Saturday, 30 November 2013

EDCMOOC2: Week four: feel the fear – and get visual anyway

This week for many of us is all about the artefact. Here we are – all grown up – and suddenly we start to worry about committing to our ideas – about showing our thinking – and about being judged! Noooooooooooooooooooooo!
So – this post is about feeling the fear – and getting visual anyway; because the biggest feature of the digi-verse is that it is visual. We know this – this is why we have been asked to represent our learning visually each week – this is why there was an images competition – and this is why our artefact is supposed to contain as few words as possible. Let the pictures do the talking…
First: Don’t Panic!
Try to loosen up – stop hiding behind the sofa – and think. Have something to say… work out some ideas and thoughts …
Then leap in and play with one of the bits of tech.
And if the tech bit feels overwhelming – reach out to the #edcmooc community and ask for help. It is there – and working online with a frainger (virtual friend and stranger) makes this #edcmooc experience even richer.
Don’t wait for the answer
As with academic writing though, do not wait till you know everything that you want to say…as we write to learn, so we make to learn – and our ideas can develop as we construct our artefact.
Tech tools and resources can be found here:
And here’s one I could never have made - Animating Chomsky’s ideas:
Thinking about the visual
Drawing is a useful tool for thinking, exploring, reflecting, understanding and communicating. Drawing and other art practices can also be really useful in qualitative research: to disturb those commonsense answers that might automatically come to respondents; plumbing deeper or more interesting thoughts about our questions. This is why the production of a visual artefact is so very right for #edcmooc – and I would say for all courses.
If you need more convincing, check out how drawing and visual practices have been embedded in and across the curriculum at Brighton University (see Here you can see examples of Medical students set a photography project to develop their ability to really ‘see’ – to harness that in their diagnostic practices. Travel and Tourism students sent out with cameras and asked to construct visual narratives of Brighton that told its story as a viable tourist destination.
The one that I liked the best was where Art Students and other participants in a Community Arts Project were all issued with white overalls and asked to use them as their (embodied) Learning Logs. Not only was this a great way to invite and capture immediate reflections, at the end of the Project the overalls were mounted on mannequins and provided a powerful exhibition demonstrating the work of the Project.
Building a visual strength
If you have no confidence in your own drawing – try this out. ‘Blind draw’ someone in the room with you right now – or ‘blind draw’ an object in the room. This is NOT drawing with your eyes closed – but drawing someone whilst looking at them – but not looking at the paper you are drawing upon. Also keep the pen on the paper – so there will be lots of crossing lines – there will be breaks and gaps in the drawing. There will be – gasp – whisper it – mistakes and errors!!!
Of course these drawings cannot be an accurate realistic representation of someone – but they can be fun and energising. And that is the point.

Too many of us stop ourselves from drawing because, ‘I can’t draw!’ But drawing can be free and crazy as well as detailed and accurate. We have to play with drawing. Build our confidence to use drawing for exploration and communicating. Without this we are cutting ourselves from a very powerful thinking tool.
Try practising ‘blind drawing’ your #edcmooc ‘learning logs’ or ‘blind drawing’ the illustrations for your blog. Use these drawings to build your artefact. In earlier parts of Last Refuge we have explored how to communicate in collage and memory envelopes – and by creating installations or cabinets of curiosities… Any of these might be useful for you to harness when making your artefact – check out:
I do hope this helps a bit!! 
Postscript: Post- and Transhumanity:
A very positive TED talk from Henry Evans – rendered mute and quadriplegic by a stroke – on how robotics has enabled him to do tasks, talk with people – and move around the world. Remembering that first he needed his family and friends to hold him in the world after the event…

Friday, 22 November 2013

#EDCMOOC2: Week 3: Rubbing Hume’s big toe: philosophical and technological questions about being human

So what is an online course – and what should a course entitling itself ‘E-learning and Digital Culture’ look like? I have been somewhat frustrated by discussions breaking out across the Forums about whether this can even be considered a course about E-learning; that surely ‘all’ we’re doing is exploring culture... I know that every course needs to also be interrogated and challenged – but it seems to me that this becomes a form of pedantry that misses the point about the course as created – and as it can be experienced. 
So, ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’, I thought the *e* bit was a great hook to draw people into the course - and then the course itself exploded concepts around e-learning, digital cultures... Instead of idea-definition-discussion… we were encouraged to understand or at least explore *e* issues through the lens of popular culture and its metaphors for education, teaching, learning and humanity.
This enabled creative and lateral and connected thought about humans learning in an inter-connected, digital culture. No other approach to this topic that I have encountered has come anywhere near allowing these sorts of thoughts! Definitely government and institutional policy documents do not encourage or allow it. They only offer metaphors of control, remediation and constraint.
In our institution we are supposed to have a blended learning ethos - and everybody seems to focus on the *e* part of the blend... usually in negative or self-punishing ways: I am not doing enough of this e stuff... I cannot do the e bit... the technology that I have does not support my e work ... I have no time to develop the e aspects of my work ... I will fail my appraisal because I am not e enough.
A terrible overarching narrative has been created that distracts staff from their students, from their humanity, from the love that they had of their subject and from any thought about creative approached to LTA.
I feel that #edcmooc by its form and content engages creatively in a fight with this very negative discourse – and that is why it is so exhilarating, so refreshing – and, dare I say it, so brilliant!

It is in this context that a colleague and I are fighting also for a more nuanced and extensive definition of blended learning itself:
"Learning is social, collective, embodied… Learning is active and interactive. Learning can happen through talking, writing, reading, playing, drawing, researching and making – including making digital artefacts.  Learning can be fast and furious. Learning can also be slow and embodied. Learning can be face-to-face, it can happen on-line – and it can happen in some blend of the two. 
We propose the notion of  a blend that is not just a mix of face to face and online learning, but includes blending direct teaching with student active learning and problem-solving – and blending a range of different methods and multimodal activities around the learning of a particular topic: role playing and simulations; creative and art-based strategies; Inquiry-, Problem- and Project Based Learning; Reflective learning; Visual practices development; Poetry, Prose and Policy analysis; Image-, Object- and Topic Mediated Dialogue; Real research; Digital artefact and resource development; Blogging and other Social Network activities; Peer-to-peer learning..."
We know that we have a real struggle on our hands – not just in terms of extending notions of e- and blended learning – but also because in these outcomes-targets-measurement driven times, even people of good will would prefer it if all we really did *was* to inculcate literacy, numeracy and the ‘ICT skills necessary for business’ (Harnessing Technology, 2008 – government policy on technology enhanced learning – read it and weep!).

As I said in a Forum thread – I would model my practice on this MOOC in a heartbeat.
Moving swiftly on: So – week three and discussions:
  1. How do we define ‘being human’ or ‘human’?
  2. Does and online course need a human presence?
Resources Week 3 – We’re all post-human now…
Film 1: Toyota GT86: the ‘real deal’ advert (1:01): Watch on YouTube
Film 2: BT: heart to heart advert (0:40): Watch on YouTube
Film 3: World builder (9:16): Watch on YouTube 
Film 4: They’re made out of meat (7:20): Watch on YouTube
Personally I *love* the ‘real deal’ advert for all the wrong reasons. It does work – it seduces me – I believe the message – I want to drive through that glass wall and be free – if only I could afford that car … and if I could drive – and if the roads were safe and empty – if the planet wasn’t dying… You know the stuff!
‘They’re made out of meat’ is a stunning film. In a few minutes and with just a perfectly pitched script, camera and acting (oh – is that all) – a completely surreal alternative world view is created. We believe those aliens – and we know we are just meat. Absolutely stunning. All theatre and film studies students should see this. I have shown it to my students and will again… Brilliant.
The Readings
Core: Humanity 2.0: defining humanity - Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08),  View the presentation slides here 
In this lecture, Professor Steve Fuller (University of Warwick) takes us on a rapid ride through the history of how ‘humanity’ has been defined and made. By asking the question ‘have we always, sometimes or never been human?’, he draws our attention to the ways in which ‘humanity’ as a social category has been defined from ancient to medieval to modern times. ‘Let me tell you’, he says, ‘it is very difficult to define what it is to be human’
Advanced: Nimrod Aloni. (1999). Humanistic Education. In The Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, M. Peters, P. Ghiraldelli, B. Žarnić, A. Gibbons (eds.). 
Where Professor Fuller’s lecture gives an historical account of the social construction of the idea of the human, this useful entry in The Encylopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory is very helpful to us in starting to understand how philosophical humanism has informed many of our ideas about education and its purpose.
Perspectives on education
Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed:
This article attempts to make a case for the inclusion of more video and audio in online teaching, in order to increase the sense of presence and ‘human-touch’ for distance learners … If we accept that ‘humanity’ is an ambiguous category at best, where does that leave claims like the ones made here for ‘the human element’ as a touchstone for good course design?
Monke, L (2004) The Human Touch, EducationNext:
Monke’s article is a plea for a re-thinking of education policy prioritising technological ‘literacy’ in schools from the earliest years of education. It is intriguing to read this in the context of some of the thinking we’ve been exploring in this and previous weeks.
The Hangout
Loved the discussion about whether an online course should need a human presence … And as video and audio are just representations, can we represent the tutor with an image or a drawing… and if we do that – is the effect different depending on whether we draw a robot or a human being?

And so it goes!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Michael Rosen: Time to become literature activists: doing and thi...

Michael Rosen: Time to become literature activists: doing and thi...: This is the text (more or less) of the talk that [Rosen] gave at the RSA. You can see [him] giving the talk here:

This Michael Rosen post is ostensibly about primary education - but it offers a model for active, embodied and reflective learning that works for all ages. It's exactly what our #becomingeducational course and blog are all about... See also

Saturday, 16 November 2013

#edcmooc: W2: Metaphors of the future

As humans we are metaphor. Language is the metaphors that we speak: our clothes are the metaphors that we display to tell the world about ourselves...  This week #edcmooc introduced us to metaphors that inform and inflame us about the web. The web itself is an initiating metaphor that I have seen used in contexts other than the WWW. Margo Blythman, then of the University of The Arts, London at a time of the closing down of university Learning Development Units used the web metaphor for learning development: we are there, ubiquitous and supportive; every new broom sweeps us away; but we reform… What does the web metaphor mean to #edcmoocers?

The course
In the film show we saw terrifying utopian (sic) visions of teaching with students still being constructed as passively as possible by the shiny shiny education system with all its goodies… (‘A Day Made of Glass’ and ‘Bridging our Future’ – and we saw the virtual as infuriating (‘A digital tomorrow’ or rapacious (‘Sight’

: Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday,14(4). 
Extension: Bleecker, J. (2006). A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things.
Education: Balfour, S., 2013. Assessing Writing in MOOCs: Automated Essay Scoring and Calibrated Peer ReviewTM. Research and Practice in Assessment, 8, pp.40–48. 
Stewart, B., 2013. Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? Journal of Online Learning and Teaching,9(2).

On metaphors
It was fascinating to read about the metaphors that have been and are deployed about the Web. My colleagues and I have also been interested in the metaphors deployed in Government Policy documents on Digital Education. When we investigated a UK document entitled 'Harnessing Technology' we were unhappily surprised to find that references to education itself - real or metaphorical - were exceedingly rare. Instead there was constant reference to ‘skills’ (a contested term in itself), calls for IT training and multiple references to gaining the IT Skills necessary for business. 

If you are interested in taking metaphorical research further, I would suggest that you find your institution's policy documents on Technology Enhanced Education or E-learning or Blended Learning. Look for the metaphors used about education itself, about teaching and learning – and about the technology. See what your metaphor and/or discourse analysis reveals – and share it with us.

More metaphors
So, as human beings re-presenting ourselves in the world, we are metaphor, we speak metaphor, we enact metaphor… And recently we have explored student avatars as metaphors: how are our students constructing themselves in virtual worlds? Do these representations position them (more) powerfully with respect to education itself?

In our small study we constructed a (SecondLife) seashore with sussurating sea as a learning space – and our students constructed themselves as ship captains, as bees and Klingons. So we felt that if handled well then yes the virtual allows a more powerful student to emerge. (

And for education?
In Stewart argues convincingly that MOOCs are neither the alpha nor omega of education - but that they can be a Trojan Horse ushering in a new age of distributed, participatory education. The Trojan Horse metaphor, as was pointed out in the Hangout, evokes annihilation and destruction - but if we put that swiftly aside - we can share the positive, creative and inspiring ways that MOOCs have influenced our own practice.

My colleagues and I have used our MOOC experiences to argue for truly blended learning – a blend that not only includes virtual and actual teaching and assessment strategies - but that offers much more active and student-initiated learning.

Our new module incorporates creative and visual activities (collage, drawing, animation); problem and project based learning (real research projects, students as partners in conferences and bids, students producing installations and Cabinets of Curiosities)... and the production of Digital Artefacts as part of the assessment offer - no matter what the course.

If you are participating in #edcmooc, please post examples of how MOOCs have influenced your practice here: If not in #edcmooc – please post some examples as Comments below.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

#EDCMOOC2: New blogposts from #edcmooc

Why #edcmooc
If previous education ages positioned students as (passive) consumers of knowledge, then the digital age with its automatic ease and ‘right’ of publishing and 'narrowcasting' arguably has the potential to position us and our students as producers of knowledge. Noble (02) suggests that the over-arching ‘control’ narrative of education per se is trying to wrestle that power away from students – and now from staff as well. But resistance is not futile if we overtly and explicitly develop visual and digital practices in and with our students as a normal part of our LTA.

So – this set of blogposts will be about #edcmooc – the second run. I will perhaps mention how this course is similar to and different from the first run of the course – and I will also be able to reflect and post about my experiences as a CTA on a MOOC. If you’re reading this, do make comments, do engage with me and the debate and take the arguments further…

Each week we are asked to produce images that sum up our learning
Since starting my MOOC journeys I have been sketching robots in various attitudes of menace and friendliness – and of menacing friendliness… They sum up this conflict between the utopian and dystopian modes of responding to the digital – as does the collage inspired by betrayal that I put together as part of #artmooc. They also represent the smallest tip of the amount of visual practices that I have introduced into my teaching since starting MOOCs. All students have to engage with information rich visual discourses now. The more they can read and produce their own visual messages, the more powerful they will also be in the digital education landscape.

Why #edcmooc – again?!
I did and blogged about #edcmooc last year. Edinburgh University’s Coursera: ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’ was my first MOOC and I found the whole experience exhilarating and joyous; also completely disorientating and overwhelming; and great. I completed and passed that run of the MOOC but promised myself that I would do it again in a more technological way. I would force myself to engage with the various tools that we can use in Teaching Learning Assessment (TLA) in a digital age… However – once I finished that MOOC, I leapt into another couple of MOOCs (#artmooc, Penn State’s Introduction to Art: concepts and techniques and then #artinquiry, MoMA’s Art and Inquiry MOOC) and thought that perhaps I should just move on. But then … I received the invitation to be a Community Teaching Assistant on this second run of edcmooc – and I was hooked. I chose this as my initial MOOC experience in the first place because I wanted to explore TLA in a digital age by becoming a learner on a digital course that explored digital culture. Many birds with one stone – yay! And as said the course itself and the immersive experience that it offered exceeded all my expectations. So I had to come back to experience being a teaching assistant on a course that covered teaching and learning in a digital age – no contest.

So #edcmooc W1 – Introductions
This year the course opened with a video from the whole course team that allowed us to appreciate them also as physical beings – in the physical and virtual landscapes offered by Edinburgh University. There will also be weekly Hangouts this year instead of just the two that we had last. (The first Hangout can be accessed here: On the one hand this is just a great idea – a human way of entering a digital learning space. The team also opened up the discussion: what is a University in a time of distributed, digital and online learning? As I say to my students, ‘That’s something for us all to go away and think about…’

How to survive and enjoy a more connectivist MOOC
Here’s the advice from the Edinburgh team:
How to Study EDCMOOC
How is the course structured? 
‘E-learning and digital cultures’ is offered in two themed blocks of study. Each block is divided into two weeks, and within each weekly block you’ll find a variety of course material organised into clusters:
·                     Popular cultures: a short ‘film festival’ on the week’s theme
·                     Ideas and interpetations: theory-based readings on the week’s theme
·                     Perspectives on education: readings which extend the week’s themes into educational issues

What should I do each week?
There is quite a lot of content provided for each week. Please don't feel you have to engage with all of it. In some weeks, you might wish simply to 'sample' the films and one or two of the readings. In others, you may wish to read more deeply and engage more fully. This is your decision.

You’ll find discussion questions and pointers provided throughout the weekly content, and we've also seeded the Coursera discussion board with some of these. There's already a vibrant EDC MOOC community growing through Twitter and in the various other spaces that course participants have set up. We hope this will continue to grow in an ethos of collaboration, peer support and mutual enjoyment over the coming weeks!

You should conduct the day-to-day business of your learning in the way that works best for you. However you should aim to do at least two of the following to ensure that you have the grounding you need to successfully undertake the final assignment in week 5:
·         Contribute to the discussion forums.
·         Blog your responses to the topic, putting #edcmooc in the title. Submit your blog RSS feed so that your posts feed into our daily EDC MOOC News mashup (see below).
·         Create an image or other visual representation of your response to the topic and post it in a social media space. Tag it with #edcmooc.
·         Share your thoughts and links in Twitter, using the hashtag #edcmooc.

How is the MOOC assessed?
There are no tests or quizzes in this MOOC. The only formal assessment is at the end of MOOC, when you are asked to create a "digital artefact". This is fully explained on the
 what you need to do page. The assignment submission page will open at the beginning of W4. 

If you submit your digital artefact by the deadline, on Thursday 5 December you will be asked to evaluate the artefacts of three other participants on the course. Guidance for assessing digital artefacts is given on the ‘how to give feedback’ page.

EDCMOOC is out of control! I can’t keep up!
The scale of the MOOC, and the variety of the spaces in which discussion happens can be overwhelming at first. Please be aware that it is impossible to follow every thread of discussion, or to interact with every blog post or Twitter comment being generated. Instead, try to focus your interactions within one or two spaces which you enjoy being in. For example, you might set up a blog to record your thinking over the coming weeks, link your blog to the EDCNews (see below) and then use Twitter to publicise your blog posts to your fellow learners. Or, you might initiate a discussion thread within Coursera on a topic of particular interest to you. Or you might arrange a meetup with local colleagues or friends also studying the MOOC. There are may ways of taking part.

Last time we ran the MOOC, some key strategies emerged on how to manage it as a learner:
·         Read selectively: you are not expected to engage with every single area of course content
·         Choose one or two media streams only to focus on: you can’t be everywhere at once
·         Let go of the notion of ‘being on top of things’ – this is also impossible – instead, enjoy the serendipity of the random encounter
·         Relax, select, investigate, think, write when it makes sense to write, and write in a space that you enjoy
·         Forget traditional online teaching methods: there are around 17,000 people on this course, only 5 teachers and 8 Community Teaching Assistants… 

All excellent advice – some of which I thought had been my own unique insight into the MOOC experience - bummer!

Shape of the course
Dystopias: W1: looking to the past; W2: looking to the future
Block 2: Being Human: W3: Reasserting the human; W4: Re-defining the human
W5: Submit assignment; Assess other assignments.

The Team tend to use open source videos and publications to seed our study – so we can all access that which we need – at the click of a button. I will add some links here in this blog for you to follow up if you wish. But do not forget – #edcmooc has only just started – it’s not too late for you to join in!

It’s that journey word again!
We study popular culture alongside academic textson this course for it is popular culture that shapes and makes us. We shape our culture – then our culture makes us. W1 therefore introduces us to utopias, dystopias as narratives that may shape our approach to digital teaching, learning and assessment:
“The purpose of exploring digital and e-learning cultures in this way is not to suggest that e-learning actually is utopian or dystopian - though you may of course wish to argue that it is - but to understand how these common kinds of stories of the web, technology and online learning shape and influence our understanding of what’s possible and desirable in our own practices as learners, students and teachers.
Hand and Sandywell (2002) describe three utopian claims about information technology, and three dystopian ones. These will help you think about how our films and readings in this block are positioned in relation to issues of democracy, access and resistance.

Utopian claims
Dystopian claims
Information technologies based on electronic computation possess intrinsically democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ democratic properties or dispositions).
Information technologies possess intrinsically de-democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ anti-democratic properties or dispositions).

Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to democratizing global forces of information creation, transfer and dissemination.
Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to control by de-democratizing forces (hardware and software ‘ownership’ equals anti-democratic control).
Cyber-politics is essentially a pragmatic or instrumental task of maximizing public access to the hardware and software thought to exhaustively define the technology in question.
Cyber-politics is essentially one of resisting and perverting the anti- democratic effects of the technology in question.

Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. 2002. E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (p.205-6)

(Oh the joy of cut and paste! No wonder it seduces our students!)

The films: I focus on just two:
Seven minutes of animation illustrating the power of human beings and nature to transcend even the most de-humanising of work and living landscapes. A great watch.

New Media: - two minutes of total dystopia: a devastated landscape, ‘War of the Worlds’-like tentacles emerging from crumbling buildings… the all hearing big brother. Grim, compelling and compulsive…

The readings (more cut and paste!):
Chandler, D. (2002). Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth. Download as PDF. 
(Please note that this reading is a web essay, available from, but we are also providing it as a PDF. An alternative, web-based version is available via the Wayback Machine.) 

Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9/3. (a few people have noted they are having troubling accessing this open-access article, so we have uploaded it as a PDF as well)

Perspectives on Education
We were offered David Noble’s (2002) Digital Diploma Mills – but this is my Noble:
It covers the arguments in the Digital Diploma Mills article to which we were linked; but for me this is more cogent, punchy and powerful – and it has more passion. It also discusses notions of ‘education’ versus ‘training’. I love it! And it influenced our: ‘A journey into silence: students, stakeholders and the impact of a strategic Governmental Policy Document in the UK’ in Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. 5 No. 4, 2009 pp 566-574 – which critiqued the UK government e-learning policy…

CTA bits
I did manage to pop in to a couple of Forum posts about the course and offer comments – I also read and responded to posts by the other CTAs: quite low key ATM. I did notice a few people bemoaning the fact that there are no quizzes and that they cannot see how this course tackles E-learning when in fact it all seems to be about (digital) Culture. Last year displeasure was expressed as: ‘Where is the teacher?’, by those who expected nice didactic video lectures to follow.

Of course rebellion, confusion and down right fear are quite normal reactions from any student at the beginning of any course. For me, it was the sheer chaos of so many people studying ‘with’ me: the thought of keeping up with the posting of all their thoughts? Over-whelming. But if you go with it – you do ‘get it’ and start to enjoy it for what it is – instead of being disorientated by what it is not. I love the fact that there are no quizzes to test that we have learned the ‘right things’ from the course. I respect that we are supposed to set our own goals within the framework of the course itself and navigate our own route, have our own adventures and make our own contacts with information and with people. I have seen that called heutagogy – which reminds me of Jools Holland and his News Year Eve ‘Hootenanny’ – so I have to shout it at people. It surprises my students. I have also read Jeremy Knox, one of our tutors, arguing that the chaos of MOOCs is part of the point: absolutely!

A couple of points from the Hangout (

There was discussion about the dystopian narratives that surround the digital. There is the invasion motif – ‘War of the Worlds’ – and the tragedy motif – that dystopia rests not with the technology but the flaws and problems that emerge from within us flawed and fallible human beings. Martians may terrify but our inner flaws are harder to tackle. Another set of positions that surround technology: technological determinism versus luddism versus technology is ‘only a tool’. Hamish interjected with first we shape our technology and then our technology shapes us – and that technology is neither good nor bad neither is it neutral… ‘That’s all folks!’