Digital Literacies

Researching New Literacies, Learning and Everyday Life

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Private Facebook ‘Support Groups’

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Issues of Privacy Online

I have joined a private group on Facebook. You cannot find it through the Facebook search facility or via Google.  You cannot see if your friends are members of private groups. This is the info from Facebook about the different types of privacy for groups:

From Facebook:

Online privacy – or lack of it – has of course been a hot topic over the years and Facebook in particular has been held up as a major offender for the invasion of private information and selling it on. Despite offering services free of charge, Facebook has made a lot of money from selling our information. But now we all know about it, maybe we should just act responsibly and not say too much online that we don’t want shared:

Locked Gates - Cemetery Road Cemetery Sheffield

Private Facebook Groups
The group I have joined is for ‘ME Mums’ . I was told about the group through another support forum for carers of people with ME and it was only via invitation that I could have joined – being linked to the group by an existing member. The group allows us to talk privately  – sharing information and grievances. We also have some laughs.

Community / Grassroots level Expertise
The group has been a source of a great deal of valuable info that I would otherwise not be able to find out – in fact having a daughter who has had ME for 15 years, I  have gained more info in the last month or so than I managed to collate on my own over those years.  Expertise is of the kind Gee writes about when he describes Affinity Spaces. Expertise that is valued is the ability to behave like a hunter gatherer, bringing jewels to the nest from other parts of the Internet. Hyperlinks are common on the ME Mums space – reaching out to other support groups; marginal medical research; useful gadgets to buy – eg heart rate monitors being a popular one at the moment – ; ‘good people’ we can trust; videos on YouTube and to other ME organisations across the world.

The group has no official ‘certificated’ experts – no medical doctors and the like. Respect is earned through online reputation within the group – and the greatest gurus are highly valued and receive lots of ‘likes’ and affirmative remarks on their posts. They post daily, lengthily and bring lots of information. Furthermore, such gurus mediate the info – explaining its relevance to others in simple language. Other members refer to such posts and to the documents the gurus share. Other ways of acquiring respect is via the amount of support you offer; a sharing approach is universally expressed and no negative judgements are ever articulated. the ‘like’ button is used liberally – and with multiple meanings.

We have created – and continue to create – an archive of symptoms, of bad experiences and of good, that could be the basis of some good research.

Risks – Breaches of Confidentiality

This online space of which I am a member will not become the focus of my own research; this would not be ethical and would jeopardise other types of benefit I get from the group anyhow. But I am learning things from being a part of this new type of online space – which I think has real dangers as well as benefits. Because whilst we may all keep everything secret – there is no guarantee of this, we hope to trust members, but who knows? Also, maybe at some point someone will hack in – and maybe Facebook will decide to make our info available to a third party. We always have to be on our guard. Not just because there is information we are sharing about our children online – which they may not wish to share and which is confidential; but also because we are sometimes specific about professionals we criticise (perjury? slander?) but also because at this stage, children are still taken into care when they have ME – on the pretext of Munchhausen syndrome by proxy. We only have to think about politicians’ leaked emails to get a clue about the damage seemingly innocuous digital texts can do sometime.

The downside of user driven expertise
On the downside, I see some people getting in a big state over the information they are given and I have seen how they can easily end up worrying too much. The problem with people researching for themselves is that they are so close to the situation – and while this has absolute advantages (insider knowledge etc) sometimes distance is necessary for perspective. This kind of grassroots level research is a great thing but at the same time I keep thinking that it would be good if this were not necessary – that if medics and social services etc co-ordinated themselves as well as we have, we would be able to trust them to care for our children as well as they care for heart patients etc. People with orthodox carefully diagnosed illnesses get better help. Traditional experts – medics in particular – have power and also access to privileged information and funding for treatments and support and research. If they could only see our conversations sometimes, it would make them very angry; but after the anger they may learn something very valuable.

Educational application of private groups
In terms of education … I did not realise exactly how private you can make a Facebook group and so this does have some useful affordances for teaching and learning – will muse on this at a later date. I like the idea of creating a Facebook space for students now that I realise I can reassure them their friends will not see the group and it will not interfere with their existing presentations of self online!! And as I have seen, when the motivation is there, the group can work very impressively. This is what online participation is all about.

Written by DrJoolz

July 12th, 2012 at 11:02 am

Habbo Hotel under Siege

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For all the best possible intentions Channel 4 recently exposed how a large number of peodophile and predatory interactions take place on a very regular place on Habbo Hotel. Habbo is a Finnish social networking site aimed at teenagers, wiki describes it here.

