Friday, 1 February 2013

#EDCMOOC: ELearning and Digital Cultures Rocks: First reflections from week one

ELearning and Digital Cultures Rocks
This five-week online course is cleverly embedded within Edinburgh University's MSc of the same name - so we are exploring EDC and we are part of EDC for that student body. Fine by me - I like it. 

We started with much pre-course activity - lots of postings in FB - and some people very active in Twitter - and now more happening in Google+. This is still a bit over-whelming and I can still imagine the less self-confident student finding all these spaces over-whelming and being in an increased state of anxiety in case they 'missed something vital' in another space. Another stressor is if, like me, you still do not know how to do what are still apparently the most simple things: setting up an RSS feed (I think Andy Mitchell has sorted that out for me) - or where we are really supposed to post our reflections on each week's activities (I have posted mine in Google+ - and I'm sort of posting again here in my blog - I don't think that is at all right!)...

I really enjoyed and was so impressed with/by all that posting, contact, discussing... I have not managed to keep up with it all - but I have felt part of a vibrant community - I have felt engaged - and I have felt joy. How cool is that?

After such a leisurely run in to the course - my work week exploded this, the first week of the course proper. I have not been able to join in until today... so I have been reading instructions, making notes, watching videos and reading stuff - all excellent. And as we have a Google Hangout in a little while - I thought I'd post my first notes/reflections on the course so far, here in the blog - hoping to communicate at least with my other quad-bloggers!

The readings:
This covers the arguments in the Digital Diploma Mills article to which we were linked; but for me this is more cogent, punchy and powerful – and it has more passion. It also discusses notions of ‘education’ versus ‘training’. Love it! And it influenced our: ‘A journey into silence: students, stakeholders and the impact of a strategic Governmental Policy Document in the UK’ in Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. 5 No. 4, 2009 pp 566-574 – which critiqued the UK government e-learning policy – and which at some point I shall shamelessly plunder for a blog post!

Felt resistant to this text – but will use as a primer with students interested in Sociology or sociological perspectives…

Reading Dahlberg ATM:
Handwritten notes only really – but already liking the introduction and references to the Frankfurt School & kulturkritik … pessimism and focus on high culture; Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, oppositional politics and popular culture (Kelnner 97); and Audience reception theory – Fiske (1987) and polysemy – drawing on Barthes = a text when read… More to follow.

The video clips
Bendito Machine
This short animation took a long time to paint a picture of technology falling from the sky – reified – polluting – worshipped: entrapping, awe-ing & enslaving us. I did not like the fact that the characters were portrayed as primitive people (sic). We 21st century westerners are the ones who create and inhabit this landscape…

Short film of a FB relationship between an ‘Indian’ (?) man and woman – enacted via post-its and bags instead of FB proper. I do not see how we can ignore the context and sub-text of this film. In the west we hear that this is a culture that abhors free mixing. On the one hand that suggests that these FB encounters are potentially liberating – allowing individuals to escape social conventions that constrain and inhibit them. BUT – he is half naked and she is on a bed… absolutely not a problem and nor should it be – but it also seems to me that this would reinforce repressive prejudice in a traditional viewer: this free mixing, even virtually, is pernicious! He seems to propel most of the action – she is very sweet – and ultimately so is he.  Hmmmm.

I loved this animation which has two inter-twining story lines: the blackbird feeding the chicks and the two people inhabiting the inhuman landscape. Their lives cross over when the blackbird takes essential wiring in mistake for food to the chicks – thereafter the chick seems slightly connected to the techcity… and the power cut that ensued from the initial, natural mistake allows the female human to contact the male – and they go on a date – despite techno failures – up up up onto a space station by a carbon filament lift (assumed) to get a bird’s eye view of the world (that the birds get anyway). Life goes on – hints of big brother and the failure of a palm print just snip at your unconscious… The world that is painted is bleak, unappealing and inhuman – you would not want to live there. But nature as with the birds seems to have agency still – and love – as with the people – seems transcendent (even if again only the male character is seen naked.)

New Media 
I loved this eerie portrayal of a completely dystopian landscape – with strange creatures floating by – reminiscent of evil unearthly jellyfish – or the aliens from War of the Worlds. Harsh and broken sounds emerge – there is no joy – no life – nothing human or loving can live here. We are invited to compare this with ‘Bendito’ – but I prefer to c.f. with ‘Thursday’. This is the world that emerges if the people in ‘Thursday’ do not get up and fight for their love and their humanity.

Popular Culture
I am a devotee of post-apocalyptic drama – loved ‘Jericho’, ‘The Walking Dead’ – and many films from the Zombie genre. Currently for very light trashy fun, I am watching ‘Person of Interest’ – an American TV series on a UK channel (Channel five) – where the builder of an all-seeing anti-terrorist surveillance system – horrified that alerts to ‘normal’ human murder are going ignored – hires his own vigilante to step in and stop the chaos (shades of that Tom Cruise movie with the same theme – name escapes me at this moment). Trashy as this is – I do enjoy the hope that flutters there: yes this world is evil and monetised and we are powerless within these inhuman currents – but at the same time – down these mean streets a man (and a woman) will walk who is not themselves mean… Yes powerlessness is being reinforced – ‘victims’ are being rescued not in anyway at all taking agency – but …

On Channel 4, UK, I am watching ‘Utopia’ – a very dystopian view of a just about in the future world where conspiracy theories are told in comic books, where evil monetised power seeks to manipulate everything – and where we do not know and perhaps will not ever be quite sure in whom we might trust. Very bleak and full of torture and death at the moment: captures the zeitgeist of a planet destroyed by bankers who still get their bonuses whilst the poor are further punished for their poverty…

Big popular culture point!!!
I am writing this on an old laptop that has an old version of Microsoft Word – one that still gives you an animated Help character – and I do still love the Paper Clip. What a wonderful thing is that Paper Clip! It keeps me company when I have to write – it has taken me through several publications including three editions of our student textbook and one of our staff textbook – and of books that I have edited or contributed to. Given how inhuman this world can feel at times; and how isolating the writer’s task; and how distracting online social spaces can be… how did we let them get away with getting rid of the paper clip?

I know he was loathed by many – but they could turn him off (yes, my companion is a he) if they did not want him – why did they have to turn my paper clip off as well? Bah humbug – and bring back the paper clip!

Social Stuff:
There will be a Google Hangout hosted by the course teaching team at the end of week one. To watch this live, visit the Announcements page of the Coursera site on Friday 1st February at 17:00 GMT. The session will be available for viewing later on YouTube and on our G+ page, which you’ll find at:
Twitter Chate Saturday 02/02/13 21.30 GMT:  with the hashtag #edcmchat.

Onwards and upwards!


Sandra Sinfield said...

On the theme of Utopias: We ran a class in Second Life a while back - building not a classroom but a seashore where reflective learning could take place. We put deckchairs and bonfires to add a bit of character - and when we wanted to deliver new supplies to our students we grounded a seventeenth century galleon there - and the goods spilled out. We also analysed the avatars the students chose to represent themselves - embodied metaphors if you like. Some were versions of themselves as close as they could make them - fat where they were fat, skinny where skinny - mine was a little bit younger (!) - but one woman built herself as a bee - very clumsy and grotesque but still beautiful. Another put the same effort into transforming into a Klingon. I like to interpret this as their taking power within what is normally a disempowering space... The assignments were various - puzzle cubes left around our disrupted educational landscape - this seashore and not a classroom - and they had build upon and inhabit this landscape; they had to make their marks... and this gave me hope that in using these technologies we can disrupt the everyday, that our students can enact power where they are normally rendered powerless and agency is more possible - and not less. 

Andy Mitchell said...

That bloody paperclip...!

Sandra Sinfield said...

Yay the paper clip!

Jeremy's Pages said...

Hi Sandra,

I really enjoyed some of your succinct readings of the films here. Your comments about 'Inbox' got me thinking about other Dystopian readings of the film, in addition to some of those already posted about the sparse modes of communication. Technology is portrayed here as increasingly pervasive, intruding into spaces some might consider private. The cultural angle is interesting here too: that social media might be seen as propagating all that is irreverent abut western culture – but that would seem to fall back on a technological determinism.

Perhaps the portrayal of ‘primitive’ people in Bendito Machine III was a comment on our own lack of ‘advancement’ when subjugated by technology? Although, as you say, that kind of portrayal may itself be problematic. It’s an interesting perspective though, with many readings I think. I’d certainly be interested in problematizing a utopic view of innocent, natural, and somehow more our indigenous people.

Glad you are enjoying the course so far!

Oh, and I heard that 'Clippy' has returned...


Britt Watwood said...

Sandra, I too enjoyed your analysis of the films and readings. It has been interesting dipping in to Twitter, Facebook and G+ - and I fully understand the worry that we might be missing something! The Hangout on Friday was awesome as well.

Kay C said...

My apologies on being a very poor quadblog member! I too am being swamped by work and am trying to find the time to keep abreast of all of the wonderful material this course is providing. I really enjoyed your reviews of the readings etc, and in particular your perspective on Inbox - layering the cultural context over the film makes for a different interpretation, as I viewed it purely in terms of the relationship between a man and a woman...I love how we all see something different from the same film! I am also struggling a bit with maintaining my personal blog while also writing for my work blog, so my apologies if it lags...enjoy week 2!

Sandra Sinfield said...

Hi Britt and Kay C - sorry about the delay in responding - but my work PC blocks my access - and I only have my own access to the web from Thursday night to Sunday night.
Have I missed posts from you this week? Please let me know - even if through my work email which is: