Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Ethics and soft boundaries between Facebook groups  and other web services

doorway used as metaphor for boundary

Is this a space I can enter?

As part of a MOOC on rhizomatic learning that performs itself in many different spaces (Facebook, P2PU, G+, Twitter and others), I am a member of an ‘open’ Facebook group.  It is endlessly fascinating, and has given me a lot of scope for reflection about back channels and the exchange of information between open and closed spaces. Of course, I say that as if a space could be categorised as open or closed:  it’s often a lot more complicated than that, acted out by technical aspects of the space and by the agency of the people who interact there. Facebook groups can be open, closed or secret, the meanings of these being laid out in the Facebook help.

See what I did there, I linked to the ‘closed’ space of Facebook, only visible to one of the 1.3 billion members of Facebook.  Now of course, we don’t know if there are that exactly many Facebook members, but let’s settle for there being a very large number of them. Facebook is not completely open from the outside but doesn’t seem very closed. For example, if I log out of Facebook and Google for “Facebook pictures dog”, I will see lots of peeks into Facebook groups that might entice me to sign up or log in.

Now I am neglecting those of you who aren’t Facebook members, and can’t see the Facebook help page .  Facebook describe the visibility of posts as:

Open Closed Secret
Who can see what members post in the group? Anyone Only members Only members


Yes that means that anyone who has the link to an open Facebook group post or comment, can share it inside or outside Facebook, and it can be opened by any Facebook (not just group) member.  In the case of the rhizo14 MOOC, participants who are not Facebook members are excluded from sight of posts in the Facebook group, whilst a very large number of Facebook members who have never heard of rhizo14 could check it out if you sent them the link.

Ethical dilemmas

I will sketch out a few of the ethical dilemmas I have observed in the rhizo14 Facebook group.  These are early reflections, and I would welcome your comments on this post.

  1. How do we behave around here?

The rhizo14 MOOC offers no explicit written norms, behavioural or otherwise, and the strapline for the FB group is “An attempt to create a feed for Rhizomatic Learning posts from around the web.” The Facebook group has become not only a site for sharing blog posts, other rhizo14 creations and links to interesting and relevant stuff, it has also become a place for demonstrations of friendship and affection by some members.  It’s clear that a number of people (significantly less than the full 240 ish membership) regard the group as a semi-private backchannel where they can expect support and sympathy for their encounters elsewhere.  What the remainder of the membership think about this is less clear.  They may be just letting it all flow past or ‘lurking’ – a behaviour that has attracted discussion in the FB group.  The implicit norms on lurking in the FB group are to some extent discernible, but the norms on other behaviours sometimes seem to be taken as read by some active members of the group.  I posited a relational approach to power early on in the rhizo14 MOOC but that is not a common view in the Facebook group where a one-dimensional view of power is more common.  We can discern a flexible approach to ‘rule-breaking’ in rhizomatic learning in the discussion around rhizomatic learning and ethics in the comments on this post so it’s unlikely that a set of ‘rules’ to govern behaviour would work on rhizo14. Teachers and moderators can model ethical behaviour, and communities usually engage with norm-building online where misunderstanding is not uncommon. Overt moderation and norm-building activities have been generally absent from rhizo14 in general and the FB group in particular.


  1. What does sharing mean within and beyond the rhizo14 community?

A lot of sharing goes on at rhizo14, and there is a sense that openness is a value of rhizo14. The remix culture has been very evident in rhizo14, and creativity and remix have brought a lot of pleasure.  Communities of Practice literature and others have identified the importance of the boundary in the propagation of knowledge.  The facility for stuff and people to cross boundaries presents great opportunities, but with these come tricky questions of how we share and what we do with what is shared.  A great set of ‘rules’ that has helped sharing is Creative Commons Licenses, not always enforceable but signifying intent in a sharing and use context.
opendiscusspt1 opendiscusspt2opendiscusspt3














A dilemma presented by research data sharing is current at rhizo14 FB group, and raises, for me at any rate, some very interesting issues about how we do Open Research.  The twitter stream fragment gives an indication of the controversy, and the discussion of what is appropriate uses of open research data by ‘others’ (those ‘outside’ the community) is playing out on the rhizo14 Facebook group.  I raised the issue of ethics of use of open/closed data for research purposes in rhizo14 at the time it became clear that a group doing auto-ethnography, and a group of which I am a part were both doing research around rhizo14.

The data arrangements for the second group are at whilst those for the first group are the subject of discussion at the FB group and publicly here and here.*

I became involved in this discussion because I had contributed to the auto-ethnography open Google document but had deferred on authorship of any subsequent outputs (as was possible within the invitation).  The complication that I presented was that I had asked not to be quoted (on reflection this created problems for the auto-ethnographers).
I resolved my personal dilemma by deleting my contribution, in consultation with members of the auto-ethnography group. However, the issue of who can use the information in the auto-ethnography is still the subject of discussion – on the FB group and publicly on Twitter.


Discussion of Agency

As humans we can have moral agency – this may be the different thoughts and feelings that guide the way we act.  I suggest that sharing our ethical stance with others can help our moral agency within a network of human and technical agents.  I am not thinking of a set of rules but rather our expectations and ethical stance that we could share with other moral agents.  What I have observed in the discussion on the ethics of use of information from the auto-ethnography document is that some participants seem to assume there is a ‘common decency’ approach to the use of ‘open’ information. This is a little dangerous I think and may be explained by an unwarranted assumption of community.

