Micro-ethnography artefact – ‘Entangled Communities’

My micro-ethnography artefact Entangled Communities – focused on the ds106 ‘open’ course – primarily consists of a “Miro board” (or network map), but is presented with this accompanying blog post in my lifestream. I hope this helps to contextualise the small-scale study and offer some initial thoughts, particularly on the questions around research ethics and methods that were raised.

You can browse the board directly, and this post also links to certain “frames” (boxed areas) on the board at points. This includes key areas I focused upon for my micro-ethnography, which include the ds106 radio that hosted a series of live shows and tweet-alongs during the audio week of the course, and associated assignments including the radio bumper.

The accompanying post elaborates on the background of ds106, and some of the complex and difficult questions raised, however in the spirit of TL;DR, you can jump straight to the conclusions if you wish!

(You can also view my field notes #1, field notes #2 and the feed from my lifestream connected to the “ds106 flow”.)

Explore Miro board

Miro board


  • Enter the Miro board.
  • Move around the map using the controls at the bottom-right. You will need to zoom in to see the detail. There are overlapping “frames” which group micro-artefacts together, and lines which highlight perceived connections.
  • Alternatively, you can click through the frames, or enter the presentation mode, using the controls at the bottom left.

Entangled communities? (Photo by Noor SethiUnsplash.)

‘To be entangled is not simply to be intertwined with another, as in the joining of separate entities, but to lack an independent, self-contained existence. Existence is not an individual affair. Individuals do not preexist their interactions; rather individuals emerge through and as part of their entangled intra-relating.’ (Barad 2007: ix)


My micro-ethnography centres around the connectivist-informed ‘open’ ds106 course on digital storytelling, of which I have joined as an open participant’ during this community cultures block. Stephen Downes (2007) describes connectivism as ‘the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.’

As noted in my field notes #1, ds106 originates and is currently running (in spring 2020) at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). For the 31 UMW students this semester, the course is actually designated CPSC 106 (ComputerScience), but is run publicly via ds106.us. Each student has their own blog (much like on this Education and Digital Cultures course), which is connected to the ds106 flow“, and completes a series of weekly assignments and summary posts. There is also an open and community-run ds106 radio station, which is used during the course. ds106 is also available for ‘open participants’, who can participate in any way (at any pace) they wish; this might include commenting, submitting assignments and connecting a blog to the flow (as I have done). All course materials and blogs are public and not behind a login, and the main form of discussion is through the #ds106 Twitter hashtag. There are also a number of connections with related courses at other institutions which connect into the ds106 flow. Due to the distributed nature of ds106, which questions traditional MOOC forms and qualities, ds106 is arguably more of a community than a course; ‘open participants’ such as myself can forge their own pathway (Levine 2013; 2014).

Approach, ethics and methods

I started by connecting a filter of my own lifestream (based on a ds106 category) to the ds106 flow (see Miro board). This displays posts with this category in the ds106 flow, alongside all other ds106 posts, but linking back to my own lifestream. I posted an introductory post outlining that I was carrying a small-scale study as part of this MSc in Digital Education, and inviting anyone who wishes to be excluded from the study to add comments to the post.

While ds106, and the connected student blogs, comments and Twitter streams are all “public”, I am conscious that despite my best efforts some may not have seen my introductory post. Thus, during many of my later participations, I linked back to the initial post in order to contextualise my presence and intentions, and allow any concerns to be voiced via comments. In addition, as suggested by Helene Fournier et al. (2014: 3), I have taken care to anonymise quotes and any personal details for, adanah boyd (2014: 57) argues, ‘there’s a big difference between being in public and being public’.

Given the distributed nature of ds106, and the sheer volume of content on blogs, the aggregated ds106 flow and Twitter streams (largely #ds106 and #ds106radio, but with other related hashtags such as #4life, assignment/activity hashtags and other related communities such as #clmooc), it was a complex challenge to both focus the micro-ethnography for the purposes of the small study and find a way to both log my findings and find a way to begin draw any conclusions. This challenge in itself, however, was fruitful in considering the limitations of research methods and approaches in general, from a theoretical standpoint as well as the ethical and practical issues involved. Inspired by Markham and Lindgren (2014), who discuss network analysis and symbolic interactionism, and show a range of visual examples including network maps, I decided to compile screenshots, links, quotes, audio and video artefacts of interest into a Miro board“.

