February 04, 2015

Beginning 'The Mediated Self Project'

Balloons and stones in The Mediated Self Project

Yesterday Jo Garde-Hansen and I made the first steps on our IATL funded development of a new MA option module, The Mediated Self Project. The module – initially to be piloted to CCPS students in 2015-16 with the option of a wider audience in subsequent years – aims to combine critical and theoretical perspectives on the forms of knowledge produced and required by the digital economy with some practical reflection on the skills needed to manage the various selves which can inhabit that economy successfully. The module also aims to develop ways of teaching and assessment which take better account of these digital forms of literacy.

We began this process by taking over a session of The Global Audience module. In a sense it was a perfect place to start. That module had contained a session on the ‘creative audience’ which focussed on the narratives emerging from what used to be called Web 2.0 – about the interactive audience, participatory culture and the pro-sumer - and the relations between these stories and older stories about the apparently mass and inert media audience of the past. Both these sets of stories have taken on legendary, mythical aspects but there are some interesting affinities between them and emerging stories about the ways in which we are assumed to live in the digital age. One of the things we talk a lot about in the Centre is the relationship between theory and practice. This module is going to push the boundaries of this distinction, recognising that there is a level at which the theoretical and the practical question is the same. It is ‘how do we live’? What kinds of skills do we need to make sense of the symbolic and technological world around us? And what does it mean to be able to navigate its complexities successfully? The Mediated Self Project aims to provide some space to answer these questions.

The centre piece of our discussion was a presentation from Amber Thomas from the Academic Technology team in ITS. Amber sketched out a frame through which we might situate ourselves in the digital world, drawing on the distinction identified by David White between digital visitors and digital residents. Understanding what is at stake in moving between these states in our personal and professional lives seems likely to be important in shaping the module’s content and mode of delivery. We’re hoping to call more on the expertise of colleagues like Amber, from Warwick and beyond, within the field of academic technology, where these debates are well established and on-going.

After outlining our plans relating to the module content (including issues relating to The Quantified Self, the Reputational Economy, the Campaigning Self and the distinctions between Print and Digital forms of Literacy) we asked students to reflect on what they might want to learn from such a module in this area and indeed what they consider to be the pitfalls of teaching and learning in this field. Amongst the topics that emerged as of interest included privacy (relating to a general anxiety about managing past versions of the self online as students move into professional life.) and, happily for me, taste and how it is produced and performed algorithmically. Pitfalls included concerns about the balance between theoretical abstraction and practical instruction and one – admittedly from me – about how new forms of literacy can be assessed. So many of the established forms of assessment (the exam and certainly the written assignment) are based on a vision of print literacy based around a single authorial voice in a formal static text. Digital literacy involves multiple voices, sharing and collaboration and even the creative manipulation of images and sound. How can these forms be assessed in ways which preserve the standards of critique, rigour, evidence and argument required for serious academic study?

Our next step is to recruit student participants to help us think all these things through, and to invite experts from within and beyond the University to get together in the Spring and Summer to contribute to our discussions. We’ll keep the blog updated with our progress.


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