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eLearning and Digital Cultures: my vicarious learning highlights #edcmooc

In order to balance things up from my last EDCMOOC post, I had intended to write something relating to post humanism, but I’m still coming to terms with the concept and with the fundamental changes that its related values of transhumanism will wreak, not just upon society and the planet, but upon the minds and bodies of human beings themselves. So, seeing as I’ve been running a week behind and the course comes to a close tomorrow, I’ve decided to forgo any attempt at putting my thoughts down about “redfining the human” and the implications for education of such a paradigm shift, instead, I’m going to take a look back over what, for me, have been the highlights.

I have to say that although I’ve engaged with pretty much all of the course material, what’s really left the greatest impression on me, apart from Bleecker’s article about blogjets, is some of the content that other learners on the MOOC have produced, and the things that I’ve learned from them. This point only really struck me when Ary Aranguiz @trendingteacher graciously replied to a tweet saying “it’s been wonderful learning with you!” Immediately I thought, you know what, she’s right; I”ve really learnt a lot from other people on the course. Although I haven’t always kept up, or indeed had any timely comments to make within our quadblogging group, I’ve actually learnt lots just by watching the learning of others.

Vicarious learning (Bandura, 1962) is also known as observational learning, social learning, or modelling and is a type of learning that occurs as a function of observing, retaining and replicating behaviour observed in others, so here are my vicarious learning highlights from what’s been a very thought provoking and satisfying MOOC:

 “All the world’s a MOOC, and all the men and women merely teachers and learners.” – blog post by Ary Aranguiz that prompted me to go off and investigate the topic of rhizomatic learning.

WOW! They’ve glassed us! – blog post by Angela Towndrow whose brilliant use of images really brought home to me the power that a visual story can have.

Voyages of the Starship #EDCMOOC – a “cheeky” animation by Willa Ryerson, documenting the week 1 hangout, that shows just how easy some tools are to learn, and what’s more, how important it is to have a sense of fun.

Fake Identity @HamishAMacleod – a spoof Twitter account for one of the course tutors, Hamish Macleod, created by Andy Mitchell. I thought the production of this as a digital artefact to represent learning from the course was at the same time both genius and risky. It certainly makes the point about identity and online security in the digital age. Click on the hyperlink “Fake Identity” in the tweet below to get the full effect of the spoof.

“Digital Life” – an augmented music video parody – catchy lyrics “Digital Life has Changed Who We Are” to the Buggle’s tune of “Video Killed the Radio Star” by Amy Burvall, which memorably gets the message across how life has now very much changed to become digital.

The Ecology of Yearning in a MOOC – a video by Ary Aranguiz, whose message “we all yearn for meaning, growth and connection” hit the spot for me as it seems to say a lot about why so many people showed up and played their part in what’s been a very special learning experience.

And finally, my thanks have to go to the EDCMOOC team

Dr Jen Ross     Dr Christine Sinclair     Dr Hamish Macleod     Dr Sian Bayne     Jeremy Knox

who did a great job in providing such a dynamic and thought provoking MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSE. And like they say in their introduction, you can find out more about their work with the MSc in Digital Education here.

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eLearning and Digital Cultures: untangling human values from the dispensations of technology #edcmooc

This blog post forms my response to the #EDCMOOC topic that asks “what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does this mean for education?”; well the first part anyway as the question is considered from two perspectives, humanist and post humanist, and I have yet to fully digest the resources presented that give the post humanist perspective. As such, I’ll briefly consider the term “humanism” and then review the article by Lowell Monke (2004) The Human Touch, which is offered as a response to the apparent threat that technology poses to essential ways in which we learn and exist as “human”, before considering the views of Jaron Lanier on the subject.

It's human nature - sharing.
Sharing – it’s human nature.

Humanism gives reference to the existence of “human nature”. Often aligned with secularism, it’s concerned with beliefs and ideas pertaining to the meaning and purpose of life and emphasizes the value and agency of human beings. Undoubtedly, much of our educational philosophies and approaches today are underpinned by humanist thinking.

In his article, Monke observes that, despite persistent claims, educational transformation fashioned by a variety of technologies has, thus far, largely failed to materialise. He believes the reason for this can be attributed to an “uncritical faith” in technology that fails to acknowledge the interaction between dispensations inherent in technology and human values.