After some very broad exploration of the ds106 community, or ‘deep hanging out’ (boyd 2008: 29), I began with a loose focus around the radio bumper assignment (one of the focuses for UMW students at the time), the ‘make noise from a normal sample‘ assignment (from the assignment bank for anyone to try at any time), and the ds106radio. However, I was keen to remain open-minded and uncover new questions as I went, as suggested by danah boyd (2008: 29). The Miro board “network map” quickly grew in complexity and at times removed focus from the initial empirical object for analysis, as predicted by Markham and Lindgren (2014), although they view this as a positive which can allow a greater focus on the research question at hand rather than pre-determined empirical or theoretical objects.

In addition to the ethical questions of researching a ‘public’ space mentioned above, my micro-ethnography brought up a range of questions about research methods. For example, my initial explorations involved ‘lurking’ in the ds106 community, listening to ds106 radio and monitoring #ds106 and #ds106radio Twitter streams. Whether and how I might participate in activities was initially in question. However, inspired by Tim Ingold’s assertion that ‘we don’t make studies of people, we study with them and learn from them’, and boyd (2008: 29) who argues that ‘to observe a culture, you must build rapport, be present, and participate’, I began to ‘entangle’ myself into the ds106 community. I submitted a radio bumper and other audio assignments, commented on others’ radio bumper posts and branched out into the #ds106 Twitter stream.

While I began with a general idea to focus on the audio assignments and radio shows, I uncovered the broader question of if/how/why these might create a sense of ‘community’ or ‘belonging’, what connections might be made, and what entanglements may occur with other wider communities. I collected some of the screenshots and observations into some rough live field note posts (#1 and #2) in my lifestream, and included these in the Miro board also. These are public and in clicking through from my participations in the ds106 flow and other ds106 feeds, it is possible for anyone to link through to my live field notes and the unfolding micro-ethnography. It is possible that UMW students accessed or explored this – what effect might this have had on ds106, EDC and my own research?

Finally, I wrote this concluding lifestream post to accompany the Miro board or “network map” and added links here through to specific “frames” within the Miro board, such as the radio shows/tweet-alongs, radio bumper assignment, and the research methods themselves (and indeed this very post). In a sense, the research methods, means of data collection and so on are entangled with the ‘object of the research process’, and ‘co-created by the fieldwork assemblage’ (Hickey and Moody 2019: 5); considering these entanglements have inspired my artefact’s name and presentation.


During my micro-ethnography, I began to explore new materialist approaches to think about ‘community’, ‘belonging’ and ‘togetherness’, such as those used by Hickey-Moody and Willcox (2019). Drawing on Braidotti (2013), Barad (2007) and others, Hickey-Moody and Willcox (2019: 4-5) acknowledge that we are entangled with our research sites, that both we and the subjects of our research change through that entanglement. Hickey and Moody (2019: 4-5) build on Barad’s (2007) concept of ‘intra-action’, questioning the boundaries implied by ‘interaction’ whereby independent discrete entities with individual agency relate; instead entities intra-act and agency is co-constituted and entangled. Thus, the focus should not be on the individual entities, but on the agential relations.

As Hickey-Moody and Willcox (2019: 4) put it, ‘feminist new materialism accounts for this enmeshment of the social and the material, the virtual and real, human and non-human assemblage…all bodies, not just human bodies, are endowed with agency and complexity’. Given the nature of ds106, where participants (some co-located at University of Mary Washington, some ‘open participants’ such as myself) work on multimodal assignments (often making use of their own or others’ technology), this is significant. The ‘virtual’ experiences of participants are enmeshed with their ‘real’ lives, their backgrounds, the way in which they produce audio, video, visuals and so on, and this is all entangled with socio-economic and political factors. We may also take a new materialist approach to sound itself – viewing it as ‘a vibrational event’ which is ‘shaped and distorted by the materials and spaces in which it occurs’ (Ceraso 2018). Furthermore, my research study and methods are entangled with, and cannot be separated from, the object of research. Taking a feminist new materialist approach, we cannot simply say the ds106 community exists ‘online’ and is a research site ready for “things” to be discovered by an impartial observer.

What implications, then, might this have for research? Given that taking this approach problematises research which takes a more traditional or humanist approach, Lather and Pierre (2013: 630) speak of ‘post-qualitative research’; acknowledging that we cannot untangle “us” and the “object” of research, we might instead ‘see our research methods as open-ended ways of changing environments and changing people’ (Hickey and Moody 2019: 5); in this way, the research methods themselves are agentive.

While the scope of my micro-ethnography was necessarily limited, there were examples of these entanglements. One includes listening into ds106 radio during the one hour broadcast and tweet-along. At the beginning, the tutor announced the number of listeners reported by the server, and asked who was listening in. I was acting as a “lurker”/listener at this point, and so it may have been apparent to those announcing themselves through Twitter that there were others listening in. Yet, had I announced myself, would I have declared myself as both an open participant and researcher (as I had done elsewhere), and how might the broadcast and tweet-along have been altered? In any case, my entanglement with the research site was apparent here.

It was notable that, as a ‘lurker’/‘newbie’ (Kozinets 2010: 33) to the ds106 community, I received little comment on my own work as an ‘open participant’ from those studying as part of the spring semester as University of Mary Washington. There were some views and likes on my audio submissions on SoundCloud, although it was difficult to ascertain whether these were from UMW students or elsewhere. However, in attempting to“connect” the #ds106, #ds106radio and #mscedc hashtags/communities, I received likes and comments from those within the #mscedc community and a follow from a regular contributor to the #ds106 ‘Daily Create’ challenges and other related communities such as #clmooc. This follower also shares with me a passion for music, as we share on our Twitter profiles, and this perhaps speaks to the grouping of “micro-communities” around a ‘central consumption activity’ (Kozinets 2010: 31) or ‘shared domain of interest’ (Wenger 1998; Lave and Wenger 1991).

In ds106, there are many pathways an ‘open participant’ can follow or create, and this is by design (Levine 2013). However, access to these ‘open’ spaces this does not automatically mean inclusion in each of the “micro-communities” Collier and Ross 2017: 8). My short time with ds106 has shown perhaps that it is more likely participants may group around a “central consumption activity” (Kozinets 2010); this might include the UMW course itself, or individual assignments such as the ones I took part in. For ‘open participants’ such as myself, participants may group around activities for a number of reasons, for example their background, existing knowledge and skills or so on, or perhaps even equipment or software they own (the audio assignments could be one example, where it appeared that some participants had specialist equipment).

As I write this post, the UMW students are getting into groups to prepare a radio show for ds106 radio, and the radio station could be seen as another “micro-community” in itself. It is possible to sign up (via a Google Doc) for extra responsibilities such as scheduling and broadcasting (which in themselves may benefit from certain existing specialist skills or equipment, although some skills may be picked up via the assignments). In a way, signing up for this could be one way for me to progress from a ‘lurker’ (or listener) to a ‘maker’, as Kozinets (2010: 33-34) puts it.

Monitoring tweet-alongs to the evening (Eastern Standard Time) radio shows in the “audio week” (which allowed discussion of a radio documentary, as well as the chance to hear your radio bumper) demonstrated examples of participants (including the tutor) connecting over their background and experiences. One student commented how listening along to the documentary together reminded them of the radio stories their father would listen to in the evening, and the tutor agreed that this same experience was key in introducing them to these kinds of radio shows. Furthermore, it appeared some listeners may have been listening in the same physical location (when one participant announced on Twitter both their own presence and that of a fellow participant), perhaps an additional connection worth noting. Looking at the turnout figures (compared to the “listener” figures reported publicly by the server), there were few ‘lurkers’ although the active participants were themselves a subset of the UMW cohort.

Listening in as an open participant (in a different physical location and time zone to many of the UMW participants) inspired me to take part in some of the audio assignments which other participants were engaging in, I did at times “feel” the “distance” between myself and my fellow UMW participants, and limited by the lack of time I had to engage in all of the activities which UMW students were gaining credit for. These observations perhaps speak to the complexities of ‘location’ and constraints of time in this context (Bayne et al. 2014; Ross et al. 2019; Sheail 2017; Sheail 2018). Furthermore, the necessarily small scope of the micro-ethnography activity meant my short time “with” the ds106 community felt quite temporary, speaking to the ‘fluid and temporary assemblage of engagement’ discussed by Ross et al. (2013: abstract 51).


My small and short study has perhaps raised more questions around research methods than come to concrete conclusions, although considering these questions has been a fruitful exercise in considering the entanglements of the ds106 and related communities with my own research, as well as the complex connections and agential relations between overlapping “micro-communities” that I have attempted to visualise through the Miro “network map”. These micro-communities have often seemed grouped around a ‘central consumption activity’ (Kozinets 2010: 31) or ‘shared domain of interest’ (Wenger 1998; Lave and Wenger 1991), such as the audio assignments or shared experiences of radio.

Returning to my thoughts at the beginning of our community cultures block, a ‘creative “gathering” (Bayne 2015b) where technology and culture are intertwined (Kozinets 2010: 22) and ‘we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity’ (Barad 2003: 828), seems an appropriate way to reflect upon my entanglement with ds106. My focus on audio and ds106 radio has encouraged me to reframe sound as a ‘vibrational event’ entangled with the ‘materials and spaces in which it occurs’ (Ceraso 2018), an aspect I hope to explore further in future.

