Life through Digital Play


Are Social Networkers trapped in a superfical world?

Have we become self-obsessed/absorbed in Social Networking Sites that we have forgotten/choose not to look at the problems in society?

Are SNS’s a necessary/unecessary distraction from world events?

Do we feel the need to be closer to our friends at this time due to the type of society we live in?

Or has the social movement of online Social Networking made us forget the real world, thus becoming superficial and just plain shallow?

With reference to Richard Macmanus and Joshua Porter, are we now ‘designing more for machines than people’?

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Even the author of the clip chooses to escape through lonelygirl15 !


Social networking – A haven for stalkers or employers?

There has been growing concern about facebook and other social networking sites regarding the access of an individual’s personal information by strangers. Reports have stated that some people have recieved anonymous phone calls by stalkers, thus calling into question issues of individual privacy. The collaborative web facilitated by sophisticated publishing language has created a virtual world where anyone can easily upload content to the web. However, this free and liberating cyberspace has become so liberating it seems, that people are no longer being stringent with their private details. We are constantly reassured about secure websites and ‘phishing filters’ but yet many consumers continue to buy products from the internet with credit cards or using online bank accounts.
Also organisations and employers are using such SNS’s to scope out potential employees prior to offering interviews or work. Social Networking Sites are now becoming part of the recruitment and selection process, determining whether applicants actually meet the shortlisting criteria!

Social networking, which began offline through face to face contact, has since transcended from the private sphere to an online public sphere through sites such as Facebook, Myspace etc and is now coming back full circle into the private sphere again because how you present yourself on such sites or through your blog could have a dramatic impact on your career. The way that you act or “perform” online could in fact cost you that promotion or even lose you future employment.

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A Birthday Post

Another day older, so why haven’t I taken the day off?…

Well as I see it , birthdays come and go…there’ll be another one next year! I’ve decided to postpone my celebrations for a month until I’ve finished my MA to really celebrate and sleep off a 2 day hang over – now thats dedication and commitment to studying right??!
So as I’m here working out essay and dissertation plans, it struck me…I should write a post to commemorate this day, especially as i’m not out shopping or preparing for a wild evening…
Many may call me an obsessed student, crazy, or possibly even down right foolish, – however, I have my reasons and maybe i need to share these with ya’ll!

Time is of the essence when you lead a busy life…
working 2 part time jobs,
running a small business,
studying full time.

Each have their individual and full-on workloads, which I could go into but won’t bore you at this time!
Lets just say that finding time to:
- Film and edit a short pre-title sequence (when access to the multimedia suite is available!) whilst reading and researching to write a corresponding essay
- Update a blog with reflective ‘stuff’ whilst reading to research and write a corresponding essay (as well as keeping abreast with weekly/bi-weekly written tasks)
- Conduct research (with primary school aged children, – managing the in-flux-nature/saga’s associated with this particular age group!), and then locate theories and write a dissertation (to incorporate/signify a whole year of study in a sophisticated manner!)
- Manage a youth club for young people aged 13 – 19 yrs (with all of the trials and tribulations associated!)
- Manage an out of school programme for children aged 4 – 11 yrs (with staff shortages, staff training, etc.)
- Plan/contibute (understandably) to management meetings/conferences
- Small Businsess administration (Tax/PAYE submissions, reply to client correspondence- phone/letter/email/fax)
- Fundraise (attempting to meet 3 funding application deadlines!)
- Deal with a dodgy Ball Cock (Ahem …in the toilet thank you!)
- Deal with a leaking boiler (can’t get hold of my plumber at all, hmm – I could phone other plumbers, but my plumber has better call out rates!)
….Sheesh, thats a lot to sort out don’t you think?!

Okay…sorry…I went there and told you what I said wouldn’t…
so here I am in front of the computer screen…attempting to multi-task!

On this note, I want to use this post to thank my family, god-children and friends for my cards, presents, birthday texts and phone calls as well as the ongoing support that you have all given/shown me over the years (feels like an academy award moment!)
Formal studies will soon be over and I will be free and devoid of academic stress!
Will my work ethic will ever change?…I doubt it, to get what you want out of life, you need to work hard and then play hard – Thanks for your patience and thanks for the space!
xx


Wikis – Wicked or Wack?

