tumblog summary

I began my tumblog without a clear notion of what I was doing. I had an idea that this was a good thing–that the value would emerge as I dived in and just started posting. I don’t think this would have occurred to me had I not been primed by IDEL, although the tumblog was quite different than the blog for that module.

In the first few weeks I took my cues from the module resources, other students’ tumblogs and the comments I received. It became increasingly apparent, especially in the early stages, that I was constantly having to leap the fences that my mind had put up. The fences were sometimes trying to keep popular culture out, or block ideas that seemed too tenuously connected to the module topics, or concerns that my tumblog would pick up the spill over from my work and personal lives. But the leaping itself, once I’d realised that it was okay for me to do, engendered a sense of freedom that had been lacking in many academic contexts up to this point. (I especially think of a paper I wrote for an undergraduate course in which I combined learning from another module, from a different department, with learning from the one I was studying, and received a failing mark for being ‘off-topic’; this seriously put me off combining different disciplines in assessed work.) The encouragement to actively pursue interdisciplinary connections, the delight of combining  unexpected and diverse content and media, and the challenge to use the academic reading and theory to gain insight into the culture represented was thus a rare intellectually fulfilling process.

It was only near the end of the module, however, that I began to see how closely the tumblog itself related to the module topics. I don’t know if I can quite map the blocks onto the progress of my understanding of the tumblog experience, but perhaps I could suggest that the first block gave us (as a module group) a way into examining and extending our shared understanding of digital cultures and the portrayal of the digital in our cultures (including self-referential reflection on the nature of online environments and individual relations to that environment and identity–which spoke directly to our participation on edc13.education.ed.ac.uk); this collective endeavour developed a community with its own norms and behaviours (again, a playing out of the theory); and finally this ‘environment’ became an amalgam of artefacts, people and ideas around a ‘matter of concern’–cyborg posthumans experimenting.

I also think this module has avoided the error of creating a ‘fake’ journey of discovery in which the student  is scheduled to experience cognitive dissonance on day X, a paradigm shift on day Y and finally a learn-by-doing epiphany on day Z. Perhaps most of my fellow students linked the tumblog to module content long before I did; but the crucial thing as I see it was that the tumblog and projects made this delivery of the module significantly and genuinely uniqueand as such a real-time enactment of the theory.

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week 12 summary

This week I’ve been thinking more about how posthumanism in particular relates to education. This has also been feeding into thoughts about my assignment topic, in which I’m going to critically narrate (in a blog) an interest-pursuing exercise to see if I can evaluate the feasibility of the de-centred, ‘consideration’ educational model.

Framing the assignment topic has been a bit tricky, as I want to keep an open mind about what my conclusions are going to be in the ‘meta’ criticism while also keeping an analytical outlook into the topic of interest… For the latter, I’m trying to find a reasonable balance between a narrowly focused, traditional approach and a genetically altered rhizome going wherever my fancy takes me! And in this, I‘m already conducting a tacit analysis of the interest-pursuit model–which will need to be included in my higher-level blog…

I’ve tried to come at these issues from some disparate starting places in hopes that I can clarify in my mind what I actually mean by interest-pursuit–or perhaps what people like Edwards mean. I think I’ll have to do some more old-fashioned research here!

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No guru, no method, no teacher

The following comment was awaiting my approval when I logged on the other day, and I promptly relegated it to the spam heap:

But then I started to think about its precepts regarding ‘Teachers’ and ‘Leaders’, and about some of the trends we’ve been discussing in education. I’ve made an odd sort of link between this and a small religious group…

The above verse was often used by a fundamentalist Christian faction known as the Plymouth Brethren to argue against the hierarchical structures of most other Christian denominations. They didn’t have priests, bishops, cardinals or even ‘pastors’. The minimised the use of symbols, imagery and ceremony. Their Sunday meetings involved sitting silently in a room until a congregation member decided to say, pray, read or sing something. This was all with the loftiest egalitarian aims, rooted in revulsion against the ecclesial aristocracy of the 19th century Church of England in particular (but obviously other denominations as well).

Anyone with a cynical bone in their body will probably know how this group progressed since its inception:

  • While arguing that everyone should interpret scripture themselves rather than listening to ‘teachers’ or ‘leaders’, John Nelson Darby‘s writings themselves became ‘scriptures’ (and he a revered figure) even outside of the Brethren.
  •  The meetings (not ‘communion services/eucharists’) were not as egalitarian as they may appear–only adult males who were members of the group (not ‘church’) were allowed to say anything. Women were silent had kept their heads covered.
  • Outside of these Sunday morning meetings, people (men) did give talks (not ‘sermons’). Women taught Sunday School and other women.
  • A great quantity of unwritten laws arose through practice (such as how to carry Bibles and hymnals, what types of prayers to offer when in the course of a meeting, women could not wear trousers to meeting–even in the mini-skirt era, etc.).

Why am I going on (and on and on) about this? Well, it seems to me that often educators can get stuck in the same muddle as the Brethren did. Wanting to make education as egalitarian as possible, and as organic as possible, we try to sidestep traditional educational pitfalls such as hierarchical structures, but oftentimes end up back where we started. I’ll give a few examples…

  • No teacher. The Brethren eschewed ‘priests’ (and the Roman Catholic ‘Father’), but had ‘Travelling Brothers’ who were funded by the Brethren to spend their lives speaking at different meetings, writing articles and books, etc… It doesn’t seem a million miles away from the ‘sage on the stage’ rebranding into ‘guide on the side’ (or ‘meddler in the middle’?!). I’m going to be rather traditionalist here and suggest that, while I think this is pertinent to how students learn (by doing rather than being talked at, for example), the who they are learning from is still important. They are a guide; they are there (ideally!) because they‘ve walked a road similar to this before. They’re not afraid of learning something new from the students, but in this context they do have a certain role.
  • No method. I don’t know much about psychology, but I think it’s safe to say that people like a degree of routine–especially in social situations. They generally feel more comfortable with norms of behaviour, whether their personal rituals or those of a group or society. Thus the many unwritten rules that arose to fill in the gaps in the early days of the Brethren (who had plenty of written rules to go on already) were never overthrown but became part of the culture. Likewise, I think educators sometimes take the rules away in order to give students more freedom, only to find that the students are constantly asking for boundaries to be set, or have misinterpreted a task in an unforeseeable way, or become frustrated by having to ‘guess’ at what they’re supposed to be doing. Not that this isn’t a very difficult balance to achieve–it takes experience and an understanding of a group of students. I guess the important part of this is that ‘open’ does not equal ‘unstructured’.
  • No guru. Another danger of letting students experiment, experience or interpret is that they will do so in a vacuum. In addition to an expert of some kind and a structure, students need to know the broader context–they need the object to be re-solidified. The Brethren, while claiming to rely on the bible alone, actually based their beliefs on other people’s interpretations of it; the most dangerous thing about this was that it was almost always unconscious: people actually thought that such-and-such a doctrine had come from their objective reading of scripture (not from Darby or Brother Smith or from what so-and-so said last week at meeting). The context existed, but was not recognised. I’d like to argue that this can happen in education as well (it was certainly apparent when I was studying literature as an undergrad): students can only form understanding based on the resources available to them–I could read TS Eliot with understanding, but how would this compare to my understanding after some historical background, reading contemporary and modern criticism, reading other poetry of the same era, discussing Eliot with people with different points of view and understandings… These resources existed, but it was seldom explicitly suggested that I go looking for them, that they would broaden my understanding, etc.

This is still all getting away from abstraction, categorisation and the subjective human (which is why I’m blogging about it now!) and I think shows in a different way how the teacher, while their role might have changed in the evolution of educational theory, still has an important (and certainly more nuanced, changeable and demanding) part to play in the student-inquiry-object-rhizome morphology.

Looking at this from a broader perspective, though, we may (like Edwards?) then ask what education is for anyway. But…that’s for another module.

Thanks to Van Morrison for the title.

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week 11 summary

I have to confess that I just this moment realised that we’re meant to continue our tumblogs through weeks 11 and 12. As we Americans say, d’oh.

But I’ll soldier on with a few things I was thinking about in week 11, although displayed post-humously…

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The Big Bang Theory, a show that I am compelled to watch by virtue of being married to a physicist, does virtual presence. Coincidentally enough, Sheldon chooses this manner of being present in the hopes that he will keep his body alive until his consciousness can be transferred into a computer and can thus be immortal. Of course the virtual presence is foiled in the end by virtue of Sheldon wanting Steve Wosniak to sign his vintage Apple. What struck me about this was that the attitude the other characters had (and thus the audience were expected to have?) was a long-suffering incredulity about Sheldon’s self-centredness and unquestioning belief in technology. It wasn’t anti-modernism (‘look what kind of trouble tech has gotten him into now!’) or anti-humanism (‘look at his vain attempt to beat death’), but rather a neutral view of tech and perhaps a reaction to humanism–at least centred around one person…Edwards’ subject?

An extreme example of the person becoming a machine is the cyberman, something else I’m required by holy matrimony to know all about. In recent years, these have been given a bit of a twist: in one of the revival episodes (10th doctor, series 2, 2006 if you’re a serious anorak), a regular character is turned into a cyberman, but remembers her life as a human. She sees it in a completely dispassionate way and can’t understand why the humans are so distraught. Is this opaquely suggesting the impossibility of Sheldon’s dream of moving an intact consciousness into a machine, devoid of physical presence not to mention bodily chemistry? Or is it just the emotion inhibitor? (And why is there an emotion inhibitor? Because if there wasn’t, the brain would be so appalled at what had happened to its…person…that it would die.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, separation of body and mind is seen as simply an inconvenience (this scene and Rimmer’s permanent hologramatic state):

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Or an technicality to be exploited:

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In both of these extremes, however, we find another dichotomy–not just body versus mind, but body versus [robot casing, hologram, killing machine]…or, translated into the debate that seems to really be going on, body versus [Facebook identity, avatar, discussion board moderator, wikipedia contributor...or equally: university alumni profile, letter to the editor, report on the main exports of Uruguay...] It’s not just a case of whether the mind (or personality, consciousness, identity, etc.) can be separated from the body, but what it [the mind/etc.] is if that separation occurs. Lister’s mind is saved onto a highly improbably disc and dropped into a cup of tea–is the disc Lister? Is the war machine Nixon?

Jumping ahead in the future a bit–this approaches my assignment topic at a bit of a tangent, in particular my investigation into fan fiction. In this situation, we have the mind of the original author; the original text; a character (if we can assume that the character is ‘greater than’ the text…which, it seems to me, is the premise that fan fiction is based on, although I won’t draw any conclusions yet…); the mind of the ff author; the text that the ff author writes; the reception of that text by others with intricate knowledge of the first three. Are they all separate entities, or do they all work to create a transtemporal posthuman…?


Schools encouraged to take more risks in the classroom

What I found interesting here was the way in which ‘risk’ was described. It was clear that the students were engaged in a problem-based learning kind of exercise, but the benefits of risk were singled out and described in a circuitous way, as a tack-on to the ‘real’ learning, a trick that would make it more fun. (Which, BTW, would suggest that traditional methods like exams and singling out in class, as high-risk, would be highly beneficial.) Was this just BBC Breakfast Soft Piece shorthand, or is stuff like PBL so outside public consciousness that most people just don’t get it?

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