Friday, 30 December 2016

Advice for #UCT Media Studies students on sharing draft #research papers online

Written for UCT postgraduate Media Studies students interested in sharing their research projects online.

Three of my 17 postgrad students shared their Mobile Media and Communication projects online. One student had a highly compelling reason not to; her draft paper's topic focused on a rival to her new employer's magazine title! As a result of this low ratio, it seems that several exemplary projects will at best be shared via UCT's intranet for just future FAM5038S students to access. The small ratio of students sharing drafts seems a missed opportunity for them to gain recognition. More importantly postgrad students' projects miss adding to Media Studies literature: several of my year's projects were pathfinders that successfully explored under-examined topics. Such foci also provided interesting insights regarding research participants' unusual Capetonian contexts.

To help those Media Studies students keen to share their final research projects online, but who may be uncertain how, Nicola Pallitt and I recommend four options. For aspiring, emergent researchers, these are ideally considered after creating one's Academia researcher profile:

Creating a research profile on

Postgrads keen to progress to a PhD or working in research should create a UCT profile (ideally using their university work email address). Creating an profile and sharing their draft papers there first, enables one to basically say ‘this is mine’. While some journals won’t publish papers shared elsewhere {including!}, it is also helpful platform to link one's drafts from and join related communities. For example, a selfie researcher can search for the 'selfie' keyword and follow it. Ditto for the keywords, 'open access', 'special issue' – when you join such a network you might also connect with researchers who can advise on upcoming publications.

Joining communities on can also give you insights into who is reading your paper. Plus readers of your article might describe what sparked their interest in it. Just remember to add your email address in your draft paper to ease communication – super-interested readers may want to email you. For background on the benefits and limitations of academics using (with its marginal relationship to open access), read Kristen Bell's reflections at

You should also consider searching for and joining closed Facebook research groups. Their members can be asked for publication advice, such as where to publish. Here, you can easily introduce yourself in a post to the group, share your draft paper and pose your questions.

P.S. There are other sites that you can create a research profile on (such as Google Scholar or ResearchGate), however these are most relevant for academics with a publication history. You should also consider sharing your draft paper via OpenUCT and reading its four-step guide for academics on taking control of their visibility.

Recommended options to submit one's draft paper for publication include:

1. To an Online Community or Conference.

The easiest option is to share one's paper to a community related to its focus (such as 'Identity and media'). The drawback is that such a publication (and many under point 3 below) will be unrecognized for academic publication points, et al (see You can also consider presenting at a local conference. Just be forewarned that you may have difficulty finding one focused on popular postgrad themes, such as 'identity and self presentation' or 'mobile gaming'.

2. To an Open Access Journal.

Use your research keywords to search in and identify the most suitable journal(s). Open Access journals may not be as prestigious as the next two options, but you are more likely to have a positive response from them.

3. To a Special Issue of a Journal.

Student contributions may have a real advantage in Special Issues focusing on emergent media services (such as Snapchat and the 'ephemeral selfie' phenomenon), which few (if any) established academics could be doing research in. You can search for any upcoming special issues calling for contributions (for example, ephemeral selfies would suit special issues covering 'Gender' and 'Self-Presentation').

4. To a Journal.

It is preferable to start off in local publishing before attempting to publish in international journals. Local journals often offer a forum for debate in the field and are an entry point to it. A list of the IBSS (International Bibliography of Social Sciences) accredited local journals is on UCT Library’s website at  An important consideration for journals in choosing to publish your article is whether it contributes to the dialogue taking place between a journal's authors. So, in choosing a journal to submit to, you should look through your references to check those journal(s) you mention the most. Alternately, you need to find several new references in the journal you want to publish in, then include these in your argument. It is also important to consider your purpose for publishing – choosing a journal can be about networking with a particular group of people. It’s like saying ‘I’m with these folks’... or want to be!

Future Media Studies students may benefit form you sharing research online; publishing it moves it from being just a 'textbook exercise' (that "fridge magnet" which only your educator gets to view) towards being a contribution to the Media Studies community. The latter may help ensure that your project is not redone by other students, but they might build on it. For example, by following the future directions for research your paper suggests.

N.B. Consider the RISKS before sharing.

While there can be personal benefits to sharing your research online; such as recognition, receiving constructive feedback and protecting your authorial rights, be prepared for negative outcomes, too. In particular, you must be sure that the privacy of your research participants remains protected, especially for controversial projects (such as Tindr and sexual relationships). You may receive negative feedback, experience rejection of your submission or have it plagiarized. Worse, you may be trolled by undesirable audiences, such as chauvinists and/or racist trolls! If such risks deeply concern you, rather pursue an offline approach, asking your lecturer or supervisor for guidance.

Share and comment

Nicci and I hope that the benefits described above will outweigh any such risks and that reading our post has given you a sound appreciation for the 'how and why' to share draft papers online. Add a comment below to let us know if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions that could improve this post, ta.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Pilot research projects and draft papers by #UCT #CFMS Mobile Media and Communication students in 2016

Written for Media Studies researchers interested in postgrad media students' pilot research projects and draft papers.

