So apparently, learning is changing. Of course, everyone knows that, but what does it now feel like to be a student? It makes me weep to think about it but it has now been 14 years since I graduated and I'm guessing a lot has changed. Maybe, although maybe not. What I do remember from my graduation ceremony was the excellent choice of soundtrack chosen by the Student President, an apt choice which set the tone for us all as we headed into the unknown. 

So now I've decided to take my first proper online course, or rather MOOC, (Massive Online Open Course), in particular, the University of Edinburgh E-Learning and Digital Culture MOOC. Learning online is not new to me, particularly since Twitter came along. I quickly found it the perfect way to follow business leaders and thought leaders in every little niche and genre I was interested in. I discovered whole fascinating industries and areas of research that I didn't even know existed. I was fortunate to move from a marketing career to a library role and librarians were early adopters and heavy users of Twitter and its kind. I saw marketing and librarianship as more similar than perhaps is at first obvious. Both seek to share and disseminate information, both wish to promote their service or goods and both would like a big wide open market with plenty of footfall. And that is precisely what appeals to me about e-learning and the possibilities within digital culture. Within education it is the same idea, opening learning to a greater audience, meeting needs these consumers didn't even know they had. This isn't as negative as it sounds, as I said earlier, the personal learning network I built up on Twitter, LinkedIn and more recently Google + were mostly igniting inspiration in me in subjects I had only just realised were out there. 

The Utopia/Dystopia discussions of week 1 of my #edcmooc were fascinating and surprising in terms of the responses I felt to each of the resources. Even those with the most negative outcomes and connotations did not overwhelm me enough to give up on the pull towards the utopian possibilities and the thought that scaremongering was holding us all back from embracing future technology. The 'Sight' video was one which stuck with me and made me feel most uneasy, mostly because I already recognise the distraction that mobile phones, tablets, apps and games can bring into a conversation or relationship. 

The break in real true human communication is certainly one which needs to be feared and defended against. You need only watch one episode of Catfish to see how the human relationship side of things has been distorted with thousands of people believing they are in a dedicated formal loving relationship with someone they have often never once met face to face. Their concept of reality has become warped and in other contexts this is a common fear of bringing virtual reality into our everyday lives as seen in the resources the course examined in 'Being Human.

It would appear that the constant distraction issue is one that concerns not only individuals and their interpersonal relationships but also the education establishments themselves. 

"But not everyone is enthusiastic. The online classes, some educators fear, will at best prove a distraction to college administrators; at worst, they will end up diminishing the quality of on-campus education."

Carr, N. (2012). The Crisis in Higher Education. MIT Technology Review, http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/429376/the-crisis-in-higher-education/ 

To counter the anti human argument though I again refer to the MIT technology review, "With a data explosion seemingly imminent, it’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the MOOC architects. Even though their work centers on computers, their goals are deeply humanistic. They’re looking to use machine learning to foster student learning, to deploy artificial intelligence in the service of human intelligence." (#EDCMOOC Week2 Resources)

In a lecture at Oxford in 1928, the eminent American educator Abraham Flexner delivered a withering indictment of correspondence study, claiming that it promoted “participation” at the expense of educational rigor.

With correspondence a kind of precursor to e-learning, the concern is similar to that expressed by those in education who resist the gamificaction of learning. But surely what is a distraction in some ways can also be harnessed by educators and by encouraging 'participation' it achieves what every teacher is seeking - learners who are engaged! Going back to the 'Day made of Glass' video what is striking is how much interaction there is between the classroom and the pupils, and how they are actively participating rather than being taught at. As a mother of young children I find the possibilities of how this could spark their own creativity very exciting.

Throughout the #EDCMOOC course one side has not been examined but is crucial to my personal learning journey and how I have perceived the materials and resources, and that is the place of religion. In the short film Robbie we meet a self aware robot who has friends, feelings, ambition, a lifespan and has adopted Catholicism as his religion of choice on Earth. Why would this be so? How will this play out?

"Transhumanists hope that by responsible use of science, technology, and other rational means we shall eventually manage to become posthuman, beings with vastly greater capacities than present human beings have." (Transhumanist Values NICK BOSTROM Oxford University, Faculty of Philosophy, [in Ethical Issues for the 21st Century, ed. Frederick Adams (Philosophical Documentation Center Press, 2003); reprinted in Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005)] The idea is to somehow better ourselves "to achieve a greater degree of control over our own lives." This is in contrast to many religious beliefs, in particular Christianity. To have belief in divine providence, submit to higher authority, to take our hands off control and live in faith, is surely in contrast to transhumanism. Yet the picture of a wholly different, complete human is precisely the story told through Christianity. Biblical promises include a restored body, and a new earth in which everything that is currently flawed, broken or diseased or dying, will be made new, complete and eternal. It is often a criticism of religion that it is holding back human progress, yet perhaps it is not so irrelevant or backward. Perhaps it holds some similarities with current (and future) thinking that many would find surprising?

Read my conclusion here or watch the video below to hear Robotz version..
A stroke of genius to use the 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?' article as a summary to the #EDCMOOC course. It brings together so many of the concerns of the dystopian future we looked at at the beginning of the course. It causes us to examine learning and how our brains may be constantly being rewired by changes in the technology around us. It challenges the wisdom of the crowds. It reminds me that all I have learnt on this excellent course is to be met with some caution. Indeed the time I have spent working on this assessment, my digital artefact, may well have been time that has made me more technologically aware, but less social, less communicative and less free to do other things. Will spending too much time learning about learning make me stupid?

All I can say is that my first experience of a MOOC has been a fantastic one and will no doubt lead to other avenues of study. And at least now if it makes me more stupid, I might have the awareness to recognise it when it comes.

 


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