EDC Final Assignment: Digital culture and language learning: a critical perspective on ‘community’

What follows here is an initial (first pass) critique of a year long digital video project (club) with a group of adult Japanese English (second language acquisition: SLA) language students, set within the broader context of contemporary digital culture, with a focus on ‘community’. The intention is to identify the connections between the process of video content creation, as a series of digital artefacts (primarily short documentary films) produced by the student video group and the attendant emergence of their ‘community’, commenting briefly on how this may have supported their language development (SLA).

From a methodological perspective this video project was not intended at the outset to be an ethnographic study, but certainly from my perspective as a teacher (practitioner), there was a theoretical (pedagogic) origin, from an SLA and CALL perspective (Chun, 2007, 2011), and I did conceive of the project as a professional development (critically reflective) opportunity for myself, in broadly the terms (although far less refined) set out above, and so I have been both participant and observer within the project. Having said this, in order to present a critical (reflective) perspective, an ethnographic approach is required to a certain degree at the outset, and this is as much to make sense of the prior term ‘digital culture’.

This video project was not rooted in the on line, but in ‘everyday life’ (Hine, 2014, Ch.6, p18), or the ‘actual world’. However, due to the role of media (digital) technology within the project, I wish to draw upon both CALL and CMC (SLA) research (Thorne, 2003), (Chappelle, 2004), (Chun, 2006, 20011), and upon elements of ethnographic approaches that are primarily concerned with the on-line and may be understood more as ‘netnography’ (Kozinets, 2010). This necessitates an initial examination of what the distinction between the on and off line, in ‘everyday life’ terms is, (Hine, 2014, Chapt. 6, p18 ) which will, it is hoped lead to having a more ‘holistic’ (Hine, 2014, Chapt.3, p85) understanding of what might be meant by ‘digital culture’, and indeed a theoretical basis for applying on line ethnographic approaches to the off line or ‘everyday’. In short, the implication here is that there might not be a strict binary between the on and off line, when we consider them both to be a part of ‘everyday life’ (Hine, 2014, Chapt. 6, p18) which is not of course to say there are not distinctions or differences between them (Hine, 2014, p19).

Examining then in slightly more detail the inclusion of the Internet within ‘everyday living’ Hine (2014) has this to tell us:

‘Both we as analysts and they as users can think about the events that happen online as a part of everyday life, rather than separate from it.’

(Hine, 2014, p19)

However Hine (2014) continues, and tells us that the Internet exists as a ‘variable cultural object’, access is not equal, and we each might place different interpretations upon its use (2014). The idea is that users possess a sense of what to do on the Internet based upon a whole array of influences, including peers and others both on and off line, one imagines also other institutional influences, and of course the media (Bakardjieva 2005 cited in Hine 2014, p19). What is important to note nevertheless, is that the conventions, which are constitutive of behavior off line, are no less non-natural than the conventions that apply as constitutive rules or conventions for on line behavior (Hine, 2014, p20).

This point appears to provide a plank for taking the theoretical stance of applying at least some on line ethnographic approaches, to the off line. From Hine’s (2014, p29) on line repertoire of approaches, rather than the fast big data, aggregative approach; the slow ‘search’ experiential approach might be one example), in that the on line and off line cannot be entirely disentangled or separated from one another. Indeed we could add that the relationship between the two is reflexive, in the sense that there is not a one-way direction of flow of influence here, in terms of the development of beliefs, conventions and therefore practices, but each acts upon the other.

As Hine notes (2014, Chapt. 2, p53), although aspects of our everyday lives are embedded within the Internet, in the sense that social networks are embedded into the Internet, at the same time the Internet is itself embedded as a part of our everyday lives per se, as the internet is also embedded into social networks (Garton et al. 1997, cited in Hine, 2014, Chapt. 2, p53). However to reiterate, there may be significant cultural differences between those everyday lives and thus the internet is not one cultural artefact but many (Miller and Slater, 2000, cited in Hine 2014, Chapt2, p14).

It will be of course be necessary to give a brief narrative of the SLA video group’s formation and its activities over the past year. However, accepting Hine’s (2014) arguments above, before we reach that stage we need to ask, how can we capture the relationship between a broader sense of ‘digital culture’ and the formation and sustaining of their community? This is also before considering the possible factors in the development of SLA video group’s second language acquisition.