Finally, while ds106 is described as ‘open’, it has been important during my micro-ethnography to reflect upon the false binary between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ (Collier and Ross 2017: 8-9). My own experiences in these ‘open’ spaces have not automatically led to “inclusion” with other participants who are co-located physically at UMW, although time constraints have been a factor and I have forged unexpected connections with those active in related communities. My short time entangled in these communities has raised a great deal of questions, which I hope to explore as I bring this micro-ethnography to a close.

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11 Replies to “Micro-ethnography artefact – ‘Entangled Communities’”

  1. Wonderful artefact and very rich notes Michael! Have enjoyed them immensely along with the great wealth of references. ds106 was indeed a fertile ground for your ethnography, such a great choice! You did extremely well in choosing to focus on the radio-bumper assignment at the same time that you brought in the other streams of research such as your field notes, tweets, soundcloud clips and blogposts.

    Very glad you drew out Ceraso’s writings on sound. As you can imagine, embodiment is an important (but often under-acknowledged) part of creating audio for me and of course anyone who steps into audio creation: “all sonic encounters have subtle, sometimes powerful, effects on our bodily experiences in different situations and settings.”

    Would love to know if you had any thoughts on the religious and/or spirituality of connectivism and ds106? I know it was very superficially discussed as a cult at one stage but I don’t think that’s a very useful framework from which to actually study it. I’m more interested in the motivation behind the use of that language (“cult”) and what it reflects about our perception of connectivism and our response to ds106 as an educational model.

    I suspect it’s something to do with how shocked people are that there are students willingly and enthusiastically embracing their own education in that space and forming an identity around the #ds106 #4life educational philosophy. I notice you did pick up on that as a “mantra” on the Miro board.

    So much more to explore and discuss here, but had better leave it there. Well done on a fantastic artefact! (Now I’d better go and keep improving mine, hehehe.)

    1. Thank you for your comments, David, much appreciated!

      > Would love to know if you had any thoughts on the religious and/or spirituality of connectivism and ds106? I know it was very superficially discussed as a cult at one stage but I don’t think that’s a very useful framework from which to actually study it. I’m more interested in the motivation behind the use of that language (“cult”) and what it reflects about our perception of connectivism and our response to ds106 as an educational model.

      This is a really interesting point you pick up on, and one where I barely scratched the surface in my very limited explorations! (There are so many potential aspects to look at in this rich and complex community, and I admittedly struggled to pin it down for this short study!) This would be an alternative and really fascinating aspect to focus on though.

      I think you’re right to pick up on the motivation behind the use of the word “cult” – as you say, perhaps there is a factor of being in opposition to a particular perception of connectivism, favouring instead a more traditional educational philosophy.

      I realise a lot has been written about the idea of ds106 being a ‘cult’, ‘personality cult’ or ‘club’…in looking around very briefly, here is just a selection of articles I came across!


      Another article brought up the idea of ds106 being a ‘collective’…


      …drawing on Thomas and Seely Brown (2013), which argues ‘communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation’:


      I think a ‘collective’ is certainly a more positive way to frame it than a ‘cult’, and ‘collective’ would chime with my own limited experiences with ds106 (although others may have had different experiences!). This idea of a ‘collective’ might also chime with aspects of religion, societies, artist collectives and so on. As with many of these things, of course, there are bound to be inclusions/exclusions and social, economic, political factors at play.

      So much to think about and explore as you say, but time is always the limit! Thanks again for your comments!

  2. Dear Michael,
    My goodness you could nearly do a thesis on this, there is no much going on between the multitude of twitter hashtags, field notes, radio ‘bumpers’ and blogs. Well done on honing in on such a broad landscape to specific relevant links, quotes, audio and video artefacts in your miro map.

    Looking at the miro site and the user blogs reacting to the audio drama that aired on a Monday night, it looks like people found it surprisingly engaging and were inspired to do more work around making their own audio assignments, after listening to their classmates’.
    From a MOOC point of view, this is a very successful collaboration of students I feel.. The class were doing live tweets to each other whilst listening to the radio show so that seems to me that the community was very active & simultaneously so, during the live show. As you had mentioned yourself Michael, it was like a webinar but a lot more fun. People were listening out for their own ‘bumper’ which made it more personalised for them and must have been exciting.
    You mentioned that all of this led to unexpected connections with those active in related communities. Can you say a little more about that?

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Adrienne, much appreciated!

