Week 10 Summary

This is a very belated week 10 summary as week 10 itself (16th-20th March) was a blur of writing and running workshops, training academic staff on how to deliver their subjects online, trying to un-buy a house and generally keep safe and prepare for the Coronavirus’ descent on Sydney.

So apart from the Google Hangout meeting we had, I barely engaged with the course in a direct way and didn’t record much on the lifestream apart from a comment on Sean’s comment on my artefact.

I also managed to upload the 2nd half of the podcast on Algorithmic Cultures. And then finally ot around to writing my summary for week 9.

In all honesty, it has been hard to maintain motivation with everything else going on and a great deal of visceral uncertainty and tension in the atmosphere.

This has been significantly ameliorated over the last couple of days by us being able to find a place of our own to stay in. We had been housesitting for the last 16 months, but that all ground to a halt very suddenly with the pandemic preventing travel.  Now, we’re settled in a what would usually be a holiday flat in South West Rocks NSW.

As we had only a matter of days to find accommodation, and Sydney’s rental market is absurdly difficult to get into, we contacted an agent here in SWR and they said they’d be happy to rent to us for a much reduced price. Renee’s family are from this area so, it’s familiar to us both and a kind of second home already.  With that decided, we jumped in a borrowed and rusty Subaru and drove the 6 hours to get here.

Working from home means that the key consideration was having a wifi connection. Getting this going was a costly exercise but the easiest choice I could think of which was a portable Wifi Modem.

Now, what does any of this have to do with Digital Cultures and more specifically this lifestream blog?

Well it’s clear that I’m in a very privileged position of being able to simply pack up and leave and still have a job while hundreds of thousands of others in my city are out of work indefinitely. Part of this is simply due to the digital nature of my work. I can consult with academics digitally, I can produce work and share it digitally, communications, digital, and the sector my job is devoted to is almost entirely based-upon digital technology.

But this digitality of my work in education belies the fact that for the receivers of this work, the ability to access the digital is not a given. The great assumption of all edtech really is the idea of equity of access.

This is particularly sharp now when the task assigned to many educators is to make their teaching fully digitally available. For many, this simply means turning lectures and tutorials into video-conferences for students to access from home. Home.

That word, that place can be taken for granted so easily. When we say ‘work from home’ or ‘study from home’ , it’s getting harder to ignore the fact that some students may not be able to afford to do that much longer. I suspect this will be the sharpest point for many international students as well, who rely on their casual employment to support themselves and can’t yet access government welfare services. The response of educational institutions will be central. We may come out the other side of this praising the work of digital education forgetting how many students were either completely excluded from studying or who had to give up some basic right to privacy to an EdTech company serving institutions.

I sure hope not.

Week 9 Summary

Started the week replying to a comment left by Matt on my micro-ethnographic artefact about how he finds thinking about the implications of Learning Analytics (LA) often quite depressing.

I replied half-heartedly that there are some beneficial uses of analytics that aren’t reductionist and gave some examples but given that these examples are few and far between in the landscape of LA, Matt’s overall impression is valid.

Following this I posted an example of Algorithmic play that involved looking at my personalisation of my Google ads.  Given that I’ve largely stepped away from Google as a search engine & browser instead moving towards services like Duckduckgo  (a privacy focused browser) . The personalisation was 50/50 accurate and may seem fairly innocuous. However, when that is scaled up for open data commerce, we suddenly see scores of copied profiles in systems that we have no oversight nor power over. They’re profiles that seem like you to some extent: DOB, location, race, hobbies, and even a lot more private information.

On March 9, I first started to notice more stories about the use of mobile data to track the whereabouts of people with COVID-19. It reminded me of the very recent protests in the US from students who didn’t want their location tracked using the university WIFI. Now that seems banal compared to the sudden explosion in extremely invasive Tech in Education from video-conferencing software to automated grading tools exploiting the emergency situation.

Seems like this is the catalyst for far-reaching surveillance-model education.

The article “Is Learning Analytics Synonymous with Learning Surveillance, or Something Completely Different?” looks at LA from several angles and asks some challenging questions. Of course, LA relies upon the collection of big data and the use of algorithms to manipulate and present that data. The big question for me coming out of it is, if we as educators see a problem with this and want to stop it, what happens when students turn around and say “no, I’m paying all this money for my education, I expect you to use every possible means to ensure I pass. That includes using the data you collect to provide feedback on my progress and what I need to do to improve”

If this kind of mentality is prevalent then what choice to institutions have but to respond in order to market themselves?

2 posts on March 10 referencing Kin Lane, husband of Audrey Watters, and his experiences of the changing online algorithmic landscape. One is a comment on the actual behaviour of Google: it’s not about high quality content anymore, it’s all about who you know. The other is a speculative fiction which seems too eerily close to reality: auto-correct AI changing the meaning of your text messages and emails in order to bring them inline with company policy.

The rest of the week was spent getting my Artefact up and running, commenting on my classmates’ artefacts and a few random tweets about doing an image search for MSCEDC and reflecting upon the computer modelling that predicted the COVID-19 pandemic months ago.



Week 8 Summary

Attempting to play with algorithms

Last week was spent attempting to affect a change in my Soundcloud weekly playlist by liking and playing every track I could find with the title ‘algorithm’.

That’s why there are so many Soundcloud posts currently in the lifestream. I switched off the IFTTT link after a while to avoid flooding the stream as I ended up with more than 100 tracks.

However, perhaps fortunately, it didn’t have great deal of effect. In fact the one effect it did have was that I received a message from Soundcloud telling me to slow down the liking of so many tracks. Weird.

I guess that shows how the algorithm has been played  by users previously.

Besides playing with the algorithm itself, I found it interesting to see just how diverse the material of the songs was. So many different takes on the idea of an algorithm. Of course, there was a preponderance of futurist EDM, but also country, folk, and spoken word. Love songs, songs embracing algorithmic culture, songs protesting it, thrash metal songs predicting a gory future of perpetual war with robots more in line with the fear of cyber culture.

Algorithm Analysis for Big Data in Education Based on Depth Learning

This article highlighted for me how the belief in the organisation and analysis of big data from educational institutions has become systemically accepted. Or at least a primary goal of IT.

Democracy and the Algorithmic Turn

Makes a case for the extent to which algorithm design has become a global force. And shines a light on how these can shape flashpoint events like elections but also become inscribed in the digital mediation of democracy. It reflects what Williamson (2018) proposes regarding the capacity for ‘big data’ to shape policy and for policy to determine what data is collected.

Introna’s  major work on Turnitin

This groundbreaking piece is a sharp analysis of not only Turnitin’s algorithmic design but the impact it has upon the written word itself and the way students write.

Excavating AI

“in which the Internet’s distorted picture of us becomes who we really are.” – but who are we anyway? Do we expect there to be a true self which is freed from the algorithms perception of us. How is that any more authentic and real than the ‘distorted’ picture?

Anatomy of an AI System

A revealing of the materiality of Alogirthms. From the extraction of rare earth materials to the indentured / prison labourers who built Amazon echo devices.

The Prevalence of Algortihms in Education

Pretty banal article detailing all the ways that algorithms are already in schools shaping how teachers, students and institutions behave. But don’t worry, it says, the heart of school is still its human faculty.

So the algorithmic turn is in fact another part of the humanist project.

Simon Denny’s Mine

The exhibition from MONA also brings the brutal reality of data mining and the growth of AI powered products into focus.


A company selling glasses that befuddle facial recognition technology. We’re opting to subvert the surveillance rather than legislate against it.

Turnitin’s podcast on the written word

Interesting to see the company producing this. Getting on the podcast wagon and occassionaly interviewing some interesting people, though never challenging the assumption that the algorithm is right.

Limitations of algorithmic recommender systems in Soundcloud

  • Based upon tags
  • Based upon musical style
  • Based upon track image
  • Not thematic content or name

This results in more o the same style of music being pushed -to the extent that one would assume the platform only houses one type of music.

Simplistic recommenders that worked just by title might render more obscure and bizarre recommendations – less suited to what the algorithm producers assume to be the way people listen to music.

This produces a way of listening to and thinking about music which reflects commercial interests rather than artistic ones.

Internalises a belief that one’s musical tastes are of a particular flavour fixed and dictated by the algorithms in our digital platforms. Does the algorithm shape our tastes or is it merely an accurate reflection of how our musical tastes take shape. The challenge is not necessarily what the algorithm includes in its recommendations  but rather how it excludes those who don’t adapt to its patterns – If you don’t tag your uploads, the algorithm is unable to process and recommend them as effectively, thus making your work invisible to all except those who seek it out directly.

The artificially social nature of these platforms (many accounts are bots) also heightens the presentation of self in everyday life – One presents the music one likes in order to collect more followers. Resulting in a system where users like and share music that will attract the most followers rather than what they may actually enjoy listening to.

The platforms and entrepreneurs pushing ‘personalisation’ of learning are based upon similar fundamental principles of commerce and advertising. They miss the key problem that education is not advertising, no matter how much they may want it to be. Students are not just another demographic to be catered to. The educational experience cannot be turned into a recommender system.



Week 7 Summary

During week 7, like everyone else on this course, I was devoted to throwing together my micro-netnographic artefact as best I could. A lot of this time and a lot of the energy around this task was dedicated to puzzling out what it was that I was trying to uncover in this small study.

I think I honed in on a particular problem, no not problem, perhaps it’s simply a feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty with relation to community.  Things like definitions of community, the entanglement of community with feelings of belonging or sense of community side by side with the capacity for community to be exclusive and even exclusionary.

I’ve questioned what the model of community offers to education and whether what that offers should be paramount or at least preferred above all other modes.

With the help of Michael’s artefact based upon DS106 I was able to recall the different dynamics of community in connectivist MOOCs.  I noticed the parallels that exist between Stephen Downes explanation of a “knowledge-generating network” and one of my favourite ways to scaffold think about education: “Self-determination theory”.

Again the same unease surfaces when I reflect on connectivist ideas of community. It’s an unease that stems from the assumption that education that happens based upon a community is inherently good or the rightest way to learn, producing the best outcomes. I understand that there is plenty of research to support this view and I certainly can’t claim to have a better model. But I do think that idealised notions of how good community is, belies the potential of communities, and particularly those that form around the sharing of networked knowledge, to be extremely destructive.

Hate-based ideologies and misinformation become weaponised in times of crisis and upheaval because of a kind of innervating quality of our digitally-networked communities. We would be blind to ignore how misinformation occupies a place in education, though hopefully not as strong a place as factual information and critical analysis of those facts.

I’ve included an article on linguistic signalling. I think when focusing on MOOCs, in which participant exchange is primarily text-based, this holds an important place in establishing and maintaining certain hierarchies of knowledge and thus power. Particularly as it relates to de-colonisation and the global south. To quote the article “sentiment valence, linguistic style matching, readability, post length, and spelling—impact the amount of support received.” by participants in an online community.

Another article highlights the importance of motivating factors built into the design of text-based exchange in online communities. In a nutshell, up-voting and replies are shown to stimulate more exchange. Although, it may also be that we are conditioned to respond positively to these features because the ubiquity of such features on social advertising platforms like FB etc.

Finally, “Virtual communities: A marketing perspective” highlights for me how the capitalisation of digitally-networked communities uses some of the same principles employed for educational purposes. Particularly, how the most active participants both educational and consumer communities are focul points for influencing and encouraging the exchange of knowledge, social capital and finance.





Week 6 summary

This week involved more exploration of what ‘community’ means and particularly how virrtual/online communities have been conceptualised across the internet.

Starting with the latest elements on the lifestream:

“Community” videos on Vimeo: fascinating to see how a search for community of Vimeo returned all these animated versions of perfect communities which all seem to be following a similar stylization. Each one relates to the marketing and advertising of ‘community’ as a positive principle.

Virtual  cities -another Vimeo. Just as in a virtual community there is a material physical element that binds the community together, or there is something outside the virtual which works as a gathering point for the virtual community.

Why is community, and particularly the idea of an interactive community, the ideal of online education? What forms or models of community are best suited to an educational experience?

Community is a powerful marketing element of digital technologies, including MOOCs. It also takes a central role in the political and economic forces promoting technological solutionism along with the powerful narrative devoted to networked and social learning theories.

Recalling Kozinets (2009) I wanted to explore how “For those who sought out similar others under conditions of great anxiety and uncertainty, the anonymity and accessibility of these communities has been a virtual godsend.” One troubling online community who perceive themselves as stigmatised and do also often suffer mental illness is the Incel community. A community which professes an ideology of hatred or othering can still bring joy, mental well-being and sense of belonging to its members.

It also has the same qualities of belonging and support for its members that Kozinets highlights:

A range of studies also suggest that online communities have considerable stress reduction, self-acceptance, and informational value, even for people who have illnesses and conditions that are not stigmatized, such as diabetes or hearing impairments. (Kozinets, 2009, p28)

I’ve looked at several studies and literature reviews into The Community of Inquiry model since is often proposed as an ideal model for an educational community.

Neil Selwyn’s Meet the Education Researcher podcast with Sian Bayne covers the Manifesto for Teaching Online and how concepts like Post-digital and Posthumanism have made their way into education research and thinking.

I tweeted an article about the originator of the renegade dance in consideration of how it highlights the distinct qualities of different ‘platform communities”. That is, community cultures that form around a social media platform and develop their own rules and expectations.

Microlearning and Learning Experience Platforms – assumptions about community, generations and how learning has ‘changed’.

I’ve left all the Pingbacks from comments on the lifestream as a kind of automated community interaction.

Finally the last Podcast on Netnography drew out some ideas on how lurkers lurk and why they should find a place in the ethnography.


Week 5 summary

So last week I was really just looking directly at my chosen MOOC to start thinking  about what constitutes a community there.

The area I want to problematise is what defines a community and whether we’re just calling what goes on in mooc a community because that’s the way we’re expected to talk about them. That is, since ‘community’ has been espoused as an ideal not just of learning but of the internet itself, we want to see community or moreso feel a ‘sense of community’ when in fact that ‘sense’ is an internal construct.

Are there measurable markers of ‘community’ or are we really talking about a ‘sense of community’? Is there a difference there? How much of this ideation of community is derived from our innate understanding and how much is actually given to us by the companies selling digital community through digital social platforms?

The next area I’m concerned with is how to represent my ethnography. Especially as, while I’ve found very useful things in my MOOC, I’m not sure I’ve found community there.  And what right do I have to attempt determine what community is or is not?

Week 4 Summary – choosing a MOOC

Is it an arbitrary choice? Before even getting to the Community Cultures block, I had enrolled in a Web Accessibility course for work.

Previously, my prejudice led me to be bored by the idea of MOOC. But I’ve found this MOOC in combination with my own online workplace community to be quite beneficial and useful.

To study, does that simply mean to lurk and watch? When does the ethnography slip over in auto-ethnography by virtue of our active involvement in the MOOC? Does our activity in the MOOC manufacture community where there may not have been one?


Week 2 summary: teaching@digital podcast: season 2: Posthuman religions

In The Historiography of Cyberculture, Sterne troubles the certainty of what academia assumes to be cybercultures by refocussing on the role of audio.  So I thought a podcast format could contribute to highlighting this narrative.

Recording from Hobart Tasmania, we discuss some of the convergence between posthumanism, the human potential movement, new religious movements, education and educational technology.

Apologies for the strange sound quality, recorded on my phone in a pub. Thanks to the pub band at the Fisherman’s Arms in Hobart for the jazz background.

This was edited very hastily so silences have been auto cut, creating some interesting speech patterns that I thought heighten the sens of digital sound. Sorry if some word are cut off here and there.


Week 1 lifestream summary

If, as McLuhan proposes, “the medium is the message”, then microblogging is the message on this lifestream.

The notion of ‘ambient intelligence’ considered by Miller (2011), characterised by ubiquitous communication and intelligent human-computer interface, may have been the deciding factor in this. Not to mention the elements of distributed cognition afforded by Twitter, drawing on and being inspired by classmates as well as the larger community of thinkers on digital cultures.

Is this what it means to be cyborg? Have I internalised a way of communicating and exchanging knowledge that fits in with the microblogging mode? UI designers might assert that Twitter is based upon an ‘effective’ way of thinking because it was designed for humans. We also know that it is a ‘successful’ medium for bots, along with bot-human interaction. Perhaps there is a technologically deterministic view here: that we think like Twitter because microblogging has fundamentally changed global society.

The three stories of cybernetics highlighted by Hayles ( 1999) can also be perceived in the microblogging medium. Firstly, the way information seems to become conceptualised as disembodied (even as it arguably becomes more dependent upon matter – devices, servers, data banks, all running off electricity).

Secondly, the autopoiesis of cybernetic systems means that our experience of the world is self-reflexive and “only what our systemic organisation allows us to see”. The echo chamber created by Twitter means ‘the world’ we think we’re looking out to see is filtered by our connections and a reflection of the cybernetics of the observer.


Thirdly, the informational life form that is Twitter is an “informational-material entity” that we can now properly call posthuman.

The dangerous assumption from here is that since a life form can be reduced to information, the material can be abandoned or replaced as need.

For such perspectives, we can see Ian M Banks’ Surface Detail or Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon.

Defining the posthuman in this context then becomes a task which takes into account the emergence and self-organisation of complex adaptive systems. These complex systems, by definition are unpredictable and difficult pin down.


Feature photo by Rovelyn Camato from Pexels