Lifestream Week 9 Notes

Algorithmic Play

This was a blog post just to outline the project. Although other students from the course would know all about it, I like to keep my blog in a format that can be understood by any other people who might come across it. I thought the best way to do this would be to outline what I was going to do as otherwise a lot of the Tweets etc that followed wouldn’t have any context. It also helped me to solidify my plans. I find the blog really useful for doing this. If I have to explain what I’m thinking or doing for an external audience it clarifies them in my own mind.

Tweets showing the progress of my Algorithmic Play activity

I wanted to keep track of my research in a more interesting way for the final Artefact. In Block 2 I collected a lot of data in spreadsheets and it would have been quite dull to just post pictures of the data. I could have done something similar with this project. For example I could have counted the appearance of Cyberpunk and Christmas products showing in the first 100 products shown on Wish and noted down the specific terms that I had searched on Google and within Wish and the dates that these searches too place. This could have built up a very detailed account of the activity and maybe some nice graphs. I thought it might be a bit overkill to do that though, given the playful nature of this task. By just showing pictures of the first few screens on Twitter I hoped to get people more interested in what I was doing and generate some conversation, as well as getting the odd chuckle.

Tweet about algorithms and music copyright

This was quite an interesting article I came across. Rather than the algorithms we mostly looked at, which concerned themselves with selling (even the education based algorithms could be seen as part of the comodification of learning), this was an algorithm being used for the opposite – to prevent companies from suing artists who inadvertently infringe copyright. I posted it to my Lifestream as an example of a non-commercial algorithm and a reminder that algorithms fulfil many roles in the world (for instance the ones we looked at on the MOOC in Block 2 revolved mainly around improving healthcare rather than making or saving money). It is possible to have altruistic algorithms in education that don’t represent the commercial side, but even these could have downsides depending on their purpose and how they are developed and deployed.

Tweets about Pinterest offering me Cyberpunk Boards and Pins

This was an unexpected side effect of the Algorithmic Play activity. I think I finally tracked the reason down to my only Board on Pinterest having a name that includes the course hashtag. It wasn’t showing me Cyberpunk things because I Googled them (the Google account used for the activity was not connected to the one that I use regularly). In this case the algorithm suggested Cyberpunk content because other people using the same hashtag had searched for that sort of thing during Block 1 on Cyber Cultures. This effect where not only your own activity, but that of others contributes to the options presented by an algorithm came up again when I looked into how Wish decides what you see – it is a mixture of things that you search for using the app and the most popular things searched by other users.

Tweeted link to a poster making site and accompanying hand washing image

With the Covid-19 pandemic taking over the news a lot of posts on social media revolve around the subject. This was a really nice little site set up to help encourage people to wash their hands properly (one of the key methods of slowing down the spread). Someone in the UK Government had made a rather glib remark about people singing the first verse and chorus of the National Anthem to time roughly 20 seconds (the time considered a minimum for good hand hygiene). The site was sort of a dig at this, but also offers a real benefit of people being able to set the graphic up using a song they actually know the words for. My suggestion of using the Bauhaus classic Bella Lugosi’s Dead was very tongue in cheek. For those who don’t know the song, it is largely instrumental with long gaps between the lyrics. If you wash your hands up to the point suggested in the poster it would take over 3 minutes. The NHS recommends singing Happy Birthday twice to get the right length of time. So why is this relevant to algorithms? The site takes your song title and band name, searches the internet for the lyrics and posts them under a pre-designed image. All of this is carried out using a relatively simple algorithm.

Tweet about enjoying frustrating games

This isn’t directly relevant to the EDC course, but many students either have taken or will take the Introduction to Digital Game Based Learning course, and this is a key concept from Gee in the reading for that course – games need to be pleasantly frustrating to be successful.  I suppose I could make the point that this related to our community as students on the larger MSc, and that it has relevance in relation to Block 2 on Community Cultures, but that would be me thinking it through after the fact. I initially posted it to add a bit of humour to people’s Twitter feed on a very grim news week. That the humour has particular relevance to our community was something I didn’t consider at the time, I was just playing to a particular audience. That I did that naturally probably says a lot about how successfully the MSc course has created a community from its students.

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