      Yes, it was a rich community full of different connections, by the nature of the connectivist philosophy I suppose – and, while it took time to pin down the focus for this small study, it was absolutely fascinating to dip very briefly into some of the broader landscape and the links to related communities there!

      > People were listening out for their own ‘bumper’ which made it more personalised for them and must have been exciting.

      Yes, I could certainly relate to the anticipation and enthusiasm here! I think it was perhaps one of the things which spurred me on to make my own and, for me, there was something about crossing that ‘threshold’ towards producing something and becoming a slightly more active participant that (over time) might have increased my feelings of being part of/belonging to a collective/community.

      > You mentioned that all of this led to unexpected connections with those active in related communities. Can you say a little more about that?

      Yes, this was another interesting aspect! After I had produced a few little audio assignments, I hadn’t received any comments yet and so I branched out into the #ds106 Twitter stream (also “copying in” #ds106radio and, at times, #mscedc). In doing so, the comments (up to now) have come from those in related/connected communities (such as #clmooc and #mscedc) rather than the UMW students. It gave me a feeling of “circling around” the community for these initial stages, although very aware connections of other kinds could certainly develop over time!

  3. I love the look and feel of this, Michael. It was very accessible and your accompanying notes are deep and well-considered. I have to admit to being quite taken with the idea of ds106 (this is the first time I’ve ever come across it) and it fits in with the ‘Back to the Future’ theme that keep popping up for me last week. In the pursuit of improvement, we often seem to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to technologies and processes that have worked for aeons. Great job!

    1. Thank you for your comments, Sean – much appreciated! Yes, it has been fascinating to explore ds106 and get entangled in some of the complex connections…there is certainly a rich community with lots of active participation (perhaps we should call it a ‘collective’ as I was discussing with David above!).

      It’s been really interesting to contrast this connectivist-informed approach with some of the xMOOCs others have been looking at. As David mentioned in his own conclusions, sometimes the more corporate xMOOCs perhaps try and (unsuccessfully) imitate this idea of ‘community’; I’ve seen some spending a lot of money producing nice looking ‘content’ and user interfaces, but sometimes lacking ‘community’ in the rigidly structured discussion forums. As you say, it’s perhaps this ‘pursuit of improvement’ which perhaps guides this (or differing ideas of ‘improvement’!).

  4. Wow. I am jealous Michael, both for the vast and varied amount of material collected and the inspiration behind the Miro Board. The versatile nature of the medium allowed you to incorporate so much. The comments you included gave a very good feel of the type of community established in your MOOC and it seems you were pretty busy during these past weeks. I also think you gave a very good representation of your activity on the MOOC. Having said that, I should not be surprised as the MOOC you chose was very intriguing. Well done.

    1. Thank you, Val, much appreciated! I did find the Miro board quite flexible, which was helpful given the complexities and perhaps chaotic nature of activity going on (as I was discussing with Matt). However, I really liked the way you laid out your artefact and perhaps longed for some more clear findings/presentation (although, at the same time, trying to embrace the unavoidable complexities of this specific kind of course/community/collective)!

  5. With all of the different ways for the community on your MOOC to interact, did it feel a bit chaotic, or like you could be missing some of the possible ways people communicated just because you had missed that yet another method existed? If you have the main course site, Twitter, SoundCloud etc then there might also be a Discord, or a LinkedIn group, or even a ProBoards site set up somewhere and you missed out on some useful ideas just by not knowing these things existed? I suppose what I mean to say is, did it feel like you had enough time to be as involved in all these aspects as you felt you should be? Was there a feeling that perhaps cliques had formed communicating on different platforms that possibly excluded other students?

    1. Absolutely, Matt! While I tried to pin things down to the radio/tweet-alongs, I was aware that those participating in that particularly aspect were a subset of the cohort, but that other activity was going on elsewhere – both in blog comments and I’m sure in other means I was unable to “see” or be “involved” with (including potentially on the physical campus). I tried to visualise a little of the wider “landscape” and “connections” there where I could, but obviously was limited by time (I guess this probably speaks to the complexities of researching this kind of community!). It was also further complicated by the fact I was an “open participant”, which in a way is a different “clique” perhaps – it was interesting that initially the connections I managed to make were with those from related communities who were loosely involved with ds106 (via Twitter and so on), rather than with the “core” UMW cohort.

      I think, in summary, even though it’s an “open” space there will still be inclusions/exclusions. It keeps bringing me back to this quote from Collier and Ross (2017: 9):
      ‘…access is emphatically _not_ enough unless it is seen in a very broad context of social inclusion and social justice.’

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