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Today is a day of transition for me. Like flowers in the desert, exuberant to long absent rains … at some point the rains end and the experience abates. Quiet contemplation returns, but what’s left is the sifting down of the nurturing water into the roots; where the real growth takes shape … It is bittersweet, but in my years I have grown to savor that taste. For it is there that the subtle energies of Life reveal themselves, and the experiences are sublimated to a deeper Knowing … Peace (From a personal FB post this morning)

With Gratitude to every person I Connected with during this Experience … Robert Elmer

FraserSpiral_vector

I have now finished all my course work for the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC and am free to reflect on my experience. Taking this course was like exploring a fractal, each bud opening into whole new vistas, and those into further still. I circled around from one activity to the next, meeting frustration in the beginning and winding my way up through progress, a little competence, and ultimately elation.

It started out easily enough, with video clips and readings lessons to absorb and consider. The videos were seemingly simple and the readings excellent food for thought. Had it stopped there, and been accompanied by the usual quizzes one sees in these MOOCs, it would have been an interesting and good course. But this wasn’t a normal course. Instead of the usual weekly assessments, we were left to our own devices; challenged to explore social media and make connections with other learners. The options seemed overwhelming and I quickly had to adjust to not get swallowed up by it all. I choose to use two familiar mediums and a new one. Facebook and Twitter formed the first two, this blog was the new medium.

Week by week I gained more comfort with the course work, but found that, socially, I was better suited as a lurker as I struggled to keep up with the readings. I spent far more than the 5-7 hours a week recommended. Beside the Core videos and readings I made a sincere effort to read all the Advanced and Perspectives on Education resources;  I visited the Twitter feed regularly, tried to sample as many student blogs as I could, visited the Facebook page on occasion, and posted here as I had time. I watched both Google Hangouts; the first on Youtube but the second almost all live. I re-watched the Hangouts and some of the Advanced videos; especially the Gardner Campbell Keynote address.

While I enjoyed it all, I felt largely disconnected from the other students. In reading the blogs of others I found that I was not alone in this feeling. With a class of over 40,000 registrants, it did not take my statistics-oriented mind to realize the odds of my voice being heard in the discussion was quite low; all things being equal. I did try to participate, but I was constantly met with frustration. Only one of my blog posts appeared in EDC MOOC News, despite the posts being tagged correctly. I contributed 6 Tweets, none of which made the #edcmooc feed. Worst of all, when I finally had an opportunity to express myself creatively about the course; via the Week 3 Image Competition; I found that my contribution would not be added for consideration as I had a new Flikr account, which had a hold period before my image could be shared. But it was in creating that image that something began to happen.

In considering the vast numbers of people trying to be heard in this course, I began to see the vast distribution of student participation. They ran from the regular contributors, which seemed to show up everywhere, to those like me that had blogs and were writing in earnest, but who felt pretty isolated. I tried to help by “liking” posts as I saw merit. One day, as I pulled into my driveway, I noted that our plum tree had already begun to bloom. It was the only tree on the block that was doing so and, knowing the beauty of sight and smells soon to be on display, I stopped to appreciate the tree. Then it happened.

Plum Blossom 1

As I was contemplating the tree, a line from an old Earth, Wind & Fire song came to mind.

I’m well inclined to use the lines that come from The Learning Tree
Let the seeds that grow, and ages old, give us our destiny 

Then it became clear. The Learning Tree was awakening from its slumber to a new season. The season of the MOOC. And the buds in their various states were the students, each on their own trajectory. I took out my old floppy disk Mavica and snapped a couple of pictures of the tree. Some processing with Paintshop Pro and words inspired by my vision brought my first digital artefact to fruition. Although there was disappointment in not being able to submit it for the contest, I was beginning not to care about being heard, but rather just experiencing something that was giving me an unexpected joy. I began to look forward to doing my final project. And time was short.

The next week flew by and, as I started to work out ideas for my final digital artefact, I was filled with optimism. I looked through all the Digital Image Competition entries and was awakened to a sense of awe for the beautiful concepts and execution I saw from my fellow students. I began reading more posts on Twitter and Facebook and appreciating both the quality of posts being shared, and the conversations from such diverse parts of the World taking place over a single feed. I did try to share my digital artefact via Twitter and my Blog feed to EDC MOOC News, but I never saw them there. No matter; I was enjoying myself and relishing a level of humanity I have seen far too little of in these polarizing times here in the US. Then I began to work on my final project in earnest.

