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Posted by on Oct 30, 2010

Week 6 Review: Lurking in the Shadows

This week has been less about output and more about observation. I diverted much of the energy that I had previously been expending towards pushing out content, reflections, etc. towards the observation of my chosen ethnographic community: eLearning Africa.

As an active member of this community for years, I had taken for granted certain elements of my adherence to the community over the years. I had generally benefited from the ongoing conversations, had participated and assisted when called upon to do so, all leading towards the physical conference held yearly in different parts of Africa. This seemed like a natural lifecycle for a community, activity pinned toward a manifesting event. In this instance, it happened to be a conference.

However, switching to observational mode for the purposes of this ethnographic study has proven enlightening as I do see fissure points, less congealed areas of the community. I have seen certain roles, identities, and authority structures wield power; I have seen a vocal minority establishing the flow, pace, and topics for discussion. I have seen energies directed towards #elearning as development and elearning as commerce, the usual mix of vendors and practitioners, teachers and students.

However, what I enjoy most about this community is the lack of concern it exhibits for channels of communication as well as a heft adventurism, a sense of experimentation. I see this all play out in orbits. eLearning Africa represents the center, the place where we all come together to learn and teach, share and build. Then this learning is taken to local orbits, localized spaces and applied. Everyone gleans from eLearning Africa what they can and from there they are encouraged to experiment. Lessons learned are shared at the next year’s event, creating a cycle of development and iterations, a classic pattern.

I have also spent inordinate amount of time with tools and perhaps I leaned towards being clever when I should have spent more time being accurate and representational. It is my assumption now that the tools for presenting the ethnography should be reflective of the community itself. I lost that a bit this week (and this misdirection is reflected in my Lifestream). Lesson learned, knowledge gained and now on to Week 7.

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2 Comments

  1. Very interesting post Michael. You’re right – when you are an active participant you don’t always notice stuff happening on the periphery of your own action. I’ve found observing my own virtual community this week and gaining some feedback from a survey I sent out to them has been fascinating. We don’t have an ‘offline’ meeting place, in the same way elearning Africa does and I wonder if that is the reason more than half the members surveyed said they didn’t know any fellow members off-line? Also, the lack of a face-to-face aspect might explain why some members join and never participate at all – I assume they just ‘lurk’ and use the resources.

    I liked your point about ‘the vocal minority’, which I think Kozinet or Bell called the ‘core group’. My network definitely has such a group and they are the ones who have largely responded to the survey and contributed financially to the continuation of the network when Ning started making charges in the summer.

    It’s wonderful that the elearning Africa network seem to have a real cycle of learning going on – I’m not sure our network could say the same – I wonder how that could be achieved?

  2. All good points, Noreen. Many thanks for that.

    “We don’t have an ‘offline’ meeting place, in the same way elearning Africa does and I wonder if that is the reason more than half the members surveyed said they didn’t know any fellow members off-line? Also, the lack of a face-to-face aspect might explain why some members join and never participate at all – I assume they just ‘lurk’ and use the resources.”

    I would agree. I suspect that with certain variables (age, for example) the lack of face to face contact/reinforcement actually has a negative relationship to participation in the online portion. I think it is different for us in the Edinburgh group; we have never met face to face but we are committed to the community, to each other. I suspect that is more evidence of a great structure (course) and relatively highly evolved learners (us) at the peak of our discernment/learning skills. For eLearning Africa, the conference actually kickstarts the conversation again. Everybody goes back to their local communities and reports back in. Helps quite a bit, especially in places where no network existed before.

    “I liked your point about ‘the vocal minority’, which I think Kozinet or Bell called the ‘core group’. My network definitely has such a group and they are the ones who have largely responded to the survey and contributed financially to the continuation of the network when Ning started making charges in the summer.”

    This is a great point. This core group (thanks for that) is the social glue that holds the community together. They post, chat, talk, discuss, try to rope everyone else in. As in any social network, these types are incredibly important. Technology or not, we are still dealing with a human, emotional enterprise here. These people holds the nodes of the network together, tether it somehow.

    On a side note, after messing around with iMovie, Vuvox, etc. I have actually gravitated back to Prezi for this ethnography. I feel strangely bad about it, but it is just a good fit for what I am trying to say.

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