I supervised 2016's Mobile Media and Communication postgrad students in doing a short research project and writing up their articles. Students that did not object to their work being listed are indexed below, under their respective research grouping:

Identity and self-presentation via mobile media >

2. 'Exploring the performance of professional identity online' by Garrett Farmer-Brent.
3. 'Swipe right for friends: The adoption of Tinder by South African university students to form friendships in an online space' by Aisha Karim.
4.  'The Representation of Self across Social Media- a study into how two students' social media profiles reflect how they represent themselves' by Grace Thomson.
5.  'Aesthetic visual prosumers construct aesthetic niches: the use of Instagram to design emergent, aesthetic selves' by Tayla-Paige von Sittert.
6.  'Will you be my Tinderella? How the mobile dating app, Tinder, has turned traditional dating on its head for South African university students' by Lauren Voster.

< Broadcast media, marketing and communications meet social networks >

7. 'Zimbos on WhatsApp: perceptions of WhatsApp use among Zimbabwean women living in Cape Town' by Shuvai Finos.
8. 'Understanding a Black, South African hashtag community and its memes: The example of Sunday Twitter and Our Perfect Wedding' by Vuyisile Kubeka.
9. 'The never-ending (un)strategy: Social media related public relations crises in the South African entertainment industry' by Jessica Latham.

< Journalism and politics meet social media >

10. 'The construction of digital publics in Twitter replies: a study of Eusebius McKaiser’s tweets' by Bronwynne Jooste.
11. 'Like or share that news: Facebook users' interaction with South African news organisations' Facebook posts' by Mariska Morris.
12. '#Asinavalo: The Role of a Twitter hashtag during the election and beyond' by Mmatseleng Mphanya.

< User experiences with free internet and gaming >

12. 'Towards an understanding what is ‘free’ about Free Basics: Assessing the quality and technical aspects of the HIV360 website' by Tasneem Amra.
13. 'Ingress means access: using the game Ingress to explore the correlation between access to high-end mobile gaming and spaces of play' by Kyle de Villiers.
14. 'Pok√©mon Go: illegal user appropriations of Location Based Augmented Reality Gaming' by Mishka Loofer.

As their supervisor, I helped students identify potential contributions related to their interests that might help close research gaps in Media Studies. I encouraged each student to share their pilot study online and have offered select students support in submitting theirs to research communities, conferences or journals. For example, I advised students to look at SACOMM 2017 as a potential opportunity. Six students' projects readily related to speakers on its 2016 program (as shown in my scribbled links in Figures 1 and 2). Such projects concerned Twitter and politics; social media and PR; online content linked to HIV and AIDS; female beauty; migration and... the My Perfect Wedding television show!

Figure 1. SACOMM 2016 program page 1 - links to FAM5038S draft paper authors

Figure 2. SACOMM 2016 program page 2 - links to FAM5038S draft papers' authors (or X for none)

By contrast, there seemed to be limited scope to address the issues of 'identity and self presentation' and 'mobile gaming' at this pre-eminent, South African conference. So, eleven students would need to explore other local opportunities.

If you are interested in any of these papers, please use the link provided. Alternatively, add a comment below, listing the paper you are interested in. I will then ask its author to contact you.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Multimodal education for inequality: exploring privilege in visual arts students’ e-portfolio personas #8ICOM

Written for researchers interested in how technological and material inequalities become evidenced in young people's digital personas.

Here's the 19 minute 8ICOM conference talk that accompanied my Multimodal education for inequality presentation. This talk aimed to be a concise overview of my PhD research and its contribution:

"My research serves as a cautionary tale concerning the inequalities evidenced in visual arts students’ curation of digital personas. By contrast to often celebratory accounts of teaching contemporary digital media literacies, I describe how the technological and material inequalities between students at a government and an independent school became mirrored in digital portfolios.

My thesis’ research contributions are as an Action Research project that enabled the recording and analysis of students' differing negotiations of arts studio personas for up to three years. It included students from very different social backgrounds with contrasting access to media ecologies for digital curation. I explore how young people’s e-portfolio styles mirror inequalities in their digital curations and connections to varied affinity spaces. I also highlight other challenges youths faced in articulating interest via e-portfolios. For example, remediating “unofficial” cultural repertoires, such as fashion and Manga.

In South Africa, just doing ICT, visual arts or visual design subjects is a rare privilege. The Department of Education’s technical report on the National Senior Certificate reveals that a low percentage of students do subjects likely to support access to study options in visually creative industries. In 2012, Equal Education reported that Cape Town’s schools offering art or design until grade 12 (Matric) are predominately those serving the middle- and upper-classes. Anecdotal experience suggests that very few students have curricular opportunities to experiment with online content creation. A narrow subject focus tends to exclude inter-disciplinary productions, such as visual arts students using ICT technologies to curate their productions. Such rigid silos ignore the importance of hybridity in domains such as contemporary art or graphic design. My action research project makes a small contribution to building bridges between silos.

I helped teachers develop syllabi that appropriated online portfolios for e-portfolio curation. Online portfolios emerged in 2003 and visual creatives increasingly use such services to reach web audiences. Digital portfolios are used for varied forms of capital exchange: For example, securing academic and vocational trajectories. Some portfolios also support commercial transactions, such as auctions or art catalogues. Portfolio portals provide a resource to develop extensive knowledge about the numerous domains in visual culture. Visual creatives can also develop in-depth knowledge by learning from others in digital affinity groups. For emergent creatives, experimenting with portfolios can help with developing intent around who they want to be.

My action research project aimed to enfranchise students with fair opportunities for formally experimenting with online content creation. I helped two educators appropriate Carbonmade for their students to produce e-portfolios. E-portfolios were taught conservatively as an aid to prepare for matric exhibitions. A Bourdieusian field analysis reveals why: it was easy to source the well-resourced sites supporting digital media prosumption. By contrast, e-portfolio curricula had to dovetail with the DOE’s visual arts syllabus requirements. It was a process to gain approval from the DOE, WCED and to secure buy-in from educators.

Youth were taught and assessed on their self-presentation as visual arts students (or "disciplined" identities) and in organizing curricular showcases. Students' Carbonmade entries were used by the service’s database in creating four types of page: A 'homepage', ‘artwork project folder’ pages, an ‘about’ page and ‘search page’ results.

Carbonmade’s use was part of a broader digital curation process, which Potter defines as new media literacy involving intertextual meanings and strategies for different audiences. E-portfolio curricula saw students practice the steps A. to C. of collation, production and sharing in their digital curations. Twenty nine students curated e-portfolio; seventeen pupils came from an elite, all-boys, independent school’s Class of 2012. They were taught e-portfolios from grades 10 to 12. Twelve volunteers came from a less well-resourced, mixed sex, government school, where ICT broadband failure delayed the bulk of my lessons to grade 11 in 2014.

The independent school’s speedy adoption mirrored its material and technological advantages versus the government school. van Dijk identifies five different types of inequality and their properties shaping digital media’s usage. My research focuses on the material and technological aspects:

Technology wise, the independent school had a one-laptop-per-learner-policy and conspicuous consumption of electronics was evident. Varied societies, workshops and extra-mural leisure activities received the independent school’s support. By contrast, the media infrastructure available to government school learners in its Khanya computer lab were old. As an Arts and Culture Focus school it offered some co-curricular activities, but most students needed to leave early for safe public transport.

The results from my sites are not comparable due to these large differences, as well as the shorter e-portfolio syllabus at the government school. There were also important differences in students’ vocational interests, with the government school volunteers being more motivated to pursue visual creative studies. Working in a creative industry seemed a prized social trajectory to them. By contrast, many independent school students perceived such choices to be low in prestige, versus say, finance or medicine.

After four years of fieldwork I amassed a lot of data and my analysis followed Potter’s (2015) example. He researched digital curation through a combination of Social Semiotics and Cultural Theory. Given the potentially strong role of ICT infrastructure and capital resources on youth’s curation, I added insights from Digital Materialism (especially Infrastructure studies) and also Social Interactionism. I also adopted Sen’s (1992) inequality approach.

I did a multimodal content analysis on the representational and communicational choices of all students. I then wrote 12 case studies, covering student’s diverse circumstances and e-portfolio styles. The content analysis revealed particular patterns in the disciplinary, extra mural visual creative and other personas at each site. For example in self-presentation, no government school students wrote self-descriptions over 10 sentences long or used formal genres. Similarly, informal mobile genres were used for self-representation in their images. Here, youth tended to differentiate themselves through the “unofficial” visual culture personas they shared.

Notable patterns at the independent school included the impact of strong assessment on students’ presentation of their disciplined identities, which predominately featured formal styles. Most students added lifestyle personas to differentiate themselves. Several drew on differentiated practices in tourism, watersports and music for subject matter.

Students’ contrasting e-portfolio styles marked their unequal access to ICT infrastructures. The content analysis showed that youth did not have equal opportunities, but the formal and extra-mural advantages of the better-off were amplified at both schools. For example, students from homes supporting “free” internet access created better organized and more extensive showcases than under-, or non-, connected classmates. Young people’s disciplinary and “unofficial” e-portfolio personas evidenced privilege. Youth’s online access for developing academic cultural capital online could be likened to museum visits. As can be seen across all these digital curation practices, limited internet access seriously hampers one’s opportunities to engage with exhibits or in developing one’s own.

This points to the importance of each young person’s digital hexis in developing e-portfolio styles. Young people with a history of access and use of ICT were advantaged in having foundational digital literacies for e-portfolio curation. By contrast, those inexperienced with scanners, desktop computers, internet browser use and local area networks, had to play ‘catch up’ in class.

To situate how material and technological inequalities become evidenced in e-portfolio curation, my research links young people’s habituses to their affinity spaces. Each individual's habitus comprises different habituses. My research focuses on four; the secondary school habitus, a primary home habitus, a vocational habitus and the mediated preferences in the digital information habitus. The secondary habitus links directly to the legitimated affinity spaces supported in classroom arts studio practices. Other affinity spaces tend to relate to “unofficial” personas.

Here follows case studies for five enthusiastic students, who differed in terms of the material and technological resources available in their habituses and affinity spaces:

A White, independent school student, George went beyond want his educator expected by using a fine arts gallery metaphor while closely reproducing the disciplinary identity. His benchmark example evidenced a fandom for fine art, which was unusual amongst his peers. George was privileged to attend both international and local galleries, and also pursued this fandom in online affinity spaces. Keen to do Medicine, George’s assessment strategy foregrounded his observational drawer and painter personas to achieve the best possible grades from his markers. Although he published extra-mural photography and designs to Instagram, Deviantart and shared them via social networks, George’s assessment strategy avoided mentioning such “unofficial” accounts in his e-portfolio.

Nathan, was a Black, government school student. Despite also being a fan of art, Nathan could not do visual art or e-portfolio production outside class. His digital information habitus was heavily constrained and this was mirrored in an e-portfolio curation of four images and a brief self-description. Privacy concerns also shaped his concise profile and decision not to add a self-image. Unusual in expressing dissatisfaction with his e-portfolio at the curriculum’s end, Nathan did ‘not really’ believe his e-portfolio might support his vocational objectives in design.