Although technology can provide information and simulations of experience, Monke just sees it as the decontextualized consumption and manipulation of abstract symbols on a two-dimensional screen, which, in his view, is no real substitute for the first hand, concrete experience a person must have with nature, everyday objects, people and with their community so that they’re able to make meaning out of experience. Similarly, the Quantum Physicist, Amit Goswami, in a video that I watched recently, also testifies that “people are interested in processing meaning and values” (26.00 min).

Monke claims that the values embedded in computer simulated experiences are distinct from the values inherent in real, concrete experiences. Here, he cites the example of a computer game called “Oregan Trail” that teaches children about the exploration of the American frontier, and whose implicit message, according to Monke, is one of resourcefulness; resourcefulness that’s based on the rational and calculated decisions of the Pioneers regarding the appropriation of goods and commodities, rather than any resourcefulness derived from the Pioneers’ determination, courage, ingenuity and faith in the face of adversity. As a consequence, “the resilient souls of the pioneers are absent” from the computer game because such technological simulations are unable to do truck with these deep human qualities.

The description of the “Oregan Trail” computer game put me in mind of the “dinosaur” sequence that we saw in the video in Week 2 by Corning Glass; the experience with nature is mediated and augmented by technology, and accordingly demonstrates “the ambiguity of technology” with its ability to promote certain qualities and relegate others. It also put me in mind of Angela Towndrow’s blogpost, which beautifully makes the same point.

Monke goes on to relate how straightforward it is, in his experience, to teach computer skills to students who have little or no prior experience of computers, but instead have rich life experiences gained through traditional play on which they might build their computer skills.

“Ironically, it was the students who had curtailed their time climbing the trees, rolling the dough, and conversing with friends and adults in order to become computer “wizards” who typically had the most trouble finding creative things to do with the computer”.

Kids climbing trees
Climbing trees – hands on learning of deep human qualities.

“Certainly, many of these highly skilled young people (almost exclusively young men) find opportunities to work on computer and software design at prestigious universities and corporations”.

In his New York Times article, virtual reality pioneer turned digi-tech critic, Jaron Lanier, seems to echo similar sentiments when he asks, “how do we use the technologies of computation, statistics and networking to shed light — without killing the magic? […because] it goes to the heart of what we are after as humans”. The magic Lanier alludes to are aspects quintessential to human nature and being human. Lanier recognises that many technological design decisions today are being made by the individuals that Monke describes above, geeks of Silicon Valley, and ultimately that their decisions can either lock in or lock out elements that speak to human values.

Take music as a case in point, which incidentally is something Sharon Flynn picked up on in her reflective post, and the digitizing programme known as MIDI (short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Here, Lanier explains that MIDI

 “was conceived from a keyboard player’s point of view…digital patterns that represented keyboard events like ‘key-down’ and ‘key-up.’ That meant it could not describe the curvy, transient expressions a singer or a saxophone note could produce. It could only describe the tile mosaic world of the keyboardist, not the watercolor world of the violin” (p.7).

Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier – music making, the human way.

Software development, it transpires, is particularly prone to the phenomena known as “lock-in”, and often an extremely rigid form of “lock-in” at that. “Lock-in” happens when software is designed to work along with other, already established, software programs and when design decisions in the original program become increasingly difficult to modify due to the fact that more and more software programs have become dependent upon the original.

Software attempts to express many ideas, from the nature of a musical note to the nature of personhood itself. However, digital designs not only have the tendency to promote or relegate certain qualities, but they’re inherently predisposed almost to lock certain qualities in and to lock certain qualities out.

I wonder, what qualities are we locking in and what qualities are we locking out, in our new digital culture, and where does the balance lie between the human and the technological? In order to better understand the technological dimension, I’m going to have to give serious consideration to the “post human”concept.

Image sources:

#17 - Sharing!

Climbing trees

TEDxSF 2010 Edge of What we Know - Jaron Lanier ©Suzie Katz #2582


Monke, L. (2004) The Human Touch. Available at:

Lanier, Jaron (2010) You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. Penguin UK. Kindle Edition.

Lanier, Jaron  (2010) Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind? Available at:

Rosenbaum, R. (2013)  What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web? Available at:

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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.

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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:

Bleecker, J. (2006). A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things. Available at:

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