The Internet is, without a doubt, the most universally important technological invention of my lifetime. This transformative medium, the result of a convergence of developments in digital, communication, and mobile technologies, has allowed for the creation of an online, networked society where we can learn, work, create, play and socially mingle (Brown, 2000, p. 12). For more than two years now, as part of this Master of Education program, I have been immerged in and occupied with studies focussing on aspects of our interaction with this environment. Through my studies my understanding of how knowledge is created and exchanged in online networked environments, and how these different knowledge interactions transform learning, has radically changed and caused conceptual shifts in my online behaviour and relationships – but exactly how and why?
Here is what I did… Early in my studies I created a map of my engagement with online technology, according to White and Le Cornu’s (2011) Visitors and Residents Typology for Online Engagement,
For this assignment I created a second map, this time created at the end of my studies.
The hoped for is a better understanding of how I have developed as a connected learner, knowledge creator and educator. Understanding “how” and “why” I engage with digital resources, tools and spaces will better inform decisions about my online social presence and time spent online. It will also allow me to model exemplary behaviour to my students and colleagues and assist them in being aware of and developing good practice and habits.
All this led me to the question: “How (and why) has my online behaviour changed during my master’s studies?”.
Autoethnography, is a self-focused, intentional and systematic ethnographic approach to collecting, analysing and interpreting data about how the self is influenced and shaped in a specific socio-cultural context (Ngunjiri, Hernandez, & Chang, 2010, p. 2). This approach proved an ideal fit for the purposes of this study, where I needed to collect, analyse and interpret data about how my behaviour is influenced and shaped in the online world. To compensate for the fact that autoethnography concentrates on a single participant, it is essential to include metrics that provide multiple perspectives on the cultural phenomenon being studied and therefor an analytical autoethnographical approach was followed, where data was gathered through self-observation and self-reflection (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011, p. 128; Chang, 2008, p. 115). For self-observation purposes, detailed factual data about online actions and transactions, and related thoughts and emotions, were gathered and recorded systematically in spreadsheet format in a daily log for a designated period of one week. For self-reflection purposes, a “field-journal” was kept in the form of daily blog entries. For four weeks, reflections on my online engagement, this research study, and how it all related to knowledge networking theories, were recorded in these blog posts.
In autoethnographical research, data analysis and interpretation are interwoven processes in which the researcher “zooms in” (analysis) and “zooms out” (interpretation) of the collected data. Analysis allows attention to details, while interpretation allows a holistic view of the data and cultural context under study (p. 162-164). Interpreting the data in terms of the modes of engagement developed by White and De Cornu (2017) allowed me to create a mapping of my current online engagement , as shown in figure 2 above.
The final step in this study was to determine what a comparison of the two mappings would reveal about changes in my online behaviour. Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011) suggest a narrative as one way of organising and presenting data interpretation, reasoning that a narrative can help the (auto)ethnographer and reader to understand the experiences of both the participant and the cultural phenomena being studied (p. 553). Ellis, Adams, & Bochner (2011) argues that autoethnography is both method and product, validating the fact that the final product of the research process is an autoethnography – a written interpretation of the findings, in which I could relate my online modes of engagement to aspects of the theories I had studied (p. 273).
Did analysis of the data inform my answers, and does the conclusions allow me to answer my inquiry questions?
- What does a current mapping of my online behaviour look like in terms of the V&R framework? The new V&R map shows clear resident behaviour in both personal and institutional quadrants, with only a few applications in the visitors end of the continuum.
- How does a map of my online behaviour at the culmination my studies differ from a map created at the beginning of my studies? New social media tools have appeared in both personal and institutional areas with strong resident use. Use of Facebook is more residential, but now almost entirely professional/institutional. The move of Google searches towards the resident end of the continuum is an indication of a better understanding that all transactions executed while being logged in to a Google account, leaves a trace, whether intended or not.
- What are the possible reasons for the changes in my online behaviour (if any)? A strong belief in the value of a personal learning network and in communities of practice developed during my studies. This is probably responsible for a shift in the use of Facebook, but also in the introduction of Twitter and LinkedIn as professional networking tools. A subsequent general increase in use of mobile technology and online spaces may be responsible for the increased use of personal application in resident mode.
The research question was adequately answered in the final autoethnographical narrative, finding a correlation between the study of concepts such as communities of practice, personal learning networks, social networking and connected learning.
All research should have a beneficial or practical application for others and qualitative research methods should help us to better understand a phenomenon in a given community or setting (Méndez, 2013, p. 282). While the goal with the study was of an entirely personal nature, and can be judged as successful as such, the method and techniques can be of value when transferred to other contexts. Individuals, groups and institutions wanting to engage in a process of systematic sociological introspection to better understand personal or organisational online engagement can benefit from implementing the methods developed in this study.
It is clear to me that my online behaviour has changed significantly – and will probably continue to do so, as I have come to believe that learning IS social, it IS a network forming process and knowledge? Well Siemens may be correct: knowledge may be a networked product, but I like Stephen Downes’s explanation that knowledge may consist of a network of connections, formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community better.
More about this in the next, which may well be the last, blog post on Gretha Reflecting…
Brown, J. S. (2000). Growing up digital: How the web changes work, education, and the ways people learn. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 32(2), 11-20. Retrieved from http://www.johnseelybrown.com/Growing_up_digital.pdf
Chang, H. (2008). Autoethnography as method. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/40010651_Autoethnography_as_Method
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. R. B. (2011). Research methods in education (7th ed.). New York: Routledge.
Downes, S. (2006). Learning networks and connective knowledge. In Collective intelligence and elearning. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-60566-729-4.ch001
Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2011). Autoethnography: An overview. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095
Evaluating digital services: A visitors and residents approach. (2014, February). Retrieved from JISC website: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/full-guide/evaluating-digital-services#
Méndez, M. (2013). Autoethnography as a research method: Advantages, limitations and criticisms. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 15(2). Retrieved from http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0123-46412013000200010
Ngunjiri, F. W., Hernandez, C.-A. C., & Chang, H. (2010). Living autoethnography: Connecting life and research. Journal of Research Practice, 6(11). Retrieved from http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/241
USC: Learning and Teaching. (2014, January 21). Overview of connectivism – Dr George Siemens [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx5VHpaW8sQ
White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and residents: A new topology of online engagement. First Monday, 11(6). Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049
White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2017). Using ‘Visitors and residents’ to visualise digital practices. First Monday, 22(8). Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/7802/6515