[7] Antipodal Narratives

December 25th, 2009 - 

tag_ cloud

Antipodality is the experience of (dis) location – of being neither here nor there but both here and there – created by vectors of transnational and globalised communication – Usher and Edwards.

In the same way that the antipodal nature of the elements that made up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion allowed it to flourish, the same trick allowed the Pyramid of Learning to replicate and replicate. A lifestream could be similarly misunderstood – it’s aggregation of disparate elements seeming to give credence to a flawed narrative.

So how do we sift through the lifestream? How do we tag and categorise the data? We require a means, a technology or a filter through which to ensure that we engage with content external to the walls of the learning institution in a critical way.

Again from Usher and Edwards:

… universities are less able to control access to knowledge when it increasingly takes the form of information circulating through networks outside the control of eduational institutions. With these developments comes a need to think anew about what constitutes research and it’s relationship with pedagogy and learning.

So what are the tell-tale signs? What digital winks can enable us to spot when a narrative constructed from a cyborg pedagogy is in danger of being driven by what we might call ‘conspiracist thinking’?

If this is the nature of a cyborg pedagogy, then what questions should a learner within a pedagogy of multi-located, digitally mediated narratives be encouraged to ask?

Go to Part 8

Final Assignment: Assessment Criteria

December 23rd, 2009 - 

Course Criteria

Knowledge and understanding of concepts

Does the assignment show a critical engagement with the content of the course? Does it demonstrate breadth of understanding of the concepts and theories covered?

Knowledge and use of the literature

Have the relevant key references been used? Have other relevant sources been drawn on and coherently integrated into the analysis? Is a critical and creative stance taken toward the new kinds of literatures which exist on the web?

Constructing academic discourse

Is the assignment produced with careful attention to the quality of the writing and the skilful expression of ideas? Does it use digital modes in an effective and appropriate way? Is it scholarly in its approach to topic and form?

Personal Criteria

Does the work draw attention to some of the potential problems, pitfalls and challenges presented by use of a cyborg pedagogy?

Does the study and analysis of conspiracy theory raise any questions about how learners and tutors must be supported within an online environment?

Does the work help us understand how learners establish meaning and authenticity in a post-foundational, technologically mediated, ‘postmodern’ context?

Lifestream Summary: What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen

December 13th, 2009 - 


Where to start? I’ve just spent the last 40 minutes or so editing the lifestream and have been amazed at the amount of stuff that got lumped in there. There was stuff in there that I’d forgotten I’d added, which brings up perhaps my first point; that although the lifestream may be a viable way of evaluating a learner’s engagement with course content, it may have some way to go to improving as an aide to a learner – a semantic, tag-based arrangement of all lifestream entries might sort that. But that doesn’t solve the problem of how you’d tag them at the source.

Truth be told though, my main aid in gathering up resources was not the lifestream itself, but the Tumblr feed which I set up to post into it. Tumblr is a fantastic tool for a course like this – especially when utitlised on an iPhone. Half of the stuff in my lifestream was added via my iPhone Tumblr app – a fantastic on-the-go learning tool for someone like me who has to do a fair bit of study ‘on the run’ from one place to another.


But what of the experience of using the lifestream? For me, this lifestreaming was both reassuringly familiar yet novel enough to surprise me. Familiar in that I am an avid Delicious user and have been accustomed a while now to ’storing’ large parts of myself online – this through my own blog. Through here I have a twitter feed, a Delicious tag cloud, university and work posts, Last.fm playlists and at one point my Flickr feed. In a sense I’ve kind of been wanting a ‘lifestream’ for a while and used Blogger as the conduit.

As to being novel, I enjoyed seeing the connections crop up as I posted, ‘liked’ and favourited my way around Google Reader (the other crucially useful tool for me), Youtube, Twitter and the university blogs. I enjoyed the sense of  ‘the pieces falling together’ when you viewed the lifestream page: conversations, blogs, feeds, pictures and videos all sloshing around in a great big soup of links. In a very simple and powerful way, my Tumblr feed became more than my ‘online scrapbook’; instead it was the central artery of my lifestream and course learning.


As to content – well, it’s a weird bag. This is a reflection of the stranger junctures of the web which I’ve been choosing to hang about in these last 12 weeks. There’s 9/11 conspiracy theories material, analyses of UFO abductee accounts, summaries of anthropological process and theory, studies of seemingly feral discussion forum teenagers, videos of rock-star cyborgs and web-star ethnographers, quotes from university professors and random twitterers, pictures of books I’ve tried to dip in to, clips from sci-fi movies which the readings made me think of, examples of game-based learning that sprang to mind when the literature turned to ‘cyborg pedagogies’ and probably a few ill-tempered remarks about my struggles to play the PC version of Modern Warfare 2.

Cyborgs and Ghosts

Looking back at it all now, I find myself giggling a bit – amused at the twists and turns of web-mediated learning, how a quote from one writer can lead to a video from another, to a podcast about conspiracy theories, to an angry conversation about online movies resulting in giving a talk at the Dublin Paranormal Conference and the excruciating experience of seeing yourself on Youtube. I can honestly say that when I started this semseter I didn’t see that coming.

How wonderfully odd that a course which makes such explicit references to ‘hauntology’ and ‘ghost-like’ online presences should see me wind up speaking in a Dublin hotel full of UFO-hunting, ghost-busting, poltergeist-whispering, Yeti-chasing, paranormal activity fans, in a scene akin to something from a recession-busted Hunter S.Thompson novel.

As to ‘cyborg pedagogies’, looking back over the lifestream now it seems a suitable example of the re-aggregation, re-assembling and re-modelling of information and meaning-making suggested by the cyborg pedagogy literature. What initially looks like a car-crash of data, upon slightlly closer examination shows patterns of thoughts and concern, avenues of investigations, fruitless rummages down dead-ends of online madness and overall the seemingly random, manic linking between one subject area and another – the connections between disparate writers, disciplines and mediums all merging back in to one big story.

It’s a great big mess, but I love it and will be continuing to use my Tumblr as I work my way to the final assignment. Put simply I can’t work without it now.

I’ve immensely, immensely enjoyed this 12 weeks and find myself sad to start winding it all up. And wondering how I can ever go back to a ‘mainstream’ learning model again.

‘What has been seen cannot be unseen’.

Week 11 Summary

December 7th, 2009 - 


French, C. C., & Wilson, K. (2007) Cognitive factors underlying paranormal beliefs and experiences. In S. Della Sala (ed.). Tall Tales About the Mind and Brain: Separating Fact From Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 1, pp. 3-22.

Moving on to start thinking about my final assignment, I still find myself mired down in conspiracy theories and have been trying to find ways to relate the most recent set of readings (on emerging cyborg pedagogies) to this several weeks past of work. My lifestream is reflective of this shift as I try to find materials and resources which might help me bridge the gap.

I found a very helpful site of materials from Goldsmith’s University, London where Professor Chris French runs a course on anomalistic psychology. I took a chance and mailed Prof. French (explaining about my 9/11 work) and asking if I could rummage through his course materials. Luckily, several readings are open-access. Whilst Prof. French’s course doesn’t deal with specific issues arising from conspiracy theories (focusing rather on beliefs in ghosts, UFOs and alien abductions) many of the issues identified in these course readings seem to be as readily applicable to the field of conspiracy theories as they are to vistors from other planets or dimensions.

A number of key cognitive processes are identified which may have a bearing on dealing with an ‘informant’ (to stick with Hine’s term) and their account of an event or phenomena. These are:

  • Probablistic reasoning
  • Syllogistic reasoning
  • Biased concepts of randomness and meaningfulness

Further to that, a reading of a 1992 study by Goetzel yielded the following:

‘A survey of 348 residents of southwestern New Jersey showed that most believed that several of a list of ten conspiracy theories were at least probably true. People who believed in one conspiracy were more likely to also believe in others. Belief in conspiracies was correlated with anomie, lack of interpersonal trust, and insecurity about employment.’

But if those are the processes which are (allegedly) at work, what does all of this have to do with a cyborg pedagogy?

There’s a wonderful Irish expression, frequently used in the political domain: ‘An Irish Solution to an Irish Problem’. To my considerable amusement, the Wikipedia definition is as follows:

In Irish political discourse, “an Irish solution to an Irish problem” is any official response to a controversial issue which is timid, half-baked, or expedient, which is an unsatisfactory compromise, or sidesteps the fundamental issue’

If conpiracy theories (ancient or digitally-mediated) are to be explained or understood, then perhaps what we need is a ‘cyborg solution to a cyborg problem’ – where the fractured, disaggregated nature of a conspiracy theories constituent parts explains the remarkable difficulty that any ‘debunker’ (or would-be online anthropologist) has in taking the narrative on. They’re located in so many places, their memes so ambiguous and shifting, their foundations so transitory that perhaps the only way to conduct a meaningful study of them is to embrace the fact that they cannot possibly be nailed down in the same way that a standard historical narrative can be.

Perhaps a ‘cyborg pedagogy’ can help us to make sense of conspiracy theories?