#edcmooc They’re made out of meat

Coils of bright pink sludge being squeezed out into a box

Before I watched this film and had just seen the title a horrible image that has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently, dominated my thoughts; meat slurry is apparently the whole content of a chicken, or other animal crushed down to a sludge and it is reportedly what is used in chicken nuggets and other fast food.

So it was with this disturbing image in mind that I started watching the film. That sense of discomfort didn’t really leave me as I watched the various unsavoury characters in the film.  I wondered who were the humans and if the main characters were aliens that were impersonating humans, what a depressing perception they had of us.  Is that what outsiders looking in on our world see?  They were emotionless, robotic, almost autistic, uncomfortable in their roles, not getting it quite right.  The “humans’ on the other hand were natural, communicative although there was a suggestion from their behaviour that there was little higher order thinking going on; their interactions were at “mating” level – the cook and the waitress engaging in trading lascivious gestures, the couple outside kissing, – or “play” – three guys and a girl building card houses in the diner booth but laughing and joking and having fun. There is a suggestion that the thought processes are basic.

So if these bodies determine what it is to be human then at least they have feelings and can form relationships.

We often use the phrase “We are only human” to reflect that we make mistakes; mistakes that need to be fixed, bridges that need to be mended. Being human means that we are not perfect but we have the capability to talk, to think, to empathise, to care, to make value judgements, to follow a moral code that respects differences, individuality, and our fellow men.

The film suggests that maybe the body is just a vessel and that it can be hijacked, that we cannot necessarily trust that what we see is what it seems. In that respect a body cannot be relied upon to define what it means to be human.  That hijacked body might as well be meat slurry, with no nutritional value, no real substance.

#edcmooc Maintaining Momentum

remnants of old railway lines in a hatch formation
Connections

Nearly the end of Week 3, it has been a full-on week at work and I am struggling to marshall my thoughts.  I have managed to snatch ten minutes here and there to watch the videos for this week and scan the readings at a very superficial level. I really wanted to try to create a photo for the Flickr project but just haven’t had the time to be creative.  Never mind, I will try to catch up a little in the next couple of days.

It has been interesting watching the dynamics of the interchanges in the discussions and  Twitter chat; I have tried to avoid Facebook as I felt a need to filter so as not to be overwhelmed. It seems to me, as a newcomer, that some people have made MOOCs their home and are involved in several of them all at once.  They have already forged tight knit friendship groups, comment on each others blogs and engage in chat on Twitter in quite an intimate manner. Others may only have “met” since the beginning of this course but they connected early on and formed groups to blog together.  Others, like me, maybe observers, hovering not quite at the edge but gaining confidence, commenting occasionally, following blogs and feeling empowered when I get a notification that someone has “liked” my blog or comment, or even more exciting when there is a comment, a “follow” or a pingback!

It is interesting in the context of our discussions around humanism, the theme of disconnection, and the impersonal aspect of technology, the relationships that have formed.  It is highly likely that if these people had met “face to face”, on the street, in a university seminar, at a sports club, they would have formed the same bonds of friendship.  As human beings we are drawn to people who have similar ideas to us, similar likes, interests, dislikes be that online or in the “real” world.  I hesitate to use the phrase “real world” because the online world is becoming so much part of our everyday experiences now that it is essentially the “real world”.  The blurring of the lines is ever more blurry.

So, I need to maintain the momentum I had in the first two weeks; I have so many half-formed ideas whizzing round my head that I really need some time out to think them through.  I have had moments of doubt and feelings of inadequacy when I read some of the more esoteric, very academic comments made on the blogs and discussion boards; how can my thoughts possibly have any meaning or value?  But I also read lots of posts that concur with my ideas and reactions to the videos and I feel affirmed and more confident about that.  So, I will bumble along in my own way, reading, digesting, watching and occasionally throwing my twopenn’orth in.

#edcmooc No going back

Maybe it’s Edith Piaf singing “Je ne regrette rien”, or maybe it’s the idea of breaking free, but there’s something about this video that resonates in me!  

What is real and what is not? The greyness and drearyness of the pixellated world suggests a lack of soul, or perhaps a repression of soul.  The clusters of old-fashioned light bulbs, dusty looking books echoes the  films and books telling of worlds imploding, technology failing and a return to living pre-technology, surviving in a bubble,  But this seems to be a reverse – the real world , nature, life, feeling is outside the bubble apart from a few illicit plants and the hamburger. 

Car manufacturers often use the idea of the car being a symbol of escapism; when you climb into your car, you enter another world.  “Je ne regrette rien”; a song of moving forward, leaving the past behind, there’s no going back.

But how does all this connect with the idea of technology-mediated education?

A constant cry from teachers I have worked with is that teachers can never be replaced by computers because learning requires passion, needs the face to face element to engage students that technology doesn’t have. One of the questions in the Twitter chat on Sunday morning (Saturday evening for the northern hemisphere folk!) was what did a future teacher look like and there were some interesting answers but most revolved around the idea of a blend of computers and real people. 

Image

 

Image

Image

Image

My experience is that learners are excited by technology and the positive opportunities it offers them but they still want someone they know and trust to explain and explore ideas more fully with them.  Humans all need feedback and affirming comments that reassure us that we are on the right track as well as the buzz it gives us when someone says, “Well done” and actually means it. The automated responses on online quizzes just don’t have the same buzz factor. 

Metaphorically #edcmooc

I have been reading “Metaphors of the Internet; salvation or destruction” and several thoughts came to mind. I am a linguist and I am constantly amazed at the evolution of language. Even in the few decades that I have been consciously aware of language development, vocabulary has changed. Words that my contemporaries and I used as schoolkids are no longer common parlance. As a teacher I have heard “wicked” “cool” “boom” “brill” used to express pleasure at something.

New words and phrases enter the language with each generation, with each technological change, with each new decade. The way we communicate reflects the world we live in and so, of course the metaphors we use will incorporate the vocabulary of the internet and computers.

Jessica Courtney Courtney explores some of the vocabulary that entered our lexicon during the Industrial Revolution. The word Mackintosh ( not the computer) came into being in the 1820s when Charles Macintosh developed a waterproof cloth and the first “Macs” as they are now known were made. Neither the process nor the word “pasteurisation” was known or used until Louis Louis PasteurPasteur discovered a way of treating milk and wine to prevent it from causing sickness.

Latin and Greek had an influence when it came to inventing words during the Industrial Revolution; thus streptococcus, stethoscope, ambulance, diptheria all entered the English language. But European languages and culture also had an effect on English especially when it came to food and fashion; salami, toffee, pasta, peignoir and lingerie to name but a few.

A whole range of new words came with the goldrushgoldrush in Australia, California and NZ; the phrases “to pan out”, “to stake a claim”, a “long tom”, even “denim”, “jeans” and “Levis” are purported to have come into the language around this time.

The French have been characteristically protective of their language and the Academie Francaise has staunchly resisted the natural, popular urge to assimilate English/American vocabulary into French. They still persist in pushing the long winded “courrier electronique” despite most of the poplulation using “le email”. The lingua franca no longer resides in Middle Europe and whereas, in the past European words found their way into English, now it is English which is bulldozing its way through languages of all nations.

Metaphors are coined according to experiences and the cultural context is significant. Other linguistic features also develop in the same way. Why is it, for example, that in English to express the unlikelihood of something happening we say “and pigs might fly”, yet the French say “quand les poules auront des dents” (when hens get teeth”)?

How we describe things depends on our experiences. How we interpret events is contingent on where we have lived, who we have come in contact with, the jobs we do, the tools we use. Our experiences influence the way we evaluate situations, they influence our thoughts, our beliefs and our philosphies and the way we act. An individual’s attraction or aversion to new technologies may well be a result of prior experience, although I suspect that personality also has a part to play.

The language that is used to sell new technologies is crucial. In the Corning ad and the Microsoft ad we can see that the language which is suggested by the images is just as important as the images themselves. Utopia, dreams coming true, perfect world, clean and green, healthy, successful, family; these are words evoked by the images and they aim to seduce.

A lot of the language around technology and the internet revolves around communication, sharing, collaboration,, networking, building communities. “Kent determines that current metaphors shaping the internet keeps us from using it in educational and political venues”. Why? I wonder…. Education was (and possibly still is in many places) the bastion of the rich and powerful, from the church, to the landowners, to the politicians. Not to be shared with the masses lest they get ideas above their station. Information was kept with those in power to keep them in power. The idea of sharing knowledge was an anathema, divide and rule, information on a need to know basis.

Then the http://karmak.org/archive/2002/08/history_of_print.htmlprinting press came along and changed everything. It has been said that the Internet is the next biggest thing to effect change after the printing press. Now anyone can read, learn, write, publish, share their ideas, disseminate information. In schools “copying” is frowned upon. It is still difficult to get teachers to accept that collaboration is not cheating, that it offers learners of all levels the opportunity to develop their skills and work within Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Most countries still have an examination system that advantages the “haves” and disadvantages the “have-nots”.

Somebody asked me the other day how I envisaged MOOCS affecting universities and schools in the future. How do we authenticate the work that a student produces in an online collaborative environment? As an educator, and it has taken me almost 28 years of teaching for me to have the confidence to express this view, I believe in lifelong learning, in learning just to learn and not to pass exams. I believe that my role is to enthuse a love of learning in my students, not just my own subject but all areas. Don’t get me wrong, lots if teachers also believe in lifelong learning. But learning has been hijacked by qualifications, by the need to standardise, quantify, assess, prove competency. I see MOOCS as being able to redress the balance a little especially now that employers cannot distinguish between Student X with grade As or Excellence in every subject and Student Y with the same grades. There has to be some way of finding the best candidate. Anybody can sign up to a Mooc, engage in it at whatever level is appropriate for them, explore ideas, expand their knowledge, learn, for the simple pleasure of learning. Too many students nowadays are “credit hunters” ; their primary motive for learning is to gain credits towards their exams; their parents too, push their children to work for their exams but don’t necessarily instil a desire to learn.

So.. Learn because you want to.

Learn because you can.

Learn because you are curious.

Learn for fun.

Learn.

“Education!” said Eeyore bitterly, jumping on his six sticks. “What is Learning?” asked Eeyore as he kicked his twelve sticks in the air. “A thing Rabbit knows. Ha!”
A A Milne

#edcmooc Sight

Well, that was quite disturbing! Is life a game, or is the game life? How does one differentiate between what is real and what is not? I guess relationships are a game, a game of strategy, of manoevering, of compromise, of second guessing, of intuition… I am uncomfortable about this short and the ideas it suggests to me of mind control, of brain washing, of “Big Brother”.

For centuries men and women have counted the “notches on the bedpost”; in battle soldiers have kept a tally of the number of the enemy they have killed; how many fish have been caught, how much game has been bagged; competition is part and parcel of life and is what drives people forward to improve and develop. Is that why computer games which are based on accumulating points, conquests, trophies have been so successful?

Relationships are also often a power struggle and the protagonist who has most power is often the one who has the most information. In this short the male clearly has plenty of information and as the story develops, it is also clear that he thinks he has the upper hand. I am not so sure though; has he met his match? Has he taken control of her to re-configure her profile or will she resist? Maybe I just want to believe that she is not a victim?

In contrast to the sleek, pristine, clean backdrop of the first two films, this film seems outwardly more sinister. The atmosphere is darker and more menacing and the empty walls of the character’s apartment hide what is underneath.

In the future will we be able to use facial recognition and body language sensors to help us know what to do in any given situation? Will we be able to inbuild a sort of intuition that is sensitive to mood and circumstance? That could, of course, have a positive effect on society much like the robot seal that one poster mentioned that affords some comfort and healing to convalescing patients. Will the technology control us or will we control it? It comes back to the idea of what motivates people to invent and create? In this film, it felt to me quite negative, a dystopian vision rather than utopian.

#edcmooc Sleek and white – a utopian vision of the future

I just watched the first two videos for Week 2 and am struck by the sterility of the environments that are portrayed. Where is the reality of a world of busy people rushing her there and everywhere, living, playing, eating, making a mess for heaven’s sake?!  Is the message somehow that the arrival of these amazing products will make our lives serene, stressfree, and successful? I guess that is the utopian model that is promoted but maybe I am unusual in enjoying a bit of colour, dirt, feeling and real life.

Yes, I would welcome less stress and for centuries man has striven to make our working and home lives easier by developing machines to do jobs for us. I would not do without my washing machine, car, tumble drier, dishwasher now that I have them. I reckon that there is no way that women would be able to work full time and manage a house without those machines because, at the risk of upsetting a minority of good men (my husband included), the housework and cooking does, more often than not, still get done by women!  That these machines have had an impact society and the way that we live is incontrovertible. However, there is a long way between making my life easier and the anodyne, emptiness of feeling that is suggested in these films. I think there also comes a point when a machine can’t do a job better than a human. I think that the idea of soul, feeling, emotions has been touched on in many posts and we haven’t quite managed to invent something that can replace the human touch.

But what of education? What is being learned and taught? I like the way that the computers used by the family in the second film are used to connect the family even though they are apart. The child could research on the computer for a recipe but also involve her Mum and tap into her experience and knowledge. They connected in a real way – what is more basic than cooking? There was the opportunity for emotional connection, to nurture relationships. Much has been made of the social impact of absent parents, the effect absences have on a child’s emotional and social development. Maybe that is the difference these tools can make? Maybe that is the impact the will have to change society? I think it is important that in both these films the children are seen using computers in a supported environment, they are guided by their parents. And because the whole environment appears to be connected the idea of being raised as a digital citizen, learning to interact and react within a virtual as well as a real world, is evident. Will this technology help shape and hone the social nature man? Will it change the way we think, act, interact, learn, work, live and die?

The ability to collaborate, share information, talk, communicate, connect – all key skills. But I don’t really see how the hardware they were using does that any differently to the way we can do those things now. Yes the gadgets are prettier and shinier, they have more potential but unless we change the way that we do things and not just the gadgets we do them with, what is the point?  I like the practical applications of the tools in the second film especially at the beginning when the two people communicate about accommodation and travel arangements.  Communication is clear, concise, effective; real communication in a real life contexts.

I go back to the sterility of the environment though because it was striking to me. The work environments had white walls, white or glass benches and tables, there were no pictures, no external stimulus. Even in the house which had some warmth, everything was in its place, it was a house and not a home. The only break in the whiteness was the “living” wall; a wall made of foliage. A connection to the outside worlds, to nature. This motif apears again and again in the course videos; the connection or disconnect between technology and nature.  How can we maintain our humanity, our soul if we don’t connect with nature? Surely a dystopian vision?

#edcmooc #edcmchat

Laptop computer on a table in a garden. There are roses from the garden in a vase to the right of the computer. It is a sunny day.I just took part in my first Twitter chat. An hour – well, not quite because I missed the start which was a bad move as I was behind before I even started – of fast paced tweeting with so many interesting threads and comments. However, time went fast and it was over before I knew it.  I tended to be more of a stalker than a contributor, probably because I was late to it and spent some time catching up, reading tweets and trying to work out what the questions were that everyone was answering! I retweeted and favourited but found that my brain just isn’t really quick enough to think of meaningfull comments of my own! An I am just a little bit scared too!  I connect with what one Tweeter said;

“The one thing that has concerned me is airing unformed views that might be misinterpreted. #edcmchat

I have taken a while to get going with Twitter and with blogging because I don’t feel that anyone else would necessarily be interested in what I think.  Why would they?  For a long time I wrote my blog but kept it private for that very reason.  One day I daringly ventured to tweet a new blog post and a Twitter friend suggested that maybe I should make my blog public because she thought what I had said made sense.  That one vote of confidence was an epiphany for me despite the fact that my husband had said all along that I should make it public. (But he is biased!)

Getting back to the point though, I think I have learned over the last year or so, and certainly the last week, that unformed comments have to be made so that people can react, to prompt discussion, to engender debate and as the interaction progresses the ideas take on shape, substance and depth.  So what if they are misinterpreted – that just gives you the opportunity to explain and in so doing helps you to think ideas through, it offers different points of view and forces you to think from an alternative perspective.

Thank you to all those people who retweeted my few comments or who replied to them – it is strange how empowering and encouraging that response is.

So, I think I will be more organised for the next edcmchat and more confident about making comments.  I am going to make a list so that I can add people to it when I see a comment that I resonate with so that if I need to I can go back to it later.  I am going to be brave and go for it!

#edcmooc “Inbox”

Boy jumping off high diving board at swimming pool“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” —Mahatma Gandhi

I found this quote as I was reading through some of the blogs featured in the edcmooc news.  It has no real relevance to our theme of Utopia and Dystopia but I like the idea of learning for as long as you live and living life as fully as you can.

Living in the here and now – is that what the characters in the “Inbox” were doing? Making the most of a random opportunity, responding to a situation, communicating, connecting, building futures?  Utopian or dystopian? Once the connection was made there was hope, when the link was broken, hope remained. Makes me think of La Condition Humaine – Man’s Fate – an existentialist state where man chooses his own path, his own destiny, which dictates how people communicate with each other and how they interact with the world.

“Existentialists believe that when someone or society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be faithfully accepted and obeyed it destroys individualism and makes a person become whatever the people in power desire thus they are dehumanized and reduced to being an object.” 

So where am I going with this?  I’m not really sure but I have a glimmer of something in the back of my mind that is glinting that I can’t quite grasp!

Does technology, do the shiny, pretty things, the gadgets and gizmos, the tweets, FB, the constant updates impose rules, beliefs, values on us that we don’t want to accept?  Do we risk losing our individualism and our personal freedom?  Or do they offer us the opportunity to discover ourselves, to find out who we are, to unlock our potential, and find happpiness?  Or is that just too black and white?  Are there more shades of grey?  Do we need to recognise that life is an essential mixture of utopian and dystopian experiences?

Communication, connections, webs, networks …..

#edcmooc Thursday

Just trying out an application suggested in a tweet – still needs a lot of work but looks like it could be an interesting tool to use….

Checkthis

and I wonder if pechaflickr could be a way to go – quite random but certainly an option!  Why not have a play! 

I found “Thursday” an interesting short. My first thought was how similar the street grid system seen from above like the grids on the old computer games but I agree with some of the comments on the discussion board that the street grid system is like a computer motherboard.  Are we all living in a huge game? Where do reality and make-believe merge? Can we escape the automation of daily life and choose our own destiny? Maybe that is what the couple were doing when they went on their outing on Thursday?

I think that the way that the bird mimics the sounds around it is like the way that we have copied nature’s designs to build machines. It is ironic, but also we adapt the way we act and speak to fit in with our surroundings especially when we are in unfamiliar or challenging situations so as not to stand out and as a way to survive. Maybe this is a dystopian struggle for survival? But then if their day of escapism is hope for the future maybe it has a utopian element?

Other people have commented on the sadness of the people’s dependence and absorption in their gadgets, their machines and how when the power went out they found themselves bereft of anything to do.  Is that dependence stripping us of the ability to be creative, to think for ourselves?

