Category Archives: Weekly summary

Week 10 Lifestream Summary

It was very interesting to see the results of the Tweetorial on Tweet Archivist and Keyhole, and my initial reaction was a sense of satisfaction at being mentioned and ‘visible’.

PJ and Nick were the top tweeters by far but the proportion of tweets didn’t unbalanced on Twitter. In fact it felt like everyone was present and participating, and I felt my own contributions were fairly represented.

The top words were ‘algorithm(s)’, ‘learning’, ‘digital’ and ‘data’, which makes perfect sense and is representative of the discussion and discussion questions.

It’s interesting that ‘trouble’ was so high on the list coming after ‘data’ and above ‘education’ but on further investigation I realise that this was because of the title Sian’s talk and the fact that her tweet was retweeted so many times.

There were only 34 tweets on the 12th of March but 118 on the 13th as people started replying to tweets and this accurately conveys how the Tweetorial unfolded.

Sian had the highest number of mentions and came out in the middle of the image, which highlighted how she appeared to be at the centre of the discussion and was the point through which many comments were made.

Interestingly only 36.2% of posts were original posts, 39.3% were replies and 24.5% retweets. I do wonder how typical this is of Twitter.

From a geographic perspective Asia didn’t even figure, despite several of us being based here. America (14%) and Canada (1%) look over represented because of their size and the U.K. (48%) looks under-represented. The location description states that the map shows where in the world the posts originate from but is this in relation to tweeters or number of tweets? – analytics mean nothing if they are not clear and specific.

90% of the posts originated from males. Only 10% from females. The Tweetorial certainly didn’t feel male dominated and I wonder if this is in fact accurate – although we are only 3 females for 8 males on the course and the males were the top tweeters…

86.8% of tweets came from desktop, which is representative for me. Even if I saw the tweet on my phone or iPad, I waited and responded from my computer (although I’m not exactly sure why).

Overall a reach of 21,789 was impressive for a 48 hour Tweetorial based on 26 users.

Although I initially oohed and ahhed at I the data and the way it was presented after more careful analysis I’m not sure that I was any the wiser for it – I was being informed of everything and nothing at the same time. My overriding sensation was that the LA seem to level and flatten, and remove the ‘colour’ of the Tweetorial. There is definitely a loss of perspective as small details are brought to the foreground and overshadow more salient data.

LA is purely quantitative and from an educational point of view teachers are only aware of who is participating rather who is really engaged and producing meaningful and relevant tweets/posts, responding to what is being said and developing the discussion. For LA to be truly useful it would need to also evaluate quality not just quantity.

Knox, J. (2014). Abstracting Learning Analytics. Code Acts in Education ESRC seminar series blog.

Week 9 Lifestream Summary

I had always imagined algorithms to be some kind of sturdy and reliable mathematical formula and have found it surprising these past two weeks to discover that they are generally considered to be out of control, unpredictable, fragile and buggy. It therefore seems quite strange that at the same time we also consider these algorithms to be so sophisticated that they are able to explain, simulate and predict human life.

I thought it was interesting that Kitchin sees data as speaking for itself and that it is free from human bias or framing, so patterns and relationships within big data are inherently meaningful and truthful. Surely the fact that algorithms are created and need to be analysed and interpreted by humans means that they can never be free totally from human bias?

In his presentation, Williamson talks about statisticians and data scientists doing the job of sociologists. While to a certain extent they may be able to do this it would also seem vital for sociologists to be trained in analysing and interpreting big data, and for them to work together.

In ‘Learning Analytics’ Siemens states that LA is concerned with ‘sense making and action’ – but clearly this comes with ethical issues. Are we obliged to act on student LA data if the student looks to be ‘at risk’? If ‘at risk’ means low engagement on a VLE, how do we know that the student is not studying outside the VLE? What are the consequences of intervention? Are teachers/course providers sufficiently well trained in LA to able to correctly interpret the data before making any kind of decision?

