Posthuman Pedagogy

Posted on November 29th, 2011 in General by Neil David Buchanan

I have struggled a bit with this one, so I have decided to show something that I originally thought was “posthuman” when I first saw it demonstrated but I know think is actually the opposite!


Back in the early 1990s before I even had an email address, I was teaching English in Poland.  My friend, Sara, taught me an activity to help students with vocabulary learning.  On pieces of paper the size of your palm, you wrote the word that you were having problems remembering.  On the reverse side, you wrote the definition and an example sentence.  Then you put the pieces of paper, no more than 10, in your pocket and, during the day, you brought them out when you a few free minutes and tested yourself.  If you got the word right, you would transfer the piece of paper to a different pocket until, finally, all the pieces of paper were in the “known” pocket and you could create a new batch of cards.

Present Day

Anki is a system based on the premise of spaced repetition ie you create learning cards and these decks are set to go off like alarm clocks so that you are tested on your knowledge at regular intervals based on research into the human capacity for recall.

You can download your decks to your phone, tablet, laptop and so on have your decks with you at all times.  You can add details to your cards, use images, add audio and customise them to your individual requirements.

We are being encouraged to use these, so I paid for the iPhone version (all other versions, including Android and desk top are free) and now I have access to my learning cards wherever I go.

Posthuman Pedagogy

I thought they were posthuman because of the use of technology and the apparent ubiquitous  nature of the cards.  They seemed to have taken a simple idea from pre-digital times and updated it in a way that made use of the technology and which integrated human and non-human elements.  In the original idea, I had to remember to take my cards with me and I had to prompt myself to use them.  In the digital version, I could set it up so that the cards would prompt me, keep records of my progress (including time taken to answer) and present the cards in pristine form each and every time.

After reading Edwards, I felt that these were not posthuman pedagogical techniques at all.  The cards were highly representational and were used to “own the language”.  The sharing facility is highly complex to use and doesn’t allow for much “gathering”.  As Barad, quoted in Edwards says: “Representationalism takes the notion of separation as foundational.”  And the disjunct domains of WORDS and THINGS is emblematic of that.  The dilemma is how to LINK this to KNOWLEDGE.  In language, the idiolect is a key determinant of personality and personalisation of the language.  But language cannot be acquired without context.  Matter and Meaning are context.  If they weren’t, all we’d have to do is read a dictionary to learn how to speak another tongue.

So, is is posthuman or not?

You have to create an account to get access to site plus the sharing decks facility is not working properly.  So I’ve added a pdf file with some screen shots to give an idea of what’s going on.

Neil Posthuman Pedagogy

4 Responses to 'Posthuman Pedagogy'

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  1.   Austin Tate said,

    on November 30th, 2011 at 1:45 pm     Reply

    Neil, I think its interesting that you looked at a potentially non-example of a posthuman pedagogical tool. Thanks also for the helpful PDF to get a feel for what the tool does in use without us having to register on yet another site.

    I think I agree with you that I would not see it as going beyond the current human frame of mind and things very supportive of how our brain has probably worked for millennia. But that’s not to say its not useful and helpful device.

  2.   Jen Ross said,

    on December 2nd, 2011 at 10:36 am     Reply

    I’m with Austin, here, Neil – your example that turned out not to be an example is extremely generative. I agreed with the reason you gave for considering it anti-posthumanist – the values of representation, separation and mastery seem deeply entwined with humanism. It’s fascinating to think about how (as Hayles 1999 argues) the apparent boundary blurring of ubiquitous technology and the “posthuman” can function to replicate the humanist divisions it appears to challenge. Nice example.

  3.   Ania Rolińska said,

    on December 9th, 2011 at 9:54 pm     Reply

    Hi Neil, with a bit of delay, but I’m feeling compelled to reply maybe because of the Poland and ELT bits or maybe because once upon a time, probably in the late 1990s, when I still didn’t have an email address, I was walking around with pockets stuffed with those cards you describe, trying to learn English!

    This is an interesting choice, a generative one as Jen said, even if an anti-example. It shows in a very neat manner that the integration of technology is not the only condition for the pedagogy to be considered posthuman. To me posthumanism entails deep involvement with the ontology of becoming and change as well as creativity (really liked Gough’s reasoning in this respect). Packages of knowledge, for example stacks of cards, no matter whether in paper or techie form, ‘smell of’ audit and accountability culture (your comment on my post).
    Now the question is how to smuggle the posthuman into an ELT classroom? What strategies can an English teacher use that will blend situated knowledge, cyborg ontology, border pedagogy plus the art, the humour and the paradox of the rhizome (Gough, 2004)?

  4.   vinod balakrishnan said,

    on April 10th, 2012 at 10:20 am     Reply

    hi, neil.


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