To frame this narrative it is useful at this stage to characterize what is meant, at least on one view, by digital culture, as perhaps ‘a material or cultural context’ (Hine, 2014, Chapt. 3 p88) ‘embedded’ as a part of the ‘everyday’ (Hine, 2014, p18). Also highlighting a priority of the visual within digital culture, and the way in which this had a role in the SLA video group’s community formation and SLA development, as learning. Bayne (2008) in examining ‘desktop’ and VLE architecture (a different and of course an on line context) cites Mirzoeff (Mirzoeff 1999, 6, cited in Bayne 2008, p 396) in asserting how digital culture and its practices contribute to ‘a new urgency of the visual’ of the way in which our culture is ‘image saturated’ and how there is an intense need to conceptualize this ‘visuality’ (Bayne, 2008). It needs to be emphasized that there is a historicity to this and Bayne in citing Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ (Berger 1972, cited in Bayne 2008, p395), amongst others is pointed in this respect. Bayne also goes on to cite Bartram (2004):

‘Quoting Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Every new method or equipment refines and redefines, however slightly, the world for us . . .

(Bartram 2004, cited in Bayne 2008, p396).

In relation to this reference it seems that the emergence of social media (on line) platforms (as visual digital culture) have had a significant impact on how we relate to visual media, and indeed the phrase ‘the Youtube generation’ has been coined, and a kind of mass ‘do it yourself’ video creation culture has emerged (potentiated by the aspiration of the ‘viral video’ which is certainly not limited to, but can include professional commercial video products). Additionally ‘Youtube’ gives us instant access to a far greater array of content, than was previously possible, pre digital. The cameras which come with smart phones, and the cheap availability of high quality domestic or semi pro cameras, along with digital editing software, is a parallel in terms of a culture of media (video, but not restricted to this of course, in fact music has more of a lineage in this respect, but for different reasons perhaps) production in peoples ‘everyday lives’ (Hine, 2014). Although, one might argue this context is one of ‘creation as consumption’, in a kind of retailed social media ‘loop’. There is also the delineated context of the viewer or media consumer. Mobile consumption (‘commuter consumption’, in a location such as Tokyo is archetypal) via phones and other smart devices, again points to an ‘embedding’ of digital (video, music and text) media content in peoples ‘everyday lives’ (Hine, 2014, Chapt. 2, pp53-4).

Bayne (2008) refers to a whole range of areas of activity, constituting ‘visual cultural studies’, the pursuit of which might unpack how the way in which images (film and video too) are produced and consumed relates to the articulation of their meaning (and group relationships also), across different social, economic and cultural contexts (Lister and Wells 2001, p63, cited in Bayne 2008). We might wish to take the view at this point therefore, that the production process that the SLA video group engaged in to produce their series of films (i.e. how they were produced), had a significant role in bringing them together in the formation of relationships, and also as a type of community, although the ways in which they were previously positioned in relation to their exposure to and consumption of media content, should perhaps also be considered an important factor.

The video group sessions started initially as forty-five minute drop in sessions, outside of the framework of a formal curriculum. The group knew that we would be making short films, however I had the idea of starting with Shakespeare, simply because the language and its rhythm is so much fun, as is playing with character and roles (we could forget ourselves, and get to know one another). Also Japan has a rich history of theatre, which we could also reference as a historical- cultural parallel.

I selected ‘The Tempest’ (its themes of metaphysics, epistemology, the non-natural nature of identity and even ontology seemed relevant). After an initial reading of scenes from Act 1 (to camera, but in the knowledge that these were just ‘read throughs’) we started with a kind of ‘slow search’ (Hine 2014, p29), and evaluated a number of student video productions of the Tempest, and in interesting ways compared ourselves to those student groups. We were strangely, as interested in the groups and their locations (culture), as we were in their actual productions. Students had the task for ‘homework’ of continuing searching on the Internet (Youtube) for different filmed versions of ‘The Tempest’, and I did too. These were posted on an LMS, on which we had a page and a message board.

Following this , the participants ‘work-shopped’ scenes from ‘The Tempest’, in front of the camera. A good example is seen in the clip here:

Fig 1. From the Video Group 2014,  ‘ Ariel’s Song, Act 1, Scene 2, The Tempest, (Shakespeare, 1623)

The video group moved from this period drama ‘workshop’ project, to a documentary genre, with which it stayed for around eleven months, creating three documentary films with me. The programmes featured interviews with a range of nationalities: French, American, British, Ukrainian, Russian, Japanese (almost exclusively in English). We moved from the LMS to Google Drive and Youtube for collaborative working, and mobile e mail and SMS for communication. At this point we began meeting for up to two hours in our planning (pre-production) stages and film editing stages, with at least a half day for location visits and filming days. One of the things which needs to be highlighted here, is the lengths to which we had to go to find suitable times for us all to meet, which involved sometimes people taking a half day off work (extremely rare in Japan), cancelling travel arrangements and prior social commitments. Similarly I supported the project on an unpaid basis on my days off. The film making group took on a community form, where although members changed, there was enough continuity in members, for there to be a sense of a community ‘centre’, and when members stopped attending but then revisited, they had a sense of returning to the community. Below is one example (from the three documentaries made) by the video group. ‘The White Fox Ouji’, a film about a local Anglo- Japanese restaurant here in Tokyo:

Fig 2. Video Group, 2015, The final documentary from the video group: ‘The White Fox Ouji’.

Thorne (2003) in his discussion of computer mediated communication (CMC) has something to say of interest here, in terms of offering some insight into the formation of relationships and community within the SLA video group. Thorne (2003, p40) examines the possibilities and issues in using Internet communication tools (synchronous and asynchronous text chat, video conferencing, and e mail amongst others between) between groups of SLA learners in different countries, for developing intercultural communication . He talks of how texts, literacy and communicative practices in general are wedded to their ‘materiality of conveyance and representation’, be they stone engravings or digitally created documents on-line (Thorne, 2003). The use of CMC in SLA, implies a cultural mediation of CMC ‘tools’ as artifacts (artefacts), and as something which originates in the everyday lives of students rather than a single institutional or solely an educational context (Thorne, 2003):

utilization necessarily implies cultural mediation and the routinized use of an artifact exhibits its temporally local as well as its historical constitution … (and)… the historically sedimented characteristics that accrue to a CMC tool from its everyday use, what I am terming the “cultures-of-use” of an artifact.’

(Thorne, 2003, p40)

If we replace CMC with ‘video’ or ‘film’ (as a culturally mediated ‘artefact’ (Thorne, 2003)), the inference is an interesting one. Above, we discussed how the way that the students made their films, within a certain historical, cultural and social context, may have had a bearing on how their relationships formed as a community (Bayne, 2008). We have also noted how digital media and practices can be seen to be ‘embedded’ as a part of our ‘every day lives’ (Hine, 2014, Chapt. 2, pp53-4). To take these thoughts to an initial conclusion we could arrive at the idea of ‘sociomaterial contexts’, as described by Bayne (2014), who is actually arguing against the notion of ‘utilization’ (Thorne, 2003) or ‘instrumentalism’ with respect to technology and indeed the whole concept of TEL (Bayne, 2014, p11):

Sociotechnical or sociomaterial approaches work against the isolation of society from technology…each is constituted by the other… human’ functions (like learning) are not pre-existing attributes of the individual separable from its social and material contexts, but are rather brought into being via a complex assemblage of the human and the non-human.’

(Bayne, 2014, p11)

 We are of course concerned with ‘learning’ with respect to the video group’s SLA, but also with ‘community’, and with respect this, it is not difficult to see how ‘community’ should not be posited as a ‘pre existing attribute’ (Bayne, 2014) in relation to a historicism of social and material contexts. Knox (20014, p45) in his discussion of social material spaces in E learning (and digital cultures), critiques social material theory as offering an approach which considers what is created or develops from these types of co- constitutive relations (Fenwick et al, 2011, cited in Knox, 2014, p45). Knox (2014) emphasizes that this is not a foundational approach, which gives priority to either ‘’technology’, ‘society’ or the’ user’’ but rather:

 ‘Contends that (all) things – human and non-human, hybrids and parts, knowledge and systems – emerge as effects of connections and activity’ (Fenwick et al. 2011, p3 emphasis original).’

