Archive | March, 2014

Reading Notes: The Neuronal Network

My Digital Brain?

The network made of neurons is digital. That’s what I took from this statement about neuron firing: “A neuron can only fire or not fire; there is no ‘slightly activated’ signal from a neuron” (“Neurobiology” 2013, p. 6). I took this activity to be analogous to digital 0s and 1s: a digitally transmitted signal is either on or off (which explains why digital televisions have either perfect pictures or terrible pictures — there are no in-between states of digitally-transmitted data).

Okay, so the brain is not exactly digital. The neuronal network is a composite of electro-chemical impulses within highly specialized organic cellular structures. But I’m intrigued by the idea that neurons either fire or don’t fire. This suggests that brain functions use on/off switches like digital networks; by extension, this suggests that my ability or inability to remember something is not strictly a neuronal function. Other aspects of brain function beyond synaptic firing are at work when it comes to memory retrieval. That’s not exactly relevant to this summary, but it’s an interesting perspective on brain function as it relates to neuron firing.

The Network

The neuronal network is remarkable. I’ll break down the network into its composite parts as I understand them.

Nodes: When I took notes on the reading, I identified cells in the brain as nodes — neurons, glial cells, and other matter (p. 2). But as I reflect on the network, I’ve decided that the nodes in the neuronal network are more likely sensory inputs and physical or chemical outputs: brain function “can be broken down into three basic functions: (1) take in sensory information, (2) process information between neurons, and (3) make outputs” (p. 1). Neurons throughout the body, concentrated in the brain, represent potential pathways for connective activity (processing information) among network nodes. Signals from sensory inputs travel through these pathways into and out of the brain and back to outputs like organs and muscles, which react to sensory inputs.

Connections: This is where neurons excel. Neurons transmit signals from node to node in the network. Transmission is remarkably complex, involving electrical and chemical impulses along with ionic activity along chemical pathways, assisted by myelin, other glial cells, and neurotransmitters along the way. The signals carried along these neuron pathways are physical, chemical, and other responses to sensory inputs.

Meaning: Within the neuron itself, “meaning” is ionic. Neurons send and receive nerve impulses, or “action potential” (p. 4), within their cell structures, then fire such impulses across synapses using neurotransmitters and neural receptors (p. 5-6) to communicate “messages” to and from sensory, mechanical, and chemical nodes. Those messages are encoded from the nodes as chemical or electrical impulses, but within the neuron itself, those impulses travel as ions. Between the neurons, in their own network of axons and dendrites, impulses travel as neurotransmitters and engage many neurons in the activity of transmitting meaning among input and output nodes: “the activation of a single sensory neuron could quickly lead to the activation of inhibition of thousands of neurons” (p. 6).

Visualization of action potential moving through a neuron's axon.

Action potential movement through an axon. Image archive in Unit 10: Neurobiology chapter, part of the Rediscovering Biology online textbook.

Framework and Activity: Neurons represent the framework in which the network is activated. Without sensory input or some kind of output (chemical, physical, emotional), the network is inactive. The framework exists to enable activity, and that framework actually grows or repairs itself over time by generating new neurons from neuronal stem cells (p. 13). Activity in the network is defined as meaning being sent and received through the neuronal connections by input and output nodes. Activity within the neuron itself is defined by chemical processes. As a result, sensory deprivation could halt the network — but so could a lack of neurotransmitter or destruction of myelin or other glial cells. In other words, the network can cease functioning as a result of deactivating nodes or deactivating connectors.

Memory and Learning

Another node I need to consider, aside from sensory inputs and mechanical or chemical outputs, is the hippocampus, “a structure through which all information must pass, before it can be memorized” (p. 12). Based on this description from the text, I’d suggest that, in network terms, the hippocampus might be considered a node with many incoming connections (a la Latour, 2005) or a network gateway that routes (perhaps mediating along the way) neuronal impulses toward memory storage areas. Memory and learning “involve molecular changes in the brain” (p. 10) and represent a chemical output (and input) node in the neuronal network. Sensory input translated into ionic and neurotransmitter meaning travels through the neuronal network through the hippocampus node to be inscribed as molecular change in the brain; this molecular change (memory) becomes a node that can be activated by other sensory inputs to elicit the output response, “I remember!”

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 1.29.38 PM

Training the brain. Not sure I buy the Luminosity premise, but if effective, Luminosity probably results in opening new pathways through the hippocampus toward molecular change (memory). Screen capture from Luminosity landing page (tracked via Google Analytics through Google Adwords as a result of selecting a Google search ad).

