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Lifestream summary

So the 12 weeks are up and it’s time for the summary. My lifestream contains feeds from my digital activity over the past twelve weeks, consisting primarily of feeds from Delicious, Twitter, blog posts and YouTube. It traces my learning path over this unit- feeds have arisen from the various activities involved: weekly readings, the film festival, interaction with other participants, the digital artefact and ethnography, as well as any other tangents that I took in between. As our online activity spans different tools and methods, the lifestream is a valuable way of gathering, filtering and providing a record of my learning.

So where has my learning path taken me? As usual the subject matter has been extremely stimulating- exploring and trying to pin down exactly what this ‘new universe’ is that we have created- it’s many aspects and contradictions, how it has affected us as humans and questions the notion of what ‘human’ really is and where it is headed, how society and community have been irrevocably changed, and then of course what this means for learning and education. It has really made me take a step back and look at this phenomenon from as much of a critically objective standpoint as is possible. I think this course has also developed my sense of digital identity-by having all of my submissions public my online ‘voice’ has matured.

I’ve enjoyed the various types of innovative activity- watching online videos, constructing an artefact, researching a community- all relating to the thought-provoking papers. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this Masters course so far has been being a student and having course material delivered through the online medium- you get direct experience and it helps build a broader appreciation for the subject matter.This has been great as it feeds directly into my work as an eLearning designer, giving me personal experience in what I try to promote, as well as an experience in best practice. This has been true for this unit as it has been designed from an ambitious and innovative pedagogical approach- one that realises and appreciates the distributed nature of the digital identity and incorporates this in our methods of participation.

I think I struggled to take full advantage of the types of feeds that could be pulled into the lifestream. Initially I had hoped to get into the habit of using different tools regularly, but found I had to consciously go and use ones that I wouldn’t normally use. The exception is in using Twitter- it provided a good near real-time connection with other participants and fostered kinship- for example it was comforting to hear an up-to-the minute update on how others were struggling with a paper, or knowing instantly if somebody had a new blog post.

My method of learning has been a little different this time- I see an active central discussion area as being very beneficial- as an aggregator of the thoughts and learning of a group. I like the debate and paths that this can take. Hearing other peoples’ take on things can help me understand something I missed, or make me defend my own point of view more. I did miss this kind of interaction and social learning a little and felt my ‘path’ was mostly self-directional, although we were all really ‘connected’, we didn’t engage in deep ways with each other. Having said this, the types of connections we used helped me understand and participate in an online culture and appreciate the emerging behaviours that constitute this.

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Essay topic

It’s been difficult enough to choose a topic for my essay. I’ve found most of the topics that we’ve covered really interesting and stimulating, and would like to explore them in more detail. But I’d like to look into an area which would benefit my work, so have a broad idea of a topic- how the internet/technology has changed education with regard to literacies and the idea of the student, teacher and institution. As I read back over some of the papers already covered, along with some new ones, I hope to whittle this topic down a little.

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Some random and rambling thoughts as I re-read my lifestream posts

I commented in Week 1 about trying to get the different technologies to work ‘for’ me, meaning that some of the proposed type of feeds I wasn’t familiar with, so would try to use them more. Looking back now at the end of week 12, I haven’t really gotten into the habit of using any new ones, maybe with the exception of Twitter (although my non-course tweets are rare, but I do read it a heck of a lot of other tweets). It’s made me conscious of my web habits and the idea of ‘learning to re-learn’ as a digital literacy. I do take new tools on board, explore them frequently and see the benefits, but few of them turn out to be something I would use everyday. And maybe I’m less willing to try something straight away- I tend to see what a tool can do, have a quick go, bookmark it, and then not go back to it until I see lots of other people talking about it. So it’s the early adopters who drive these new tools.

Just thinking again about another aspect of technology and how far it’s come. With the connectivity of the internet, the focus has firmly shifted to the sense of cybespace- the place itself is the main thing. Technology before the internet meant gadgets, and what they could do. Now, a gadget has to be ‘connected’ first of all, before it’s other functionality is considered and valued. There is even a ‘ghostliness’ to old hardware- I passed a storeroom at work today where old equipment is chucked- abandoned carcasses through which once flowed information-the information is still alive and used but has moved on to more modern hardware and deserted the old. So again it’s the information that is the key- the defining factor- not the objects of mediation.

In week two we looked at some more videos and the readings reflected some possible ‘digital futuristic visions’- again influenced in a big way by the cyberpunk genre. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s I would imagine that a lot of the people who were predicting the digital future had little or no interaction with the technologies of the day, and it was arguably the hardware that that drove the direction to an extent. There is a difference now in that practically everyone is ‘in’ cyberspace, the general public included, and it is that public who have been the driver of trends. Adding to this the open source/web 2 nature of cyberspace now and it maybe makes future development less predictable, as it may come from the crowd rather than the commercial side. Having said this, companies have obviously seen the dollar signs flashing in cyberspace and have more of a presence there now.

