06 SES 13 A, Software, Play & Data
With the emerging of digital technologies and networking, it has been argued that old certainties disappear and new possibilities and constraints of 'putting things into relation' arise. Software Studies emphasize further that the entangling of the physical world and software layers fundamentally transform social and cultural processes and phenomena (Berry, 2011; Manovich, 2013). In that spirit the differentiation between the digital and analog sphere has been questioned, since digital artifacts, digital data structure and practices have become a common part of everyday life. The consolidation of cultural, social, institutional, organizational and technological systems can be described “through the exponential logics of planetary-scale computation” (Bratton, 2015, xix). In this context, diverse social processes but also topologies of learning and education (Decuypere & Simons, 2016) are taking place with and through digital technologies such as apps.
It has been early argued, that the “network society” can be seen in contrast to the community: Social relations are not defined through belonging but through integration and disintegration (Wittel, 2001, p. 51). Nevertheless, Ed-Tech speak or narratives consequently embrace that learning is actively driven by technology (Mertala, 2020) and that there is somehow a community behind it. Against this background, this contribution asks how ‘the social’ as a community, interaction, and, communication is constructed and acted out by and in app environments. Following knowledge and practice theories, we argue, that social practices construct social sense (Schütz & Luckmann, 2003). Therefore we will concentrate our analysis especially on pictures, practices, discourses and, metaphors of learning-communities within apps and their environments.
The contribution and use of learning apps seem to be as ubiquitous as they are education-wise institutionally uncontrolled. They are offered under the category of ‘education’ in the google or apple stores and proclaim to provide, for example, foreign language, memory retention or coding skills, math competencies, and knowledge about delineated subject matters. Regardless of their specific aims and scope, all those apps collect and process user data and input qua implemented algorithmic program and ask the users to take action through visualization, feedback loops, etc., to ‘learn’ something. In doing so, apps are not pedagogically neutral but carry highly specific assumptions about the user and society, and stage learning a certain way (Decuypere, 2019). Especially with regards to apps and their performance and (inscribed) idea of learning-communities, the constructing developers, coders, and designers not only create ‘learning-communities’ with and within their apps, but are also part of a worldwide “elite” (Berry, 2011) or the “Global Educational Industry” (Parreira do Amaral, Steiner-Khamsi, & Thompson, 2019) as a group with collective knowledge, discourses, and practices and therefore specific implicit cultural values.
Through developing and organizing within a company or a group, it is our contention that coders’, designers’, and entrepreneurs’ (implicit) knowledge, understanding of the world and their specific discourses ‘lump together’ and coagulate within the app. In that respect, Seaver (2018) emphasized that “social architectures” and “software architectures […] echo each other” (p. 376). With the beginning of computer-system-developments also discussions about the epistemic state of (online) communities aroused as Jones (1998) argues: Regarding communities as social interaction (and not places) would excavate the consideration of who is in power of forming the matrix of social relations. But also the myth of (learning-)technologies and their social transformational and educational potentials emerged and were tied to theories of learning communities (Wenger, 1998). However, in practice, educational apps make use of very simplistic & behaviorist learning theories such as behaviorism, constant feedback, etc. (Decuypere, 2019; Klinge, 2019). But those myths of educational transformation potential survived within the developing communities and their technologies.
The Graphical-User-Interface with its visual-associative, auditive, and haptic features plays a crucial role in designing not only the product but equally the systems and practices for interaction and seamless human-computer-environments. This trivialization of using computer-technology is also aiming at embodiment at a habituated use (Dieter et al., 2019) and the intensification of intimacy (Harrison & Christensen-Strynø, 2019). So looking into how the sociality of learning-communities is constructed within app-environments implies to not only analyze the offered (written) content but also visualizations, sound, vibrations, interactions, connectivity, etc. as a whole. To reconstruct the sociality and the subject of learning-communities we combine different methodologies within the app-analysis. Apps will be addressed in different dimensions: The ecologies of apps as infrastructures including stores etc., the technology of an algorithmic system and the subjectivities which are addressed by the app-environments will be reconstructed through the entry points of website, store, and interface (Decuypere, 2019). We will also address the issue of reconstructing the praxeology and (implicit) knowledge of and within apps with a multiparadigmatic approach we address discourses, practices and iconological knowledge (Klinge, 2019). By looking at the discourse level, we will focus on the implicit of the explicit knowledge (since we find mainly through technization, and development processes this kind of knowledge and no conjunctive habitual knowledge), and with the interaction-analysis, we focus on the sequences and therefore the pattern of communication. With an in-depth analysis of the graphical design, we focus on iconology, which raises the question of ‘how’ social knowledge and phenomena are produced and transported through pictures and visualizations, which is one way to also carve out the implicit (pictorial) knowledge (Bohnsack, 2020). We do so by reconstructing the “'compositional methods' and 'iconographical significance'” (Panofsky, 1939/2018, p. 7). Even though the app and its graphical interface are created by certain companies or developers, pictures carry deep-rooted symbolical and therefore social and cultural knowledge. The sample for the analysis consists of apps found in the apple and google store, which claim to provide knowledge and to promote skills. Therefore concerning skills, we analyze the language apps “Busuu” and “duolingo”, concerning knowledge we analyze the non-fiction books app “blinkist”.
Social practices of learning and learning-communities within app-environments are not only a matter of new technological possibilities but equally a result and crystallization of epistemic practices and knowledge of the developing communities themselves. Following this genesis of tiedness of theories, discourses, and practices of learning-communities within computer-mediated environments, the question arises of how such “online communities” – technological object, digital subject and as sociomateriality – is created within apps through visualization, interaction, discourses, etc. With the comparative in-depth analysis of different apps under the category of education, we will gain deeper knowledge about how learning-communities as socialities are constructed by and within apps. This will help to theorize the phenomena of this learning-community hybrid and also the traces of developers’ knowledge we find in this educational app-practices, which also shapes the understanding and orientation of education, learning, and teaching in other contexts. The practices and orientations of these certain developing communities are thereby also gaining importance in more institutionally controlled learning settings.
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