I immediately gravitated to Prezi, of all the platforms offered, and took to it like a fish to water. What a wonderful tool this is! I was delighted with this new-found treasure, and knew that it would inform presentations to my stock-traders group from here on. I had in mind the fractal metaphor I wanted to use, and decided on a picture of the Mandlebrot Set from my Facebook profile as the center piece. 

Fractal

As I began to compose my vision, with a week before the deadline, I began to realize the daunting task I had in front of me. To reduce my experience down to a single, digital expression seemed impossible; even with Prezi. I tried and failed three times to create from a central theme; each time getting further away from the original concept. By the third try I had abandoned the Mandelbrot Set and  was even channeling Gardner Campbell’s Keynote refrain. But, “That is not it at all,” proved to be less of a satisfactory framework to steal than a pronouncement of the failure of each attempt.

By Monday before deadline, I was stumped. Further, the next day I had jury duty. If I did not get out of that, I realized that my project was likely doomed to failure. And so I began to make peace with that possibility; rationalizing that I had a very good experience to that point, and that it was the experience that mattered. But turning point number 2 happened while I began to settle in for my long day of jury duty. A conflict in the case saw us being released by 9:30 in the morning. Hope! I rushed home, checked my messages and emails to attend to any business items that needed addressing (I am a Realtor) and, with my schedule cleared by afternoon, I set aside the next 22 hours to give the project one last attempt.

As I considered my core concepts, I knew that I had two themes that mattered to me. One dealt with Joseph Campbell’s view of moving beyond the pair of opposites to form an integrated whole. This is how I wanted to frame the Utopia/Dystopia dichotomy. The other was that I wanted to illustrate a concept of not reaching for some grand idea when dealing with trans-humanism. Rather, that we should let the process grow out of its own center in an organic way. This is what our plum tree reminded me of. With that, I had a moment of clarity. Since this is what I was preaching, why not let my approach to the project reflect these ideas.

The next 22 hours was a blur. Videos watched and re-watched; key points I hadn’t noticed before showing me how much deeper the video clips I saw in the first week were than I had realized. Readings reviewed and ideas honed; images searched for and altered to my needs; organic musings leading to connections between different parts of the project and offering solutions before I even came upon the problems.

At 20 minutes to 4:00 (deadline) I pressed the submit button and for the first time noticed my heart pounding to the adrenaline of this effort. What I failed to compose in three attempts came together in an unconscious, improvised jam session. And as I reviewed my final product, I saw that I had created a work of graphic jazz. Not because of the product itself, but because of the sublime, extemporaneous experience I had creating it. A clip from Northern Exposure came to mind, where Chris Stevens advises Holling Vincoeur not to confuse product with process. To be sure, I was happy with the piece, as it articulated everything I wanted to say. It wasn’t as beautiful as I would like, and it began rather dryly. I noticed misspellings and awkward turns of phrase after the fact. But what did it matter? I had done it, and I had said what I wanted to say. And it was a glorious 22 hours of pure creativity, using a new tool that felt like it had been waiting for me to find it …

As I basked in the afterglow of a pure, creative (if extended)  moment, things began to change in the MOOC for me. My project began to be seen on Prezi, I began to interact in meaningful dialogue with others in Facebook about grading our peers’ projects and, lo and behold, my project’s title, “Metaphor Organica,” appeared as the number one result in Google for those keywords; helping me experience directly a moment akin to one shared in the Gardner Campbell Keynote, where a student made up the word “dackolupatoni” as an experiment to see how quickly Google would index the word and whether further entries would be sub-indexed in their turn. My blog post about my project was the second entry. And finally, one of the professors, Dr. Sian Bayne, responded to a Tweet I had left her regarding my own missing Tweets. Apparently she had these issues as well! To hear from one of the instructors directly, as my first interaction of any sort on the #edcmooc feed, blew me away. I had gone from complete anonymity in the MOOC to being touched directly by the fair Doctor. Then suddenly my fresh Tweets began to show up and my blog feeds followed. Amazing …

As I drank in the excitement and gratitude of my classmates on Twitter and Facebook, I became convinced of something I had begun to suspect long about week 3. This was not a class. It was a Happening …

My utmost gratitude to my classmates around the World and to the instructors who created this course; Jeremy Knox, Dr. Jen Ross, Dr. Christine Sinclair, Dr, Hamish Macleod and Dr. Sian Bayne. As I Tweeted to Dr. Bayne in my reply, “It was The Bomb!”

