Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010

eLearning Africa ethnography

This is a video record of my Prezi presentation for my ethnography for #ededc om the #mscel at the University of Edinburgh. I use the hashtags for this to signal that I am referring to a digital community as opposed to a physical one (although they do overlap). I do this within the presentation quite a bit so I thought it best to mention that ahead of time. The above is a video, but if you prefer scrolling through the Prezi at your own pace, you can access it in one of two places:

I chose eLearning Africa as a community because it transitions quite well from the digital to the physical (“the virtual to the real”). My observations yielded good results (in my opinion) as I found elements that reaffirmed my initial assumptions about this community and unraveled others that seem to point to possible fissure points for the overall aims of the community. eLearning Africa also proved interesting as it is essentially a geographical concept mapped larger digitally (international in participation) with pragmatic objectives mapped locally (at units smaller than Africa; regional or national levels). So you have if not blurred boundaries than certainly stretched ones.

As for my choice of tool to present with, after much deliberation and forays into other tools, I chose Prezi. Prezi was chosen not necessarily because it was the most dynamic tool available, but rather it offered a larger canvas in which to paint a portrait of this community. I previously attempted to use iMovie and Vuvox, but ultimately decided to stick with Prezi (although I do include bits that I created in iMovie and many thanks to Martin for recommending Vuvox).

The Prezi focuses on the thematic elements of the community, specifically:

  • Geography (What is Africa?)
  • Empowerment
  • Pragmatism
  • Roles

I pulled from the following sources (our readings for the last few weeks):

Further, I pulled content from the various social networks in which this community communicates.

Share : Share on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare on GooglePlusShare on PinterestShare on Facebook

16 Comments

  1. Michael,
    I find your v-ethnography complexly fascinating; difficult — a global v-ethnography paying attention to perceptual historic and contemporary roles: what is Africa, why is a Berlin learning model successful; why/how is there a possibility for technology; who/what is the alien/robot? Such difficult or unanswerable questions are what make the presentation riveting. It has a power that joins with its subject where learning is part of a massive solution. This was not articulated by anyone better than the schoolboy talking about mathematics. That he hadn’t previously thought he like maths; yet he spoke in terms of a philosophy of numbers as fulfilling: education as ontological. I was astonished by the articulate intelligence of this child. This, was, I think Roland Barthe’s moment of punctum in your work — resolution of a search and the power of research. ——— Totally interesting as well, that Africa, as it spoke from your presentation, was speaking of eLearning via mobile technology with modest handsets —I think we have much to learn there. • Many thanks also for the Tweets posting links to ela, they have been great and resulted in a very fine work.

  2. Michael,

    As Dennis says, a very fine piece of work indeed. For me the pervading sense of positivity, ‘liberation, empowerment, cohesive development’ in all that eLearning Africa embodies was a powerful message.

    This is supported by, ‘tone of spiritualism in the urgency and optimism’ and ‘urgency reinforces cohesion and participation’. Your discussion of a truly global community, in every sense, both digital and physical is expertly done. Great stuff!

    🙂

    • Thanks for that, Martin. Very kind of you. I couldn’t help but notice this sense of optimism, of elearning as being part of the liberation struggle (I am thinking full independence here; still a relatively recent phenomenom (Zimbabwe: 1980; S Africa: 1994). Since it is so recent, it is also fresh in the cultural memory and can be used to rally people towards development (almost like a 5 year plan for eLearning). Political overtones, certainly, but mostly a positive message of empowerment and development.

  3. Michael, this is exceptional! I’m going to have to watch this again (and probably again!). It really fits in with the work of some of my colleagues in Africa and I’m looking forward to sharing it.

    Thank you also for the tip about Prezi in Tumblr! I’m off to load mine there too 🙂

  4. An in-depth study here Michael, and one that I found fascinating. There are so many points that interested me, and I really got a sense of the excitement and enthusiasm of participants.

    The notion that the conference is a physically located, temporal event that provides a focal point for the community: I think your choice here was brilliant, in that it raises so many questions about travel and virtuality, as you say the community is ‘a geographical concept mapped larger digitally’. It would be fascinating to map in detail how the virtual community operates, and fragments into subgroups, in this cycle from conference to conference, year to year, linking this activity to specific elements of the physical conference. You have a real tangible interweaving of virtual and actual here.

