#DigitalParenting: Marcus Leaning: The Internet, Power & Society

41s0OpuB5oL._SL500_AA300_Marcus Leaning: The Internet, Power and Society: Rethinking the Power of the Internet to Change Lives (2009)

I used to chat to Marcus a lot as we taught the course ‘Manipulating Media’ together at Winchester. He draws on a huge range of studies to consider how there have been feelings that daily life will be transformed/improved through use of the internet. Social networking – transforming politics/culture. However, the Internet has also been seen as a threat – pedophiliac material (transmitted), hackers attack govts (geographically far away), stolen IDs & addiction. He emphasises that this is not unique to the Internet – that every new technology has brought forth “moral panics”.

Contemporary discussions concerning the internet are in many ways similar. We see the internet in many different ways – sometimes as savior, sometimes as a threat, sometimes as a beneficial force to society, bringing democracy and new opportunities, and sometimes as a modern curse, allowing illicit content within the reach of our children.[p2]

3 approaches to seeking to study the internet:

  1. From computer science (human-computer interaction, from a biological perspective)
  2. Draw upon existing sociological understandings of ‘user’ & ‘social space’ – sees the technology as incidental
  3. Looking for new theories of understanding – the is not passive, but enables new forms of technology – changes our forms of comms & social relationships.

He explains that the Internet may cause change/new ways of acting in a political sense, but it is contingent upon other aspects of social life.

“Discussions of technology, particularly contemporary discourse surrounding the internet, are underpinned by deeply felt but often unarticulated assumptions of how technology and people interact. For the most part the relationship between technology and society, particularly new technologies, is assumed to be of a simple deterministic nature – the introduction of new technology causes social change.” As with previous new technologies – social problems are seen to be solved with strategic use of technology – influences policy making decisions.  [p17]

Draws particularly upon the theorists Giddens, Beck, McLuhan & Raymond Williams, amongst others, and identifies most engagement with definitions of

  • Instrumentalism: Technology is essentially neutral, subservient to us. 
  • Determinism: Technology is active in bringing about (social) change. Hard: specific technologies = specific changes. Soft: Just another aspect of social life,but active.
  • Substantivism: Technology interacts with/changes social life, but avoids utopianism & viewed with distrust.

Sees that the traditional methods of ‘media studies’ – which focus upon e.g. the institution – may not be enough here.

Mass-media scholars have traditionally been concerned with issues of media content, the effect of media upon audiences and the institutional systems of ownership, management and distribution.[p44]

Questions what defines ‘technology’ and ‘new media’… “new” appears to be particularly interactivity. The fact that so much early work focused upon ‘deceit’ online, which has given it a lot of press attention. The interaction of ‘real world’ and ‘virtual world’ in gaming, the deskilling of what’s required to get online, the personalisation of content. What’s required for the internet to function (in it’s current culture – not necessarily the only way):

  • Hardware/Software need to be in place. 
  • Institutional systems – legal/economic – profit drives provision
  • Education – skills/access to use/understand technology (inc media literacy)
  • Cultural – need a match between user & content (E.g local info)
  • Sociological: Must offer the type of debate that society is interested in for it to have any impact upon that society.

Buy the book on Amazon

Academic Digital

Chapter Abstract: Manipulating media: developing media studies student’s academic literacy using social media.

Just found out today that this chapter has been (almost certainly!) accepted, book due for publication October 2011

Chapter Title: Manipulating media: developing media studies student’s academic literacy using social media.

Abstract: This chapter concerns the use of social media in the teaching of academic literacy to Media Studies undergraduates in a British university. Academic literacy courses cover topics such as referencing, rhetoric, and information literacy and are often unpopular for both students and staff. This chapter examines the way in which social media was used to develop an alternative course to deliver key academic literacy skills in a more engaging manner.

Discussion and Outline of Chapter: Proposal This chapter that looks at how social media is being used to teach academic literacy in Media Studies at a British University. The chapter explores the rationale and theories behind using social media for this purpose, examples of how particular forms of social media are being used, how it is being evaluated and possible future directions for using social media in this manner. The chapter is divided into an introduction, 3 substantive sections and a conclusion. Section one details the problem of teaching academic literacy and how the problem has been addressed previously. Section two recounts the application of constructivist learning techniques for teaching academic literacy. Section three provides details of the course and how social media is heavily integrated into the course so as to facilitate constructivist learning practices. Methods of evaluation are also described and discussed. In the conclusion future directions for the use of social media are examined along with the possible use of web 3.0 applications.

Section headings: Introduction Introduces basics of British university education and the discipline of media studies – a subject that is the ‘bette noir’ of popular commentary. Media Studies is often regarded as having little ‘real world’ application and accused of being a ‘soft’ subject, primarily focussed upon the study of entertainment. The focus on popular media rather than ‘difficult’ or high art is widely understood to mean that the work students produce which comments upon the media are written in the same popular idiom and lack in intellectual rigor. More troublesome is that this belief, that the style of subject matter of the discipline should be replicated by the students in their own work, is one that is often held by students when they start their studies. Thus a key problem faced by academics teaching media studies is getting students to comprehend a distinction exists between popular texts and the academic commentary on such texts and that they should be aiming to produce the latter rather than the former. This is also coupled with the perennial issues of referencing, rhetorical skills and other basic academic writing skills.

Section 1: The problem – the desert that is the academic literacy class Attempts to remedy this problem have taken several forms and each has resulted in problems. Initially it was felt that such skills would be acquired by simply ‘being’ in university and for a considerable period the problem was not demarcated from other issues of student failure. A later model sought to separate such skills entirely from the subject syllabus and teach them centrally or even remove the problem from the degree course entirely and require students to attend study skills workshops. The current solution is to have them as part of the course again – but this is a problem – these courses tend to be skills based without a lot of substantive content. A solution that is unpopular with both students and staff, typical complaints that such courses are ‘dry’. Various attempts to improve such courses with e-learning approaches have been made. This move ‘online’ has had some benefits but in many instances such efforts were little more than duplicating and making available the same material as available off line. No real use was made of the actual qualities of ‘form’ of the media.

Section 2: Constructivist learning approaches Parallel to the development of e-learning was the gradual emergence and adoption of the constructivist learning paradigm in certain circles of British university education. Constructivism has had a considerable impact upon British university education and has impacted upon many areas of learning. Furthermore it development into specific models of educational practice such as ‘collaborative project based online learning’ (Buzzetto-Moore, 2009) represents a new an interesting way forward. Buzzetto-Moore argues learning should be 1) project based, 2) collaborative, 3) online. Thus the course is project based upon and requires students to engage in online, collaborative projects responding to tasks set by the tutor.

Section 3: Social media as a means to deploy constructivist principles. The increased interactivity of web 2.0 applications and the specific applications of social media offer a way to do this. They allow for a revision of the work in both form and content, the emphasis is changed to what students produce rather than the acquisition of skills. The academic literacy skills are acquired almost ‘subversively’ through the engagement with the projects.

To enable this the course employs a number of social media tools for learning and teaching, including blogging as both a two-way information source and reflective practice, Twitter for crowdsourcing and relationship building, Delicious booking and Amazon reviews for critiquing material, the critical use and creation of podcasts and YouTube, and the use of open source collaborative platforms such as Slideshare, Scribd, Prezi, Humbox and the Google Suite to build upon pre-existing work.

Furthermore, in addition to the academic literacy skills used in the researching and writing of the material students also gain skills in digital literacy: understanding their audience, strategy, critiquing, and confidence through experimentation.

The course is evaluated through two main methods: a two part survey that focuses upon specific skill acquisition and a course evaluation questionnaire.

Conclusion – Future Directions in Social Media and their Applications to the Academic Literacy Class The development of web 3.0, the ‘semantic’ (or intelligent) web offers new more interesting opportunities to extend the course in new directions. Web 3.0 applications are expected to offer the advanced layering of information, drawing upon geolocation, augmented reality, and a more mobile user, who, with the development of 3D, has a more immersive experience. Such systems will allow for the student to enjoy a fully blended learning experience that afford the acquisition of both traditional academic literacy skills and a high degree of digital literacy.

Primary Author Biography: Dr Marcus Leaning is programme leader for Media Studies at the University of Winchester in the UK. He has published many chapters and articles on the contextual and critical study of new media and is the author of:

  • Leaning, M. (2009) The Internet power and society: rethinking the power of the internet to change lives, Oxford: Chandos.
  • Leaning, M.(eds)(2009) Issues in Information and media literacy: criticism, history and policy, Santa Rosa: Informing Science Press. Leaning, M. (eds) (2009) Issues in Information and media literacy: education, practice and pedagogy, Santa Rosa: Informing Science Press.

Secondary Author Biography: Dr Bex Lewis is a an associate lecturer in the School of Film and Media and a Blended Learning Fellow both at the University of Winchester. She is also director of Digital Fngureprint, a social media consultancy. Bex has published in the fields of media history and blended learning.