It’s really no wonder why there is a struggle with online education and pedagogy. As there are inherent flaws in the already existing educational system and ingrained into our learning processes’, it seems that these same methods and approaches could unintentionally cross over and transfer into online education. However, because of this new medium, educators are forced to think of new approaches and create the multi-modal experience students want, not just online, but should also be implementing these changes in the brick and mortar classroom.
Technology, in general, redefines how we relate to our environment and one another in the world. It makes our lives more convenient, but not necessarily simpler so, it makes sense that online education cannot function and be structured in the same way as the brick and mortar classroom. As with any progress, it takes time, experimentation, trial and error, and patience. Yet, I wonder with the rapid development of technologies, how online education will be able to adjust to such variance.
With the vast expanse of massive online open courses (MOOC) people around the globe have online access to a form of free education and learning opportunities that they might not have otherwise. As for my own personal experience as one individual and student, participating in Coursera’s, “E-learning and Digital Cultures,” class as an assignment for another online class, there was certainly a degree of meta-level participation, processing, and learning involved. Essentially, the Coursera class was a complimentary learning tool that helped to reinforce the issues of a graduate level class focused on online pedagogy practices. In addition to, learning new ways and methods as an educator to improve these multi-modal approaches to teaching, it was also a beneficial perspective to be the student putting these theories and ideas into practice. However, I never felt as if I had to switch back and forth between these two roles, primarily, because I am still a student and not formally trained as an educator. My analysis of the MOOC course could be skewed more toward a student bias/perspective.
Coming into the Coursera course knowing that I would be taking the class with possibly tens of thousands of other people was certainly daunting and slightly overwhelming. The most confusing aspect was being a part of discussion threads, tweets, etc… and was really difficult to keep up with. If you’re interacting with people online, it’s nice to have a few familiar people that are doing the back-and-forth conversing, but in this case that was not really possible or it wasn’t for me. Maybe if I was constantly connected then it would’ve been a different experience, but I would assume for most that it’s unrealistic to always be online paying attention to every post/tweet. However, after realizing that I didn’t have to interact via social media all the time, it was almost a relief. Once I accepted the limits of my online presence, I felt much more at ease and comfortable with the entire experience. After about the second week, I also realized that I could make it my own individual experience and not another user at the other end of the computer. That perspective made all the difference in how I interacted throughout the rest of the course and what information/knowledge I gained from the experience. Not only was I learning about the content, but about how I choose to use technology to fit my needs and demands. In the end, I learned that I’m not always being controlled by technology and that I do have some autonomy in the interactions and experiences that I have with it. After watching, discussing, learning about how much we are emotionally, physically, behaviorally, and environmentally impacted by technology in our lives, it was a liberating feeling to come to that conclusion. It seems that all too much do we focus on the negative impacts and constraints of technological influences in our lives, but we fail to realize that we also choose to interact and use certain devices, programs, and tools. I think the key importance is how we decide to use these technologies, which ultimately determines the impact and/or consequences it has on us.
As for the content of this course, I wouldn’t rate it as particularly difficult, however, that’s hard to gage depending upon what your background and experiences are with technology, education, media communications. If one didn’t have that background it could prove to be challenging. However, many of the social impacts/concerns/issues that were discussed are relatable to most people, thus a level of a shared understanding of experiences could be enough to learn from this course. I think what really helps solidify the material are the short videos that demonstrate these ideas and theories about “technological determinism” and “utopia/dystopia”. Using a multi-modal approach in the delivery method of this course keeps participants engaged, as well as, thinking philosophically. I think it’s imperative for online pedagogies to build into curricula, interactive models of learner based approaches. If we think of the online experience as a network of information linking, synthesizing, building, and moving around in all kinds of interesting ways, then it makes sense to format course curricula with those same principles in mind. No longer can there be a static, linear, one-sided way of teaching anymore. It seems apparent to me that there needs to be a push-pull relationship between student and educator in any type of classroom and hopefully most educators are doing that. However, as we all know, there are still the dreaded lecture based classes that are listening based, one dimensional, non-interactive models of “boring the pants off of your students” and the least effective method of teaching, asking nothing of your students, but to keep their seat warm. Essentially, how can you know as an educator if any thinking is going on in the classroom? Conversely, in an online course, if students aren’t asked to engage and participate, then nothing has changed and no learning will take place. Online learning has to be approached from a different perspective because it is different in a million ways. However, for instance, having videos just for the sake of having some kind of visual and calling it a teaching tool is not utilizing technology wisely. If that’s the case, then there really is no point in using technology as an aid in the classroom.
The overarching questions and concerns in composition and communications seem to be how to implement a multi-modal approach effectively so, that there is the right balance of creativity and innovative thinking without sacrificing the skill building of writing. In addition, I think how and what level of proficiency an educator has and views the use of technology will impact the direction of the course. Referring back to one of the Coursera articles by Dan Chandler, “Technological or Media Determinism,” he not only covers the history of technological theories, but also new and emerging ones that effect our modes of thinking. For instance if the educator comes from the school of thought on “the technological imperative”, he/she has a fatalist view of technology that the, “information technology revolution is inevitably on its way and our task as users is to learn to cope with it,” which then leads to, “…a suspension of ethical judgement or social control: individuals and society are seen as serving the requirements of a technological system which shapes their purposes…treating people even as means to an end.” That kind of perspective can directly and unconsciously translate into the learning process of the students, thus impacting their view on technology and its purpose, which can be a very dangerous thing. It’s highly important as educators to understand your own understanding of your learning process’ and perspectives in order to teach objectively. In my opinion, educators are imparting knowledge and they should do so in a way where their students decide what to do with it in the end.
Aside from the pedagogical perspective regarding technologies, this course does present and pose the larger concern of our humanness or humanity, which has changed how we interact with one another that have broader societal and cultural implications that effect all of us. This part of the course begins with trying to define what it actually means to be human. This is an intriguing aspect that I’ve never really contemplated. I’ve certainly thought about my own mortality and the life/death cycle, but never had to articulate what it means to be a human being. Despite the obvious of being bi-pedal, having, opposable thumbs, large brains, and no hair (compared to the rest of the mammalian kingdom), we are both at the top of the food chain and vulnerable. We think we are highly adaptive creatures, yet we have built things that harness the power of our natural environment and remove ourselves from the environment at the same time. But, the larger problem proposed by Steve Fuller is that the idea of humanity is a fallacy and construct and that was invented and created to delineate human from ape and eventually used to make man feel superior, almost elevating man to a god-like status. From there the course goes into modern theories of “post-humanism” and “transhumanism” to try and redefine what it means to be human and/or make sense of how technology is changing the very notion of being human.
Where the line gets blurry with technological manipulation of life through genetics, medications, organ transplants, pins/plates in our joints, etc… and imposing human qualities into technologies like robots, refocuses human awareness more into objects than into oneself. It’s as if man is trying to create another species, striving to push beyond natural capacity, and live forever, almost as if being human just isn’t enough. Maybe this would be of a more post-humanist perspective, but human progress seems to strive for immortality and looks to technology as the answer. I think as we seek to find the answers in technology, we overlook other aspects to what it means to live the good life and extend our human capacity. Weakness is not an option, failure is not an option, being imperfect is not an option. Now that I think about it a little bit more, there seems to be more emphasis on what human is not, more than really what it is. The more we become dependent on these conveniences in our world, the more we get farther and farther away of what human looks, feels, sees, and thinks like, pushing ourselves away from reality.
The way this course was designed was to look deeply at the underlying structures and not so obvious implications that technology has on us as individuals, society, the environment, and so on. The more we explore our inner selves on various levels as one person or as a species, reconnects us in ways that we may have forgotten and are able to reclaim a little bit of ourselves, making us better humans.