Friday, 22 November 2013

#EDCMOOC2: Week 3: Rubbing Hume’s big toe: philosophical and technological questions about being human

So what is an online course – and what should a course entitling itself ‘E-learning and Digital Culture’ look like? I have been somewhat frustrated by discussions breaking out across the Forums about whether this can even be considered a course about E-learning; that surely ‘all’ we’re doing is exploring culture... I know that every course needs to also be interrogated and challenged – but it seems to me that this becomes a form of pedantry that misses the point about the course as created – and as it can be experienced. 
So, ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’, I thought the *e* bit was a great hook to draw people into the course - and then the course itself exploded concepts around e-learning, digital cultures... Instead of idea-definition-discussion… we were encouraged to understand or at least explore *e* issues through the lens of popular culture and its metaphors for education, teaching, learning and humanity.
This enabled creative and lateral and connected thought about humans learning in an inter-connected, digital culture. No other approach to this topic that I have encountered has come anywhere near allowing these sorts of thoughts! Definitely government and institutional policy documents do not encourage or allow it. They only offer metaphors of control, remediation and constraint.
In our institution we are supposed to have a blended learning ethos - and everybody seems to focus on the *e* part of the blend... usually in negative or self-punishing ways: I am not doing enough of this e stuff... I cannot do the e bit... the technology that I have does not support my e work ... I have no time to develop the e aspects of my work ... I will fail my appraisal because I am not e enough.
A terrible overarching narrative has been created that distracts staff from their students, from their humanity, from the love that they had of their subject and from any thought about creative approached to LTA.
I feel that #edcmooc by its form and content engages creatively in a fight with this very negative discourse – and that is why it is so exhilarating, so refreshing – and, dare I say it, so brilliant!

It is in this context that a colleague and I are fighting also for a more nuanced and extensive definition of blended learning itself:
"Learning is social, collective, embodied… Learning is active and interactive. Learning can happen through talking, writing, reading, playing, drawing, researching and making – including making digital artefacts.  Learning can be fast and furious. Learning can also be slow and embodied. Learning can be face-to-face, it can happen on-line – and it can happen in some blend of the two. 
We propose the notion of  a blend that is not just a mix of face to face and online learning, but includes blending direct teaching with student active learning and problem-solving – and blending a range of different methods and multimodal activities around the learning of a particular topic: role playing and simulations; creative and art-based strategies; Inquiry-, Problem- and Project Based Learning; Reflective learning; Visual practices development; Poetry, Prose and Policy analysis; Image-, Object- and Topic Mediated Dialogue; Real research; Digital artefact and resource development; Blogging and other Social Network activities; Peer-to-peer learning..."
We know that we have a real struggle on our hands – not just in terms of extending notions of e- and blended learning – but also because in these outcomes-targets-measurement driven times, even people of good will would prefer it if all we really did *was* to inculcate literacy, numeracy and the ‘ICT skills necessary for business’ (Harnessing Technology, 2008 – government policy on technology enhanced learning – read it and weep!).

As I said in a Forum thread – I would model my practice on this MOOC in a heartbeat.
Moving swiftly on: So – week three and discussions:
  1. How do we define ‘being human’ or ‘human’?
  2. Does and online course need a human presence?
Resources Week 3 – We’re all post-human now…
Film 1: Toyota GT86: the ‘real deal’ advert (1:01): Watch on YouTube
Film 2: BT: heart to heart advert (0:40): Watch on YouTube
Film 3: World builder (9:16): Watch on YouTube 
Film 4: They’re made out of meat (7:20): Watch on YouTube
Personally I *love* the ‘real deal’ advert for all the wrong reasons. It does work – it seduces me – I believe the message – I want to drive through that glass wall and be free – if only I could afford that car … and if I could drive – and if the roads were safe and empty – if the planet wasn’t dying… You know the stuff!
‘They’re made out of meat’ is a stunning film. In a few minutes and with just a perfectly pitched script, camera and acting (oh – is that all) – a completely surreal alternative world view is created. We believe those aliens – and we know we are just meat. Absolutely stunning. All theatre and film studies students should see this. I have shown it to my students and will again… Brilliant.
The Readings
Core: Humanity 2.0: defining humanity - Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08),  View the presentation slides here 
In this lecture, Professor Steve Fuller (University of Warwick) takes us on a rapid ride through the history of how ‘humanity’ has been defined and made. By asking the question ‘have we always, sometimes or never been human?’, he draws our attention to the ways in which ‘humanity’ as a social category has been defined from ancient to medieval to modern times. ‘Let me tell you’, he says, ‘it is very difficult to define what it is to be human’
Advanced: Nimrod Aloni. (1999). Humanistic Education. In The Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, M. Peters, P. Ghiraldelli, B. Žarnić, A. Gibbons (eds.). 
Where Professor Fuller’s lecture gives an historical account of the social construction of the idea of the human, this useful entry in The Encylopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory is very helpful to us in starting to understand how philosophical humanism has informed many of our ideas about education and its purpose.
Perspectives on education
Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed:
This article attempts to make a case for the inclusion of more video and audio in online teaching, in order to increase the sense of presence and ‘human-touch’ for distance learners … If we accept that ‘humanity’ is an ambiguous category at best, where does that leave claims like the ones made here for ‘the human element’ as a touchstone for good course design?
Monke, L (2004) The Human Touch, EducationNext:
Monke’s article is a plea for a re-thinking of education policy prioritising technological ‘literacy’ in schools from the earliest years of education. It is intriguing to read this in the context of some of the thinking we’ve been exploring in this and previous weeks.
The Hangout
Loved the discussion about whether an online course should need a human presence … And as video and audio are just representations, can we represent the tutor with an image or a drawing… and if we do that – is the effect different depending on whether we draw a robot or a human being?

And so it goes!

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