Thesis Defence. Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age

Thesis defence by Antonella Esposito entlitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. December 22, 2014.

Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age: Exploring the affordances of emerging Learning Ecologies of PhD Researchers

PhD e-Researchers: individuals using social media to carry out activities such as preliminary exploring new topics, searching for updates research materials, disseminating early findings, experiencing networking in digital spaces, improving their own personal development, etc.

Background: web 2.0 and social media. Architectures of participation and user-generated-content, such as Wikipedia, and the opportunity for creating one’s own profile and constructing online networks, such as Facebook/Twitter and Academia.edu/Research Gate. There are also changes in research practices enabled by technologies, producing new facets and models of knowledge production and distribution, personal and emergent in the individual-led scholarly uses of social media. New PhD students rather consider themselves PhD researchers: are engaged in creative mixes of education, new methods to approximate research, create personal ecologies of learning, etc.

Digital scholars + digital natives + digital literacies.

Focus of the research is on self-organized activities undertaking in the digital environments by PhD students. The socio-cultural entanglements of PhD students using the digital tools in situated context and temporary phases. Goals:

  • Gain further underrating on student’s experience of e-learning in higher education.
  • Gain insights on emergent scholarly practices undertaking in the open Web by newer researchers.

Questions:

  • To what extent do the PhD students learn to become researchers using digital tools?
  • How can the trajectories carried out by PhD researchers be conceptualized?
  • What can the qualitative findings tell us about the chronotopes activated in PhD researchers’ practices and ecologies?
  • What are the tensions between institutional/old practices and new ones?

Methodology: questionnaires with data on tools adopted, actual digital practices and expectations; individual interviews; focus groups.

Data analysis: grounded theory logic of the ‘constant comparative method’. From an initial coding more ‘data-oriented’ toward a more ‘concept-oriented’ coding leading to identification of categories.

Findings:>/p>

A repertoire of social media uses for research purposes. Mostly general purpose tools and common tools, in addition to tools specically supporting scholarly tasks (institutional digital libraries, Google Scholar, etc.). Social media uses to both support and expand practices. The open web is seen as a ‘network amplifiers’ rather than enabling building network from scratch. Have some struggle in creating ‘critical mass’ of followers and some question the practical value of having a large network of contacts.

A framework to conceptualize the trajectories of PhD researcher. In digital engagement we do not find clear typologies. It is more about ‘creeping along’, about moving slowly and carefully in the digital: taming the tools, going digital, learning the digital, making sense of the open web. We find, though, polarization of attitudes that range from total technooptimism to almost non-usage.

The chronotypes in digital engagement. The PhD e-researchers’ experiences in the digital can be easily aligned to the ‘road chronotope’ (as in the road movies), where they keep on embracing opportunities that come along. Relevance of the encounters can determine adoption. Forms of resilience: staying afloat, pursuing convenience, embedding the digital, playing as a bricoleur.

The tensions: two generations. Irrelevance vs. relevance for research; pros and cons for the PhD researchers; tensions for digital learners and digital scholars.

The digital engagement is understood as the core process where the trajectories in the digital emerge, in en ecological interplay of multiple dimensions and shifting states of experience.

Discussion

In most places, PhD students are perceived as such, as students, and not as researchers. Thus, even if students are aware of the potentials of social media for research, they are reluctant to challenge the hierarchies of academia. On the other hand, when students are part of a research group and/or team, this can also act as an inhibitor to develop a (personal/individual) activity on social media related with their research.

In general, there is a major lack of awareness in academia, and even lack of knowledge and understanding on what is going on in social networks and its potential for learning and for doing research.

PS: congratulations, doctor Esposito!

The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation

Notes from the The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation seminar, organized by the Fundació CatDem, in Barcelona, Spain, on December 12th, 2014.

Ismael Peña-López
Social networking sites and democracy: rethinking participation.

Ricard Espelt
The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation

We’ve talked too much about citizen participation… we’ve been talking too much about it despite the fact that we are still doing too little.

The more global thing always has a very local background. Most big civic actions begin with small, local initiatives.

Representative democracy is old, and has aged badly. Public representatives are seen not only as unable to solve problems, but even to identify them. Will participation turn old representative democracy into a young participative democracy? The problem is that we use a loudspeaker to talk to people and let them decide… on a previously set of options. Participation is not about letting people give their opinions on what is already decide, but about deciding what has to be decided.

Then comes commitment. In participation, is there a commitment to take action? to transform things? Or is it just faking decision-making but, all in all, not deciding anything?

Participation should also raise awareness… on the limits of participation itself: what can be decided and what not, what are the costs of any option/decision, etc. It is crucial that people understands how did we get here, what is the logic and the process and means by which a final decision was made. The solution may be agreed by everyone or not, but the process should.

Participation, and even agreement or decision-making is not about turning diversity into a homogeneous mass. It’s about finding common goals within disagreement. Same with how to lead and how to facilitate a process. Who is an influencer, who is a local leader? Unless one does not know and engage these leaders and influencers, civic action is bound to failure.

Participation has to be inclusive. We should care that everyone participates, that everyone is engaged with both the topic and the process. This engagement many times by setting up places where people can meet each other, interact, do things together… not necessarily related with participation or decision-making, just creating bounds.

Defining clear goals and places for deliberation should be a top priority once a community and problem have been identified. Then, it necessarily comes making participation a collective action. And a collective that is connected. Collective: many people; connective: the collective connected.

If possible, participation should be disruptive, innovative: it is engaging and, most of the times, efficient in optimizing the resources at reach.

The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation (2014)

Lali Sandiumenge. The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation

Notes from the The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation seminar, organized by the Fundació CatDem, in Barcelona, Spain, on December 12th, 2014.

Lali Sandiumenge.
The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation

Asmaa Mahfouz calls on January 18, 2011, all Egyptians to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25.

Rima DAli protests before the Syrian Parliament on April 2012:

Women had always been active on networks and offline politics, but the events of the Arab Spring boosted it to higher grounds.

Digital activism in the Arab world begins with forums, then blogs and, at last, social networking sites. First activists in the Arab world come with a technological background. They come from both secular and religious organizations. Blogging or activism in social networking site always comes from offline activism. The blogosphere helped in levelling the ground of activism in gender terms: in the blogosphere there is no difference between male and female bloggers. Blogs were used to capture media attention and, from there, to enter politics and the political agenda.

Kolena Layla — we all are Layla — was a campaign that was issued in 2006 to raise awareness on women rights inequality.

Arab techies was a group that worked as a regional network and that first met offline in 2008. The goal of Arab techies was to foster the use of technology, especially for activism and awareness raising on human rights. Arab techies also fought censorship, which was tight especially in what concerns the use of the Internet.

HarassMap is an initiative born in 2010 to raise awareness and report on sexual harassment. Similarly, OpAntiSH (operation anti-sexual harassment) created in December 2012.

At the end of 2007, social networking sites — namely Facebook and Twitter — begin to gain momentum for (online) activism as their usage expands among the population.

Despite the rapid growth, at the outbreak of the Arab Spring in early 2011 both Facebook and Twitter still had very low adoption levels, and with important gender imbalances.

[Lali describes here more than a dozen most interesting initiatives led by women in the Arab World to fight for their rights and with a special use of ICTs and social networking sites.]

Discussion

Q: These examples are very active, but are they majority or minority? Do they have a major/broad impact? Lali Sandiumenge: there especially is a qualitative impact in the sense that the Internet enables a much much more plural set of voices that now can have their voices heard. And not only heard, but very difficult to stop, both internally and externally. On the other hand, it is not only about diffusion and awareness raising, but organization: activists not any more need to remain clandestine, as they can meet online without worrying for their physical security. This has a secondary effect on disclosure of who is an activist and where: the Internet enables knowing who is fighting in what field.

Àngel Colom: Internet, in several parts of the Arab world, is acknowledge to have contributed that people could became full citizens. In some places maybe it won’t bring the revolution, but certainly deep democratic reforms.

The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation (2014)

Javier Toret. #OccupyHongKong: Network Movements arrive in Asia

Notes from the #OccupyHongKong: Network Movements arrive in Asia research seminar, organized by the Networks, Movements & Technopolitics research group programme of the IN3, in Barcelona, Spain, on November 24th, 2014.

Javier Toret
#OccupyHongKong: Network Movements arrive in Asia

The global financial crisis of 1997 can arguably be seen as one of the main precedents of Occupy Hong Kong. This added to the several attempts of China to regain hegemony in Hong Kong — like the 2003 Education Law — explain a good bunch of how citizens begin to organize themselves, most especially when they begin to mirror the Sunflower movement in Taiwan, with which they share many philosophical principles.

OccupyCentral with peace and love is a movement that aims at achieving universal suffrage for the citizens in Hong Kong and against what they criticise as Chinese imperialism.

The civil referendum of OccupyCentral with peace and love will be participated by 787,767 citizens, roughly the 20% of the population in Hong Kong. Certainly a milestone, but still a minority in Hongkongese terms. The response from the Chinese government is applying even more restrictions, thus heating the public agenda.

Scholarism, to fight back, proposes a one week strike against the new law and the occupation, during September 26 and 27 of a square and government building. This is an offensive that caught by surprise both the Government and OccupyCentral, which aimed at occupying the financial district much later — the students, instead, argue that action should not wait. On September 28th, the students take the central streets with their umbrellas as a political sign. On September 28th the resistance on the streets is already massive.

The protesters organize themselves as a network, with different actors, with public figures as visible faces but with many anonymous citizens working hard on the “back office”. This network experienced or continued with prior technopolitical actions, and in other cases induced innovation in this kind of practices. In general, there was a major appropriation of the commercial technologies at hand: Facebook, Telegram, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Nevertheless, Twitter is not used a lot, especially in comparison to other movements such as the Spanish 15M. Instead, Facebook and online forums are much more mainstream. And, as in other movements, there is a blending of physical and virtual spaces, and of local and international spheres.

Knowing this, China redoubled its attacks on the cybersphere, putting down websites, forbidding online services, etc.

One of the main novelties is the usage of Firechat, an applications that enables local networks based on Bluetooth connectivity to create a mesh network. This made possible communications among protesters even when there was no Internet connectivity available. Notwithstanding, and despite a huge amount of downloads, its lack of privacy and protection against malware caused that is was not used by everyone or all the time.

Code4HK acted as a general aggregator, centralizing news, information, resources, lists of people or groups or tools/technology, etc, etc, etc. A huge repository that helped people to replicate DIY citizen actions.

Stand By You was a tool to connect the local with the remote, the physical and the virtual, by enabling sending messages of support and project them upon the façades of buildings.

As in other movements, there is a clear overlapping of “layers”: the physical one, the technical one, the emotional one, etc.

It seems that the OccupyHongKong movement is doing similar things as other movements (Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, etc.) but the movement does not see itself as connected to those other movements. In fact, this is partly a wanted decision, so to avoid criticism from China or even Honk Kong of the movement being fostered by the US or other foreign powers.

It’s a pro-democracy movement and universal suffrage is its main and specific demand.

Now OccupyCentral with Peace and Love has been participated by (traditional) political parties and university faculty, which has contributed to coordinate different actors, to establish bridges between institutions.

The active and pervasive presence of the digital media/press has undoubtedly contributed in better monitoring and describing the movement, much more than in other similar movements, and also to contribute that mainstream traditional media better understand what is going on the streets. The fact that there are public, recognizable spokesman of the movement has also contributed to a collective explaining and understanding of the movement.

The protests have a clear generational cut: most of the protesters teenagers and youngsters in general (college and higher education students). There’s faculty too, and some other actors, but it is mainly a student movement.

Thesis Defence. Xavier Mas: the integration of the uses of digital technology in adult learning

Thesis defence by Xavier Mas entitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat de Barcelona. November 24, 2014.

Xavier Mas: The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university

Having the word, in the digital age is having the technology. Technology is part of literacy.

Goals:

  • Improve the knowledge on the relationship between the use of technology and everyday life, especially learning.
  • Patterns in the use of digital technologies for learning.
  • New questions in the field.

The theoretical framework comes both from the “pre-Net” learning theories to renew education (Freire, Freinet, Vygotsky, Illich) and “Net-aware” theories based on constructivism and connectivism, the flipped classroom, augmented learning, the PLE, etc.

Digital competence goes way beyond a simple matter of literacy, but it does embed other skills that belong to superior stages.

Methodology: two independent research paths, qualitative and quantitative. Guided open interviews with experts + survey to students (2010).

Results

Experts from the interview:

  • Preponderance of the professional sphere in their digital universe.
  • Relevance of the social dimension in managing knowledge (connectivism)
  • Strong relationship between digital universe and digital competence.
  • Awareness of being building a PLE.
  • Awareness of a sense of being on a PLN.
  • Quest for ubiquity.

Results from survey

  • Two different clusters among the respondants.
  • Universal: basic uses such as search for information, accessing digital content, use of social networking sites, etc.
  • Minority use: complex uses such as publish on a blog, online gaming, mobile devices, etc.

Complex uses are normally accompanied with more participation online and a more creative participation.

Utility of uses of digital technology for learning:

  • Access to information: browsable, multimedia and shareable.
  • Social and collaborative component: communication, sharing, collaboration.
  • Ubiquity: mobility, in the cloud. And not ubiquity as being connected anywhere, but a transformation of the dimensions of time and space.

Socio-demografic factors are not determinants on the differences found in the surveys. I.e. just some slight biases related to age, but very very small. The only slightly more relevant difference is when students come from IT engineering.

Conclusions

  • What defienes advanced digital competence and the main learning metatrends are present in the personal behaviour of the participants, but not in a generalized way and, especially, not guaranteed.
  • The perception of the value of technology for learning is acknowledged, especially in the spheres of the social component and ubiquity.
  • Need to identify the profiles in the use of technology and the factors that determine it.
  • Need to deepen the penetration of the learning metatrends of informalization that empower the student, and of dis-location in the situations and contexts of informal learning.

Discussion

There are many contributions made by some pre-Net authors (Freinet, Freire, Illich) that resonate a lot with what is happening today with education and ICTs, especially social networking sites. Some theoretical proposals by these authors can today be put into practice thanks to ICTs in education.

It is interesting to stress the fact that many practices that happen inside traditional online LMS are not exactly the same practices that students will perform outside of the LMS, in their daily lives. Thus, we have to be cautious in saying that practices happening within the LMS can be compared with what happens outside. Most likely, they will not be comparable. Most LMS digital practices are so much driven, happen so much inside a walled garden that they are all but “natural”, not spontaneous at all.

The concept of life-width learning — in addition to life-long learning — was introduced to stress the notion that what happens in the Net, all the digital practices affect not only a specific activity — i.e. learning — but the whole of one’s life. And this is a crucial statement, especially when we consider the increasing shift from formal education to informal learning.

We are witnessing an epistemological change where knowledge will never more be a static thing, but a dynamic one. Thus why connectivism — with its critiques — is a most valuable metaphor and/or theory. The pattern of lineal learning applies no more: now knowledge and learning is not linear, but liquid.

Many of the approaches based on “generations” (generation X, Y or whatever) may not be really accurate. Maybe it is not a matter of being a generation or another one, but being on a given stage of the life-cycle, which pushes people to certain users depending on their needs — and not as much as depending on their birth date.

PS: congratulations, doctor Mas!

Tecnopolítica14 (IV). Miguel Arana & Francesca Bria: experiments in digital democracy

Notes from the Network democracy and technopolitics. Transformations of the electoral space and new prototypes post-15M, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3, X.net and FCForum, in Barcelona, Spain, on November 4th, 2014. More notes on this event: tecnopolitica14.

Miguel Arana (Laboratorio Democrático y grupo de participación de Podemos)
From Acampada Sol to Podemos. Experiments of digital democracy in Podemos.

Labodemo adapted Loomio, a collaborative decision-making tool. It enables people that do not like to speak out, to participate in assemblies and other collaborative spaces, while it allows to know what is happening in a group, during a discussion, etc.

Another tool that was put up during the 15M: Propongo. But it did not work as it was expected. To solve the lack or participation, they put up a channel on Reddit, a little more chaotic, but more flexible and, thus, more successful. With these tools, the concept that verticality is more effective than horizontality has been quite challenged. One of the problem, though, is that novelties catch more the attention than older threads. To have a less chaotic environment, when a thread is tagged as ‘proposal’, it is taken onto another platform so that they can be discussed more calmly and thoroughly.

It is crucial that no space dominates over other spaces. That is why participation is called to transpose what is spoken at a given platform (including face-to-face assemblies) onto other platforms or spaces.

So far, openness and flexibility has worked well and there is no trolling or abuse of power. It is unknown whether in the future managing the platforms will become more complex, but so far participation has been smooth and respectful.

To try and gather up what was being discussed in the several threads and in order to prepare for the Podemos General Assembly, a “wikisynthesis” was put up (by using a wiki tool). But people participated much much less, maybe due to the different and more complex environment.

During the General Assembly, Appgree was used to support a more traditional event based on presentations and questions to the presenters. Appgree helped in sorting the questions and assessing their popularity or relevance.

Next challenge: that the proposals that people put up on the web (through Agora Voting, another tool) are selected in a binding voting, so that decisions made afterwards take into account these open processes.

Francesca Bria (D-CENT)
urban and digital infrastructures for a constituent phase. A look upon Europe

What kind of infrastructure do we need for a constituent phase?

The identity and democratic infrastructures of today’s digital society must be managed as a common good.

The Internet of Things, the industrialization of the Internet,s is the convergence of the communication Internet, the energy Internet, the logistic Internet, transport networks, data-intensive welfare (health, education, housing, work) and the money and payment system.

Surveillance is the new business model:

  • A huge market of data and new information intermediaries as powerful monopolists.
  • Algorithmic governance.
  • Austerity on steroids.

Is there still room for democracy? Will there be an app for that?

The smart city is the city as a black-box, the logic of financialisation, the ruling of cities as banks. Instead, we need the democratic city, the right to the city and to public spaces. The city should not be a mega-market, a bunch of assets. The city today is what factories used to be for the industrial times.

We are giving away all the critical infrastructures of our common spaces, of our cities.

Alternatives?

  • Build a federated, open, privacy-aware modular infrastructure for democracy.
  • Politics of data (data ownership, data portability, crypto tools) is key.
  • From the Smart City to the Democratic City.

Key issues:

  • Citizen ownership of data and identity.
  • Security and privacy by design.
  • Federation, open source, open standards.
  • Inclusiveness, accessibility, collective governance.
  • Exploit the network effct through mass user adoption.

And most of these are not technological issues, but political ones.

Network democracy and technopolitics (2014)