What are Wikis and how useful are they?

Firstly, Wikis are open source software applications which allow for ‘open editing’ enabling users to edit content written by other users, such like Wikipedia.

The concept of Wikis is both a liberating and exciting chapter in the read/write approach of user generated content, revealing the web to be a democratic space where ‘non technical’ authors march to the keyboards to exhibit their new found agency. However, there are downsides to this collaborative approach in making meaning, such as the posting of unreliable information and the deleting of another author’s contribution in the spirit of content modification. The question becomes then, how do these issues play out in social communities established through Wikis? Are silent hierarchies created between individual user/authors, or do these acts launch a series of knowledge wars?

In the context of education, Wikis seem to be a positive resource for educators and an accessible space for group work between students. Wikis can enable tutors to keep track of both the process and progress of their students’ group projects as well as add pointers, guidance and feedback or simply offer praise.

For people like me discovering the second generation internet through web 2.0, wikispaces has a great tour which shows the functionality of wikis and just how easy they are to create.


Time to Chill

Okay,  so i’ve been hard at it, but there’s still a lot of things to do, particularly essays to write…

I’m about to take a minute just to chill and listen to some mellow musaq…

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Blog Design

Designing how you want your blog to look can be an important decision, do you want it to say something about yourself and therefore represent an aspect of your character? Should your decision be based on fumctionality in order to house all the side bar widgets which may serve you well over time? Or should your design be based on simplicity, ease of use just to get your message across?

When deliberating these choices, I opted for all three! The design had to be sleek, not over the top, but aesthetically pleasing with a choice of widgets which would serve future entries but easy to use when posting entries and uploading images.

However, a number of functions are missing, which, had I’d designed the template would have included a visitor count, extended side bar widgets so as to post information/pictures in the vast, redundant space on either side of the blog and a feed which sends responses to replies left by others so as to keep the narrative continuous rather than flipping from blog to blog. Of course, I would need to have skills in using Javascript, HTML or even XHTML and other internet languages, which are currently non existent within my repertoire of knowledge!

When using templates, many bloggers probably experiment with initial designs so as to view the blog’s style, either by adding short posts or small pieces of information prior to adding a substantial entry. Decisions can then be made as to what needs to be added or discarded. Some templates are just too colourful, claustrophobic in their design or limited in what they offer. Others are simply “just not right” for who you are or what you want to convey.

Blog designs are an important feature when setting a path for communication, which is why the visual design chosen for this blog incoporates a cool header as the most salient feature to signify Digital Play. All posts incorporate either text, images and videos with hyertextual depth, thus serving as inter-textual references to highlight specific points. The semiotic text of this design provides an ‘explicit trajectory’ for readers to understand the information posted and establish meaning. However choice is afforded to the reader as to which post to read first, therefore the meaning text becomes unilateral so that readers are not confined to the linear order of the entries but can choose between mundane narratives and reflective narratives as well as themed or topical pages of interest.


Where do you stand?

According to The LondonPaper, research conducted in California has revealed that SNS’s are creating a social divide. Myspace, Bebo, Facebook and Linkedin are each stated as being frequently used by particular social groups.

Read the article below to decide where you stand.

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Journeying through Visual Design: GridClub

GridClub is an educational website for children aged 5 – 12 years which offers a variety of learning activities through game play. A brief textual analysis will highlight the visual design and elements of multimedia employed in presenting the site’s ‘multiple-user pathways’. Using the functional categories of Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen (Reading Images, The Grammar of Visual Design) adopted by Andrew Burn and David Parker in their website analysis Chocolate Politics’, I will explore how the website’s design, language and hypertext links represent the content of the site, the relationship constructed between the text and audience and produces models of learning. 

I must say at this point that this analysis is conducted as a user participating in the site without subscription rights or accessing the free trial offer.

GridClub provides learning activities through curriculum areas English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Art, Music and Modern Foreign Languages. The website is designed for children to use at school with their teachers or at home with parents.  The site is heavily governed by a discourse of education, childhood and play and therefore informed by a combination of ideologies presented both viually and textually - a bold, colourful layout wih animated characters to represent a “space for kids”, parental involvement in children’s education and as ‘GridClub learning doesn’t feel like learning at all’,  exciting opportunities which aid education. The site is supported by the DFES, Curriculum online, Becta (British educational Communications and Technology Agency), and the Scottish Executive.

Organisation – how learning is designed

When accessing the website, the “front-door” page provides options to log in or subscribe to the site. Salience is afforded to the animated characters and icons which are textually organised using both static and dynamic relations. The icons with ‘hypertextual depth’ are visually realised by rollover action and increase their salience for as long as the cursor remains positioned over them. Some of the static characters display particular movements when triggered by a rollover so as to assist in the concept of “things to do” on the front page.  gridclublabels.gif

These dynamic icons present the ‘explicit trajectory’ of the site’s semiotic text, directing users’ to the site’s learning activities. Although users have a choice in navigating meaning, this is significantly limited in contrast to, for instance, the commercial children’s site Nickelodeon, which presents  a wide reading path enabling the user to design their own reading and interact at whichever point they choose. The route mapped out by the GridClub website is determined by the functional load of each icon expressing hypertextual depth. Users are invited to: - Log into the site with username and password,- Take part in the free trial or purchase a subscription- Find out more about the site and sample some of the activities.

When finding out more about the site, users are presented with a signpost icon which has dynamic status to direct the three types of user – teachers, parents and kids.

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The pages constructed for teachers and parents differ to the one constructed for children. Teacher and parent pages are presented more as text based with a side bar of categories each with dynamic status allowing them to learn more about how GridClub can benefit children educationally. Moving from left to the right of the screen, or as Kress and Van Leeuwen would suggest – moving from the ‘given’ to the ‘new’, the right side of the page offers information in support of GridClub’s credibility. A brightly coloured box containing a series of animated award logos won by the club (each with dynamic status taking the user to the awarding body’s website) is displayed to highlight ‘new’ recognition of the site’s approach and delivery to children’s learning. Below this ‘symbolic representation’ is a testimonial from a user with the word ‘Approved’ stamped across, thus providing evidence of the site’s credibility.

The children’s page on the other hand has far less printed text than the adult page – a sign which indicates that GridClub is re-ordering the child’s world of print based learning and placing salience on creative learning or learning through play. Again, as on the adult pages, the left hand side bar enables children to find out more about the many games they can access if they were to subscribe. This page is hierarchically organised in that navigation is highly controlled and icons have limited hypertextual depth, allowing children to change the sequence of static screenshots only. The ‘let me try’ page has six free games for children to try; this is separate from the 14 day free trial on offer.

The six games offered each relate to a particular curriculum area, ‘Ray X in eliminate the bugs’ is a science activity where children are asked to help Ray X identify moulds, fungi and bacteria.Cyber Café’ can be viewed as a cross between a PSHE and ICT activities as it encourages internet safety through topics such as web browsing, online forums, instant messaging, mobile phones and email. Master Class’ is an art activity introducing children to famous artists and then providing the opportunity to recreate the work in the ‘art factory’.  ‘Make a million’ is a maths game where children can play on their own or with a friend. The aim is to make a £million by giving the answers to   a series of times table in as fast a period as possible – the faster you are the more money you win. Egyptian pyramid’ is a history activity allowing children to explore inside a pyramid and click on artefacts to play games or find out information. The final game is Finding Zeebo’, a geography activity where children take on the role of a ‘world famous bird detective’ to find a rare Scarlet Macaw and fight the illegal trade of exotic birds. Children can navigate through these free games and play what they like, when they like, as many times as they like.

Each game employs rollover action to determine the static and dynamic status of icons and provides print based information within game play (external to any rules or offer of help). Game play is afforded a high degree of salience on the children’s page alongside the free trial and subscription offer to join the club. This again is part of the sites hierarchical organisation which tells children to either play the games or sign up.

Orientation – Teaching and Selling

The type of communication set out by the GridClub website has what Kress and Van Leeuwen would call a particular type of ‘mood’, the mood of ‘offer’ or ‘demand’. The children’s page uses both of these moods, firstly by offering the free games trial and then by the ‘instruction’ or ‘demand’ to join the club. In the ‘how do I join’ page, the discourses present are one of children’s empowerment – similar again to Nickelodeon’s rhetoric of ‘kid power”, characterised by three salient and dynamic symbols where children can send  emails or letters to their teacher or parents (pre-written by GridClub) requesting adults to pay for a subscription.

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Representation – Education and Childhood

The site displays three purposes, firstly to engage children in locating site interaction, secondly to engage parents in their child’s education and thirdly to empower children to learn through playful activities. These are characterised by the site’s functional load – its capacity for carrying meaning, which is achieved through its visual design and textual language. The visual design of bright colours, rollover triggers and animated cartoon characters represents a fun environment for children so that children first and foremost won’t recognise the site as a learning environment. Also, the visual and textual design gives children a degree of “inter-active agency” in choosing how to interact on particular pages i.e. trigger animation or access activities. Parents are able to view the site as child friendly and packed with things for their child to do. In terms of textual language, the comic book font signifies fun, allowing the name “Club” to inform children that this is their space so as to empower and motivate learning. For parents, the information provided by textual language is used to communicate the educational benefits the site offers their child , so by viewing the site through the context of education parents will hopefully subscribe.

Bibliography 

Burn A & Parker D (2003) Analysing Media Texts,  Continuum: London &New York.

GridClub http://www.gridclub.com/

Kress G & Van Leeuwen T (2006) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, Routledge: London and New York

Kress G & Van Leeuwen T (2000) Multimodal discourse: The modes and Media of Contemporary Communication, Arnold: London


Writing to Communicate

Prior to my current course and blogging, I had no previous experience of learning through VLE’s (Virtual Learning Environments). In a sense, VLE’s are “contextualised”  SNS’s  which provide the opportunity to read the views of others and post responses to share knowledge or assist learning.

In terms of blogging, incorporating multimedia links into blog entries adds meaning to the text so that topics discussed can be cross referenced by examples in order to reiterate and demonstrate meaning. Writing to express thoughts/ ideas discuss topics, share knowledge through blogging has taken the internet by storm since Jorn Barger in 1997 created a site linking news articles and websites, coining the term ‘weblog’ (this date and author has been contested). The popularity of blogging is evident of a dynamic, pro-active and fun way to discuss topics or share knowledge across spatial and temporal boundaries.

There still remains a great deal to discover, I feel my journey via Digital Play has only just begun, therefore this blog will serve to represent a multimodal approach in the production of meaning…and gossip about Eastenders from time to time!


Performance politics in the world of social networking – should teachers get involved?

Ok …So now I’ve taken social networking to the next level…crossing over into a virtual social world is something that had never crossed my mind previously!

After setting up an account on Facebook, I was presently surprised to find some old friends from university. Exactly as Helen Pidd stated in the Guardian article – Are you connected? Face book is similar to a ‘souped-up free version of Friends Reunited’, surpassing the old idea of just finding friends, here you can make them as well. Aside from my personal pleasure, are social networking sites appropriate for use within an educational context?

Facebook has similarities with another networking site – Myspace, which has been viewed by many (including me prior to this Reflective Narrative) as simply a site to construct networks through music affiliations. Although music can have a particular function for Myspacers, such as providing space for up & coming or established singer/songwriters to showcase their talent and achievements, as well as conversing with new and old friends, Myspace is a means of telling the world “this is who I am”, “this is what I do” and “these are the people that I know or who want to get to know me”.  It is a place to reflect on lessons in life, should it really be used as a place to reflect on lessons in school?

Although Myspace pages are a public way for young people to collect and converse with friends, many Myspacers use it as much more than a popularity contest, (even though many members request to be added to the ‘top friends list’ of others). Creating a page on this site is great for developing media literacy as members are able to post picture presentations, videos, messages and blogs whilst positioning their social networks through categories such as Myspace Music, Myspace Film and Myspace Comedy                                                                  

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What also becomes interesting is alongside the networking preferences set by Myspacers when “genre-ising” personal sites, their conversations and blog posts can indicate the types of audiences these members are looking to attract.

L Scheidt (2006) discusses five audience typologies (set by K.M Langellier, 1998) which social networkers “perform” to. According to this article, online audiences are characterised as either:

1-      Witnesses who testify to the experience

2-      Therapists who unconditionally support emotions (the research shows that this category is a

          position mainly adopted by females!)

3-      Cultural theorists who assess the contestation of meanings, values and identities in the performance

4-      Narrative analysts who examine genre truth or strategy

5-      Critics appraising the display of performance, knowledge and skill

An example of a Myspace blog outlining a member’s experience can be said to fit quite neatly into the first category of audience types, which according to Scheidt (2006) is a popular category bloggers use when interacting with audiences. Out of the 89 blog entries Scheidt studied, 50.6% of them fitted into the first category.

Censorship and privatisation are continually present themes on social networking sites, enabling members to gauge just how much information they are prepared to show or share with others. Myspacers and the Facebook Community are able to toggle between what information is made available for public consumption and what is retained in the private sphere. Students can therefore control the privacy of their information. On Facebook, private networking takes place behind the “front door” of the site’s face page:

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Public/private boundaries remain quite distinct behind the site’s front door, friends are categorised by network regions and passers by can be limited in what aspects of a person’s profile they see (dependent on the privacy settings set). This is similar to Myspace, yet the difference lies in the fact that non-myspacers can be part of the audience and view members’ pages without setting up an account. Therefore educators choosing to use Myspace as an educational resource are able to view their students’ public pages to check on tasks set or blog posts. However how will students feel when teachers face their “front door” page? Do they need to worry about their own or their friends frank use of language? Have they lied about their age on their profile? Can privacy settings be placed against their photos? Actually, student blogs can be searched for in Myspace, so accessing the front door page may not be necessary but educators should be prepared to sift through thousands of blogs, unless students have tagged their Myspace page with an unusual name. An important consideration for educators is the fact that student’s sites can be accessed from their blogs; this would then involve the educator’s morality and the trust of the student. Educators approaching a students’ front door page may be faced with content which they find disturbing which would therefore place the educator in an ethical dilemma – whether to involve parents or consider issues of child protection. What then does this mean in terms of trust?

Educators choosing to use Facebook or Myspace as an educational resource will need to create an account in order to interact with their students. What are the implications when building a profile? Will students be invited onto the educator’s site as ‘friends’? What will this mean to the young person and how will this change the dynamics of teacher/student relations?  

From a completely different perspective, in terms of the public/private distinction, surely censorship must also be perceived as the right of the anonymous user? Audience members who wish not to get involved in the pages they view (such as educators) may soon be forced to take a position – either get involved or leave this area! Social network communities such as Myspace are utilising monitoring software in order to track anonymous audience members who literally show no “business” on these sites apart from being a spectator or voyeur. Of course, some may view this favourably considering the social climate of undesirable internet users, but tracking site visitors may intimidate and put off potential audiences.

It seems that social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, Bebo) used in an educational context have no place in the school setting. Unless being used for a group media project to learn visual design, content usability and the integration of particular tools (media player, hit counter etc) on a page set up solely for this reason, these sites should remain for personal pleasure and not be used when assessing the learning of students. Young people, who use these sites, do so for a particular reason – to express to others who they are or how they choose to perform their identity. Although students may or may not be aware of the extent of their audience, privacy controls allow them to restrict specific information to their social circle whilst allowing other virtual acquaintances to access different areas. It therefore becomes difficult to see why educators would want to use such sites with their students. When considering the blogging facilities on either of these sites (as mentioned above), student’s personal pages are only a “click” away and here students will express themselves in a way which may be considered inappropriate for formal organised settings such as schools. If blogging is to be used as an educational tool, then it should be done so away from Myspace, Facebook and Bebo…crumbs, is there no place left sacred for the student?