We can also think of technology as ‘moral agent’ where permissions and constraints on agency can be coded into a system, as I described in who can access a FB group.  This can be useful, especially if helps clarify expectations-  hard rules, hard boundaries can be explained in help pages and observed in action when we fail to access the FB group link because we are not logged into Facebook.   Even these hard rules can be overcome by human agency.  I cut and paste one part of FB help page – this was within my personal ethics where doing the same with a rhizo14 FB group post would not be. When I did accidentally violate that in a blog post, I tried to resolve the situation, by consulting the person affected.

Some Tentative Conclusions

An important element of the digital moral agent’s backpack to complement their ethical literacy is the digital literacy of having an active understanding of the ethical and other implications of using a digital space/service for communication.  This is especially important when one’s practice in spaces is research.

As well as the overhead of ‘cluttering ‘ the communication, there are benefits in clarifying use of information, utterances, multimedia in practice.  This may be done informally within a close group of friends, rarely discussed, but the more open the use and sharing of information, the more important it is to clarify how we expect that information to be used, if we wish to minimise problems.  This applies just as much to Facebook (with their unclear use in the above extract from Help of the words member – Facebook or group?- and anyone – anyone on the Internet or anyone on Facebook) as to those of us participating and researching in rhizo14.  I hope that rhizo14 research subjects benefit from our statement of how we use the research data.  I know I would have benefited from a clearer statement of expectations and behaviours in rhizo14.  I am not suggesting a set of hard and fast rules but rather a starting point for discussion on how we behave around rhizo14.


Because digital literacies are a moving target (digital literacy is ongoing) and communication in open spaces is tricky, we need flexible repair strategies for when things go wrong.  If we state our expectations and promote discussion of expectations within a group  as starting point, then we may be able to minimise but not eliminate problems.  That’s when it’s useful to promote friendly interpretation of the words and actions of others, and to have some strategies for conflict resolution.


Who said it was easy to practice learning and research in online spaces?

* edited because links to Maha’s blog had mysteriously repositioned themselves


francesbell • April 16, 2014

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  1. balimaha April 16, 2014 - 8:35 am Reply

    Hey Frances, you ask important questions and make interesting observations, as usual.
    Regarding the autoethnography, I think there was an attempt to have expectations clear. It says at the beginning of the document that it is open to the public and anyone can edit or view it. I guess “we” (and in this case I have to say me because I am the one who got the IRB approval) did not imagine (naively?) how others outside rhizo14 might use it. Thanks for clarifying how in the twitter exchange I recognized others might feel differently, and for linking to my blog post.

    I like learning from experience. Hopefully as we learn about doing online research (as you say the landscape is changing) we’ll find it easier to start setting expectations but remain flexible to modify as we go along as needed. I think the kind of research done for the autoethnography is v different from the project you are working on. I think it benefited from the broadness of the expectations.
    If we were working with clearly vulnerable people like people with disabilites, prisoners, children, it would be a completely different story.
    As it is, I think it is a useful learning journey for us to keep questioning and tweaking as we go along. I think any level-headed person who read the autoethnog and saw you write ‘do not wish to be quoted’ would not have quoted you, but they would have read you, and that might have not sat well with you, either. I’m not sure.
    I will come back again as I read this in a rush on way to work and just arrived. Thanks for writing this. Will read again more closely and respond again

    • francesbell April 16, 2014 - 11:09 pm Reply

      @Maha thanks for your reply, and I am really interested to hear what you think after a closer reading. I am especially interested to hear your reaction on my comments on the first ethical dilemma.
      You said ” I think any level-headed person who read the autoethnog and saw you write ‘do not wish to be quoted’ would not have quoted you, but they would have read you, and that might have not sat well with you, either. I’m not sure.”
      The level-headed person argument is interesting but I found my situation to be inconsistent – if I didn’t want to be quoted, and neither I nor the auto-ethnography researchers had any control over what was done with a public document then my wish not to be quoted was incompatible with the publicy of the document.
      As I have already indicated my willingness for you to use the sense of my contribution (without quotes) then I think you can see I am willing ‘to be read’.
      It’s interesting what you say about broadness of expectations but I don’t quite understand it – clarification would be most welcome.

