I am writing this some time after the colloquium with Time Klapdor – Online Learning Technology Leader, Charles Sturt University.
He spoke about several aspects of the online world but what I found of particular interest was the concept of control. I wonder how many of us think about control when we post online? I must admit that I rarely do unless a teacher or parent starts questioning who owns the information that is being stored in Google’s cloud when using Google Apps for Education. The standard answer is that we own it – but do we really? Regardless of the answer to this question, of more concern may be “who is in control?” Tim began our session by suggesting that we are NOT in control. It is hard to find a person in my circles who does not have a presence on Facebook. What I post there is not important apart from photos that may be put there for safekeeping whilst travelling. The question begs – WHY does Facebook let us use the service and upload so much data for free? Do we ever really consider what the product actually is? It is, in fact, US. Facebook uses what they find out about us to sell to us. We need to go to quite a bit of trouble to stay in control of that (and many people probably don’t bother). And this happens everywhere we are online.
It is the algorithms working behind the scenes that decide what we see, for example, when we conduct a Google search. Once upon a time we could ask students to search using a particular keyword and then ask them to go to the third result – now that would be different for individual students because of the algorithms working to ensure the results produced ‘match’ the person. Another example of this is when I was searching for accommodation for a recent European holiday. I had selected and finally booked a few upmarket hotels and searched TripAdvisor for more reviews. Then, I found it almost impossible to search for cheaper accommodation because the algorithms had decided that I only wanted to see expensive hotels. I needed to go ‘incognito’ to find what I was after. I was NOT in control.
One of the points Tim was making was the fact that these online business who control our data present us in a certain way because we are not in control. If we were to have our own domain, this would not be the case. We would be in control of our data.
A major aspect of our online world is the preservation of what exists there – we cannot be guaranteed of our data preservation. Typically, our LMS in educational institutions are “emptied” when we are no longer enrolled. Of what value, then, is our online data if it can be so disposable? As Tim mentioned, what would happen if Facebook worked like our uni LMS, Blackboard?
Every 15 weeks Facebook would delete all your photos and status updates and unfriend all your friends!
This reminded me of an earlier subject – INF530: Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age – where we discussed this issue and I learned of the International Internet Preservation Consortium that works to archive some of what’s on the web for the benefit of future generations. What to archive is simply an educated guess in many instances but it is heartening to know that knowledge and information online is being preserved and made accessible for us now and into the future. Without this we would have a significant gap in our knowledge and social history.
This is a real issue for teachers working with GAFE – they must share all of their work with a personal account prior to leaving employment because their account is closed when they leave. Imagine all of the data collected over just a small period of time in a teacher’s life. This has implications not just for the teacher but for the employer as well. This is why it is important for institutions like schools to have structures and processes in place to ensure content is not lost. It is difficult for many teachers to understand that the content they create in the course of their work does actually belong to the employer and should be stored and available after a teacher has ceased employment.
Tim discussed a way of dealing with the various issues of ownership, control and preservation – create alternatives to the use of other people’s containers for storing our content. Individuals can use a variety of tools available to move away from dependence on others’ networks. Node ware combines software and hardware that allows you to host and manage your own network.
The internet internet relies on connections so personally owned, negotiated connections will lead to more distributed, cooperative, autonomous networks outside of existing systems that leave us in a position of little , if any, control.