... Emerging Cultures

Here's the second extract from the introduction to the forthcoming Book 'Connected Minds, Emerging Cultures', which will be published later this year by Information Age Publishers, Connecticut, USA.

Part 2, which has been designated ‘Roles and Identities’, covers a range of ideas about how the individual copes within the new cyber landscape. Several key questions are addressed: How do learners maintain a constant identity in an ever shifting digital world in which multiple identities and roles are possible? Do they adopt alternative personae as easily as they create new avatars within multi-user virtual environments? Does the creation of an avatar create something new within the identity of the individual? And are real life identities influenced by what the individual does whilst within a cyber identity?

Hugh Miller and Jill Arnold open this section with an investigation into cyber identities and the presentation of self within online environments. They show how social rules governing presence in virtual environments are as important as those that apply in embodied life. Miller and Arnold argue that people construct and reconstruct themselves in cyberspace in ways that are subject to cultural restrictions on both sides of the screen, as well as being influenced by the affordances offered by new media. They suggest that to learn not only requires gaining a new understanding of the world, but it also requires a re-adjustment of one’s self.

In chapter 6 Steve Wheeler takes the reader on a journey through the various digital tribes and virtual clans he believes are emerging due to intensive and sustained use of new technologies. He argues that new tribes and clans are emerging as a direct results of sustained interaction with technology. He contends that tribal identity shapes individual identity in cyberworlds, and that digital tools and networks provide ideal environments within which new cultural transmission propagates. Clans tend to emerge within tribes as cultural definitions and the generation of artefacts become more pronounced. Finally Wheeler asserts that there may be one single ‘digital tribe’ in the broadest sense of its meaning, but analysis of the many social activities found on the web indicates that many sub-sets of this large digital tribe exist – the ‘virtual clans’.

In a robustly written chapter on the digital gaming cultures, Nicola Whitton explores how games can be positioned in higher education. Chapter 7 considers the acceptability of computer game-based learning in the context of university education. Whitton discusses the potential of computer games in relation to theories of learning, and examines the conceptions of a cognitively different type of learner. She challenges the notion that these learners find computer games the ideal environment in which to learn. Whitton discusses student game preferences in terms of genre and the types of computer game that may be more appropriate for learning, and aspects of computer game design that may influence student use. The chapter concludes with a consideration of the benefits and challenges of computer games for learning and teaching in tertiary education.

In Chapter 8, Leon James describes the creation and management of an ongoing course-integrated Web community at a college social science course in Hawaii. Each student enrolled in the course automatically adopts cyber-community membership by reading, processing, and identifying with the reports of prior generation students, and then contributing their own reports to the cumulatively expanding ‘generational curriculum’ topics. The benefits of such an approach are discussed in terms of psychological models of acculturation, identification, cyber-citizenship, and the student as scientist model functioning in a Web environment that is increasingly shaped by human social processes. James concludes that the project demonstrates that a course-integrated online learning activity can be effective in producing cybercitizens by managing the students’ interactional procedures through the generational community-classroom approach.

Graham Attwell conducts the reader through a journey that examines the social dimensions of personal learning environments in Chapter 9. His chapter examines the social impact of Personal Learning Environments. Attwell expects that Personal Learning Environments will exert a profound influence over established teaching and learning systems and will radically change pedagogic approaches to learning, knowledge development and sharing. He suggests that the emergence of PLEs and the widespread interest in PLEs are a reaction to the changing ways in which people are using technology for learning. He argues that PLEs result from new societal demands for education and are a response to changing forms of knowledge usage within society.

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