Preparing for this assignment brought back memories of being an undergraduate at Edinburgh in the early 1980s. I was studying history then and we lived in terror of allowing any hint of subjectivity to creep into our essays and assignments. It therefore came as a shock when reading for this task to find that not only was subjectivity “allowed” but, in some cases, it was seen as a positive thing. Smith, as quoted in Gatson and Zweerink, point out that there is “no such thing as a non-participant observer.” I wanted to explore how far I could allow myself to acknowledge that I was part of the experience.
I chose a group of which I have been a member for several years. The group is affiliated to TESOL Arabia and, as such, has a particularly teacher-focused activity. The special interest group in question, Learner Independence, is the larger of two groups with close links (the other having a third of the membership and focusing on Distance Learning). I am not an active member of the group in the sense that I do not post on the Discussion Board but I do follow up on many of the links that arrive in the group feed. Again, as Gatson and Zweerink point out, “multi-sited research is designed around chains, paths, threads, conjunctions, or juxtapositions of locations.” I was curious to see how these functioned and how far they took me from the main topic of the group i.e. learner independence.
Personalisation or Subjectivity?
My other aim was to see how I could experience this beyond a clinical exercise (which is how I initially viewed it). I was struggling with how I was going to present my mini ethnography and was flicking through my notebook when I realised that the pages I am always drawn to are the ones with my mind maps. Using “Inspiration“, I decided to see if I could create an ethnography in the way that I take notes and also work. The result is shown below. This is my subjectivity showing itself; I chose the colors, the headings, the layout and the text in the bubbles. Of course, there were boundaries placed upon me by the software, but as Kress and others have pointed out, digital text is far more conducive to personal expression than linear conventional presentation. This was my personal challenge to myself. I added a deeper personal note with the images of one of my mind maps and part of the notes that I referred to as I worked. I liked the idea of having my handwriting inscribed within the ethnography presentation. At first I was frustrated by the shadow my arms and iPhone cast on the paper while I was trying to photograph it (my attempt at including scans didn’t work). However, I then got caught up in the metaphor of “the ethnographer’s shadow”; literal, in this case. How much of what I’ve presented represents what the group in question is all about?
Finally, I wanted to include some nod to Gergen as quoted in Wesch’s Digital Ethnography: “the postmodern being is a restless nomad.” I do not actually believe that this is true as any acquaintance with nomadic culture quickly shatters the idea that the nomad simply wanders. However, I think what is important is the perception that digital culture facilitates restless exploration, hence my over-enthusiastic employment of arrows which I see as being the antithesis of nomadic thought and yet seem symptomatic of “click here”.
The image is quite large so please click on it to see it shown in a new window.