screenshots as digital tools and media objects

Now that I’ve had a chance to properly experiment with the open source social network overview and exploration tool, NodeXL, I’m finally finding some traction. I’d  tinkered with the plugin in the past and more recently managed to spend some time acquitting myself with a little graph theory and social network analysis methodology. Together with an updated version of the software and the Hansen, Schneiderman, and Smith’s (2011) Analyzing Social Modeia Networks with NodeXL, I was ready to explore the use of screenshots in social media.

The approach in my postdoctoral study of ‘indie’ and independent cultures of games production in Australia has, until now, featured a purely ethnographic methodology; interviews, participation, observations and combinations of the three. It was quickly made obvious by the research participants, however, that one of the long term effects of the global financial crisis on the games industry is the intensification of the role of social media in games development at three distinct levels: as means for communicating with a diverse audience populations (an evolution of the more traditional marketing/broadcast model modified for social media); as tools for facilitating actual game development remotely (using Skype, Google Docs, Facebook,Twitter, etc); and as processes and practices for the knitting together of a global games community of developers, artists, players, etc that spans the mainstream, that provides indie and independent with a powerful (but not equal) means for gaining attention to their games. It is this last feature of social media technologies and their uses that contributes to changing conversation about play and games, and has even produced a few global celebrities, like Minecraft developer Notch.

The well established ties to the global console ports, movie tie-ins, mobile- and web-based games markets were already jeopardised prior to the GFC with the rising Australian dollar which made local development more costly. A series of major studio closures from 2010 meant the turn to the iOS and Android platforms for Australian developers was inevitable. In part as a reaction to the convergence of web and mobile markets through smartphone and tablet devices and also in part a reaction to the new digital and social tools available to developers. The new generation of young graduates from specialised games development courses have emerged to start competing with much more established studios and major IOS Australia studio success like Halfbrick and the Voxel Agents.

Although it’s only speculation at this point there are signs that the rise of the indie developer and the growth of the small independent studio developers means an overdue shift in the industry’s entrenched problem of diversification, with women being underrepresented in the Australian industry. One of the data sets I intend to look as part of this research is the recent use of Twitter hastag #1reasonwhy that has been increasing attention to the conditions women face working in the industry (if they can get hired in the first place). It is clear through observing the highly profitable and expanding market in games paratexts (including websites and merchandise, YouTube channels, blogs and podcasts) that we already seeing a significant change with many more women’s opinions, perspective and thoughts on games and games culture being seen and heard, and not just from so-called ‘gamer girls’ or Booth Babes at the latest convention.

As social media takes hold at all levels of games culture the digital literacies involved for the humanities researcher attempting to understand these changes takes on higher stakes at the level of cultural production of media objects, such as screenshots. Learning to use NodeXL means having to correct a number of deficiencies in my repertoire, including a lack of knowledge and expertise in using Excel, and coming to terms with the discourses and terminology of social network analysis and graph theory. By no means have I achieved an expert status, but I feel confident graduating from padawan, especially as I begin to dig into the analysis of the use of screenshots in social media. This research intersects with a personal hobby and helps me expand on the analysis of the digital objects (like virtual hats and game screenshots) that are used as a means for building a mediated online persona. By persona I don’t mean avatars or individual profiles, but a collective and identifiable online presence, one that is often text based – blogs, profiles,Steam and Xbox Live – with important visual components and aesthetics captured on PCs, mobile phones, laptops and tablets and shared via sites like Flickr and Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube.

I’ve put together a Flickr set for the purpose of demonstrating NodeXL here and will be updating the blog with results and discussion as I progress further.  Below is a graph of my core Flickr user network, grouped by relevant cluster, you can see my two accounts Crypticommonicon (for game screenshots) and Moorenet (the family photo album) and you can see the links to close friends and family in the boxes on the left then move across to contacts I have added to my follow list but who have not added me in return.

NodeXL Flickr User Network Map
This graph represents connections (contacts and comments) in my Flickr user network, as plotted by NodeXL, using the Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale algorithm. The layout is arranged with the group by cluster function according to the Girvan-Newman clustering algorithm. Duplicate edges are merged,  Edge Width and Visibility are mapped to Edge Weight. NodeXL Version 1.0.1.229

postcard from the deakin archipelago

‘postcard from the Deakin archipelago’, a presentation by Dr Christopher Moore

This presentation was prepared for the unit EEE710 – Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, the first unit undertaken for a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education in Trimester 2, 2012 at Deakin University. The ‘prezi’ presentation slides are available here: http://prezi.com/nqbxk2ri2oop/postcard-from-the-deakin-archipelago/

introduction
The plan is to share how I used Google’s social network and video conferencing ‘Hangout’ feature to run ‘LIVE’ tutorials for students regardless of location. I’m going to keep the technical details to a minimum, and if you are interested in the experiment I have my contact details at the end of the presentation slides and I am more than happy to chat about the finer points and problems.

I am going to draw attention, in a open and hopefully thought provoking way, to the strengths and weaknesses, or the ‘Fail’ and the ‘Win’, of my approach, and to point out that when experimenting with digital and online technologies in pedagogical contexts that sometimes ‘winning’ is actually failing, and that ‘failing’ spectacularly can always be looked at as ‘winning with style’.

LIVE the future
So the remit or the mandate for the presentation, is to critically examine an example of a recent  teaching and learning practice, but I am going to frame the discussion as a response to Deakin’s Corporate’s Agenda 2020 LIVE the Future strategic plan.

I usually  mispronounce the ‘LIVE’, preferring ‘live’ (as in going live, or live act), mostly because unless you are a Looper, you can’t really live the future, and even then it’s a short lived experience.

Deliberately mistaking live for live the whole theme takes on new dimensions, and  liveness, as in being alive or live as in electrically charged has connotation of being both powerful and dangerous. Another sense of LIVE, that I want to focus on with this presentation is to go live, to be broadcast, to be in the public’s eye, to be alive and living in the present, which in social and media media terms means the experience of networked communications, and to take another term adopted by Deakin Corporate, is the experience of the ‘cloud’.

the archipelago
I began teaching at Deakin in March 2012 and babysat a unit (Researching Media: Texts, Audiences and Industries’ for Dr. Nina Weerakkody) which was my first introduction to the deakin archipelago: this distinct arrangement of campuses across multiple Victorian regions and regionalities features a diverse student population and multiple modes of interaction: Burwood, Waurn Ponds, Warrnambool and the off-campus iterations of all of these locations. I have tried to represent these [in the presentation slides]  in a kind of semi-rhizomatic structure indicating where the horizon of the physical locations of these campuses intersects with less well defined territory of the ‘cloud’.

the mythical cloud
Whenever I hear the term ‘cloud’, I think of the quote from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “ I do not think that word means what you think it means…”

The cloud as defined by Deakin in the 2020 strategic plan:

Cloud learning’ is Deakin’s term for harnessing new and emerging technologies to provide highly visual, media-rich, interactive learning experiences wherever our students are located. It signals our intention to re-imagine assessment and learning experiences — both in the cloud or on campus or industry sites— as personalised and accessible in all times zones, enabling our students to access premium learning resources and work collaboratively with teachers, mentors, peers and potential employers, generating ideas and solving real world problems in preparation for the jobs and skills of the future.

The cloud, as envisioned by the edupunk movement (circa 2004-2006), which borrowed the concept from cloud computing, is a means to liberate educational experiences from behind the closed doors of ivory tower thinking and boardroom strategising. From Keith Kirkwood (2010) on the edupunk DIY philosophy of the cloud:

Constructivist, collaborative and connectivist pedagogies have found their enablers in the tools and technologies of the read/write web. Increasingly, web-savvy instructors are abandoning institutionally-sanctioned closed-access systems for the greater flexibility and facility of Cloud-based platforms. Those who are venturing into the Cloud are finding new ways to bring students and student contributions into the academic conversation and curriculum, in a renewed focus on the power of peer- and community- based learning.

Kirkwood (2010) goes further when he argues:

This new form of distributed learning signals something much more profound: it signals a reinvention of formal education, at a time when even some professors are starting to say out loud that without such changes, universities will be irrelevant in another ten years’ time .

the big picture
Trimester one at Deakin was a real eye opener for me, not only were the students, tutors, and support staff in this isolated island arrangement, with little to no interaction between the various modes and campuses, I also had to come to terms with all the separate systems and unconnected databases involved in the administration of a unit: from tutorial organisation to student histories and the antediluvian grading system, it all made me feel like I was trying to pilot the Battlestar Galactica.

the galactica
The Battlestar Galactica – is the last surviving ship of the first Cylon War, and to protect it from a viral attack – none of its computer systems are networked – and so like all of Deakin’s various intranet, databases,DSO logins, library systems, email servers, phone systems – everything runs really well on their own, but there is no intercommunication which makes navigation, coordination and communication that much harder.

the staff online experience
Making sure all students and tutors have access to the same information at the same time, and can make use of it in the same way, is therefore an unrealistic dream…
(one that I not sure any MOOC or LMS can actually help us achieve)

PEBKAC
Is this a situation where the problem exists between keyboard and chair? Is this a feature or a bug? My take is to think on this as a feature and to think about the role of the human in the system to help the overcoming the isolation and siloing effects of compartmentalised systems, people and locations.

the dso galactica
Bruno Latour in discussing the rise of machines with artificial intelligence, alluded to the already existing role of humans as the artificial intelligence of machines, saying that with the current generation of software programming “The engineering dream is to morph the human into a rational machine.” while “The humanist counterdream is to recover an intentional, reflexive and coherent carriers of values. while the result is a rather bizarre cyborg that ressembles nor the machine nor the human, or as I like to call it the DSO (the learning management system recently introduced at Deakin, based on the Desire2Learn platform).

It’s no secret that I think LMS like Blackboard and DSO are really big cash cows that are a complete waste of time and money – its the kind of thing you paid for when you paid for internet browsers – and the result is more machine than human. The D2L platform, like Blackboard before it, is a walled garden, a legacy of the principles of management that demand centralisation and control, this goes against what the cloud is actually about,  but I do admit that the current version of the DSO does embeds html in a much more user friendly manner (allowing YouTube, Delicious, Scribd, Prezi and other platform integration).

So Galactica is a relic…
The Galactica is a relic, but its power, utility, survivability and expertise is in the crew and the crew at Deakin are endlessly supportive and innovative.

There is chatter everywhere and with back channels like Yammer and Deakin’s social network presence is slowly emerging, but the point is no matter how good or how bad your systems are, it is what we as academics bring to their iteration, what we add to them – the ‘live’ component.

That extra bit of something else is what makes the machines work and function seamlessly, and its something that only we can bring to the network and make them useful. It’s a ‘something’ that is fragmented across multiple services and structures.

That something, in the digital era, leaves a trace, a footprint, and a series of impressions, that coalesce into what we call our persona. Think of the academic’s ‘persona’ not as a concrete ‘thing’, but rather a digitally organic networked embodiment of “the art of making do”.

the art of making do
In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau (1984, p. 30) perceives an aesthetic in the work of those whose creativity is both constrained and enlivened by  spaces, both cultural and physical, in language, in the home, at work, and at play, where the boundaries of circumstance leave no choice but to live with a sense of plurality and innovation:

“By an art of being in between, the artists draws unexpected results from his situation.”

So our systems don’t communicate – well that becomes part of our experience of the Deakin existence….so there is no WiFi COVERAGE in the Media and Communication department, we make do…

Kopyism
In the religious doctrine of The Sweedish Church of Kopysim, the pressing of the ‘control + c’ and ‘ctrl + v’ keys are sacred invocations. Each time you copy and paste you are conducting the holy sacraments and these everyday technology shortcuts suddenly become an act of worship.

With similar thinking then, every conversation with a student, every online post or news item, every work related email, every database you open, ever powerpoint presentation and word document you create, you are enacting and enlivening yourself in your role as teacher, academic, administrative agents, etc and in the acts of making do that we are forced to adopt with these technologies, there spaces, functions, limitations and affordances for your own unique impressions on the world.

The persona of the academic self, as Kim Barbour and Professor David Marshall describe, in a recent issue of First Monday, is the idea of identity as a performance.

digital persona – I wish I were more like my online persona
A digital persona is accrued over time, as our activities across our many networks and communications and media devices leave footprints, make new connections and generate data about our everyday acts of being an academic, that do translate in very small but meaningful ways as creative acts of expression.

Social media helps to render these acts visible, lending them a semi-permanence, and enables us to reveal what it is we actually  think and do in a publicly visible way

One of the features of using Skype and Google mail is the status icon so that students in my network can see when I am online and can announce my availability to students – so that my emails session can double as consultation times if I want them to – but it also helps identity times that I am not approachable, during other admin, research, writing and other times.

My Facebook, Twitter and G+ timelines are locations and records of important work related-conversations, following PhD candidate Edwin Ng on Facebook for example, comes with a good amount of required background reading in Foucault, Derrida and Secular Criticism.

Harry Persona
The academic persona, and indeed any digital persona in general is, to cite Barbor and Marshall (2012), an idea of “intentional presentation of a specific identity from the ‘composite of multiple selves’ which exist in all of us the idea of the persona is the very embodiment of the LIVEness of the Deakin plan, but how does the concept persona help address the archipelago issue, and how do we steer the Galactica?

steering the Galactica
I inherited a subject titled ‘Globalisation and the Media’ to teach in trimester 2, 2012.  I had previously experimented with a blogging assessment that is based on weekly writing and underpinned by a rigorous peer review structure, and I knew this would help bring students across the campus together as a common audience but I suspected we could do more.

I was thinking about the term the ‘deakin archipelago’, which I am sure I heard from Professor Paul Carter, and in searching for the term I came across Karen Le Rossignol’s article on what she calls Archipelago design. She writes about achieving “… a nexus between experiential and formal knowledge that can be engendered by relevant teaching/learning design, by an associational or archipelago approach”.

“Archipelago design …. conceptualises a string of associated communities of online learning, providing an interactivity and immersion by the participants, and a social community of collaborative knowledge.” (Le Rossignol, 2011)

Much of Karen’s approach aligns with the goals of the new Deakin strategic plan, where technology serves a structural role. From experience the experiential and integrated learning environments that result in productive communities of knowledge and learning  are co-generated between teacher and student, and student and peers. The beauty of this approach is to shift the focus on expertise from the context of learning to the content: acknowledging the students probably know more about the technology in use than we do is one thing, but incorporating them into the everyday running of the unit, as co-collaborators and facilitators as well as audience.

The issue then  becomes, not how to speak or transmit information to everyone at once, in a broadcast framework, but how to establish an online persona that makes the best and creative use of all the technologies and platforms availables to establish a presence and activity that is useful to all students, tutors, peers, institutions etc at all times.

This gave the idea of using the social network and the hangout feature of G+ to reach students enrolled but disinterested in tutorials, and reach those students in off campus mode who miss out on the ‘liveness’ of the tutorial interaction.

hanging out
Google’s social network might be less popular than alternatives like Facebook and Twitter, but the clutter-free interface makes G+ and the video-conferencing ‘Hangout’ feature an extremely easy to use.

The circles features gives a nuanced control over your social groups and their online iterations – making the groups of large numbers of students easy to sort and identify. At the start of each ‘live’ tutorial I broadcast an invitation to the tutorial that is only going out to students enrolled in the unit.

At the start of the tutorial I use the ‘circles’ social network feature of the G+ system to invite students enrolled in the unit to participate in the video conference ‘Hangout’ via a laptop.

Using the laptop I can face the webcam towards the whiteboard, especially when using the material on the web (does that make tutes online?) and during discussion small group work etc, I can swivel the laptop around to be another set of voices in the discussions and students can accompany me as I move to between individual, small group and class interactions.

The video feed switches automatically to the person talking, which prompts turn taking and can be automatically uploaded to YouTube to be reviewed later, although none of the tutorials this trimester were uploaded to YouTube, as we are still working out the public/private ethical and Deakin policy issues involved in this, but hopefully it will be practical to implement and embed in the DSO next year.

The trial with G+ during this trimester has been ‘successful’, frustrated only by the vagaries of the WiFi at the Burwood campus. As I have found experimenting with other platforms and practices, like Facebook, Twitter, Online Video, Podcasting, Social Bookmarking and Blogging (the list goes on), these early failures are typical and useful stepping stones towards a more reliable and informed use.

The philosophy of teaching here is one of expertise in content not context, which requires the student to become an expert themselves in the relevant digital literacies involved; calling on them to provide peer-based technical support, the active sharing of knowledge, making recommendation on use, guidelines, sharing information, combat cheating and plagiarism, and reviewing implementation that can be crucial to the use and improvement of the technology in supporting not an online or offline, but an ‘enlivened’ and connected student and teacher experience.

The trial was a ‘success’ through failure, mostly technical in nature. The big fail was the WiFi,  some days it would behave and other days it was simply absent, and most times only partly awake. The second big fail was structural, as the setting up of the G+ Hangout typically took up to 15 minutes,which is simply far too long for a 50 minutes tutorail. The real ‘win’ was with those students helping me to get the hangout service working, helped me troubleshoot and report on browser issues and audio/video connectivity- and next time I will foster this collaboration to a much higher degree.

Kirkwood, K. 2010, ‘The wisdom of the clouds Distributed learning, MOOCs, edupunks, and the challenge to formal education’, Proceedings of The Second International Workshop on Open source and Open Content WOSOC 2010, http://repository.gunadarma.ac.id/bitstream/123456789/2179/1/02-03-002-The_Wisdom%5BKeith%5D.pdf aviailable October 7, 2012.

Bruno Latour 1995 ‘Social theory and the study of computerized work sites’
in W. J. Orlinokowski, Geoff Walsham (editors) Information Technology and Changes in Organizational Work, Chapman and  Hall, London, pp.295-307
http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/61-COMPUTERS-GB.pdf

Le Rossignol, Karen 2011, Archipelago design : virtualopolis and the interactive virtual team scenario, in Experiential learning in virtual worlds, Inter-Disciplinary Press, Witney, England, pp.147-154.

ranty pants (part#2): the conversation

The ‘Faculty’ I call home has a deep sense of personality disorder, incorporating both the ‘Arts’ and ‘Creative Arts’ as well as ‘Education’. There are very few channels of communication between these mammoths, so it’s difficult to know exactly where and with whom I should be having the conversation, but there is a worrying similarity between the concerns with ‘higher’ education I outlined in the previous post, and the series of issues that are emerging during H’s first year (prep) of primary school.

It’s H’s second term and the symptoms are showing, we know the cause of the malady (funding tied to assessment and performance), but there are ancillary complications connected to continual assessment practices that are disturbing at a fundamentally pedagogical level. Her first homework, learning about ‘community’, is connected to a performative task in the classroom in which she is required to ‘present’ on a the topic. The presentation will be assessed for her capacity to maintain eye-contact, speak clearly and confidently, not fidget, and to recall her wrote-learned lines. It is a task designed to prepare her for a life of meeting targets, metricised indexed performances and strict behavioural control over her own body. Beyond the fact that most academics would have a hard time doing well on those assessment criteria, and would certainly never expect it our students, it’s the first glimpse of the future. Even if this is foundational work, its emphasis and focus is a disturbing sign of things to come.

It was a long hard decision to choose a school for H, and it really was a privilege to have so many options to choose from. The density of population means Melbourne’s state schools come in all shapes and sizes. We ended up choosing a nice little school with a diverse mix of students, after being sold by the Principal’s ability to remember student names and actual smiles on teachers faces (don’t underestimate these as real performance indicators). Any principal who came across as an administrator was clear warning bell.

Growing up as a child of a teacher, a principal, the physical buildings of schools revealed a double life to me, and seeing those empty corridors and classrooms, getting to know teachers as people over the dinner table, watching my sibling become a primary school teacher and seeing the work both my parents put into improving the standards, environments and communities of the schools they worked in, I know of the tremendous potential that is grated and ground against the centralisation, standardisation, assessment based learning, continuous assessment practices, and so on.

The school requires much of the parent, calling on them to be involved in fundraising, attending events, and being part of the ‘life’ of their child’s school but there is a disconnect, dividing what the child does at the school and what it is the school does for the child in their learning, and the relationship between the parent and the child’s learning. We are not involved in the curriculum, aside from a monitoring role, our physical labour is appreciated but our involvement in the curriculum is not.

I always new that school was not the place H would ‘learn’, I know she can acquire all the skills and abilities of a ‘good’ student, but it’s not an environment that supports the individual in becoming a critical, capable, independent and collaborative learner. Primary school, it seems, is the place to become socialised, to acquire the rules and behaviours of an appropriate citizen, but I didn’t realise how much more panoptic the primary experience has become since I, and my parents went to school. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the enforcement of Victorian cursive writing, H will be conditioned by hours of repetitive tasks to turn her p’s into a runic elvish script. Home schooling is very much an option that is still on the table (I love seeing the look on teachers faces when I say that).

Yes, there are ways to manipulate the system and some teachers are very good at this, but most teachers are kept occupied in the short term, concerned with scores and tests and assessments, they are too busy operating the system to have the conversation about the system. There is also a tremendous amount of ego involved in teaching, so much of the teacher’s identity is produced through their environments, their classrooms, and now their assessments. Having constant power and control over the bodies of small people has important consequences, and it’s a lot like being a prison guard. None of this is intended as disrespectful, teaching (and being a prison guard) is a very difficult job, made worse by the complicated conditions and expectations of their professional lives, which ends up absorbing a great deal of their personal lives, like a pitcher plant, and so there is very little room left for the conversation about what education and learning is, and what it could be.

I’ll admit to being a fan of Ken Robinson, not because he has the answers (he doesn’t) or because he is mildly funny, but because he asks the right questions, and points to an industrialised model of education developed during the industrial revolution’s response to the Enlightenment principles of universal education that simply fails to live up to the potential of the child’s capacity to be creative, to produce knowledge in collaboration and to learn. He’s having a conversation, but who with? Us.

It seems we are having a conversation, of sorts, about religion in schools, that has dragged me back to using Facebook, so I will finish up this rant with a summary next time.

a problem solved?

After my complaints earlier in the week about WordPress, I took a look around the app store for a better blogging tool and found Blogger+. So far so good, it let me add both wordpress and blogger blogs effortlessly. No bugs or issues and it also lets me save drafts and mange images nicely. It definitely helped my blogging this week. Would be nice if the app had YouTube, Flickr and Twitter integration, but I don’t understand why these aren’t integrated more directly into the iOs – although I haven’t downloaded the latest iOS version yet so I should go do that. Blogging from the tablet device is much more fun than from the desktop, it feels a lot less like work.

Marking machinima

The article Graham Barwell, Ruth Walker and I wrote for the Australian Journal of Australasian Journal of Educational Technology on our machinima experiment. I always enjoy writing with Graham and Ruth and using Google Docs and Skype to  collaboratively generate the peice, although we probably spent the most time trying to decide what to cut out to meet our world limit.

Graham and I have been putting the final touches on a book chapter for a collected edition titled Understanding Machinima: essays on filmmaking in virtual worlds, in which we focus on adapting and remediating the works of Chaucer and the availability of a machinima as a means for expressing an understanding of a text through a set of  digital literacies.

The data was assembled from focus groups, interviews with teaching and technical support staff to the trial (conducted by Ruth) , which was enabled by a teaching and learning grant from the University of Wollongong. During the pilot, I moved from Wollongong to Deakin University and using Skype and email we were able to get the pilot run. It took a lot of time to organise, but it was great to see the students make their own version of Chaucer’s Tale and get to communicate the analysis and the results of research.

educational integrity in the digital environment

Dr Ruth Walker and I are very pleased to announce the publication of our special issue of the International Journal for Educational Integrity.  This issue includes two invited papers, three refereed articles and six reviews of current works on the topic of ‘digital technology and educational integrity’.

A big thanks to all contributors, who have reforged the concept of educational integrity in the digital environment of teaching and learning in new ways, offering different positions from which to evaluate and consider the promises and risks of the use of new technologies.

Thanks also to  the senior editor of IJEI, Dr Tracey Bretag, for the opportunity to work together on this issue.

Enjoy reading, feel free to send feedback and pass on the URL:

http://www.ojs.unisa.edu.au/index.php/IJEI/issue/view/127