Week 4 opened by introducing two more field sites, this time both from a single country, albeit in China, a large one! One rural site was juxtaposed with an urban one, though the latter was rather unusual in that it focused on those workers who had migrated to the city and were making the transition to becoming urban, whilst maintaining links with their roots.
There were four topics that these field sites were used to illustrate: polymedia, education, commerce and privacy.
In one of the early discussion threads on this topic, a fellow participant suggested that multi- and polymedia might be one and the same. Until I read that comment, I’d assumed I understood the distinction between the two, based on the information we had been provided. When I thought about whether to respond, I realised I didn’t really understand, which then prompted me to look further into it. I found the distinction on Wikipedia, but also, perhaps more appropriately, from the research which preceded this study.
It was also within the discussion on this topic that someone referred out to a particular research article available from Language@Internet Journal – potentially useful source of which I’d previously been unaware.
Having an extensive background in education, I was the wrong person to be looking at the activities in this topic. Like many MOOCs of this nature, the course designers are producing activities aimed at a general audience. Since I’m a little further forward in my thinking, there wasn’t much new for me here.
I found there was a tendency to mix together the two terms education and learning. Whilst one might argue that the two are at least somewhat related, because they are two different phenomena, the effects of social media on each are different I’d argue. I also baulked a little at the introduction of informal and formal learning, without specifying how they’re different and just assuming participants would tacitly know the difference. After providing some illustrations, this question was then posed:
How do you think social media is changing the relationships between students, teachers and parents where you are?
which isn’t particularly closely related to informal and formal learning. I ought to be able to void being somewhat critical here, but I guess it was just too precious a topic.
Unsurprisingly I found this less controversial than the education topic, and once more had my eyes opened to differences in cultural norms around the world. I had never been aware of the differences associated with the gifting of money on special occasions. Although we do that here in the UK, the attitude towards the practice is somewhat different I’d contend.
I was also struck by one of the illustrative examples which involved a young chinese woman describing how a friend used Wechat as a business platform to sell trinkets she had imported from Korea. This had some resonance for me; it’s only recently that I mentored a young chinese student whose project involved something similar – using social media as a storefront for the jewellery she was making.
Having recently read and written at length about privacy in the context of ethics, it was interesting (unsettling?) to find how other cultures have completely different attitudes to privacy. In rural China for example, where people have been brought up in societies where families are nuclear and share space intimately, privacy as a notion does not exist. The arrival of smartphones and online accounts is beginning to challenge that however. Conversely, our (eurocentric) notions of privacy are beginning to tighten as we fear intrusion from the state and from commercial enterprises. I wonder if this means my ethical submission needs a revisit?
It’s strange how our familiarity or prior experience with a topic might prejudice our attitude to further study. Education has provided me with a career for the past ahem years, but as a consequence I may have been somewhat less receptive towards (or more critical of?) material on that topic. And yet despite the recent extensive reading I’ve done on ethics, without this course, I would never have come across a different conception of privacy. A salutary warning I’m sure.
A couple of fellow participants once more provided a mild source of irritation, being critical as they were of the facilitators’ lack of presence. Even if that were true, which in my opinion it wasn’t, although supporting the course might be part of their duties, at the end of the day we’re participating in a FREE course! With extensive FREE support materials! What more can you ask?