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: