Sunday, October 10, 2004

Do the affordances of the network actually change communication or, more broadly, sociality?

Actual Event Date: 13 Sept 2004 (Mon)

In a nutshell, yes. If you just want to read a direct answer, scroll to the bottom of this post. If you want the ‘whole picture' of how I came up with this conclusion, read the whole post! Yeah, it's long – deal with it (Wiley ©).

A quick review what I was tasked ( link ) to do this past week.

=== begin assignment ===

My overall impressions of the whole newsgroup archive

I spent a number of hours surfing google groups ( rec. & soc. , etc.). And the truth of the matter is, the newsgroup archive can be mildly interesting (‘ how to hack into paypal ') to incredibly boring to me. Even when I went to groups that were talking about issues that interest me like recent movies, e.g. ‘the incredibles' ( link ), the things people talked about were boring, so I did not participate there. So, sue me.

Bored to desperation, I retracted to my comfort zone and went to local (meaning Singaporean) forums that I regularly visit. Examples of local discussion boards I read include:

A lot of the discussions on these forums come from Singapore heart Landers. And in the privacy of cyber space, these forums offer views, news & insights on local issues that would otherwise be impossible to find in local online news papers like Straits Time Interactive ( link ).

Sensitive topics like government policies, use of public funds, resentment of foreign talent , etc. are almost non-existent in the local mainstream news, be it broadcast on TV, hardcopy newspaper or even online editions of newspapers. What do get across are heavily censored articles cleared by editors as ‘publishable' content. A lot of the discussions deal with those that are sensitive in context.

I do participate in the forums, but I would be a fool to reveal what my identity is on THOSE forum. However, not everything there is sensitive. An example of one thread I can talk about was started by someone who was born during ‘my time' (1974 – 1980). And all he wanted was to recall back fond memories of the 1980s, but he knew he could not do it alone. So, he opened up a discussion thread with a brief description of 10 items he remembered and it sparked a wave of replies. (See #3 below)

The URL of one discussion you participated in

keywords: ' For those born in 1974 to 1980' (For more details see below)

A brief summary of the discussion you participated in, and

The discussion thread I participated in talked about memories of those who were born during ‘my time' (1974 – 1980). And all the author wanted was to recall back fond memories of the 1980s, but he knew he could not do it alone. So, he opened up a discussion thread with the following sentence (see below) and it sparked a wave of replies.

‘You grew up watching He-man, MASK, Transformers, Silverhawks and Visionaries. Not forgetting, Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony and Smurfs too.

Basically if the excerpt below intrigues you, you will like it. Personally, I am still a sucker for huge robots cartoons (e.g. transformers, Big-O, etc.).

It is available at URL:

Note: you have to sign in to be able to read. And also click through the irritating ads. But it is a small price to pay for the treasure trove of information behind it.

In summary, what one guys started with a list of 10 items he fondly recalled from the 1980s ended up adding to more than 1000+ items with 273 posting (as of this writing). The discussion brought tears to my eyes as old memories came flooding back. Nothing academic was learnt, but it was an additive 2 hours of reading. Key word: ‘addictive'

The number of hours you spent in the archive.

Spent 2 hours (hey, I am a slow learner, and yes, I am one of those freaks who read the instructional manual before using a product.) figuring how google groups work:

Spent another 2 hours reading mindlessly through boring content.

Spent 5 hours reading local (meaning Singaporean) discussion boards of interest. Local examples of discussion boards I read include:

Warning: content found might be offensive, especially if you are unfamilar with singapore local culture. 18+ & above only.

=== end of assignment ===

Back to the question of Do the affordances of the network actually change communication or, more broadly, sociality?'

From the examples we see, affordances in network has increase communication beyond traditional means. Through all these new social software easily available on the web, people are able to reach out to a pool of other users to solve problems, and improve communication.

Questions that creep up my mind as I thought about this week's assignment are:

What is it about a public unmoderated discussion forum that makes these people (me included) participate? What is it that makes people want to share? What is it that drives them to spend hours reading and contributing to this archive of information?'

To me, if only we figure out a way in which this incredible motivation to share information and insights could be channeled into our academic learning. I learnt more about politics, economics, etc. in these informal forum setting than I would in classrooms and textbooks. E.g. I was interested in buying a certain property, so I searched via keyword for that property in mind and found hours of discussion on why it was good or bad. Replies spanned from one liners to full economic analysis (this guy probably had no life), but the point is that informal learning exists and if properly tapped can be an invaluable resource.

During the recent ITI conference at USU, an audience member asked David Wiley on his work with informal online learning community at MITOCW. The question asked was in response to Dave's proposal on replacing teacher access with a thousand other students.

Q:' Why do people want to contribute? What's the incentive you have found that these people participate ?'

A: [Wiley replies] "dunno. It's stable, it happens." *shrug*

[My opinion] Dave notices this phenomenon has been going on for ages. And does not have a reason for it. And he says this without a tinge of guilt. For all the research he pumped into creating this online community, he does not even give a summary of his findings. Worse, he does not seem to care. Very un-Wiley like, and disappointing. It is something I find worthy of researching. Be it surveys, interviews, etc. finding out what makes these people ‘tick' and why they want to help when there are no clear payoffs is important. If one solves this ‘Pandora's box' then one certainly is on the way to creating great instruction riding on the motivational drive of informal learning.

End of this week's rant.



“Have you talked to your best friend recently?”


Post a Comment

<< Home