Irregular Vowel Movements

A distance education teacher making her way in the microcosm of Barrhead.

Online Digital Context- A Wandering Subjective Perspective from My Armchair

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Yesterday, in a conversation on Yammer, something interesting occurred to me. In the time I’ve been embedded in the mucky-muck that is the internet (so, since the age of 13), I’ve been aware of this concept, but I’ve never seen it out and out named or assigned a defining term. I am going to keep the party contributing this private, as I’m not using this conversation with their permission, but the gist of this name and definition in their words is as follows:

Online Digital Context – when one person writes one thing, and I read it (or watch it, listen to it) and think it means something else. That’s why I’m so into “connecting” and engaging with the learners because the content can often send the learners on a path we as educators never meant.When the learner doesn’t have an opportunity to clarify the “context” then I think there is a missing link in our instructional design.

This would be aimed at discussion threads as well. I don’t blame anyone for being intimidated about writing in yammer, or even in a course – because there is a vulnerability in putting yourself “out there”. People wonder what others will “think”. And it’s true – we often make the wrong assumptions because we don’t connect to clarify the context.

I guess what I thought was interesting about it, is that this isn’t a unique thing, in my mind. I hate to say it, but it’s kind of obvious, and that ensuring context is provided comes with the territory of doing anything online or digital. I suppose I was surprised that it was a “thing” that has had a lot of work, observation and possibly research, put into it on a pedagogical or professional level, when it’s just an issue of providing a direction padded with context. Past this, I wonder if it is a probability that our own attitudes, politics, and other views of the world (limited or not) that would create mis-communication in content. Consideration of audience is key to establishing the appropriate context for clarity.

It means too that thinking longer about purpose in communication  is essential,  but that right there, is the difference between speaking and writing– that gorge has been crossed, long ago, but the lines have blurred now in a time of everyone writing, not a select few. It is true that instruction is more complicated than simply communicating a message clearly, but if I send an e-mail to my friend describing my cat, and attach a picture to said e-mail, I’ve technically just instructed them that I indeed am talking about a house cat, and not …a tiger. Context is not that complicated, I don’t think, unless it’s over-thought.

Random side-note: Subjectivity rears its head quite a bit in the online realm. There are many levels of discourse  of what “truth” is, and what is “correct” or …”right” (ha ha). Coupled with a lax level of symbolic representation (wtf, rofl, lol, ttfn, diaf, to name a basic few), I can see where the subjective aspects of understanding online semantics of other people readily becomes an issue. The funny bit of it is that I might be brilliant, but if I can’t hash together a sentence online and provide context, my viewer will move on rapidly.

Growing up, confusion in context happened all the time. I would be more in tune to people’s sense of semantics in things they would either post on a forum or put in a chat, and when I was around 13 or 14 (pre- “freak out about teenagers unsupervised online meandering!” times) and chatting with people I didn’t know, confusion happened often. What would happen, however, was a conversation of clarification via the same means. People intrinsically want to be clearly understood, or their efforts lose purpose– they want to be recognized this way, as a rule. It’s similar to how people want to be recognized as successful because they are not leaving their house without pants.

If clarity was not achieved in a conversation easily (back then, many people chatted in a room that was not necessarily mono-lingual– there would be constant language barriers to overcome), we would find other means– translators, clumsy emoticons, metaphors, a lengthy e-mailed explanation, etc. It wasn’t pretty, but it seemed like at that time we were more concerned that nothing was lost in translation. Bear in mind however, this is my subjective perspective.

Later on, as I became more mature in my nerdy ways, if there was confusion on a forum, we would jump immediately to instant messenger to clear things up. On a random side note– no matter what I’ve seen, I have learned that a lot of people love to argue, for the sake of arguing– there is some kind of mechanism of self-identification that goes into having the last word in a fight that may span page upon page in a forum topic, and the internet brings that out in people, not to mention, it brings out aggressive behaviors that don’t usually see the light of day, but that is a whole other conversation on dis-inhibition that I am still thinking about how to word. Hint: It has to do with an intrinsic need for attention and personal voice. To be heard on a more subconscious level–oh god, I have to stop or the beans will be spilled.

Those days were very forgiving, because being able to talk to whomever was such a novelty–depending where one meandered, everyone was on the same page- being open, being friendly, being understanding. There were different communication patterns or “norms” depending on where one went. I feel like I’m describing a historical time, but 1994 was interesting this way, because people were not yet freaked out about pedophiles, cyber-crime, bullying or the like. Businesses hadn’t quite caught on to advertising entirely, and the home page for a person or organization still seemed like a pricey ethereal conquest. Boy, I’m 29, but this probably makes me sound ancient.

“Remember the Yahoo chat, Johnny, where users were un-moderated, creating themed rooms that anyone could join? Oh, those were the good old days. My handle was ‘stormie_girl’, and my, my, the conversations I would have…”








Author: Kyla Coulman

English teacher at ADLC.

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