Metaphor Organica # edcmooc

February 27, 2013

At last, I have finished my final project and posted it for evaluation. I’ll have more observations in the near future. But for now, I wanted to add a link to serve as a preliminary update for the past week. Click the picture below to see my presentation: Metaphor Organica.

Metaphor Organica

The Learning Tree

Sadly my submission to the week 3 image contest was not added to the group page. As a newbie to Flickr I have a waiting period before any of my pictures will qualify to be in a group. I did enjoy looking through the other entries, and adding several to my Favorites. I’m comforted in knowing there is no way I would have been in the running anyway. Some of the images out there were just terrific. Here is what would’ve been my entry.

mobius strip

Last week I focused on the need for a New Mythology. While I feared that maybe I was taking things in a direction that interested me, but was possibly of no value with this course, this week’s discussion on “humanism” showed me that I might be more on track than I realized.

I mentioned a model I had in mind that “encompasses the disparate views along the continuum from utopia to dystopia, and (which) sees them all as vital to the process.” This week, to my delight, I see that this same model can help inform the “humanism-post-humanism” transition. In fact Badmington’s Introduction pointed out contradictions in the discussion of post-humanism that may be served well by this model. In referencing Derrida he states, “Precisely because Western philosophy is steeped in humanist assumptions, he observed, the end of Man is bound to be written in the language of Man. Each ‘transgressive gesture re-encloses us’ because every such gesture will have been unconsciously choreographed by humanism. There is no pure outside to which ‘we’ can leap. To oppose humanism by claiming to have left it behind is to overlook the very way that opposition is articulated.” I’m reminded of a Möbius strip; where one thinks they are progressing from one particular surface of the object to the other, only to find themselves referencing the original surface from behind. While this is a crude representation of what I have in mind, it is another attribute of the model I will try to present in the end.

I will keep this posting short as I need to jump into the next week’s readings so that I can begin working on my digital artefact in earnest. I have a lot of stray thoughts that need to be pulled together for this and I don’t know if I’ll have the wherewithal to articulate my vision. It must encompass dichotomies, mythologize a grand metaphor and cast everything as an organic process, including technology! But first, one more brief posting for the evening …

galahad_grail

This week I found a rhythm with this class that works for me. Instead of worrying about my own participation, I went back to being an observer. The result; I was able to read and absorb quite a bit more than I had previously.

The subject of Metaphors from this week was much more of interest to me than the utopia/dystopia problem. This was partly because putting the focus on metaphors allowed me to contextualize to myself what I have been feeling about this class. And it will inform my final project.

What I see clearly is that I am utopian by nature, and yet I see the usefulness of dystopian perspectives as well. The skepticism and lack of trust of the dystopian view is highly beneficial to the process, as it serves to tear down that which is fragile about utopian views and create a more robust and practical synthesis.

What’s more, the social networking that’s going on around these issues seem to be demonstrating the self-organizing properties you would expect from a system of dynamic, thinking organisms. There’s trial and error, grouping for mutual advantage, blocks of people trailing off to observe the situation better for future forays (yours truly) and people on the forefront offering real, practical solutions to organizing the discussion better. During this week I have become aware of numerous tools and creative approaches to conveying ideas that I was unaware of and this, combined with my deepening view on the subject, get me excited about what I might be able to communicate with my final project.

The thing that I see a need for is a metaphor that encompasses the disparate views along the continuum from utopia to dystopia, and sees them all as vital to the process. I certainly have a model in mind, but I’ll save that for the project …

yin_yang_tree

Some specific observations now: This week’s films revealed to me and unyielding quality to my bias. The first two films showed people adapting technology to their everyday lives ins a way that was useful to them. Here the people seemed clearly in charge and it fit well with my own views on technology. The second two films had a less attractive view of things, with the gamer in “Sight” completely substituting the score from a dating app he had mastered for the genuine human experience of two people getting to really know each other. The second of these films, “Charlie,” showed man again using technology in a way that substituted a controlled, machine-assessed way of achieving a desired outcome for the hard-won real experience. This time it was a synthetic peace at the expense of freedom.

My view on these last films is that I am glad there are people out there worrying about such perversions of technology happening, but I have little interest in this area. I prefer to focus on the promise of technology. I think the problems should absolutely inform the process, by way of stress-testing the solutions and serving as cautionary tales against letting the machine come to dominate. But I also believe we should go forward with the Intention that technology will serve us, not dominate us.