    The reference to ‘spiritualism’, relating to the optimism displayed towards technology was intriguing. This made me think of how ancient cultures and traditions in Africa might be permeating the ideals and strategies of the virtual community. I wonder how much of the traditional Africa enters into the digital one?

    The questions relating to the moral authority of African vs non-African seem to open up a whole area of study and consideration, really fascinating questions. ‘Often the vocal minority…are non-African’. Given that the majority of conference attendees are African, this raised many questions for me. Is it perhaps lack of access to technology, or is this related to cultural practices and norms of communication? Moreover, this seems to raise questions of authenticity. Is there a clear distinction, and understanding of that distinction, between colonialism and globalised community? This really is an absorbing ethnography Michael, thanks.

  5. Wow, I am blown away by all these comments! Let me try and respond to each one individually.

    @Dennis: Great comments and you pulled out some things in there that I am not sure I was fully conscious of.

    “That he hadn’t previously thought he like maths; yet he spoke in terms of a philosophy of numbers as fulfilling: education as ontological. I was astonished by the articulate intelligence of this child. ”

    Absolutely and it reminded me a bit of a quote from a librarian (can’t remember exactly who, but your Barthes quote builds on that a bit). “Librarians like to search; everyone else like to find.” The end of the journey, the resolution of a search, the epiphany of understanding. You just live for those things. Many parts of Africa are wonderful that way in that sincerity is present; there is very little clever for the sake of it. Less of a shroud of conceit.

    “This, was, I think Roland Barthe’s moment of punctum in your work — resolution of a search and the power of research. ”

    Yes, the resolution of a search illustrating the filling of an information need as well as the power of research. To be able to access materials, first, and to be able to use them, second, and then to create from them, third. Information literacy in a nutshell and very few places do you get to see that range of activity, the lifecycle of research like you do in Africa.

    I am very proud of the work my organization does there (every non-profit institution in Africa that wants it has access for free to everything we have-all of JSTOR, Aluka, Plant Science).

  6. @Sharon,

    You are too kind, Sharon (but I certainly love all the positive energy you send my way!). Curious to know more about the work your colleagues do in Africa. I am seeing some exceptional developments there that I am excited about. Certain nations are ready to explode (in a good way), ie Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, S. Africa. Five years from now I suspect we will be talking about them as success stories. Either way, from our point of view on this course, it is great to see the genesis of a digital culture emerge. Homegrown social networks, homegrown online universities (African Virtual University), homegrown African digital culture. Very rewarding.

    No problem about Tumblr. That is Tumblr’s strength, handles just about anything. Between you and me and the rest of the Internet, I actually had to stop with the ethnography on Prezi as it said my file size was too big! And I have a Pro Account! So there are limits to what it can handle.

    Take care, Sharon!

  7. @Jeremy, always great, insightful comments. You pick apart what I am semi-consciously going after and reveal to me things that I missed. Always appreciated. Let me address a few of your points directly.

    “It would be fascinating to map in detail how the virtual community operates, and fragments into subgroups, in this cycle from conference to conference, year to year, linking this activity to specific elements of the physical conference. You have a real tangible interweaving of virtual and actual here.”

    Agreed. This, if done properly, would be a massive ethnography of groups and subgroups, splinters and associations. I think it would map extremely well visually as it is rooted in “place” (digital or physical). These subgroups gather energy from the event, go back to “home”, and reinvest that energy in related projects, come back and stimulate the greater whole. Fascinating construct; both (hyper)local and regional, digital and physical.

    I think it would also be great to map the channels that didn’t work as there is a sense of fast failure sort of programmed in. This is partly due to the atrocious track record funding organizations have in Africa (everytime I visit a university, I see equipment not used for lack of parts; technology not implemented for lack of power, knowhow, what have you). So, it would be good to visualize where the energy is lost (in failed projects), like water on the ground. An electric cable with a frayed edge just bleeding power. Tie this off and you have a better grid of activity floating throughout the continent.

    “The reference to ‘spiritualism’, relating to the optimism displayed towards technology was intriguing. This made me think of how ancient cultures and traditions in Africa might be permeating the ideals and strategies of the virtual community. I wonder how much of the traditional Africa enters into the digital one?”