I posted an idea around the time that we were discussing cyborgs/ transhumanism that those who don’t adapt may be left behind in the evolutionary scale. Just checking out some transhumanism webpages (http://www.kurzweilai.net/) and have come across theories saying that we may be left behind or excluded even if we are adapters. As life evolved the complexities increased, so there was both internal evolution of the body, and an external evolution of networks. The body developed defense and offense mechanisms to make it more efficient and successful, as did the ‘collective’ whole. So even though we may retain some individuality and automony from the network that we are part of, it may reject us if we are too weak or not beneficial to it.

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Week 11 Summary

At the start of Week 11 I posted some thoughts on the readings from the previous week, as well as a video regarding a pedagogy for the future. I spent some time re-reading by blog and lifestream to try and come up with an essay topic.

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Week 10 Summary

I don’t think I had any entries on my lifestream for Week 10- so can’t offer a summary! I spent the week reading the core papers- I think I didn’t finish them until near the end of the week and then started working on posting some thoughts about them.

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Week 9 Summary

During Week 9 my lifestream consisted of some blog posts relating to the weeks readings on Cyborgs, the post/ trans-human, and some catchup summaries of previous weeks.

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Thinking about the essay

I’m reading back over my blog posts from the start of this unit, and taking a fresh look at some of the things covered. Hopefully I’ll get some inspiration for an essay topic as well as reviewing the range of themes that we looked at in detail.

In my first post in week 1, we were feeling around for a definition of culture- I quoted from Wikipedia that some definitions were ‘the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practises that characterize an institution, organization or group’ and ‘an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning’. These would serve as perfect definitions for cyberspace/the internet itself, which is a manifestation of the behaviour of a group- a group which uses technology to mediate communication. And this ‘culture’ is like the petri-dish kind, one that just grows! And as there are so many definitions for culture, I think it’s a lot easier to look at it from the other side and define something as being culture, instead of defining the word culture itself.

I attended the Ascilite conference this week, where one of the dominant themes was virtual worlds, where there is some interesting work being done. One presentation that I really liked was from Russell Fewster & Denise Wood from South Australia who are doing work with drama students in Second Life. Their presentation demonstrated some of their work- students are interacting with the virtual world as it is projected onto a screen (done so very cleverly with lighting effects so that the real blends with the virtual)- so the avatar is being controlled by someone, and the students then interact and ‘act’ with the projection- ‘intermediality’ is the term that they used. Obviously the possibilities are endless in terms of what you can create in SL, and therefore the scenarios the students get to act out. Some of the topics that we’ve covered sprung to mind during the presentation- the real vs. the virtual, distributed cognition etc., but this offered a new slant I thought as visually the real and virtual were interacting before your eyes, and were one.

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Pedagogy for the 21st Century

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Short video on a pedagogy for the future – our existing model is too old and out of touch- we need to consider learners as co-constructors

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Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies

This paper looks at exploring a pedagogy which tackles the knock-on effects of the digital on education- teaching being ‘defamiliarised’, and our notions of place, body, time and text challenged, where previously they had been dependable ‘certainties’. The adjective ‘uncanny’ is well suited, for the effect that cyberspace can have on us- the familiar becomes unfamiliar (unheimliche), and traditional boundaries are blurred. Two possible ways of responding are suggested for the moment- either trying to articulate and make sense of the unfamiliar and therefore make it familiar, or to embrace the uncanny for what it is and think of it as being beneficial to teaching and learning. I’m not sure how possible it is to make the unfamiliar familiar though- that is to assume that what is unfamiliar now will remain relatively static, allowing time for analysis and incorporating it into some program or curriculum. Technology is difficult to predict, especially now that it is user-driven. The second option seems more viable to me, maybe even inevitable as I don’t think there is another choice, but might be a bit of a journey before such a pedagogy is accepted and incorporated into education across the board.

At the same time I wonder about this ‘uncanniness’. Might be contradicting myself a little here, but if the familiar is unfamiliar, who is it unfamiliar to? People who are experiencing this for the first time and trying to make sense out of it by comparing it to what they know? Are ‘traditional’ boundaries part of a mindset that will die out with an older generation? So maybe it could be possible that the unfamiliar eventually becomes familiar.

Central to this new pedagogy is the aspect of digital temporality – teachers and learners having a ghost-like presence. Bayne says that a suitable pedagogy needs to embrace the new ways of contact or online representation that the digital allows- a half real/half virtual presence. Not an easy road either, but again probably inevitable. I would see issues with people validating their identities online for exams etc. Considering the university itself, its’ online representation and functions may move toward ‘being’ the university itself.

It’s also suggested that this pedagogy would reject the model of an online replication of a classroom, instead being ‘confident in its own direction, using multiple, disaggregated and public nodes. I don’t know if I totally agree with this. Whilst I do recognise that such a pedagogy would be totally new, and would need to be ‘confident’ to succeed, I find that in general online activity benefits from real-world modelling. Not necessarily trying to replicate the real world, but using some sort of familiar structure that people can relate to. For example at our uni we set up a Ning site for some teachers to work in and named different areas after real rooms or places at the uni- by doing this, even though some of the teachers weren’t very tech savvy, they could identify with, and expect certain activities to happen in certain areas. Likewise with this new pedagogy, even though a lot of the activity couldn’t actually happen in real life, I think some grounding (even if it’s just the terminology) would benefit those involved.

Online identity is also talked about- people having to ‘double’ their identities by registering for different things all over the net and spreading themselves out. By this selfhood is ‘duplicated, divided and interchanged’. People get the opportunity to fabricate or play with identities and leave traces of themselves, or ghosts, across the web, like ‘embodied absence’, or an ‘uncanniness of presence’. I think that having to register for lots of different things across the web is one big drawback at the moment- I would hope that a common login (maybe more successful that Windows Live ID) would be standard in the near future. If governments are looking to provide access for everyone via things like citywide wi-fi, maybe the next thing they will look at some sort of individual secure online ID for citizens (or maybe not!!) So what I’m trying to say is… maybe this spreading out of a person’s identity will be less in the future (although the option will always be there for multiple or anonymous  identities etc.). I do get the sense of uncanniness or ghostliness from peoples presence though- at the weekend I read an old travel blog that my wife had written a couple of years ago- it felt like a ghost-town- a place where there had been so much activity from lots of people not so long ago, and now it felt deserted, just living in a corner of cyberspace for evermore! As well as the disjunction of body, there is also one of time. So concepts of ‘past is present’, present saturated with the past’ or a ‘rolling present’ are useful to describe the phenomenon. Visually, thinking about it reminds me of some of those old 80’s videos with special effects of the day where people are moving and ‘trails’ of previous movement follow them, a present with a record of the past.

So the pedagogy would incorporate, amongst other things,- synchronous and asynchronous activity, allow students and teachers to make use of different modes of representation (text, video, voice, avatar) and use the cyberspace machine and its tools to constantly dis/re-aggregate online activity. So like the lifestream for this course, the ‘spectrality’ of your existence is recorded and examined as a testament to your learning. It is interesting to see your online activity from different sources fed into one place, you can trace the learning path and ‘see’ everything before you. One downside I have felt is a decrease in the social aspect of learning- with different peoples’ identities, comments, blogs etc. spread out across different sites and applications, I didn’t feel that any particular place had a ‘buzz’ about it that comes from constant interaction, somewhere that you knew everybody else would visit in the next day or two. I suppose Twitter had the most activity but I don’t really see it as a ’space’.

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Week 10 ‘Lost & Found’- Usher, Edwards

This core paper from week 10 discusses some ideas that we’ve come across already – the impact that technology will have on the ‘transmission’ model of teaching (for teacher, learner and institution) and what cyberspace means for learning.

Some of the implications that technology and cyberspace have for education -more individualised learning (by making it more active, interactive and flexible), providing a social space for ‘new forms of interaction’, new identity construction, and the change in the power dynamic between teacher and student. It also highlights the fact that ‘cultural’ differences aren’t necessarily geographically bound.  It defines ‘anti-podality’ as an experience of dislocation caused by this transnational and globalised communication, an active trajectory between places and identities, with no borders. Possible troublesome areas such as the reader as author (as a result of texts being based online) are also touched upon, as is the fact that knowledge and access to it can’t necessarily be contained by and within an institution. At our institution we are experiencing some of this at the moment- from an IT point of view, they are a little reluctant to support applications  outside of their safe protected zone, and from an academics point of view, some are apprehensive about ‘their’ material being made available to everyone. I think the driver for change here could be the learner- if they gain sufficient skills in digital literacies and carry out most of their work in the new spaces, tutors and institutions may be forced to follow.

At present, students are bound by the ‘spaces of enclosure’ (a phrase I liked)- book, classroom and curriculum, which in turn have been threatened by cyberspace as it promises activities and learning to be egalitarian, purpose-driven, self-imposed, self-monitored, have a learner-determined path of learning, not requiring an interpretation of pre-given meanings but active collaboration in its creation.

For the teacher this all means a different type of role, with the focus away from them as a central authority, as the availability of information will be equal to both teacher and student, with the teachers’ role being seen as ‘aiding’ the learner, especially with regard to being stimulated and thinking critically. Green is quoted as seeing new technologies as ‘amplifiers’ of human potential- with the brain playing more of a management role. I wondered about this  in an earlier post- about whether our brains would be changed in any way due to technology- if the cognitive processes would be altered. You would imagine that technology will constantly be advancing, and our brains would need to keep up with this, requiring quick learning/re-adapting to be important. Also being able to discern quality or useful information amongst the reams of data. I wonder about ‘deep’ thinking and the role it will have to play- if we won’t depend on processes much such as data analysis and ‘crunching’, will we use it? Also, with all the ‘noise’ of our enhancements going on around us, will we have peace enough to think deeply?

Another helpful slant on the cyborg was given in this paper- it blurs the boundaries between nature and culture, technology and nature, body and subjects, active agents and involuntary machines. The word ‘cyborg’ is a ‘good metaphor for restructuring of boundaries which are no longer stable, and questions some fundamental divisions which were the basis or reality of the world’. In an educational context, this translates to formal/informal, teacher/student, classroom/home, print text/ electronic text- all educational ‘spaces of enclosure’ which have been challenged by technology.

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