7AAVDM28 Digital Methods for Internet Studies: Concepts, Devices and Data
Module convenors: Dr Jonathan Gray and Dr Liliana Bounegru
Teaching pattern: Five one-hour lectures and five one-hour seminars, plus ten hours of workshops.
Digital data from the web, online devices and social media platforms promise to provide unprecedented insights into social and cultural life. Yet many researchers and practitioners argue that the value of such data is limited if we cannot account for the role of digital devices and technologies in shaping and social and cultural life in particular ways. How can we make sense of links, likes and shares? How do platforms and algorithms play a role in mediating social and cultural phenomena? How can 'born digital' data be used to understand more about the interplay between digital technologies and digital cultures?
This module will provide a conceptual and practical introduction to digital methods for internet studies. Through a series of hands-on workshops students will develop projects experimenting with digital methods to do research both with and about online devices and platforms. This is not just a practical, technical or computational task: online devices and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Github and Wikipedia play a role in both shaping social and cultural life, as well as enabling particular ways of knowing it.
Drawing on leading research in internet studies and associated fields, the module will explore how to study this 'double aspect' of online devices through creatively repurposing data associated with objects such as likes, shares, retweets, hashtags, links, search engines and web archives. Digital data has become important in organising and knowing many areas of life, including through social media analytics, marketing and big data sources which are said to complement more established forms of knowledge about society, such as statistics, polls, surveys, interviews and ethnography.
On the one hand, this module will show students how to critically reflect on the specific affordances of natively digital methods, devices and data, including through mixed-methods research. On the other hand, while platforms and devices come with certain 'built in' methods for knowing about society and culture, students will learn how to creatively repurpose data for analytical scenarios other than those intended, including through 'critical analytics' and 'inventive methods'.
As well as understanding how to extract, repurpose and analyse data from a variety of online devices and platforms, the module will cover basic approaches to data visualisation through open source tools. It will support students to collaboratively conceptualise, prototype, design and implement digital methods research projects which will be developed through the full-day 'data sprint' workshops with invited guests. As the proliferation of online devices and platforms continues to spark controversies and hybrid practices, this module will provide students with a solid grounding for making sense of these fast-changing developments in the contexts of both research and practice.
Draft teaching syllabus
This module will provide a conceptual and practical introduction to digital methods for internet studies. Drawing on leading research from digital sociology, digital culture, internet studies, platform studies and associated fields, it will show students how to design and implement studies with natively digital devices, methods and data. Using a combination of tools, scripts and scrapers, the module will show students how to critically and creatively repurpose digital objects - including hyperlinks, hashtags, web archives, search results, web trackers - for the purposes of social and cultural research.
Through a combination of hands-on experimentation and engagements with leading theoretical texts from internet studies, students would develop capacities for ethically and reflexively working with data from a wide variety of online platforms and devices, such as Amazon, Android App Store, Facebook, Github, Google Search, Instagram, Spotify, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and other platforms.
Building on tools and pedagogical innovations from leading centres for digital methods, digital sociology and internet studies research, the module would adopt an 'flipped classroom' approach supporting collaborative student projects through engaging digital resources and full-day 'data sprints'. The module will provide them with a solid grounding for pursuing further graduate studies, as well as equipping them with the resources to become reflective practitioners in emerging areas of digital work.
Upon completion of this module students will be able to:
- Critically evaluate and reflect on how digital devices, methods and data shape and participate in culture and society, drawing on leading research in digital sociology, internet studies and science and technology studies (Knowledge and Understanding);
- Critically and creatively repurpose data from online platforms, devices and the web for the purposes of social, cultural and media research (Cognitive Skills);
- Collaboratively conceptualise, design and implement digital methods projects on a variety of topics, using different tools and approaches (Cognitive Skills; Performance and Practice);
- Create, read and assess data visualisations, including using a variety of open source tools such as Gephi and Raw (Cognitive Skills; Performance and Practice).
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