In October I told you about a course at the University of Edinburgh on “E-learning and Digital Cultures”. The course required students to create Lifestreams using WordPress for the duration of the 12 week course. Well the course has come to an end and along with it the students were asked to write a 500 word summary on their experience having created Lifestreams. In the spirit of their course, these summary’s have been posted online.
I decided to read through many of them to see what the experience meant to them. I found their discoveries extremely interesting and worthy of sharing. Many students expressed how Lifestreaming can be a great tool for learning and engagement both between the students as well as the faculty.
Below are excerpts from some of them and I’ve linked the student’s name to the full post to read on further which I highly recommend as the students really provide some amazing insights on many different levels to what they’ve learned from it. You can find the home page for the course here.
I see it [the Lifestream] more as a representation of who I was supposed to be for the needs of this course; and if it weren’t for the inclusion of blog posts and comments, my lifestream would be haunted by a number of voiceless digital re-embodiments of myself that keep feeding it events like bots or automatons. On the positive side, however, this is an image of me as producer and information disseminator, not as a passive spectator in a classroom or a member of the “sit and watch” culture. In this respect the lifestream was a powerful motivator for participation, exploration and sharing.
…as a metaphor, the concept of the lifestream has one major drawback, the fact that it triggers images or horizontal movement. A retrospective look at my feeds, made me think more of digging for knowledge than of flowing towards it. The major themes of the course (digital utopias and dystopias, virtual communities and cyborg and uncanny pedagogies) keep recurring (as also evidenced by the tag cloud) but every week they are probed even deeper as interconnections are made and concepts are examined. In this respect, the lifestream offers proof of actual learning and therefore is invaluable.
I enjoyed the sense of ‘the pieces falling together’ when you viewed the lifestream page: conversations, blogs, feeds, pictures and videos all sloshing around in a great big soup of links. In a very simple and powerful way…
What initially looks like a car-crash of data, upon slightlly closer examination shows patterns of thoughts and concern, avenues of investigations, fruitless rummages down dead-ends of online madness and overall the seemingly random, manic linking between one subject area and another – the connections between disparate writers, disciplines and mediums all merging back in to one big story.
I’ve immensely, immensely enjoyed this 12 weeks and find myself sad to start winding it all up. And wondering how I can ever go back to a ‘mainstream’ learning model again.
In my second week summary, I had blogged that I was still grappling with what the stream could technically capture and that I felt that it could not capture my process when I was reading course material. However, reviewing my lifestream, I feel it gives a good account of my engagement with the course. At the time it seemed a bit chaotic but reviewing it I can see a logical account.
…while the lifestream aggregates the disparate information we collect as we traverse the digital world, it is our minds that make sense of it: The ‘machine’ provides no interpretation or sensemaking of the material it aggregates. Our human mind makes the connections and provides the context for why this information was noted in the first place.
Potentially lifestreaming can be a remote and isolated experience, possibly more so than a VLE-type discussion board.
However I never felt this way. The Web-site provided a hub of information from which were radiating the activities and ideas of the tutors and the course participants. The fact that all peer learners’ Lifestreams were accessible removed the sense of isolation – reading their ponderings on course readings or their progress (or lack of it) in projects was always comforting.
This has been an exciting learning experience and to some extent the highlight of my study on the MSc course if only to get a feel for what online community learning may look like in 10 years time. Although initially this format was well beyond my own comfort zone for learning from a pedagogic point of view the ‘experiment’ has worked very well and I hope that it will receive the credit it deserves. Although it is still rough around the edges I think a large proportion of the IT and pedagogic infrastructure is now in place to move forward. In my view some aspects could be enhanced for example by putting more emphasis on peer feedback on Lifestream activities, possibly in a more formal manner by aggregating EDC community comments within one’s Lifestream. This diverse cohort had a lot to give in regards to community sharing and this asset remained untapped to some extent.
The lifestream might be viewed as an unmediated record of participation (as reader, writer, bookmarker, commenter, creator of multimodal texts) over a particular period of time. However, I’m always suspicious of the word ‘unmediated’ and however artless a lifestream may seem in its streaming of data, it too is a construction. I allow interactions from some sites to be made visible but not others.
Rebecca Black, writing of identity performance in the context of young people’s fan sites writes of the importance of being recognised as a particular ‘kind of person’ within a particular social context (2008). I think this is what we do online all the time: project a preferred identity through a performance that involves selective omissions and inclusions. I’m tempted to go back to a now old essay by Paul de Man called ‘Autobiography as de-facement’ (1979) I first came across when doing a PhD on French autobiography. In stablising identity through textual (also visual?) representation we simultaneously create a ‘face’ (or, indeed, a Facebook profile) but also ‘de-face’ by creating a false front. Self-representation “deprives and disfigures to the precise extent that it restores” (de Man 1979: 930)
In conclusion, the lifestream appears to be an ideal way of presenting a collection of digital research and goes beyond what is offered through a single tool. I like the way the objects and artefacts collected are displayed in full and it’s not always necessary to leave the lifestream in order to get the point about why something was added. I can see this being a useful tool for groups of learners to present their collective research on a topic. For instance, if a group had to create a wiki on a particular theme and show in some way their collected research, a group lifestream (groupstream?) would be ideal as sources can be added as an ongoing process, providing evidence of the work a group of students have been doing as they progress through a project.
As each of the weeks went by and we began to explore different topics I found the lifestream an invaluable space to store all useful links and information I found over the web which I wanted to share with my colleagues, or take a look at myself at a later date. Adding metadata to the links was also a productive task as I could review each bit of information quickly and effectively to see what it contained.
My lifestream certainly became more purposeful to me as the weeks progressed. I became more focused in what I was feeding into it. The real clarity came for me in week ten, with Sian Bayne’s core reading, “Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies”. I embrace the concept of having a physical presence, and the notion of leaving a virtual footprint. I felt that Sian’s comment, “In more visual environments, our avatars-represent a re-embodiment within the terms of the digital, we scatter our bodies across the web where they gain a kind of independence as nodes for commentary, connection and appropriation by others into new networks and new configurations” summed up the reasoning behind our lifestreaming perfectly. I hope that I will continue to maintain my lifestream after this course as I can now certainly identify with its educational benefits.
Here I began to see the emergence of a more useful position on lifestreaming: as a record of engagement. Much of the internet is ephemeral – I don’t see the point in saving your tweets and Gordon Bell’s decision to digitally archive every detail of his life disturbs me. Yet the experience of creating a lifestream helped me understand how maintaining a selective record of your engagement is a very valuable academic or developmental act that has a performative value.
The lifestream is a response to this enigma of absence/presence. We become present through our streams. This is why I noted that the act of selecting gained for me a performative value. It represented my engagement. Initially I was concerned with populating my lifestream in order to prove I existed (and was doing valuable work), but as I grew more comfortable with it I allowed it to give voice to my absence. When mystified by Haraway (2000) I avoided the stream for a few days as a way of expressing my confusion and need to retreat and resolve myself as a learner. Similarly, I allowed myself to be playful – to add threads of whimsy