July 2014
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Singularity – something to think about

How Technology Will Transform Us – Ray Kurzweil

Cubism and post-humans

I was watching a TV programme about Picasso and I was confronted with cubism. I hadn’t really thought about it before – something deconstructed, fragmented and then put back together in a new way. Sounds a bit post-human to me, but I could be picasso_vollard1910wrong.

Reading online and reading print

friedensreich-hundertwasser-arche-noahAnother essay written for my masters.  It’s about some of the similarities and differences between reading print and reading hypertext.

Please don’t let me know if there are any typos!!!!



This is an essay that was written for the digital cultures module.

[1] The Rabbit Hole

‘…the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion’ - Donna Haraway

Digital Essay. January 3rd 2010.

Assessment Criteria.

Part 1 – The Rabbit Hole

A lifestream-based learning presence is a rabbit-hole to a wonderland, the can-opener to a madhouse. It encourages fun, playfulness – the harvesting of content and resources from previously ‘un-academic’ areas and the exploration of surprising avenues of cyberspace – a playful learning experience.  But just how mad is the madhouse? And do we care?


If we are to ask our learners (and indeed ourselves) to willingly embrace a cyborg pedagogy, to jump down the rabbit hole, perhaps we need to think about ways in which we can use the affordances of the new media which can help us provide guidance and help in the new space?  To provide guidance towards Haraways ‘fruitful couplings’ and away from the Tweedle-Dums and Tweedle-Dees of the internet – the voices that will talk nonsense if you stop to listen.

A digitally-mediated, multilocated cyborg pedagogy may encourage new forms of embodiment, new ontological constructions, new textual and and visual tropes by which to make the learning process more playful and immersive, but it also brings with it new challenges: a reconfiguration of ‘authenticity’, troublesome tropes, digital ticks and conspiracy winks and the dangers of a new, hydra-headed ‘grupen-think’ where the web facilitates a condition where meaning-making and authenticity become potentially hostage to a swirling sea of badly-researched, critically unchallenged assertions which masquerade as ‘facts’, repeated over and over until they are heard so often that they assume the status of authentic.

Is there a place for new forms of embodiment in supporting learners in this challenge? Is there a way to provide a digital form of what Williams and Palmer identified as the ability of a good ‘teacher to ‘enact the pleasure and seductiveness of knowing in their posture, stance, utterance, gaze, gesture as well as the written and spoken texts they generate as ‘subject content’?

How can we help the learner distinguish between well-researched, credible work and what attempts to pass as well-researched credible work?

Or is there a bigger question still? Does an application of a cyborg pedagogy render such questions irrelevant?

Conspiracy Learning

As part of the Digital Cultures semester, I undertook a virtual ethnography; a study of an online community of my choice, in an attempt not to decipher the truth of this community’s statements and interests but rather to try to arrive at an understanding of how this community decides on what is authentic ‘truth’ itself. I chose the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories and found myself disappearing down on of the the dystopian rabbit-holes which I had mapped in an earlier project - an entrance to a place I tentatively called ‘Disturbia’.

In this soup of paranoia and conspiracist thinking I found myself wondering about possible connections between the manner in which conspiracists create naratives of authenticity and which ‘learners’ create their own naratives of meaning from digitally-mediated online learning and wondering if there were any lessons to be learned, questions to be asked and new towns to be mapped which might help us better understand a digitally mediated learning experience.

To this end, this digital essay will explore one more conspiracy theory – often called the original conspiracy theory – and in doing so try to explore how such lies, such shoddy research, such outright charlatanry continues to be propogated and consider what this phenonmena might have to tell us about our emerging cyborg pedagogies.

The Mad Hatters

Whilst cyborg pedagogies might offer us new opportunities for learning, it’s worth noting that there are parallels between the construction of meaning from a fractured, aggregated learning stream and the manner in which a conspiracy theory seems to be put together. I would like to suggest that perhaps it’s in our interest to understand how mediated meaning-making for a learner saturated in information can lead to new uncertainties in learning – with the foundations of empirical ‘facts’ or ‘narratives’ shifting, mutating and squirming around the web.

At best this can provide a new ontology of learning – at worst the near total breakdown of critical thinking and the spreading of lies, falsehoods and the fostering of the worst kind of group-think.