The Johnston paper on Metaphors was another story entirely. I thoroughly enjoyed her observations and her discussion on the use and usefulness of metaphors took me back to the usefulness of mythology that Joseph Campbell so often wrote about. I’ll return to this in a bit  but first I had a couple of other thoughts on this paper. The metaphors she discussed basically broke down to the broad themes of physical space, physical speed, destruction and salvation. The model I see handles this differently. I see destruction and salvation as part of the same thing. Specifically, that which actually happens is the defined solution between the competing forces of destruction and salvation. They are both constructive to an outcome, with the outcome being largely determined by the Intention behind the hand(s) guiding it. This leads again to the usefulness of mythology, which I will defer discussing for a little while more.

I’ll reserve comment on the Shirky/Bady debate except to say that this again is all part of a very useful process. It’s not either/or to but rather parts of the same process. Much like forging a quality sword; both cooling and firing have their influence on the final strength and flexibility of the blade.

The Gardener Campbell Keynote video was also a treat. There was so much meat there, and this post is already so long, that I will make but a couple of quick observations … “Yearning” is directly related to the New Mythology that I see a need for. Indeed we need a new Grail Myth for the Information Age. When we see the current time in the context of history, we are at the vanguard of a whole new way for people to relate to each other. We can connect to people around the World directly now and share our mutual aspirations for the World we want to see. It is a time of unprecedented personal empowerment, and yet it is also a time of unprecedented personal degradation. To waste the promise of technology by using it as a mere novelty for us to project past pathologies would be a crippling blow to our future. On the other end of the spectrum, and what I yearn for, is the promise of a New Renaissance; driven by the leaps in personal enrichment that Online Education and Social Networking offer. But to increase the likelihood of that we need that new Grail Myth. What makes for a new Grail Myth? Perhaps the new week’s subject of “Being Human” will help shed more Light on that.

One last observation and an apology … I note that “dackolupatoni” now has 264 entries, as of today’s date … an apology by way of Blaise Pascal, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” … #edcmooc

old-navigation-instrument-map-and-compassWe’re beginning the second week of E-learning and Digital Cultures at Coursera.org. I have become acutely aware that I cannot keep up the pace I originally intended. There’s just too much to participate in. My time is limited and my motivation has other ideas about this whole venture. As a result, my posts will be less numerous than I had planned. They will also take on a more reflective quality.

Instead of commenting specifically on the short films and readings recommended, I think it will be more productive for me if I comment mostly on my observations of the MOOC (massive open online course) phenomenon. The reasons I have decided on this course correction have everything to do with my original motives for taking the class. But these motives had to reveal themselves over the week for me to find clarity.

What I see now is that I am interested in this whole subject of Online Education because of a belief. I believe, a century from now, people are likely going to look back at this time period and say, “That’s when everything changed.” The likely changes go well beyond education, of course, as I believe financial systems, governments  and morality itself are all due for a firm re-evaluation. But Online Education has the promise of a solution – Education for the masses. I think this is a rich, untapped asset to help shape Humanity’s future after the hard questions are asked. And I want to be a part of that.

To be clear, I fully intend to continue with the course and do the final project. I just think I will be blogging less and reading more. Any participation that I do will likely be in reaction to interesting ideas I find on the blogs of others. I will post observations here though.

With my motivation clarified, I’ll post a few opening reflections now.

  • I don’t think Online Education is going to be a solution in the sense that people are going to be able to get university level educations for free. No, I think the power here is in the ability to access information that is of use to the individual, as needed. This will allow them to grow their understanding of things that genuinely interest them. They are more likely to make contributions in their chosen fields if access to meaningful information is not withheld from them.
  • I also think social media will play a big part, as people self-organize in productive ways. Some students are critical of MOOCs because the teacher-student experience is all but absent. I actually think this is productive. It will give people, who would not otherwise have the chance, the ability to take a leadership role in helping to organize things to help their student community. That could lead to other opportunities, one where the Meritocracy can be based on student feedback. This is the second class in Coursera I’ve taken and I see some useful interactions occurring. There’s also a chaotic mess on the boards, to be sure, and I certainly understand some students being overwhelmed in trying to find answers to questions. But that will be worked out over time. All of this is useful and necessary to the process.
  • I am overwhelmed, but not surprised, by the power of something like Twitter to share information. I’ve seen some great articles and terrific blogs as a result of Twitter and EDC MOOC News. The problem, of course, is there’s too much to consume. The solution for me seems to be, put a time limit on it and just read the first couple of things that seem to expose me to new ideas on the subject. There’s always something to savor, if I’m not worried about what readings I’m missing.
  • I found it interesting that another Coursera MOCC on Online Education had troubles and had to be put on hold while they figure out the technology. This is actually a pretty useful sign to me. It means that we are in the very early stages of this whole movement and there will be ample opportunity to contribute.
  • Related to this last observation, I find people’s reactions to these issues very interesting. Some take it with good humor, some understand that this whole area is new and hiccups are inevitable (if you can have an electrical outage at the Super Bowl …). Others are quite critical, some attacking the teacher for not knowing better than to use a limited platform and others attacking the whole idea of Online Education itself. My own take is that all of it is good. The early steps of a new idea are bound to be wobbly. Critics and enthusiasts alike are useful in the process as it finds the proper balance. The critics hold mistakes to account while the enthusiasts propel it forward with solutions to overcome the errors. This whole process is in its “creative” phase; a phase where mistakes are more forgivable, and maybe desirable!

I am stimulated by the mysteries that lie ahead in these unchartered waters. I am excited by the promise of People being able to more firmly shape the course of their lives. Whether it’s a Utopic or Dystopic future, the outcome will emerge from what happens now. From here, we plot our own maps …  #edcmooc

A series of four short films is presented this week. The theme is “how utopic-dystopic visions inform our relationship to technology.” We also have several other writings to read on the subject, which will help inform the various perspectives along this dichotomy.

The first film is called “Bendito Machine III.” Here is the write-up that accompanies it:

“This animated film tells the story of technological development in terms of ritual and worship – the characters in the film treat each new technology as god-like, appearing from the sky and causing the immediate substitution of the technology before it. What is this film suggesting are the ecological and social implications of an obsession or fixation on technology? Do the film’s characters have any choice in relation to their technologies? What are the characteristics of various technologies as portrayed in this film?”

I’m going to answer the questions posed before I read the thoughts of other students. I’ll be very curious to see the variety of answers to this.

The social implications seem to be that the villagers are so fixated on technology, they’ve come to value It more than their fellows. For those that survive the advances, the concern is with seeing what the technology will do next, with no regard given to those who have fallen. Eventually they become subject to the whims of the invisible hand running the machine.

Ecologically the discarded technology is creating a seemingly undesirable landfill. Interestingly, however, the birds are finding opportunity for food from this. I found it humorous that the bird abandoned the discarded TV, just as it came to life at the end. It’s as if the bird understood the limits of it usefulness better than the villagers.

The characters certainly seemed to have choices in their relationship to technology. But the villagers opted for fixation and eventually became slaves to it. The birds made a different decision; knowing when to say “when.”

The characteristics of Technology portrayed in this film are that it is dangerous, unpredictable, engrossing, intricate, deceiving and ultimately revealing of human weakness. The only moment of usefulness seemed to be in the exercise lessons the villagers practiced, but even then there was a casualty involved.

Other notes: The act of climbing the mountain for ever more technology seemed like a nod to Sisyphus. As the opening act, it suggested ultimate futility. The bird, at the end, fleeing the remains of discarded technology, would seem to confirm this dystopic bias. And yet I see room for constructive interpretations.

Philosophically it seems that life, by its nature, explores itself in the context of its environment. When something new is introduced into its environment, it will evaluate its relationship to this new object and either discard it, flee it or adapt it to its needs. In this particular instance it seemed to end badly for the villagers. Perhaps, had they made the choice of approaching the technology with its benefits to the society the guiding principle, things would have ended differently. The birds got something useful out of it. #edcmooc

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Earlier this week I started a new Coursera class called “E-learning and Digital Cultures.” As I consider what motivated me to join this class, I review the Welcome page and find the following:

“Those goals might include: gaining new perspectives on e-learning; experiencing a MOOC; networking with some of the fascinating people from all over the world who are signed up; experimenting with digital and visual ways of representing academic knowledge; and exploring the connections between education, learning and digital cultures.”

I then realize that every single one of these reasons is compelling. I will post more about this as ideas occur to me, but for now I want to move on to the first assignment. #edcmooc

A New Adventure …

January 30, 2013

 

a-journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where the Path leads, I know not. I believe in the mystery and, from the glimpses I see ahead, not knowing seems proper. For I am entering a World which did not exist in the recent past. A World where Human Beings, with common Intent, can find kindred Spirits continents away … connected in the blink of an eye. A World where Language takes on a new layer, as thoughts are conveyed not just with words, but with pictures, videos and music.

As I stand at the threshold of A New Adventure, my Path into parts unknown beckoning like a lover from a long-lost dream, all I can think to say in return is, “Hello World …”