Friday, October 26, 2007

Storytelling in Facebook

I've just come across this interesting survey from Writer Response Theory of collaborative writing options that are possible within Facebook. Angela Thomas has blogged about this too. It sounds like something I want to look into. I'm convinced from my work on the cancer blogs that patterns of online interaction are actually creating new hybrids of story genres, rather than just changing the ways that narrators, audience and texts relate. I have a germ of an idea for a new study I want to develop from this, taking a snapshot of the interactive possibilities that are now available and looking at the linguistic and narratological developments that emerge. But I need to finish writing the essays I am commissioned for before then!


Using wikis in the classroom - a brief update

My project using wikis in the classroom with my students seems to have taken off particularly well with my undergraduates. My aim was to use a wiki in class time, so that students could record summaries of their group work at the point of discussion. The idea behind this was that we could then project each of the pages up on to the screen so that the classroom discussion was permanently recorded and could be viewed by all students. To my amazement, the undergraduates have really taken to this to a much greater extent than I ever had hoped. We use the laptops every week, with one laptop per small group (up to five students).
After class, students have gone away and edited their work, adding URLs, images, rewriting their analysis which is creating an extensive portfolio of their learning. I am blown away, truth be told. I didn't really think it would work. It is so useful for me, because I can see how much they understand and support them with their writing skills to a much greater extent than I ever have been before. It seems to make them more focused in their discussions, and they are so motivated that they meet up in their small groups during the week to work on the wiki too. They tell me they really find it helpful to record their work like this, as otherwise half the lesson gets taken up with each group reporting back.
Not to say that all of this is glitch free. The first week I tried to use this with the MA students, pbwiki was full of bugs (which they fixed right away) but it made the lesson a nightmare. And I have a black hole in one area of the teaching room where the wifi cuts out, so if the students move the laptop across the table they lose the internet connection. But it is totally worth it for what I and the students are gaining from it.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Facebook, Media, Mode

In Jess's response to my last post, she alluded to the question of whether transliteracy involved crossing media. I confess that I have not always been very clear about distinguishing between media and mode - the two concepts have areas of overlap, for sure. However slippery they are, though, these terms do have different meanings which are separable and have varying implications for exploring transliteracy in relation to something like Facebook. Ryan (2004) and (2006) presents an excellent discussion of what the term 'media' might involve, highlighting the difficulties of interdisciplinary interpretation and debates as to whether media are platforms, conduits, or raw materials of some kind. In contrast, 'mode' has distinct meanings, especially within literature on multimodality (aka Kress & van Leeuwen), and refers to the semiotic resources used in communication (visual, aural, oral, haptic and so on). So facebook might be a transliterate means of doing friendship because it is employing digital media as a platform for social networking, and that media contrast invokes different modalities. Although it includes image, the communication is still primarily verbal (I think). In contrast, maintaining friendship offline can involve other modalities, including aural/oral, gesture, touch/physical presence as cues for how to manage / read that relationship. Maybe transliterate social networks is the capacity to respond appropriately to the multimodal demands of each media that is used in the process of social relationship, and being aware of the affordances and limitations of each.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

On Facebook

Ah my poor blog, languishing neglected out there in the ether. Finally, as you can tell, here are some of the recent things I've been thinking about. One of these is the fast growing phenomenon of Facebook. Now, I have to confess that I approached Facebook with a degree of sceptism, but have found myself increasingly seduced by its lure (although I am only 14% addicted according to its statistics, unlike my better half who is 29% addicted). So why do I like facebook and what kinds of questions does it make me ask?

Well, I like facebook because I am, essentially, quite a friendly / nosey person, and I like seeing what is going on with friends (be they close or not so close) but don't have time to keep up with them all face-to-face. So I really enjoy the fact that I can flick on and see snippets of what is happening with my friends as far flung as oz, across the UK, the US. Nothing beats the face-to-face, of course. Facebook will never replace actually hanging out with these guys, but when they are far, far away (to quote Shrek) that is not likely to happen, and this is a convenient, asynchronous substitute. So, for me personally, facebook is a social thing.

What kinds of questions does it make me ask? Well, first of all, it makes me ask whether facebook is a transliterate way of doing relationships. If transliteracy involves moving across different platforms, invoking multimodality, being aware of context and so on, then is my online version of 'catching up' a form of transliteracy? And what does this do to how we manage relationships? One thing that facebook does is to bring all your friends together into your profile without subcategorising them into the real world communities into which they belong. And so what you disclose gets seen by them all, whether they are contacts through work, or family friends, or students (past and present). And that, for sure, is slightly wierd, at least when you start using facebook. The collapsing of distinct social networks means that I seem to work to the 'lowest common denominator'. That is, I try and disclose only that which I am prepared to let all of them see. For some people, that means they say and do nothing. I tend to be pretty open about my personal life (my Facebook profile says I have a ridiculously high degree of extraversion), so slightly more than nothing gets into my status updates. But I have got more bland and non-descript, conscious of who sees what.

I also wonder what kind of linguistic resource Facebook might be. Is it something we might use to trace how internet language is evolving within certain social networks. For the 30 million users of facebook (did I get that right?) Facebook categories them by age, gender and so on. So a sociolinguist or anthropologist might go and look at usage patterns, profile construction as a means of doing identity, the language that gets used on people's walls. I'm sure there is a PhD in there somewhere. I haven't figured out yet where or how Facebook archives the updates, or if they are publically accessible. But I wonder if this might build some kind of multifaceted narrative in itself, where the chronological updates are micro-entries in an ongoing life story. And would women and men write different kinds of updates? What kinds of things do they say?

Food for thought. But the offline mode of doing life with people is calling. Let's hope I make it back to the blog sooner than the last time!