[F] is for a [F]inal Assignment – Reflecting on what I learned in my Advanced Media Theory seminar

The final requirement for my special topics doctoral seminar is to write a blog post which asks – and answers – the question: “What have I learned in my Advanced Media Theory seminar?”

From a technology perspective

First and foremost, I learned that the amount of time that it takes to manage and regularly – frequently! – update a blog is significant. At the beginning of the semester, I intended to update this blog on a weekly basis. While I have tons of ideas for content, actually sitting down and writing a post proved to be more difficult – and this is in spite of having access to WordPress on my iPhone. Thus, although I have had the possibility of being consistently and constantly connected to my blog, creating high-qualityinteresting content was more onerous than I originally anticipated.

Second, I (re)learned that using Twitter is as onerous as I remember it being. The effective use of Twitter, like with any social media platform, requires frequent, ongoing engagement with the larger community. It’s about creating a conversation between groups of users centered around various topics – #hashtags. This means not only pushing content (‘tweets’) into the Twitterverse, but actively engaging with others on the platform. For this reason, I continue to question the utility of Twitter as a note-taking tool in an education/classroom context.  I think that, from a pedagogical perspective, clearer more explicit guidelines centering around a common language (and consisting of more than one hashtag) might help to focus the online conversation, and would allow for the easy grouping of similar concepts. For example, it might have been useful to have guidelines which

  • Created / identified multiple hashtags for students to use
  • Developed rules for
    • Identifying Tweets related to in-class discussion vs readings
    • Citing authors
    • Citing colleagues
    • Posting pictures

Last, but not least, as epitomized by this assignment which was capped at 5,000 characters, I was reminded about the importance of and difficulty in being succinct. In law school and throughout my employment experience with the federal government, the importance of point-first writing was hammered home. Judges and Ministers, we’re told, don’t want to waste their time having to guess at what you’re getting at – they’re too busy. Be simple, be straightforward and be clear. Being concise while doing these things is another ballgame.

When you’re limited to 140 characters and 10 of them (at a minimum) are used up by identifying your Tweet with the course code and tagging your professor or classmate, how do you convey your message with brevity? Further complicating this challenge is the requirement to Tweet quickly when in class, to keep up with the presentation or in-class discussion at a real-time pace when things are moving quickly. Spend too much editing your Tweet and it’s no longer relevant; spend too little time and you risk running out of space (or potentially Tweeting a message identical to one of your classmates).

From an epistemological perspective

During the second last class of the semester I think that the purpose of this seminar finally clicked in my mind. Originally, I thought that the focus of the course was on the evolution of technology, with an emphasis on the social, cultural and economic impact of digital technologies, and on algorithms in particular. TBH, although the readings were interesting and relevant to my files at the office, I struggled to see how they were relevant to either my doctoral research project or my future as an academic. I’m going to be studying vampires, werewolves, zombies and the law – who’s going to be Tweeting about that?!

As the semester progressed, as we worked our way through Professor Levy’s forthcoming book on algorithms and our in-class presentations from the course bibliography, I started to see how all of the material was connected. The course wasn’t just about the evolution of technology, nor was it about how that evolution impacted the social, cultural and economic aspects of contemporary Western society. Rather (to me anyway) it was about how those impacts, in turn, affected the creation, accessibility, interaction and internalization of knowledge. In particular, I think that the course focused on how technology, digitization and now algorithms impact knowledge acquisition and creation in the context of education. We looked at this from both a risk and an opportunities perspective – the risks of failing to utilize such mediums in general and effectively, and the opportunities for collaboration and growth when used intentionally with a purpose.

With that said, while data curation is (likely) the next/current phase of information/knowledge management, I’m not certain that using social media to do so is the right tracking system for me. I’m not a pen and paper girl, but I prefer to keep the control of my data in my own hands.

Character count (with spaces): 4,901 *Revised 30 March 2017 – 4,904*

 

[A] is for (UO)AM17 – A mid-semester reflection on a doctoral seminar

With the second semester of my doctoral studies nearly halfway through, I thought that it might be worthwhile to take a pause and reflect one of the required courses of my Ph.D program: a special topics seminar focusing on Advanced Media – the impetus behind this blog. In particular, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to respond to a portion of Chapter 6 : “L’apprentissage collaboratif” (“Collaborative learning”) of the draft of the book that we have been reading (albeit I’ll respond somewhat vaguely because the book is the manuscript of a forthcoming publication by the course professor, Pierre Levy (Canadian Research Chair in Collective Intelligence)).

