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The OoS Matrix: FrankenTheorizing Composition MOOCs

Composition MOOCs: Theorizing Pedagogy, Space, and Learning. Why Here? Why Now? As argued in earlier case studies, the Composition MOOC is one of many different types of course offerings in an emerging trend (some would call it a fad) of … Continue reading

Case Study: Scaffolding Outline

OoS: Google Analytics

  • Activities addressed in my OoS: Collection, Collation, Processing, Reporting
  • GA Data Model: User (Visitor), Session (Visit), Interaction (Hits)
  • Data Model Collections and Reports: Dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and Metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

Theories & Selection Rationale

  • Ecosystem Ecology (Bateson, 1972/1987; Gibson, 1972/1986; Guattari, 1989/2012; Spellman, 2007)
    • Boundaries are difficult to define: Mirrors struggle to define GA boundaries
    • Inter-relatedness to neighboring ecosystems: GA connects and measures incoming & outgoing links
    • Limits analysis to groups of (rather than individual) living and/or nonliving things: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data
  • Neurobiology (Annenberg Learner, 2013)
    • Demonstrates interconnectedness of various nodes and frameworks: GA data model reports metrics interconnected with dimensions to reflect user behaviors; GA also enables both SPCS account and UR roll-up account
    • Uses hippocampus as server metaphor: Google data center as input/output hub for GA data collation and processing
    • Affirms difference between input and output: GA collects data via data model (input) and reports results via aggregated data tables and visualizations (output)
  • Network Society  (Castells, 2010)
    • Limits analysis to groups rather than individuals: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data (cf. Ecosystem Ecology, above)
    • Addresses movement of data through the network: GA focuses on movement of data from website server (collection) to Google data centers (collation & processing) to administrative accounts (reporting), although this movement is entirely serial rather than parallel
    • Provides hierarchy of nodes: GA endows administrators with creative, destructive, and manipulative authority in relation to data; other nodes have far less agency
  • Social Network (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987; Scott, 2000; Rainie & Wellman, 2012)
    • Recognizes value of social capital in network growth: GA enables measurement of increased or decreased engagement and provides help to increase engagement (social capital)
    • Reveals rhizomatic (and unpredictable) character of network connections: GA visualizes network connectivity in myriad visualizations, tables, and downloadable files (which can also be visualized)
    • Values growth and sustenance of weaker ties: GA sets up goals that seek to measure and value increased engagement on less-engaging content


  • Focus on flattened network
  • Emphasis on rhizomatic rather than hierarchical connections
  • Address difficulties of establishing boundaries
  • Recognize value of grouping in discussing large-scale network systems
  • Focus on nodal groupings rather that individual nodal identities
  • Define network as mediator rather than intermediate (Latour, 2005)

Minding the Gaps

  • Localization: Neurobiology and Network Society affirm the value and influence of local conditions on global networks that Ecosystem Ecology and Social Network either undervalue or do not address.
  • Activity and Flow: Ecosystem Ecology, Neurobiology, and Network Society address movement of data and value across or through the network that Social Network does not directly address.
  • Agency: Social Network and Neurobiology ascribe local agency to nodes that Ecosystem Ecology (focused on instinct) and Network Society (focused on hierarchical relationships among managerial elites) do not accept or address.

My Position as Scholar

These theories align with the following statements of my theories of scholarship and pedagogy:

  • I embrace the flattened, rhizomatic character of the 21st-century classroom as a (possibly the most) valid model for preparing students for the world of the 21st-century networked workplace.
  • I embrace composition as social and situated within a larger global context, and I embrace and value local and global aspects of the composing experience as preparation for both academic scholarship and professional management.
  • I embrace scholarship as collaborative and networked, and revel in the breakthroughs made more likely and/or possible through collaborative, rather than individual, scholarship.
  • I embrace pedagogy as joining with a group of students in a flattened community of learners in which, to the extent possible, hierarchical teacher-student relationships are replaced by flattened learner-learner relationships.
  • I embrace and seek connections between scholarship and utility, between theory and praxis, and between academic and alt-academic pursuits and theorizing.
  • I embrace Yagelski’s (2006) “troublemaking collectivity” as a mantra for the disruptive role of my own and my collaborative scholarship and pedagogy in institutions entrenched in antiquated, outdated theoretical paradigms.
  • I embrace as vital the role of network activity in learning activities.
Satellite image - night

U.S Atlantic Seaboard at Night: May 23, 2011. Original image from NASA Earth Observatory.