In an extensive piece, they talked about how undercover researchers joined Habbo Hotel and found that they were immediately and regularly sexually propositioned. They were subjected to sexual talk and coercive behaviour which sometimes attempted to move virtual chat through avatars from online ‘sexting’ into requests for individuals to strip in front of webcams. The Channel 4 investigation also revealed the identity of a couple of men who have already been prosecuted for such activities.

Habbo seemed unphased at first but when they realized what a storm Channel 4 had provoked they immediately silenced all interaction on their site. This was undoubtedly exacerbated by one of Habbo’s sponsors immediately withdrawing their interest from Habbo.

Despite all my interest in researching teenagers’ online behaviour over the years, I had not been at all interested in Habbo. perhaps because not one of my research participants ever mentioned it to me – although I had heard of it.  In fact as it has been around so many years I had assumed there was not activity on there. This is apparently not the case with wiki reporting that by 2011 230 million avatars had been registered (such figures need to be regarded with caution as some people will have multiple avatars and many avatars will have been registered but never or rarely been active).

It looks like the site is going to only unmute the talk and text functions once it has put into place much better more stringent moderation features.

My comments on all this are that:

(a) As usual the research that Channel 4 undertook was research that I think is pretty flawed. The adult researchers did not behave in the same way as teenager researchers and I thnk they should have involved teenagers in a much more authentic exploration of the site. What adults do in the site is not going to be the same as teenagers. This could have been asking teenagers to consent to being involved in research, asking them to join and observing them while interacting on the site – obviously a range of safety and ethical features would need to be set up for the project.

(b) The researchers made all kinds of assumptions about how young people might react to the propositions and lewd interatcions from the resident peodos perverts etc. Agtain, involving teenagers in the research would have helped with this.

(c) The researchers had a model of teenagers and young people as helpless victims. They did not think to consult teenagers who were already using the site about their observations and experiences.

(d) the researchers made the classic mistake of trying to immediately understand the site and to participate without lurking first. I would always advise researchers to first lurk about a site before participating… and this is what most people do before they join in on a networking site too.

(e) I am against covert research. Although the researchers like to get a scoop and love the thrill of under cover operations, I think they woud have got a great deal more from the research if they had got permission ethical approval and then done a thorough and multi faceted research project.

As a result of Channel 4’s research, not only has Habbo itself reacted by taking action which it should have taken long ago in relation to trolls, peodophles and pervs (!!) but  many of the sites users are using the internet  as a way of speaking back, protesting and making it known that they would like to be acknowledged as having some agency. For example here and here.

I like the way that this player critiques Channel 4’s use of the site. You can see from the video that many young people are utterly distraught by this decimation of what they see as THEIR space.

(It is somewhat naff, btw, that Channel 4 have disabled the embedding of video material they put on YouTube.)

I am very happy to see also how young people were finally invited to be on Channel 4 to have their say and this was a very good piece.

Hopefully Habbo will involve young people in the moderation of the site and to play a major role in advising on policy etc. But the whole piece is a really great example of why we need to teach about and with social networking in schools and to see young people as research participants as opposed to subjects.

Written by DrJoolz

June 22nd, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Attempting Ethical Facebook Research

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I am planning the next step in my Facebook research – wanting to look at how female trainee hairdressers ‘do friendship’ through Facebook.

At the hairdressers

One of my all time favourite studies is Jen Coates’ book ‘Women Friends‘. It is a study of language – and how women enact friendship through the language they use with each other. I want to do a similar study but within Facebook – and look also at other ways my research participants enact friendship, e.g. through Facebook updates that include words, images, games and so on. This research will combine my academic interest (you could say passions) in several areas – language, gender and new technologies.

It will also be fun working with hairdressing students and I think that ways in which they negotiate and present their emerging identities as hairdressers will come through the work. I can’t wait. Nothing better than having a good old chit chat with young women. For me to access the girls’ /women’s Facebooks, they will need to let me ‘friend them’ (and I will reciprocate).

I have submitted my ethical review and the first reviewer has already come back to me asking how I will deal with the ethics of other people, additional to my research participants, who will be visible to me online when I am looking at my participants’ pages. I have answered I will be involving groups of friends and will follow their interactions with each other and will not cite or get involved with others. However this is a complicated area – and I am not sure how feasible this will be. I may have to end up asking for additional consent if it becomes to hard to disentangle some of the data.

What it will also mean of course, (and my reviewers have not noticed this) is that my participants will also be able to see all my updates and any contributions that my friends put on my wall. So I guess if and when the research starts I will need to alert my Facebook friends.

I really hope I will get some students wanting to be involved in the project as I think it will be so fun. Oh yes. And a fantastic contribution to research.

Written by DrJoolz

September 2nd, 2011 at 8:36 pm

What’s New (pussycat)?

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When I first started research into what kids were doing online, it was oh so different then. I seemed to be one of the very few literacy researchers who knew about this weird stuff that the kids were doing – way back in the late 90s. They were keeping ‘online diaries’ and playing games and talking in forums about the software they were playing with. They were building personal websites and then came the explosion that we call Web 2.0. (My first article on this stuff was published in 2003 having been two and a half years in review!!)

I quite liked having the empty playground, where I could run round finding stuff out and leaving new footprints in the new snow that had fallen.


But now lots of research is happening and there is quite a wealth of material to refer to in writing up research data. I am having to read what everyone else is saying about Facebook. And then say what I am saying in the context of that. It all feels overwhelming now that the area is getting so established. What I don’t like … and maybe this is too honest … is the way that old fashioned and somewhat staid ways of writing are now being foisted onto me. To be specific, I am writing for journals who requite me to write in such traditional formats that I feel I am no longer in new territory. I feel like this horrendous structure is being forced onto the research so that it looks like it is about something else. It is very dispiriting re-drafting work in ways you don’t like.

I want it all to still feel new … not fusty.

Written by DrJoolz

August 19th, 2011 at 10:38 am

Connective ethnography

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Some time back, on this blog, I talked about ‘researching both ends’. this is about the need, when researching what is going on online, to take account of people’s offline contexts when they involve themselves in online text production. It is not enough to just look at what is online if you are carrying out ethnographic work, as so much of what happens online has roots in, or is influenced by offline contexts.

Fields and Kafai (2008) talk about ‘Connective ethnography’ which sounds altogether more sensible – in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (2009). 4:47–68 They talk about how young people share knowledge in on and off line spaces in order to progress in the virtual world Whyville.

There are those who are now beginning to reject the idea of ‘Virtual ethnography’ since off line worlds are not completely separate from online spaces – we see much evidence of the replication of off line spaces in online spaces; and we also see how online spaces are used to do the social work needed to maintain off line relationships (and I am aware here of the clumsiness of my terms offline and online lives etc.) Rybas and Gajajjala prefer the term cyberethnography – emphasising the way in which the human is behind the digital activities.

I am going to explore all this stuff as it relates not just to the importance of getting the methodology right, but also to the whole issue of identity as it relates to digital activities.

Written by DrJoolz

March 29th, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Public Displays of Connection*

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*(Title refers to a paper: PublicDisplays)

Interviewing a group of 17 – 18 year old students about their uses of Facebook yesterday reminded me of a few things. Firstly, that there are a great many ways of engaging with the same thing; secondly, that even if the activities that young people are involved in over time might change superficially, young people remain pre-occupied with the same identity and social issues as ever.

Before I explain, I think maybe I should say that I don’t think I will try to discuss anything and audio record it, with as many as eight people again! That aside, it was very useful to have done this, as it reminded me of the dynamics that exist amongst young people who are attending courses together and how they banter and tease etc etc This was a good reminder of the meatspace stuff that inevitably filters into the Facebook activities.

Number one finding – the students all told me that they did not like completing their Facebook profiles; most had only put in their name, photo, date of birth and city where they live. After that, they say they rarely update their status; they do not write on their wall, and don’t like it when others do so. They said they mainly chat on the instant messaging facility in Facebook and that they also join groups. The groups are for joining and looking at , but they rarely write anything. They spend a lot of time looking at girls’ photos, talking with each other about them and trying to get the girls to ‘add’ them as friends. So my first point is that while there is a lot of looking, & some reading happening, there is not much writing or much straying across to lots of other sites to get links etc

The boys are making lots of collections however; they have lists of which groups they belong to (automatically created by Facebook) and they can display, in their ‘friends’ section, the profile pictures of the girls they have managed to add; there is something here of the collector; the groups are about funny things and the girls are to do with sexuality. (Many of the pictures of the girls’ pix are sexually provocative etc). These are the public displays of connection the boys seemed keen to share on their Facebooks.

This was all a really fascinating wake up call for me and reminded me of stuff I had been writing about ten years ago for my PhD thesis around boys’ demonstrations of hetero-normative masculinity in school…. (Paper here: expressionsofgender)…. In the classroom, I noticed these demonstrations had to be made on a regular basis, so that they would be construed always as ‘proper’ male and as heterosexual. In the classroom, such displays were often highly disruptive, anti-academic and anti feminist. In being interviewed, in showing me the Facebook pages, the students continued to banter the whole time, licking each other into shape, making each other behave in the hetero- normative ways. I liked this group of kids; don’t get me wrong. But they are a far cry from the Facebooking people I had been envisaging for a while – who have been writerly, keen on presenting themselves in text and looking for alternative possibilities. These boys were reflecting their college selves into their Facebook selves, that’s true. But the digital revolution is not one that is transforming these essential aspects of young men.

When I have managed to transcribe the recordings, there will be more to say no doubt.

Below we have a piece from Charlieissocoollike – with his take on teenage boys. Charlie is clearly VERY middleclass and has now, I noticed, got an international following of adoring girls. These girls make video responses to his films and echo many of the techniques that he sees in his work. A fascinating cultural phenomenon – we see some memes across these videos – some of which are multimodal – but I do not see Charlieissocoollike as demoonstrating anything like what is typical in Internet use. Anyhow – have a laugh at this:

There is something very Adrian Mole and certainly very English in all this. Now a video response from a fan in Australia ….


Written by DrJoolz

March 26th, 2010 at 11:37 am

Wireless, Blogs, SNS and teen use

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Kristen Purcell from Pew Internet Research has this today:

I wonder if the statistic about using the Internet more if you are a ‘wireless’ user indicates that having wireless facility MAKES you use the Internet more .. or if it is that you get wireless as you are already mad crazy about online stuff. Prob a bit of both. We ‘went wireless’ approx seven years ago … just as we had so many people in the house using the Internet and could not afford to put routers everywhere. then we gradually all got laptops and drag them round the house with us, room to room. We take our computers with us when we go away, storing all our vital stuff and our stuff that seems vital (but probably isn’t).

I am not surprised that the SNS usage is most popular amongst the young (73% se SNS); while those going into Virtual Worlds is just 8%. I would have liked to have seen stats on gamers too… we hear often in the popular press about the huge sales of video games and about the immersive activites of gamers. But I think the gamers get attention as they are SO immersed and that involvement in game is extra to Real Life stuff … as opposed to augmentive of, RL stuff. Gamers seem to use the computer to ESCAPE, while SNS people use it to KEEP IN TOUCH.

In the February 2010 report, Social Media and Young Adults, Amanda Lenhart, Kristen Purcell, Aaron Smith, Kathryn Zickuhr explain that:

Two Pew Internet Project surveys of teens and adults reveal a decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among adults 30 and older. In 2006, 28% of teens ages 12-17 and young adults ages 18-29 were bloggers, but by 2009 the numbers had dropped to 14% of teens and 15% of young adults. During the same period, the percentage of online adults over thirty who were bloggers rose from 7% blogging in 2006 to 11% in 2009.

Again, I am not surprised… when I was looking at young people’s uses of Diaryland and of personal websites on servers like, Web 2.0 had not really arrived in the way it now has. We can produce bite size (byte size) chunks of text, that is ephemeral and possible to generate while on the move. The early versions of blogs were hard work and actually I think were used by those who already loved writing (or would have done if digital processing were not an option). Maybe they were for the ‘writerly’ type of young person. Now, with blogs being a bit more accepted, a bit more embedded in the culture, the oldies have taken them on and they are being used by them as ways of indulging their writing desires. But also those who blogged as teens in the early millenium years may now be in their twenties and some of them will be blogging still. SNS sites allow you to drop by, do something else and then drop by again. They allow for in and out attention, as opposed to blogs which tend to ask for sustained work.

looking forward to reading the report later.

Travelling to London

Written by DrJoolz

March 22nd, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Paris City Break

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Good to be in Paris again after a few years of not visiting. We really notice how the city has a nostalgic feel about it, somehow not feeling as busy as London (for example) and certainly not as covered in adverts etc etc. We have also noticed there is not as much traffic as in London – although the level of crap car-parking on the kerbs and over zebra crossings is as bad as it ever was in the city – and the authorities seem to be encouraging cycling. Ranks of bikes are easily seen across the metropolis and you can simply swipe your credit card and hire the bikes by the hour. Very cool, I think. (Although of course it keeps out those without bank accounts). Here’s a picture in sepia – just to give you a spot of olde worlde atmosphere.

Paris bikes

I’ve been thinking ahead to my teaching next week – for the MA Educational Research – on Image based Research. So I have been enjoying the photography exhibitions. Loved it at The Polka Gallerie and saw some lovely portraits from Francoise Huguier like this one:

Francoise Huguier

A life saver for us also, was our visit to The European Photography Gallery. It was completely pouring with rain (I took photos and will show later) and so we were pleased to dive in and see an exhibition which surpassed expectations. We saw the work of Delpire:

‘This exhibition looks back at Robert Delpire’s career and gives him an opportunity to thank the various people who have accompanied him in ‘this exciting adventure as a book publisher, advertising art director, exhibition curator and film producer’.

and it was interesting to see how much modern photography is influenced by the work of advertising – like Delpire’s stuff (with Sarah Moon and Henri Cartier Bresson) – for Citroen & Cacharel – which is all about selling a certain lifestyle and image. This was early work which thought about identity and consumption, presenting a lifestyle to identify with & buy into.

Other stuff of interest included images by Robert Frank – Les Americains – as they say over here. His work was controversial at the time of publishing the collection, since his social commentary style was less than complimentary about aspects of American Life – his depiction of institutional racism for example, as shown in this image of passengers on a trolley-bus in 1955 New Orleans:


Frank is often described as a journalistic photographer … presumably with an intention to show and report aspects of the political and social world in order to make people more aware. This is different of course to holiday snaps, to advertising images, to story book pictures … and probably also different to the intention of photographers who use images as part of their research data. I wonder – are the photographs only different because of their intention – or can we use the same photos for many purposes`/ Do we make different kinds of image when we have different purposes or audiences in mind?

Also saw some work on children’s book images – and we watched a French video of ‘Where the Wild Things are’ – and in French ‘Max et les MaxiMonstres’ (!!)

That’s it though … apart from to confess that we have had to come to MacDonald’s in order to use the free Wifi (pronounced WeeFee) as our hotel doers not supply it. Tant Pis.

Written by DrJoolz

December 5th, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Literacy for Lifelong Learning Conference

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I have had a fantastic time over the last few days at the Literacy for Lifelong Learning Conference here in Jamaica – The University of West Indies Education Department. .

When I get my photos and my head sorted out a bit more about the experience of being here, I will post more about the trip, but for now, here is the slideshow which I used for the keynote presentation. (Click on the orange and blue shareware icon to go to the shareware site and see the show on full screen)

I will add more links into this post when I get home so that conference delegates can access the paper I have written relating to the keynote presentation. and also the powerpoint I used and and resources I referred to in my workshop.

But in the meantime …..I also mentioned the book in my workshop by Marsh and Millard – see here.

And Kress’s book here.

Exciting, accessible and intelligent is Lankshear and Knobel’s book on New Lteracies …. as well as their book The New Literacy Sampler … which is also available online to read here.

Written by DrJoolz

March 14th, 2008 at 4:12 pm

In the Nag’s Head

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Amazing stuff down the pub on Ebay

I love the way they have a discussion board called The Nag’s head. People in there can just chill n chat.
Lots of the people in there have no selling or buying history on eBay and so are just hanging out in the discussion rooms just because they can. It’s like a free place where you can go in and loll about – only attracting attention if you break the rules.
It reminds me of the young people who hang out on street corners or in shopping malls. Those cool places where adults don’t want them but they reclaim as their own. They change the nature of a place by doing different stuff in them – and sometimes they get noticed, sometimes they don’t.
The other day I came across a thread where people were talking about brandings, piercings and body carving. Really. And there was a link to the most horrendous images. (I am not putting in a link as I don’t want it connected to my blog.) Of body carving. But they basically can talk about anything at all…so here’s one person moaning about her mother …

Basiclly I just need to rant
when Im on the phone to her or Talking to her in person I could say something she looks at me blankly and then just starts ranting about something thats on her mind

Shes had a few problems with her sisters lately and resulting in her only talking to 1 out of 5
she constantly goes on and on and on And ON about them and TBH Im getting really sick of it

Its like nothing I have to say is important because she has this problem even my kids had to listen to it when she was here last week. Carl listened to it one night and then disappered for the rest of the week

or there is this one about people with no manners:

Really wind me up
13 people said their child was coming to Connors party today, i put on the invitation that i needed to know exact numbers by the 7th as i had to pay in advance, most of them i had to chase up because they were too lazy to tick the box saying i would love to come/ i cant come.
On friday i had 13 “definitley coming” i paid £161 for the bloody party £11.50 a child and 4 of them didnt turn up after their parents said they were coming

I am so temted to tell the parents tomorrow they owe me £11.50 each

and breathe

I think that people plan to meet on these discussion boards and then have a chat. I think they know each other face to face and use this as a spce to catch up. Which is a good idea I spose as it is free and there is loadsa room to put up jpgs and the like.

So my point is that people re-fashion online spaces to suit their needs. Interesting.

Such is the fascination of eBay, that one of the most viewed images on my Flick stream, is the teacups I once bought from eBay:

Great e-bayer

Written by DrJoolz

November 11th, 2007 at 2:38 pm