The focus of this chapter, as mentioned above, is collaborative learning. Professor Levy begins by describing how social media can be used to contribute to (and enhance) the learning environment. He describes in detail how he uses social media as a pedagogical tool in his undergraduate and graduate seminars to emphasize skills not platforms. As an example, in his doctoral seminar, we have been asked to do the following:

  • Engage with the course material on Twitter (you can follow me at @jdeemill as well as our collective conversation using the hashtag #uoam17) by notetaking on Twitter during class and while doing readings, and by sharing related content in between classes using the hashtag;
  • Creating an academic blog (although, mine seems to be more ‘quasi-academic’);
  • Using a private Facebook group to share course material, related articles, etc (only Professor Levy and the students in the course have access to this); and 
  • Using a data curation platform like ScoopIt.

Before engaging in my reflection upon this experience to date, I would like to highlight that Professor Levy has an expertise in and understanding of social media platforms that (in my opinion) is not only rare among academics but inspirational and something to aspire to. I have come across very few professors who have harnessed technology in such a nuanced way (Michael Geist, is another one of my favourites, if you were curious).

Returning to the topic of Chapter 6 of the manuscript, Professor Levy argues that the use of Twitter and Facebook in the classroom teaches students a “cultivated” (or perhaps “cultured” is a more accurate translation) way to use the technology. This statement – in combination with the sentence that follows which lists other ‘legitimate’ uses of social media such as posting pictures of one’s breakfast, sharing memes, and advertising – actually functions to delegitimize those ‘other’ uses of social media. It creates a hierarchy of users and uses, segmenting them into classes – academic and non-academic; cultured and non-cultured; and by extension important and unimportant.

In addition, I disagree with Professor Levy’s view that using Twitter in the classroom allows students to communicate directly with other students about the course material thereby facilitating the free exchange of information and discussion without disrupting the course. I think that the use of social media platforms while physically in the classroom actually detracts from class discussion and engagement. From a user’s perspective, I find it difficult to follow and engage with class discussion (that is ask questions verbally in class) while I am trying to keep up with a parallel discussion in the Twitterverse. I’m (unintentionally) forced to choose between engaging fully in one medium or another, or engaging partially in both. In support of this position, studies on the use of technology in other public spaces suggest that what happens when such technology is introduced into a public space is the creation of a private sphere or “cocoon” of activity. Hampton & Gupta (2008) have found that such spheres of “public privatism” have a detrimental impact on interaction in a public space because they “[contradict] common expectations of public behaviour, and [divert] attention away from co-present others” (p. 835).

While digital literacy issues have the potential to impact everyone (see the ongoing discussions on the Internet and in the press surrounding the ‘fake news’ issue) and critical digital skills should be taught and updated throughout all stages of our lives, I think that the utility of social media for academics and for students in the classroom depends on their area of research. In technology law (as in the case of Michael Geist’s blog), it would certainly be important to stay apprised of developments on a day-to-day basis. Twitter, blogs, newsletter, data curation sites would therefore be of the utmost importance. A similar logic applies to the research being undertaken by Professor Levy. For someone like me, however, whose research will examine the representation of people living with HIV/AIDS in popular culture (and in particular in literature and graphic novels), I’m uncertain how useful such platforms will be.

Follow the debate as it unfolds on Twitter!

Sources:

Hampton, K.N., & Gupta, N. (2008). Community and social interaction in the wireless city: Wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces. New Media & Society, 10(6), 831-850.

 

[N] is for Networked – A Book Review Presented in CMN8130

My first assignment – well, technically the second or third assignment because using Twitter (@jdeemill / #uoam17) and maintaining this blog are part of the course requirements – was to read and present on a book, related to the course found in the bibliography provided by Professor Levy. I chose to read and present on Networked: The New Social Operating System, written by Lee Rainie (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (NetLab, University of Toronto).

