As online platforms have become an increasingly important part of users’ learning experiences and everyday lives, it is sometimes easy to forget that these platforms are designed. That is, some person, group, or organization created them, maintains them, and governs them. Moreover, these individuals’ and organizations’ motives and means of shaping their respective platforms are diverse. Scholars have long noted the role that users play in ongoing design of technology, but how users do so in practice is critical to understanding the role of these sites as a social location of learning and knowledge production.
In this panel, we investigate this question by looking at the productive and destructive tensions that arise through the everyday use of several different platforms. The tensions, or sometimes open conflicts, that arise between: (a) different groups of users; and (b) between designers and users are made manifest in how these sites of activity change: whether it’s a change in a technical feature, a site policy, or some other means. The panelists will present short cases from their research, each focusing on how users of web-based platforms influence the development of them. In doing so, the panelists will examine the following topics: 1) the nuances of privacy and publicity in motivating students as individuals, members of teams, and members of communities when using learning management systems, in contrast to how these systems often presume a completely ‘open’ or ‘closed’ approach; 2) the potentially destructive features of emergent networks on Twitter, particularly the tendency towards groupthink that these networks foster when they are not sufficiently exposed to other networks; 3) controversies surrounding the introduction of independent, autonomous software agents in the community of editors to Wikipedia–so-called ‘bots’ that use sophisticated algorithms to review every contribution to the encyclopedia in near real-time; and 4) the tensions between “sharing” and “theft” as members of an online art community clash over the release of new features that would simultaneously make their work more widely accessible and at the same time more difficult to control. In each of the four cases, questions of user agency and power are central.
Following these presentations, we will engage in a moderated group discussion that will compare and contrast these cases and encourage questions and responses from attendees. In doing so, we would welcome further cases and look for commonalities and differences between them.