flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

A Response to Participatory Culture in a Networked Era

I recently picked up Jenkins, Ito and boyd’s Participatory Culture in a Networked Era again. I initially started during #DigiWriMo, but as is often the case, I got distracted. However, I picked it up again in part due to my work around online communities. It is a rather unique book, marrying conversational tone with a sense of rigour provided via the addition of references and the removal of any tedious repetition. As danah boyd explains in a post on her blog:

The book is written as a conversation and it was the product of a conversation. Except we removed all of the umms and uhhs and other annoying utterances and edited it in an attempt to make the conversation make sense for someone who is trying to understand the social and cultural contexts of participation through and by media.

This made it quite easy to follow along as a reader, but not necessarily easy to summarise. It would be easy to reduce the book to a few themes, such as equity, control, public good, youth and activism. However, this seems to miss so much.

Participatory Culture is best considered as a collection of thoughts that you could easily pick up in pieces or come back to again and again. So rather than an overview, a better approach is to simply share some of my entry points. To participate in my own way, I have collected some of the more poignant quotes and adapted the Visible Thinking protocol ‘See-Think-Wonder’ to add my own thoughts and wonders.

All young people have agency and voice, but not everyone has the opportunity to connect this agency and voice to a broader public stage and to sites of power. This is where I think participatory and network culture has the potential to address some of this inequity.- Mimi Ito

This response reminds me of Nick Jackson’s argument that it is not student voice which is at stake, rather our focus should be on providing the opportunities for student action. I am left wondering what chances students get to connect beyond the classroom and what opportunities are being left untapped?

Networks are more than simply clusters of individuals; they are enterprises formed around shared goals and values; they require us to learn to work together to help others achieve their ambitions, even as we extract value from the community towards our own ends.- danah boyd

So often the focus of developing networks is where communities are located and the possibilities offered by the technology. I wonder how we go about refocusing attention on the why, rather than the what? The goals and values, rather the specific outcomes and achievements?

The more diverse the contributions, the richer the solutions the community will develop around common problems and concerns.- Henry Jenkins

David Weinberger suggests that, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” While Cathy Davidson talks about collaboration by difference, with a focus on diversity. I wonder how we go about actively fostering such ‘smarter’ spaces which encapsulate differences in a meaningful manner in order to develop richer solutions?

Part of what we collectively struggle with is the need to unpack what people think about youth and technology versus what we are able to see through our research.- danah boyd

There is so much discussion about research at the moment and what this might mean for educators. I have lost count the amount of people I have shared danah boyd’s It’s Complicated with, sadly they often take note, but continue on responding to teens as usual. I wonder then how we open a space for critical dialogue about technology in general?

For some adults, the phrase “digital immigrant” functions as a kind of learned helplessness: “I shouldn’t be expected to learn how to use this new technology because I wasn’t born in the right generation.”- Henry Jenkins

I think that there are dangers to many of the labels that applied when grappling with technology. One of the things that I took away from Doug Belshaw’s book on Digital Literacies was the importance of defining as a community the various terms and concepts which we use. I wonder what other edu-phrases are in desperate need re-evaluation?

Many young people are actively looking to participate in public, but they don’t necessarily want to be public (Marwick and boyd 2014b). That subtle difference is important because it means that they spend a lot of time making content available, even while the meaning is rendered invisible.- danah boyd

This was one of those lingering take-aways that I took from boyd’s other book, It’s Complicated. It can be easy to misconstrue the desire to live life out in the public means that today’s youth do not care for privacy. I wonder if inviting adults into the digital classroom compromises this? Something pointed out to me by Eric Jensen.

How do kids get into deep verticals in communities that reinforce expertise and are challenge- and inquiry-driven? How do they develop technical literacy and skills in social networks, in status and reputation-building?- Mimi Ito

The idea of ‘deep verticals’ really caught my attention. This is often the challenge made to dynamic spaces, such as Twitter, that they are often shallow. I wonder if the focus needs to be the connections and if maybe going ‘deep’ occurs when such inquiry moves across platforms?

Our response at the school level has been to declare certain social media or participatory culture practices off limits, to ban use of Facebook or YouTube, rather than to provide trained adults who can offer guidance in how to use social media safely, creatively, constructively, and ethically.- Henry Jenkins

It feels like we spend so much time talking about the way in which youth use technology, yet when it comes to supporting them in a meaningful way the room goes silent. Alexandra Samuel touches on this in regards to parenting, but I think that it is just as pertinent for teachers. I wonder if, like Annie Hartnett, the answer is giving space, but also being there for support when needs be?

