Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 11 – “Feedback can be digested, worked with, created from. In the absence of this, it is just ‘response’”

Hmmm…Isn’t this what you are supposed to do in a relationship with an academic mentor, tutor or lecturer anyway? I accept that the big mass lecture, especially in rudimentary classes, is supposed to be about introducing and sharing salient points and issues, and that this mode is marked by the passivity on the student behalf with them just listening and taking notes – silently, cognitively. or on paper or an iPad2. But informal discussions regarding topics such as office visits, or interactive discursive tutorial sessions, or comments on an essay draft or submission – aren’t they also to be digested, with attempts to raise debate and address any issues raised in the lecture or submitted paper? Getting up to speed in a new field or area of knowledge requires recognizing the corpus of work which has already been visited or interrogated.

How many times have I read a book where the nomenclature is ‘digital’ or ‘social’ this or that as if it was something to do with the propensity of these categories that were radical or new, never before studied or reported upon ? Where is the risk in that?

Ok, the stimulus response loops, the cybernetic loops, may differ between institution/teacher, student/learner in online and offline formats, and traditionally employed offline orthodoxies are perhaps not the best model for flexitime always on academic development, so what should be in their place? Maybe it is time that deadlines “essay submitted to secretary’s office by 5 p.m. on Friday” should end?

Traditional digital design approaches tend to emphasize user needs and goals. Behaviours are understood in terms of the success users have in reaching those goals. In this sense they are like the traditional TLA approach, except in reverse. The user, the student, has to perform a task set by the system, the institution and the teacher, they are input with the conditions and given a set time in which they must respond, otherwise the machine is found faulty or lacking. It addresses institutional or instructor needs and goals opposed to the students. The better the student conforms to that which is expected, the better the grade, even when it is a relatively subjective matter of interpretation, over format.

What does online offer that is so different, apart from the prospect of tweeting, texting or emailing slabs or portions of your written work for comment or deadline? How big or small are the slabs given or received [technically determined to be 140 characters?]. This will have a knock-on effect of creating an amazing amount of [extra- unpaid] work for the lecturer/tutor. And on the subject of work, how much do they, can they, should they, will they, put into a given student’s work? In a world of pure construction it will still lie with the well-read tutor or facilitator to highlight the cohesiveness [or lack of it] in a field. Same with coherency, rationalization will always win out over rationality, as can be seen in the political history of the world. It plays a big role in the formation of leadership and expertise. Putting forward a coherent argument for something relies on a firm grasp of the basics and rudiments before moving on to novel conclusions. Thus education seems to be cumulative, rather than piecemeal. But sometimes joining the dots is hard, and there may be a distinct lack of cohesion.

How about constant feedback, 24/7/365? I did a thought experiment with this once thinking about government. Imagine if we were constantly approving and disapproving policies or speeches, with elections coming in when a leader falls below, say, 20% favour in the polls? It would make for a pretty chaotic scene with allegiances maybe swinging back and forth depending on what was said and how it was interpreted. No the sample we are given of those we elect varies, but for government office it is measured in years. I am not sure where down the line when they set the term of office, but it is meant to lend administrations just the right amount of temporal rope as to hang themselves. You have to let them have a chance to perform at least some of their electoral spin promises. But then issues are like the weather, they change, or they are like the moon, they wax and wane. You have to give them some time to let it pan out, like national teams and sportspeople in the World Cup. You have to let them develop and do. Some people have referred to the myopia that occurs when someone lives in the moment so to speak and does not think or act according to carrying on into a second term, where it all will all just begin again. Many of the issues right now in politics are those whose impact and affects will remain to touch successive generations. They will not be rectified by 4 year short-sighted policy reforms, or come to that, a four year bachelor’s degree. There are many path-dependencies which make for continuity; administrations for instance inherit the state of the economy of their predecessors, the laws, the wars, infrastructures, nuclear plants, pollution, energy problems, curriculum and so forth. It is their mess now. Many of these things will not be changed in the years or months leading up to election time, and similarly the results of educational reforms will takes generations to be understood in terms of their effectiveness.

How does this relate to learning? Education and education systems move slowly. There may be a lot of ideas and experimentation going on in unschooling and alternatives, but the results of such experiments are in the future, studies regarding the efficiency of such interventions will only pan out longitudinally and also index to the satisfaction of the students themselves. I mean, is employability the index? Is salary the index [like it is when you weigh up the investment in going to a world leading business school]? Is job satisfaction the index? Is self employment the index? Is the satisfaction of bosses, co-workers and subordinates the index? Or is it critical acclaim, amount of followers on facebook or twitter, or contributions to community, faith or art the index? Is it how happy you are? How many books you read a month?