Ben Williamson (2014) Calculating Academics: theorising the algorithmic organization of the digital university

Siemens, G. (2013) Learning Analytics: the emergence of a discipline. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10): 1380-1400

Week 8 Lifestream Summary

Kevin Slavin’s TED Talk on algorithms is fascinating and I had never imagined that algorithms could have a physical impact on our environment. Blasting through rock to install cables so that information can travel nano seconds faster worryingly proves that Jarre’s photo of the Himalayas reshaped to echo the vicissitudes of the Dow Jones is no longer a metaphor but a prophecy.

As Slavin points out we’re writing something we are no longer able to read and now have algorithms locked in loops with each other with no control over what they are doing (think Flash Crash 2010).

It was fun playing with algorithms this week and I created a timeline on Tiki-Toki to show the different areas I explored. One of the most interesting things I noticed was with the Youtube algorithm. When I was logged in to my Google+ account the recommended videos were related to videos that I had previously viewed. By logging out of Google+ the options I were given were mainly in Mandarin and clearly linked to my location. In a way I preferred to have the results that related to me personally in comparison to those in Mandarin, but if I were living in an English speaking country (or somewhere like Italy or France, where I speak the language and understand the culture) I would probably feel that the personalised results were too limiting and that I was caught in a ‘you loop’.

There are definitely issues at stake here (as for example with Amazon). What if you order a book dealing with a difficult event in your life (illness, grief) and are then recommended further books on a subject you don’t particularly want to be constantly reminded about? There is also the issue that being in ‘you loop’ may start to impact on your identity and the internet’s distorted picture of us actually creates who we are.

Another thing that really surprised me with Youtube was the comments I was presented with. I had a look at a TED Talk and when I was logged in the comments were better written and supportive of the talk, while when I was logged out they were more critical, contentious and used bad language. (Nice to think though that my algorithm knows that I don’t appreciate the use of swearing in forum comments!)

Similar to Youtube, Coursera recommends courses similar to courses I’ve already done but clearly the difference here is while you may like to watch similar videos, it’s fairly unlikely that you are going to do several courses on the same topic. Here, and in digital education in general, the ‘you loop’ would be very restrictive, limiting the options that are presented to you.

Knox, J. K. (2014). Active algorithms: sociomaterial spaces in the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOCCampus Virtuales, 3(1): 42-55.

Eynon, R. (2013) The rise of Big Data: what does it mean for education, technology, and media research? Learning, Media and Technology. 237-240. 

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.

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

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:

Week 5 Lifestream Summary

When further researching MOOCs this week, I was surprised to come across an article from the BBC website (dated September 2013) about SPOCs (small, private online courses). SPOCs are still free but access is restricted to a much smaller number of selected candidates. The smaller class size allows “much more rigorous assessment and greater validation of identity” and I can see how this more ‘customized’ type of course would probably lead to the issue of credits and the introduction of fees. While Harvard’s metaphor of Russian dolls does make sense in theory, I wonder whether SPOCs are nothing more than online courses and potentially undermine the value and point of MOOCs.

Walther (1997) suggests that we can understand much of online community behaviour by referencing the ‘anticipated future interaction’ of participants. It’s interesting that if participants can foresee future interaction, they will act in a friendlier way, be more cooperative, self-disclose, and generally engage in socially positive communications. This couldn’t be more true from what I’ve seen on the Gamification MOOC this week. As well as the community building aspect, I was also fascinated by how a group of participants resolved an issue with peer marking assignments which were not written in English and how one person asked for feedback from peers on his own assignment which had missed the submission date (and received it!).

Balfour’s ‘Assessing Writing in MOOCs: Automated and Calibrated Peer Review’ is very interesting and I was surprised to learn that AES reached commercial viability in the 1990s by being indistinguishable from human evaluators for short essays with a specific focus (Attali, 2007). In a review of AES applications Shermis et al. (2010) found that machine evaluation of essays actually correlated more highly with human raters than the human raters correlated with other human raters. So machine evaluation is only distinguishable from human evaluation because it is more consistent!

The following chart is a useful comparison of AES and CPR:


And on a final note – am intrigued by the whole discussion on technological determinism and thought that Kozinets’ summed it up quite nicely: ‘technology does not determine culture, but they are co-determining, co-constructive forces – with our ideas and actions, we choose technologies and adapt and shape them. Culture does not entirely control the technologies we use either. The way technology and culture interact is a complex dance, an interweaving and intertwining’.

Balfour, S., Assessing Writing in MOOCs: Automated and Calibrated Peer Review, Research & Practice in Assessment 06/2013; 8(1):40-48

Coughlan, S., Harvard plans to boldly go with ‘Spocs’ 23/09/2013

Kozinets, R. (2010) Chapter 2 ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage. Pp. 21-40

Week 4 Lifestream Summary

Looking back over this week’s posts I realise that there seems to be quite a mix of different themes. At the beginning of the course I was concerned about this lack of continuity but have now decided to see my lifestream as a symphony and any apparently random posts as ‘solos’.

The first theme relates back to last week and asks whether technology is making us touch each other less and driving us towards a Solarian world. I did wonder that with fewer human interactions and more touch screen technology there was some truth in this but after watching the video clip on hugging, I think that part of being human, is human contact and without it we can’t survive.

I posted the Transhuman Declaration as I found point 3 interesting: ‘although all progress is change, not all change is progress’ – we must be aware that ‘humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies and that there are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable’. (Wonder whether our dystopian fears are subconsciously connected to our misuse of technology rather than AI itself…)

I’m still reflecting on what constitutes an online community and what kind of discursive and behavioural strategies define communities. (Am hoping that Kozinets’ article and the MOOC research will help to answer this).

After doing my IDEL assignment on online identity I found Lister’s comment on how our profile page allows us to type ourselves into existence amusing.

The Coursera TED talk provides a useful background on online learning and there were several interesting points made on the effectiveness of peer grading, students’ response time to each other’s questions (22 minute average), and how data can help tutors review questions and provide feedback in cases where many students had made the same error.

The BBC article is interesting as it provides a good link back to TEL with the ubiquitous Mark Prensky commenting on how the curriculum and theory have changed little since Victorian times, and ‘most of the education products on the market are just aids to teach the existing curriculum based on the false assumption “we need to teach better what we teach today”. He feels a whole new core of subjects is needed, focusing on the skills that will equip today’s learners for tomorrow’s world of work. (Also of interest is the part on Sugata Mitra and flipped classrooms).

There are several images commenting on MOOCs. The first ‘McMOOC’ is a response to Baggaley’s article, which asks if the techniques used in MOOCs are comparable to supersizing in the food industry and whether the MOOC is all ‘hype’.

The Forbes article in contrast focuses on the positive aspects of MOOCs and how they can offer crowdsourced insights into business. As the article says, the value of MOOCs lies directly within the students that take them and, like Web 2.0, much of the knowledge is generated by the users themselves.

Baggaley, J., 2014. MOOCs: digesting the facts. Distance Education, 35(2) pp.159-163

Lister, M. … [et al.], New media: a critical introduction pp. 163-236, London: Routledge

Week 3 Lifestream Summary

 Bayne’s definition of transhumanism was really useful and it helped me to clarify the difference between transhumanism and posthumanism.

I enjoyed reading Nick and Mihael’s blog entries on TEL and very much agree that Bayne is promoting an anti-consumerist view of education and while the term TEL is problematic we do need to think about the implications of finding alternative models.

I posted the article about China as I think we need to remember that although information has lost its body and transcends power and national institutions, there are still countries which restrict access to it. (I do wonder though whether the Great Firewall is like a dam with a hole in it and there will be a point in which the Chinese government can no longer hold back the flow of information).

However, for the world of ‘free flow’ information, Poster’s image of ‘an emerging digital culture privileges the circulation of digital cultural objects though information networks, flattening relations of power in the sense that cultural objects are no longer fixed and the previous granularity of production/reception, encoding/decoding, human/machine no longer hold. The hierarchies of modernity or print cultures are thus effaced’.

I thought it was interesting how the media fluctuates between AI utopia and dystopia from week to week but often seems to play on dystopian fears. The headline ‘Robot chefs take over restaurant’ – implies that the owners were thrown out by the robots rather than them choosing to use robots to cut costs, which is what the article is actually about.

Bayne, S. (2014) What’s the matter with ‘technology enhanced learning’? Learning, Media & Technology 40(1): 5-20

Hayles, N. K. (1999) Towards embodied virtuality from Halyes, N. K., How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics pp. 1-25, 293-297, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press

Week 2 Lifestream Summary

It was fascinating to read about biohacking in Jeannine’s “The real Cyborgs” in the Telegraph, and the article prompted me to further explore ideas raised last week from the Miller reading on the human as a cyborg species and to reflect on the concept of cybernet extensions as body parts rather than devices. I had never encountered the term biohacking and had no idea that DIY biohacking kits are available online meaning that anyone today has the opportunity to become a cyborg.

While I was in Thailand this week I visited a temple and reflected on the Thai view of the body as the temple of the soul. Before starting this course I took this it to mean venerating the body and not enhancing it, but sitting looking at the how the temple was elaborately decorated and thinking about how women in tribes in the north use rings to lengthen their necks (technology as in tools not digital technology) made me realize that embellishment and enhancement really are part of human nature.

Watching Gumdrop and The Trail’s End made me think that it’s not so much a case of cyborgs being almost human but more human than human – at least in their way of thinking. Gumdrop’s shape challenges our perception of the cyborg created in our image and although she looks clearly out of place in the film clips, her performance is touching. I did wonder whether our dystopian view of cyborgs in general (think I, Robot) is because they are made to look like humans and whether this facilitates the projection of the dark side of human nature and our fear of losing control/other forces rising against us. Google’s new robot reflects a more utopian view with the Atlas robot being designed to provide useful human controlled assistance in disaster scenarios, entering dangerous situations where humans should not or cannot operate.

*       *       *       *       *

The visual dimension is very much at the centre of cyber culture studies and the auditory dimension is almost always left out. Yet the virtual world is a multi-sensory experience, and ‘audialization’ (the process of making information more comprehensible by rendering it as sound) is just as important as visualization. We often take the auditory aspect for granted and only appreciate it when we have issues with microphones, echo and reverberation.

Stern, J. (2006) The historiography of cyberculture. Chapter 1 of Critical cyberculure studies. New York University Press pp.17-28. ‘The Real Cyborgs’ by Arthur House‘Google’s massive humanoid robot can now walk and move without wires’ by Samuel Gibbs

Week 1 Lifestream Summary

This is only the first week and there’s already so much to think about. Looking back at my lifestream there seem to be two main issues concerning the cyborg.

The first is that as homo ‘faber’ we have always used tools and machines to overcome the body’s limitations. We are a cyborg species and to be human is to be augmented, extended and enhanced by technology – think your grandmother with a pacemaker rather than Robocop. Our bodies are now more plastic, bionic, communal, interchangeable across species and more virtual/hyperreal than ever. Stelarc makes the point that ‘natural’ human evolution is stagnant and we need to embrace technological bodies. (However, there are blurred lines when it comes to augmenting the physical aspect of our bodies as cat man clearly demonstrates – reconfiguring technology in this extreme case led to Denis Avner’s alleged suicide.) Moral judgments also need be made on what is the ‘body’ and the ‘human’ (are we really only a series of codes and patterns of information?) and how technological enhancement can be used to better the human condition.

The second issue, concerning homo ‘sapiens’ and AI, seems to be more problematic. Being aware of not only our physical limitations but our limitations in intelligence, consciousness and memory, we seek to transcend them, yet also fear the consequences. Popular culture generally depicts a dystopian view of transferred consciousness (Transcendence) and enhanced memory (Memory 2.0). We are obsessed with AI and how it can benefit us as humans yet we live in fear that it may one day outsmart us: we design self driving cars then feel the need to maintain meaningful control over Haraway’s irreverent and godless ‘cyborg’. Is our dystopian fear regarding AI merely another factor of our general cultural pessimism and psychological/biological disposition – or do we really have to worry about finishing our lives as a robot’s pet?

Miller, V. (2011) Chapter 9: The Body and Information Technology, in Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage

Haraway, D. (2007) A Cyborg Manifesto from Bell, D.; Kennedy, B. The Cybercultures Reader pp. 34-65

Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking warn of artificial intelligence dangers