Too often, in today’s schools, a student’s writing ends up on the teacher’s desk and sits there waiting a grade. Rather, we should think about literacy as involving the capacity to engage with networked publics, to share what you write, and to receive feedback from some kind of larger community.- Henry Jenkins

This comes back to the Jackson’s point about action, as well as Belshaw’s essential elements, in particular the constructive use of tools. I wonder with all the focus on feedback why there is not more focus on authentic audiences and spaces?

So we always have to ask who gains and who loses? What’s at stake? What are the risks? What are the benefits?- Henry Jenkins

Jenkins touches on an important point, that everything has its positives and negatives. Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad provides a useful tool for representing these varying points of view. I wonder what is overlooked by continually focusing on supposed gains and overlooking inherent biases?

Just as we don’t want corporate agents making decisions for us about what constitutes valuable participation, we should be cautious about imposing our own outside perspectives on what makes these sites meaningful to their young participants.- Henry Jenkins

I recently got into a conversation with a colleague about the use of spaces, such as Twitter. He wisely questioned whether we, “should really care how online spaces exist? Pluralist view would be that they can exist in any shape or form and that people should be able to gravitate to the place for what ever the purpose may be.” I wonder if the push to conform to someone else’s rules and expectations is any different for adult participants?

We really need everyday folk to step up and take on responsibilities in public life, whether it is by blogging, organizing, or funding.- Mimi Ito

I feel that one of the developmental steps when it comes to blogging is the act of supporting others with their journey. This maybe adding a comment or sharing a post on. Clive Thompson argues that the hardest thing is often the cognitive shift of opening up your writing to just ten readers. A million is easy. I wonder how many people, young and old, are held back by fear of this unknown?

People participate through and within communities: participatory culture requires us to move beyond a focus on individualized personal expression; it is about an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself.” Many of the cases we often use to illustrate the concept fall short of these ideals.- boyd, Jenkins and Ito

This balance between doing it together and for yourself reminds me of the notion of #ittakesavillage. I wonder what is needed in order to work towards such an ideal?

The technologies do not themselves make culture participatory. People do. And they do so by imagining – and working to achieve – new ways of connecting, coordinating, collaborating, and creating.- boyd, Jenkins and Ito

So often when we talk about participation, we are consumed by the technologies. However, platforms will come and go, it is the people that will remain. As Ben Werdmuller explains, “The supposition that Facebook is its software is completely wrong. Facebook is its network. You could build a new open source platform today that had every single feature on Facebook — although it would be quite an undertaking — but you still wouldn’t have the same effect. The thing that makes Facebook special is that everyone is already on it.” I wonder how we can empower people to utilise their collective power to take back control of the spaces that they exist in.

So there are my thoughts, what about you? How are you engaged in participatory culture? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Deliberate Practice is more than practice done deliberately. It’s a way of operating in a zone whereby 95% proficiency can be achieved within a relatively short space of time by focusing in on more granular skills. These, in turn, produce habits — both in terms of muscle memory and habits of mind. Doug Belshaw ‘Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies’

This semester I have been using Edublogs with my students. This has included managing over 70 student blogs, all facilitated through one ‘class’ blog. By using this workflow, students are able to keep up with different ideas being shared in the stream presented within the dashboard. A stripped back view of the posts which, like applications and add-ons, such as Pocket and Evernote’s Clearly, cut posts back to their basics. This has worked for some, while for others the experience is frustrating. Although some get annoyed at the visual layout, the biggest issue seems to be managing the plethora of information in a meaningful way.

One solution that I have been tinkering with of late is changing the way I use the class blog. Originally, I had imagined using the central space to house resources about blogging. Whether it be creating images, visualising information or adding different content. Although I still think that there is a place for such posts, I wonder if they are best housed elsewhere leaving the class space becomes something of a meeting spot. The question though is how?

One idea that I came upon via Doug Belshaw on the TIDE Podcast is to use the P2 Theme within WordPress (Houston in Edublogs) to create a personalised social media space. Unlike the usual blogging themes, which rely on navigating the dashboard and drafting posts, P2 constrains the process to being able to quickly text and tag. My thought was that students could then share canonical links to their work or other interesting ideas, similar to Twitter. It also provides a safe space to learn about social media and explore. Although spaces like Edmodo and Google Classroom offer a similar functionality, neither allows users to organise their posts or have any sort of ownership over their content.

Although Twitter would offer much the same experience, it is not necessarily the solution for every context. One of the issues that is brought up again and again is the privacy. Creating a digital sandpit is a step towards that in that it provides the means for a safer and more supportive environment. Whether it be knowing what to share or how to protect themselves online, we need to consciously teach our students best practise when it comes to participating on the web. We need to develop the deliberate practice of students regularly sharing their work and ideas in collaborative spaces.

For a different perspective on technology and web literacy, watch Cory Doctorow’s informative TED Talk which explores the questions of privacy and networks in schools:

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.