“What is a television apparatus to man, who has only to shut his eyes to see the most inaccessible regions of the seen and the never seen, who has only to imagine in order to pierce through walls and cause all the planetary Baghdads of his dreams to rise from the dust.”
I suppose it is entirely appropriate that the first week of my MOOC coincides with a week away from home. I am currently in Girona, where the people are preparing for an ‘illegal’ referendum on independence for Catalonia. It really is a beautiful city, but it means that I am at the mercy of the hotel wi-fi to access the course materials: so far it has been impeccably-well behaved. With so many strands to the course it would be easy to be overwhelmed, or to try to cover all the bases simultaneously, but fortunately there is good advice from the course tutors:
Last time we ran the MOOC, some key strategies emerged on how to manage it as a learner:
- Read selectively: you are not expected to engage with every single area of course content
- Choose one or two media streams only to focus on: you can’t be everywhere at once
- Let go of the notion of ‘being on top of things’ – this is also impossible – instead, enjoy the serendipity of the random encounter
- Relax, select, investigate, think, write when it makes sense to write, and write in a space that you enjoy
- Forget traditional online teaching methods: there are around 7,000 people on this course, only 5 teachers and 6 Community Teaching Assistants
Many of these strategies are of course counter-intuitive to traditional learners and teachers, where ‘being on top of things’ is essential to survival. Which again has me wondering whether, and how, these principles could be applied in a secondary school setting.
In terms of personal learning, we are still in the early days of the course, but I do like the use of short films as media artefacts, and already I am beginning to recognise some of the main themes and concepts coming to the fore, and to relate them to much of the reading I have done quite casually in the past. For example, Dr Daniel Chandler‘s term ‘technological or media determinism’ sounds quite daunting in itself, but it isn’t too difficult to find examples when you understand the definition (see below). Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows immediately springs to mind, tending as it does towards a dystopian view of the internet and its effects on our ability to read and think effectively.
“According to technological determinists, particular technical developments, communications technologies or media, or, most broadly, technology in general are the sole or prime antecedent causes of changes in society, and technology is seen as the fundamental condition underlying the pattern of social organisation… As an interpretive bias, technological determinism is often an inexplicit, taken-for-granted assumption which is assumed to be ‘self-evident’. Persuasive writers can make it seem like ‘natural’ common sense: it is presented as an unproblematic ‘given’. The assumptions of technological determinism can usually be easily in spotted frequent references to the ‘impact’ of technological ‘revolutions’ which ‘led to’ or ‘brought about’, ‘inevitable’, ‘far-reaching’, ‘effects’, or ‘consequences’ or assertions about what ‘will be’ happening ‘sooner than we think’ ‘whether we like it or not’. This sort of language gives such writing an animated, visionary, prophetic tone which many people find inspiring and convincing.”
You recognise any of that? It is a tone adopted by many bloggers (including in all likelihood this one!) which may suggest that it is linked to the quality of writing, where the author has a pre-conceived view of technology in the classroom and is determined to stick with it, no matter what.
Now we are asked to consider two other perspectives on the web and e-learning, alongside Chandler’s technological determinism (No.2). These are posited by Dr Lincoln Dahlberg of the University of Queensland and summarised as follows.
- Uses determination: technology is shaped and takes meaning from how individuals and groups choose to use it. Technology itself is neutral. An example of this way of thinking can be seen in the educational mantra: ‘The pedagogy must lead the technology’.
- Technological determination: technology ‘produces new realities’, new ways of communicating, learning and living, and its effects can be unpredictable. This is the position Chandler explores in detail in our core reading.
- Social determination: technology is determined by the political and economic structures of society. Questions about ownership and control are key in this orientation.
Dahlberg argues that none of these perspectives, on its own, is enough to explain everything that needs to be explained about the internet. Each is useful, and each is overstated. Depending on the questions we need to answer, different approaches may be necessary. The same could be said about e-learning – that we need more complexity, more nuance, than any one determinist position can offer us. It’s therefore extremely useful to be able to identify these positions, and in particular to know what we are dealing with when grand narratives are told about how great, or how terrible, technology is.
I have to say that many of the blogs I read, and the educators I follow on Twitter, tend to adopt the ‘uses determination’ approach, but we are inclined to follow those who are in broad agreement with ourselves (or in fact those in direct opposition). Perhaps we are all guilty to a greater or lesser extent of technological determinism. Which of these three perspectives do you lean towards in your understanding of the relationship between technology and pedagogy?
Everything is connected. Earlier today I visited the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres. For me the most interesting part of the collection was the jewellery, which is quite exquisite and includes a pair of ‘telephone’ earrings which it would be easy to dismiss as frivolous, but about which Dali himself had this to say:
“The Dali jewels are totally serious. I am pleased if my telephone earrings bring a smile. A smile is a pleasing thing. But these earrings, as with all my jewels, are serious. The earrings express the ear, symbol of harmony and unity. They connote the speed of modern communication; the hope and danger of instantaneous exchange of thought.”