My Biases and Background

These theories align with my own biases and background in the following ways:

  • I am now, and have been since 2000, employed in an alt-academic role as a full-time marketing web manager and part-time adjunct professor of liberal arts and scholar of English studies. This role influences the value I place on connections between theory and praxis, between research and application.
  • As former director of a summer residential governor’s school for gifted and talented high school students, I value pedagogical theory and praxis that views standards-based education as little more than a starting point for true academic excellence. This experience influences my preference for network activity in learning activities, especially over standardized assessment tools and products.
  • As a professional writer and marketer, I use academic skills like research and collaborative composing in non-academic settings. This experience influences my preference for collaborative, team-based solutions to professional challenges, including audience research.
  • As a third culture kid who grew up outside of the U.S., I embrace the global nature of communications, commerce, development, employment, and growth. This experience influences my desire to place local activities and culture within global networks.
  • As a web developer, I value and prefer platform- and system-agnostic open-source software solutions over commercial, and especially proprietary, software solutions. This influences my desire to flatten hierarchical structures, especially of proprietary commercial interests, in favor of open-source and open-access models wherever feasible.
  • I am a social media marketer. As a result, I value social networks beyond their community-building application; I value them for monetization via targeted advertising. My role as a social media marketer influences my willingness to find value in globally-accessible (but not open-access or open-source) products like Google Analytics while pushing for greater openness and access to these social networking products (see the troublemaking collectivity statement, above).
  • I measure web visit data, and my job as web manager exists because I can demonstrate value through higher visit rates, greater visibility across networks, and ultimately higher admissions and enrollment figures. In a professional and continuing studies unit, the value of individual admissions and enrollments is taken very seriously. This experience forces me to work with Google Analytics, which directly influenced by choice of Google Analytics as my object of study. I enter this study with an eye towards providing my team and my administration critical theoretical approaches to data measurement that result in better, clearer communication with prospective and current students.


Annenberg Learner. (2013). Neurobiology. Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives [Online textbook]. Retrieved from

Bateson, G. (1987). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc. Originally published in 1972

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Originally published in 1979

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from

Guattari, F. (2012). The three ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group. Originally published in 1989

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis: A handbook (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 3-23; 61-84.

Yagelski, R. P. (2006). English education. In B. McComiskey (Ed.), English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) (pp. 275-319). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

[ Feature image: Bamboo Scaffolding, Cambodia. CC licensed image from Flickr user Lorna ]

Case Study 3 — MOOCs and Student Learning: Under the Microscope

The rhetorical nature of classroom spaces has certainly influenced our field’s scholarship when exploring digitally mediated writing classrooms. Terms such as constructed, architecture, location, ecology, environment, and space appear regularly in our field’s discussions of where and how writing takes … Continue reading

Mind Map: Week 12

This week I added the neurobiology and Castells readings to my Popplet. Once again, I only added a few nodes. The more we update the mindmap, the more trouble I have with it. I’m having a difficult time getting it to zoom in and to navigate around the map to find the specific sections I want.

ENG  894 Mind Map12

Anywho, the nodes that I added. Following my usual pattern, I added primary nodes for each of the main readings (neurobiology as a category rather than the specific scientists). I connected neurobiolgy to Syverson (ecology), focusing on the element of embodied. I connected neurobiolology and Castells for several reasons (outlined in more detail in Reading Notes for Week 12): interdependence of connections, difficulty distinguishing boundaries, and evolution through a feedback loop.

I do know that next week’s mind map will have a lot more connections–I’ve already been making a lot of marginal notations about Spinuzzi in Chapter 4. 🙂

Reading Notes: Week 12

In lieu of a summary this week (mainly because I don’t think I could summarize the neurology content), I’m choosing to explore some content options I haven’t done so far.

Questions with Discussion

Why are these readings (the intro material of Castells and neurology) paired? Other than the obvious goal of getting started with Castells, these seem to be paired because Castells explains the informational revolution that led to the boom of knowledge in neurology. In each of the interviews, the interviewer asks about the importance of the 1990s as the “decade of the brain,” and in three of the four interviews, the scientists refer to the advances in technology, specifically microscopy, that have allowed them to view the activity of the brain at the neuronal (cellular) level.

Castells explains these advancements as characteristic of informationalism: whereas industrialism is oriented toward economic growth, informationalism is oriented toward  technological development, the accumulation of knowledge, and higher levels of information processing (p. 17). Thus, the advancements in scientific technology are representative of the shift in economic structure.

Castells, p. 17

Castells, p. 17

What other overlaps are there between the readings? Both Castells and the neurology readings describe the processes as cyclical. Castells claims, “what is specific to the informational mode of development is the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself as the main source of productivity” which creates a circle of interaction between knowledge and technology. As we produce technology, we gain more knowledge which lends to more technological production and so on. This cycle is illustrated in the development of neurobiology tools, namely microscopy. As more powerful microscopes lend to the knowledge of neurotransmission and neuronal regenesis, scientists gain both knowledge of the processes and awareness of what they still don’t know, which leads to the creation of more powerful tools intended to reveal those gaps.

Another overlap is the stage of knowledge both readings represent (which makes sense since they’re so foundationally related). In their interviews, each of the scientists points to the informational revolution of the 1990s as just the beginning–they are only beginning to understand the complexity of the mind and neuronal processes. Similarly, Castells examines the complexity of informationalism in its early stages. While he draws on previous economic transformations, he acknowledges that his goal is to be analytic rather than predictive.

Quotes for Discussion (with Examples)

Wolfhard's Interview

Wolfhard’s Interview

“And if you had a faint idea as to how the nervous system does what it does, we could build computers that emulate the nervous system, and we’d be ahead. Whoever makes that is going to be ahead financially, militarily, if it has to be” (Wolfard, in Neurobiolgy). Wolfard’s claim here echoes Castell’s claims about the connections between information and economic growth. This statement highlights what would be the ultimate achievement in artificial intelligence. Being able to replicate the human nervous system in computers would allow for replacement of human components on, to me, an unimaginable level. Wolfard recognizes the connections between technological development and economic power–he even ties it to military power, an element that Castells doesn’t discuss in his opening material.

“In such a world of uncontrolled, confusing change, people tend to regroup around primary identities: religious, ethnic, territorial, national” (Castells, p. 3).Castell’s claim here explained the trends we see so vividly through social media–the isolating of persons and the commitment to identity. As traditions are challenged and transformed, people react strongly and publicly to maintain the cultural traditions that define their identity–it seems especially true for the traditions that have been dominant. For instance, when the Duck Dynasty patriarchy Phil Robertson made public statements about homosexuality and sinners, criticism from gay supporters led A&E to suspend Robertson from the show. In response, his supporters launched a social media campaign against A&E, arguing that the network was attacking traditional Christian beliefs about family and sexuality. Facebook posts and tweets revealed polarized opinions about the fairness of Robertson’s suspension, and many who supported him changed their profile pictures to Duck Dynasty images and began spreading an online movement to boycott the network. These actions foregrounded traditional Christianity and political conservatism as part of their identities. Despite the legality of A&E’s action, Robertson supporters were reacting to the realization that their traditions are being challenged as society increasingly redefines the balance of power.

This example also represents the connections between the networked society and the economics. Because of the increased communication provided through social media, A&E faced a public relations nightmare (they ended up reinstating him on the show). Despite this seeming nightmare, the controversy prompted an economic boom for Christian retailers and A&E (Duck Dynasty merchandise) and threatened to affect retailers of the show’s merchandise (for an article on the impact, click here).

“Differential timing in access to the power of technology for people, countries, and regions, is a critical source of inequality in our society” (Castells, p. 33). While it’s no surprise that regions that lag in technological development also lag in economic development is no surprise, Castells further claim that “The switched off areas are culturally and spatially discontinuous” (p. 33) is. In the United States, we tend to think of the the inequality as a global rather than national problem, although it has been addressed sparingly at the state and national levels. Castells argument, however, indicates that attempts to solve the inequalities at the national and state levels take a backwards approach. Take education, for example. In low socioeconomic status areas, state and local governments tend to dole out grants for technology in the classroom and community, in hopes of balancing out the inequities. Castells argument (though not fully represented by the above quote), however, is that technological development is the key factor in economic development. Thus, providing access to technology is an insufficient approach. Instead, the focus should be on helping these areas become leaders in development.

Connections with Course

Both Castells and the neurobiology chapter point to the complexity of dynamic systems. In both systems, the transfer and transformation of information is key–information is both the goal of and the catalyst for change. Here are some key points about systems that both readings suggest:

Boundaries are hard to define: In terms of a networked society, Castells explains that even as people try to hold on to markers of their individual identities, “our societies are increasingly structured around a bipolar opposition between the Net and the self” (p. 3). Furthermore, “technology is society and society cannot be understood or represented without its technological tools” (p.5). Boundaries between nations, societies, and individuals are collapsing as they become globally networked.

Similarly, in neurobiology, the boundaries are not always clear. While we can distinguish at the molecular level, the boundaries between the human mind, the human body, and the environment are not as easy to distinguish (think Gibson’s affordances). As Wolfhard explains, “Synapses change all the time. While we are speaking, and every morning you wake up, you’re the same person-almost. You’re never quite the same person because through the day’s experience, your synapses will have changed as a result of neuro-transmission.”  The system, then, is altered by experience that results from the mere fact of existence. As researchers investigate the importance of being embodied, we realize that the boundaries that define us are far less definitive than previously realized.

The system evolves through a feedback loop: As stated above, both theories of networks identify the cyclical nature of the systems. According to Castells, as knowledge is developed, technology is produced, which prompts more knowledge, which prompts further technological development.

The system is interdependent on its many connections:In the body, neurons communicate by releasing neurotransmitters through synapses. The neurons themselves have two ends–axons and dendrites, with dendrites connecting to the axons of other neurons. Because of this structure, individual neurons can make thousands of connections, creating a complex system of connections that relay information throughout the body.

Likewise, the economic structure of an informational society is connected by the economies and technologies of other societies and defined by their own “interactions between modes of production and modes of development (p. 18). As such, “modes of [economic] development shape the entire realm of social behavior . . . including symbolic communication” (p. 18).



Castells, M. (2010). Rise of the network society. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Neurobiolgy. (2013). In Rediscovering biology. Annenberg Foundation. Retrieved from



In Which Neurobiology Walks into the Mindmap, and Everything Gets Synaptic


Mindmap update for April 06

Mindmap update for April 06

Ah, neurobiology, my old foe. It’s time to take your place in the midst of my mindmap (or on the outskirts?), but where should you go? Hell, what should I add? How do I place science within a brainstorming network of other (less science-y) theories of network? Well, that’s always a good question. Neurobiology is the perfect network, with everything (ideally) functioning as a highway system of information, constantly moving between the neurons. The two theories that make the most sense for a direct connection are Hardware/Software Theory and Ecology Theory (with Bateson, in mind, as the top contender). The trouble I had choosing the nodes and making the connections was how specific neurobiology is and how technical the jargon remains.

Now that I have my overarching connections between theories, let’s start with my new nodes.

First node deals with learning and memory: “So how could this intricate electrical mechanism act to form new memories? LTP [Long-Term Potentiation], like learning, is not just dependent on increased stimulation from one particular neuron, but on a repeated stimulus from several sources. It is thought that when a particular stimulus is repeatedly presented, so is a particular circuit of neurons. With repetition, the activation of that circuit results in learning. Recall that the brain is intricately complicated. Rather than a one-to-one line of stimulating neurons, it involves a very complex web of interacting neurons. But it is the molecular changes occurring between these neurons that appear to have global effects. LTP can lead to strengthened synapses in a variety of ways. One such way, as discussed in the video, is by the phosphorylation of glutamate receptor channels, which is accomplished by a calcium-triggered signaling cascade. This results in those channels passing more ions with subsequent stimulation, strengthening the signal to and from the neuron.” The inclusion of a quote on memory made the most sense to me. Memories are the very fabric of information coming and going. It seems like for every memory that is created, another one is replaced (or, it seems, five in my case). The idea of repetition of stimulus reminds me a lot of what I imagine occurs within the cloud network that connects all of our lives, and how the transfer of data would play out in the Ecology of the Mind.

The second node I chose was about memory and the Hippocampus: “It is widely agreed that while the hippocampus is undeniably important for memory, the “recording” of information into long-term memory involves plasticity, or physical changes, in multiple regions throughout the entire nervous system. Another interesting distinction that scientists have made in types of memory is between declarative memory, which allows you to remember facts and is extremely complex, and reflexive memory, which usually consists of learning by repetition and often involves motor learning. While declarative memory can be reported, reflexive memory is exhibited by performance of a task and cannot be expressed verbally. It is now thought that the two types of memory may involve two entirely different neuronal circuits.” I connected this node and the one above to Hardware/Software theory because a lot of how the writers describe processes in the brain sounds a great like how computer techies describe processes in computers. The hippocampus reminds me of a CPU and how it stores all of the information, sending out data to be represented as pixelated images on the monitor and being accessed by people through movements with the mouse (or screen if it’s touch sensitive). However, I also chose this quote for another reason. The writers describe “entirely different neuronal circuits,” which sounds similar to what I have been reading about for this week’s reading notes in Manuel Castells’ book The Rise of the Network Society. Next Sunday, my plan is to create a node regarding how there are different layers of networks within the Network Society to connect to this quote about the hippocampus. When I think of the brain, I think of one mechanism moving everything through, so the idea of different neuronal circuits operating in conjunction gives me a different picture of how my mental process works.

The last of my nodes was an image of a Synapse. I connected with a quote from Syverson: “In a complex system, a network of independent agents–people, atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance–act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3). The reason I chose this quote in particular is because it helped me to imagine what she talking about. Here, each piece has a part to play to keep the system functioning. The neurons, pre- and post-, within the synapses, working to create memories, crafting the mental environment. The images and videos gave me an idea of how stuff moves between networks more concretely than the idea of just information, though I’m amazed at the idea of electricity in the brain helping to move stuff along.

Image of a Synapse. Image hosted on Annenberg Learner, textbook on Neurobiology.

Image of a Synapse. Image hosted on Annenberg Learner, textbook chapter on Neurobiology.

Memory, Neurons, and Music Mix on a Fine Sunday Afternoon

Mind Map April 6th: Neurons and Synapses

This week’s mind map began with an image choice that was — excuse me — a “no brainer” (you’re welcome, punsters; and I’m sorry, punsters). The image of the neuron — with all its accompanying transmission components — seemed well … Continue reading

Neurobiology Comes to Play with Theories of Networks

Okay, I can admit that this week’s Reading Notes topic scared me…a lot. When I heard that we would be reading an online textbook on Neurobiology, my brain just couldn’t deal… I’m pretty sure that every time I opened the website, peeking between my fingers, my face looked like this.

Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends makes the best faces.

Bloo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends makes the best faces.

And, I may have done this… once or twice.

Running and screaming. I found this gif (and the one of Bloo) from a review by Katrina Passick Lumsden (amazing reviewer that she is) on Good Reads.

Running and screaming. I found this gif (and the one of Bloo) from a review by Katrina Passick Lumsden (amazing reviewer that she is) on Good Reads.

My relationship with science ended after my first year of freshman year in college when I took Astronomy and Physics back to back. So, what do I remember from days with the terms “centripetal force” and “kinematic equations”? Ummm, yeah.

Chemisty cat meme embodies all that I can remember of science.

Chemisty cat meme embodies all that I can remember of science.

Once I stopped panicking over words like “neuronal” and “postsynaptic neurons,” it was time to get to work. I know that the brain, with its seemingly endless nodes and connections, all contained within the skull, was the essence of a network. But, I had to really think about how I could use nueroscience within an English course. The brain may be where all of our ideas begin, allowing us to be creative and critical, but how would that fit with Foucault, with ecology, with rhetorical situation and genre boundaries? How could I curl neuronal impulses into my understanding of World of Warcraft guilds? That’s really the whole point, though, isn’t it? The brain is at the heart of all human activity (even when it appears otherwise), its design inspiring the shape and functionality of our networks of communication, of architecture, of science. I may not understand all the ways in which potassium, calcium, and sodium help in terms of neurotransmistters and synapses, but I do understand that our brain is really just an information highway that is always sending and receiving, and that what scientists are currently uncovering are new understandings of how memory works.

So, Let’s Start with Vocabulary (mainly pulled from the Annenberg Learner website)


—->Presynaptic neurons  – “The transmitting neuron. Its synaptic terminals extend into synapses.”

—->Postsynaptic neurons – “The receiving neuron in a synapse; formed by a neuron’s dendrite.”

Neurogenesis - “The formation of New neurons from precursor stem cells.”

Synapses - “A functional connection between two neurons where information can be exchanged.”

Amygdala – “is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe” (Science Daily)

Exocytosis – “The release of neurotransmitters from their vesicles into the synapse.”

Hippocampus- “A region of the brain associated with both short-term and long-term memory formation. Also the site of long-term potentiation (LTP).”

Long-Term Potentiation – “The phenomenon in which a neuron becomes more sensitive to stimuli after receiving synchronized stimuli.”

Reward Pathway – “A region of the brain that is stimulated when an animal is engaged in pleasurable activities.”

Neuron in the hippocampus colored by green stained protein. Image hosted on the Neurobiology section of

Neuron in the hippocampus colored by green stained protein. Image hosted on the Neurobiology section of

Now that we have some vocabulary whirling around in our brains, what do we do with all of this information? How do we process it without feeling those very brainwaves start to implode the system? I wish I had an easy answer for that. What I understood from this textbook (besides the totally encompassing feeling that I know very little, even after years of being in an academic setting, trying rigorously to put an end to my ignorance. Socrates and Plato would be proud), is the ideas of connections, of information moving from place to place, initiated by the sensorial neurons that go into our system, get us thinking, and then the neurons that lead that information outwards into reactions. What surprised me was the research that had uncovered the fact that our brains do not stop changing, stop growing after a certain point. Instead, new connections are constantly being made on a daily basis, with the activities and encounters of the day helping to shape the interactions going on in the brain. The brain may be something that needs just as much exercise (mental exercise) as muscles do, but I found it absolutely fascinating that researchers could push past older ideas about how the brain works, especially in terms of aging, to explore Neurogenesis.

Once I got off on that train of thought, I started thinking about how these scientists are playing into and reacting against what the larger Mind of Bateson’s Ecology of the Mind was talking about. By harnessing advancements in computer technology, the neurobiologists are constantly pushing deeper into activities in the brain. For every new discovery, this information could be filtered outwards into the collective imagination of a non-scientist population (of which I am heartily a member), to help with innovations in the classroom (the memory research is quite useful in understanding how and why educational practices succeed and fail) as well as with daily life for adults. The textbook blew my mind with the idea that, “Memory and, thus, learning involves molecular changes in the brain. During the last few decades, researchers have started to map the molecular processes involved in memory formation. They have been increasingly able to link the ability to remember with physical changes in the structure of neurons.” When I think of memory, I don’t think of molecular processes (it’s sort of like going to the grocery store and not wondering where all of the food actually comes from. It’s just there, is usually nutritious, and is already categorized along aisles like it won’t be when I stuff it in my shelves or fridge). Memory for me has always been about the experience and reconstruction of that experience in my faulty memory recall. Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk “Experience vs. Memory” and a smattering of science articles on the processes of the brain were really all the foundation I’ve had.

I wish I could say that I retained more of the reading for this week, but I mostly walked away with the image of the scientist slicing the rat brain apart so he could experiment on the pieces, and with the understanding of how drugs like cocaine affect the rewards pathway of users. The reward pathway is an interesting concept, allowing me to understand why we do what we do in order to stimulate parts of the brain through activities that reward us in some way (usually with pleasure), such as eating and exercising. This makes me wonder about research that looks at people’s brains when they are playing video games and whether or not the constant buzz of boredom that video game scholars have discussed causes the reward pathway to be activated. It’s something to think about, actually it’s all something to think about. Overall, this week’s readings made more sense when friends tried to explain pre/postsynaptic neuron activity with analogies that included Terminator, gnomes and elves and dwarves, and Riders of Rohan. One lesson to take away? As in any network, information traveling from place to place, interacting with and reacting against other information being dispersed outwards.

**Side note: To supplement the textbook reading, I turned to PBS, with their video Blueprint for the Brain. Again, the focus was on the connections being made, the pathways neurons follow, and what these connections do for us.

How did it feel to reach the end of the textbook with most of my synapses and neurons and long-term pontentiation intact?

Dancing and flailing. Image hosted on Tumblr All the Supernatural Gifs.

Dancing and flailing. Image hosted on the Tumblr All the Supernatural Gifs.


“Unit Chapter: Neurobiology.” Annenberg Foundation, 2013.  Web. 27 March 2014.

Major Tom, I’ll Meet You Up There:

March 31: Neurology and Network Society Readings

Graphic taken from University of Illinois at Chicago website:

The flow of Information through neurons.

“Unit 10: Neurobiology.” Online Textbook. Rediscovering Biology. Annenberg Learner. 2013. Web. 31 March 2014.


Neurobiology is a science that explores the brain works at the molecular level. The brain has three primary functions: “(1) take in sensory information, (2) process information between neurons, and (3) make outputs”. Neurons react to stimuli, similar to an exigence. The brain links the outside world and behavior. Neurons communicate rapidly via electrical and chemical communication. Neurons are supported by other cells, called glial cells. These cells perform important support tasks. Neurons are bipolar in that they have a body and extensions at one end and an axon at the end with synaptic terminals that send signals to the dendrites of an adjacent neuron. The neuron operates as a battery by changing voltage. The neuron has a negative voltage maintained by a pump that transfers sodium, potassium, and chloride ions. Proteins, made of amino acids, some charged, move when the voltage changes, causing channels to open and close, permitting ions to cross the membrane. when stimulated, the neuron charge will change causes channels to open allowing for a positive charge, and then potassium comes out and it becomes negative again. The action potential moves down the length of the neuron and maintains directional flow by back propagation. Myelin, a fatty outer layer of most neurons, protects the axon cells of neurons, allowing action potential to travel rapidly down the neuron, and this allows the action potential to travel from the brain to the base of the spinal cord in 1/100 of a second. Some degenerative diseases are caused by the lose of myelin.

Synapses, the meeting places in neurons, allow for communication between neurons. Signals transfer in only one direction across synapses. Synapses are chemical or electrical (gap junction). Electrical synapses are more rapid, but chemical are easier to modulate. Neurons only fire or do not fire-all or nothing. Whether it fires is determined by the number of inputs it receives as well as the nature of those input signals. A signal traveling through the brain may involve many neurons.

Neurotransmitters cause neurons to either fire or they inhibit firing by binding with receptor proteins (ionotropic or metabotropic) for as long as it remains in the synapse. When the signal is no longer needed, the neurotransmitter leaves the synapse by diffusion away, breakdown, and reuptake. The presynaptic neuron can store the neurotransmitter can use it again later. Psychoative drugs can be used to stimulate neurostranmitters for pleasurable experiences, but desensitization may occur over time. Memory involves electrical changes in the brain, specifically in the structure of the neurons. Memory requires postsynaptic neurons to continue firing at a high rate rather than resting. Memories required repeated stimulus of neurons form several sources. A repeated stimulus results in the activation of a circuit of neurons stimulated, which results in learning. Long-term-memory requires new proteins to be synthesized.

Scientist claims there are many kinds of memory that can be viewed in temporal terms: short-term and long-term or declarative (factual) or reflexive (learning by repetition). The hippocampus (which aids spatial learning and memory) as well as the nervous system are vital to memory formation. Neurodegenerative disorders can be combated by engaging in mental activity.



sensory neuron - the neurons that take in information from the environment

glial cell - support or glue cells in the brain that support neurons and perform tasks such as removing dead neurons and debris, releasing critical growth factors to neurons, and acting as insulating material for the neurons.  Ions are carried through lipid cell membranes via gated (open or closed) channels.

membrane potential - the difference in voltage between the inside and outside of the neuron

resting potential - generally -0.07 volts, the voltage of a neuron at rest

voltage-gated channels – Ion channels on the cell membrane that will open or close depending upon the voltage.

action potenial - A nerve impulse, or an action potential, is a series of electrical responses that occur in the cell.

synapses – the meeting points between neurons that allow them to communicate at their meeting points

long-term potentiation - The phenomenon in which a neuron becomes more sensitive to stimuli after receiving synchronized stimuli.


How can we compare neurobiology and the activation of neural pathways to Bateson’s discussion of ecology?

Bateson claims that the mind is not capable of mapping entire territories, but only the differences in those territories, and then the mind creates maps of maps to process information. The mind receives information from these mappings (data or information). The mind then transforms the differences, and then the mind perceives the data resulting from transformations made by actions. Bateson says that human behavior involves total mental circuits, and that while the mind as a whole is a complete system, there are sub-systems with the mind that can be viewed as a mind; each step in hierarchy should be viewed as a system (466).

If we were to examine neurobiology in light of Bateson’s discussion, we can see that while a mental thought controlling the movement of the body seems to be the result of one large system, upon closer inspection in biology, the firing or inhibiting of firing of a single neuron is a sub-system within the larger system of the mind.

What can neurobiology tell us about network systems in general?

It seems that neurobiology is useful for understanding the complex ways in which minute actions by a node in a network can impact the entire development or operation of the network. If the synaptic signal is not strong enough, then the action neuron will not fire. It occurred to me while I was reading about the neural network that every node in the network makes a significant contribution to the action of the network. As I was trying to summarize the chapter, I felt that every element was important. According to Castells, in a network society, the space of flows is “the material support of simultaneous  social practices communicated at a distance” and “involves the production, transmission, and processing of flows of information” (xxxii). Flow is incredibly important in neurobiology, and each step in the process of the firing or inhibited firing of a neuron is critical. In the same way, all elements involved in the space of flow, not just nodes that take action or produce, but those involved in transmission and processing of flows.


How is the brain like a computer network?

I was curious to find how others have articulated comparisons between computer networks and the brain and I came across this video that compares the internet to a child’s brain which is still in developing stages, rather than an adult brain that, in comparison to a child’s brain is in a stage of degeneration. According to the video the number of connections within each object is:

The internet: 100 trillion

Adult brain: 300 trillion

Child’s Brain: 1 quadrillion

The fact that every interaction a child has forms connections underscores the potential importance of interactions between every element in a network and in the context of the network.


Castells, Manuel. The Rise Of The Network Society. 2nd ed.Oxford; Malden, MA : Blackwell Publishers, 2010.

The pervasiveness of wireless technology in the global network.

The pervasiveness of wireless technology in the global network.



The preface of the 2010 edition of The Rise of the Network Society provides an interesting look back at the developments of networked society since the first edition of the text was published in 2000. Castells claims that a number of transformations in society (social, technological, economic, and cultural) have contributed to the network society. Castells uses crises in the early the early twenty-first century to illustrate the ways in which the economic, employment, communication, space and time, and human experience are impacted by the network society. While once society operated on a much more local scale, with national borders defining the bounds of society, the globalization of society has resulted in the blurring of such boundaries and the creation of a “global automaton” affecting the global economy that is resistant to attempts to control or regulate it. Labor is now divided into two categories: the talent and the generic worker, and wages have not kept pace with economic growth, contributing to the economic downturn. Internet and wireless communications have made society much more connected and communications much more immediate, as well as equal via horizontal communications. Rather than a society including virtual reality, the real has become virtual (xxix). Concepts of space and time have been turned on their heads. While we value immediacy, timeless time, while glacial time and biological time conflict with society’s valuation of timeless time. he ends the preface by claiming that research and theory on the network society must be accompanied by an ability to comprehend what is observed.

In the prologue, Castells explores some of the trends of the twentieth century that have led to this new society. Capitalism has been reshaped by the technological revolution; society has been reshaped by challenges to paternalism; humans have attempted to find identity in an increasingly fragmented world. Castells claims that all of these phenomena reshaping our society are related and that we can build a better world by observing, analyzing, and theorizing these trends. Castells explores the relationship between technology and society are the same concept, and the state throughout history has either stifled the development of technology or contributed to that development. According to Castells, the new social structure is manifested differently in different cultural structures (capitalism or statism), but informationalism has contributed to  the restructuring of capitalism. Catsells claims that societies are shaped by a complex structure based on production (a complex process), experience, and power (founded on the state). Castells claims that the core foundation of a society is the “interaction between modes of production and modes of development” as the case with the rise of “informational capitalism,” but societies reacted differently to this new mode of society (18). Informational societies are capitalist, but they are very diverse as well, with diversity dependent on cultural/institutional expression.




mass self-communication - a new form of societal communication  that is mass “because it reaches a potentially global audience through p2p networks and Internet connection” and it is multimodal because digitization of content and social software allow for reformatting of content in almost any form to be distributed in wireless networks (xxx).

space of contiguity - spaces of places (xxxi)

space of flows - “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance” (xxxii).

timeless time - the kind of time occurring in a context when there is a systemic perturbation of sequential order (xli).

glacial time - slow motion time the human mind assigns to the evolution of the planet (xlii).


Theoretical Application: How can a network be both horizontal and vertical simultaneously? How can I apply it to La Leche League International’s network?

Castells claims that the information technology revolution has led to an increasing interaction between horizontal and vertical networks (xxx). He was speaking specifically about the interaction between mainstream media and interactive technologies such as blogs. Mainstream media, which is a top-down organization, has historically intended simply to pass on information without receiving feedback, while interactive technologies such as blogs and Twitter make it possible for the audience or consumer to provide feedback, which in turn may affect what the media outlet reports. According to Castells, horizontal networks often are focused on “communication built around people’s initiatives, interests, and desires” and they may involve cooperative projects (xxviii).

As I was reading the text, I realized that this simultaneous vertical and horizontal organization of the network resembles the way in which LLLI is organized. The organization prefers to promote the horizontal aspect of the organization offered by the mother-to-mother support groups, which require a shared interest in breastfeeding and cooperation of mothers, that are core to the organization. According to Nancy Mohrbacher and Sharon Knorr, mother-to-mother support groups provide informal support through vicarious experience, which increases a mother’s self-efficacy, while formal authoritative organizations make mothers lose self-confidence. Because LLLI leaders provide advice based on the organization’s core philosophy, and because LLLI manuals not only provide breastfeeding support but also strongly recommend an attachment parenting lifestyle that some mothers simply cannot live because they must work to provide for their families, some mothers may lose self-confidence as a parent because they are not capable of leading the lifestyle that the organization dictates.

An Ecology of Reading Notes: Castells & Neurobiology, or NeuroEco

I’ll start this week with the readings on neurobiology because of my interests in that field. I’m actually quite fond of making references to mind mapping and neurobiology when looking for metaphors to explain critical thinking or other complex activities … Continue reading

Reading Notes #10: Neurons and Networks

This week’s reading on Neurobiology reminded me why I am an English Major. I have no interest in science (beyond chemistry, which helps with cooking) and lack the ability to understand “sciencey” words. “A single cubic centimeter of the human brain may contain well over 50 million nerve cells, each of which may communicate with […]