Application

I was interviewed by a nurse this morning to help determine my eligibility for an insurance product. Much of the interview appeared to relate to my ability to remember things: 4-, 5-, and 6-digit strings of random numbers, series of words, and random words that I incorporated into sentences. In basic terms, I’m pretty sure my neuronal network never transmitted any of these impulses through my hippocampus. That is, I never committed these items to any kind of memory. The impulses (aural, via telephone) were translated into meaning, which I then output vocally (also via telephone), but they did not result in molecular changes in my brain. The tests, I believe, were not intended to test long-term memory, but to ascertain whether I could process data from sensory input through neural transmission to vocal outputs. In short, is my neuronal network functioning as expected? The answer to that question, coupled with my age, profession, eating and exercise habits, and level of alertness will be used in underwriting the policy to determine whether I will be an acceptable risk for the insurance product. I, of course, believe myself quite eligible — but then again, I didn’t remember those ten random words well.

References

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

Neurobiology: Unit 10. (2013). Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives [Online textbook PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/pdf/10_neuro.pdf

[Header image: Neural Network Visualization (made from Babybel cheese bag). CC licensed image from Flickr user Rick Bolin]

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 […]

Reproposing the Case Study: Noel Studio for Academic Creativity

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director's Office, and Artwork

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director’s Office, and Artwork

I considered analyzing an entirely new Object of Study, but I decided to hold onto the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity for my own understanding and consistency. If I tried to switch now, I might struggle to think about how the affordances and limitations of the next theories I apply weigh against those I’ve already used.

Defining the Noel Studio

Pedagogically based on writing center practices, the Noel Studio is a multiliteracy center with a unique physical space and academic/administrative structure. Occupying 10,000 sq. ft of EKU Libraries’ main building, Crabbe Library, the Noel Studio provides both public and private spaces for consultants, students, and faculty to work.

Comprised of a core administrative staff of five (director, writing coordinator, research coordinator, technology associate, and administrative assistant) and a student staff of approximately forty-five (graduate assistants, undergraduate consultants, desk consultants, and writing fellows), the Noel Studio was created to support the various communication and research projects happening both in and outside of the classroom. To support that mission, the physical space of the Noel Studio contains the Greenhouse (a large, open space with a variety of computers and touch-screen monitors), the Invention Space (equipped with wall-to-wall white boards, a CopyCam, and creative materials), Breakout Spaces and Practice Rooms (small, reserveable rooms with a computer work station, large screen monitors, and recording capabilities), and a communal space that currently serves as an office for technology support.

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

The Noel Studio as a Network

Having formally applied three theories to the Noel Studio thus far, I’m beginning to realize how important it is to approach it as a network of space, people, activity, ideologies, and epistemologies that cannot be separated from one another. It is a complex ecosystem that impacts and is impacted by larger institutional networks. While at first glance the network-icity of the Noel Studio might appear to exist primarily in its administrative structure (as I focused on in my initial proposal), the complexity of the Noel Studio is reflected in many different ways.

For example, even though the Noel Studio replaced the existing writing center, it did not simply overtake the writing center’s philosophies, space, or budget. Instead, it became an interdisciplinary space in the main library, an interdisciplinary department under University Programs (UP), and an amalgamation of budget lines from UP, the English Department (graduate assistantships), SGA, and, most recently, an endowment from the initial donors, Ron and Sherry Lou Noel. The collaborative efforts to make the space a reality are seen in the artwork commissioned through LexArt and paid for through the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Library, the physical structures and features (small and large rooms, glass walls, brightly colored walls and glass), and the upgrades that have been made over the last 3.5 years (more and larger whiteboards, more mobile furniture).

Importance to English Studies

As the first large-scale multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio has already served as a model for other universities investing in communication initiatives and support services. While many people have visited the Noel Studio for ideas and advice, it’s an often-acknowledged fact that there is no “ideal” organization or plan that fits every writing center or writing program. Instead, each situation is unique and complex in its own right, subject to a multitude of factors. The Noel Studio is not replicable. However, using the Noel Studio as an object of study allows us to understand the different options we have for examining the complexity of any given writing program, answering Jackie Grutch McKinney’s (2013) call for writing centers to look beyond the traditional narrative to see and articulate the work we actually do. If we can better see and articulate this work and how our centers and programs exist as nodes within institutional and (inter)disciplinary networks, we can not only help others understand our nodual value, but we can also focus on the connections that strengthen our work and loosen connections that don’t.

