digital presence as an indicator of digital capital

image showing two sheet facing each other
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The Community of Inquiry model suggests successful online education requires cognitive, teaching and social presences.  I’d agree that designing around this combination is a useful starting point for any online activity.

However, I’d also suggest another presence is essential.

Digital presence.

In a Community of Inquiry context, including digital presence would ensure staff and students were prepared for the digital dimensions of teaching and learning online, and in possession of the prerequisite digital capabilities.

But I see digital presence as more than practical knowledge because how we work online influences access to other resources. Opportunities for networking, publication, research, teaching and learning can all happen in ways which privilege those with digital connectivity and the confidence to use it. I’m still thinking it through – hence this blog post – but suggest digital presence can be aligned with digital capital.

image shpowing a hand holding a blue ball covered with social media icons
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/social-media-icon-hand-keep-2489594/

I use this in the Bourdieusian sense to extend his ideas around social and cultural capital to the digital domain. A digital society requires increasing amounts of digital practice, but how often do we stop and think about what is happening? How many times do we automatically log on without considering the implications of our actions, the extent of the divides being created or what might be missing through being digitally disengaged?

I have analogue roots. This means I don’t take connectivity for granted but I do appreciate the affordances of digital access at a time, place and device of choice, in particular how this offers genuine opportunities to widen participation. For all the ways in which higher education is changing, I still believe in its capacity for making a positive  contribution to individual lives, which in turn will influence the future society our graduates will make.

My career has been built around supporting digital education development. The lack of attention to the ways in which digital practice is understood has always concerned me. Digital diversity risks differential student experiences at a time when the development of digital graduate attributes should be at the heart of curriculum design.

image showing black open umbrellas surrounding a central yellow one
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Considering digital presence as an indicator of digital capital may be one way to address this.

Digital difference has multiple layers in particular the ways in which online activity enhances or diminishes social and cultural capital, described by Bourdeiu as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.’ (Bourdieu, 1983: 249)

In other words, capital is the knowledge and skills which bestow status and power. Digital capital creates digital presence and in today’s society, this matters. Having digital presence creates tangible outcomes which relate to other forms of capital.

Society privileges the digitally fluent and marginalises others.

So digital presence is attitudinal as well as behavioural. It involves tangible qualities like identity and performance but also the ways digital practices are embodied, cumulative, transferable and potentially transformative.

Transformation in relation to digital practice is contentious. Claims which conflate them are risky. For too long, virtual learning environments have been presented as having transformational qualities when actual usage is more about management and control of administrative functions. In higher education, risk derives from focusing on technology-drivers rather than pedagogy-first pathways.

image showing a baby elephant being taught to go into the water
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Teaching is a complex, socially situated activity, dependent on multiple perspectives, skills and experience. Transfer the requirements of effective teaching and learning online and they multiply in ways which are not always fully addressed. The practical wisdom associated with the literature of educational practice requires digital dimensions which are too often excluded from traditional  approaches to supporting academic development.

Understanding and building digital presence could be a way to address this.

Bourdieu suggests the ‘peculiarity of cultural capital’ exists in forms which are ‘embodied, objectified, or institutionalized.’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 119). The word ’embodied’ always makes me think of Foucault and his conception of coercive power. Individuals appearing to willingly conform to social discourse through the adoption of daily practices and routines or ‘technologies of the self’ (Foucault, 1982).  even where these repllcate and reinforce disadvantage or disempowerment. Practice, in particular digital practice, is inextricably linked to the possession of social and cultural capital which in turn relates to power.

Back to Bourdieu who used the terms ‘habitus‘ and ‘field’ for this interplay between structure and agency. These relationships are often internalised. Like a fish takes water for granted, social and cultural positioning can be accepted because it operates below the level of consciousness. However, it can be known through critical reflection and analysis, which should be the heart of a higher education experience. .

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In 21st century, all social theory has digital dimensions and structures of power and control contain within themselves the possibility of change. Understanding the origins of discourse creates opportunities to challenge it. A society with increasing digital dependency should have equitable access at its heart. Teaching and learning is a great place to embed digitally inclusive practice which is not limited to accessing technology but is about the ways in which it’s used. Digital capital is made visible by degrees of digital presence.

Rather than assume everyone has the skills and confidence of the innovators and early adopters, we should pay more attention to the later adopters and the parameters of resistance. There is much to learn from studying the diversity of digital practice and the extend to which digital presence is developed may be a useful conceptual tool for supporting these discussions.

 

References 

Bourdieu, P., 1983. Forms of capital. In: Richards, J.C. (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. Greenwood Press, New York.; Coleman.

Bourdieu, P., Wacquant, L.J.D., 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Foucault, M. Technologies of the Self.” Lectures at University of Vermont Oct. 1982, in Technologies of the Self, 16-49. Univ. of Mass­a­chu­sets Press, 1988.

 

 

 

simultaneous existence

planets in outer space

I have a colleague who is researching space. Not the outer space of stars or the inner space of quarks. Not the digital space of VLE or social media. This is real space. The space we exist in. The space we breath in and out, in and out…

Which raises the question – what is space? I’m not sure I’ve asked myself that before.

Space. We pass through it. Things pass through it. It’s the container in which we live and I can understand the air being of interest to a chemist or sports scientist. After all it keeps us alive but other than that it’s just the physical distance between objects – isn’t it?

diagram of distances between the sides of a triangle

How can you research space of the day-to-day kind?

It seems space has interested researchers for some time. There is Lebrevre’s Spacial Triad, Soja’s Thirdspace and Foucault’s Heterotopia. My Marx is a little rusty but I recall the notion of capital blurring measures of space where technologies enable the crossing of traditional boundaries of time and place – thereby compressing them. As in McLuhan’s global village and the virtual spaces of the internet. I think. Then there’s the liminal space of thresholds, the space between concepts and worlds and one of my favourites – the transient space of hotels and airports which we pass through on our way to and from different locations.

It seems space can be both physical and conceptual.

diagram of theoretical quarks

How often do we stop to think about the characteristics of the spaces within and between the places we inhabit?  Have you ever thought of space as socially constructed with inherent meanings which we replicate and reinforce, absorbing them without even being conscious of it. For social scientists interested in the origins of attitudes and behaviors, researching space may hold intriguing clues.

So what is the difference between the space I inhabit at work and the space I operate in online. Digital space. For me, the connected internet is a place/space I go into. If the internet is down I’m shut out. When I’m online with colleagues we are connected much the same as if we were in the same room. Now I’m thinking about how I exist in both of them at the same time. Walk across campus and every other person (or more) is also existing simultaneously in both the real and the digital world.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

In education development we’ve treated the virtual as something external to us and different. Applied different rules and said it requires different pedagogical approaches. But how different is it to generations born into a social media society, who are accustomed to the simultaneous existence enabled by their mobile devices?

Maybe we see the virtual as different because we have analogue roots.

Maybe, instead of highlighting the differences between the two types of space ,we should be looking at the similarities instead.