Masibulele also attended the government school. His case highlights some assimilatory challenges that Black students might face in producing visual arts e-portfolios: a first-language isiXhosa speaker, Masibulele chose to use English instead for an international audience. He did not share traditional mixed-media productions as he perceived that these productions were not what was expected in arts class. For the same reason, he also did not initially share his fashion labels’ creations. Despite his educator’s inclusive approach, exclusion of traditional and fashion repertoires shows how students might conceal cultural capital from home. This suggests strategies of assimilation in respect of the predominately taught Western fine arts canon and observational drawing and painting studio practices. His case also highlights how particular types of visual culture (surface, media and genre) embody social distinction, albeit moderated within “multi-cultural” repertoires.

Melissa’s case illustrates the influence of global youth culture and gendered strategies on self-naming practices. She used a well-resourced home environment to explore “unofficial” Japanese Manga, Anime and calligraphy practices. The influence of Japanese pop-culture was also evident in the pseudonymous identity choices she made. Such privacy choices reflected shared concerns with her female classmates about unwanted audiences and the dangers of cyber-bullying and sexual harassment. Her well-developed digital hexis had a downside; while she did use a pseudonymous identity, her contact email address featured her full name. Melissa linked to a separate deviantArt profile to share Gothic and other interests with potential to be misinterpreted by a religiously conservative audience.

Kyle’s case highlight the ease of extra-mural interests dovetailing with dominant cultural capital being remediated into e-portfolios. A White, independent school student, Kyle shared exclusively resourced sports and photographic productions that dovetailed with his school's institutional cultural capital. Kyle could easily access professional photographic and videographic equipment and focused on ‘point-of-view’ work in extra-mural productions from grade 11. He took travel photography and combined his enjoyment of wave-boarding with technicity to shoot and edit professional-looking videos. YouTube was used to research video techniques, such as achieving the right frame rates to show a giant wave break. Kyle also used Flicker to research productions by photographers with similar lenses and cameras to him.Kyle linked to his Flicker and Vimeo accounts from his e-portfolio. After matric, Kyle became the most successful prosumer amongst his peers with over 30,000 followers of his Instagram account and high quality prints of his work are available to buy via While Kyle and Melissa’s examples show what is possible for young people as prosumers, it also suggests the reproduction of advantage via high volumes of capital needed to develop a prosumer identities as a semi-professional photographer or aspirant animation producer.

I had hoped that my action research would support new literacies and equality. By contrast, it seemed to contribute to the reproduction of symbolic advantage: Under-resourced students did not create disciplinary showcases and faced challenges in adding cultural repertoires. Well-resourced students created showcases, adding distinctive prosumer identities, while negotiating their disciplinary personas with more exclusive ones. While e-portfolio production is still being taught at the private school, it’s NOT for government school students. That is a pity; both Masibulele and Melissa used their e-portfolios to successfully apply for tertiary studies - Masibulele did surface design and Melissa Fine Art. Despite her passion for animation, Melissa went on to study Fine Art, evidencing the importance of educational investment in dominant high culture. Similarly, Masibulele's parents would like him to transfer to studying architecture.

Both Melissa and Masibulele are fortunate relative to their government school peers in being able to progress into tertiary habituses rather than being unemployed. Ironically, despite facing the least challenges in e-portfolio curation, Kyle and George went on to study outside visually creative industries: George entered medicine and Kyle business science.

My content analysis and case studies suggest the importance of material and technological resourcing in young visual artists’ e-portfolio curations. In particular, resource-intensive communications may not accurately reflect young peoples’ intensions and abilities: inequalities in some teenagers’ digital information habituses meant that under-resourced sign-makers could not fully express their curricular interests. In addition to missing social information, inexperience with software also led to mis-identifiers misrepresenting what youths wanted to express.

As a pathfinder project, mine has opened up much to explore:
> How can the middle-class underpinnings of the initial pedagogy be adjusted to better accommodate all students?
> How do online portfolio styles change as youth become professionals or hobbyists?
> My research took place in relatively well-resourced English secondary schools, but what about other languages and resourcing?
> Digital portfolios increasingly serve to access tertiary education, but how are they assessed?
To close with a speculative proposition; Bourdieu foregrounded disinterested aesthetic dispositions as a key marker of Distinction in 1979.  As prosumers increasingly make both their tastes and work digitally visible, are we not witnessing an emergent form of social distinction, a ‘Distinction 2.0’? Perhaps researching individuals’ distinctive curations of digital personas can provide as interesting insights into Postmodern societies, as understanding French people’s contrasting aesthetic dispositions once did in the Modern!

If you have any suggestions or concerns, please comment below, ta.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Unexpected ethical challenges in using screen grabs of youths' #participatoryculture productions #visualresearch

Written primarily for researchers interested in the ethics of sharing young people's visual culture productions :

Advances in online image and text search may pose unexpected ethical challenges to researchers in protecting the privacy of their participants while sharing visual productions. I mistakenly assumed that depersonalising screen grab imagery would be sufficient to conceal teenagers' identities. However, in testing "depersonalised" screenshots of my participants' online portfolio screen grabs, I learnt that the ever-growing accuracy of text-and/or-image searches (i.e. via Google Image, TinEyeBing, Pinterest et al.) requires additional steps for dis-identification. Without these, sharing webpage screen grabs can potentially be used by undesirable audiences to locate young people's websites and contact details. Screen grabs may also pose reputation risks in potentially being shared long after participants might want them to be. Both types of risks will be weighed up against the benefits of sharing select students' e-portfolio productions in my thesis. These include visual representations making it easier for readers to become familiar with the online portfolio genre. Screen shots also provide visual support for research themes emerging from young people's choices.

Background to my visual research ethics challenge.

I had developed an original method for multimodal content analysis that used screen grabs to reverse-engineer the choices that 29 visual arts students made in using Carbonmade. To keep the rich nature of my visual data, I analysed these privately using NVivo. I then sought to de-identify select web page screenshots for sharing in conference presentations. I followed a process for visual anonymization, which was not extensive as I wanted to preserve most of the screen grab for accuracy. The anonymizing process involved Adobe Photoshop's blur function being used on several fields of every webpage. This ranged from the web address and portfolio name on every page to all mentions of their name on their profile pages and their contact details. It also involved checking that the e-portfolio's creator was not identifiable from their portrait picture and that no images disclosed their school's identity (i.e. school poster designs or uniforms). To further protect anonymity, image files were titled using pseudonyms.

"George", 'depersonalised' About page, 2012. A participant who gave permission for portfolio screen grabs to be shared. 
I also added select screen grab, two per A4 page, into my draft thesis's case study chapters. During their review, Associate Professor Marion Walton advised me to remove screen grabs that might expose its creators to ridicule and also to check the reverse search-ability of all images. She was concerned that these might not be truly anonymised. In checking, I learnt that the depersonalisation measures I took were insufficient. A 'visual specific dilemma' existed whereby my participants could still be traced through the following types of internet searches:

  1. An internet text search using text used in students’ self-descriptions under their About Us page; 
  2. An internet text search using the folder titles shown by the screenshots (i.e., in Google, using <e-portfolio software name> + <folder title>)
  3. An internet search using the image titles shown in the screenshots (i.e. in Google, using <e-portfolio software name> + <image title>)
  4. An internet image search using the screen grabs (for example in 'Google Images');
  5. An internet image search of the images inside the screenshots; 
  6. In addition, location information and other information in the case studies and school backgrounds could be used in narrowing image and text searches.

Testing the first four types revealed I had not successfully de-identified several screen grabs.

Ethical concerns and considerations.

This was concerning as it held ramifications for my future and past publications. It also had consequences for the ongoing e-portfolio pedagogy at the independent school research site:

I warned the e-portfolio educator, "Mr Proudfoot", that he should take additional steps to better protect student privacy via revising their e-portfolio pedagogy: my action research project found that teaching students to hide their contact details did provide a false sense of security, since teachers mistakenly believed that this made their students difficult to contact. Simply using students’ real names in online searches quickly served up their social network profiles. Some of these were public by default. Teachers must better support students with resources and examples of effective privacy protection that can at least minimise the dangers of ill-considered self-disclosure. This could include case studies of bad examples and in-depth advice on constructing pseudonymous personas. Schools should also provide support, such as policies and staff that young people can readily refer to in case of unsolicited online contact.

When my fieldwork began in 2010, I did not ask for student permission to use screen shots of their work. This was simply not a focus at the time. However, during my fieldwork I pioneered a screen grab analysis method that became heavily used in my 'Evidence' chapter. I also thought that screen grabs would prove helpful in adding a rich visual context to readers of my content analysis and eleven students' case studies.

I recently asked an ethics expert about protecting students' privacy and his advice contrasted to the cautious visual research feedback that I expected. He advised that since the screen shots are of web pages they are in the public domain already, I actually do not need these students' permission. Despite it not being a legal or institutional requirement, I remain mindful of the assurances that I gave to schools and students on protecting the research participants' privacy. Such assurances helped me overcome one challenge in securing ethics approval from the Western Cape Education Department/Department of Education and my two research sites. I am also aware that only a few of my case study subjects responded to Facebook or emailed requests for retro-active permission to publish anonymised screenshots in my thesis. 

My concerns around potential disclosure and lacking participants' explicit consent resonates with Prosser, Clark and Wiles' (2008) contention that concrete contextual issues and a researcher's individual moral framework must be added to legal and institutional requirements in making ethical visual research decisions. The risks to participants associated with disclosure may be small, but it does not sit well with my moral compass that the screen grabs in my thesis might provide visual evidence for subverting past assurances. Particularly now that the thesis itself is easy to source and search. In the past, the provision of UCT thesis hardcopies were mostly limited to its library. However, these are now automatically digitised for sharing post-graduation online via the library's website (and possibly Open UCT). Further, since I have already shared many screen grabs online in conference presentations, I must also explore reciprocal measures to protect my participants' privacy. For example, by replacing the screen grabs I shared in old presentations with properly anonymised ones.

To find out how other researchers have tackled the problem of depersonalising screen grabs, I did Google Scholar searches for guidance on anonymising 'screen grabs', 'screenshots' or 'screen captures'. I could not find relevant content, which seems to mirror the reality of screen capture techniques being mostly used for exemplars rather than in the research process itself.  Lacking a matching example to follow in visual culture research, I found Dr Kirsty Young's discussion of her research experiences with young people's online spaces (2013) particularly informative. It highlights several ethical dilemmas posed by new forms of research enabled by the internet.

My research project is unusual in being human subject research focused on public texts. It is the former as I have been involved in developing a new syllabus and doing face-to-face research with youths throughout e-portfolio lessons. However, I am also researching public texts since all my participants Carbonmade portfolios have no privacy restrictions. Given its unusual position in straddling both methods, I cannot expect unanimous agreement in the academic community regarding how the ethical principles of consent and anonymity pertain to my study. The public text argument versus one for the more onerous rules governing human subject research could easily be argued in both cases. This may pose unexpected problems for the publication of my visual research data. If research data cannot be shared it becomes redundant, which itself is unethical in wasting participants' time (Young, 2013).

In response, I must be cautious and take steps to ensure that my project's ethics in sharing screengrabs cannot be faulted from a human subject research perspective. While all participants and their parents/guardians consented to my research, some were only asked after my fieldwork concluded for permission to re-publish their work. I had not considered the future need to use young people's webpages publicly in academic publications. Given that the webpages are the intellectual property of their authors and that their content would be displayed more widely than the youth possibly intended, I intend to secure written consent for their academic use. This consent will address the timespan that informed consent is given for and afford options for the level of anonymity required. I will show my case study subjects examples of their dis-identified webpages to assist their decision-making.

Additional steps for depersonalising or anonymising screen grab images

Given the ready availability of image search sites and image reverse search applications, it is important for researchers to take steps to fully depersonalise images for participants' anonymity. As web page design is multimodal, it is also important that researchers filter both images and text. For example in my research into students' e-portfolios, I had to avoid mentioning folder titles verbatim in my thesis. I also must try to avoid quoting students’ profile descriptions verbatim for longer than three words.

The two alternate options (A - B) I tested for depersonalising screen capture images were:

A. Black out all text and replace profile image with silhouette outline

Option A. "George" depersonalised About page with with all text blacked out and profile image in silhouette outline, 2012

All text is blacked out, making it impossible for viewers to copy text strings in their searches. The blurred outline image is replaced with an outline drawing to add some visual information. 

B. Only add depersonalised screen grabs at small thumbnail sizes, organised inside tables

Option B. "George" de-personalised e-portfolio pages from 2012 reduced into thumbnail images in a table 

Here the size of each image is reduced to a thumbnail size for making their recognition via reverse image search more difficult. I tested each option in reverse image search engines and neither options A nor B produced results linked to its creator, let alone Carbonmade.

Google image search result for option A's image, 2016

Google image search result for option B's image, 2016

Both options enabled sufficient levels of anonymity in their results being linked to generic software entries. I then tested what would happen if a thumbnail image of student's work was selected from the table of thumbnail images. At such a small size, the highly-pixelated image results did not link back to their creator or Carbonmade during a reverse image search.

Google Images result for "George" depersonalised thumbnail painting crop 2016
While the process of dis-identifying over 80 images will be lengthy, I am pleased that I can use heavily anonymised imagery, rather than none. In addition to changing these thesis' images, I must also reciprocally update them in old presentations, which need then to be reloaded to Slideshare.

Request for comments... or turning this post into an academic paper.

This post was written to stimulate discussions on ethical issues related to the use of screen grabs.
It heeds the call to engage the general internet publishing publishing population in debates about the use of content for research purposes as this can ensure the ethical use of online content, (Young, 2013). Kindly add your thoughts by commenting below.

There is also a gap in the literature concerning ethical issues related to sharing screen grabs of young people's participatory culture as research evidence. If you would like this post to be upgraded into an article for helping close the gap, please get in touch. For updates on my research, follow this site or @travisnoakes.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

How to extensively customize your Blogger template with custom-designed, menu buttons etc. @Blogger #gHelp

+ Written for Blogger users who want a high-level introduction to extensively customizing their template. This includes adding custom-designed navigation menu buttons. I couldn’t find an FAQ topic addressing this topic anywhere on the web, so here’s a post to help close this gap :
This high-level ‘how-to’ is written as an interview between Jonathan Whelan (this blog’s designer and template coder) and I (his Blogger-using client). We cover the why’s and how’s of my old blogs’ custom template’s look-and-feel being completely reworked to look and function impressively. This includes the process he followed for adding custom-designed buttons to the navigation menu of a basic Blogger template.
Image 1. in Macbook, May, 2016.
Image 1. in Macbook, May, 2016. Adobe Photoshop by Jon Whelan.

Travis: This custom Blogger template that I last edited in 2009 had become way past its use-by date. It looks jurassic compared to contemporary layouts. It also did not work well on mobile phones, while its custom code seemed to obstruct Google’s add-in gadgets for social network sharing. Being close to finishing my thesis’ full draft, I wanted its design to reflect my aspirations for it as a ‘post-PhD’ blogsite. The new, next-level up, look-and-feel also needed to reflect broader personas than a ‘researcher’s blog’ could. It took a while to decide on a graphic metaphor that resonated with my different roles, but I eventually came up with the idea of a ‘plus’ sign. This suggests how each individual combines and expresses varied personas - a key focus of my PhD {The nerdy humorist in me also hopes that geeks will appreciate its tangential nod to ‘Google Plus’ ;) }. In my life, the roles of Researcher, Educator, Design Thinker, User, Speaker and Volunteer have become the most salient. So, I sketched some icon ideas for these pluses. These were incorporated into a creative brief (see look-and-feel update brief 2016), for Jon to quote on.

Jon: Being a graphic design professional, it was easy for me to rework the plus icon ideas into versions that would look good even at a small mobile phone screen scale.

Image 2. New button icon designs for, June, 2016. Adobe Illustrator by Jon Whelan.
Travis: Yes, it’s very easy to ignore these users when enjoying these designs on a wide, monitor screen in the office.

Jon: Right. For me another conversion issue was becoming familiar with how Blogger organises pages and add-ins, versus how Wordpress CMS supports in-depth design customisation. The way a Blogger theme is built is slightly different and it took some learning from my side appreciate how it applies html and css: Blogger themes are structured in sections and built out of widgets/gadgets. With this in mind, I proposed building the theme from the ground up to be more efficient than hacking a free or a paid-for one.

Travis: That proved the right way to go. Compared to WordPress, Blogger seems not to offer the same level of template customisation and control. This probably contributes to why Blogger seems not be as widely used as WordPress by Capetonian designers or academics. Nevertheless, I was not keen to shift to a Wordpress blog. I am pleased at my blogsite's search engine recognition, especially for its niche subject-matter. I also like Blogger’s ease-of-use and not having to worry about back-end maintenance, such as updating it. I was hoping to benefit from the multi-device compatible (mobile and tablet) publishing and fast page download speeds it provides. Then there’s the Google translate widget, which allows viewers to select their preferred language translation of a post. I’m especially happy that this makes it easy for its e-portfolio lessons to be viewed in Afrikaans, Sesotho, Xhosa and Zulu. I enjoy the live internet traffic stats that Blogger shows too. And its easy integration with Google Adsense has taught me how difficult it is for niche bloggers to cover one’s hosting fees. The unfortunate side effect of my Blogger fanboy-ness was Jon having to attend a crash-course at “Blogger University” ;) ...

Jon: True. I think that most locals also use WordPress, because it is extensible, easy to customise and manage. By contrast, Blogger has limitations with regard to adding custom features. My jump into Blogger’s “deep-end” proved daunting, given the tight deadline I was working towards and needing to follow a ‘site design and build method’ comprising wireframe-, mockup-, code- and testing phases. The wireframe was easy to mock up into two draft .html mockups for button varieties one and two. However, there were several stumbling blocks that needed to be overcome before the chosen design could be implemented in Blogger.

Travis: Correcting my ‘plus’ symbol ideas that might be perceived as medical or religious was a breeze in comparison?

Jon: Sometimes over-using the plus symbol seemed to take away from the simplicity that we wanted. Also, I spent quite a while reworking the icons to make sure their quality will not deteriorate as they scale down. The simplified design of the buttons was done to suit Google’s Material standards. Although quite literal, the new buttons’ advantages were that they quickly communicated what they were about. Once you had chosen a combination of icons from both sites, I broke up the html from the test sites. These were added to Blogger widgets in my test blogsite’s basic template. Only once I was confident that the template actually worked, was I then prepared to apply it to Travis’ live blogsite.

Travis: You made several backups and I was very happy that you didn’t need to use them. Another plan B was contracting freelance Blogger experts via, such as Prayag Verma or Nicholas P. Both had many positive reviews in what seems to be a niche area of expertise.

Jon: It took a while to figure out ways in which the site could work like Travis originally wanted it to. For example, there was no online ‘how to’ on linking designed buttons from a navigation menu. I worked out that I could use a widget for writing html and css to address this potential showstopper. Travis gave me access to the CPanel service for his webhost’s domain. I needed to store the icon images in the domain, and link the images to his blog. This allowed me to add links from the button images to old and new pages, or addresses pointing to a label query (i.e.

Travis: There was a minor technical delay before Jon could put this into practice. After trying to login unsuccessfully to the CPanel address, I logged a support ticket. The upshot was that we needed to wait for my webhost to activate the CPanel’s functionality and for my new access details to work. Hopefully our readers are now forewarned to check with their webhost and set up domain access early on. Do not confuse such access with their basic hosting account, like I did.

Jon: In working on the navigation menu widget, I also discovered that by removing the skin, I know it sounds painful, I could style the design better. I then did another iteration of the site to show what a possible working prototype would look like. I preferred to do this, so that the icons could be viewed from the user's perspective. This also helps me in my design process as I can see how it works online as opposed to a nice A4 printed presentation.

Travis: Yes, it was reassuring for me as the client to see a working prototype before the migration.

Jon: Then when it was time to do the transfer. I backed up the old site before I did anything. I organised his redirect page as I started applying the new look-and-feel, so that visitors to the site would not have access to the "renovations" and get a teaser of the imminent update.

Travis: While you were doing this, I could also log into Blogger and see the site running the new template. Jon used all the gadgets from its previous version and I could see this still running, which was neat.

Jon: Yes, I also refined the desktop navigation icons, which were center aligned to take up less space. I added a page to link to each button and checked the 'plus' favicon' was visible. The pageviews were still 95,867, as they were. All the other elements were there. I hardcoded a social media links tab to appear in each post… The reason I hardcoded the social media icons was to ensure the look and feel was consistent with the rest of the theme, the icons and also because there weren't any gadgets available to meet our needs. For the Adsense gadget, I just changed the sidebar one to be 'responsive' to make it look better on mobile.

Travis: On that, my blog’s appearance on mobile is light-years from where it was.

Jon: The desktop too, as we can see in my images.

Image 3., viewed via iPhone, June, 2016. Adobe Photoshop by Jon Whelan.
Image 4. viewed via desktop browser, June, 2016. Adobe Photoshop by Jon Whelan.
Travis: I hope our chat has given Bloggers insight into an approach they might follow to extensively customise their blogs’ ‘look and feel’.

Jon: Yes, and if you need in-depth help, please contact me via

Travis: And if you have any suggestions or concerns, please add a comment below, ta.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Learn to be a design thinker at the University of Cape Town's d-school #dschoolCPT

Written for UCT students interested in doing a design thinking course at its new d-school.

Design thinking is a creative methodology based around 'building upand integrating conflicting ideas and constraints to create new solutions to problems. In Tim Brown's talk, Designers -- Think Big!, he argues that the broad concept of 'design' should be recovered from its modern understanding. This is as a narrow process that focuses on making objects more attractive, easier-to-use and more marketable. Such a highly-constrained, object-focussed understanding is shaped by consumerism's rise in the late 20th century. An unfortunate by-product of this restricted conception is that design becomes mostly unimportant due to its scope often being unambitious and its outputs quickly outdated.

An earlier, grander understanding of design as catalysing breakthrough systems exists in stark contrast to its present use addressing the small screen issues of image, aesthetics and fashion. As society confronts new, pressing social problems, an opportunity has emerged for 'design thinking' to recover design's earlier, expansive meaning. Design thinking focuses on systems to create impact on big social challenges, such as universal access to quality education and improved healthcare. Ideally, design thinking supports designers in stretching the desirability, feasibility and viability of their solutions to the limit.

I was fortunate to participate in a local design thinking course at UCT. Its new d-school chapter of the Hasso Plattner Institute's design thinking school recently opened courtesy of the 'Beyond 2014 Legacy' project of Cape Town's World Design Capital 2014. UCT's d-school is part of UCT's strategy to become a research intensive university. Like the recent UCT upstarts initiative, the d-school is part of an innovation portfolio. This is intended to leverage the triple helix of academia, research and industry for driving innovation via inter-disciplinary approaches. Hopefully, it can emulate Potsdam's example, where 30 start-ups have emerged with its d-school's support since 2008.

I was one of 30 post-graduate students in the d-school's free ten week pilot course at UCT's Graduate School of Business, which students typically pay 600 Euros to do. Cape Town's will be formally launched towards the end of 2016, joining other chapters at Potsdam and Stanford University. Like both, Cape Town's will be unaffiliated to any particular faculty.

According to the d-school's founding director, Richard Perez, design thinking training’s basic tenets are collaboration, being human-centred, creative thinking and learning through doing. Each feature in the d-school's unusual style of pedagogy: students from varied academic backgrounds are placed in inter-disciplinary teams. These are introduced to concepts via talks and then spend a significant amount of their project time in the field. Each team is closely mentored by a coach in their custom studio space and out in public.

UCT's d-school pilot spanned twenty days (two days a week for ten weeks) and each participant did four projects over 10 weeks:

Project one. Redesign the entertainment experience at the V&A Waterfront (two days);

Project two. Design the studio space into 'we', 'team' and 'me' spaces (one day);

Project three. Redesign the mobility experience at the V&A Waterfront (four days);

Project four. Encourage the development of Plumstead's transport precinct to support the City of Cape Town's Transport Council's Transport Oriented Development Strategic Framework. This final project spanned seven weeks.

In each project, students were taught to apply a design thinking process in response to the problem statement. This highly iterative process consisted of six phases:

1 Understand the problem;
2 Observe places, people and processes for developing empathy;
3 Exploring different points of view;
4 Ideating widely to explore solutions beyond the obvious;
5 Prototyping fast;
6 Testing the prototypes with stakeholders and communities.

For project one, team 'Good Fellows' explored redesigning the Waterfront's entertainment experience. A key insight was that visitors (i.e. the Watershed) had suggestions on what else they would like to do (i.e. participate in African maker space activities), but had no easy way to make suggestions. In response, we proposed a system that encourages visitor's feedback.

In project three, 'Team Not A Shuttle' learnt humility in what we might accomplish in four days in response to a wicked problem. To answer the challenge of improving the mobility experience for the V&A Waterfront's workers, we focused on their walk to and from Cape Town station. We proposed that interested staff be provided with sponsored, seasonal wear to protect them from the sun in Summer and rain and winds in Winter.

In project four, team 'Trains On Time' learnt that users of the Plumstead transport precinct want a safer and cleaner area before they will buy into further development. To promote an active citizenry that might address these needs, we proposed a 'Plum Tree Network'.

Our presentation to the Transport Council suggested that this network could organise a seasonal Open Plumstead festival. This would provide an opportunity for locals to work together for addressing the precinct's basics.

In addition to being tutored by design thinkers during these projects, students also had the opportunity to attend presentations by Tim Brown (the originator of design thinking) of IDEO, Jocelyn Wyatt from Plus, we could also do a one-day workshop led by Stanford's's Tania Anaisse on Freedom Day.

As a designer and researcher my experiences of problem-solving have mostly been limited to small screens. By contrast to this largely linear experience, design thinking is highly iterative. Learning to apply the design thinking methodology has helped me to be more critical of my working process. In particular,  I need to include the target of any designs during the project, not merely after it. I should work with an inter-disciplinary team to refine the problem statement and proposed solutions. Their feedback should be used to develop integrated solutions and prototypes that can be  experimented with as early as possible.  I also hope to take the advanced design thinking course next year, which will be open to graduates of the ten week course. Each of its phases also offer different methods (or 'buckets'). This means one can still learn new methods while repeating the same phases.

A student in any discipline can benefit from design thinking and I highly recommend the UCT d-school course to Fine Arts, Design, Media Studies and ICT for Development students. Most will benefit from learning its methodology, as it can support them in critiquing their projects, whilst stimulating alternate ideas and prototypes to test.

P.S. For Facebook updates on the d-school, 'like'

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