Friday, 8 February 2013

#EDCMOOC week 2: Welcome to Utopia

This week Utopia – funny how the utopian visions are more terrifying than the dystopian ones isn’t it?

First I watched… and then I read...

Film 1: A Day Made of Glass 2. (5:58)
Augmented reality world: ‘hermetically sealed’ like the buildings and as sanitised as the futuristic medical centre.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the tricky things that technology can do, I love being able to flick a message from one handheld to another or to another device altogether… I would relish being able to hold up my phone or tablet and ‘see’ real dinosaurs coming at me and I hope to  be able to do all these things one day.

However, once these are commonplace will they cease to create the wonder acted out in the video – and without wonder what would be left? Definitely not the ‘human’: ‘as the patient lays etherised upon the table’ (TS Eliot, ‘Prufrock’); and still they talk over his body – indeed they take his body out of his body and discuss that. Pace Foucault!

And what a vision of education is created. Rather than watching a whiteboard or interactive wall or PowerPoint 3.0 or video or – as is the case now – sit still, be quiet and complete a worksheet; the best way for children to learn is to do stuff – real stuff: grow vegetables and harvest and cook them; raise chickens; work with old people in a day centre. And what work our young could do: preparing meals, transcribing stories… singing with… re-decorating – teaching how to use the web to construct their own wonders…

Of course we cannot blame technology for de-naturing education – that happened long long ago – but the wonder of technology lends glamour (in the old magical sense of the word) to something that is currently so reduced, and thus lends spurious credibility and seduces us, so there appears to be less of an imperative to fight for real education…

And of course a sneaky part of my brain asks – and who makes these online razzle dazzle programmes or programs? Who sells them and to whom? At the last Discourse Power Resistance Conference I attended in the UK – some time ago now (but a new one coming around Easter) an American academic and high school teacher showed me how with technology he was able to keep constant track of every pupil, of every MCQ they had taken and every score they had attained… He also told me that School book and School test producers were very heavy funders of the Republican Party. I drew my own conclusions about what was therefore shaping the US education system – and shudder that this profit monster is now technologically enabled to shape the education of the world.

Fortunately education and the world is much messier than the education business would like it to be…

Film 2: Productivity Future Vision (6:17)
In 1971 I was studying biological sciences at a Technical College – day release from work – my employer paid me to attend and paid for the course (none of this happens now – there goes teleology!) – in the midst of this scientific day, we had general studies – because even as potential scientists they thought it would be good for us to think, to discuss ideas, literature, contemporary issues… engage in debate – learn how to think for ourselves – produce arguments… engage in the sorts of things that make you human. Anyway – I remember that back there in 1971 they argued that with technology enhanced employment, productivity would be so increased that the working week would be reduced for everybody as people shared the labour and shared the profit…

Come 1983 or thereabouts – after several Right to Work marches in the UK with no sign of employment being fairly shared – a friend of mine proudly showed me his beeper. With the beeper attached to his belt he was on-call by his employers – a private hospital – 24/7. Of course he was not paid 24/7 – but he was on implicit duty for that long.

Watching this film I am reminded of these things.

The film, as with ‘World of Glass’, portrays a world where all the working ‘privileged’ are now on call 24/7. Labour is not shared out and definitely neither is the profit. There is no work/life balance – rather the child working at home on her homework can contact the mother working on the other side of the world (why?) to help her – and all about them are people shown constantly attached to work, as they travel, as they step towards a taxi, as they sit in the hotel room prior to the meeting… Nowhere and at no time is anybody free from contact, from duty and from labour.

Except perhaps those who are completely and utterly excluded from work and labour. For where are the non-privileged? Where are those without work and without income? Those disconnected from the web? As Macherey (in Walder 1990) argues: the text says what it des not say – and there is a lot not said here – about what sort and quality of life human beings could and should be living, about who is ‘in’ society and who is excluded.

Coda: I come from the working class. I do not see that my education has made me middle class, I did not want to be ‘socially mobile’ and escape the class that shaped me – and frankly find the term offensive. I wanted to be an educated working class person – still connected umbilically to the forces and voices and feelings and values of my birth… My class is flawed as are all people (though perhaps my class is the one that is blamed for everything!) and some say that given our post-industrial world the working class does not even exist anymore – but if it were still to exist – it would be collectivist, it is rude and bawdy, it is uproarious and disgraceful, it is disrespectful… and it does not fit in this brave new world!