      • balimaha April 17, 2014 - 12:14 am Reply

        hi Frances. 1am here, so not sure how many of my brain cells are working. (I try to avoid working on MOOC stuff during work hours, so I’m usually either commuting early morning, late afternoon or at home late at night after toddler/husband sleep and any “work” is done).
        You asked what I thought about point #1: the lack of explicit guidelines or norms? I might be taking this too far, but it made sense for a “community as curriculum” to let the community set its rules? Sometimes when I teach, I’ll let students experiment openly with interacting online before I’ll say “now let’s talk about netiquette” because I feel that explicitly stating it early on both wouldn’t make sense to those inexperience with online interaction; and also is an imposition of my own values, whereas I’d like them to develop their own (not re-invent the wheel necessarily, but consider their own contexts while thinking about netiquette). I know you’re talking about more than netiquette but I’m not entirely sure what it is and why you want the explicit norms? (haha I hear the UK does not have a written constitution). I’m not saying it is necessarily wrong to have explicit norms, or right to not have them, but I’m asking what their place could/should have been in rhizo14, who would set them, why we would “follow them”? Even participatory approaches to setting norms involve power (the loudest most eloquent most connected person has more of a say). Now, I realize that NOT having explicit norms does not mean there aren’t any, and the fact of not making them explicit then becomes problematic. I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot, when I read your writing, Mariana’s and Jenny’s. I read yours more because you’re on facebook and that’s “more convenient” for me than elsewhere because of my lifestyle as a mom with a full-time job and a long commute (it has the best notification system of anything I’ve ever used and this helps me stay in touch – it was the first time I use facebook for a MOOC; without it I’d have missed out on so many ppl’s blogs, let alone the discussions). Much easier to keep up with facebook and some twitter (often just things tweeted directly to me) than to read some other things more deeply. I am still to this day confused by Google+.

        One of the things that I have found being said often is about how the facebook group is open to non-rhizoers but closed to some rhizoers who refuse to engage with facebook. Good point. Very good point. But many people also “choose” not to engage with twitter and google+. I know Twitter is quite open even if you’re not on it (but in reality, if you don’t “get it” you’re not really benefiting from that supposed openness). I have no idea about google+ because it still confuses the heck out of me. Even if it is more “properly” open/closed (i.e. open to the right people, closed from the wrong people) it is still relatively “closed” for me because I don’t know how to use it right (and believe me I’ve been trying because it helps with people like Keith Hamon who posts most of his stuff there and I still can never figure out where the comments are when I need them).

        When rhizo14 first started I was very concerned about power issues. I was concerned that people who were veteran cMOOCers would take over and newbies like me would not be able to participate. I was also a new blogger (few weeks old) and a relatively new tweeter (6 months or so). Why am I saying this? I think I’m saying power works on so many different levels and each of the social media options we had for participating had their own openness/closedness (correct me if I am missing something important). I still, to this day, don’t understand why we put up with Twitter’s “140 character” word limit – it can create SO MUCH misunderstanding to have that restriction, can’t it? And yet we live with it, the tyranny of it. And I personally embrace it. But it drives me crazy every day.

        When I was talking about “broadness of expectations” I think I meant that I’m someone who’s quite comfortable to have fuzzy dimensions of things (Keith has a great blog post about boundaries) – because I think life is fuzzy and sometimes trying to make it clear/legible distorts the reality and simplifies its complexity to the point of it not being recognizable any more. I may be talking junk at this point but I know I generally do feel this way. And I do feel “stifled” by structure quite often. It might also be related to my non-traditional education (doing a PhD remotely, I improvised a lot with my research methodology and writing, which turned out surprisingly to work in my favor because I reflected on it really deeply in the end and produced what my external examiner considered a “difficult to categorize thesis” that was somewhere between empirical and theoretical and something else). At some point, I thought I was at a disadvantage. But for a while now, I’ve thought of this all as a strength. As something that helps me become more creative. Gosh this is turning into a blog post and all about me. But that’s not what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to say that I think looseness of structure or lack of it, lack of even discussing it explicitly sometimes (my supervisor rarely discussed these things with me) can be good at the beginning. I’m happy now that at rhizo14 we’re discussing some things in more detail after we’ve done them. I hope no one was terribly hurt. I don’t think this lack of structure would work really well for younger people. But in rhizo14 we’re all adults, all educators of some kind, so it’s not your typical learning environment.

        I’ll stop here. Sorry to take up so much space. Not even sure I’m responding to what you were saying, or just offloading my own perception of what you were saying…

      • francesbell April 18, 2014 - 8:11 am Reply

        @Maha – thanks for replying on point 1 – I agree we are really discussing things in detail here.
        I did not recommend that rhizo14 have written rules (as I said I don’t think that would have worked) and am puzzled by what you say about the rhizo14 community having set its own rules – where are they? are they unspoken/ unwritten? I don’t feel bound by any rules on rhizo14 but I sometimes feel frustrated not so much by the lack of written guidelines but rather a sense that the community seems uncomfortable with talking about behaviours/ problems, except in terms of statements like “X was mean to Y”. It’s almost as though there is a reluctance to admit that there might be any participants who are having anything other than the joyful experience that is so often spoken of. To me, communication problems are inevitable and can be addressed in many ways, but if we make them something of which we cannot speak that would be oppressive.
        Any online community/ space will exhibit norms, sometimes conflicting norms. Norms (to me rules are just one example of how norms can be expressed) can be unwritten, acted out in the behaviour of the participants of an online community. Your example of your own practice with students displays your role as moderator, and your prompting of a discussion by saying “now let’s talk about netiquette” – these are two ways of developing healthy norms. In doing this you were acknowledging the messy reality of your students’ experience without using rules to make the space ‘legible’. Sharing optional guidance (possibly from elsewhere) and approaches for dispute resolution can also be useful. The blog post on legibility that has been much discussed on rhizo14 acknowledges tradeoffs between local and global benefits and says “The high-modernist reformer is driven by a naive-scientific Utopian vision that does not tolerate dissent, because it believes it is dealing in scientific truths.” There is the huge challenge for a self-organised learning group – how to deal with dissent. One approach is to have groups where like-minded people congregate – less dissent but maybe fewer opportunities for learning.
        You make a very interesting point when you raise the question , “but it made sense for a “community as curriculum” to let the community set its rules?” If we replace that with norms/ guidance , etc. then I think are getting to the heart of an important question for self-organised learning groups for learning. From my perspective, though rhizo14 had a course director who did participate in the rhizo14 Facebook group, Dave Cormier did not really play the role of moderator there and so the norm-building was very much a bottom-up activity. You say “When rhizo14 first started I was very concerned about power issues. I was concerned that people who were veteran cMOOCers would take over and newbies like me would not be able to participate.” It’s really good that suggests you weren’t excluded but how does a self-organised group minimise exclusion and deal with problems?