A study of conspiracy theories, with their accretion-based construction, endless repetition, inherent virality and disaggregated centres can provide us with cautionary tales about the construction of learning and meaning-making in a ‘cyborg pedagogy’ – perhaps most crucially showing us the value of learner embodiment in such a pedagogy. Through the embodiment offered by a tool such as a Lifestream, learners are faced with issues around the authenticity of ’sources’, the veracity of ‘facts’ found online and the need for a heightened sensitivity around any collation of these ’sources’ and ‘facts’ into a narrative.

Guiding Questions

The ultimate purpose of this digital essay will be to arrive not at a set of recommendations for learners and designers engaging with a cyborg pedagogy, but rather to furnish them with a set of critical questions which they may apply to any narrative they encounter whilst studying or researching online.

Go to Part 2

In conclusion…

Early thoughts on the course structure were often of distraction, frustration and the urge to ‘throw in the towel’ which had to be resisted.

“I’m not yet sure that my Lifestream will eventually portray an objective picture of my involvement with digital culture and I don’t see lifestreaming as a mash-up … but I’m willing to give it a decent try.” Bill Babouris Blog entry 30/09/09

Many battled with the technology but swift intervention by tutors helped, though more in-depth textual support at the outset in the course guides would have been useful, with screenshots to help the less technologically-advanced students.

Using the lifestream to assess strangeness is to demonstrate the disjointed and spectral nature of our studies, and the lack of boundaries was noted:

@damiendebarra working with barriers can be comforting as well as restrictive. total freedom can be a scary place!” @sarahp 22/09/09

However, collating  these resources in the lifestream creates the familiarity that Bayne seeks to avoid.  It may demonstrate the “learning process as volatile, disorientating and invigorating” (Bayne, 2010: pg 8), but surely putting everything together gives us as learners our own VLE?

Having completed the course I would have to state emphatically that I believe this course has succeeded in demonstrating discomfort as a learning method. This has been the most challenging, infuriating and ultimately rewarding course of study that I have ever undertaken.

“Predictability and certainty become less the norm and paralogy, or the acceptance of dissensus and conflict in what constitutes knowledge, is more readily seen as a positive value” (Usher 1998: pg1)

When something is strange and disjointed I believe that you intensify your focus to make sense of it. It is in man’s nature to impose order on the world, to find patterns, as he regards the stars and reforms them into the image of gods. This takes imagination and deliberation and what Usher calls “multi-disciplinarity, multi-literacies and transcoding, and ‘imaginative’ skills to gather information and connecting it together in new ways” (pg 1)

The uncanny allows us to manipulate existing and accepted knowledge to create new knowledge.

References Used

The theory of uncanny pedagogies and how one online course is attempting to use technology to promote discomforted learning. By Sarah Payne

This piece is designed to supply the reader with a beginning and an end – but the route taken on this journey is decided by the reader.

The design pays homage to Kress and allows me to use new technologies to address “the relative power of author or reader” (2005: pg9). In conventional essays the reader is passive – following a path set by the author. Here I give control to the reader and allow them to choose their own path.

The topic is the uncanny nature of learning and specifically with reference to this course; the uncanny nature of the delivery should match the uncanny nature of the subject matter.


As new media technologies become more part of everyday life, consumers experience a new type of reality that can be far removed from their lived existence.

“Ubiquitous computing disturbs the sense of physical location, extending and multiplying the body throughout the globe”  (Poster, 2002: pg758)

Poster (2002) argues that information media “transform(s) place and space in such a way that what has been regarded as the locus of the everyday can no longer be distinguished as separate from its opposite” (pg743)

We can no longer discern what is real.  The act of engaging in a new reality, for example, recreating a facet of personality in a personal journal (or blog), can blur the lines between reality and unreality. The author writes, and the creation can be “unapologetically confessional, a space where the self is carefully and painstakingly constructed and consumed”  (Bryson, 2008 :pg801) but it can be ‘consumed’ and manipulated by anyone else.

“Reliance on the familiar distinction between the public and the private becomes no longer possible, fundamentally upsetting the markers of freedom in each domain.” (Poster, 2002: Pg758)

This is a new experience for many. The digital narrative that individuals now inhabit online can be a strange, unstable and frenetic place.

