Ethics and soft boundaries between Facebook groups  and other web services

doorway used as metaphor for boundary

Is this a space I can enter?

As part of a MOOC on rhizomatic learning that performs itself in many different spaces (Facebook, P2PU, G+, Twitter and others), I am a member of an ‘open’ Facebook group.  It is endlessly fascinating, and has given me a lot of scope for reflection about back channels and the exchange of information between open and closed spaces. Of course, I say that as if a space could be categorised as open or closed:  it’s often a lot more complicated than that, acted out by technical aspects of the space and by the agency of the people who interact there. Facebook groups can be open, closed or secret, the meanings of these being laid out in the Facebook help.

See what I did there, I linked to the ‘closed’ space of Facebook, only visible to one of the 1.3 billion members of Facebook.  Now of course, we don’t know if there are that exactly many Facebook members, but let’s settle for there being a very large number of them. Facebook is not completely open from the outside but doesn’t seem very closed. For example, if I log out of Facebook and Google for “Facebook pictures dog”, I will see lots of peeks into Facebook groups that might entice me to sign up or log in.

Now I am neglecting those of you who aren’t Facebook members, and can’t see the Facebook help page .  Facebook describe the visibility of posts as:

Open Closed Secret
Who can see what members post in the group? Anyone Only members Only members

 

Yes that means that anyone who has the link to an open Facebook group post or comment, can share it inside or outside Facebook, and it can be opened by any Facebook (not just group) member.  In the case of the rhizo14 MOOC, participants who are not Facebook members are excluded from sight of posts in the Facebook group, whilst a very large number of Facebook members who have never heard of rhizo14 could check it out if you sent them the link.

Ethical dilemmas

I will sketch out a few of the ethical dilemmas I have observed in the rhizo14 Facebook group.  These are early reflections, and I would welcome your comments on this post.

  1. How do we behave around here?

The rhizo14 MOOC offers no explicit written norms, behavioural or otherwise, and the strapline for the FB group is “An attempt to create a feed for Rhizomatic Learning posts from around the web.” The Facebook group has become not only a site for sharing blog posts, other rhizo14 creations and links to interesting and relevant stuff, it has also become a place for demonstrations of friendship and affection by some members.  It’s clear that a number of people (significantly less than the full 240 ish membership) regard the group as a semi-private backchannel where they can expect support and sympathy for their encounters elsewhere.  What the remainder of the membership think about this is less clear.  They may be just letting it all flow past or ‘lurking’ – a behaviour that has attracted discussion in the FB group.  The implicit norms on lurking in the FB group are to some extent discernible, but the norms on other behaviours sometimes seem to be taken as read by some active members of the group.  I posited a relational approach to power early on in the rhizo14 MOOC but that is not a common view in the Facebook group where a one-dimensional view of power is more common.  We can discern a flexible approach to ‘rule-breaking’ in rhizomatic learning in the discussion around rhizomatic learning and ethics in the comments on this post so it’s unlikely that a set of ‘rules’ to govern behaviour would work on rhizo14. Teachers and moderators can model ethical behaviour, and communities usually engage with norm-building online where misunderstanding is not uncommon. Overt moderation and norm-building activities have been generally absent from rhizo14 in general and the FB group in particular.

 

  1. What does sharing mean within and beyond the rhizo14 community?

A lot of sharing goes on at rhizo14, and there is a sense that openness is a value of rhizo14. The remix culture has been very evident in rhizo14, and creativity and remix have brought a lot of pleasure.  Communities of Practice literature and others have identified the importance of the boundary in the propagation of knowledge.  The facility for stuff and people to cross boundaries presents great opportunities, but with these come tricky questions of how we share and what we do with what is shared.  A great set of ‘rules’ that has helped sharing is Creative Commons Licenses, not always enforceable but signifying intent in a sharing and use context.
opendiscusspt1 opendiscusspt2opendiscusspt3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dilemma presented by research data sharing is current at rhizo14 FB group, and raises, for me at any rate, some very interesting issues about how we do Open Research.  The twitter stream fragment gives an indication of the controversy, and the discussion of what is appropriate uses of open research data by ‘others’ (those ‘outside’ the community) is playing out on the rhizo14 Facebook group.  I raised the issue of ethics of use of open/closed data for research purposes in rhizo14 at the time it became clear that a group doing auto-ethnography, and a group of which I am a part were both doing research around rhizo14.

The data arrangements for the second group are at http://francesbell.wordpress.com/research/rhizo14-research/ whilst those for the first group are the subject of discussion at the FB group and publicly here and here.*

I became involved in this discussion because I had contributed to the auto-ethnography open Google document but had deferred on authorship of any subsequent outputs (as was possible within the invitation).  The complication that I presented was that I had asked not to be quoted (on reflection this created problems for the auto-ethnographers).
I resolved my personal dilemma by deleting my contribution, in consultation with members of the auto-ethnography group. However, the issue of who can use the information in the auto-ethnography is still the subject of discussion – on the FB group and publicly on Twitter.

 

Discussion of Agency

As humans we can have moral agency – this may be the different thoughts and feelings that guide the way we act.  I suggest that sharing our ethical stance with others can help our moral agency within a network of human and technical agents.  I am not thinking of a set of rules but rather our expectations and ethical stance that we could share with other moral agents.  What I have observed in the discussion on the ethics of use of information from the auto-ethnography document is that some participants seem to assume there is a ‘common decency’ approach to the use of ‘open’ information. This is a little dangerous I think and may be explained by an unwarranted assumption of community.

We can also think of technology as ‘moral agent’ where permissions and constraints on agency can be coded into a system, as I described in who can access a FB group.  This can be useful, especially if helps clarify expectations-  hard rules, hard boundaries can be explained in help pages and observed in action when we fail to access the FB group link because we are not logged into Facebook.   Even these hard rules can be overcome by human agency.  I cut and paste one part of FB help page – this was within my personal ethics where doing the same with a rhizo14 FB group post would not be. When I did accidentally violate that in a blog post, I tried to resolve the situation, by consulting the person affected.

Some Tentative Conclusions

An important element of the digital moral agent’s backpack to complement their ethical literacy is the digital literacy of having an active understanding of the ethical and other implications of using a digital space/service for communication.  This is especially important when one’s practice in spaces is research.

As well as the overhead of ‘cluttering ‘ the communication, there are benefits in clarifying use of information, utterances, multimedia in practice.  This may be done informally within a close group of friends, rarely discussed, but the more open the use and sharing of information, the more important it is to clarify how we expect that information to be used, if we wish to minimise problems.  This applies just as much to Facebook (with their unclear use in the above extract from Help of the words member – Facebook or group?- and anyone – anyone on the Internet or anyone on Facebook) as to those of us participating and researching in rhizo14.  I hope that rhizo14 research subjects benefit from our statement of how we use the research data.  I know I would have benefited from a clearer statement of expectations and behaviours in rhizo14.  I am not suggesting a set of hard and fast rules but rather a starting point for discussion on how we behave around rhizo14.

 

Because digital literacies are a moving target (digital literacy is ongoing) and communication in open spaces is tricky, we need flexible repair strategies for when things go wrong.  If we state our expectations and promote discussion of expectations within a group  as starting point, then we may be able to minimise but not eliminate problems.  That’s when it’s useful to promote friendly interpretation of the words and actions of others, and to have some strategies for conflict resolution.

 

Who said it was easy to practice learning and research in online spaces?

* edited because links to Maha’s blog had mysteriously repositioned themselves

Wonderful Women I follow on Twitter

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I trawled through those I follow on Twitter to create a list of women I follow on Twitter, then create a composite image of their avatars.  This was quite a labour-intensive task but was time well spent as it made me think about these women.  I am impressed -they are a very interesting and talented bunch.  As my gift to you on this day of celebration of women, I offer you:

This Twitter list – as you  might find some lovely new people to follow.

The lovely image that makes me smile

women I follow

Reflecting, recollecting, research – Auf wiedersehen #rhizo14

11409818554_1a925cea6e

Many flowers blooming (none of them rhizomes;)

I have been enjoying seeing traces of rhizo14ers reflections and recollections over the last few days. Thanks Dave for hosting the longest party I have ever attended and thanks to all the rhizo14 folks from whom I have learned and will learn so much.

All participants will see changes in themselves and their networks as they move on from #rhizo14 and there are traces in many different Internet spaces – text, audio, video – poems, songs, jokes, writing, drawings  and delicious remixes.  A few of us are collecting data, some for research purposes – trying to reify our learning through more traditional avenues. The spaces we have used have generated an abundance of data, including data for network models.

At #rhizo14 we have modelled our ethics by discussing the use of data.  We have collaborated on an end of course survey coordinated by Dave Cormier, due out soon.  If it follows on from the first survey, the submissions will be anonymous but the results will be public.

I know of two pieces of research going on at rhizo14, but there are probably more (please update in comments).

1. There is a collaborative auto-ethnography underway – based on some previous work on MOOCs done by participants.  It’s collaborative and public so that’s a new form of research for me. I can’t wait to see the outcome.

2.  Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell are doing qualitative research on the learner / participant experience in rhizo14 .  The reasons for including qualititative and interpretive research are explained very well by George Veletsianos.  We plan to ask for contributions in the next two weeks – on G+ community, on Facebook group, and on Twitter at #rhizo14.   If you want to be sure of catching the invitation you could (temporarily) follow this blog, as I will be posting  the details here. Your contribution will be completely anonymous, unless you specifically opt to the contrary.  There will be only three four questions/ prompts for your response – the others relating to your confidentiality choices.

All that remains is for me to wish you Auf Wiedersehen: in the way of #rhizo14, in multiple versions. I collected a random set if images from blogs, and annotated them with the words that sprang into my mind when I looked at the picture.  William’s song was a great inspiration.

First, the original Zeega that WordPress won’t allow me to embed in the post – you scroll through this at your own speed.

Second a recorded version that I uploaded to youtube

Here’s the the music without hissing – thanks William for writing and performing this.

And finally, in cheesy, retro, old school fashion

You can’t have one without the other

Over the last few weeks on Rhizo14, I have been troubled with the either/or nature of some of our weekly tasks. We could argue about whether or not that was intended but at least some of the students have perceived concepts as being presented in opposition to each other:  Cheating as Learning , Enforcing Independence, Is Books Making Us Stupid?

More and more I kept thinking about dualities (more of that later), and it reminded me of a heated discussion on CCK08 about networks and groups. The discussion itself has disappeared from the web, but I can find a snippet of it in an xtranormal video that I made in 2009.  The scenario it presents is a conversation between Stephen Downes and Si Si Kate who is a composite character with words taken from the forum and blog postings of Stephen Downes and CCK08 participants. Maybe here on rhizo14, it’s the relationship of apparently opposite things like trees and rhizomes, books and the participatory web that’s of concern. You can jump to the conversation by clicking  http://youtu.be/uilkFoe4hQo?t=3m50s or watch the video here.

Hildreth and Kimble conceived of the two types of knowledge that we have discussed here as a duality:

“Rather than seeing knowledge as opposites, perhaps we should think of it as consisting of two complementary facets: a duality consisting simultaneously and inextricably of both what was previously termed ‘structured’ and ‘less structured’ knowledge.” Hildreth and Kimble

A duality that has been nagging away at me is the duality of participation and reification identified by Wenger in his work on Communities of Practice.  I think it is particularly relevant to our experience on rhizo14, and this is an occasion when we need some theory to help us make sense of our practice when dichotomies just don’t work.  Reification is a horrible word, but we grappled with one reification of knowledge last week, the book, and it turned out that the villain of the piece still has a place in some hearts.

I took the diagram from Hildreth and Kimble, and annotated it with my idea of some the places we have been participating, and some of the ways have been reifying on rhizo14.

hildretkimbleh

It’s pretty obvious to think of the reifications that structure the course – we all look for the next week’s task on P2PU.  A by-product of online participation is that it makes concrete the to and fro of conversation. We might re-read a thread in the FB group whereas if we were having an oral conversation, we would not be rewinding.

An example that springs to mind is my own product for Week 4.  I recorded a video (hoping it would be less book-like), published it on youtube, then my blog and encouraged rhizo14ers to post comments on the blog. Then Terry Elliott, put my video into Vialogue, and people have come to comment there.  I am thrilled and have a real sense of engagement  in the conversations at my blog and on Vialogue.

https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play/13654

The duality of participation and reification really helps me to make sense of what has happened.  The question was the video more participatory than, say, a (reified) text blog post? just doesn’t make sense.  Everything was reified, my speaking (as a video), the blog post and comments, the conversation at Vialogue.  There was participation in everything but my original recording. What can shed light is thinking about the mutuality between the participation and the reified objects.

You can’t have one without the other

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb4PO7WkM40

P.S. please don’t treat the words of the song literally – I know you can have love without marriage;)

Framework for Virtual Communities

Framework for Virtual Communities

after Steinmueller

This is a very hastily written blog post to contribute to discussion about real or imagined community at Heli’s blog.

The diagram above is my visualisation of Steinmueller’s view of virtual community.  If you want to find out more about my thoughts in 2003 please click.

I’d just like to pick out a few points:

In the diagram, you can see the 3Ps that are common to most early 21st century views of online or virtual communities – People (membership), Policies (governance), and Purpose (individual and/or group attribute).

The aspect (that is Steinmueller’s contribution) that seems particularly relevant to me is Sustainability.  Steinmueller characterised this as something that is lost

either when the costs of participation exceed the willingness to participate

or there is a coordination failure .

The coordination failure could be that horrible experience when you log in one morning to find that the space no longer exists, or something else goes wrong.

Anyway, this is for you – take it or leave it.