Sunday, 24 February 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 3 Reflection #edcmooc

I think I made a mistake in week three of #edcmooc. I was doing some travelling by train and decided to review the resources while in transit. Unfortunately, the Iarnród Éireann WiFi wouldn't let me access any of the videos, so I couldn't watch the film festival or Steve Fuller's TedX Warwick talk Defining Humanity.

Instead, I jumped straight into the advanced reading: Neil Badmington's introduction on Posthumanism. I read it twice, in full, and have gone back to sections since. But, I really don't think I have the necessary background to be able to make any sense of it at all.

Being Human, Humanism, Posthumanism and Transhumanism

As I read Badmington's introduction, I had fleeting glimpses of meaning and at times thought I might be approaching some understanding. But eventually I gave up. Is it possible to understand what posthumanism is without understanding humanism? I don't know, but all the different arguments got my head in a spin.

I was ready to give up at this stage. A couple of days later I did watch Fuller's talk and, though I still didn't understand many of the subtleties, was hugely relieved to hear that there is no agreed consensus about humanism.

So, my conclusion is, does it really matter? If I have a sense of what being human means to me, then I'm happy to leave the experts to their arguments.

Perspectives on Education

In contrast, the two readings on education were much more accessible. The Kolowich article from Inside Higher Ed describes the common belief that adding video and audio to an online course will help to provide the human element, which is missing from text-based materials. On the other hand, Monke's article laments the loss of interaction with our surroundings and with nature, as a result of increased focus on technology in schools.

The Talking Head V Being Present

The Kolowich article, as well as the recorded google hangout with the #edcmooc tutors, made me think about what does it mean to be human as a teacher in an online course.

It is certainly true that video and audio technologies can help to support the human element, whatever that might mean. Academic staff at NUI Galway have described how preparing podcasts for their students has allowed them to engage more deeply with the material and with their students. Webcam recordings,made  available to students via the VLE, can provide a personal touch. In both cases, the recordings are quick, with minimal editing, and specific to a group of people. Moreover, the purpose of the recording is to reach out to students online. The experience of the student is that the teacher is speaking, if not directly to him/her, but at least to a generic member of the class.

Lecture capture is something different. The lecture is being given to a group of people in the room, normally, but being recorded so that it can be accessed later. While some students may decide to watch the recording instead of attending the lecture in person, on the whole lecture capture is used as a revision tool. I am reminded of Andrea Sella's image of lecture capture as a time machine (at the Echo360 Community Conference Europe in 2011) , offering the possibility for students to go back and revisit those parts of a lecture that were unclear.

The recorded lecture has its use, but I don't think it provides the human element, as described by Hersh in the Kolowich article. In fact, a live lecture very often doesn't provide the human element either.

Contrast, within the #edcmooc coursera course, the recording of Steve Fuller's TedX Warwick talk and the recording of the week 3 google hangout with "the teachers". For me, as a student, Fuller's talk is a recording from 3 years ago, which doesn't speak to me at all. I couldn't watch the hangout live, but I got a lot from the recording and picked up on many points which had been previously unclear or that I haven't considered. Which one has the human element?

I think the important thing about the human element in teaching an online course is being present. This can be achieved through video and audio, but presence via text has been working in online learning for years. Presence via activity, comments and feedback in asynchronous discussion boards were strong features of my first experience of online teaching, almost 10 years ago. Video and audio technologies, among others, allow us to be present in different ways, but they do not, in themselves, deliver the human element.

Interacting with our environment

Finally, some quick thoughts based on Monke's article. Monke is arguing that we are focusing too much on technology in schools when children are better off experiencing the environment around them. I have some sympathies with his argument, but I think we need a balance. In particular, when it comes to simulations - why would we simulate an environment that the children can experience in real life?

I was reminded of the Windows 8 advertisement that is constantly on my tv at the moment. In it, a mother places a tablet onto her child's easel, so that the little girl can "paint" and print out her pictures. I know kids get messy when they paint, but this is crazy. We need a balance.

Mobile technologies offer huge opportunities when it comes to exploring our environment. While their use means that location becomes unimportant, it can also mean that location is of utmost importance. Students can be out in the field, interacting with the (natural) environment, and still be connected to the virtual classroom.

In conclusion

I found the week 3 material very tough and it took me a while to get to the stage where I felt I had anything to say. Again, these are completely my own ramblings; apologies if they seem completely confused. I'm off to read up on week 4.


Badmington, Neil (2000) Introduction: approaching posthumanism. Posthumanism. Houndmills; New York: Palgrave.

Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed

Monke, L (2004) The Human Touch, EducationNext

E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 1 Reflection
E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 2 Reflection
Being Human
E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 4 Reflection


Sheila MacNeill said...

Hi Sharon

Really good summary - I'm struggling too and just about to write my reflections. Thanks for sharing


Sharon Flynn said...

Hi Sheila,

thanks so much for reading and commenting. I'll look forward to reading your reflections.


crystalnine said...

Hi, Sharon - just found your reflections and they're such inspirational reading, thanks much for sharing!

Sharon Flynn said...

Thanks crystalnine. I find that writing the posts helps me to make sense of what I'm reading. Great to hear that you find them useful too.


topgold said...

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts because someone like myself can lurk and learn.

Sharon Flynn said...

Ha Bernie, I hardly think you are a lurker! I appreciate you reading the blog post.


David Hopkins said...

Hi Sharon - great summary, thanks.


Sharon Flynn said...

Thanks David. I'm also learning a lot from your blog posts related to the course.