Film 3: Sight (7:50)
Interestingly I could not get this one to work – might try again later…

Film 4: Charlie 13 (14:20)

“No more adventures! You’ll be safe – and never have to worry about anything ever again…”

I run a positive thinking session for students – not the bullying and unforgiving kind of session that people are now revolting against – but one where we explore fear and the over-weaning power it can have over us as human beings. We fear everything and nothing – and this fear is fanned by the government as it exhorts or compels us to buy that insurance policy and to worry that we haven’t enough invested in that pension… We are taught that we can be safe – and to avoid risk. But to avoid risk is to avoid life and living. To be alive is to take a risk – if we are not we are as good as dead. The anodyne world that is depicted in this film is a living death – and probably one of the reasons why I do like post-apocalyptic zombie films.

The freedom that Charlie is searching is left unspoken – it is sketched in by the presence of the father and the compass given by the mother – but really can it be worse than the reality that he is fleeing?

 Film 5: Plurality (14:14)
Again is depicted the control of the anodyne, conformist bourgeoisie – where surveillance renders us all ‘safe’. Okay so they actually called him Foucault - but the heart of this film was in the right place and I did enjoy it. Liked the concept of ‘plurality’ being verboten – here because it flags up a time traveller come to warn them of the consequences of the all-seeing surveillance system to which they have subscribed and which is literally inscribed in their DNA; but all these safe Utopias render plurality paradoxical and that is especially evident when Foucault himself time travels back with his warning.

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

Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argued that our speech, thoughts, and actions are based upon metaphors. These metaphors are so entwined in our lives that they are invisible to us; however, since our conceptual system defines our reality, we only understand reality through metaphor.

What is so potentially ‘dangerous’ about these metaphors is that people are unaware that they and we are thinking metaphorically. There is the assumption that the world and our language is autochthonous – springing from the earth itself rather than shaped by us and our ideologies, beliefs or lack of beliefs, our cultures and families. Once we understand that we are metaphorical we have the power to explore those metaphors to see what they reveal back to us about how and what and why we are thinking.

As cultural metaphors become tacitly understood, individuals and their communities can choose to accept or reshape metaphors, thus changing reality for that community. As we become aware of metaphors, we can determine the accuracy and appropriateness of them (Sims, 2003)…

This underscores the point that we need to be conscious of metaphors – and then we can wittingly express ourselves through our chosen metaphors.

Some of the metaphors this piece discusses include:

… information superhighway and even the Web, provide an initial structure to Internet experiences, they also “carry with them the entailments of government funding, teams of experts, and large bureaucracy.” [8] 

Potentially interesting there – taking away our own agency – and giving the power to governments…

As these Internet and computing metaphors, such as the Web, become embedded in our society, they in turn spawn new metaphors for understanding our experiences. For example, computer and Internet metaphors now determine our very sense of selves: We describe ourselves and others as binary; we describe our brains as hard drives or storage systems; we talk about thoughts as being coded in memory (Denny and Sunderland, 2005).

Creating ourselves in binary form – dialect, oppositional – reduced (see ‘Plurality’ notes).

Wyatt (2004) also examined the metaphors used to describe the Internet “in order to understand the perceptions and expectations of some of the actors involved in its shaping.”[11] She uncovered six main metaphorical themes in Wired: “revolution, evolution, salvation, progress, universalism, and the ‘American Dream’.” [12] These metaphors often promoted a form of social justice and global access, change, and equality.

Metaphors of space and time also discussed in this article… war, destruction, arming and fighting back… decay, destruction… revolution and salvation… This makes it sound like ‘all human life is here’ or is possible here – but …

With ‘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)… we undertook a discourse analysis of that policy document to uncover the metaphors that the government was using in discussing technology – and education, justifying our method thus:

“Crowther and Mraovic (op cit) offer a paradigmatic model with respect to the application of the critical and analytical tools of literary theory to organisational documents with a special focus on accounting documentation. The authors provide an informed overview of the theoretical field alongside a discussion of the ‘myths’, ‘truth’ and ideological signs of organisational documentation. Citing Levi-Strauss (1980) and Leach (1982, 1983) they argue that ‘to decode the message embodied in the myth as a whole [one] must search for the structural pattern underlying the entire series of metaphors’ (Crowther op cit; 77) where language is the ideological sign … [offering] concrete not abstract views of the world … inseparable from the social praxis and class struggle’ (Ibid; 93). This model offers an explanation at organisational level, and we have developed this work further to explore societal issues via the critical analysis of a government document. The framework for our analysis suggests that the government text in question offers a series of metaphors that construct myths around education. [new bold/ital]

Our conclusions were that those that were unsuccessful in the education system were themselves blamed – branded as Special Educational Needs or cognitively impaired. The solution that was offered was that they be individually plugged into remedial packages to be ‘fixed’. This pathologising language and those metaphors served to construct a Foucauldian medical model of education ‘failure’, denying government and institutional agency in creating inequality – and dislocating individual fragmented people away from their collective class or cultural positions when ‘fixing’ them.

Welcome to Utopia!

More recently we (me with Tom Burns and Debbie Holley) developed an interest in the metaphors that students themselves use about education – but also when they are *in* virtual spaces. We linked this to Soja’s ‘third space’ and analysed the avatars that the students created for themselves as embodied metaphors.– Sinfield et al (2012) ‘The shipwrecked shore and other metaphors…’, in Investigations Vo 8, Summer 2012.

This is leading us to use visual Literacy as part of our academic and digital literacy work with students – harnessing the power of metaphor as conceptualisation process and therefore as research tool – which we are introducing to first year students to get them thinking divergently and rigorously about research. We also explore the visual as a learning/meaning making tool in its own right – as students draw their learning – as part of the understanding process – and to develop their own mnemonic aids.

… and we are interested in working with others who are using metaphors, animations and the visual in their teaching, learning, assessment and research practices.


Rick Bartlett said...

Nice summary of the week's work Sandra. I appreciated your appeal to get back to nature rather than look at it on a screen. It seems to me that it's easy to glamourise the tech without realizing the cost.
I thought you summarised the material very well.

Sandra Sinfield said...

Thanks Rick! My technique is to have a Word document (with Paper Clip - of course) open - and to free write responses after watching - and whilst reading - and to shape it a bit after. I then edit it into a blog post - and it is definitely something I want to get my own students doing - somehow! what I like about this course is that especially after the pre-course involvement, I feel that I can say what I really want to say - that I don't have to squash the thoughts into a formal academic genre (although I know that I now do that automatically in places)- it is the happiest 'homework' I have ever done! :-D

e-purser said...

Hi Sandra - second attempt to leave a comment here! I 'think' from poor memory that what I said a couple of hours ago was that I loved reading this post and that we're clearly on the same page not only in the kind of work we do (I know your name from recent publication spaces we share, and maybe also the 2010 conference in london I attended) but also in terms of the thinking here about discourse analysis and visual metaphor... which I explained by saying something brilliant about the thesis work I'm currently doing, which I don't quite recall how I worded! but basically, yeah, am very interested and keen to keep this conversation going with you :) I can't access the most recent publication you mentioned though - in Investigations, as my uni library doesn't subscribe to that one... do you have it anywhere 'open', to use that metaphor?!

Angela Towndrow said...

Hi Sandra (and Rick), I'm such a lover of tech, but like you, I'm finding these images more confronting than appealing. Of course Corning would have us eat glass for breakfast if they could, and microsoft would have a chip in our heads connected to a monthly payment plan if it were possible.

But it is those visions of education that miss the point. We love the interactive dinosaur display at our museum in Sydney, they do all that roaring thing, but dinosaurs are extinct. I think we need to encourage our children to learn about real ecosystems when they go to the forest, especially endangered ones, or we might be the next to be extinct!

The tech vision of education is only useful if it gives us wisdom and improves our lives, not if it removes us further from reality.

Céline Keller said...

Great summary and thoughts on this week Sandra!

Plus I love your last comment:
"what I like about this course is that especially after the pre-course involvement, I feel that I can say what I really want to say - that I don't have to squash the thoughts into a formal academic genre ....- it is the happiest 'homework' I have ever done! :-D"

Funny, I always take notes while watching/reading anything, but it never occurred to me that I could use these notes for more than a source for my creative projects. Maybe because usually I do them on paper?

I still like my pencil, but I wish there was a scanner that converted notes like these into searchable pdfs with graphics included. +Dave Ferguson told me yesterday Evernote is actually capable of this. I never realized and I've been using it for a year at least! So many cool tools but still you have to learn them all in depth to use all their power.

I still have a resistance against writing, when this writing is supposed to be shown to anyone. But I will try your method. Maybe one day my blog posts will be more than a collection of links, quotes and art work. :)

Count me in if I can help with visuals and animations.

Céline Keller said...

+Angela Towndrow "Of course Corning would have us eat glass for breakfast if they could, and microsoft would have a chip in our heads connected to a monthly payment plan if it were possible."
It's horrible and true but you made me laugh anyway :D

Giulia Forsythe said...

This is such an excellent post. I found myself nodding along at so many of your points.

I must tell you, I'm glad you are not "squashing" your writing into "an academic genre". It's obvious you are very erudite, your writing is so clear and accessible, it's a pleasure to read.

It's a wonderful learning experience for a reader like me. (Oh and extra bonus for using 'autochthonous' in a sentence)

@ Céline - if you can find a scanner, bringing in your pencil notes into Evernote is really simple and your colleague is correct, it will convert it to be readable. I'd love to see more pencil notes for sure! Please try!

Sandra Sinfield said...

thanks for all the comments - that have provoked my thinking...
And, EMILY, if you would like a copy of that paper I could email it you, I am on .
But it is week 3 - and we are all posthuman now!