        • balimaha April 19, 2014 - 5:55 pm Reply

          will do haha

  2. Lenandlar April 16, 2014 - 3:42 pm Reply

    Hi Frances, very provoking post. I am thinking about this …
    “What I have observed in the discussion on the ethics of use of information from the auto-ethnography document is that some participants seem to assume there is a ‘common decency’ approach to the use of ‘open’ information. This is a little dangerous I think and may be explained by an unwarranted assumption of community.”

    • francesbell April 16, 2014 - 3:54 pm Reply

      @Len really looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  3. jennymackness April 16, 2014 - 8:41 pm Reply

    Hi Frances – thanks for this post which reminds me of danah boyd’s comment in a keynote

    “when you engage online in equally public settings such as on someone’s Facebook Wall, the conversation is public by default, private through effort.”

    (boyd, danah. 2010. “Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity.” SXSW. Austin, Texas, March 13).

    This also matches my understanding of what ‘open’ means on the web, i.e. if we post in the open, then we have ‘opened’ our writing and other artefacts up to all comers. If we don’t want this to happen, then we need to explicitly say so.

    I notice that you have a Creative Common license on your blog, as I have on mine and other people like Stephen Downes have on theirs. For me this is recognition that I am writing in the open, but that if any of that writing is used elsewhere by anyone then I would like the writing to be attributed to me. But I don’t think there is any guarantee of this and I wouldn’t be too worried if it wasn’t. I am fairly careful to ensure that anything I ‘publish’ on the web – be it writing, photos or multimedia – is ‘stuff’ I don’t mind being used by others, e.g. I know that my photos on Flickr are used all over the place, and for commercial means, even though I have a license which is for non-commercial use. If I was concerned about this, I wouldn’t publish openly. I think this is necessary digital literacy of the 21st century, i.e. knowing what ‘open’ means, how to use Creative Commons licenses and what to keep private.

    • balimaha April 17, 2014 - 12:18 am Reply

      hi Jenny 😉 just a quick response here to say how happy I was the day I posted the creative commons license on my blog 🙂 I actually did it live in front of my students to demonstrate how easy it was: googled “how do I…” created the license, copied the code, and ta-da 🙂 Felt good 🙂

    • francesbell April 17, 2014 - 8:51 pm Reply

      thanks for your comments Jenny. The point about CCL licensing of blogs is relevant and useful (Daniela Paradis made this too in our discussion of research data protocols). I still think that open/closed is fuzzy and our own and others’ moral agency comes into play. It makes me smile to think that the technology-mediated interactions that permeate our lives offer the illusion of regulated communication but the reality seems different.

  4. balimaha April 17, 2014 - 12:15 am Reply

    just posting this because I forgot to click “notify of follow-up comments via email”. Doing so now

  5. sensor63 April 17, 2014 - 8:39 am Reply

    Hi Frances!

    Thanks very much for your very thought provoking post. You raise very important questions about spaces and ethics. The lack of clarity in terms of rules does allow (some of ) us to have these importantant discussions to try to define our own and make them transparent.

    I am not sure that the 3 dimensions of power really connects with how I see things as I feel that we must take into account a myriad of competing and conflicting influences within and between individuals and spaces.

    In the same way, agency appears to me much reduced by narrative/cultural landscapes within which we navigate.

    ‘Open research’ appears to me to be at times a bit like the town plan for a highway through my house – the information is accessible if I am aware that it might be in my interests to go and consult documents in the town hall, and if I am able to understand the jargon. Access is more than being able to consult.

    I shall be back as I think this through…

    • francesbell April 18, 2014 - 8:18 am Reply

      Thanks for mentioning the influence of spaces Simon. I still think that 2- and 3-d views of power can help me understand power relations but a weakness of that approach is that maybe overplays human agency over the agency of things and networks/rhizomes.

      • sensor63 April 19, 2014 - 10:49 am Reply

        Yes Frances I would say that agency is a tree which hides the forest, the rings in the trunk the seasons etc 🙂

  6. Christina Hendricks April 18, 2014 - 5:08 am Reply

    Very interesting post, Frances. I’ve been part of several connectivist-type MOOCs now, and in none of them have there been explicit rules for behaviour (at least not that I can recall; though if someone knows me and can point to some I’ve missed, that’d be great). I think I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t seen any problems result from this. Maybe it’s due to the kinds of people who tend to participate in these sorts of courses (as Maha says in a comment above, we’re often adults, and often have some link to education). I don’t know what happened with the attempt to make a community-created set of guidelines that was started with Cathy Davidson’s MOOC on the future of education, discussed here. I don’t know how well it worked to have so many people trying to edit and agree on a set of rules. I think that would be the ideal thing, namely coming up with a set of rules/guidelines that everyone could contribute to/edit and then we could all somehow come to a consensus. But I wonder how difficult that actually is in practice. Since I didn’t participate in that MOOC, I don’t know how it went trying to create this community document.

    Without that sort of more democratic process, I agree with Maha that there is a significant worry about power relations and who ends up deciding what goes into the document. But is such a democratic process feasible? And then again, one might imagine that there are certain basic rules of respect that allow for dialogue to work that perhaps could be set out as a set of guidelines; though I have to say I’m not sure myself exactly what should go into that set.

    I think the issue of rules for how to use information and quotes for research is clearer in my mind, though. Maybe that’s just because I’ve gone through several research ethics board applications, and am familiar with the sorts of concerns they raise. It seems to me that being absolutely clear about how information will be used for research is ethically required–telling people what information will be used, whether it will be tied to identifiable individuals, and how it will be used (publications? conference or other presentations? blog posts?) are all important. And really, one should give people this information before they agree to participate if possible. Of course, with things posted publicly that one wants to use later, such as information on blogs, wikis, Twitter, G+ (public posts), etc., then one may not ask beforehand.

    Does one need to ask permission to use information posted publicly, in research? I think one can quote others, just as one would quote a publicly-published paper (that’s copyrighted). I asked my research ethics board if I could gather data from public blogs and Twitter without asking permission and they said yes. This seems definitely okay for blogs and wikis that have a CC license (insofar as you are using the material according to the terms of the license), but Twitter is an interesting case–most people don’t have a CC license on their tweets, and it’s possible that they may count as copyrighted (according to a copyright expert in the UK I talked to…at least might count in the UK as copyrighted, unless they’re retweets or just links).

    Still, I personally think it’s best to let people know if you’re going to use quotes in your research from their blogs, wikis, G+ posts, tweets, etc., and give them a chance to opt out. Maybe it’s not strictly speaking required, but I think it’s good policy. That I post something publicly on my blog with a CC-BY license means I know anyone can see it and use it however they wish just with attribution, but I’d still like to know if I’m going to be published in a journal (even though strictly speaking I don’t need to give permission for this, given the CC-BY license).

    Repair strategies are important too–good to bring that up! I wonder if having email addresses or other contact information readily available for people to ask questions/make requests to opt out/express concerns is enough, or do you think there should be something more explicit as to how to handle such situations when they come up? Perhaps so.

    I have to say that I appreciate the work the ethics board at my university does, because they really clue me in on these ethical questions for my research, thinking of concerns I hadn’t thought of myself. But not all researchers have to go through such a process. So getting the digital literacy of recognizing such ethical concerns and having a strategy of communication of use of information and repair is crucial. I wonder where people can get that? Does a document of ethical concerns re: research in open spaces exist? Should it, if not?

    • balimaha April 18, 2014 - 8:20 am Reply

      Hi Christina,

      What is interesting is that collab autoethnog went thru the IRB approval process by my institution quite smoothly. So apparently for them there was enough clear information on the document to clarify to participants the framework for the research. So the subtleties are interesting.

      Like you, I have my blog as CC-By but i also have “no derivatives” at the moment, I think. I may change it later. But also like you, I would like someone to let me know if they plan to republish (even though not legally required; some folks on Flickr ask to be informed if u use their photos). I was recently in a situation where an article of mine (in a mag) was re-published without my permission and even copyrighted by the new publisher without getting my agreement!!! They took my bio off my blog but never bothered to email or tweet to ask my permission!

      One thing confused me about your comment, though. You keep referring to copyright in a way that is different from what I am used to. Quoting a small part of something published like a blog is not a copyright infringement, is it? I understand copyright infringement to be copying large parts of a work outside the guidelines for fair use (e.g. To distribute an entire post commercially; whereas using e.g. Less than 10% in a class is OK). It is trickier with diagrams, etc. I did not perceive the issue (related to research data in the autoethnog)as one of copyright but I would love if you could explain where you are coming from so I could think about it more clearly.

      • Christina Hendricks April 19, 2014 - 4:20 am Reply

        Hi Maha:

        I know pretty much nothing about the autoethnography project, so I can’t comment on any subtleties there in terms of how information will be used; I was just thinking more generally about IRBs, ethics, research, etc.!

        And I probably didn’t make myself very clear about copyright and quotes. You can definitely quote material even if it’s copyrighted. So it should be fine to quote parts of a blog post. I guess I was thinking of the issue of notifying them or asking permission before you quote–it just seems even more clear with CC licensed stuff that people should be okay with using such quotes because they’ve already given you permission to use their material without asking. But still, I think that for research, it’s a kind of courtesy, not needed, to let people know. To quote copyrighted material, small parts, legally you don’t need to let them know or ask permission, whether they have a CC license or not. I guess i was trying to say that for those blogs with a CC license one could think that there’s no reason to let them know at all because they’ve already explicitly given permission to use the material for various purposes (though maybe not for commercial purposes, or maybe not derivatives, etc.). But I still think that it’s nice to let them know if you’re using their words in a research project. You’re not required to, certainly, but it’s nice to do.

        I can see how my point about Tweets being possibly copyrighted can be confusing. Indeed, I find the Twitter case especially confusing. If Tweets can be copyrighted, then can we even quote a Tweet because to do so would be to quote the whole thing, usually? Or can we just quote a few words? I was thinking about the issue of asking permission from people before using their words, and for copyrighted works without a CC license, we need to ask permission if it’s more than a certain amount. And that’s weird with Tweets! Still, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know if copyrighting Tweets would hold up in court as possible. And none of this has to do with the autoethnography, of course, if it’s not about Twitter!

        I hope this clarifies what you were asking about, but please let me know if not!

        • balimaha April 19, 2014 - 4:50 am Reply

          Hi Christina, I agree with the general courtesy idea for most of what you say. I think maybe the reference to copyright it what confused me 🙂

    • francesbell April 18, 2014 - 10:56 am Reply

      Thanks for your response Christina. This a long post followed by (some) long comments, and I know that will put some people off, but it’s becoming a great resource for me as I think things through. I was interested in Cathy Davison’s attempt to create guidelines but couldn’t imagine how it would work in a time-limited activity like a MOOC. I did some research and practice work in this area 10 years ago and I have since had the experience of being in a MOOC –CCK08- with a troll. Hence my approach is pragmatic rather than rules-based. If it’s appropriate, say in a formal educational setting where cross-cultural communication is central then I think these principles bear study (particularly the ones on education)
      If we interpret rules as ‘rules of thumb’ then Johnson’s general rules can be quite useful (especially 2 and 3)
      1. Know the rules of the forums in which you communicate and follow them.
      2. Respect the privacy and property rights of others. When in doubt, assume the user wants privacy and ownership.
      3. Respect the individuals with whom you communicate and those who are affected by your communication; that is, do not deceive, defame, or harass.
      Johnson, D. G. (1997). Ethics online. Communications of the ACM, 40(1), 60-65
      A famous ‘rule of thumb’ was YOYOW You Own Your Own Words but not without its problems;)
      Thanks for your comments on the use of public postings. On my blog, I am guided mainly by my own personal ethics and have used screenshots of tweets, quotes from other blogs but I would think twice about how I linked to or quoted from a blog post or tweet that was shared within a very small group eg a tweeter with very few followers.
      Like you, I think the situation is a bit different with research and not just to meet the requirements of a research ethics board. In the research that Jenny, Mariana and I are doing, we worked hard at clarifying the ethics in general, and our use of research data in particular Even so, I think we will need to iron out a few details in practice. We have email addresses for those who supplied them but those who opted for anonymity are not available for contact. I agree that ethics boards can bring value and I learned a lot submitting for approval and from my board colleagues when I did 2 maternity leave covers on the board at my former university.
      You ask about a document of ethical concerns re: research in open spaces – this my first stop

    • francesbell April 18, 2014 - 11:37 am Reply

      P.S. Christina, I forgot to include this link to what I think is a very good expression of what a participant can expect in a MOOC I think that the page expresses the values behind the course/collaboration and sets the scene very well

      • Christina Hendricks April 19, 2014 - 4:34 am Reply

        Thanks for these links, Frances. I didn’t know about the AOIR document at all, and I had forgotten about the useful “about” page for clmooc (which I participated in just very briefly last summer). I like your point about rules being more like “rules of thumb,” and needing to be interpreted and applied possibly differently for different circumstances. We could, I think, create certain rules of thumb for participation in online communities, a bit more specific than the general ones by Johnson and UNESCO and YOYOW? Something between these general ones and the more specific ones from Davidson? Just thinking out loud here again.

        • balimaha April 19, 2014 - 7:18 am Reply

          But that clmooc doc looks (i just skimmed it) like sthg Dave wrote entitled sthg like “your unguided tour of rhizo14” or some such thing.

      • francesbell April 19, 2014 - 3:08 pm Reply

        I could recommend a more thorough comparison Maha;)

  7. balimaha April 19, 2014 - 6:14 pm Reply

    hey Frances (oops, WordPress posted my “will do” response (meant for the “thorough comparison” under the wrong thread – well, not wordpress, but sthg about my computer loading the comments slowly so the threads are now messed up). It made me realize I don’t know how to edit/delete comments I’ve made on someone else’s blog – I can access all the comments I made but couldn’t delete/edit. will look that up later.

    For now, I just wanted to respond to the longer comment you made earlier.
    I don’t think most of the facebook rhizo14 group are unaware of multiple dimensions of power (have you read any of the other stuff we write that’s not about rhizo14? e.g. Shyam’s and my latest Hybrid Pedagogy articles?) – I also don’t think people deny that everyone “enjoyed” rhizo14 the same way or have the “same” “community” feeling (I quote “same” because not even those of us who are v positive about it necessarily feel the “same”). I don’t think anyone denies that some people have been excluded. I also think there were some sub-groups within rhizo14 that not everyone identified with or were central to – e.g. the group who did lots of poetry and creative stuff – I enjoyed reading some of it but it was not the center of my rhizo14 experience (Which is funny because I’ve always loved writing poetry – I just write it better when I’m at my saddest and rhizo14 was my escape from my personal sadness so did not feel the need to write poetry for rhizo14 if that makes sense?)