Students need time to reflect. Education is not all about inputs and outputs; it’s surely about gestation and culture, giving students the cultural capitals to not only solve problems in domain specific or general ways in the now, but also to predict and understand prospective alternatives and futures. The formal physical environment can inspire and help. Speaking at the a recent TED conference, Sherry Turkle said she wants people to make a personal commitment to live with each other and teach themselves to be okay with solitude. The idea is that if you live a life which is turned inside out by constantly living for your social graph, then you could become a puppet of the crowd, a truly social product with little to express expect for that you copied or found. Hey you would be3 like a stereotyped Chinese entrepreneur…

One day within such a regime, you could question what it is you know at all, and what it is you prefer and like, and find out that it is not what you ‘really’ like, but what you want to be perceived as liking. Turkle points to the fact that we increasingly spend time taking photos which we think will go down well on social networks, rather than of dealing with things in the existential now. Barry Swartz’s ‘paradox of choice‘ can cut in, making the remarkable banal, levelling everything in the face of how public something appeals and is available. Crap, packaged neatly and smartly, and presented by those new advocates and publicists, called curators, reach attention, the scarce commodity, but all too fleetingly, it remains crap, and some just churn it out as a distraction.

Digital photography and camera equipped phones have definitely increased the number of pictures in the world. What they are of, and why they are taken, and even where they reside can become a problem. 127 hours(2010) is a film based on the true story of an outdoor enthusiast, a canyoneer, who ventures out alone near Moab, Utah. He shows this kind of inverse voyeurism, a kind of strange narcissism, typical of extreme sports and movies such as ‘Jackass’ where people engage in risky or taboo behaviours caught on camera. the use of mobiles in unsafe areas also characterises much of the footage from the recent middle east uprisings.

He takes pictures and videos of himself as he ventures into the lonely outback. He gets trapped by a rock which crushes his right hand. He videos himself and watches footage in the hours that lead to him making the extreme measure to cut off his arm to get free. After doing this whilst remaining just conscious, although its clear he is slipping in and out of consciousness. Such an act, amputating one’s own arm without any anaesthetic or painkillers, is totally visceral and very real, and his last activity before leaving his trap is to photograph his severed arm and the place where it was left. Now there was nothing in the film, which alluded to the idea that he did this for his social graph, opposed to for his own gratification, memory, or as an act which kept him alive and able to cope. But he did leave a note for his parents, so he was performing for a future audience. Ironically, as he left the canyon where he was trapped he caught glimpse of the Indian figures on the rock, in a poetic metaphor to the notion of future audiences. The other irony of the film is that he is intensely isolated and alone and brings it right back to us that we are embodied persons, who must engage ultimately with contemplative reflection before we act.

Contemplation plays an important role in thought. So I would be concerned about how much feedback in terms of frequency and in depth. To join the dots between perspectives, arguments, even disparate classes in a new subject which seems to be thrown together with cohesion, McLuhan probes, evocative statements, art pieces, they all amount to something. Something that connects or it doesn’t. It is expected that the lecturer and tutor is knowledgeable about a subject, as least as much, but preferably more, than the student, certainly in terms of concepts in the field if not practice. Hopefully they have a grasp of the literature; they have some practical research experience, and sometimes some experience of actually doing the job in an institutional or organizational setting. Through this complex the lecturer should know the terrain, they should have formed ideas regarding salient facts, points and issues and this is what they will share with students in the form of stimulus.

They should have done a lot of dot connecting, indexing, abbreviating, picking… This is the attitude which dominates the design of their lectures, their choice of antidotes, their choice of references, and their choice of salient issues to be presented. They may suggest suitable exam questions aimed at the student showing that they have grasped what was shared and can work with the concepts and theories in a reasonable, fluent and competent manner. These choices come through knowledge and experience.

In some subjects the text book may carry old and redundant knowledge which may need updating, the good lecturer can do this. Now how this is communicated and delivered to students is what matters here, also, is the frequency and periodicities of such delivery. In response the student explicates their ‘reading’ of these points, does some research to provide some context to them, they may even relate them to everyday life and their own experiences, but they must ultimately decide the relative importance of the issues, facts and points.

They use a limited number of mediums namely, speech as in discussion groups, or text with the submission of essays and papers. Most graduate school work works in this way. A lecture introduces a topic, a seminal paper or chapter is produced for students to read, and then a tutorial group meeting is set up where an elected or self-elected student makes a presentation and opens a discussion aimed at clarifying and establishing shared meaning of the paper or chapter’s contents. All in all, regardless of whether this was handled online or offline there is a tremendous capacity for immediate and responsive feedback in such sessions. This is why one-on-one tutorials work very well at improving academic performance.

Now this may contrast with the S-R of an essay. This is a peace of individual work that should arrange, organize and condense the thinking regarding the topic, the various themes, concepts and the salient theories including those offered by the lectures and any supplementary and contextual matter they found on the internet or in the library.. It has typically to be communicated in a style and format termed academic, and should show evidence of understanding, of desk based research which allowing for argument and counterargument, with references and citations. Forgive me; I am not trying to teach grandma to suck eggs here. I am merely conducting a thought experiment for something that seems fairly easy for me to understand.

I sort of refer and encroach upon the previous Edinburgh aphorism here. Text, Walter Ong believed, affords to its collective readers a means of theoretical thinking: Preliterate people, he observed, tend not to process the world in terms of categories and other abstractions. Now, if universities exist to teach abstract knowledge and attitudes which favour research in order generate new knowledge, that world class universities are in fact those which are research-led, then a key outcome of any student in assessment is the key ability to show they can absorb, work with, be critical of, and re-present knowledge at the independent level. This is no difference in teaching children the alphabet. Which is easy to spot success or not simply by asking them to recite it, or write it down from memory, or arrange letters on blocks or counters, or on a computer. Notwithstanding, that the child may be bored by this game, or simply not feel comfortable or even have an indifference towards you and is being intentionally obstinate, then failure to be able to do this over a couple of occasions surely casts some doubt that they have learned it sufficiently well to work with it, or embark on learning to work with it. Meaning descends into pressing, as this is there only way to raise your score effectively. It is better to blunderbuss than to snipe, but you will only wound rather than kill.

If they fail to internalize the letters and fail to associate the sounds that go with them, the configurations of letters that make up small words, then the larger words, the growing vocabulary, the combinations of words that make a sentence then they have no chance at becoming fluid and fluent and creative with the language. The internet, the digital world is one born of text due to its reliance on the programming languages. Each of them from machine code to image.file enable and constrain, as does an entire hierarchy, of language-based operating systems with their registries, applications and web sites – all of them providing the dialectic between agency and structure, most of them delivering an advanced dialectic between text and image, an indexing that e must accept in order to understand.

The medium of human minds is language, the invention of writing, McLuhan argued – and, even more so, writing’s codification into print – structured our minds and our habits of thought, conditioning us, word by ink-stained word, to think logically and linearly. This view is echoed more recently by Nicholas Carr. Cut and paste, hypertext links, the proliferation of ‘post-it’ buttons are creating a new literacy of identity which says ‘I think therefore I find, curate and share. and in this order’ The issue is who creates the raw material, who is it found when only a few people hog the internet by muscle, by hook and by crook? The danger here is in the remix culture part at the end – namely ‘created from….what?’ What is the raw material when everyone simply curates and mashes? What is the basic unit? Does “quality” suffer when everyone proliferates and those things trending most are the lowest common denominators, such as your teams football results – which you can’t do much to influence except shout at the screen..

The danger here also is that old academic bugbear, plagiarism, more specifically piecemeal or mosaic plagiarism, in which a student mixes words or ideas of a source (unacknowledged) in with his or her own words and ideas, or mixes together uncited words and ideas from several sources into a pastiche, or mixes together properly-cited uses of a source with uncited uses. Improper collaboration could be gotten around by acknowledging the extent of your collaboration in a note, but of course a tutor “editing” a paper for a student may put you beyond correcting mechanical errors and redrafting significant amounts of the paper.

Computer based and online, if it opens the prospect of offering this, by smart or artificial functioning (delivering appropriate material, pitched at the right level, within the right context, at the right time – multi levels of engagement via navigation buttons – to different depths of understanding, different volumes of data, difficulty of learning activities – according to the interest or capacity of the learner; like Ramona Pearson’s algorithm for learning.

Calibration is an important lesson from casual gaming, and it refers to targeting the degree of challenge precisely in a band between boredom and frustration. Just like a classical symphony a movie and a game must have highs and lows in order to remain effective. In addition to engaging content, the ability to constantly vary the level of challenge appears to be important to persistence and intrinsic motivation. In others cases more desirable time management of lecture’s online presence (which could also be programmed in) then good. learning technologies have given students some level of control over level, rate, time, and location. With more variety and more sophisticated content, students are increasingly able to customize their learning pathway-they will increasingly be able to mix experiences in their most productive modality, themed to their interests, accessed at any time of day, often in collaboration with other students in remote locations. There is a whole new interest in how you can apply computing and networking into understanding the statistics of the everyday. Recording heart rate, exercise routines, amount of coffee shops and so forth are providing a lot of data. It raises again, the spectre of the previous post addressing security, what happens when you go down to the supermarket and you receive a text from your insurance company saying your policy has just went up due to the goods you put through the check-out (those delicious full-fat bangers, large eggs, and tattie scones, and a the couple of bottles of red for the evening). In the ultra connected world, where corporations and financial institutions and corporate media control your money, monitor your choices and attitude and behaviours regarding risk, and present you with entertainment and advertising, then you are in the bubble… it is you that is constructed rather than you constructing.

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