The book examined how networks have transformed the way we (as a society, as individuals) connect – in person and electronically – using data from Canada and the United States. It included real-life illustrative examples to show “the power” of networks, when harnessed efficiently and effectively.

The book was divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 of examined the actual technological changes – that is how we got to be where we are (the rise of the Internet, how adoption evolved over time, current online activities in social networks) – and also looked at the rise of mobile phones and the concept of ‘always-available’;
  • Part 2 considered the impact of the social networks, the internet and the mobile phone impact communities, families, identities, work; and
  • Part 3 suggested possible ways that technology (mobile, the Internet, and social networks).

The focus of my presentation was on Part 2 of the book. In particular, I found two sections of the book to be the most interesting and informative: How the triple revolution (mobile, Internet, and social networks) impacted the transformation of our individual networks and how it transformed the family.

Networked individualism

networked-individualism

According to Rainie and Wellman, ICTs (information communication technologies) have transformed – not destroyed – social networks. These transformations pre-date the Internet, starting post-WWII with cars, phones, and planes. This allowed personal communities to extend beyond neighbours and neighbourhoods, enabling place-to-place networks. ICTs led to the adoption of person-to-person networks, where individuals take on multiple roles. They allow people to connect in ways that provide diversity (larger networks lead to more people in a network), more choice (larger networks) and manoeuvrability between networks (based on what’s important to the individual right now.

Rainie and Wellman argue that instead of social isolation – a myth that they attempt to bust in their work – we see a shift towards ‘flexible autonomy’ when it comes to our relationships. But, what does this mean? It means that

  • The individual (not the household, the workplace, the family) is the centre of their networks
  • That people now have more freedom to choose with whom they interact; and that they can be more selective about who they choose to interact with
  • Their position in their network is strengthened by having a larger more diverse network – and knowing which network to tap into at a particular moment.

The implications of this “networked individualism” are that

  • Individuals now have to take full responsibility for maintaining their own social networks
  • That maintaining one’s network requires significant resources (including time) and skill (how to know who to connect to, through which platform – including face-to-face – and when)
  • That our identity – a “networked self” as the authors refer to it – is singular but is in constant flux – with a core nucleus – that changes and adapts with every interaction that we have in the online (and arguably, the offline) world.

 

Networked families

In this part of the book, Rainie and Wellman (attempt to) debunk the suggestion that technology has had a detrimental impact on the family – i.e. that families not sit at the dinner table on their phones rather than engaging with one another. In particular, they argue that while technology may have weakened the physical togetherness of family, it now links families by multiple communication media. They can be connected all the time, without having to be physically in the same place. Households have become networks.

This shift is important in light of changes that have occurred in the familial structure: smaller families, delayed marriage, women in the workforce, higher divorces rates, more cohabitation, dual-job households, and shifting family roles. Managing these new structures and their resulting obligations actually requires the use of one’s network (and networked technologies).

networked-families

 

Networked families use ICTs to stay connected to each other -> it allows them to communicate despite being in physically different places, with different schedules. Arguably, the bigger or more complicated the household (i.e. divorced families, with step-siblings), the more communication that is needed. Rainie and Wellman conclude that families now communicate all day (even when they are in physically separate locations), thereby eliminating the requirement of physical and temporal proximity. Thus, although families might have less “face-time”, they have more “connected time”.

 

[M] is for Motivation

In September of last year (2016), when I started my Ph.D at the University of Ottawa (OttawaU / UOttawa), I registered for what feels like my millionth blog. I’ve been blogging off and on since the Internet was invented – okay, that’s a bit of stretch, but my first blog was a tribute to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on GeoCities back in the mid-1990s. I intended to start blogging about my experience as a Ph.D student in September, but as with most things in life, well, you know what they say about #goodintentions.

With the beginning of my second semester of the Ph.D and a new course taught by Professor Pierre Levy, the opportunity has arisen to FINALLY pull together the blog. And by opportunity, I mean course requirement. But, to quote a new person in my life, #worksmart. Or to quote a long time favourite:

“Two birds, one stone, and boom. You have yummy dead birds.” 

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– Glory, “Blood Ties”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer