Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?

by Bryan Alexander (2006) (Online Version)

In this article Alexander aims to find out whether the practices and concepts that are connected with Web 2.0 are a new innovation and the impact they have on the Teaching and Learning environment, and indeed whether they are that far removed from Web 1.0.

He begins by looking at the concepts that emerge from discourses of Web 2.0. With social software, Alexander states that this idea of community and sharing of information dates back to the 1960’s, so new emergences such as blogs, wiki’s and MySpace, all of which can be edited and changed, are not a new innovation but rather a gradual change in practice and the way we are able to socialise via the world wide web.

Microcontent, a term used to describe the move away from a ‘book’ type structure of pages, to a range of smaller individual posts is, as Alexander suggests, is not a new concept either. Web 2.0 has moved the original microcontent of Banner Ads and Disscusion boards to another level by increasing the openess, encouraging collaboration and the 2-way flow of information, through RSS and hyperlinks. He suggests that it is this level of openess that is crucial to Web 2.0 and “remains a hallmark of this emergent movement”.

Lastly, looking at concepts, he focuses on folksonomy and the tagging and labelling of content, such as photographs and blog posts. A good example of the way folksonomies are used can be seen at Flickr. This method of tagging is a new feature of Web 2.0, taking it away from the structured and hierarchical nature of traditional catorgarization. By way of summary, the emerging practices are based on new ways of “making, sharing and consuming digital documents”.

He then begins looking at Projects and Practices. He focuses on del.icio.us, the original social bookmarking site. Users can tag the sites they find interesting and share them with others, and visitors can search for popular tags or users with similar interests. The development of subsequent social bookmarking sites have shown how one Web 2.0 project has the led to the development and improvement of other sites.

As he suggests, social bookmarking can be beneifical for education and learning. They enable students and teachers to collectivley store in one place. and access all the links relevant for research. It also encourages collaboration, by linking to others with similar interests, and also reveal patterns in research that may have been prevoiusly overlooked, through others tags and definitions.

The emergence of Wiki’s and other information that is collaborative, edited and shared, Alexander suggests, is a gradual transistion from traditional forms of information sharing such as email and disscusion boards. While most Wiki’s are accessible and editable by all, some have been developed that limits those able to change information through passwords and restrictions. In a similar way, collaborative writing networks such as Writeboard allows those specifically invited to become editors of certain pages. In terms of education, sites that allow collaboration of thought and writing encourage students to share their ideas with peers and gain feedback from others.

Alexander suggests that all the practices metioned are in their infancy and will continue to evolve and develop as new technology emerges, and new projects and services will appear alongside them.

Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youths Heart Myspace

by Danah Boyd (2006) (Link to Lecture given by Boyd)

In this summary of a lecture given by Danah Boyd, she talks about the way youth/teens are using MySpace to construct their identity and re-claim personal space in an adult controlled world.

She begins by talking in general about MySpace, its rise in popularity and she draws attention to it’s associated moral panics regarding online safety and ‘predators’. As she rightly states, throughout history adults have reacted to troubling youth cultures by the creation of so-called moral panics. She suggests in the case on online communites and MySpace “the beneifits for socialization outweigh the potential harm”. In regards to the format of MySpace, she suggests that that it is far from unique, yet its rise in popularity and overtaking of rivals such as Friendster is due in part the way in which it allows users to communicate in a way that suits youth trends, for example IM-ing and instant feedback/comments.

In regards to profiles, she relates them to ‘real world’ identity production. In an offline world the clothes we wear, for example, display to the world certain charateristics or identity traits. Youths looks to their peers, elders and the media for “cues on what to wear, how to act and what’s cool”. Feedback, she suggests, is required alongside identity experimentation in order to confirm and create their identity. As Boyd states, “the dynamics of identity production play out visibly on MySpace”. The profiles we create allow us to experiment and craft our identity, altering and changing parts when needed and the feedback and comments recieved from peers acts as a form of conformation or validation. She also comments that the role of adding and choosing ‘friends’ may have little to do with forming genuine social attacthments, but rather it acts as a status validation tool, teaching youth the fundementals of social status and social life in the ‘real world’.

In terms of the reasonings behind the popularity of digital publics, Boyd suggests that it is the “lack of mobility and access to youth space” that draws youths into online communities. In the offline world the availabilty of social spaces that are freely open to youths in interact within is limited, espicially through the control of adults. Digital technologies allow teens to create their own private space within a realtivley controlled environments. It allows groups, particularly socially marginalised groups, to interact and socialise. She concludes that teens need their youth space and are doinf what youths have always done, “repurposing new mediums in order to learn about social culture, and regardless of technology, youth will always try to experiment with their identity.

Prosthtic Memory: the ethic and politics of memory in an age of mass culture

by Alison Landsberg, found in “Memory and Popular Film (2003)

In this short extract taken from an essay examining the idea of prosthetic memory and the media, Landsberg discusses the Internet and ‘virtual communities’. In Landsberg’s opinion, the media can help to bring about positive political change and virtual communites give people the perfect opportunity to disscuss subjects, with a wide range of people. By experiencing the views of others we are able to experince a form of empathy that is key to the political alliances that Landberg cites.

Mirrors and Shadows: The Digital Aestheticisation of Oneself

by Jill Walker (Online Version)

In this essay Jill Walker looks at the digital camera and the online photographic self-portaits we use to represent ourselves online. As she states, her main foucs relvolves around the questioning of why digital technologies encourage us to portray ourselves instead of the world around us.

She begins by exploring the effect digital cameras had on her own photography habits. While previously she had taken images of the world around her, her digital camera encouraged her to capture her own image, suggesting that the ease with which it can now be achived is a defining factor. She refers to the cameras built into mobile phones and the accompaning concave mirror that facilitates self portraiture.

She goes on to disscuss the Mirror Project, a site that displays countless images of self portraits taken in shiny or reflective surfaces. The project co-ordinator, Heather Champ talks of the self protrait allowing it’s sucbject complete control over his/her self representation. This control is lost in any other style of photography. In her opinion, we are less likely to smile in a self-portrait and Walker raises the question that they encourages us to shed the ‘mask’ we wear in every-day life, providing a true, honest depiction of the self. She also suggests that the self portrait is a “genre of nessecity”, one which encourages us to document our lives, taking photos of ourselves when others are not available to do so.

She continues by looking at the choices we make when representing ourselves online. For instance, simple decisions such as using our real name or creating a ficticious name, and therefore, false identity. In a similar way, we can choose to use an actual photograph of ourselves or a stylised, cartoon avatar to represent us in a visual chat room or blog. While the choices could be made simply to protect our identity, Walker sees avartars as a way of putting forword an ideal of ourselves that amatuer photography cannot catch. Walker states ” we’re not simply interested in presenting an image, we’re creating versions of ourselves”. Taking the idea of film theory and “the gaze” it is suggested that to be photographed is to be objectified, therefore to photograph allows the us to define the world. Self portraiture challenges this idea as you are both the photographer and subject, being viewed and objectified by yourself.

She looks at the traditions of portraiture throughout history and states that they have never been an accurate portrayl of the subjects and were never intended as such. Looking at the work of Cindy Sherman who uses her own self-portraits in her work she paraphrases Sherman by saying that they are not self-portraits, but rather they are acting or pure performance. Looking at current online self-portraiture, she comments on projects where the artist has chosen to photograph individual body parts, representing the whole in seperate parts. She states that “part of the fascination of photographing yourself is the surprising representations of yourself”. The digital representation allows us to see ourself as we have never been able to previously

Web 3.0: When Websites become Web Services

by Alex Iskold(Online Version)

In this blog entry Iskold talks about the progression of the web pages to “web services”, the so-called Web 3.0 phase. He suggests that the current mass of unstructed information available will, in time, become structured again via API’s and mashups. Looking at Amazon and del.ici.ous as examples he talks about how these 2 organisations are adapting.

From album to Flickr.com: re-situating the domestic
photographic archive

By Katrina Sluis (conference paper presented at “Sighting the Document: the building of the archive”, Queen Mary, University of London)

In this paper Sluis focuses on how online photo sharing sites such as Flickr has changed the domestic photographic archive and album into an online image database, easily shared through a network.

She begins by talking about the non-digital photograph and photographer. Citing Bourdieu (1965) she talks of how photography is typically constrained to capturing images of family life and festivities and with analogue cameras in particular, each photo “must contain meaning” due to the limited number of exposures and expense of processing. Looking at the work of Jo Spence, she comments on the ritual behind assembling and editing photograph albums and they way they encourage us both the remember and forget. These albums cannot easily be copied and hold sentimental value and are therefore protected and treasured.

As Sluis says “…the digital image liberates us from the preciousness of film…” and now every moment is a potential photo opportunities and, as she states, it is estimated that there are 29 billion digital images captured each year. While these new images are easily copied and circulated, similarly to the photo album, we are concerned with hard disk failure and the loss of our memories. With such large collections of digital images we must learn to organise and curate our images which is where the online photo sharing sites come into being. These sites encourage us to upload and share our images with other users and make use of tagging facilites making them easily searchable for both the owner and the online audience.

Looking at Flickr as an example, she talks of how the interface and tagging and notation utilities are reminiscant of the traditional album, allowing us to preserve our memories. However, unlike the traditional album, these images and tags are easily edited and deleted. Taking the ideas of Lev Manovich, the idea of any structured database is undermined by the hyperlink and searches that bring people across photos in a random sequence. Such discoveries are subject to the privacy settings imposed by the owner, but as she states, 82% of images are publicly accessible to all.

She goes on to discuss the tensions that arise from making the personal public. While the photo album is a private object, owned and visble to the family, private images uploaded to the digital album are viewable to an anonymous public and the user is constantly reminded of how many views their image has had. For some, this might encourage a shift away from preserving and presenting memories, and instead to presenting images of interest of artistic ability.

In conclusion, the shift away from the traditional album with it’s strict codes of collecting, arranging and commenting, frees images, releasing them into the online network where enforced context is lost.  While we maintain the desire to preserve our memories for our own personal consumption, we are also giving our images a life of their own and as Sluis comments we are “perhaps granting ourselves a small possibility of immortality”.

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