Elearning & Digital Cultures #edcmooc #week1

 I've been doing the 'signing up to moocs' thing again. This time it's 'Elearning and Digital Cultures' or #edcmooc which is a co-production between Coursera and the University of Edinburgh's MSc in Digital Education team.  I have signed up for many of the big mooc initiatives - my first foray was 'Facilitating Online Communities' which wasn't massive - but it was open - and facilitated by Leigh Blackhall of Otago University in New Zealand.  
That was 2006. I remember setting my alarm for a 2am conference call back then and feeling dizzy with the idea that I was attending a university course in NZ!  That in turn led me to other learning adventures.  Why this mooc?  There is something about it which reminds me of my undergraduate experience - a BA in Communications Studies, with an emphasis on media studies and a smattering of philosophical, cultural and sociological topics.  Time is a big constraint right now - but I'm going to at least loiter with intent around this one.  
Week 1 of #edcmooc featured content in the form of short animations and films which explored technology, media and communication through the lenses of utopia and dystopia.  One of the questions that arose in my undergraduate degree was the notion of power: where does it reside? How aware are we of where power lies in our everyday experiences?  It promoted critical thinking, in other words.  
Many of the perspectives from that undergraduate experience were critiques of capitalism, Marxism and many other 'isms'.  This was just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unravelling of the communist utopia/dystopia.  And just like now, we were in the middle of a serious recession - all of my school and college friends emigrated as a matter of course.
Dystopian memes were the order of the day: Orwell's '1984' and the movie of the same name and the same year featured the 'Thought Police' and 'Big Brother'.  No... a different 'Big Brother' :)   There was also Apple's seminal ad in 1984 though I was not conscious of it at the time.  All of these played with the notions of utopia and dystopia.
Today, the machine is a much more subtle and omnipotent construct.  Michael Wesch says were are the machine.  But are the power dynamics just the same?  Is Big Brother here - but welcomed by us in the devices we stroke all day?

1984 - Orwell's 'futuristic' novel - featuring 'Big Brother' and the 'Thought Police'
Or, is technology enabling real and connected learning opportunities for all - across digital and social divides?  Is it creating spaces for learning that are truly new and empowering?  Is it helping more people to find their voice and create a more equal and engaged society?  My own experience suggests that it is.  
In 2004, I lived in a rural part of Ireland, I was raising 2.5 children and working part-time.  I was also able to start a fully online Masters in Software & Information Systems that year.  That opportunity would not have been practical or even possible for me in the absence of technology.
Today, my son gave me a tour of his most recent Minecraft world.  In the past couple of months, I've seen him develop competency in this creative space.  I am also noticing him flourish in his social spaces and in his capacity to think collaboratively and creatively - and I think these noticings are related.  I hear him talk endlessly to his friends in Minecraft via Xbox. The plotting and planning and strategy is getting ever more inventive and fun.  I hear them calculating how many bricks or how much redstone they will need to build this or that.  I hear them negotiating rules about what is cool and what is 'dry' in terms of their behaviour towards one another.  I wonder how these skills will help them in other spaces.

Minecraft - a collaborative, open, creative play space - pic from Wikipedia
I do not believe in a deterministic view of technology.  I believe technology facilitates and midwifes the development of latent possibilities.  These possibilities are already within each of us - but they need a conduit or a catalyst to be realized.  Some of these possibilities are the best of us - and some are the worst.  But overall, I am hopeful for the future of these current Minecraft utopians... yes, I am.
I absolutely agree that we need to avoid reductionist, behaviourist, simplistic models when we talk about the positive and negative aspects of technology and indeed of elearning.  Systems thinking, design thinking and psychology-based approaches are much more helpful in wrestling with these concepts and the power within them.  These support the analysis of nuanced, complex scenarios and provide some hope of producing practical and helpful learning design frameworks and the real possibility of opening up truly new learning spaces.

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