-down notices. As to what happens to authentic original data given away in exchange for a cool image though I do start to wonder if we aren’t going to want to retain licence to our own data in the future. In terms of rolling out any tools on the web for teaching the use and storage of data is an issue so having a way to somehow track usage and retain ownership of images, videos etc. even if you are not the one storing them becomes more important (though most services imply that you keep your data some state that they gain the right to share as they like and that is problematic for the types of trust required in a teaching environment. (Gosh, trust seems to be a trust theme this week).

marvels at the power of coincidence! [suchprettyeyes] 1:14pm via Twitter

A short comment about the power of serendipity in the network. Someone new started work on a project I wanted to make contact with and sent a message round a mailing list to say hello to that particular community. The email was forwarded to me by a colleague and I made a note to email this new interesting sounding person. In the course of a few days however I was moderating comments on my course blog and found one from this person. I approved it and thanked her for commenting. Then we got in touch via Twitter and I found out she was going to the same Edinburgh Coffee Morning as me and that, in fact she knew someone else that I had met through Twestival. I then met her only a few weeks after her initial email with us both having serendipitously found each other. Bizarre. True. And the magic of the actually quite small niche communities even in the huge landscape of the internet.

cyborgish? RT @simonjbains: Bob Constable: industrial revolution was extending muscle power. Info revolution is extending brain power. #ededc [suchprettyeyes]6:05pm via Twitter

@lahirondelle Yes, just to add my voice to those rather baffled by Haraway. Am getting my mac to read it me later, see if it helps ;) #ededc [suchprettyeyes]3:28pm via Twitter

These two Tweets came in in the same week and I liked the mix. At the time I was reading through Donna Haraway (as per my posting) and getting a bit lost and found the quote that was Tweeted out from Bob Constable useful for combining some of Haraway’s arguments about military development of cyborgs and potential alternative futures. And, indeed this seemed to link into some of the difficulties of Hayles (2) has in seeing human conciousness in information flow modelling and analogies.

@MatthewWells Charlie Brooker and Hadley Freeman probably. Yasmin Alibi-Brown and Germaine Greer maybe. Not a huge number… [suchprettyeyes]2:16pm via Twitter

guardian.co.uk – Media Talk: The Sun’s attack on Gordon Brown

This last set of links is a fun diversion which I like to call “Nicola Osborne: Citizen Journalist!” Well it’s over selling it a little. I saw a request come out asking which commentators I would pay for – this was research for the Guardian Media Talk Podcast and a piece on the possibilities of payment models for newspapers (most commentators agree that news cannot be charged for as it is easily found and under valued but that comment sections of paper represent more of a value-added service that people may be happy to pay for online). I offered my suggestions of who I would pay for. And a few days later I was (almost instantly) rewarded for my contribution by being quoted in the podcast – which I duly virally promoted such was my excitement! A good exercise in digital journalism (from Matt Wells rather than me) I think: twitter for research, podcast for format, iTunes and website for distribution, crowd-sources (if that makes sense) for enthusiastic viral marketing.

I think with that I shall round up since this has been a long long lifestream summary. Hope it had it’s highlights. I think the lesson for me is that belated postings tend to be that bit longer – my attempt to recall my original highlights and their context sparks lots of new thoughts to add.

References

  1. Baudrillard, J (1988) Simulacra and Simulations, in  Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings (ed. Mark Poster). Stanford. Stanford University Press. pp.166-184.
  2. Hayles, N.K. (1999). Toward embodied virtuality, chapter 1 of How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. pp1-25

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