    But about mechanisms for avoiding exclusion – it’s people like you noticing it that results in people acting on it. You do important things like point things out in the open. I sometimes backchannel for these things (which I did quite a bit of in rhizo14, long discussions).

    RE: rules: I didn’t mean there were any written rules of community. I meant that any group of ppl who work together for a long time will develop unwritten norms or whatever, which I think you agree with. I was saying I’m comfortable with that over written rules.

    There is one thing that bothers me a little, though. That people who chose/choose not to be on facebook try to interpret the experience of those of us who were/are on facebook and that’s problematic for me. I understand that facebook is not as “open” as other spaces but I said elsewhere that “openness” is not just about what is visible/public, but also what is “Accessible” to people in terms of their lifestyle, time, tech skill, etc. Google+ was not “inclusive” for me. I don’t talk about the experience of the G+ people because I was not there. If I was there and didn’t enjoy it, I would not suggest that the others who were enjoying it were doing something “wrong” by not noticing me not enjoying it… if that makes sense? I’m not saying you’re saying that, but it’s a sense I got from some other things. I think if some of us want to talk about our rhizo14 experience, it will always be recognized as “partial” – not respresentative of everyone else. But it should not be taken sort of “against us” that we liked it, you know? There is something special there, even if it did not happen to everyone in the universe. I’ve seen in some people’s responses to certain things that a lot of us have a lot of pain in our real lives and rhizo14 helped relieve some of that. I can’t speak for other people’s pains, but I can speak of my own, and sometimes you want to “protect” your outlet. I honestly cannot imagine my life without rhizo14. Can’t imagine how I would have survived Jan/Feb/March, and can’t imagine never having that group of people again. I’m sure not everyone had that experience. I even know some people personally from beforehand that I never managed to interact with on rhizo14 (and that’s so weird that I missed them) – but all of that… whatever power issues are going on there… there are always complex power dynamics in every space. The problem with rationality is that using it all the time is in itself oppressive, because there are other things people value beside it (and this is from someone whose PhD topic was critical thinking…).

    • francesbell April 19, 2014 - 8:51 pm Reply

      @maha Holding message to say I will reply to you in detail after our holiday weekend a
      nd a blog post I am working on. I want to reread your Hybrid Pedagogy article and give that and your response careful consideration.

      • balimaha April 19, 2014 - 8:54 pm Reply

        Ok. Enjoy the break. They are two articles (both w beginning title “Bonds of difference” – the second mentions rhizo14 but the first is the more critical one). I am not posting links so as not to be imposing/rude on your blog, but i could DM the link to you on twitter

  8. keith.hamon April 20, 2014 - 4:07 pm Reply

    First, what a great conversation! As she often does, Frances Bell has brought great clarity to an important issue and, more importantly, has written so well as to focus the attention of many on the issue, thus pulling in lots of insight and energy from outside. This is rhetoric, perhaps even rhizorhetoric, at it’s best. I have wanted to join since I first read the post and comments a few days ago, but I’ve been wrangling with what to say. I awoke this morning (Easter morning here, so I’ll let your own imaginations do what they will with the symbolism) with some firm ideas, or at least with a firm direction to take.

    I want to frame my comments in the distinction between reductionist thought and complexity thought, a habit of mind I attribute to Edgar Morin’s book On Complexity, though you can find a wonderful short version in Morin’s article Restricted Complexity, General Complexity (the translation is somewhat problematic, but the ideas are there). Anyway, I sense in all our talk here a tension between a reductionist understanding of power and a complexity understanding, and I want to tease out a bit of the tension.

    I start with a link that Frances Bell provides in another post to Steven Luke’s short article about power, which gives an overview of four approaches to power, of which Frances discusses the first three in her post. To my mind, this is unfortunate, as I find the fourth view, the one from Foucault, to be the most engaging, as it approaches a complex view of power. To my mind, the first three views of power assume a Classical, simple (not simplistic, but not complex, either) epistemology that reduces a complex system to fundamental, disjoined parts that interact in deterministic ways based on local causality. I’ll try to unpack that.

    First, note Luke’s definition of power: “‘Power’ in its most generic sense simply means the capacity to bring about significant effects: to effect changes or prevent them.” His use of the word “simply” is telling for me. Though likely accidental on his part, it suggests to me a classical approach to analysis, which the first three, named views confirm.

    The One-dimensional View posits two agents disjoined from one another, and power occurs when one agent prevails in some way over the other agent, bringing about significant effects or changes in the other agent, with or without the other agent’s agreement. This is the billiard ball view of power in which one ball strikes another ball causing a significant change in the ball’s trajectory. Social scientists realized this is too simple, too explicit and overt, and so they developed Two and Three-dimensional views. The Two-dimensional view adds agenda control by the more powerful agent, and finally, the Three-dimensional view adds social influence: “Here power is not just the ability to prevail over others in conflicts of interests and set the agenda of what such conflicts are about: it also encompasses being able to secure their dependence, deference, allegiance or compliance, even without needing to act and in the absence of conflict.”