(Fenwick et al, 2011, cited in Knox, 2014, p45)

 It should be no surprise then (particularly with Bayne’s (2014) reference to the idea of something which is ‘brought into being’) that in the process of making a film (or simply introducing the ‘camera’), as an activity or process, which has at its heart the tangibility of creating an artefact (and the completed film (artefact)), in which digital and mechanical processes, and other concepts coalesce: that relationships and a sense of community emerged. The end film is really a kind of completed series of acts, within which and across, connections are made and activities take place (Knox, 2014) and these are perhaps co- constitutive (Fenwick et al, 2011, cited in Knox, 2014, p45) of the community, in a relation with the end film: in terms of concept, research, planning, assigning and switching of roles, performance and completion of interviews, reviewing and commenting on each others performance in a formative way, editing; also critically of course, sharing and viewing the final film, both on and off line. All of this is not withstanding the individual social relationships which come into being (Bayne, 2014), and become enmeshed as a part of all of this, within which the apparent ‘end’ film becomes itself ultimately, embedded (Hine, 2014, Chapt. 2, pp53-4).

I want to conclude with some comments relating to SLA, reflecting on the language development which appeared to take place within the SLA video group, in the context of CALL and CMC. This is bearing in mind what has been gleaned from the consideration of ‘sociomaterial contexts’ (Bayne, 2014) and (Knox, 2014). Whilst there should be an awareness of Bayne’s arguments against the idea of TEL (2014) and perhaps therefore the terminology of CALL and CMC in the conceptualization of ‘digital’ in ‘education’ and ‘learning’ which these terms carry, it might be worth highlighting respects in which some of the work which has occurred in these areas, such as Thorne (2003), and which is not entirely inconsistent with either Hine’s ‘ of digital and cultural ‘embedding’ (2014, Chapt. 2, p53) or the arguments of (Bayne, 2014) and (Knox, 2014). A digital artefact can be culturally mediated (Thorne 2003) , but this could be explained by its being in a co-constitutive set of relations in a socialmaterial sense.

Chappelle (2004) is perhaps a bridge here, both between CMC and the socio material approach (Bayne, 2014); (Knox, 2014), and the media (film making) based SLA project, which I have described above. Chappelle (2004, p595) observes that the greatest value, in SLA instruction should, it is largely agreed, be placed on ‘contexts of interaction’ be these cognitive (Gass, 2003, cited in Chappelle, p595) or socio cultural (Lantolf, 2001, cited in Chappelle, 2004, p595) and ‘ethnographic and discourse-analytic methods’ are probably required (Chappelle, 2004). Critically in the use of CMC projects (as those described by Thorne (2003) above) the most significant barrier to understanding the context of interaction between SLA learners (Jones, 2004, p24, cited Chappelle 2004, p295) is:

‘The tendency for the attention of analysts of CMC to stop at the screens edge, for people to regard ‘‘virtual realities’’ and ‘‘material realities’’ as separate things… that at least as much is going on in the computer lab where he teaches off the screen as what is happening on the screen and keyboard.

(Jones, 2004, p24, cited Chappelle 2004, p295)

This obviously accords with Hine (2014, Chapt. 6, p18). The novel solution to this situation Chappelle (2004) reports, was for Jones (2004) to install video and audio recording in the CMC laboratory, which captured for example vocalized expressions of confusion and other discourse characteristics, not available in ‘printed chat scripts alone’ (Smith and Gorsuch, 2004, cited in Chappelle, 2014 p295). This could seem to hint at what might be understood in one very limited sense as a kind of ‘proto’ sociomaterial approach (Bayne, 2014) and (Knox, 2014), bearing in mind the very broad ‘sociomaterial’ historical (digital) context of 2004 itself, although all that can really be said here without further investigation, it is comparative to, or not necessarily inconsistent with a sociomaterial approach (Bayne, 2014) and (Knox, 2014). Certainly what is being practiced here however (Jones, 2004, p24, cited Chappelle 2004, p295) is consistent with what I set out to achieve with the SLA video group, in ‘going beyond the classroom’, with more of a focus on the group as a community and capturing these kinds of discourse characteristics of the video group’s members largely on camera in interviews on the street, in gallery spaces and restaurants: public spaces of our ‘every day’ lives (Hine, 2014). This was with a range of trans global interviewees, which as performances, could then be analyzed, and acted upon as self or peer correction, in viewing or the edit by the SLA video group as a community, for the next interview as an improved performance. Interestingly the group also analyzed such discourse characteristics of their interviewees, in a context which might be described as one of a comparison within ‘World English’s’. In terms of self-assessment, the participants did seem to feel this worked well in terms of their SLA development and cultural understanding, where the discourse was one which was intercultural.

Finally to close, as mentioned at the beginning Chun (2011) was a principle pedagogic motivating factor for forming the SLA video group, and I took inspiration directly from hearing her keynote address at the JALTCALL Conference, Shinshu University, Matsumoto (2013). In this lecture (JALTCALL, 2013), she focused on ASR (automated speech recognition), for evaluating prosody in speech, and  improving pronunciation, a system which gives audio and visual feedback to SLA learners (Chun, 2007, p243). She also talked about the way in which a range of new technologies, perhaps including digital video and audio (as film making) could be an interesting future development (on my understanding at the time), particularly, as the use of media (video and audio) implies the possibility of ‘cultural acquisition’ and ‘discourse pragmatics’ (Chun, 2011, p394), as well as that of,  and indeed for, successful SLA.

When Chun (2011, p394) describes her own CMC intercultural communication project between American and German students (Chun, 2011, p392)  interestingly she cites Thorne (2003), with reference to the fact that ‘tools’ are not culturally neutral (Thorne, 2003, cited in Chun, 2011, p394). What is of real importance in terms of the SLA video group is how Chun (2011, pp294-95) relates the fact that in CMC intercultural exchanges, intercultural conflict will never disappear and that rather than teaching students ‘sociocultural strategies’ for avoiding this, one should rather support students in perceiving this conflict as a learning opportunity (Schneider and von der Emde, 2006, cited in Chun, 2011, p394), as cultural rich points which can be explored (Belz, 2003, cited in Chun p394). There is a direct parallel between the type of space which Chun effectively describes as ‘coming into being’ (Bayne, 2014) within the CMC intercultural exchanges and interactions, and the idea of a sociomaterial space (Knox, 2014) or context (Bayne, 2014). Similarly in introducing the camera for an interview in the street, and the processes associated with the making of a film within the SLA video group (community) had the effect of delineating a type of sociomaterial space, (Knox, 2014) or context (Bayne, 2014), strong aspects of which were overtly intercultural in terms of interactions and exchanges.

As a final thought, Hine (2014 Chapt. 6, p58) describes how the presence of a television in a hair salon ‘brought into being’ (Bayne, 2014) certain kinds of conversations and expressions of opinion, but that this was in tandem with the owners ‘orchestration of events’ (Press and Johnson-Hale, 2008, cited in Hine, 2014). She then makes a useful comparison between this ‘space’ or ‘context’ and the Internet for the possibility of similar ‘contextual occurrence’ of talk about everyday matters (Beer and Penfold-Mounce, 2009, cited in Hine 2014). It occurs to me that introducing the video camera, in a public space creates the possibility of such a ‘contextual occurance’ of talk about everyday matters (as an ‘interview’), and wonder whether this situation can be rightly described also as a type of sociomaterial space (Knox, 2014), or context (Bayne, 2014). The question remains to be answered, clearly, but in approaching it thus far has enabled me to have a more granulated appreciation of the year with the SLA film making (video) group,  in gaining more understanding regarding the formation of the community and their SLA development, when set against the broader background of digital culture as discussed above. Below is a short video in which members of the film making (video) group give some of their comments:

Fig. 3 ‘Some Views From The Year: Video Group’, (2015)


 Siân Bayne (2008) Higher education as a visual practice: seeing through the virtual learning environment, Teaching in Higher Education, 13:4, 395-410

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

Chappelle, C. A. (2004). Technology and second language learning: expanding methods and agendas. Elsevier, System 32 (2004) 593–601

Chun, D. K, (2007) Come Ride The Wave: But Where Is is Taking Us? CALICO Journal, 24 (2), p-p 239-252.

Chun, D. K. (2011). Developing Intercultural Communicative Competence through Online Exchanges. CALICO Journal, 28(2), p-p 392-419

Hine, Christine. Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, Embodied and Everyday. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.  (E-Book)

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

Robert V Kozinets. (2010). Netnography: Doing ethnographic research online. Sage Publications.

Thorne, S.L. (2003). Artifacts and Cultures-of-use in Intercultural Communication. Language Learning & Technology. Vol. 7, No. 2, May 2003, pp. 38-67.

Fig 1. Video Group (2014),  ‘ Ariel’s Song, Act 1, Scene 2, The Tempest, (Shakespeare, 1623)

(Accessed at Poem of The Week), here: http://www.potw.org/archive/potw190.html 

Fig 2. Video Group (2015), The final documentary from the video group: ‘The White Fox Ouji’

Fig 3.  Video Group (2015),    ‘Some Views From The Year: Video Group’























Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *