R685: Week Seven

During week 7 we discussed Connectivism and Participatory learning. I’ve decided, however, to replace this week’s blog post with a discussion on my Midterm Assignment Reality Check (MARC) assignment instead, because good LORD knows I can’t resist the opportunity to devote an entire post for Week 8 to The Wikipedia Rant (more on that later).

For the MARC assignment I chose to assemble articles, write abstracts, and reflect on the process. Behind the jump you can find the text of my reflection on the project; I have also attached a .docx file with my citations and abstracts here, if you’re interested.

For my topic of interest, I chose to look at online community formation in general and safe spaces in particular. As I had previously compiled a bibliography of readings about safe spaces – online and analog both – that I wished to familiarize myself with, I started with those. Of the original dozen citations, a grand total of six made it into my final list, which I then supplemented with a couple of readings from the R685 course syllabus, after which I turned to readings from past courses I had taken in SLIS that were relevant to the topic (two or three from a Computer-Mediated communication class and two from Organizational Informatics).

Once I had finished with selecting and reading those articles, I turned to Google scholar and the bibliographic entries from a couple of the papers I had read previously whose citations seemed relevant to my topic to round out the final fifteen for my list of abstracts. I skimmed through a grand total of an additional ten articles while considering using them for my abstract list, but decided not to include them after an initial review of the research questions and conclusions indicated they were likely to not be greatly relevant to my chosen topic.

I think that online safe spaces are going to be a valuable avenue of study for a number of reasons. First, there is very little existing scholarship exploring the creation of such spaces online. My inability to find even half a dozen articles over a semester and a half of searching that directly address my chosen topic suggests a potential for scholarly trailblazing. Unfortunately, the relative scarcity of material on the topic means that I have very little to write about in my conclusions section.

Second, the lessons we apply to make analog classrooms into safe spaces must be examined and modified in order to support this new setting, much as has been done with Bloom’s Taxonomy. I’ve always been very interested in using technology to support curriculum and engage students, and this avenue of study provides a valuable set of intangible tools I can bring to improving my skills as an instructional designer.

Third, as teens spend more and more time online every year, it is no great leap of logic to the premise through to the conclusion that so too will teens (and people of all ages) will be spending increasing amounts of time looking online for avenues for support and disclosure with personal issues they feel unable to discuss face-to-face. This is an avenue of study, then, that has valuable implications not just in the field of instructional systems technology but in human services, computer-mediated communication, and sociological scholarship as well.

On a personal level, and very much informing my choice to pursue online safe spaces as an avenue of study, I am a moderator and/or participant in a number of communities online that might be said to be “safe spaces” including a general women’s issues-oriented forum on a primarily male social news site; an IRC chat room geared toward the members of the aforementioned community, which includes trans people and people of all gender constructions and sexualities; and a private community on the same site as the previous community, but aimed at providing support, information, and non-judgmental advice to people who are considering their pregnancy options and who fear the backlash they might otherwise encounter in a more public forum. As such, I spend a great deal of thought on how best I can help keep these “spaces” safe.

I decided that for this assignment I would not limit myself to an educational perspective on the given topic. Instead, I drew articles from other disciplines – primarily ones with which I was familiar with from my career as a Master of Information Science student – in addition to articles with an educational perspective. This interdisciplinary approach helped me not only to achieve a broader perspective on the topic, but to “confirm” the findings of some readings I had done more definitively due to the broad spectrum of disciplines from which I read.

Given the importance of “safe space” as a culturally embedded concept, I expected to be able to fill out the entirety of this assignment with articles relating to safe spaces, even if a number of them were analog rather than online. I found it perplexing that almost nobody had formalized a definition of safe space – it seems that in the world of academia, everyone knows what a safe space is well enough that they do not seem to find it necessary to define it.

Thus, were I advising someone else on how to proceed with research in this area, I would likely advise them to start with Bassett & O’Riordan (2002) and Campbell, Ahrens, et al. (2004), since these two pieces were the only ones that specifically addressed the idea of what a safe space is. Additionally, more generalized insights on the nature of online communities are much more widely available. I found that many of the readings I did agreed that online community building is used more widely in maintaining existing analog relationships than in forming new ones.

I had initially collected these articles because I was considering studying online safe spaces. In addition to learning about the topic, I was able to get a great deal of advice from a Ph.D. student in IU’s School of Library and Information Sciences on how to define a topic when there isn’t much scholarship on it. He advised me to start with a definition of what an online safe space is, and to think about what a prototypical one might look like. In thinking about components of a safe space, I hit on my second related topic of note, online communities and trust. I believe that I am going to be able to relate a great deal of new information to the existing ideas I’m working with, as well as flesh out the interdisciplinary nature of my studies.

In addition, this has been a valuable exercise for me because I have never approached a research project in this manner before; normally I don’t take notes, preferring to write a little at a time and then go back and reassemble in a manner that flows and transitions better. Doing this, I feel, gives me a much more complete view of my readings, and in addition I could very easily write each citation and abstract on a notecard and do a card sort for the information architecture aspect of my paper – that is, in which sequence the quotes will go, after which I can write my paragraphs around the pre-arranged sequence.

In considering how to arrange my abstracts and notes, I decided for the purposes of this assignment to alphabetize them by the last name of the lead author on the article. However, from an information architecture standpoint this isn’t very useful; if I were organizing them by paper topic I would likely have arranged the articles thus:

  • Rationale
    • Herring, S. (2002).
    • Herring, S. et al. (2002).
    • Lenhart, A. et al. (2007).
  • Analog Safe Spaces
    • Bassett, E. H., & O’Riordan, K. (2002).
    • Campbell, R., et al. (2004).
    • Holley, L.C., & Steiner, S. (2005).
    • Yu, F. & Lu, Y. (2009).
  • Digital Community Building
    • Ba, S. (2001).
    • Brown, R. (2001).
    • Butler, B., et al. (2002).
    • Cummings, J., et al. (2002).
    • English-Lueck, J., et al. (2002).
    • Haythornthwaite, C. (1998).
    • Herring, S. (2008).
    • Ling, K., et al. (2005).

I personally felt that this assignment was incredibly useful for me. I picked up a lot of new skills for application in my life as a student and as a moderator in online communities. I learned a lot about how people use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to develop and maintain community, and saw a number of diverse ways in which this knowledge was applied.

The citations and abstracts are uploaded in a separate document.

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