Have you ever wondered what to do with those millions of digital photographs you have saved on your computer but rarely share with anyone? Or considered the data that institutions such as your doctor’s surgery, old school or last employer might hold about you? What about those CCTV cameras that ‘track’ you as you walk to work and the data that you create about yourself as you interact with social media platforms?
Keri Facer (Bristol University) and I have recently completed a piece of research, with Howard Baker at BBC Learning, exploring how the increasing amount of personal data gathered by individuals, institutions and by ‘intelligent’ environments might be used to support emancipatory learning.
We wanted to find out more about whether the possibility of capturing, mining, representing and reflecting on personal data might be a new means of making individuals’ (learning) experiences visible to themselves and others? How might we use data to tell new tales and make visible different accounts of our experiences across the lifecourse?
Through a series of workshops and in depth case studies with a wide range of people of different ages and cultures we found out about the (learning/ life) experiences that were important to them, the prompts for their experiences and the learning resources they drew on. In addition, because we were interested in personal data, we asked our case study participants about current strategies for recording their lives and to collect data about their experiences over a period of a week using an ipod touch. We wanted to find out more about how the data that they were collecting might support reflection and recollection.
We observed four broad prompts for learning: personal events, practicalities, participation and pleasures. Participants drew on 5 key types of learning resources; cultural, people, commercial, embodied and reflective. Through asking about strategies for recording life experiences we found that all cultural artifacts can be used as a basis for reconstructing experience, that anything can ‘stand for’ anything else for recollection (proxies) and that such a ‘material’ proxy can evoke the immaterial (a sensory experience/ feelings and/or emotions).
We identified 3 ways in which participants used the artifacts, records and souvenirs that they gathered:
- Collecting – collecting personal data, artefacts and records of past activities, combining with other resources
- Telling Tales – ‘curating’ personal data, and records of past activities, and using it to share perspectives on ourselves
- Audit and Reflection – uncovering hidden patterns, telling new tales
The research emphasised the need for us all to consider the pressing need to guarantee our rights to view and use the personal data that is being gathered about us, and that this data has the potential to be profoundly educational.
We’d love to hear from other researchers interested in similar questions, and please do download the report to the BBC here.