Reflection on the ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC, Wk.3 #edcmooc

EDCMOOCWeek three and into ‘block 2’ of the five week Coursera / University of Edinburgh MOOC: ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’. Are we leaving the bliss of utopia behind, or will be building on the fear of a controlling and dystopian ‘master’ as we become ‘human’?

“What does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?”

This week is introduced from the perspective that “we tend not to question, in our everyday lives, where the boundaries of ‘the human’ lie”.  As with previous weeks we have a few videos to watch and criticise analyse as well as a few papers and web resources to read in order to define or answer what it means to be human in the future.

  • The advert from Toyota has had a lot of discussion in the Coursera forum but I have a more cynical approach to it – stop trying to intellectualise something that is pure marketing. Do you really think Toyota is trying to make some kind of moral message on the future of technology, or just trying to replicate other successful advertising or cinematic sequences? The end of the advert is very reminiscent of the end of The Truman Show, where Truman (aka Jim Carrey) has a choice to stay in the world he now knows is fake, yet safe, or leave to an unknown but world that allows freedom of choice and experience. Isn’t this also what education is becoming … isn’t this why we’re also doing this MOOC, for the freedom of choice?
  • The second advert, this time one of the adverts in the series from BT (UK) which is supposed to represent “authentic” human contact, taking a cheap shot at the Instant Messaging and Facebook generation in an effort to show how a simple phone call is the real thing. No, a conversation in person is the real thing, a phone call is the next best thing. If we take this scenario into the real world, into my day to day work, then I would rather walk along the corridor to someone’s office and talk to them properly than a phone call or email. In an online learning environment this is obviously not possible, and neither is a phone call (one tutor to ‘x’ number of students, that could be a lot of calls) – this is why Instant Messaging or discussion boards and/or conference calls (Skype?) are popular, and will remain so.

Technology, it seems from the materials this week, is trying to replicate real life and make it ‘easier’. But is it? Is it making it easier or making us lazy?

  • Do you have control over technology? The third video, World Builder, reminds me of Slartibartfast from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – the builder of worlds, and fjords. At the end of the video we see the truth to the mans slightly strange behaviour (if he’s building the world then why hide from the person he’s building it for?), that the lady is his wife who is in a coma, and he’s using an AI simulator to create a safe environment for his wife. What does this video have in common with the theme of ‘being human’? In previous weeks we’ve looked at utopian and dystopian futures … well this is one in which we see it being built, how very controlling and dystopian for the woman, is this why she is sad, does she know it’s not real?

YouTube: Slartibartfast on life

As for learning it is now accepted that the student should have some input into their learning, as discussed byIsaac Aximov and his views on ‘personal learning’. As Ryan Tracey pointed out in the Coursera forums … “can we consider the classroom to be ‘real’? Perhaps learning online is closer to real life, and hence more ‘authentic’.”

So, what does it ‘mean’ to be human in this technologically rich world? Is it about choice, is it about freedom of movement, or is it about emotion? If we look at education it is becoming increasingly dependent on the technology rather than the reasons why we use it – I despair every time I read another post or press release about X school or Y University giving all their students an iPad … is it really necessary, what is the pedagogic purpose/reason behind this decision, how are you going to use this technology, is this actually the best tablet/mobile computing device for the required needs of the learner (and what if the student already has one or worse, something better)?

Steve Wheeler (2013) identifies some of the ways current mobile technologies are disrupting our society and our learning capabilities. Couple Steve’s words with the ‘future’ envisaged by Isaac Asimov (link above) and we have active, disruptive, personal, and engaged learners in our classrooms. These learners are not ‘of a certain age’ any more but are now ageless (my 3 year old can use my navigate between the web and apps on my iPad as well as through complex app navigation, and my parents have iPads too).

“Being Human” is now about being connected, but is the human element missing  here the ability to turn it off, the ability to stop using a device and just read a book, have a chat, go for a walk? Being human is being able to choose to use the technology, or not.

Postscript: After all is said and done, whether we head towards a dystopian failure or we realise we have the ability to come together for a better future … the future is ours, and this video sums it all up very nicely – think and be positive!

The Future is Ours from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Week three digital artifact competition

My first entry is ‘Corridor of technological innovation’ – the doors represent our choices along the ‘never ending’ corridor of technological innovation, and the eye? Well, Big Brother or ‘society’ is always watching:

Digital artifact, week 3 Corridor of technological innovation (David Hopkins, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Being Human … one of the most important features of humanity, or perceived advantages of being human, is that we have choice. We have choice over what we eat, what we wear, where we live, etc. The utopian/dystpoian futures from weeks 1 and 2 disturb me so far as there seems to be little choice for the masses other than commit to a future as ‘recommended’ by a society that is removed, and therefore uninterested and unsympathetic, from the individual’s reality. “Is this where we are letting education be taken? Are we letting a faceless bureaucracy deliver an unnecessary and dispassionate education that has no relevance to the modern life we currently, and will shortly, lead?”

Artefact credits/attribution:

My second entry is this:

What is 'real'? What is ‘real’? (David Hopkins, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“We assume we see a photo or picture and that it is a real and tangible portrait of a specific moment in time. Think (and look) again … !”

Artefact credits/attribution:

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

Referenced material:

Dunn, J. 2012. The 10 Biggest Ways Emotions Affect Learning. Edudemic 15 August, 2012.

Kolowich, S. 2010. The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed

Wheeler, S. 2013. Mobile gives the edge. Learning with ‘e’s. 12 February 2013.