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Saturday, September 14 • 3:41pm - 4:00pm
“Social media use during study from a distance: Integral experiences that counter a trend to digital dualism”

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This work expounds on findings from a doctoral thesis that examined the experiences of doctoral students who studied at a distance and who passed through troublesome or problematic liminal periods during the course of their studies. It was a qualitative design using narrative inquiry and informed by an actor-network theory analysis of the twenty-three interdisciplinary, international doctoral researchers and graduates. As participants detailed their pain prior to the transformative thresholds and aha! moments during their studies, they all experienced some support or encouragement from human and non-human actors while overcoming their struggles. While distance was found to be a contentious term amongst the participants, it was their use of social media and technology, and how they were seamlessly integrated into their studies, that became striking. 

Counter to the perspective of Turkle (2011), who seems to lament a lessening of our “real” offline lives while we increasingly navigate online personas and relationships, the participants in this research echo the recent work of Jurgenson (2011; 2012), who propose a challenge to a digital dualism that posits online and offline aspects of our lives as separate, and not quite equal, parts of ourselves. Social media such as Twitter or Facebook for conversations and encouragement, blogs for developing thoughts and getting feedback, Skype for video or audio connections, the internet itself as the gateway to the possibilities of distant presence, and even humble and ubiquitous communication via email—all were used as seamless resources to facilitate support and community during the dark periods over doctoral study. 

Participants did not seem to consciously reach out to social media to connect with others in a somehow less-than-real way, but rather used them as any other tools to meet their academic, professional, and personal needs. These were not online or offline needs, nor needs that came simply as a result of eLearning, physical, or psychological distance, even through the myriad of ways distance was used or considered by the participants. Social media and technology aided the learners in communicating and encountering support through their academic work, and while none of them at the time actively discussed the aspects of their experiences that they later classified as liminal ones, they did not characterize or differentiate their experiences as being online or offline ones. Rather, they were digital monists (Vial, 2013) in that they simply had experiences. Very difficult and troubling ones that needed support to face, but experiences equal to any other ones they lived through, regardless of the technologies they used to facilitate them (Oliver, 2012). The online or offline did not matter insofar as the needs were met, due in part to the integration of social media and its connections as another aspect of their lives, just as real as anything, or anybody, supportive of their work. 

Jurgenson, N. (2011). Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality. Cyborgology. Retrieved from http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/02/24/digital-dualism-versus-augmented-reality/ 
Jurgenson, N. (2012). The IRL Fetish. The New Inquiry. Retrieved from http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-irl-fetish/ 
Oliver, M. (2012). Learning technology: Theorising the tools we study. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01283.x 
Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together. New York: Basic Books. 
Vial, S. (2013). Digital Dualism and Lived Experience: Everyday Ontology Produces Everyday Ethics. Cyborgology. Retrieved from http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2013/04/09/digital-dualism-and-lived-experience-everyday-ontology-produces-everyday-ethics/#more-15140 

avatar for Jeffrey M. Keefer

Jeffrey M. Keefer

Director of Training & Knowledge Management (Urban Parks) + Educational Researcher + Professor, New York University & The Trust for Public Land
Director of Training & Knowledge Management (Urban Parks) + Educational Researcher + Professor = Actor-Network Theory + Liminality + Connected Learning

Saturday September 14, 2013 3:41pm - 4:00pm EDT
ROWE 1020

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