Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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A meeting with a student about online experiences of death

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Just thought I’d note this because it was so interesting.

I agreed to be interviewed by a Design undergraduate about death in online social networks. We spent an hour together in Loafers – I was so glad I did it because it really opened my eyes to the hierarchy between online and offline lives. There is currently no online network of support for people who lose online friends or lovers. Often the news is broken online in ways which starkly differ from the ways in which it would be ethical to break it offline – indeed, with a brutality which demonstrates the contempt in which online relationships are held. The needs which are recognised and indeed uncontroversial in the bereaved of the offline world are almost totally overlooked in the online world. One day a profile is existing, curtailed, and the next – after relatives have sent a scanned death certificate to Facebook – it is brutally expunged. This student was addressing these things. I was lucky enough to see some of her storyboards.

What really hit me was the idea learning technologists tend to espouse – that technologies are transformative – didn’t make sense here. Learning technologists are fond of telling the old story of cinema. When the cine camera was first invented, what did people use it for? Why, they filmed theatrical productions – same three unities, same proscenium arch, a single fixed camera angle. It was only a long time later that cinematography emerged – the different scenes, the angles, the split screen, the shifts of focus. Learning technologists encourage academics to think transformatively about the intersection of technologies and their discipline.

But in the case of death online? What does technology mean here? And how does one even raise the subject? “Transform the practice of your grief for the online environment, people!” No.

Bring on the designers.

(Technical notes – we brought laptops for web access. Easily recorded the interview to Audacity using my laptop’s integrated mic. Ask CELT for the podcasting How To Guide, have a look at the Podcasting for Pedagogical Purposes How To Guides, or see the pages on recording on the Oxford / Cambridge / Open University growing STEEPLE wiki)


Written by Mira Vogel

April 6, 2009 at 17:29