Week 7 Lifestream Summary

I was delighted to find the TED Talk by Sherry Turkle this week as her name came up so often during the IDEL and I’ve also just started reading Life on the Screen. The points she raises in the talk about connectedness, social media and technology are useful in exploring a rather different side to online community.

My main focus this week has been on MOOCs and ethnography, and I found that our micro virtual ethnography task raised several issues. As I wrote up my findings I realized that the observations that I’ve made on peer assessment have no real connection to the rest of the what is happening in the MOOC. I was only able to look at one assignment out of three and didn’t have the time to examine whether the peer feedback improved on assignments 2 and 3 following the community’s discussions.

The comment on reflexivity was made after reading Hammersley and Atkinson (2007) in Research Methods. I now understand that ethnography was historically situated in positivism, then naturalism sort of took over but finds itself in tension between naturalistic/constructivist understanding of meaning-making and postivist/realist understanding of methods used. The solution proposed is reflexivity. But Moore warns that reflexivity in ethnography is an indulgence, which leads to the ethnographer telling the readers more about themselves than the culture observed. But I guess as in everything there is a middle way and reflexivity can be used without detracting too much from the ethnography itself.

The FutureLearn article provided some interested statistics and it is incredible to think that students from 190 countries are participating in their courses. How great too that the oldest student is 92 – something to be said for lifelong learning.

However, I was surprised that the typical age group was between 26 and 35 as I had expected the range to be wider. It was interesting creating the infographic and much easier than I had expected, but I’m very aware after reading a couple of articles on data presentation how careful we need to be in interpreting it.

Hammersly and Atkinson (2007) ‘What is Ethnography’ in Ethnography: principles in practice. http://www.tandfebooks.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/isbn/9780203944769

Hine, C, (2000) “The virtual objects of ethnography” from Hine, C, Virtual Ethnography pp.41-66, London: Sage

BBC article ‘UK online course provider FutureLearn reaches million’, Sean Coughlan, 19th February 2015 http://www.bbc.com/news/education-31533681


Have been exploring different ways of presenting information this week and tried making an infographic just for fun. The information comes from the article I posted earlier in the week on FutureLearn.

I used the free version of piktochart.com and it was fairly easy and intuitive drag and drop process.

Untitled Infographic

Information taken from BBC article ‘UK online course provider FutureLearn reaches million’ by Sean Coughlan, 19th February 2015


Practical considerations for virtual ethnography

How strongly should a clear focus be set from the outset or should the researcher respond to the context as it unfolds – will you choose the sample or will the sample choose you?

How will access to the site be gained? (Access may be gained to a particular institution but not to everyone within that institution.)

How long will you need to spend in the field? How/when will you leave it?

Will you study a full cycle of activity or a smaller segment of life?

How will you identify event boundaries and make them transparent?

How will connections be made between one bit of life and others in order to construct and give grounded explanations of social phenomena?

Which rich points will be identified as anchors for analysis

How will the tension that arises from being an insider and an outsider simultaneously be dealt with?

How will data be archived and retrieved? Are there any issues with data security?

Absolutely brilliant TED talk by Life on the Screen’s Sherry Turkle http://t.co/vqfM4YCQaz #mscedc

Some interesting points from the talk:

Devices don’t just change what we do but who we are. They enable us to customise our lives and have control over where we put our attention.

Human relationships are rich and messy and demanding and we use technology to clean them up.

Today we sacrifice connection for conversation yet having conversations with others teaches us how to have conversations with ourselves.

We only really want to be listened to. Social media provides us with automatic listeners that seem to care about us and we experience pretend empathy as if it were the real thing.

We expect more from technology and less from each other.

Technology provides us with the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.

I share therefore I am.

from http://ift.tt/1AKfBYz


Week 6 Lifestream Summary

 Big data and analytics now seem to pervade our everyday lives but after studying Learning Analytics last week I can see how we need to be very careful how data is accessed, retrieved, stored and interpreted, and what we will actually do with it. Am very much looking forward to weeks 8 and 9 in EDC when we examine algorithms and learning analytics from a digital culture point of view.

Studying virtual ethnography in Research Methods this week provided some very useful background to ethnography and helped me better understand the MOOC task. It was reassuring to discover that ethnography is approached with an open ended question, which may well change as new ideas come to light as interesting aspects of the community come to light. Virtual ethnography is fundamentally an “adaptive ethnography which sets out to suit itself to the conditions in which it finds itself” (Hine 2004).

Initially I was reluctant to participate in the MOOC activities as I felt it was unfair to the other participants but now realize that ethnographic research emerges from the researcher being a participant in the field. As Bhatti says it’s important to be aware and reflexive and to have the capacity for both empathy and distance.

I hadn’t really thought about the chronology and geography of ethnographic research and it was interesting to consider the blurred boundaries between field and home and how the leaving the field in virtual ethnography mean means breaking the routines and practices of fieldwork. This must be much harder to do when you feel you are part of an online community and ‘going back’ is so much simpler.

I’ve also further developed my thoughts on online community and found the anthropological introduction to Youtube useful in examining how after massive suburban communities and TV led to a loss of community and a sense of disconnection, but new forms of community have emerged online. There seems to be a cultural inversion where we seek individualism but want to remain ‘networked’ and connected. Today we express individualism, independence and commercialism but value community, relationships and authenticity.

Arthur, J., Waring, M., Coe, R. and Hedges, L. (eds) (2012). Research Methods and Methodologies in Education. London, Sage.

Stewart, B., (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Technology, 9(2), pp.228–238.

An anthropological introduction to Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU