Holding back the enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is a force which gets things done, so I don’t mean to knock it. But the enthusiast for educational technology is a strange breed. I went to a training session a while ago where most of the people in the room had iPads. The training session was about iPads, and a lot of the questions from the floor were about iPads. Now, I wouldn’t say no to an iPad – quite the opposite – but when a bunch of teachers are holding on to iPads, talking about iPads and learning more about using their precious iPads, it doesn’t half give me the creeps. I get this idea in my head that they don’t care about their students. The dazzle of their shiny tablet blinds them to the needs of the people they teach.

My next thought, as I come back to reality, is that I do not know these people and consequently am not in a position to make such damning judgments. I am projecting a caricature of the edu-tech enthusiast onto each of them. I know nothing of the relationships they have with their classes.

And yet I suspect.

All of this is deeply ironic, coming from me. I teach and I like technology. I like using technology in class. I like using technology at home. I like reading about teachers who use technology in class, and I like reading about teachers who have learned to mistrust all of its empty promises. I like using technology to solve problems, and I like using my head to fix problems with the technology itself, when it breaks.

When I project this edu-tech caricature onto a room full of strangers, it is my way of alerting myself to what I may become. I aim to be enthusiastic but skeptical. People who are enthusiastic without being a little bit skeptical just don’t interest me as much, and I don’t want to be one of them.

Anyway, in a moment of enthusiasm, I enrolled on a couple of MOOCs. One of them was called E-learning and Digital Cultures. In the weeks running up to the start of the course, I had a look at what people were posting about it on Twitter, under the hashtag #edcmooc. People seemed pretty excited. That was the common theme.

“I am so excited to be starting #edcmooc next week!!! Really looking forward to it!”

I was looking forward to it as well, but I was also ready for it to be a bit shit. After all, it was free. As it turned out, it hasn’t been bad. The readings have been interesting, and I probably wouldn’t have come across them otherwise. The videos not so much. There does seem to be a lot of excited enthusiasm with nowhere to go. The hashtag is dominated by banalities.

The main task at the end of the course is to create a digital artefact:

What do you mean by digital artefact?
We mean something that is designed to be experienced digitally, on the web. It will have the following characteristics:

it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.

it will be easy to access and view online.

it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

Try to have fun with this and use it as a chance to think broadly and creatively: anything goes in terms of the form of this essay. As long as you keep the assessment criteria in mind you can be as experimental as you wish.

Why do you want me to make a digital artefact?
Text is the dominant mode of expressing academic knowledge, but digital environments are multimodal by nature – they contain a mixture of text, images, sound, hyperlinks and so on. To express ourselves well on the web, we need to be able to communicate in ways that are “born digital” – that work with, not against, the possibilities of the medium. This can be challenging when what we want to communicate is complex, especially for those who are used to more traditional forms of academic writing. Nevertheless, there are fantastic possibilities in digital environments for rethinking what it means to make an academic argument, to express understanding of complex concepts, and to interpret and evaluate digital work. In EDCMOOC, we have an opportunity to explore and experiment in a supportive and relatively low-stakes context. That’s why we want you to make an assignment that makes the most of the web – a digital artefact.

Interesting difference between this and the final task for my OU module on E-learning. The OU one was tight and restrictive; this one is as broad as the moon. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do it or not – work, family and sleep are going to take precedence. Still. Could be interesting.

Postscript

Two of my favourite readings from the course are listed here:

Chandler, D. (2002). Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth. Download as PDF.

Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4). http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2370/2158

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