[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.

 

[A] is for Anonymous – A paper and presentation in progress (Part I)

Last semester, in my Theories of Media Studies seminar, I prepared a paper on the subject of hacktivism. In particular, the paper explored hacktivism using Lasswell’s (1948) model of the process of communication – who says what through which channel to whom and to what effect. Using the hacktivist group Anonymous as a case study, this paper was guided by the following framework:

Lasswell’s Process of Communication

Case Study: Anonymous

Who says Who is the sender? Who is Anonymous?
What What is being sent? What messages are being sent by Anonymous?
Through which channel What medium is used? Which medium(s) are being used by Anonymous?
To whom Who is the audience/ receiver? Who is the recipient of the messages?

Who is Anonymous’ intended audience?

To what effect What is the meaning? What is the effect of the messages?

The paper drew upon news articles and scholarly works examining the membership, activities and messages of Anonymous as well as the 2012 YourAnonMedia video entitled “How to join Anonymous – A beginners guide”. In the lead up to the conference that I’ll be presenting the next iteration of this paper at, I’ll be posting the first one is several pieces – including the final table, which will be populated as we go along.

“Anonymous”: The Voluntary Faceless Other
In the Context of Hacktivism, is the Medium the Message?

Who is Anonymous?

“We come from all places of society: We are students, workers, clerks, unemployed; We are young or old, we wear smart clothes or rugs, we are hedonists, ascetics, joy riders or activists. We come from all races, countries and ethnicities. We are many. We are your neighbours, your co-workers, your hairdressers, your bus drivers and your network administrators. We are the guy on the street with the suitcase and the girl in the bar you are trying to chat up. We are Anonymous.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

 

The specific identity of Anonymous group members as well as the precise number of members is unknown. The group’s self-description claims that it is far-reaching and that it encompasses individuals from all professions and social classes, of all ages, races, and ethnicities. Its members and supporters claim that its ‘membership’ (for lack of a better word) has and continues to grow in numbers (Potter, 2015):

“We are more than you think. We are more than anybody thinks. We are many.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

However, Anonymous members come and go as they please, participating in the group’s activities as much or as little as they want:

“All we are is people who travel a short distance together — much like commuters who meet in a bus or tram: For a brief period of time we have the same route, share a common goal, purpose or dislike.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

Based on the foregoing, it can be concluded that the membership of Anonymous is both unstable and constantly in flux. If this is true, then Anonymous can be defined as having a collective identity, whose “whole is something greater than the sums of its parts” (Potter, 2015, p.10). Anonymous therefore “emerges from [a] collection of individuals but is not reducible to them” (ibid, emphasis in original). This means that as long as hacktivists perform acts in the name of, or on behalf of, Anonymous, Anonymous will always exist (Caldwell, 2015). Potter (2015) states that, in this context, “[t]he old adage ‘cut off the head and the body will die’ simply does not apply, because there is no head” (p.13). This proposition is supported by the Anonymous motto, featured prominently on its website:

“We are a Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect Us.”
– Anonymous (2016)

 

Thus, when Anonymous or one of its derivatives is used in specific contexts, it signals that other like-minded individuals, that friends not foes, are abound:

“At the time of this writing, Facebook, Twitter and the IRC [AnonNet] appear to host the most active congregations [of Anonymous]. But this may change at any time. Still, these are probably the best places to get started. Look for terms like “anonymous”, “anonops” and other keywords that might be connected to our activities.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

Using terms like “anonymous” and “anonops”, and wearing the Guy Fawkes’ mask establishes a common language and a set of cultural practices that Anonymous members can both identify with and mobilize around. As such, it is one mechanism for unifying what would otherwise be very disparate actors (Flesher Fominaya, 2010, p.395). While the identity of individual Anonymous members is generally unknown, the social movement is identifiable by its pseudonym and derivatives and by its association with Guy Fawkes. In the absence of clear, authoritative leadership, when a social movement has a fluctuating and diverse membership that is based on anonymity and secret identities but is nevertheless identifiable, is it possible for that group to articulate a coherent message?

[To be continued…]

Conclusion (To date)

Lasswell’s Process of Communication

Case Study: Anonymous

Who says Who is the sender? Who is Anonymous? A social movement (collection of individuals) with a fluctuating and diverse membership
What What is being sent? What messages are being sent by Anonymous?
Through which channel What medium is used? Which medium(s) are being used by Anonymous?
To whom Who is the audience/ receiver? Who is the recipient of the messages?

Who is Anonymous’ intended audience?

To what effect What is the meaning? What is the effect of the messages?

In addition to the above, Anonymous uses several symbols to convey its message and to signal its presence to its targets and members – the Guy Fawkes’ mask, terms like “Anonymous” and “anonops”.

 

Sources:

Caldwell, T. (2015). Hacktivism goes hardcore. Network Security. May: 12-17.

Flesher Fominaya, C. (2010). Collective Identities in Social Movements: Central Concepts and Debates. Sociology Compass. 4(6): 393-404.

Lasswell, H. (1948). The structure and function of communication in society. In Schramm, W. & Roberts, D. (eds) The Process and Effect of Mass Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Potter, Garry. (2015). Anonymous: A Political Ontology of Hope. Theory in Action. 8(1): 1-22.

YourAnonMedia. (2012). How to join Anonymous – a beginners guide. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdL3aU0yZBE