Archive | February, 2013

Why this MOOC is so different to anything I’ve ever done… it’s liberating, but confusing

10 Feb

I pride myself in being pretty familiar with, and capable of, independent study. I’m a full-time undergraduate student, doing this course as an ‘added extra’, purely for my interest in the topic; and before this I spent a year learning with the Open University alongside my full-time job. I’m used to balancing competing pressures, I know to look for answers to questions before asking my teacher, and I understand the value of sharing and developing knowledge collaboratively. After two weeks of the course I am still struck by an awareness of the sheer scale of it; which I think comes through the number of different people I don’t know communicating through so many different platforms and means, but I have become accustomed to this and have found the ways to communicate with fellow students that work best for me.

There is one thing, however, which I have struggled to get my head around; something that crystallised in my mind when reading the thread ‘Where are the professors?‘ in the course discussion board. I have been merrily posting, tweeting, blogging and discussing the resources for the two weeks with whoever has the patience to listen, read or comment; but for the first time in my ‘formal’ educational experience I do not have to be aware of what my lecturer thinks or is looking for, the course aims or assessment criteria. I am writing my own opinions of the resources and the course as a whole because I am not bound by the curriculum, or a need to demonstrate any particular knowledge or skills in my writing. Never before, even in formative learning, have I felt this free to interpret learning material in my own way; rather than to a prescribed framework.

And the result? Well, I’m having a great time, for starters. It’s really liberating not to have to prove my understanding of a given conceptual framework, cite specific theorists or memorise dates. I am aware that to an extent I am doing this implicitly, in order to make sense of what I have seen and read, but I feel so much more free to interpret this in my own way. What I don’t know (and what someone in the above thread quickly picked up on) is whether what I’m coming up with is any good. Am I poorly informed? Have I completely missed the point? How will I know if I have? Are my opinions franky facile and boring? (Quite possibly.) So while I enjoy the freedom of this model, I have no established set of expectations against which to judge myself. This is strangely disconcerting.

Clearly this offers me the opportunity to learn to express myself freely; and hopefully to judge what is and is not ‘valuable’ knowledge (whether my own, or someone else’s). … But how will I know when I have achieved this?!


Intentions or tools? A technological determinist view of the future

4 Feb

The second week of the E-Learning and Digital Futures has us looking to the future, and if the short films which form part of the week’s resources are anything to go by we have very little to look forward to!

On the positive side, we are offered a shiny, clean-edged utopian vision of one possible future by Microsoft in Productivity Future Vision, where glossy, intuitive tablet technology makes everyday tasks and communication so easy we barely notice the tech is there at all. This is made possible perhaps by Corning’s versatile glass (A Day Made of Glass), which plays a central, if sophisticatedly understated role in bringing the benefits of streamlined technology to the office, healthcare, education and family life alike. The technology is beautiful in its simplicity, its subtlety and the way blends neatly into our lives. Perhaps most notably, these two films demonstrate how the technology fits into our everyday lives, and how we can choose to use it or not: in Productivity Future Vision the girl is able to share recipes with her mother over a video link, before downloading the chosen one and then beginning to bake the cake by hand. Given the futuristic nature of the film Microsoft could have shown her 3D printing it, but this perhaps is a step too far for us and would undermine the comfortable way in which technology integrates with our lives.

Sight turns this notion on its head: there is agency in this film too, but it is exercised by one human for the domination of another, in a fairly disturbing fashion. Interestingly, my first reaction to this film was one of horror at the way the victim is made so vulnerable by the technology; but actually people are able to achieve the same end in today’s society, using different tools. The intention itself is repugnant, but the way it is enacted is shocking partly because the method is so alien.

In both Sight and Productivity Future Vision technology is in fact no more than a tool, and portrayed as such; but the actions of those using it totally skew our perceptions of the technology itself. We associate the action: homely mother-daughter conversation and cake-baking or horrendous exploitation of another human being, with the tool used to achieve it. Is this because it is easier to blame the means than the human actor? Or because these human actions, good and bad, are familiar to us; while the technology is not?