    It seems to me that the successive views move in the direction of complexity, but they are always limited by a Classical epistemology that posits disjoined, discrete agents interacting in deterministic ways across or through clear boundaries, either in accordance with or in violation of some social contract or rules. While this view of power provides great clarity and affords us some understanding, ultimately for me, its affordances are outweighed by its limitations. For me, it remains too simple and does not explain enough. This is where Foucault’s view of power comes into play, and note that it’s the only unnamed view in Luke’s article. It is unnamed because it is complex, and complexity is often nameless, even unnameable, which is a huge problem for Classical epistemology.

    For Foucault, and for me, power is the flow of energy, matter, information, and organization throughout a complex, multi-scale system. It is most often unobserved, often unobservable. An agent is not merely acted upon as in the simple views of power, but an agent is formed and informed by the flows of energy, information, and organizational structures of the systems within which the agent lives and functions. And while we have some, restricted abilities to choose which systems and which energies and informations we will engage, we are not discrete entities, independent of an enclosing ecosystem. We must be part of the flow of some energy, matter, information, and organization, and those flows all implicate power. Power is the weave of the fabric we are all woven into, and it is difficult, often impossible, to isolate any single thread of power and to trace it back to a single cause.

    So what does this mean for how we should decide who is in Rhizo14 and how we should behave there? First, let me point out emphatically that I am not denying the efficacy of the Classical views of interactions with their clear, social contracts between and among independent agents. So I take it seriously when Frances Bell suggests that “there are benefits in clarifying use of information, utterances, multimedia in practice. This may be done informally within a close group of friends, rarely discussed, but the more open the use and sharing of information, the more important it is to clarify how we expect that information to be used, if we wish to minimise problems.” Spot on. Clarity has great affordances, but it also has its blindness, and I’ll try to illustrate this point by referring to Frances again. I trust she will tolerate me.

    Frances has asked that her identity not be associated with the ethnography as a writer and that she not be quoted as a participant in Rhizo14, and the group will no doubt comply. This is a fine example of a clear, classical social contract. Independent agents agree on boundaries and behaviors between themselves: Frances on one side and the Rhizo14 group on the other. The result is that if and when the group produces a document of some kind, then Frances’ name will not appear on it as an author or in it as a participant. This assumes discrete agents with clear boundaries, a simple view of power and reality. This is all straightforward and simple, an easily understood arrangement.

    A complex view of power and reality—my view—says, however, that Frances is already part of the Rhizo14 group and the document, even if she isn’t named in it. In whatever form that document eventually emerges, it has already been shaped by discussions that Frances engaged—flows of energy, information, and organization that in/form the document, the writing of it, the flow of it. Likewise, I suspect that Frances has herself been in/formed by the Rhizo14 discussion, so we have an instance of circular causality, a core mechanism of complex systems with their complex flows of power. Frances’ blog has captured much of this discussion as has my blog and others and the Facebook group. Tweets have flown. Power as flows of energy, information, and organization have already woven us together in ways that I do not know how to disentangle. Yes, of course, the group can leave Frances out of any formal document—that is easy to do—but it is really only a very small part of my view of the Rhizo14 auto ethnography.

    In fact, Frances’ request not to be part of the group leaves me with some sticky issues because so much of what she has said about how to conduct research in online spaces now informs my own thinking that I don’t know how to use her ideas without plagiarizing. Of course, I say this tongue-in-cheek, as most views of plagiarism are based on the simple view of relationships among agents and social contracts. A complex view of plagiarism says that I cannot avoid plagiarism given that every thought and the very language I encode them in come to me from elsewhere. Sole authorship is a reductionist’s fiction, a useful fiction perhaps, but perhaps becoming less useful as online, open spaces emerge.

    How to behave in an open community, then, where flows of power are unavoidable and many are uncontrollable, even unknowable? I wish I had a clear answer, but I don’t. I’m in the uncomfortable position of bringing up a problem without suggesting an answer. I hesitate almost to bring it up, except for the fear that if we don’t confront this problem, then we will continue to apply the old social contracts. I don’t think those social contracts alone can address the issue well enough.

    This brings me to my own motivation for joining the Rhizo14 auto ethnography group: I’m interested in learning how this group will write this document. Like all good ethnographers, I think I can learn most by living and functioning within the group, by helping to write it. I want to define the process from the inside (a complexity point of view) and not from the outside (a reductionist point of view).

    Well, this is already too long. The Easter choirs have sung, so I’ll be quiet, but I expect I will echo much of this in my own blog. Thanks again to Frances for opening this space. Good ride.

  9. The trouble with agency | Reflecting Allowed
  10. VanessaVaile June 16, 2014 - 10:59 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns.

    • VanessaVaile June 17, 2014 - 1:55 am Reply

      because the group dynamics and privacy issues come up on various adjunct groups I am in and your considerations are particularly relevant

      • francesbell June 18, 2014 - 6:43 am Reply

        I hope it was of some use;)

        • VanessaVaile June 18, 2014 - 8:04 am Reply

          Quite a bit and will probably figure strongly in a post I am working on about social media and adjunct faculty advocacy and possibly another on FB in local community networks. R14 insights are useful to me in rather different places and ways than for most others in the course.


  11. Response to Simon Ensor’s comments | Francesbell's Blog

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