    Agreed and I am kicking myself for not addressing this more thoroughly. I do believe traditional African cultures are permeating the digital one and this is partly due to the African and international communities doing it in their own way. The German organization that started this attempted to map their structure on to an African community model, so you generally see much more time dedicated to open discussions, consensus building, that sort of thing (as compared to North American conferences I attend). So they attempted to replicate African communities in the conference event. But it was in essence a German take on African culture (nothing wrong with that per se). It was the African application on the local level that really demonstrated the African community model. Projects included mobile health care (nurses on bicycles with camera phones; doctors in central locations looking at images, making diagnoses) nomad education (teachers on bicycles/motorcycles heading out to pastoral camps and teaching children to read and write using solar-powered laptops), libraries for homeless children (http://www.lubuto.org/). All local solutions in an African context; all spurred by a German take on African culture.

  8. Sorry it’s taken so long to comment on your ethnography. I looked at it a few days ago but wanted to get my thoughts together.

    What was especially interesting in your study, as opposed to others, were the way that traditional ethnographical elements such as travel still had a resonance in your virtual ethnography because of the Africa theme. As the community was also tied to an off-line event there were still those themes of ‘otherness’ in terms of the ethnographer and the relationship to the community. Clearly you don’t have to be African to take part in the elearning Africa community and I did wonder about the post-colonial echoes in terms of the historical relationship between western countries and Africa? You were saying that the balance of non-Africans versus Africans at the face-to-face event was 20/80 – is it the same ratio in the online environment/community?

    I also wondered if Africans have embraced technology and e-learning precisely because it transcends traditional power structures and relationships? Things that have held back and are continuing to hold back Africa such as the western stranglehold on traditional trade routes and markets and access to wealth don’t have the same applicability in the digital environment?

    The other idea which fascinated me in your work was the idea of community as the norm, the expected dynamic. I have always been interested in societies where the ‘individual’ and individual aspiration is not the norm and the idea of collective identity. Societies where people talk about themselves in terms of their role in their community, using ‘we’ when asked to describe their own lives or work. I think that was also a feature of working class communities in western countries too. Could be something to follow up in virtual communities – do participants think of themselves as ‘we’ or ‘I’ in that arena?

  9. Hello there, Noreen,

    Very insightful comments; you read into that quite well. Let me respond to individual parts of the post:

    “Clearly you don’t have to be African to take part in the elearning Africa community and I did wonder about the post-colonial echoes in terms of the historical relationship between western countries and Africa?”

    Yes, absolutely. I find that it is interesting that it never (and I mean ever in my experience) comes up from the African side. They might harbor something or it might be there latently, but certainly for the international participants this is heavy on their minds. Very sensitive to making this a collaboration rather than a directive. In essence, most of these academic disciplines involved in this are mapped onto a colonial framework. The information flows follow much this same route, but we are starting to see some local constructs that speak directly to the African experience. But you are right, there is certainly a sense of history here. Maybe a lot of us are just trying to do right by a place we might perceive ourselves as having done wrong by before.

    “Things that have held back and are continuing to hold back Africa such as the western stranglehold on traditional trade routes and markets and access to wealth don’t have the same applicability in the digital environment?”

    Yes, they take to technology primarily for very pragmatic reasons. Development, etc. There is also certainly a sense that it circumvents traditional power structures (this is much more applicable in former French West Africa, for example, as opposed to British West Africa-most French speaking African nations are still heavily dependent on France for economic lifelines-less so in places like Ghana, Kenya, etc.). However, I should note that this technology also transcends African regional differences, unites Africa in ways it was never united before. Frankly, Africa was centuries was largely a geographical construct. The average Kenyan would have very little in common with the average Cameroonian, for example. Technology (and economic, social, and political organizations) is essentially pan-African and it forms an identity there. How strong is that identity? It is getting stronger, certainly. A real sense of place, purpose. Good example of technology (even digital culture) essentially mediating, if not introducing, a physical identity.

    “Could be something to follow up in virtual communities – do participants think of themselves as ‘we’ or ‘I’ in that arena?”

    This is a very good part of your excellent comments, Noreen. I suspect, and this is pure conjecture, that digital culture will shift a bit of these communal elements towards the individual (if and when these countries move from developmental ends to more creative, innovative ones). What will Africa mean without communal boundaries? What do any distinctions like that matter online? I think they do, but they are certainly transformed by the online experience. Will it damage a communal system? I am not sure about damage, but certainly alter it. Maybe networks will replace communities?

