Reflection on the ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC, Wk.1 #edcmooc

EDCMOOCHere are some notes, links, conversations, thoughts, and reflections on the first week of the University of Edinburgh / Cousera ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC. This reflection will form part of the work required by the MOOC as well as reflections on the processes and Coursera system itself.

Initial thoughts on the course and/or platform (supplemental to my earlier post):

  • Agree to abide by an ‘honour code’ – much like a learning contract that some places use with students, does anyone have any indication that this works (or not)?
  • There is so much hype around this MOOC, why? Is it because it’s the first in the UK by Coursera AND a UK HEI?
  • There is so much going on, on all the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Coursera discuss boards, etc.) that, even day after the official start, it’s very overwhelming and I am thinking “what have I let myself in for?” Is this why so many people don’t finish (or even start)?
  • So far I’ve done the whole MOOC on the iPad, including this post using the WordPress app. It’s not easy as the formatting in the post needs fine tuning and this can really only be done (still on the iPad: links, image alignment, etc.) through the admin web interface.
  • One discussion board per week/topic … for up to 40,000 students? I think this needs further management to make it something that can work with and for the students. Even after the first day the number of posts was intimidating, who knows what it’ll be like in a week or so.
  • Don’t confuse the learners with inappropriate or unnecessary language or jargon. This will only make them feel even more alienated and removed from the objectives of the course and cause unnecessary worry and stress. If you want us to produce a blog post, video, presentation, etc. then ask us to do this .. I have never used the term ‘digital artifact’ and probably wont start now either.

Now for my reflection on week one of the course itself:

  • Thankfully the terms ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’ are explained – this was causing me concern as I had no idea what I supposed to understand by this until now, in relation to education and technology: ‘utopian’ (creating highly desirable social, educational, or cultural effects) or ‘dystopian’ (creating extremely negative effects for society, education or culture).
  • What I think is missed in the description of these terms by Hand and Sandywell (2002) is that the system and the users are not one and the same. While a system can be inherently utopian (desirable, social, etc.) the way we use it could be very dystopian (closed, restrictive, etc.). Another good example of this is Apple and the App Store – a very controlled and limiting dystopian system that the users are using (forcing?) for utopian social, collaborative, desirable, or open purposes.


Hand and Sandywell (2002)

  • One film I felt could be used to highlight the technology/natural divide is Bruce Willis’ ‘Surrogates‘, where “humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots”. While the film centres around the crime/action story the underlying theme of the dystopian human reliance on robotic surrogates is underplayed – for me this would have made for a far more chilling, but perhaps less bankable and successful, film.

YouTube: Surrogates Trailer

  • There are other films I would also add to the dystopian film genre based on the definition given on the course (I’m just happy watching films usually and not thinking too deeply). The likes of District 9, Ghost in the Shell. Akira, and THX 1138 all fit the bill, as do Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, and Fortress. But what these films have in common is the single utopian ‘uprising’ in a controlling and oppressive dystopian system?

YouTube: THX 1138 Trailer

  • Looking at whether ‘Inbox‘, one of the short films we’d been asked to watch, is utopian or dystopian is, for me, purely down to your own experience of online interactions. I have not really had a bad experience online (a few I’d like to forget maybe, but not bad) and this film is deliberately vague so you can imprint your own perspective on it. If you’ve been the subject of online stalking then you could view his actions as stalking, but you could also view her actions as suggestive and encouraging? See, very difficult. However, the red bags are an enabling and social system (utopian?), albeit limited to only the link between these two characters (dystopian?) – the bag enabled the initial meeting but fate or luck continued the story after the system failed.
  • Are we forgetting, in ‘Inbox’, how the two characters reacted to the ‘intrusion’ of a stranger to their space in the real world at the start of the film? The girl was barely able to conceal her disgust when she noticed a stranger watching her, and the guy was too embarrassed to look at the couple when they caught him watching them. But take the same situation into the anonymous world of online (the bags represent the controlling technology) communication and both were ready and willing to participate in anonymous communication. Is this symptomatic of out willingness and acceptance to take on a fake persona when online, and participate in activities we would not usually have the confidence to do in real life?
  • Technological (or media) determinism, as discussed by Chandler (2002), discusses the central theme of whether “controversy concerns how far technology does or does not condition social change”. The paper closes by saying that:

    “being critical of technological determinism is not to discount the importance of the fact that the technical features of different communication technologies facilitate different kinds of use, though the potential applications of technologies are not necessarily realized.”

    While developers (or educators) can direct and dictate how a system is to work and be used it is only the user themselves that can truly show this to be true – instructions go only so far, the individual will interpret these according to their understanding and background knowledge and will then act accordingly. It’s not always the technology to blame, but rather the way in which we, the user, uses it.

  • The machine is using us‘ is a classic and well referenced YouTube video, and one of the first I ever posted to my blog back in November 2008. Highlighting the ‘new’ Web 2.0 tools we now take for granted the video was, at the time, very instructional but now serves both as a reminder of where we’ve come from and what has happened in order for these changes to become mainstream in our lives and education. The video closes on the caption ‘we need to rethink us’ … have we started this process yet, or are we still basking in our collective praise in what we’ve achieved thus far? I like to think we are not all so shallow, how else can we innovate or progress beyond the ‘now’ if we are? Einstein said “a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new” – we need to try, and fail, in order to learn and progress.

I want to close this week by saying that I believe that technology itself is neither a utopian or dystopian ‘entity’ (system, object, experience, etc.) but rather our use, our expectation, and our acceptance of it will induce a utopian or dystopian ‘imprint’ into our lives. At the same measure technology should not be the driver in education, rather our use, expectation, and acceptance should be driven by the pedagogic need that may or may not be filled by a technological solution.

Here is a tweet I sent earlier today, anyone want to comment on this?

I have to say that I’ve never used the word utopian or dystopian before and I think I’ve used them both about 10 times each in this post alone.

Postscript: I’m find this harder than I thought. Part of it is the shear size of the student numbers and volume of resources being shared and discussed, but this is only me hiding behind the real issue – it’s making me think. This in itself is not a problem, I like thinking and being challenged. But there is something else here that I am not comfortable with, whether it’s the language used that is alien and confusing or I am finding it harder to find the energy and brain power after a full day at work. Anyway, roll on week 2 … “

Here are links to the other pages that will form the series of posts on the Coursera MOOC:

Referenced material:

  • fran

    interesting! much more well thought out than my blog posts, and i’m on holiday!

    • Hi Fran – considering you’re on holiday you’ve been working hard, well done!

      All the best, David

  • fran
  • I really liked your post! Very interesting point of view!

  • Annabel

    Hey David. Thanks for your take on the edcmooc. It’s my first one and I’m overwhelmed by the channels for interaction and the language used. This is something I’m doing in my “free time” after a full day at work as a way of stretching my mind a little more, but I feel a little out of my depth. After reading the “Perspectives” today, I think it’s because I’m a digital immigrant and actually my brain just ain’t built right. Should have played computer games as a kid… so I think I’ll just quit the reading and eavesdrop on the Twitterfeed for a bit…

    • HI Annabel – I used to believe the digital native/immigrant theory too but, as I read more around the subject and hear what is said I am less inclined to think/like it. I have also heard of the digital ‘resident/visitor’ but this is also incomplete – it is a fact, for me, that some will be more suited to digital ‘thinking’ and others not. Yet even this doesn’t go far enough as someone who is not digitally ‘active’ can, with the right motivation, become digitally ‘willing’, all you need to do is find the motivation.

      All the best, David

  • Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles

    I choose to post not because I have much to say _at this moment_, but because David’s analysis and commentary, presented on the fly, are so refreshingly clear and cogent, and directed squarely at the topic…. Well, I just had to say so. Well done! — Ebenezer Bowles

    • Hi Ebenezer. Thanks for this. I hope I can survive week 2. If so it’ll be my most successful MOOC so far ;-)


  • Your post made me think as always! I come from they mentioned you in one of their recent Blog posts, which brings up a very interesting idea. Blogging and education. I’ve just been checking out the postgraduate Blog here : and it is a geniune “bloggy” Blog all about education. It teaches, while it entertains. Does the increase in information density typical for Blogging beneficial to an average student or will it lead to “dumbing down” content ? I thought I share these.

  • Cory Ratajczak Calabria-Bibbo

    great commentary. you made me think on a number off points which i think i’ll discuss in my week 1 response. i’ll send you a link on here when i’m done.

  • Nancy Goodman

    I’ve also felt quite overwhelmed, but I think it has to do more with pedagogy. I recognize that 40,000 people probably signed up to get 40,000 different things out of the course, but clearer objectives and an up front attempt to connect those goals to the schemata of the participants would make for a more robust experience for everyone who chooses to engage.

    I’m just going to keep doing the reading/watching and randomly tweeting for now…

  • honestly i started off being really excited and now it just keeps piling up – however your post is reallly really organised with clear thoughts on all issues adressed in week 1 – good job indeed(might use your clear cut structure myself)

    • Hi Rozalia – keep at it, it’ll be worth it in the long run, that’s I what I’m telling myself anyway!

      All the best, David

  • As all the others have said, Thanks. I did the readings, watched the vids, thought about and was drawing a big blank. It’s been awhile since I’ve done purely academic courses and was starting to think I was VERY rusty. But you helped me a lot with your commentary and I’m starting to get into a rhythm. I was thinking another example of a utopian/dystopian film would be Demolition Man. Utopian society with tremendous technology but dissidents that live underground that don’t use technology except to spray paint their protests on monuments. Seems utopia might not be possible without dystopia. And that the use of technology for education (eLearning via synchronous, asynchronous, social media, etc.) is a combo of both with the learners experience being the tipping point one way or the other. Or it is both all the time given factors like content design, interface design, ISP service, etc.

    • Hi Dawn – I’ve not thought about utopian/dystopian approaches to eLearning, just what works and what doesn’t – it seemed so easy until now!

      All the best, David

  • Nonito Cabrera

    It’s easy to be daunted and intimidated by the sheer amount of material and the volume of the people who have signed up for the course, but as they always say when it comes to online social interaction, we all do it for a variety of reasons. I love your interpretation and your summary of the course for this week, and I am sure that many people will have a great time picking your brain with regards to the subject area that we are all tackling. Keep it up!

    • Hi again Nonito – I’m struggling with week 2 in a way I didn’t with week 1, but so far so good. All the best.

  • Nonito Cabrera

    Oh, and if I may, let me share with you my take on Week 1. Thanks a lot!

  • Pingback: #edmooc_Cousera | Pearltrees()

  • Pingback: ying219 | Pearltrees()