Networked Scholars Course: Week 3 Reflection

Notes from Networked Scholars course this week. My thoughts at the end…

Zeynep Tufekci‘s article, Social Media is a Conversation, Not a Press Release: How @nytkeller and @emmagkeller flunk understanding @adamslisa:

  • How should it have been written? In one word: When trying to understand social media presence, dear journalists, don’t “peruse.” Engage. Because that’s how the medium works.
  • To understand these basic points Lisa Adams made, repeatedly, over the years, you’d have to be engaging her feed, and not just reading snippets of it and projecting it onto one’s own anxieties or issues.
  • If anything, social media has helped move us to a world in which people are no longer passive, silent subjects of journalists (or academics or other gatekeepers of public discourse). We can no longer speak of people at them, without them talking back of their own experience, and articulating their own narrative in their own terms. And how to deal with that reality, not whether cancer patients should tweet that much, is the real ethical question before us.

Sherry Turkle‘s TED talk about Alone Together:

  • We want to be in spaces together, but we only want to pay attention to the bits that interest us. I definitely see this is graduate school classes. In texting, we get to edit, delete, and retouch our voice, but real relationships are awkward and messy. A little later, “I share there for I am.” The more we connect the more isolated we are because we do not cultivate solitude. We need to teach our children to be alone.

“People who make the most of their lives on the screen, come to it in a spirit of self-reflection.”

  • Develop a self-aware relationship with our devices and others: make room for solitude.

Audrey Watters‘ keynote for C-Alt conference, Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monsters, and Teacher Machines:

  • Stories: folklorist by training. The stories we tell, the stories that don’t get told (hidden or forgotten), the way we’ve forgotten the history of computer education, surveillance.
  • Our disciplinary training shapes how we see the world.
  • Luddites: fighting machines to preserve their way of life.
  • Have we failed to take care of our technological creations? (like Frankenstein) It’s not a sin to create them, but we need to care and watch over them (from Bruno LaTour). Frankenstein is a story about education – education gone awry. What will we make of our ed-tech monsters?
  • It’s not about rejecting TECHNOLOGY or SCIENCE, it’s about rejecting EXPLOITATION. It’s not that science gives us monsters, we pretended that science divorced from responsibility, from politics, from love, that science gives us truth. The problem is not that science doesn’t give us monsters, but it also doesn’t give us answers.
  • If we are going to automate education, we see knowledge as fixed, hierarchical, measurable, non-negotiable. This is the problem with teaching machines. The world becomes a fixed thing.
  • Ayn Rand, quoted ironically, equates B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism with Frankenstein. That he dares play god, the “enemy of autonomous man,” the absence of emotion or care. Silicon valley is fixated on Ayn Rand – libertarian, laissez-faire, venture capitalist – which is a monstrous vision in its own right.
  • Ed-tech is full of behaviorist technologies – notifications, nudges, gamification – but because of the lack of history, silicon valley doesn’t recognize it as such. Alan Turing asked if a computer could think, but really meant whether it could exhibit behaviors that could fool a human into thinking it was one as well.
  • 1954, Skinner presents his teaching machine: removal of teacher inefficiencies, delivery of immediate feedback, ability of students to move at their own pace: now called personalization. Skinner said the problem with human teachers is their lack of consistency, delays of reinforcement, and focus on bad behaviors rather than rewarding positive behaviors: with the application of behaviorism and teaching machines, the classroom could be mechanized in the same way as the kitchen.
  • What are ed-tech’s monsters? Seeing tech as this autonomous creation without needing guidance. What does a teaching machine want? What does it demand?

To argue that technology has its own wants and drives, that is monstrous. This is a slight of hand: it obscures what industry wants, what business wants, what systems of power want. It is an intellectually disingenuous and perhaps politically dangerous argument to make.

  • Education demands our interest and engagement. Technology demands our political interest and engagement, which is love for the world.
  • Hannah Arendt: “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it … Education is to prepare children in advance to renew our common world.”
  • We must engage politically to care for our technology and not create more monsters.
  • Question: How do we tell the story of openness, such as the decision to share the code for the internet? We must present the counter-narrative, in the same way that we need to counter the story of education-is-broken-buy-our-product-to-solve-all-problems.

Bonnie Stewart, Networked Scholars Google Hangout:

  • Ethical issues over inviting people, and even more so kids or research subjects, into an online space that is vulnerable, particularly to racism and sexism, under the guise that it is a caring place full of resources.
  • Networks are relational and tools are not neutral. When we try to quantify what we do, we may miss the thinking.
  • The game of succeeding in traditional scholarship (who you know, what you’ve published, reputation) is replicated in networked scholarship.
  • Being wary of edtech solutions from venture capital and Silicon Valley: when we are bringing kids into online spaces, what power relations are we introducing? Ex. Supervision, capitalism. Spaces that encourage “algorithmic views” of education.
  • George Veletsianos reaction: Who is creating it? Are algorithms neutral? Question about tech, but also how do we prepare our students to deal with this? How do we help people be critical about the spaces they are in rather than just fleeing to a different space without reflection?
  • Networked scholarship as an open, idealized, emancipated space, but as more people have joined, there are increasingly corporate logical hierarchies built into the platforms we engage on. There is never going to be an ideal space for reflection, nor has their ever been.
  • Donna Haraway‘s concept of the Cyborg: the hybrid of human and machine that is always blasphemous and subversive to the conditions that create it, i.e. the power structures that make both networks and institutions dehumanizing.
  • Ableism: the ways in which a structure like Twitter makes all your contacts visible, privileges people who have an understanding of social nuance, humor, and conversation, and is comfortable participating in a way that is highly visible and traceable. Not everyone is geared to live in the open. This creates an exclusivity to participating. No one medium or platform will fulfill it for all. Who is left out?
  • Value of “bleed” between networks – we are still people, and if we spend enough time with people, we develop deeper relationships.
  • Homophily: people tend to connect and network with people who think like them. In her personal research, they show interest in seeking out a diverse group in terms of identifiers but not necessarily opinion. This is not exclusively an internet thing – this is what we do in non-internet life too.

Finally, a couple quotes from a journal article by George Veletsianos (teacher of the Networked Scholars course) and Royce Kimmons, titled Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship, published by The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, October 2012:

  • “critiques are largely absent from the educational technology field, as members of the field tend to focus on the promises of educational technologies, rarely pausing to critique its assumptions.”
  • Zaugg, West, Tateishi, and Randall (2011, p. 32) argue that widespread use of such tools may be hindered because scholars might (a) perceive social media as an unnecessary time commitment and (b) “hesitate to openly post their developing research lest they get pre-empted by another researcher or receive public criticism for their still-evolving research.”

My thoughts:

These five sources for thought this week come under the theme of caring and vulnerability in the world of being a networked scholar and as a participant in networks. It seems to me that this asks the question, “What does it mean to be a person today?” They are manifestations of our grappling with possibilities and challenges, finding hope and frustrations. (I wish I had a better grasp on philosophical theories to evaluate each in terms of existentialism, post-structuralism, and post-modernism.)

Zeynep Tufecki points to understanding the Discourse of social media and not treating it as a singular, acontextual, representation of a person’s story. Sherry Turkle wants us to be intentional and reflective in our use of technologies. Audrey Watters reminds us of history, power, and politics as it relates to technology and ed tech in particular. Bonnie Stewart examines the design and structures of social networks, such as profile pages and algorithms, and its effects on relationships. George Veletsianos and Royce Kimmons encourage examination of scholarly practices. Each comes to their argument in a sense of caring for people who are vulnerable, though I appreciated Bonnie Stewart’s skepticism of altruism.

I come away perhaps more confused about the landscape of educational technology, mostly thanks to Audrey Watters, but also hopefully more reflective and critical. As my research is about to take me deep into classrooms that have adopted “personalized learning,” I think I need to take a critical (in the sense of critical theory) perspective if I am to truly understand what I’m seeing.

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