  10. Hi Michael – can I just check if I should be hearing anything, I’m not hearing anything.

    The links here between physical worlds and online ‘communities’ are interesting aren’t they? Motivation for belonging is really important and where people have something they strongly identify with & can believe in, it seems that they can really thrive – Lego, Photography, Fallen Fruit, Bees, Sleeping Cats.

    It’s interesting how many communities link to real-world hobbies, interests and activities. It has a really strong connect with online identity – I haven’t been through everyone’s yet, but did anyone look at escapist communities? Where people are anyone but themselves online.

    • Hello there Marie,
      No sound, except for the video themselves. Thought about a soundtrack of sorts, but wanted to avoid cliches and the obligatory use of African traditional music. Next time, I will use Amadou & Miriam, a great duo from Mali.

      Escapist communities, eh? That would be a good approach to all of this, that pursuit of other, something really disconnected from a physical identity. I think digital cultures and physical cultures map really well on each other. It makes sense as much of what we can do online can be done in real life and vice versa; those divides are lessening I suspect. Escapist communities would be interesting. Now you have me thinking!

  11. A very indepth study michael of a diverse community, dispersed in terms of a large continent but also the mix of people. I think the prezi presentation is an inspired visual represenation of this.

    What strikes me most is the fact that it seems a community of ‘liberators’ as opposed to ‘liberated’ or a mix of the two and your point that non-african participation is in some respects social glue for the community.

    Regarding the technologies – bandwith of course is a problem in Africa and thats why they go for the ubiquitous mobile as a possible solution. I suspect you are aware of OER Africa and Neil Butcher and Catherine Ngugi?

    I particularly like the points you make about markets as community and hubs as community and am intrigued to know more about Africas approach to offline community and how it is different to the notalgic western perception you have already discussed in some of your tumblr audio files?

    • Thanks for this, Alison! Yes, indeed, OER Africa is a trailblazer here (as is African Virtual University) and the wrok of Butcher is influential. Many thanks for that as it is a good refresher on some initiatives and people working in this space.

      As far as the disconnect between African offline communities and western perception, that indeed is a tough one (and one I didn’t address in the audio files on Tumblr). I have a good friend, a Kenyan academic, who I rely on for this sort of thing. What does community mean? How important are tribal relations, that sort of thing? He is very candid about all of this and goes very far to tell me what is wrong with Africa, but he does stress there is less of a materialistic approach to things (and this could be developmental), that family and larger group affiliations mark events in people’s lives, usher them through adulthood, etc. not unlike traditional cultures the world over. I only wonder if that is something we have lost, or at the very least, de-emphasized. Are there ways that digital communities can recapture this? I actually think it does a bit as many of our physical communities, being constantly in flux and motion, are often disaggregated and lack the social glue of community. Just my thoughts, but it is nice to see that in certain parts of Africa, that hasn’t been lost and indeed is appearing in online communities as well.

  12. Michael, in short, I absolutely loved this. There is so much here that you could do more work on for future projects or assignments, but what is here already is so rich and fascinating. Great work. I find myself mulling over the idea of a ‘big tent’, and how e-learning africa has to construct and reconstruct ideas of Africa in ways that are ‘non-denominational’ (as you put it), because the continent is so vast and diverse. And then I was wondering if your point about the lack of importance given to any one digital space – the acceptance of multiple channels and no fixed ‘home’ in the digital could be associated with that same need?

  13. Too kind, Jen. Actually the big tent idea is a good analogy for this as the Africa construction will try to be many things for many people (and run the risk of diluting itself in the process). The continent is so diverse that I often wonder if the Africa projection (as a concept) is to eradicate/redefine itself as a potent force, a brand name recognition sort of thing.

    I suspect that when this is firmly established (and I do believe it is on the right track for this, shedding a bit of the victim/chaos/poor label) then you will see either national level situations or even on a regional one (West Africa vs. North Africa vs. East Africa-that sort of thing).

    I think the lack of a fixed home in the digital is pragmatic primarily (each participates according to their preferences), but it does also cast a broad net intentionally. Africa will be wherever you are, that sort of thing. Thanks for the comments, Jen!

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *