“The future of education” in #edcmooc

Really, I should be finishing a grant proposal, due Monday. But…#edcmoocing is more fun.

Hardly a small thing we are to contemplate in the second week of #edcmooc. The very future of digital technology and education, no less… Is this a future to look forward to? To dread? Is it coming no matter what we do? Can we controll what’s coming? Will it be recognizable?

Questions humans have worried about since the beginning of time, I suspect.

This week’s films look at ubiquitous technology in a near future, with the most realistic being A Digital Tomorrow, the only one which looks a mundane «warts and all» future where technology is just as capricious and unreliable as we experience it to be today – and, just like today, even the unreliable technology is indispensible.

What makes this interesting to me is the fact that as we take technology into the classroom, and begin to develop didactic methods based on technology, the fact is: sometimes it just doesn’t work. The net goes down, the os crashes, an app update interrupts, or information is mysteriously not presented the way it ought to be because of some strange glitch.

The two ads for Corning and Intel present a «perfect» future, where technology is seamlessly integrated into every part of our lives and just works. This technology is «invisible» in the sense that one does not have to think about it, just use it. This is the way we want our technology, which is what makes the worlds being presented so appealing (at least, at first glance).

Problem is, the world jus’ don’ work like that.

Anyone who has struggled to connect a laptop to a projector has experienced this (usually subject to some version of Murphy’s Law).

This too, is the future of education. Things will not work as desired, usually at the worst possible time.

However, that is not what this week was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about metaphor, and the use of metaphor in the films and how that relates to education. An opportunity to delve deeper into the dangers of using digitial tools as mere versions of physical objects, allowing us to continue teaching the way we have for centuries insead of exploring new ways of constructing the teacher-student relationship that builds on the potential of the technology.

But Murphy’s Law was more appealing.

Back to that grant proposal.

Determining my attitude to determinism within #edcmooc

First, a dislosure: I have been stuggling with moocguilt this week. You know the one, the guilt that strikes when you come home from a draining day at work, and, after a family dinner, sit down with a computing device and say to yourself: «I will now reactivate my brain and go the #edcmooc resouces and get moocing! There are connecitons to be made, learning to encounter». And seconds later, comes the little follow-up «But first I need to relax a bit.» Some Twitter, catching up on some rss feeds, some mindless surfing…and before you know it the evening has passed you by.

I seem to remember that is what did me in last time as well.

And then I realise – this is what life is like now, isn’t it. Academics, teachers, students, goodness knows who (everyone) else. I have the world at my fingertips, through this science fiction-like technology I controll with my fingertips, and there I times when it is overwhelming. Quite beyond my capacity to controll at times.

Is this deterministic? Have I fallen prey to the effects of a technology that har inevitably changed both my, and the society in which I live? A technology that has changed the way society works, the way education works, the very way our brains work?

Trouble is, there’s this little nagging voice that reminds me that I did not suddenly learn procrastination when I acquired my first modem in 1993. On the contrary, I was quite adept at it before. When I see my teenager procrastinating online, I am reminded that as a teenager I procrastinated with television, dungeons and dragons, mindless doodling, comics, and whatever else was more interesting than the task at hand (yes, also in class). Rather than adding to my consumption of mindless crap, access to the internet has replaced one source of mindless crap – television – with another – my iPad.
 
The difference being that I can – and do –  actually use the iPad for productive reading and writing as well.

Of couse technology has affected both myself and society, but when I look at education, for example, I am far more worried about the creeping (and not so creeping) commercialisation of education than about the use of computers and other ed-tech in the classroom. I believe the commercial forces are taking advantage of technology to extend their grip, rather than the spread of technology driving the increasing commericalisation of society. (That’s a whole other discussion I won’t get into here)

Have I changed in 20 years online?

I should bloody well hope so! I am 20 years older and wiser (or at least more experienced).

Has that change been determined by technological advances? No, I do not think so – although it has definitely been affected by them.

A take on dystopia. Or is it utopia? A stream of consciousness blog for #edcmooc

Ok, then. #edcmooc has begun, and the first unit is about utopias and dystopias. Naturally enough, given the focus on digital culture and education, we are to look at the first assignment while contemplating education…

At first we are asked to watch 4 short films. They are

All of them have a different take on technology.

Bendito Machine is a fairly standard parable about the dangers of technology, specifically televion, telling us how it corrupts a society. The more subtle background is a commentary on how perhaps humans are dependent on something to worship, and whether it is a gold calf or high-tech dancing television beast is not important to us. Indeed, the people in the film are quick to discard their idols for the next impressive thing, as their overflowing landfill will attest to.

Inbox is more sweet, a fable about connections, showing how if we allow ourselves to connect based on content rather than appearances, suprises and even love may ensue. The "inbox", in this case, is a magical paper bag – or rather, two, connected paper bags. In this case communications technology becomes a magical force bringing unlikely lovers together.

Thursday is the most complex of the selection. We are introduced to an urban nightmare, a sterile, mechanised, soul-sucking cityscape. And yet, within this seemingly sterile enviornment, life seems to thrive. A bird feeds and raises her three chicks. A man and a woman find each other and love. A clever twist on the dystopian tale, where the victor seems to be life and hope.

NewMedia is mostly a nightmarish meditation, where machines seem to float around feeding on the brains/thoughts/souls of the few humans around.

And so?

Science fiction is full of dystopias; words that tell us about the dangers of science, technology and messing with nature. It has been that way since the dawn of recorded history, starting with the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire from the gods. Progress is dangerous, and for all the benefits it also brings disaster for both the giver and receiver. Frankenstein is another example, where grave consequences are the result of meddling with nature. In real life, the introduction of cane toads into the Australian fauna can be seen as an example of a similar hubris.

Don’t mess with nature. Science will lead us to disaster; one of the more common themes of science fiction, especially now that we all see so clearly how human "progress" is poisoning our very planet and endangering our future.

The list of films that paint a rather bleak picture of the future is long. Metropolis. Westworld. Blade Runner.

Even films that at the outset seem to have a more positive view of technology end up with a rather bleak view, with a prime example being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even a film like Source Code, where the technological progress saves a city has a downbeat ending.

One of the few examples of an unconditionally positive view of technologial progress is the Star Trek universe, and even here there are plenty of warnings and the two most recent films seem to have abandoned techno-optimism altogether.

Ok, then. What about education and digital cultures? That is what we are supposed to be reflecting on, isn’t it?

I don’t know yet.

I love gadgets and the connections the internet allows me to explore.

I think networked education has a huge potential, one I have experienced myself through experiments with things like #etmooc, #moocmooc, #ooe13, and, more recently, the Norwegian #smartlæring.

But, at the same time, the potential of networks to be misused is frightening – and Edward Snowden is not the first to point this out. We have been warned about it for a long time. This is a dystopian view of the world as it is today, and it is chillingly convincing.

What does it mean to educate within digital cultures in the modern surveillance state? What should I, as an educator, think about. What should I teach my students about this.

I am reminded about the slogan sometimes used by supporters of the national rifle associaton in the the USA:

Guns don’t kill people. People [with guns] kill people.

To which the obvious retort is:

So keep the damned guns away from the people!

But we can’t do that.

Can we?

And, even if we could – do we want to?


These thoughts are not yet digested, but I seem to have been chewing on them for some time now. This block in #edcmooc has just brought them to the surface again…

My #edcmooc «statement of intent»

A key part of our pedagogic method at the Norwegian Film School is the «statement of intent» (in Norwegian: hensiktserklæring). Every time the students are given a film assignment they have to write one of these, both individually and as a team, and at the end of the exercise, when the final result is screened, their success or failure is measured solely against this statement of intent.

I seems only fair that I write one of these for myself as I enter into a learning process of my own.

On the surface, the statment of intent is simple. There are only two questions to be answered in it:

  1. What do I want to learn / achieve / develop through this process?
  2. What (specific) steps will I take to ensure that I learn / achieve / develop the way I’ve planned?

So. What is my statement of intent (SOI) for #edcmooc?

To figure that out, I must go to the «assignment». Every good SOI refers to the assignment and takes into account the constraints and possibilities inherent in the assignment.

In this case, the assignment, as it appears now before the course starts, is:

E-learning and Digital Cultures is aimed at teachers, learning technologists, and people with a general interest in education who want to deepen their understanding of what it means to teach and learn in the digital age. The course is about how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology.

In a follow-up email, this is further elaborated:

First we will look at ‘utopias and dystopias’ and second, we will focus on ‘being human’ in a digital age. Throughout, we will be discussing how these broad themes relate to the ways in which we think about online education. Please note that the focus of the course will not be on practical guidance for creating e-learning courses or materials, but is rather an opportunity to consider how wider cultural ideas impact upon the way we think about technology and education.

That last sentence could be a bit of an issue, given my declared ambition (previous blog post) is to learn from this course some of the things I need in order to create an online course of my own (funding agency willing)… But, issues are made to be solved, are they not?

So, back to the statement of intent. This will be a draft, as I am sure it will develop through the first few weeks of the course.

What do I hope to achieve?

It is my intent that, after completing this course, I have an increased understanding of how online interactions can differ from face-to-face interactions. Using my previous experience with MOOCs (like #etmooc, #moocmooc, #oole13, #smartlæring) as a springboard, I want to gain a deeper insight into how to use digital media and communications tools to their full advantage. I also want to be able to introduce others, especially those who are less comfortable with digital tools, to these advantages.

How will I work to achieve this?

Aye, there’s the rub. Learning machines do not exist (thank goodness!) and learning requires work. And so: I will need to comit to participating in the various scheduled chats, hangouts, whatever else there are of sychronous event (with two caveats: participation in the local curling league comes first, and I will not use Facebook for this course). I will blog. Repeat: I will blog! And comment on other peoples blogs.

And I will make and hand in the final «digital artifact».

Ok. There it is. My comitment to myself; and when this is all over I will measure my success against my statement of intent (surely modified by then).

Anticipating #edcmooc

Third time lucky?

This is the third year the University of Edinburgh is running #edcmooc  The first year I saw it, but did not sign up. Looking around my PLN, that appeared to be a mistake.

The second year I signed up. Period. I think I followed it for about a week, but did not do a heck of a lot, in part due to an insanely busy semester at the Norwegian Film School that left me with little energy for participating in a MOOC.

So…here we go again.

This time will (may) be different.

How can I tell? Well, for starters, I’ve written this blog entry. That is an improvement in and of itself…

Also, while work is still pretty insanely busy, I have an increased motivation. Yesterday I submitted a funding proposal here in Norway to design and run an online course for training film school teachers – and I think participating in #edcmooc will give me some inspiration towards that end.

I’ll give it a shot, anyway.

On Creativity

I read Stephen Downes’ blog regularly; I always find it thought-provoking and interesting. Today was no exception.

Today’s entry, entitled No Paradox Here (go read it at the source) inspired me to think about my own work at The Norwegian Film School, where creativity is our bread and butter…

Specifically, Downes quotes Spencer, who writes:

Creativity: It happens when students have freedom and limitations

His response is:

Creativity is possible even if there are limitations, but only if there is freedom.

Well…not exactly. And it depends on how you apply limitations and freedom.

We are a school for creative artists (filmmakers), and the entire programme is built around the conscious application of limitations in order to stimulate creativty. It’s not our own invention by any stretch, but we have over the years refined teaching methods that enable the students to both explore their own creativity and push the limits their own abilities through the imposition of limitations.

In our experience, too much freedom stifles creativity rather than encouraging it. (And yes, we do realise misguided use of limitations can also stifle creativity.) By specifiying a series of condititions for each film exercise the students are given we give them a well-defined area to explore, encouraging them to make mistakes and take chances within those limits.

There is theory for this, and we lean on Vygotski with his development of the concepts scaffolding and zone of proximal development, and also conscious of the importance of letting the students reach a state of flow. Being an arts school where all the teaching staff are practicing filmmakers, not trained educators has led us to set up weekly staff meetings where we discuss the students development, future teaching plans and the practical and theoretical aspects of this pedagogy.

So, in this case, Spencer is correct: creativity will only happen where there are both limitations and freedom — the limitations designed to encourage creativity and the freedom to explore within these limitations.

But Downes is also correct: this is no paradox. Rather, it is a necessary condition for creativity.

Biosphere 2013: a play

Back in 1992, while I was active at The Union Theatre, I co-created a weekly, dystopian science fiction serial called Biosphere. The title was inspired by Ed Bass’ Biosphere 2 project (which I did not know was still active!) and the content by a conviction that the world was increasingly controlled by corporate entities more than by any democratic institutions.

At the conclusion of the series, Kate Story and I wrote a play based on the serial. I provided the structure and and feedback, while Kate wrote most of the dialogue and actions. The result was performed at The Union in April, 1993.

None of us consider it great literature, but it was a good show. So here it is, warts and all (and lighting cues, in case you were wondering what those marks are).

(It’s out there with CC BY-SA 3.0 license, so feel free to adapt and perform – but do let us know!)

edit 25.10.2013 In light of the NSA scandal that’s been unfolding the past few months, topped with the recent revelations that the NSA has in fact (most likely) been wiretapping heads of state, the future we were painting a picture of seems more like reality than a dystopian vision… Of course, the panopticon is not a new idea – but none of us could truly have imagined the way in which governments and corporations would collude to keep track of citizens…