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eLearning and Digital Cultures: consolidating learning and blowing my mind with “objects that blog” #edcmooc

Where on earth do I begin with my reflection on the first topic of the eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC?  It’s been so rich in both content and connections that it’s hard to soak it all in and to articulate all that it’s provoked. Incidentally, the first topic, of two, uses the binary lens of utopias and dystopias to explore how thinking in either of these ways has contributed to how we think about online education today and how it shapes our visions of the future. The second topic asks  “what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?”

The course is structured in the first instance with a “film festival”, which explores each week’s themes from the perspective of popular and digital culture. Right off, I have to say that all the short films and clips that have been selected have been great. However, what’s giving me cause for concern is the level of meaning and insight that others seem to be able to extract from them. Bells are ringing for me that I’m not great at picking up the embedded meanings in films. Mind you, on the other hand, I devoured all the selected core and advanced texts that fleshed out the key themes. Here, the concept of “technological determinism” was offered as a way of understanding the thinking behind either utopian or dystopian arguments, which seek to explain social, cultural or educational change in primarily technological terms, and then how metaphors are used to express and mould our understanding of the future trajectory of education and eLearning.

Determinism and the Internet
Determinism and the Internet

In reading about the influence of metaphors and two further perspectives of determinism common in discussions about the Web and eLearning, I was able to consolidate my learning and tie up one or two loose ends. Along with “technological determination”, Dahlberg’s article added “uses determination” and “social determination” to make up three orientations towards the internet. He then asked, “which of these perspectives do you lean towards in your understanding of the relationship between technology and pedagogy?” Instinctively, I lean towards a perspective of “social determination”, seeing technology as socially embedded and constituted, affected not just by social structures but by economic ones too (No surprise, I’ve previously studied socio-economic history and I’m now interested in digital literacy, largely from a socio-cultural stanpoint). However, when I first started looking at the discourse surrounding “digital literacy”, I was unable to reconcile my understanding with a lot of what I came across. I can see now that often the language being used might have given a “technologically deterministic” impression. However, I’ve also spoken to individual’s that exhibit a strong “uses determination” towards the adoption of technology. Adoption of a technology for them has to be strongly aligned to the purpose of their endeavour, and it’s their purpose that gives the technology meaning. Dahlberg argues that, on its own, none of these perspectives is enough to explain everything about the internet and technology adoption. Each is useful, and each is overstated. It depends on the question posed as to what combination of approaches might work best.

Another loose end that the readings tied up was in relation to the manner in which Marc Prensky’s “digital native/digital immigrant” dichotomy took hold in popular discourse, and indeed, despite being debunked to a large extent, still persists. It was not so much the power of his argument rather it was the power of his metaphor. The role that metaphors play in shaping our thinking was illustrated by Rebecca Johnston in her essay, Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet (2009).

So, those are the loose ends that have been tidied up through engagement with the course resources. But it’s not just been a matter of consolidating my learning; the course has also stretched my mind – to the extreme!!! I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded, somewhat surprised and in total awe as I read “A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things” by Julian Bleeker (2006). Bleeker introduces us to the idea of “objects that blog“. I kid you not, objects that blog! He uses the neologism of a “Blogjet” to describe objects within the Internet of Things that are “searchable, track their location, usage histories and discourse with the other things around them” (p.2). By blogging he means that these objects can collect and disseminate data, which in turn can provoke change. Change brought about by their agency, agency attained through the significance of the assertions that their data supports and through the impact that it has on meaningful conversations. One of the examples that Bleeker gives is the “pigeon that blogs” (I know, it’s trippy stuff). The premise is that pigeons, suitably tagged and chipped with GPS, internet connectivity and environmental sensors, can record the levels of toxins and pollutants when they fly through the air, and it’s these bits of data that they “blog”, and he continues, saying,  “let the pigeons help us speak on the environment”. Consequently, within this “Internet of Things”, the social and political significance is that “Things can now participate in the conversations that were previously off-limits to Things”.

Honestly, I’m not making this up. For those who’ve not read the article, I’ve embedded it below so you can see for yourself, if you wish. Joking apart though, the article did prompt me to wonder if this is what actor network theory explains (it’s something I keep meaning to get a handle on) and also, does this somehow pertain to discussions about big data, again, a term I often come across but have no real idea what it means.

To date, the course has not only consolidated my learning but has stretched me mentally and sown a few seeds for future enquiry. However, so far I haven’t come across any references or inferences to “multimodal literacies and digital media“, like the pre-course blurb said, but I live in hope. There’s still topic two to come, and if it’s anything like the first, I won’t be disappointed.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hdz/5623651313/

References:

Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9/3.

Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4). Available at: http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2370/2158

Bleecker, J. (2006). A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things. Available at:http://www.scribd.com/doc/14748019/Why-Things-Matter

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Published ineLearning and Digital Cultures

7 Comments

  1. Great summary of the second week! I could not agree more. I was wunder-struck by the “blogjets”too… Then it came to me that it has been around me some time already without me ever thinking much about it. When I expect a parcel I check the internet to see where it is and when it will be delivered. So my parecel is a blogjet too and I recently saw a videoclip made by a cat..wich had a camera around his neck. If you would stream the video live the cat would turn into a blogjet also wouldent he? But it’s great to think about these things and their implications on society thru this course we’re in. So I’m looking forward with you to upcoming events. 🙂

    • Regards, “blogjets”, you’re right…you kind of knew it already but just hadn’t had to bring it into focus, until now! Ironically, whilst I was writing the post, a blogjet was searching for me; I received a text from it to say that it would arrive by courier that afternoon. Neat.
      Thanks for your comments 🙂

  2. I liked your metaphor about sowing seeds. Our MOOC is like a garden, properly watered and taken care of, will harvest exciting ideas, new thoughts, new connections and bushels of learning. Thanks for this post.

    • Thanks, Willa. You’re a great “metaphor detective”!. I hadn’t realised that metaphor was “planted” in my post… or that it could grow and grow… 🙂

  3. Hi Helen, I put a post in the edcmooc g+ community re blogjects. Others have found tweeting flies, tweeting birds (keyboards with food on them which the birds peck) and tweeting houseplants! A fun idea, but maybe there is something more sinister about objects (or other animals) that can have a digital footprint. Is it the germination of machine driven content?

    Thanks for the great summary. I’ve been doing less writing, more visual creation and even a stint in the forums, so I’m grateful you have tied up the loose ends, I’m happy to run with your version of events!

    • Angela, you mention the edcmooc g+ community and visual creation, they’re both on my “to do” list of things I ought to develop in order to leverage more learning and more connections. There’s just so many rich furrows to plough for learning opportunities right now.
      Definitely enjoying the content of the course.

  4. Hi Helen,

    I too found the blogjects concept a bit absurd at first, but upon further reading I discovered that we’re already surrounded by these blogging objects in subtle ways. They watch our every move and record our behavior. It’s both unnerving and fascinating to think about how we have created these technologies, and how in the hands of the wrong person or group, they can so easily turn this tech against us. I think we have an advantage now. Being in this MOOC has allowed us to learn about an issue many of us, at least I was totally in the dark about before. So, what do we do with that knowledge? As you say, this MOOC has definitely sown the seeds for future enquiry on a variety of topics.

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