Sunday, February 10, 2013

#edcmooc Week 2 "the brothel of non-learning"

So well, I still don't have much clue what this MOOC is about. I spent hours wading through the content (3-4 hours a week my a**e).

Apparently this week we have learned that metaphor is a lens just like determinism. Funny, I thought determinism was an epistemic philosophy whereas metaphor describes an implicit comparison between two unlike things that actually have something in common. I don't know what either has to do with eLearning and digital cultures unless your course team happens to be interested in linguistic structuralism. I didn't sign up for a course in that as I'm not interested in that topic… am feeling a lot of my time has been wasted but keeping going because I don't want to drop out of a third MOOC in a row.

We watched yet more video clips which insisted on viewing the word in antonyms (utopia/dystopia) instead of authentic complexity.  We had to watch some marketing videos about new technologies like Microsoft Surface. These all majored in instant and unrealistic solutions to issues like chronic illness and health information. They reminded me of 1950s TV ads in their strenuous attempts to normalise the strange and make it unthreatening and "must-have".

Then we had to watch clips that I think were supposed to represent typical stories of fear about technology such as being "stamped" or chipped in some way and therefore followed by authoritarian powers or where deeply human processes (like dating) had been in some way mechanised. These were amateurish in production values and storyline. I found them boring, and regarding dating rather silly as this is one of the successes of the Internet, with over 1 in 8 US marriages now arising from online dating.

On the course forums there was comment about people's distress in finding they were small voices in a multitude of similar comments and that somehow this was dehumanising. I found the forums just lots of examples quoted of creative works mostly using technology as a proxy for the innate nastiness of human nature. The basic week 1 concept - dichotomy of utopia/dystopia with the involvement of technology - was not actually a useful way to illuminate how we respond to technology because it was a shallow stereotype, and the connection to learning and digital cultures was unclear. Since the assessment (in as far as it was possible to understand what was being asked) was that you "make a comment" the result was a cacophony of quantity over quality. Where there were quality responses it was impossible to get time to investigate them thoroughly - also dissatisfying.

Back in the content section we were asked to read Johnston on the use of metaphor concerning the Internet based on a literature search she had carried out. Where exactly is Johnston's evidence that people (as opposed to academic authors) do not use the same type of physical metaphors in relation to other concepts that we do about the Internet? I don't personally think of the Internet in metaphorical terms at all. I think of it as physical computer networks that I cannot comprehend which do not need a metaphor, but which tend to reflect  in their final effects unchanging human characteristics (mostly nasty ones) derived from our biology.

Then we watched Anna Mae Newitz describing typical fear storylines about technology in science fiction  
1. Hive mind - is it smart or stupid?
2. Spies are watching you through technology. 
3. Mind control. 
4. Can't stop the signal (broadcasting your thoughts/not able to prevent mind being controlled).

My question: how does this relate to the reality of the Internet?
  • The elite with access to the Internet can find special information/products/recommendations/advice.
  • Things are cheaper and easier to get.
  • We can connect and learn and work despite distance
  • There are also possibilities to do evil - 3d printing of weapons, porn, ubiquitous advertising etc. There is also the shallowness argument (lack of deep thought, analysis due to constant flicking between content).

Netflix might make a good pro and anti argument - gets rid of advertising, gives you choice but the Netflix company gets an enormous amount of information about how people are watching content which could lead to an Eli Pariser like movement towards filter bubbles.

Then we looked at Clay Shirky talking about MOOCs. He mentions self-scoring tests as a key feature of MOOCs. Quizzes would have been great on edcmooc. I am adrift armed only with a sense of scepticism…

Love this: Shirky's MOOC Criticism Drinking Game: take a swig whenever someone says “real”, “true”, or “genuine” to hide the fact that they are only talking about elite schools instead of the median college experience. And this: "The large lecture isn’t a tool for producing intellectual joy; it’s a tool for reducing the expense of introductory classes".

So… My digital artefact should perhaps be about ways of using IT industry and supply chain techniques to improve MOOCs? Starting point Shirky: "For colleges, this means more graduate and adjunct instructors, increased enrollments and class size, fundraising, or, of course, raising tuition."

To counter Shirky we had a self-serving grad student lecturer called Bady who aspires to tenure and supports the status quo. He had no real arguments and in the main just criticises Shirky's writing style. He ends: "Beware anyone who tries to give you a link to WebMD as a replacement for seeing a real doctor." Yet actually a lot of people use the Internet to aid them with useful health advice. Support groups anyone? I personally used it in an emergency medicine situation and it probably saved me about 8 months more severe disability than I actually experienced. Internet 1, Bady 0. To use the gamification metaphors we are supposed to be learning about.

I've saved the worst of week 2 till last. An hour of Campbell Gardner. And I want to admit straight away I fell asleep for 10 minutes in the middle. Here we're apparently contrasting 
"schoolers" and "yearners" - the latter want deep change in education through tools like MOOCs rather than former who produce "blogging assignments" where you continue the same model with technology plastered over. Which is characterised as "the brothel of non-learning". 

I see yet another spat between the trainers and the educators. People want value for money in their learning. Employers now expect their employees to train and retrain themselves in their own time largely (portfolio careers?). This is one of the environmental factors that MOOCs are a response to.

Campbell seemed to be stuck in a metacognitive loop which is all about how clever his students are (and by implication he himself is). My sci-fi metaphor for his talk would have to be the introduction to Kubrick's 2001. Campbell is conflating  tool-using with learning. Apparently it's all about hospitality to provide an ecology of yearning. This is just a plea that in a nice world education should be pointless. Sorry, mate. You've been disintermediated and this model is dead.

The course organisers in their introduction imply that Campbell is describing the "utopia" of open learning. They ask us to reflect on what open learning means to us so here goes:

  • Clear navigation and achievable assessments
  • Well-selected and relevant content
  • An arc of imagination and progress that is clear throughout the course
  • Low cost
  • Flexibility in time and place
  • Interesting networks of connection
  • Economic and intellectual benefit
  • Hospitality doesn't come into it anywhere.

I don't think the list above is rocket science. In one of the optional articles: "It is unclear how much Coursera students actually study. Ng estimates that 40 to 60 percent of those who register in a typical course might attempt the first assignment. Perhaps 10 to 15 percent might finish all the work." This is a very poor yield in supply chain terms. Why write off MOOCs without trying to come up with some guidelines and suggestions to improve the yield? The days of education for the sake of education in a world of limited resources and a hollowed-out globalised professional class are numbered. 

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