“It is no doubt the case that when we work in internet environments, we work with technological spaces which are highly volatile, and which offer us new and potentially radical ways of communicating, representing and constituting knowledge and selfhood.” (Bayne and Ross, 2007: pg1)

This volatility leads us to feel disjointed and distracted – too much is happening and we may struggle to control the “sudden unfamiliarity of our textual and communicative practices (Bayne, 2010: pg2). This ‘uncanniness’ and sense of strangeness that this engenders causes the familiar to feel unfamiliar – we view our own reality in a altered fashion and often we cannot recognise it. In the wired world notions of time and place, the (un)reality of the body, and the source of knowledge is constantly challenged, where previously we have understood their nature.

“Each new reader in the electronic environment can her- or himself become a contributor/designer/writer; the lines between consumer and producer can be transgressed, blurred.”  (Carpenter, 2009: pg140)

This blurring of the lines  is a challenge to educators if they intend to embrace digital culture in academic practices:

“The university, its inhabitants and the project of teaching and learning are being rendered uncanny by the workings of digital technology” (Bayne, 2010: pg1).

This requires a new language/understanding on the part of academics as Usher points out, “Pedagogy can no longer be seen simply as the ‘authoritative’ transmission of canonical bodies of knowledge by research-based ‘experts’.”  (1998: pg1). Learners require more than being fed facts to be memorised and they expect to encounter knowledge using a multitude of methods and technologies:

“Learner-centred approaches are reflected in practices in which the instructor still defines largely what needs to be learned, but how that learning takes place and how it might be represented are things students are increasingly empowered to determine. Learning-centred approaches, finally, acknowledge that the world is changing”  (Brown and Peterson, 2009)

This approach empowers learners to manipulate their own learning, and maybe even the traditional Virtual Learning Environment has become too outmoded to fulfil this requirement.



Intersections in Online Learning

In using the term ‘online’ learning I follow Paulson (2002):

• “the separation of teachers and learners which distinguishes it from face-to-face education
• the influence of an educational organization which distinguishes it from self-study and private tutoring
• the use of a computer network to present or distribute some educational content
• the provision of two-way communication via a computer network so that students may benefit from communication with each other, teachers, and staff”.

online communities

online communities

There are three factors which I shall use to provide the background for an evaluation of online learning environments.

Firstly there needs to be an understanding on the part of the learners as to whether the PLE has been adequately established because without this there is a lessened possibility of effective communication in a virtual environment.

As this is a prerequisite, I refer the reader to Scott Leslie’s compilation of PLE options. This is the most exhaustive list of PLE options of which I am aware.

Which PLE options are chosen by the learner is of less significance than that process of reflection leading to the choice of a PLE which will be inevitably an ongoing dynamic process as more and more options are added to Web 2.0 and as future developments in the direction of Web3D occur.

Secondly the elements constituting the VLE need to be made clear. The presence or absence of key communication channels limits the chance of effective communication online. Wilson’s (2005) outline of a typical future VLE is my starting point here:

Scott Wilson: future VLE

Scott Wilson: future VLE

Thirdly I want to avoid the terms friendship, virtual and real because they are overused, tired words which appear to have lost precision of meaning in online learning contexts. Therefore in looking at communicative differences in face-to-face communication and online communication I shall use the terms: allies for ‘friends’, cybernetic for ‘virtual’ and traditional for ‘real’. (Cybernetic is a term borrowed from Ananda Mitra and Rae Lynn Schwartz.

It seems to me that allies is more suitable than friends but my understanding of friendship goes deeper than that of a facebook page link. I think there is potential confusion in using the word virtual because of the confusion between virtual participant worlds and virtual reality complete with headpiece. To use the term real world carries the implication that the cybernetic world is unreal and consequently prejudges what I am considering here.

From a carefully selected PLE linked to an institutionalized VLE the learner can then communicate with his allies in the learning process online in the cybernetic world.

Irrespective of the technological hurdles which need to be crossed and new techniques which need to be learnt, the learner is likely to be faced with hauntological problems. Derrida’s citing of Hamlet’s: ‘The time is out of joint’, states the likely effect on the learner.

Exploding clock: Dali

Exploding clock: Dali

To further cite Tribe:
“Hauntology is a coming to terms with the permanence of our (dis)possession, the inevitability of dyschronia… We live in a time when the past is present, and the present is saturated with the past…”

“…Modernity was built upon ‘technologies that made us all ghosts’, and postmodernity could be defined as the succumbing of historical time to the spectral time of recording devices.”

This takes us to the heart of the cybernetic learning experience. As Palloff and Pratt put it; online learning is the ‘separation of instructor and learner in space and time’. Further, there are “connections through educational media – where the learner takes an active role in the learning process”.

In their discussion of VLEs, Dillenbourg, Schneider and Synteta inform us that the learner finds him/herself in a designed information space called a VLE, which is social and where environmental interactions turn spaces into places. It could be textual or a 3D world. Most likely it will be a mixture of both. Not only will the students be active but they will be co-builders of that cybernetic space.

YouTube Preview Image

From McConnell’s ‘Comparison of Online and Face-to-face Learning Environments’ and my own reflection, I have selected those points which seem to me to be most closely linked to the cybernetic communication experience:

There is relative freedom from instructor control outside of the given activity parameters. Although text-based discussions can be rather Spartan in content they can be enlivened by audio, visual and audio-visual input. Social networking mediums add to the variety of discussion offered. Meeting is primarily random unless a virtual classroom, audio or video conference is used. The participation is relatively free in terms of time constraints. The thematic work flow is primarily multiple and fluid. The group contact can be as regular as individually required and discussion groups and social networking offer a dynamic discussion environment with the chance to withdraw to reflect before responding. There is great analytic depth although sometimes at the expense of information overload.

The lack of a shared physical context means that there is an absence of visual and intonation clues and this would seem to point to the need for the further development of live, audio-visual communication systems for online learning, despite the cost. This would be the one significant change which I would want to be made to the course which I have just experienced on the MSc programme at Edinburgh. Such conferencing would need to be selectively used however because otherwise the benefits of online learning would be lessened, for example, the ability to lurk until confidence has increased and the opportunity to reflect before responding.



There is clearly an impact from the software and the medium which manifests itself positively in broader, more even participation, rich, considered and varied feedback. Feedback is open, widespread and permanent.

When a participant feels short of ideas there are always search possibilities at the fingertips and the possibility to tune into parallel or similar discussion groups to feel ones way back into the groove. This is also important after an enforced absence when the stress of rejoining is relatively high.

The greatest attraction in online learning is the open, creative structure and the adventurousness with which the learning experience can be approached.

To quote Simon Young (2008):
“There’s a myth around that the “virtual world” is somehow a different place from the real world we all live in.
Interestingly, it’s a myth found only among those who haven’t tried out social media and social networks. Once you dip your toe in the online conversation, you find that blogs, Facebook, Twitter – and on and on – are all elaborations on (not replacements of) the art of one human relating to another.”

Bullen (1998) found a conflicting reaction:
“On the negative side, however, for some students there was also a sense that the inherent delays in asynchronous communication militate against the development of a dynamic and interactive online discussion, that this form of communication was not real, that it did not adequately simulate a face-to-face discussion, and that it left them feeling remote, detached, and isolated, and this discouraged them from participating. (Student #15)”

My personal experience suggests that the preparation behind the introduction to online communication experiences is vital. I needed and received, a handbook to prepare me for the experience, divided into technical and course content and two experts: one for content and one for technical questions; this lessened the culture shock effectively and efficiently and led me to conclude that the learning experiences are different; neither better nor worse than one another.

Kassop (2003) listed ten key advantages of online learning: student centred, greater writing intensity, highly interactive discussions, geared to lifelong learning, enriched course materials, on-demand interaction and support services, immediate feedback, flexibility, an intimate community of learners and faculty development and rejuvenation. From personal experience I know the first nine to be accurate depictions.

Bricken (13) writing in 1990 saw the next logical step in educational experience to be virtual reality.



A situation in which symbol processing became reality generation, viewing a monitor was replaced by wearing a computer, the symbolic became experiential, the observer became the participant, interface was replaced by inclusion, the physical became programmable, the visual became multimodal and metaphor was replaced by virtuality. In Virtual Worlds part of this has come true; the rest may follow.

The KnowledgeWorks Foundation together with the Institute for the Future have produced a forecast for education in 2020 called ‘Creating the Future of Learning’. It is labyrinthine in format so I have selected key aspects to discuss. It starts with the assertion that “the most vibrant innovations are likely to take place outside of traditional institutions”. For those organizations a dilemma is thus presented. It goes on to suggest that the “educitizens” of the future will define their rights as learners and re-create the civic sphere; that neuroscience will advance new notions of performance and cognition which will reshape both social justice and learning. Referring to schools (learning institutions) it says that they will become, at best, dynamic community-wide systems and networks that have the capacity to replenish themselves in the context of change.

I have listed these points because they seem to me to harmonize with the direction online education is taking and will continue to take. In video ten of their 2009 summit they acknowledge that this futuristic view is in fact a best practice compendium of what is already possible but not yet common currency.

The ‘vibrant innovations’ are taking place in open sourceware and becoming part of both PLEs (e.g. edublogs) and some VLEs (e.g. wikispaces). The PLE aided by web 2.0 tools, has become that defining of learning rights, together with social networking, which is the beginning of the recreation of the civic sphere. New methods of assessment and with them newly defined concepts of performance are already shaping the form of online education. The World Wide Web and the increasing understanding of neural networks have shaped how we learn. The degree to which universities and schools adapt to programmes which meet the needs of these newly enfranchised learners will determine their success as beacons or failures as dinosaurs.

O’Driscoll offers a persuasive and comprehensive argument for learning in three dimensions:

YouTube Preview Image

O’Driscoll closed with the statement that the acronym FREEDOM stood for flow, repetition, experimentation, engagement, doing, observing and motivation – all of which virtual worlds offer us.

If he is right then we have inherited a space which allows creativity as defined by Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, trial and error repetition as represented in Piaget’s developmental stages theory, experimentation as theorised by Dewey, Plato’s Socratic form of engagement, doing as in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development peer-learning theory, the scientific principle of observing and testing hypotheses and motivation according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

In conclusion, this is a highly positive endorsement of what the online world has to offer 21st century learning.


Bassett, E.H. & O’Riordan, K. ‘Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model’. Ethics and Information Technology, Volume 4, Number 3, 2002 , pp. 233-247. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Bricken, W. (1990). Training in Virtual Reality. .Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Bullen, M. (1998). Participation and Critical Thinking in Online University Distance Education. Journal of Distance Education/Revue de l’enseignement à distance: 13 , 2.[iuicode:] Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Colbert, M. Voglimacci, C. & Finkelstein, A. Live, Audio-Visual Communication Systems for Distance Learning:Experience, Heuristics and ISDN. U.C.L. London. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Collis, S. (2009). Practical Examples of using a Virtual 3D Environment for Learning in High School. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Dillenbourg, P. Schneider, D.K. & Synteta, P. (2002). Virtual Learning Environments. In Dimitracopoulou, A. (Ed.). Proceedings of the 3rd Hellenic Conference “Information & Communication Technologies in Education” (pp. 3-18). Kastaniotis Editions, Greece. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Kassop, M. (2003). Ten Ways Online Education Matches, or Surpasses, Face-to-Face Learning. The Technology Source Archives of the University of North Carolina. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

KnowledgeWorks Foundation & The Institute for the Future (2008) ‘Creating the Future of Learning’. . Last accessed 2nd January 2010.
Martinez, M. (2009). 2009 AEP Summit 2020 Forecast Creating the Future of Learning Part 10. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

McConnell, D. (2000). ‘7. Comparison of face-to-face and online learning environments’ cited by
Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Mitra, A. & Schwartz R.L. (2001).From Cyber Space to Cybernetic Space: Rethinking the Relationship between Real and Virtual Spaces. . Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Muirhead, B. (2000) Enhancing Social Interaction in Computer-Mediated Distance Education. Educational Technology & Society, 3 (4). Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

O’Driscoll, T. (2007). aka Tripp W. Virtual Social Worlds and the Future of Learning.Learning in Three Dimensions: Experiencing the Sensibilities and Imagining the Possibilities. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: ‘Effective strategies for the online classroom’. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Paulsen, M. F. (2002). Online Education Systems in Scandinavian and Australian Universities: A comparative study.’Online Education Systems: Discussion and Definition of Terms’. Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Tribe M. (2009) Mark Tribe’s Weblog .Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

Young, S. (2008). Posting in
Last accessed 2nd January 2010.

[7] Antipodal Narratives

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

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?