Reflection on the ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC, Wk.4 #edcmooc

EDCMOOCWeek four and we are so nearly at the end of the five week Coursera / University of Edinburgh MOOC: ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’. From ‘being human’ (last week) to ‘redefining the human’ we will be introduced to the perspective that the “notion that the human’ is a social category which is made, not a biological or philosophical matter-of-fact”, apparently!

Videos are again the staple of the weekly resources, and the discussion boards are full of analysis, sympathy, and criticism with the themes and characters within. However, there is far more criticism than in previous weeks – have we now arrived at a stage where we, the students, are either more confident in opinion or we are just more comfortable with the subject?

  • Robbie is not human, but can demonstrate human-esque experiences (loneliness, happiness, faith, etc.). The big question here is why we continue to treat ‘Robbie’ as non-human when he has all the traits and characteristics of an entity that is human – he has a life-span, he is self-aware, he understands the importance of his existence, he ‘dreamed’, and the importance of his impending demise, he knows what is is to be lonely. Are these not human characteristics? While you may argue that he was made not grown … aren’t we all made, at conception? He became “self-aware” .. well, children become more and more aware of themselves at different ages. Is this not what happened to Robbie, albeit in a different way. Yes, he is not organic, but is that the only condition to being classed as ‘human’ that Robbie does not fulfill?Robbie clearly has human characteristics, but how many were programmed and how many were developed, learned, or ‘evolved’? Is that the true definition of human, the ability to evolve, is it more than just organic material?

Robbie – A Short Film from Neil Harvey on Vimeo.

  • Contrast Robbie to Gumdrop (below), this robot has well-tuned and expressive human emotions … close your eyes and listen to it and you would be hard pushed to label the interviewee (Gumdrop) as anything other than human female. But this is the point, we’re being asked to withhold our belief of robot/human preconceptions. Robbie sounded robotic, or what we’ve grown up hearing as a robotic voice, whereas Gumdrop clearly isn’t. While they both exhibit emotive responses to their situations (Robbie on being alone, Gumdrop on being asked about nudity in acting) the way we hear and respond to their response defines our misconception on what is human and what is not. We have a clearly defined division between robot and ‘simulant’, but what if the division was not so clear?

YouTube: Gumdrop

  • True Skin asks us to look at the middle ground left between Robbie and Gumdrop – where ‘real’ and augmented coexist, but my query here is which is the more dominant – human or augmented? The world is introduced as somewhere a ‘natural’ is not welcome, where life and death are not needed, where you can back-up your memories (your soul?) and implant them in a new body when your current one expires. Is this therefore still considered ‘human’?
  • Continuing the theme of development and future … the question relating to the here-and-now, of whether ‘Google making us stupid’, has been talked and dissected at length since it was raised by Nick Carr in 2008 – “I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory … I’m not thinking the way I used to think.” I can relate to this. I can also see where this is going … is Google (other search engines are available) enabling students to be stupid, or rather, lazy? Instead of trawling the book shelves and microfilm in the library, for the elusive journal, paper, or reference, it is now but a short search query away now, along with other related articles that both support and criticise it.

    “Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.”

    So we come full circle – technological development is making technology smaller, faster, and more competent. This in turn is changing the way in which we create new media and technology with which to interact with, which is changing not only how we react to this new media and technology but also how we use and react (and interact) with existing/traditional forms of media and technology. Give it another couple of years there could be a new form of computing developed which will render our shiny new iPads and Galaxy Tabs obsolete, and again change how we think of media consumption and creation.

  • “Why do we expect technology to transform education?” – Why not .. ? Technology is transforming health-care, medicine, banking, travel, social interaction, news, weapons … why not education and the way we learn? I’m not advocating we must have transformation because of the technology, but if the technology available can offer advances then we should embrace it, if it’s appropriate and implemented in a considered (careful) approach.
  • ” How should we respond, as teachers and learners, to the idea that the internet damages our capacity to think?” – Should the question actually be aimed not at the “Internet as a damaging element to our capacity to think” but rather that we are letting the Internet damage our capacity to think?

What was once eLearning is now known and described as Technology Enhanced Learning … at what point do we just call it learning?

Postscript: As with previous weeks, my final postscript video this week is from BladeRunner: the finale with Roy saving Decker as a final act of humanity from a born (or bred?)-to-kill simulant. The “tears in rain” quote excellently demonstrates that Roy finally realises how fleeting and transitory life is. Is this why he saves Decker, the man sent to kill him? This opinion has been rebuffed in subsequent years with the revelation that Decker is in fact supposed to be a simulant himself, so did Roy save him out of kinship? Humanity, from whichever angle or origin, prevails.

YouTube: Tears in Rain

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

Referenced material:

Carr, N. (2008) Is Google making us stupid? The Atlantic