Reflection on the ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC, Wk.2 #edcmooc

EDCMOOCOn to the second of the five weeks Coursera / University of Edinburgh MOOC: ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’. This week is centred around looking to the future, the “future-focused visions of technology and education” whilst building on the previous utopian/dystopian ‘discourse’.

Having to watch, and comment/analyse, films introduced as “evocative and sometimes disturbing visions of what the future of information technology might hold” is always going to get your attention.

“Who is set to benefit from the personal, constant attentions of information technology, and who might lose out?”

Isn’t this the question we ask, in one form or another, each time Apple releases a new device? Isn’t this what causes the backlash each and every time Facebook changes it’s privacy policy? Isn’t this the current question educators around the world are asking since to the rise of the MOOC and it’s much lauded ‘saviour’ of Universities?

  • How is education being visualised in “A Day Made of Glass”? You could argue that most of these ‘tools’ are already available in one form or another in society and that schools already do most of what is shown here – maybe not exactly as shown, but some of it: smart boards, NearPod App (teacher presents to student device), tablets, etc. What is shown isn’t as far fetched as you may think, it’s just the way in which it is presented rather than what is presented that is different. How the technology is used outside of the classroom is more ‘futuristic’ and is where you could argue its worth – should children be given space (in or outside) that is free from technology, free for them to experience the world as it is and not through some sanitised technology that reveals the real world through a camera lens?
  • … and what of ‘Sight’ (see below)? Apart from the very sinister twist at the end, you could argue we’re already at this point in time with Apps and mobile technology. Whilst we may not have the augmented reality contact lens-type technology (yet – it is clear that some are working towards it – Google Glasses) we have badges and check-ins, we have ‘social’ hangouts and pages and groups, we have Internet dating and websites where you post photos during and after a relationship breaks down, we have everything here except the final twist … so far.

YouTube: Sight

  • The contrast between this one and the previous two we were asked to look at (“A Day Made of Glass” – above – and “Productivity Future Vision”) is quite stark. Obviously the videos that are clearly an ‘advert’ for the future would have a more upbeat and conservative feel to them, but this (and “Charlie 13”) are constructing a more ‘real’ and ‘possible’ future (really?) without the constraints trying to pretend it’s all going to be a clean and ‘happy’ utopian society.
  • These visions of tomorrow all imply an inherent acceptance of the security of the systems – it’s not about how we use the technology in these videos it’s about the acceptance and willingness of the individuals to trust the dystopian ‘system’ managers with their details – how else could so many interactions occur if this permission had not been granted?
  • But what of the learning? None of these videos deals with learning or education, but just a view of the ‘society’ in which we will live … and quite frankly I don’t like them. I do not want a society where technology is involved in everything I do (I don’t want a robot to mow my lawn, I want to do it – even though I hate the act – get some fresh air and watch my kids play in the garden at the same time) or see (I already spend too much time paying with Instagram filters when I’m out with the family instead of enjoying the time with them). A machine can’t react to the subtle differences that an individual child has, or needs, when it comes to their learning – this is why technology should be used to enhance the teacher’s capability in the classroom, not replace. Are these realistic visions of tomorrow or just one person’s nightmare scenario? Can we infer, from the dystopian controlling forces in the videos, that the education system is equally ‘controlled’ and ‘contrived’ in these futures, pushing followers rather than thinkers through the automated assessment and in to the ‘real’ world?
  • This video, even though it’s from 2007, is still very popular, and should act as a warning about students’ use of technology, not an advert. Watch this and enjoy the presentation and the message, then head along to the website that accompanies the new(er) version, released in 2011 –

YouTube: A Vision of Students Today

  • Johnston (2009) has identified two broad ‘categories’ of metaphors from papers and editorials published in late-2008, and how they affect our thinking – those utopian in nature are from a “transformative and revolutionary’ opinion and dystopian ones tend to “attack or supplant” (destructive). Again the notion of digital native/immigrant raises it’s head again which, as I’ve blogged about previously, doesn’t sit well with me anymore. eLearning and by nature of affiliation, mLearning or Distant Learning, is about inclusion not exclusion and the concept of native/immigrant is about who is excluded from understanding and utilising technology for a purpose (dystopian) than an inclusive perspective (utopian).

“At the very least, the distinction is quickly growing irrelevant.  Unfortunately, the idea is still uncritically accepted even in some journal articles, and perhaps used as an excuse or crutch too often for poor or ineffective teaching practices.  The result may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but for teachers, not students.” Holton (2010).

  • Annalee Newitz openers her Google I/O 2011; Ignite presentation saying Social Media “gives you a chance to sit back and think a little bit about what kind of future you might be building with your technology, and also it gives us a chance to kind of  take the temperature of culture and say ‘well, what are people’s fantasies about the future of social media and media that comes from computer networks – what are our hopes and fears about it.” This, therefore, supports a utopian view of our ‘future’ (which I like), which then in turns showcases our ability to monumentally screw it up and leave ourselves in a dystopian ‘collective’ (worst case?). Watch Annalee’s presentation, it’s good, as are the books and films she lists (I’ve started downloading some of them already).
  • Clay Shirky (2012) talks at length about the demise of the record industry and rise of MP3 / Napster and makes a comparison to the current threat to high education funding and the rise of the MOOC. But his article and thought process comes under quite detailed criticism, most notably by David Kernohan and his ‘Followers of the MOOC’ article. David covers much of what Clay has talked about but notably that “scholarly communities of interest don’t just form – you have to work at them. You have to make them happen by talking to people.” This is the same for any experience, in or out of the classroom, campus or distance learning, utopian or dystopian learning experiences – it is what we (choose to) make it.

This week, looking at the (possible) future, fills me with an uneasy dread – are we just a car-wreck waiting to happen or are we being careful and planning our route to a successful and ‘inclusive’ education system where each and every learner is ‘enabled’? Well, the jury is out on that, and by the time those in power (note, not the ones with the power .. that’s us!) notice it’s all gone wrong it’ll be too late. There is some incredible work going on in education at all levels (schools, universities, etc.) as well as at all ages  (primary, further, higher, adult learning, etc.) … all you have to do is look and you’ll find innovation and passion all around you. It’s a pity these are not necessarily the people who govern, but are the ones being governed by those without experience or any innovative ideas of their own.

Postscript: All this talk about history and future of a utopian or dystopian culture controlled or influenced by technology, let’s not forget the here and now. Don’t forget the advances and developments we see on an almost daily basis. This video from Tom Scott at TEDx, “Social Media Dystopia”, may not have happened the way it’s portrayed here, but everything in it has happened at some stage recently – it’s only a matter of time before it happens in the single timeline, like this:

YouTube: Tom Scott – Social Media Dystopia

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

Referenced material:

Holton, D (2010) The Digital Natives / Digital Immigrants Distinction Is Dead, Or At Least Dying. EdTechDev

Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4).

Kernohan, D. (2012) Shirky MOOC. Followers of the Apocalypse.

Shirky, C. (2012) Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. Shirky