Category: Connectivism


Last week I was in a F2F class thinking about asymmetric warfare and looking to the past for lessons that could be used to explain the conflicts of today. This clashed with the #edcmooc class requirement to look to the future to understand how utopian/dystopian stories shaped our understanding of technology and education.

So this past weekend, I wondered why I felt disconnected from #edcmooc to the point of severely limiting interaction with conversations going on across G+, Facebook and Twitter. Finally I realized that the week just had little to offer me as it was structured and I didn’t know how to learn from it. I always look to the future because that was my job until recently. I love the bright visions shown in concept videos like those developed by Corning and Microsoft and many others that I have watched over the past 20 years. But concept videos are just creative artifacts – they don’t predict the future although they may help steer some development. If you were to go back to the past (e.g. 1960s) to look at visionary videos by noted futurists like Arthur C. Clarke (search YouTube for longer versions), you see some elements that have come true like mobile phones and a worldwide communications network. But were they predicting the future or inspiring someone to make it happen based on plausible laws of physics. It’s hard to say but it would be a fascinating research topic.

I am more disturbed by the horrific vision shown in videos like “Sight” where technology is abused to control and manipulate other human beings. While the actual acts of digital manipulation may not be quite as obvious as that shown in “Sight”, it is becoming more common place every day. And it perhaps is more a part of being human than any grand visions for the future. Humanity has always had the ability to push science to create technology for social good. While some steps have occurred in that direction (e.g. medicines to control diseases), the preponderance of technology development seems to focus toward security and control whether through older principles like laying out a village for optimal defense or the continued improvement and creation of more weaponry (to include influencing minds like in “Sight”). So why isn’t there a push for more utopian solutions like ending disease and hunger or protecting the earth from the stresses of climate change? Why does humanity seem to trend toward the negative instead of the positive when interacting with technology? What happens cannot be blamed on faceless technology which doesn’t create who we are although it may shape how we connect and learn and react.

I also realized that there are times when it is hard to connect on so many levels and do creative and critical thinking in so many learning opportunities at once.  I will explore that in another blog.  In the meantime, these are the common elements and differences that I see between the two classes – a digital online course #edcmooc and a F2F class on asymmetric warfare. They both depended heavily on videos to set the stage for learning and discussions. In the F2F class, movies like “The Battle for Algiers” provided much discussion on causes and responses. In the online class, video clips like industry concept videos by Corning and Microsoft as well as short fictional clips like Sight, Inbox and Bendito Machine, provided food for thought on the utopian/dystopian meaning of the future. Both classes provided a shared experience although the timing was different with the F2F class sharing synchronously while the online course sharing was asynchronous across days. The big difference between the two has been the timing of the discussion and interaction. The F2F class immediately discussed the lessons learned in a group with time to reflect as an individual over the week long course.   But the group learning stopped when the class ended.  That is not the case with #edcmooc.  I was able to re-engage and pick up new learning experiences especially in an adhoc Twitter chat in the middle of the week.  Having both experiences together has shown me the value of both.  But overall I like the possibility of extended learning opportunities that a digital online course may offer  better than the “one and done” F2F course. 

Several years ago I took an art course in creating memory boxes in the Joseph Cornell style. I was lucky to be able to attend a Cornell exhibit in Washington DC around the same time. His work in using found objects to create vibrant memories and metaphors still intrigues me today. Check out this unique website that captures his life and art in a metaphorical box.

During week 3 of the #edcmooc class, I was trying to think about what image I would put up on Flickr. I always have many images and metaphors floating around that make me think of learning and networking, but I was stuck on the future images and metaphors that I saw in weeks 1 and 2. They seemed so harsh and hard – the machine – the robot – the borg of the future. I may have missed it but I did not see the tremendously exciting future that may come into being with the marriage of biology and computing where the results are more natural – green – growing – connecting like neural networks or trees and vines. And that reminded me of my future memory box – it has no real name but I think of it as the future urban city where plants and machines are interconnected. When I created it, I tore apart an old computer and intertwined it with the beauty of growing plant life and the mysteries of the universe. It is interactive in that there is a transparent gate to the city and the metal hand that moves around the box to welcome and perhaps confound visitors when compared with the funky green hands that represent humanity in the city. In the picture below, the gate is down and the path is open for all to enter.

I have found new meaning in my nameless box. But now I want to pull out all my found objects  (the flotsam and junk of an urban society) and create new boxes  based on what I have been experiencing in #edcmooc. That will not happen before the class is over – I need time to process and touch and move and group the found objects into whatever comes out of  my experiences. But what fun to relive the #edcmooc experience and learn what I missed as I create new future memories.

Future Memory Box

Future Memory Box

Yesterday was the height of a utopia followed by trepidation and perhaps a little heartache. The #edcmooc pre-course group had been spending two months connecting, experimenting and learning together. We seemed to be at the height of a utopia after Saturday night’s first Twitter chat #edcmchat where 128 people participated. Wonderful activities followed including new connections and discussions, ideas for next steps, a survey, learning how to analyze the chat session, and continuing to wait for that magic moment when the actual class would start. After the email arrived and I started looking at the class site and expectations, I wrote the following on G+ with a variation on Twitter and Facebook.

Now I’m wondering how the wonderful group cohesion and free spirit of the pre-course #edcmooc group will change as the formal class gets under way. How will the more formal course discipline with deadlines affect the learning that was already occurring.

I watched the short movie “The Inbox” and looked at Twitter and the discussion forums. It all felt very forced with none of the enchantment that I had been experiencing the past two months. I went to bed rather than ponder further,  but woke up to the feeling that we had been living the Inbox to some extent. In the beginning of the movie, you get a sense of   the grayness  of the daily routine of life. Some of us in the pre-course group have remarked on the feeling of being in a rut doing the same thing every day. It was not that we didn’t enjoy what we did but there had to be something more. You see that in the movie where the young man  looks longingly at the clasped hands of a couple or in the young woman who wants to connect with someone through the stuffed bear that can be held close.

The #edcmooc red bags arrived as an email in November encouraging us to try out different social networking tools before class started. A student developed presentation shows a timeline of the digital “ red bags” that began to connect a small group of about 160 people. You could liken each activity to one of the post-it notes in the movie where you learned more about each other and yourself. This included the anticipation that you had about the start of the class on 28 Jan. I felt that it was very much a Utopian existence filled with opportunities to learn with no undue expectations that you had to learn. Although that was tempered as  suddenly several thousand joined the student created Facebook group about a week before the class started. (Angela Towndrow sums up the panic in her blog on “My #edcMOOC Freakout” on learning that the class actually had about 32,000 registered in mid January ).

So where are we now? I feel that the red bag has been torn and there is the fear that something wonderful has been lost before it really started. At the same time, perhaps we are like two people meeting in that park holding red bags anticipating the next step – not quite sure what to do next but still filled with a nervous joy about the possibilities. That’s where the Inbox ends leaving us to imagine our own ending. Will it be Utopia or Dystopia for this young couple?  One could imagine both with moments of euphoria from connecting followed by disillusionment as reality sinks in.

So I am sitting here writing this digital post-it note ready to toss it out to the digital red bags of #edcmooc.  I wonder what will be the ending of the #edcmooc pre-course participants. Will the #edcmooc experience evolve into a more mundane academic discussion of big words like utopia and dystopia. Or will a vibrant learning global community emerge on the other side. Only time will tell but I hope it will be the later.

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