It is certainly the cry of lots of parents, and I hear myself saying it to my children too!  When we turn off the internet or tell them that their time is up on their computers or tablets they mope around for half an hour until they remember (or are reminded) that there are other things to do!  We try to play family games but I am frustrated by how infrequently we do that now since my husband and I too are often to be found with our heads staring at a computer screen.  It is also easy to let our kids play on computers – a cheap babysitter, just as the TV has been the baby sitter in previous years – so that we can get on with what we need to do.

boys playing computer games sitting next to each other on sofa in living room

Interestingly, I have observed that my boys communicate more through the medium of computer games than face to face. Of course, they still have the rough and tumble of brotherly play, they are both keen sports players and we spend a reasonable amount of time outdoors. But the games they play require them to play as a team against another team, so they have to discuss strategy, make decisions, build things and interact. Sometimes they do this sitting next to each other as in the photo, sometimes they are in separate rooms, and it maybe that when the older brother goes away later this month they will play across continents. I think that the skills they are learning and developing during this play time will help them to grow as adults and help them in their lives.

Prince Harry said recently of his role in Afghanistan working as a helicopter gunner “It’s a joy for me. I am one of those people who loves playing Playstation and XBox and so I am good with my thumbs, I like to think that I am quite useful.”   Those comments have caused quite a stir but I think that he is right – I have read research (but can’t quite find sources just now) that suggests that parts of the brain are stimulated when playing computer games which help in quick decision making and manual reflexes.

The interactive nature of computer games now is, I believe,  far preferable to one on one games that require interaction only between the computer and the player.  A friend of mine remarked on that the other day when I went to pick up my 13 year old from his friends’ house.  They are twins and when I arrived, my son was playing an interactive game with one of them, they were in separate spaces in an open plan area so we could see both of them and they spent the whole time talking to each other, deciding who was going to do what, which bounty to collect, how to attack, counter-attack, defend etc.  The other twin was playing on a handheld device, completely self-absorbed and seemingly isolated.   That is not to say that there isn’t a place for one to one time, but a healthy balance is needed.

Which brings me to the idea in the film that people are so governed by their machines that they no longer notice the world around them.  It is easy to see how this can happen – computer games are addictive and it is for that reason that I avoid them; I know I will get sucked in, I know because it has happened to me!  Fortunately, I don’t think I have a particularly addictive personality and I usually get bored after the mania has run its course and I move onto the next thing.  But I do have a busy and demanding job, one that I love, but the demands of the job mean that I often come home from work and then immediately sit down at the computer and start again because I have stuff that I have to do for the next day.  I find myself missing out on the things I really love doing like spending time with my family, being outdoors in the hills or by the sea.

I am doing this course because the subject interests me but it too means that I am focussed on the computer.  Fortunately, it is summer here and I am sitting in the garden with cicadas chirruping, birds singing and the smell of the roses all around me.

As a family we do get out and about and it is always refreshing to leave the gadgets behind and play cards or boards games actually using a pack of cards and a board rather than on the gadgets!  However, we did find that this year on holiday we were still slaves to our gadgets; we used them to check the weather forecast,  Google maps helped us find the way, (better than an in-car Sat Nav), we could find out what to do in different places, Google Goggle was a great for identifting the names of landmarks and giving us additional information on the hoof and then I am hooked on Instagram at the moment so photos were edited and uploaded as I took them, and my husband and I had a mini competition going on as to who could check in to 4square first whenever we went to a cafe!  Gadgets in cars to keep kids amused are great too and stop the incessant refrain of “Are we nearly there?”

Father and son sitting on rocks by the ocean looking at hand held computers

But did we miss out on the world around us by having our gadgets on us the whole time?  I don’t think we did; I think that in many ways they helped us to look at the world in a different way.  I enjoy photography and using instagram has encouraged me to  look at what is around me from a different perspective – I like to upload photos that say something to me, they are contextual, they also reflect who I am as a person.  I still use my SLR camera for more planned shots but the immediacy of a camera on my mobile phone fulfils my need for instant gratification and feedback from my followers!

Keeping a balance is important and I know there are times when, as a family, we fail.  However, I think on the whole we do a pretty good job and hopefully the boys will maintain that when they no longer have us as guardians of cyberspace.

On that note, I am taking a break.  Going for a coffee with my husband who is also engaged in a Mooc and needs dragging away!