Reference

McKinney, J. G. (2103). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Boulder, CO: Utah State University P.


Rewriting the Object of Study_Round 2

 

World of Warcraft. Image hosted on IGN.

Guilds of World of Warcraft. Image hosted on IGN.

As the semester advances, steadily gaining on the last month of Spring 2014, my peers and I have been asked to rewrite our Object of Study Proposals. My original proposal stated that I was going to look at guilds in MMORPGS like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2. However, I found that all of my case studies have revolved around WoW, so this is part of how I wish to narrow down my object of study version 2.0 here.

From my original proposal, I am keeping my description of the guilds: Guilds essentially allow players to form small to large groups, with smaller questing and dungeon parties being formed either on a need-basis or more permanently. Unlike more traditional Role Playing Games (RPGs) on video game consoles where a player usually ventures into the virtual world alone as a single character (like Assassin’s Creed) or as a group of controllable companions (like Final Fantasy games), MMOs create environments that encourage player-player interaction within the game as certain activities like raids and dungeon boss battles are easier to navigate when players take on different roles (the healer, the tank who draws enemy attention, and the character classes that do damage-per-second are some of these roles) in order to enhance the effectiveness of the group. Guilds are not only for questing and raiding, but are also ways for new players to be mentored by veteran players and come with a number of perks and opportunities that a lone player would not have access to, such as item trading. Though MMOs do have an underlying storyline driving the game world and creating overarching goals for players, it is the interaction between players that comes to embody the bulk of their experiences within the games, transforming individual gameplay from a solitary experience to one with a seemingly infinite number of connections. One of the biggest draws of guilds is the communication nexus that exists between members, as players find not only companions within the game worlds, but also connections outside of the games, through general discussion forums on official game websites, guild forums, in-game channel chats, social media like Facebook, and personal emails and phone calls.

The further I work through applying network theories to WoW guilds, the more I understand them as ecosystems, as social dynamics playing out on a microcosm space, but I have not (as I originally intended) sought to understand the social dynamics for how students in classrooms could work more cohesively or for how the application of narrative elements by players enriches the group’s overall experience (beyond the occasional comment about role-playing guilds). Instead, I have found myself looking at the social facts and speech acts that gather together to create genre sets used by players, granting them greater agency as a group and as individual nodes within those groups; the rhetorical situations and discourses that emerge through player-player interaction, leading to the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of those groups; and how taking technologies into account as “objects with agency” changes the shape and angle of scholarship looking into the rhetoric playing out within the guilds. Looking back at my original proposal, I was not expecting to tackle rhetorical activity, but scholarship rarely takes the pathways I expect of it.

With rhetorical activity being what emerges through my case studies, guild members are still that which I believe to be the framework and nodes of the network. However, how that framework appears to be structured seems to depend on the theory being applied. For Rhetorical Situation theory, there is the idea that certain veteran players taking officer-style positions within the group creates a fluid hierarchy of speakers and mediators of change who can take that rhetoric and improve the group’s experiences. In that hierarchy, each player who is invested then becomes a link (rather than a “mere hearer or listener”) to other players, taking on battle and questing roles and keeping in communication within their parties. In other theories, the hierarchy is flattened, requiring a more collective agreement among players on activities, or there is a demand for the increased understanding of how technology allows for that guild, that hierarchy, and those activities to exist. Code and rhetoric become twin elements moving among and through the nodes of the network, something that will become even more important in English Studies as our discipline adapts to changes in technology and continues to implement those technologies for our work.

For the rest of the semester, my new proposal for WoW guilds as my object of study is to continue exploring how that virtual environment allows for the guild to become an ecosystem that extends even beyond its programmed borders. The players’ abilities to harness the technology of the game and use it parallel to other software and technological devices shapes new boundaries for a human-constructed ecosystem of minds, rather than physical proximity of bodies. I am curious to see how rhetoric molds and is molded in return by gamers who voluntarily enter into a community and struggle to maintain and redefine the group(s) they have chosen for themselves.

Just One of Those Nights:


Assignment: Re-proposing the Object of Study

What is your object of study? Define and describe it.

For the remaining assignments in the case study, I will continue to examine the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). This organization operated between 1966 and 1973, allowing underground newspapers to become members. Member papers would submit their issues to the UPS where they would then be disseminated nationally. Content could be freely reprinted by other newspapers with syndicate membership without copyright restrictions. UPS began with with five founding periodicals - New York’s East Village Other, California’s Los Angeles Free Press and Berkeley Barb, Michigan’s The Paper, and Chicago’s Fifth Estate - then quickly grew to include over 150 members. UPS also attempted to secure advertisements, especially from record companies, to help financially support members. Additionally, archival attempts were a part of the mission with microfilming submitted issues and creating directories for sale to libraries.

Microfilm - a preservation attempt by the UPS. Perhaps now nearly irrelevant in the digital age and more cause for the push to digitize underground archives. Image posted by Family History Detective, labeled for reuse.

Thus far, I have focused on the collection and distribution aspects of the UPS, but I hope to research the archival aspects more fully going forward. How successful were these endeavors? How many papers were preserved in microfilm? Where were the microfilms stored, and are they still stored somewhere today?


How/why is this object of study important/useful to English studies?

Growth through connection. This could have been the motto of the underground press after the emergence of the UPS. It is obvious that the UPS helped “to plug [one] radical community into radical communities around the country” (Wachsberger qtd. in McMillian 46). The result of that plugging in was an increase in underground publications. Connecting subaltern voices proved to inspire new local papers to emerge. The UPS can help us to understand the role distribution has on creativity and production. The CHAT authors highlighted for me the role of delivery as mediation and distribution and how these dual purposes need to be re-instituted in the rhetorical canon. Building on that, this object of study offers a new way perhaps to understand the effects of delivery not just on one rhetorical product, but on an entire discourse community.

It would also be interesting to view the object as seated in the intersection of delivery and memory. The work to archive the magazines and distribute these archives was a novel approach to publishing and for libraries. Could it be useful to think of how dissemination and preservation are linked rhetorical activities? The UPS perhaps took this to a new level, seeing the role of distributing texts only part of the essential work of building a community. It was also necessary to document and archive the texts. How and why are these two functions related or dependent upon each other?


How/why is it important/useful to think of this object in terms of/as a “network”?

My first new thought here is about crowd sourcing. The idea that pooling resources to achieve common and worthwhile goals is certainly not new, but the way in which the internet has facilitated this kind of fundraising is a new and more highly efficient way to do it. Where we have Kickstarter today, the underground press had the UPS. Its later efforts to obtain advertising that could be reprinted across its members raised funds to help sustain the literary work. How do economic networks support (or restrict) the production of literature? The expense of operating, licensing, printing, and distributing the newspapers often forced smaller publications to fold. Thinking of the UPS as a network of economic support, builds on the earlier work of the organization as a network that transmitted unifying ideas.

UPS information about library subscription posted in Inquisition 1.6 (1969). Image from personal collection.
As an archival network and not just a network of member papers, the UPS disseminated newspapers on microfilm (or at least membership directories) to libraries. Libraries are repositories of knowledge, and the UPS was often responsible for placing the underground into these places of preservation. This shift in thinking allows for the UPS to be seen as responsible not just for helping radical communities share in a common movement with a unified voice, but for having the forethought to create the stable archive necessary for future generations to connect to the same ideas.

Thinking of the UPS as advertising and archiving networks raises questions that are more difficult to answer than the previous focus on its more primary purpose, but I think they push the case study work in new and more interesting directions.

Mindmap Gets Another Update_Ecology Theory, Ecosophy, and New Connections

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap updated for 30 March 2014.

Mindmap updated for 30 March 2014.

haha Every time I look at my mindmap anymore, I am reminded of the skill system from Final Fantasy X.

Grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X. Image hosted on the website The Philippine Final Fantasy Portal.

Grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X. Image hosted on the website The Philippine Final Fantasy Portal.

The grid sphere system, especially upon first sight, sprawls out like some curled serpent moments from waking. The more I look at my mindmap, the more impressed I am by how large it has gotten in the last three months. For my own sanity, I keep a mindmap drawn on paper with the overarching theories drawn on it.

But, enough about that. Time to talk about what I have added, my three nodes and my little links between them. This week continued Ecology Theory, with Felix Guattari’s Three Ecologies, Frank Spellman’s Ecology for Nonecology, and Margaret Syverson’s Wealth of Reality. This week’s additions were a bit easier since I had already laid the ground work for Ecology nodes.

So, what did I add?

First things first. A definition of Guattari’s term ecosophy – “‘An ethico-political articulation…between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity)’ that Guattari believes could help the ‘ecological disequilibrium’ that has been generated by the ‘period of intense techno-scientific transformations’ we are facing (19-20).” I wanted to make sure I had this in my mindmap because it gives me an idea of what ecology theorists may want to do with their theories. Why link ecology to computer systems and politics, why have so many texts that try to make sure people know just how inextricably connected we are to all the ecosystems we don’t think about? Guattari’s text may be short, but it gave me a lot to think about.

What, then, could follow Guattari? Spellman’s discussion of an organism’s environment:

“The organism’s environment can be divided into four parts:
1) Habitat and distribution – its place to live
2) Other organisms – whether friendly or hostile
3) Food
4) Weather – light, moisture, temperature, soil, etc

There are four major subdivisions of ecology:

Behavioral ecology
Population ecology (autecology)
Community ecology (synecology)
Ecosystem” (Spellman 5)

This was another thing I wanted to be sure to add as it dealt with concepts I had read about in the prior week with Gibson and Bateson, drawing in information played out in the video on the Cary Institute’s website. Here, there were habitats, affordances, and neighboring ecosystems, but also the subdivisons that make up an environment with the different kinds of ecologies. I linked this node to a node I had made for Gibson’s “Theories of Affordances,” which I think linked to a node about CHAT’s creators defining what CHAT is supposed to be: “As objects and environments are formed and transformed through human activity, they come to embody the goals and social organization of that activity in the form of affordances for use.”  The Ecology Theories we have been reading give me more perspective on what “affordances” meant (something I wasn’t totally sure about before), but also gave me the understanding that this definition of CHAT is looking at the modification that Bateson and Gibson had been discussing. This was hindsight leading me down new rabbit holes.

For my last node of the week, I pulled from Syverson’s text: “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). This quote reminded me a lot of Foucault’s discussion of the physician and the role the physician plays being dependent upon everything going on in the field around him or her. The complex system that Syverson is discussing is more organic than the constant restructuring of the medical field with advancements in technology and anatomical understanding, but it was the idea of “simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” that seemed to underlie the constant cycle and layering of discursive statements that populate history. Is this what was meant by Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology and ecology of the mind?

Add This to the Ecosystem of Sounds Filling the Room:


Mind Map: Week 11

Mindmap11

In my mind map this week, I added a primary node of Ecology with smaller nodes linking out to Spellman and Syverston (since my book didn’t come until Tuesday, I only read summaries and, thus, I need to read him before I try to add him). As a result of our discussions in class this week, I created a connecting contrast node between Spellman and Latour. I actually had a date with a biologist on Saturday who studies freshwater streams and lakes, so this was a topic of our conversation. It was interesting for me to try to explain my perception (based on our readings and discussions) that ecology focuses on groups and classification. He didn’t see it until I explained how Latour’s theory of tracing all of the messy connections to an individual helps to define that individual’s network–the result of which would not be generalizable to other individuals. For instance, a species of fish serves a role in an ecosystem–its niche–and the role could be filled by any other of the fish in that species. However, while human individuals also serve a role in their network, all of an individual’s roles within his or her own specialized network cannot be fulfilled by another individual, because we have such a high level of agency and the importance we place on social systems.

I also added a primary node for Syverston and connected her concept of emergence to Bazerman, as I see a direct connection with the concept of speech acts and genres. This is a connection I plan to explore more as part of my own research.


Re-proposing my Oos

 In my original proposal on Snapchat. I stated that I was interested in  Snapchat because it “encourages users to connect between 1 and 10 seconds at a time” instead of creating profiles akin to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I wanted to explore: What impact does this have on the concept of social networking? What does […]

MindMap #9: Affordance and Ecology

This week’s MindMap was difficult for me because I spent the week at CCCC, which means that productivity was out the window. I attempted to do work every night, but usually I was mentally and physically exhausted. So, I was thrilled to read Norman’s work on affordances. It was clear cut and straight to the […]

Mind Map: Ecologies Part II (March 30th)

Link: http://popplet.com/app/#/1571354 Last week’s activities asked us to apply our network questions to the Ecology readings of Syverson, Spellman, the Cary Institute, and fill in the gaps with Guattari, resulting in new connections for my mind map. And even though … Continue reading

MindMap #10: Ecologies

This week’s mind map made me regret the week by week layout of my mind map. The week by week mapping has forced me to circle back to the top in order to connect to weeks that are on the opposite side of the screen. Anyhow, I added the following nodes: niche, Frankentheory, ecology of […]

Re/Proposed Object of Study: Google Analytics

I’m sticking with Google Analytics as my object of study. I’m too invested in the object, and it remains an important part of my professional responsibilities and therefore an object that I need to study, whether for this class or for professional development. In fact, this month I earned another certificate of completion for a Google Analytics Academy program, “Google Analytics Platform Principles.” The outcomes benefit me academically and professionally: the course contributed to my understanding of the underlying data structure and collection principles for the assignment’s ongoing case study, and it provided me some intriguing ideas for importing data into GA beyond those data collected by the tracking code to help my team measure our marketing effort success.

