Bleekness & the braindead test

I took the Bleeker text downstairs with me between my moodle making tasks at work the other day, to read while I ordered a coffee…. I found myself sitting down with it and letting my coffee go cold… damn. I had to reheat it in a microwave when I eventually got back upstairs, and I left it in too long it splattered everywhere, so then I had to clean up the coffee mess…. don’t you just love the way solving simple problems in daily life turns them into bigger ones?

anyway, the point is I was so interested in the Bleeker text I read it straight through and forgot where I was and what I was meant to be doing…. all I do is think about blogjects now.. all day long.. and wishing all these bright young folks had the maturity and humanity to think of intelligent applications that help solve genuine problems….

but anyway, I also really enjoyed the Campbell lecture this past week… something resonated strongly when he was taking the piss out of that kind of ‘grading rubric’ we all know and love so well.. the one that specifies to the nth degree what the student is to do… and then icing on the stodge, orders them to ‘be creative’… yes, that is scary control freakish stuff alright… all of the creative goodness squeezed right out and all the while pretending that this is ‘helping’ students learn….

not what teachers want, yet what we all somehow end up doing a lot of the time… a double bind, Bateson said – two conflicting demands, have to choose but can’t… meeting one, means not meeting the other…. extreme anxiety and contradictory behaviour – in us and our students… golly, suddenly I don’t feel I quite want to be in education!

I found the thought worth throwing around inside my empty head a while though, that double binds are used as a form of “control without coercion”… creating confusion that can’t be resisted, or effectively responded to… I could feel myself totally identifying with the whole argument, so persuasive it was…. I was seeing my whole professional life as one big fat double bind…

things declared to be in the interests of ‘the learner’ being, probably, more in the interests of staff… causing students to feel both  deceived and unable to say so…

visions of ‘good’ learners and teachers playing along with the faux relationship, and silenced forever from actually ever talking about their experience… paranoid… suspicious.. defiant… cynical.. depressed, apathetic… silent.. withdrawn.. mute…. yep, I think anyone with half a still functioning brain knows what that’s like!

How can a teacher tell students stuff and at the same time encourage them not to take what is said as gospel or given? How are we supposed to both tell students what and how to think, and yet at the same time encourage them to think in ways we don’t specify – to think differently, independently, creatively?

I’m taking home some tricks from the design of this mooc, that I think are pulling that one off rather well… (but bearing in mind of course, that its success relies on an enormous degree of pre-existing high level engagement and linguistic creativity potential of the sort of student who willingly writes this kind of reflective blog….)

And thinking about technology, what else changes, when the medium does? Can we continue doing the ‘same’ activities in new media, or do we only pretend to? or are we missing the point, missing the meaning potential of new media as we try to stuff square pegs into round holes? yes I think we can all identify a bit of that going on in our workplaces….

And what do we mean by ‘open’ education, really? When, where and how often do we seriously consider the ‘systems’ we’re in – not as technologies, buildings, administrative processes and faceless executives counting beans, but as linguistic, discursive experiences, shaping how we read and write, or speak and listen?

Campbell considers ‘openness’ not in terms of easy access to ‘free’ information, but in terms of the possibility of shifting meaning and context… he said, the double bind might be a prison, or it might be a way out… depending on how it’s framed… well, that seems quite a pearl! It resonates with the sort of linguistics I knowthat openness is about contextual shifts that enable significant semantic shifts, and deep learning is about desire to make meaning, together…

that love is a philosophy… is simple

and then…. what does that mean for daily teaching practice?

And another little pearl slipped in…. fostering habits that are helpful to learners.. ‘practices laying rails for knowledge to run on’ (thankyou Jeff, for that lovely phrase you quoted there)

now like a mindless sheep following the latest thing I hear, I want to begin every class with Campbell’s mock Apgar test….

Blue or pink baby? Are you alive, can we proceed…. love that!

As I ponder the compatibilities of Bateson and SFL and semiotics, I wonder, do I help my students develop a meta-contextual perspective of sets of choices, where they’re willing to put self at risk and go there, into the questions that ‘blow the mind’? How many of them are, and how often am I, living with a sense of free agency?

I’m just thinking out loud to myself, but it’s bed time now, so I’ll sleep on it…. good night 🙂

wk 1: threads to pattern


well, now I’ve been to the movies and read all the theory, it’s time for the weekly digest…

guided by the thought dichotomy of utopia and dystopia, it’s been fun to explore a few short films and several readings around the topics of digital culture and eLearning

my favourite films this week were New Media and Inbox, as a contrasting pair. I love the visual style of Benito Machine, it stays in the mind, but the eery misery of New Media created the most dramatic contrast with the upbeat Inbox, so they’re at the forefront of my thinking this week.

my favourite readings were Dahlberg, Daniel and Noble, because they resonated most strongly with my experience and concerns in my current teaching and research… I was much less impressed by the papers of Chandler and Prensky – light on evidence, big on questionable metaphor and/or just sloppy and boring (and I’m sure few will agree with me there, but I dare to say what I think in this space, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to…!)… as for the sketch video by Wesch, well… I absolutely love the animation, but the ‘argument’ strikes me as specious nonsense, and it annoys me because it’s potentially very influential – the seductive visuals cover a very problematic sleight of hand… should I elaborate?

I guess, because of my immediate interests and concerns in what I’m writing at the moment, I tend to go straight for what theorists of communication say about language – whether they even mention the word, and if so, what they say. I keep finding a lack of language theory, and while that doesn’t surprise me, it does still disappoint me (decades after ‘the linguistic turn’).

Chandler’s section of deterministic ‘language’ for example seems to be using the word as a synonym for a few recurring phrases or keywords, leaving the impression that somehow everything else going on in a linguistic representation (ie his and every text he’s referred to) is NOT language…. which is rather odd. There are of course important patterns he is picking up on, and much of interest in the paper as a whole, it just seemed a great shame to me that there’s no sense of need indicated here for a more sophisticated kind of analysis of  ‘the language’.

I found Dahlberg’s account much more thoughtful, well researched and engaging – even though he didn’t mention the L word either…

Prensky’s argument irritated me a lot I guess because it just takes the ‘accent’ metaphor too far, and his  generalisations and exaggerations throughout do the opposite of persuade for me. It’s simply not the case that all or even most people under the age of whatever are ‘fluent in ICT’ and heavily into computer games – and that leads me to the second gripe, his motivation for such absurd generalisation… Prensky’s argument is just the sort of bias Daniel warns us to beware of (he is after all in the business of selling an educational ‘gamification’ instructional design service!)

Wesch’s ‘argument’ (she said in inverted commas, given that there is no evidence or logic holding it together, just a cool animation), so irritated me I started writing a much longer response (that I won’t bore readers with here and now, but will no doubt emerge somewhere soon)… probably my ‘visual artefact’…

BUT anyway, what I REALLY enjoyed in the material selected for us this week is the quality of the selection itself – it struck me as a very well considered set of films and readings, in relation to each other and to the questions being asked. I also thought the guiding advice was very good – to consider the material in relation to specific patterns of thought; such as the claims identified by Hand and Sandywell, the ‘technological determinism’ stance in various readings of what’s going on with digital culture and eLearning, and whether and how each ‘text’ represents a relationship between utopian/dystopian-ism, technological determinism and a stance towards issues of democracy, access and resistance…. I’m trying to digest all that as I think about the ‘visual response’ we’re tasked to create

I enjoyed considering how these utopian, dystopian and determinist ways of thinking may affect how we / I think about and practice online education, and was amazed to see, particularly in Noble, how current debates were so alive and well articulated in 1998’s educational discourse – absolutely nothing has changed there, I could see echoes of his points everywhere in the debate I’ve been collating over the past month or so

in the discussion forum


I don’t think I can deal with the discussion threads in the course website, they’re just too massive and chaotic and I get lost and overwhelmed because users are not following the basic rules of replying to questions (they are creating new threads on the same topic), and where they are replying there are hundreds of responses, too many to possibly read… so I’m just going there to pick up Jeremy’s questions and answer them here!

  • Jeremy said Benito Machine is one of their favourite films back at ground control, and asked what we think it’s saying about our relationships with technology, and how this  might relate to the ideas of technological determinism… What are the characteristics of the various technologies portrayed in this film, and how might they relate to the ways that technology has been depicted in educational literature?
    I blogged about the film before I’d read the educational literature, so I didn’t comment then about how the technology representation in the film relates to the representation of technology in educational literature (apart from a brief reference to Wesch)…. Thinking about it now that I’ve read the theory (and pseudo theory) recommended, I’d say this film represents mass communications technologies as the opposite of meaningful ‘communication’, as a colonising force and a social and environmental threat. In terms of the literature, it’s easy to classify it as an example of one of the common claims about IT identified by Hand & Sandywell, namely, that while the technology itself may be banal, meaningless and inherently neutral, it is controlled by anti-democratic forces and is therefore dangerous, when people don’t think and resist. I noted as I was reading Dahlberg that it’s example of what he refers to as technological determinism and media reification (as is New Media)
  • then he asked how we think Inbox might suggest utopian or dystopian ideas about the nature of communication in a mediated world, and what kind of educational debates can we draw associations with here…
    as I posted, I find this an entirely utopian view of what can be achieved with social media, by those who use it carefully and for their own purposes. It doesn’t deal with issues of democracy and resistance, but certainly with human agency. In relation to the literature, I found myself noting in the margins as I was reading Dahlberg that we could read Inbox as an example of ‘cyber liberarianism’… but I did find it very interesting, as Angela noted in her post, that the action is very deliberately located within a commercial context, which I was thinking about when I was reading Dahlberg’s comments about social deterministic accounts that inadequately account for how media technologies involve multiple interests, unintended consequences…. and possibilities for alternative uses, as I thought the film was deliberately if subtlely alluding to these things
  • about Thursday he asked what we think it’s saying about technology, what people seem to lose and gain, and whether we “perceive similar themes of deficiency or enhancement in discussions of technology use in education”… I blogged about it a bit, and on reflection now, having read more, I still find it saying least of all four films… it seems to me a benign view of technology, even though the life of people and birds depicted strikes me as a nightmare of mindless conformity and emptiness, and I can’t see anything ‘gained’…. have to admit that this one irritated and bored me a bit, I guess because I couldn’t determine a clear message and because I don’t personally find the cutsie computer gamesy look appealing
  • I couldn’t see a discussion thread specifically about New Media, but I blogged about it here
  • I noted in my reading of the literature that New Media not only does some of what Benito Machine does (reifying media in a depressing dystopian vision), but also seems to represent, perhaps, something of the ‘naturalising’ tendency in some of the discourse ‘out there’, as the sequence moves from a close focus on vegetation covering the built environment smoothly into the more and more threatening images – which don’t seem to disturb the only human we see in the film, who calmly accepts what’s going on as though normal and inevitable. Like Inbox on the other side of the utopian/dystopian fence, this one seems to “encourage mystification” and also (unlike Inbox) passivity.

anyway in terms of the ‘learning objectives’ of the week, I feel that engaging with this material has helped me develop a  greater familiarity with typical utopian & dystopian modes of representation, and confidence to classify material and justify my interpretations.

I’m not yet sure whether I’ve developed better understanding of how such “common constructions of the web, technology and online learning” might be influencing my  understanding of what’s possible and desirable in my own practices as a learner and teacher…. but I’m very much in a reflective process about that at this point in time…

I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘swept up’ one way or the other (into believing that educational technologies are either perfectly wonderful or dangerously disastrous for educational access quality or cost), but I’ve certainly been exposed over the past decade to arguments on both sides of that fence… I’ve been an early adopter of all new ed techs I encounter (and actively seek them out), from the early 90s to now, but at the same time I think (hope) I consider them carefully before inflicting them on my students… at the same time, there are some I have no choice about. I work at a university that is very heavily into ‘blended’ learning, and all subjects have websites, and we’re currently transitioning from WebCT to Moodle… I’ve been involved in part of the evaluation of various platforms and in the peer learning about the one we selected…. I’m happy with some aspects of it and hate others, and so continue to seek out other options, so as to be able to give my students a good set of options to suit their needs rather than enforce a corporatised experience on them….

I learn new stuff every day in this ed tech field, and experience and consider a fairly balanced range of ups and downs with it all… whatever the ups and downs, I rather enjoy thinking about it and striving to improve my own practice, but I don’t adopt a deterministic stance – I think I quite consciously maintain a sense of agency and encourage my students to also, and basically see any technology as an extension of literacy, and therefore a central element of education… not in a simplistic instrumentalist way (as if it makes no difference what ‘tools’ we use, we still ‘think’ the same) – of course we make different meanings as we make meaning differently, but we also maintain much more than we perhaps realise….

the biggest change going on as I see it is simply that so much more of our conversational language is now in writing, and being visible and on the record, this modal shift is in itself jolting people into noticing things that have been rather invisible in spoken conversation… whatever names they might currently be giving it

the end of week ‘hangout‘ run by the teaching team was great!