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Tag: humanism

POT Cert Week 21: short and deep, a nod to online education theory #potcert

This week, under the heading of “Introduction to Online Education Theory”, POTCert addresses not only a contemporary and challenging topic but one which has fundamental implications for future society. Consequently, because of the colossal scope and contentious nature of the topic, and in order to avoid posting something that although tries to encompass as much as possible only serves to be vague and unfathomable, I’m just going to provide a few highlights of a couple of articles that focussed my reading and comment on one or two of the prominent points.

Knowledge is a powerful thing - with it, anything's possible.
Knowledge is a powerful thing; with it, anything’s possible.

First off, in his article, Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age, Larry Sanger is scornful of some of the sentiment currently circulating in education, saying:

some Internet boosters argue that Google searching serves as a replacement for our memory and that students need not memorize — need not learn — as much as they did before the Internet

educationists inspire us with the suggestion that collaborative learning online can serve as “the core model of pedagogy.” Knowledge is primarily to be developed and delivered by students working in online groups

and further, he says that these “Internet boosters” advocate that

the co-creation of knowledge can and should take the place of reading long, dense, and complex books.

Sanger fears that

if we take their advice […] we will have a society of drones, enculturated by hive minds, who are able to work together online but who are largely innocent of the texts and habits of study that encourage deep and independent thought.

He doesn’t see how using the tools of the Internet are any real substitute for

the difficult work of developing individual minds.

His key underlying assumption is that

a liberal education and the Western enlightenment ideals that it inculcates not only are valuable but are essential to our future.

Here, I’d counter that deep independent thought is all well and good, but hasn’t this led to a situation today where information and expertise has become siloed; and besides, drawing now on my recent experience in the eLearning and Digital Culutres MOOC, what’s to say that such humanist values and enlightenment ideals actually beget some pinnacle of human achievement, because as things stand currently in the world, there’s a whole lot that could be working out much better: the environment, equality, social justice and the eradication of poverty to name but a few. It may well be, as transhumanist thinking avers, that by realising the benefits of emerging technologies we could indeed overcome fundamental human limitations. Maybe, the knowledge that’s needed now, to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century and beyond, can no longer be derived from deep independent thought and must indeed be summoned up as collective intelligence, or at the very least facilitated through networked learning.

“Connection forming is natural”, says George Siemens in his article, Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching.

It doesn’t need coercion. We do it with language, images, video. We create, express, connect. And software is now available that aids this innate activity with unprecedented fervor. We build competence, make sense, learn, and growth through our connections.

Siemens asks us to consider what he calls the ” happy little edublogger”, whose

established networks [and] experience enables them to put new developments into a historical context. They assist others to create networks…but they do more. They serve as curators of ideas, connections, philosophies, and world views. They create frameworks of interpreting and understanding history, new technologies, and trends through their work and public dialogue.

In the relation to the role of the “individual formerly known as teacher”, Siemens comments that he’s

rather sick of “sage on stage” and “guide on the side” comparisons. The clear dichotomy chafes.

He acknowledges that

power in classrooms has shifted from the teacher at the centre

preferring to use the term

‘network administrator’ […] It’s the basis on which teaching and education should be founded. But I think something more is needed, something that places some level of value or interpretation on content, knowledge, and concepts being explored.

Here he offers the idea of

the joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be.

Explaining the addition of curator as

an expert [who] exists in the artefacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But [who’s] behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don’t adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures.

Certainly, as Siemens points out

much [is] happening in terms of defining what is acceptable authority for information and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, because education’s no longer asking the same questions and can no longer be based on once familiar assumptions.

Image Source:


Sanger,L. (2010)  Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age. Available at:

Siemens, G. (2007) Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching. Available at:

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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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.