The GA platform consists of four activities based on dimensions (user characteristics) and metrics (quantitative interaction information): collecting, configuration, processing, and reporting. The Google Developers guide provides the following helpful visualization to describe the platform’s activity.

Google Analytics Platform Components visualization

Google Analytics Platform Components. Original image on the Google Developers Guide.

Collection: User-interaction data are collected through either the embedded code snippet or through the measurement protocol, an alternative system for manually submitting user-interaction data from mobile apps and other internet-connected appliances.

Configuration: Data are configured by the GA account manager(s) through the GA web interface or management API. Configuration settings permanently delimit data collections; as a result, at least one configuration is required to be unfiltered to ensure all possible data are accessible in at least one configuration, or, as GA refers to these configurations, Views.

Processing: Based on configuration settings (filters, groupings, etc.), raw data are processed and stored in aggregated data tables and in configured raw forms. Data tables organize data in pre-determined collections for quick access, but queries can be constructed to pull data from configured raw forms. Often such queries will sample data rather than pull all values, once again to speed the presentation of results.

Reporting: Data are reported via the GA web interface or via the Core Reporting API or Multi-Channel Funnel Reporting API. Reports can be constructed that will not provide meaningful results; not all dimensions are compatible or reportable with all metrics. As a result, GA account managers must construct views carefully and develop reporting goals and practices that yield meaningful and accurate results.

The GA data model consists of three levels that help collect and organize dimensions and metrics: user (visitor), session (visit), and interaction (hit). Lesson 1.3 in the GA Academy Platform Principles course offers the following visualization of this model.

Google Analytics data model visualization

Overview of the Google Analytics data model. Original image from the GA Academy Platform Principles Lesson 1.3.

User (visitor): The user is identified by the browser or mobile device the visitor used to access the site.

Session (visit): The session is defined as the time the user (browser or device) was active on the website.

Interaction (hit): Interactions are individual actions taken by a user that sends hit data to GA servers. These may be pageviews (loading the page), events (clicking on a movie button), a transaction (checking out of an online store), or a social interaction (sharing content on a social device).

As this chart reveals, the GA data model breaks engagement into a hierarchy. Interactions occur within sessions, and sessions are associated with a user. A user may have multiple sessions, and each session may have multiple interactions and interaction types. The GA account manager must determine measurement scope using this hierarchy. Is the goal to measure and report on interaction-level activity (number of pageviews regardless of user or session); session-level activity (common entrance or exit pages for sessions regardless of user); or user-level activity (number of unique users who completed a specific task, regardless of session)? The measurement goal determines the reporting scope.

So far, I’ve struggled to define the scope of GA as I’ve applied theories to it.

I’ve described GA as the reporting “arm” of a web development and visitor ecology in which nodes include web marketers and web developers, web services technicians and coders, database managers, marketing writers, content managers, website visitors, browsers and platforms, Internet hardware and software, and GA servers. In this model, GA collects traces of the active relationships that occur among these nodes.

I’ve also described GA as a mediating technology that directly and indirectly limits and controls the data collected from website interactions. Specific, delimited data points are the target of data collection and reporting. Those data points, and only those data points, are available to GA end users who seek information about user behavior on a website.

Defining Google Analytics

While neither of these descriptions is inaccurate, neither quite achieves the focus I’d like to apply to my case studies. I propose a description that focuses more directly on the GA platform’s four activities and the GA data model. Specifically, GA is a digital tool that collects user interaction data at three levels — user, session, and interaction — in the form of dimensions and metrics. Data collected are configured based on specific, targeted, goal-oriented decisions by GA administrative users, processed in accordance with those decisions, and output through aggregated data tables to GA users, both administrative and standard or limited-access users. This description focuses specifically on agency of GA administrators; in the case of my GA account for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies, that agency resides primarily in me and indirectly in our marketing team.

Application to English Studies

GA focuses on assessing outcomes. GA administrators configure data collected in GA to assess the results of specific marketing efforts. For example, in order to examine general and specific browsing patterns of external (non-UR) visitors, I need to configure our GA account with a view that filters out internal (UR-based) web traffic by IP address. Examining these browsing patterns enables our marketing team to determine whether the information we’re providing is attracting prospective students in ways that our strategic marketing plan requires or expects. In short, we are using configured data reports to assess the extent of success of our web-based marketing efforts. Such assessments offer English studies models for assessment that can and should be incorporated into writing assessment, writing program assessment, perhaps even departmental assessments. Data-driven assessments can and should include both user characteristics and metrics; that is, they should be based on user profiles intentionally constructed to include or reflect contemporary, lived experience. For English studies, this means our data collection efforts must be based in localized environments and configured to process and report on specific objectives and outcomes.

GA collects metrics, but its ability to collect dimensions (user characteristics) means that its reporting is verbal and numerical. As such, its reports are rhetorical. They can and should be problematized as rhetoric. Specific decisions to collect or not collect demographic data, for example, could be problematized using cultural studies or gender studies. Specific ways of reporting demographic data, including terms used to describe or define those demographic qualities, are also areas to be analyzed and problematized. From its use of colors to its data processing strategies (which remain obscure), GA is fair game for rhetorical analysis and critique, and scholars in English studies should focus more critical attention on analyzing GA rather than using GA to measure the success of web-based instructional or informational efforts.

GA as Network

GA is free and remarkably powerful. Google appears to be working to make it even more broadly applicable as a digital analytics platform, not simply a web analytics platform. The distinction is important to its role as a network. Web analytics are useful and meaningful, but they are limited in scope to websites and web interactions. Digital analytics, on the other hand, encompass a much broader category of data, like digital advertising (including web-based and localized advertising efforts, like digital billboards and online display ads), appliance function (including communications between digital devices like wifi-connected refrigerators or cell-connected washer/dryer sets), and mobile phone uses beyond calling. As GA broadens its applicability as a digital analytics platform, its reach and scope become global, both in location and function. GA can begin to measure global network functions; its ability to measure those functions is dependent on its own flexible network structure. Its collection, configuration, processing, and reporting functions are network-based and network-focused. Its internal structure, to the extent Google allows us to view it, is based on related aggregated data tables. And its objects of measurement are related digital nodes on networks. The result is that GA is both network reporter and networked reporter.

[Top image: Screen capture of Google Analytics homepage: google.com/analytics]

Mind Map #10: Seeking Homeostasis

Popplet mindmap visualization

Mindmap #10: Seeking Homeostasis (Popplet visualization)

The ecology of my mind map seeks homeostasis, a natural balance among its many theories. My mind map has become, in Charles Darwin’s words, a “web of complex relations” (cited in Spellman, 2007, p. 4).  Well, maybe not as complex as all of nature, but if we follow the formula for the value of a network from Castells (2000) — “the value of a network increases as the square if the number of nodes in the net” (p. 71), expressed as V=n(n-1), where n is the number of nodes in the network — then we’re looking at a pretty significant number of potential connectivities among all these theories. That’s pretty complex. (I had to check: the number of nodes related specifically to theories in the mind map is around 75 right now, so V=7574. That’s higher than any calculator I have access to can count.)

I linked the three ecologies from Guattari to my ecology node. I used Spellman’s (2007) focus on homeostasis (p.15) as a node as well, connecting it to the both the relationship between the organism and the environment (an important aspect of the definition of ecology) and the relationship between Guatarri’s three ecologies. Both Spellman and Guattari invoke the importance of seeking an equilibrium within ecologies or biosphere. Since “it is people through their complex activities who tend to disrupt natural controls” (Spellman 2007, p. 15), achieving homeostasis in ecosystems in which humans are active participants is incredibly difficult.

I focused specifically on the relationship between environment and organism as the focus of homeostasis, but I also added distributed intelligence as a node related to all aspects of the network of ecology. Distributed intelligence, cognition, value — whatever the term we wish to use — is becoming an important, common theme among several theorists. Our theorists are no longer willing to propose meaning be found in a single aspect of a networked environment; on the contrary, value has been placed in the interrelationships among network nodes. If I had to define what I consider a network right now, I’d probably focus on distributed value among actively connected nodes. Individual nodes may be valuable, but in the network system, the value of an individual node is found in its contributions to the distributed meaning or value of the network itself. And that distributed meaning gains value only in its active state; in a passive state in which connections are theorized but not activated, the nodes provide only a framework for potential connectivity, distribution, and meaning or value.

I’m not sure how to convey all this in a mind map yet, but I expect I may center and enlarge “Distributed Intelligence” and start connecting many different mind map nodes to that important concept as I move forward. Castells shows so signs of moving away from this model of distributed meaning and value. And maybe it’s in emphasizing this distribution that my mind map will find the homeostatic condition it seeks (or maybe I’m on the one seeking it).

References

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

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

[Top image – Narrative Ecology Framework flashcards: CC licensed image from Flickr user Crystal Campbell]

Mind Map #10: Seeking Homeostasis

Popplet mindmap visualization

Mindmap #10: Seeking Homeostasis (Popplet visualization)

The ecology of my mind map seeks homeostasis, a natural balance among its many theories. My mind map has become, in Charles Darwin’s words, a “web of complex relations” (cited in Spellman, 2007, p. 4).  Well, maybe not as complex as all of nature, but if we follow the formula for the value of a network from Castells (2000) — “the value of a network increases as the square if the number of nodes in the net” (p. 71), expressed as V=n(n-1), where n is the number of nodes in the network — then we’re looking at a pretty significant number of potential connectivities among all these theories. That’s pretty complex. (I had to check: the number of nodes related specifically to theories in the mind map is around 75 right now, so V=7574. That’s higher than any calculator I have access to can count.)

I linked the three ecologies from Guattari to my ecology node. I used Spellman’s (2007) focus on homeostasis (p.15) as a node as well, connecting it to the both the relationship between the organism and the environment (an important aspect of the definition of ecology) and the relationship between Guatarri’s three ecologies. Both Spellman and Guattari invoke the importance of seeking an equilibrium within ecologies or biosphere. Since “it is people through their complex activities who tend to disrupt natural controls” (Spellman 2007, p. 15), achieving homeostasis in ecosystems in which humans are active participants is incredibly difficult.

I focused specifically on the relationship between environment and organism as the focus of homeostasis, but I also added distributed intelligence as a node related to all aspects of the network of ecology. Distributed intelligence, cognition, value — whatever the term we wish to use — is becoming an important, common theme among several theorists. Our theorists are no longer willing to propose meaning be found in a single aspect of a networked environment; on the contrary, value has been placed in the interrelationships among network nodes. If I had to define what I consider a network right now, I’d probably focus on distributed value among actively connected nodes. Individual nodes may be valuable, but in the network system, the value of an individual node is found in its contributions to the distributed meaning or value of the network itself. And that distributed meaning gains value only in its active state; in a passive state in which connections are theorized but not activated, the nodes provide only a framework for potential connectivity, distribution, and meaning or value.

I’m not sure how to convey all this in a mind map yet, but I expect I may center and enlarge “Distributed Intelligence” and start connecting many different mind map nodes to that important concept as I move forward. Castells shows so signs of moving away from this model of distributed meaning and value. And maybe it’s in emphasizing this distribution that my mind map will find the homeostatic condition it seeks (or maybe I’m on the one seeking it).

References

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

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

[Top image – Narrative Ecology Framework flashcards: CC licensed image from Flickr user Crystal Campbell]

Mind Map March 30, 2014: Ecology Continued…

 

Mind Map March 30, 2014

Mind Map March 30, 2014

For this week’s mind map, I continued mapping ecology by adding three new nodes from the primary node labeled Ecology. I labeled these nodes “Guattari,” “Population Ecology,” and “Ecosystem Ecology.”

From the node labeled “Guattari,” I created three nodes labeled “Social Ecology,” Mental Ecology,” and “Environmental Ecology.” From the node labeled “Mental Ecology,” I added nodes to explore  subjectivity vs. individuality (which I also connected to agency), a node defining Guatarri’s differences from Bateson regarding mental ecology (the node is connected to Bateson’s concept of the broader mind as well), a node explaining the relationship of discursive chains to mental ecology (which I connected to affordances), and subjectivity’s relationship to society (which I connected to agency and relationships). From the node labeled “Environmental Ecology,” I added a node discussing machinic ecology and one about human intervention. From the node labeled “Social Ecology,” I added a node about the development of affective and pragmatic. The other node was about social objectives, which I connected to systems and mind.

From the node labeled “Ecosystem Ecology,” I added three nodes. One focused on the boundary between the biotic and the abiotic. I added a second node on bidirectional relationships. A third node contained a note on proportionality in the ecosystem.

From the Population Ecology node, I added two nodes focused on “Population Systems” and “Population Groups.” From the “Population System” node I added nodes for each primary sector of the population system. I connected the “Population System” node to the systems node.