Making Sense of Theorizing the Web 2013 #TtW13

TtW13This past weekend I had the pleasure to attend the Theorizing the Web 2013 Conference that was held here in New York City at the CUNY Graduate Center. I attended the 2012 conference from a distance last year, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet some of the presenters, participants, and organizers in person this time.

The program was filled both with speakers of note and those not yet widely known, and being around such positive energy of people doing, discussing, and debating theory on the phenomenon known as the Web provided for an engaging experience. In fact, I realize that I have not been challenged to follow along with and discuss some of these issues in a very long time, if at all. While I love discussing theory and how it applies to practice, it is not very often that I can spend some time discussing this in such an intensive way. I had a conference high that is still swirling around in my mind, and only wish I had enough time to read all the articles and books that were mentioned and about which I know little.

The main theme for this conference seemed to be surveillance, related to law enforcement / government as well as to corporate interest and influence in what, how, and when I see things online. Closely linked with this is the persistent topic of free speech and what this freedom means in theory as well as in practice online.

All of the presenters, organizers, participants, and hash tag moderators (me!) are on the Participants page. From David Lyon to Alice Marwick to Stéphane Vial to danah boyd and beyond, I have a lot of people’s’ works on my next-to-read list.  

The CUNY Graduate Center space was a great conference venue, with powerful and fast wifi throughout. Furthermore, its new JustPublics@365 project has many promising communication initiatives to come! As I work so close to the Grad Center, I am hoping they continue to have events open and welcoming to the public.

TtW13Now, to be fair, I don’t want to make it seem this conference was perfect or the single best thing since pizza and red wine. There are always a few minor wrinkles or distractors (there was not any coffee or food of any sort on Saturday, we had to vacate the building just before its closing at 6:00 on Saturday that resulted in our not having an opportunity to thank the organizers or otherwise establish a sense of closure, there was an issue with the gender neutral bathrooms (that did not have a bath in them, BTW!) and privacy within them, and there was not sufficient time in the presenter sessions to ask and discuss anywhere near as many questions as were conveyed in the room and via the specific Twitter room hash tags). While these various things can be a bit distracting at the time, in the larger scheme of things they are all minor (except the questions and discussions after the speaker presentations!) and are listed here more as a memory of what happens when a few dedicated volunteers put on a free conference; there are bound to be a few minors issues. However, all things being equal, there is really nothing to complain about — kudos to Nathan, PJ, Jessie, and the entire planning committee!

Given all this, what are my own next steps?

  1. Read. I gathered a number of articles and books that I already ordered and downloaded in the specific areas of surveillance, Twitter (an ongoing area of personal /professional / academic interest), and the notion of our cyborg identity (with a bit more of a journey into actor-network theory).
  2. Engage. I met a number of really interesting, very smart, and highly creative academics and theorists at this conference, and I have to make a conscious effort to maintain some of those connections (even if that means I need to move past my near-infatuation with Twitter).
  3. Contribute. What good is all this reading and engaging with others and their ideas if I do not integrate them into my own thinking, perspectives, research, and theorizing. There is no reason why I cannot pursue some of this on my own, especially as I am nearing completion of my PhD studies. Furthermore, I am glad I was able to act in the role of a hashtag moderator, though I think I want to become a little more involved in some way. We’ll see what that may mean (perhaps even based on my 2 previous next steps!); surely in some interesting way!

I look forward to seeing some of the archived sessions once they are online and available, as well as some of the online photos. Until then, onward and upward as we continue to theorize the web and what that means in our lives.

Networked Learning Conference 2010 Closing Plenary

The closing session at the Networked Learning Conference 2010 comprised of many of the facilitators of the Hot Seat sessions in the front of the room, summarizing the pre-conference discussions.

As per some of our panelists (Charalambos Vrasidas, Caroline Haythornthwaite, Etienne Wenger, Grainne Conole), some of the learning that has occurred and the issues raised include:

  • is technology required for networked learning?
  • what are some of the issues of access and equity regarding these technologies?
  • what are some of the differences between networks and social networks?
  • to what extent can networks serve as reflective practice?
  • how can social network analysis be used as a method of analysis to develop social network theories?
  • networks can be across organizations, serious leisure (e.g., home brewing, cooking), across disciplines, alumni networks?
  • synergies with other fields, such as Internet Research field
  • learning is an opportunity to be knocked out of balance, as that allows us to see things differently and shake one out of complacency
  • knowledge / practice fair — where each community can have a booth and then show what each is doing. This is an opportunity to have different communities rub together as different networks
  • brokering between and across boundaries has an insight into networks and going between communities
  • When one is networking, there is very light brokering. When it is heavy networking, then it is more toward multimembership that creates a bridge between networks
  • There are new ways of understanding virtual vs. F2F relationships
  • Language is one of the key challenges
  • Theoretical frameworks in networked learning seem to primarily include communities of practice, actor network theory, and activity theory
  • We may want to expand upon the theoretical frameworks, as there are many more we can use
  • We should tighten the theoretical perspectives, methodologies, and then clearly link them to practice
  • The relationship  between theory and practice should be made stronger
  • Policy debates are happening, though we need to be present to where this debate can be followed and interacted
  • Cloudworks can be used as a liveblogging platform, and the Twitter streams are being tracked and will be archived on the website

Some facilitated discussions (thank you, Maarten de Laat) then happened with questions from the participants, with the majority of it happening around issues of policy and how policy can fit with practice.

David McConnell then began discussing a holistic view of what networked learning is, and how we understand and use the concept of network learning. What are the educational values we can bring back to networked learning. Is there anything distinctive to networked learning that makes it difference from technology enhanced learning or from eLearning? Perhaps these fundamentals need to be reflected upon again–I agree completely with this, as in many ways there seem to be great differences between these, there also seems to be differences as well, namely to include how the learning happens in a way of networks.

Chris Jones spoke about the movement from practice to praxis, so there is an ethical dimensions we bring to bear to the practice we bring to our work. This comment then ended the discussions with a quick  applause.

Nice ending for this conference, and now we can look forward to the next conference in two years.  It was mentioned that there will be a book that comes out of this conference, tentatively titled Exploring the theory, pedagogy and practce of networked learning.

Who’s Taming Who?

Terrie Lynn Thompson discussed her paper, Who’s taming who? Tensions between people and technologies in cyberspace communities. She used Actor Network Theory (ANT) for her work, especially through the work of Latour and John Law. Networked include people, objects, ideas, and practices. From this perspective, she studied numerous participants, such as people, blogs, and even the delete button. She interviewed these objects in her study, both human as well as  non-human. I am not entirely clear how she did this (how do you interview a delete button?), though she mentioned this is basically another paper out there and from what I understand, actor network theory is quite complex and not easily explainable to the newbie.

This presentation is clear that I need to read more about actor network theory, as many of the specifics were lost on me (that very same newbie). Terrie seemed quite animated and confident in her work, and this leads me to believe that this research may not be available to a novice (me), without an extensive background in this area.

Small world; Terrie was in one of my presentations on critical human resource development (HRD) several years ago at another conference. Yes, very small world.

The Web of Identity

Marguerite Koole from Athabasca and Lancaster Universities is presenting her paper, The Web of Identity: Selfhood and Belonging in Online Learning. She did a distance-learning master’s degree, and she felt disconnected with her faculty there, without any face-to-face engagement. She experienced few ah-ha moments within the required discussion forums. She did not relate to other  students in the program, and as a result of not feeling connected and engaged, she began exploring identity and how the individual differentiates between the self and other.

Her work around identity was influenced by Ricoeur (1992), Mead (1934), Ferreday, Jones, and Hodgson (2006). She was also interested in impressions management from Goffman (1959) and also saw Foucault’s work on the technologies of the self. She then demonstrated how these issues from Goffman could be interpreted through a Foucauldian lens, and then presented her Web of Identity Model. She includes an element of Cognitive Resonance component, which is an individual’s identityt as reflected or refracted through the strategies with the final goals to achieve a comfortable level of resonance and harmony.

There were numerous implications for learning, and it will be intersting to see how this model develops over time. I think that the follow-up questions at the end, many of which were very theoretical, demonstrates how rich this area may be.

Reading screens: A critical visual analysis

Nice to see Zoe Williamson and Jen Ross speaking again, this time about WebQuest projects in schools as part of a joint national museum initiative. Great to hear about Webquests again, as I recall using these a number of years ago when I taught high school.

The WebQuests in this project included developing critical thinking and interpreting skills using resources from at least 3 of the partner museums. These are not value-neutral exercises (after all, what education is devoid of some values or another?), and they are based on deep assumptions around teaching and learning. Since some of the websites were not even accessible via some of the schools they worked with, the researchers referred to this as irelated to ssues of control, restraint, and surveillance.

They were able  to show us an example of a WebQuest from the Wallace Collection. The pages were colorful and framed clearly to direct what student learners should do and where they should go next. It is instructor-focused, with clear instructions for the students to follow. There were no examples of Web 2.0 or learner-focused screens or locations. They then demonstrated a possibility for how these WebQuests can be redesigned to be more consistent with their own experience as being more open-ended and student-focused. As a former instructional (learning designer, I always find this sort of work interesting).

They made a good point about how students continued to click ahead to get to the task they had to accomplish to therefore be complient, and not necessarily engaged in the pages and the learning. Alas, their work demonstrates that while more work and advancement for using technologies in education are increasing, a lot of work still remains to be done.