Steph's E-learning and Digital Cultures Blog

part of the MSc in E-learning at the University of Edinburgh

End of Lifestream Summary

A thoroughly challenging and inspiring few weeks have been spent involved in the course content. When embarking upon this course, two personal concerns were that the content would be irrelevant to my professional practice or the technical aspects too advanced considering my limited experience of e-learning. Fortunately, the course has proven to be relevant and (although frustrating at times) technically achievable. My journey over the past twelve weeks can be compared to walking a path with one foot on the uneven rocks and the other on trudging through mud, knowing too well that if the two paths would combine the journey would become more manageable. One foot followed a path of experiencing the many and varied modes in which the education can be facilitated by digital means. This has been reflected in the weekly summaries. The second path was one of academic learning; exploring intricacies of the ethics and philosophies related to cyberculture, virtual communities and posthumanities. The task at the end of each block provided some even ground as the paths merged and I embarked upon the opportunity to share my understanding course content through a digital activity.
At times it felt like a success or failure situation as I tried to understand the readings and find a way represent this in a way that fed into my lifestream. I can now appreciate that success is not simply an opposite of failure. With a ‘failure’ in using feeds or a bookmarking site came the opportunity to learn, improve and achieve a greater understanding of the place of e-learning and digital cultures within the real world. Likewise, the tasks provided opportunity to integrate a new digital activity into my lifestream. As noted in the weekly summaries, this was time consuming and perhaps not as comprehensive in content as if I had put pen to paper. However, the lessons learnt from the experience of undertaking a digital activity are as invaluable as learning academic arguments when it comes to understanding the uses of e-learning and digital cultures within education.
It became challenging to keep the weekly summaries in sync with the course contents when moving onto a different block of work before all work had been completed for the previous block. I decided that it would be best to keep the summaries chronological aligned with the calendared course content to provide some structure to my lifestream.
My lifestream reflects a hesitation in sharing my knowledge/understanding before I have a comprehensive appreciation of a concept. The comments posted in relation to my work helped me to consider concepts in more depth and from an alternative stance. I well appreciate that peer support and shared thinking facilitates understanding and concept development. This course structure, as with any way of learning, has required testing and practice in order to establish how it works best on an individual level. Therefore, in future I personally would contribute to future blogs and seeks peer engagement more freely and certainly advocate it as an effective educational process.
Having to initiate each account for the first time, for everything that fed into my lifestream is representative of my previous involvement with such modes. Such academic discourse has proved itself to be motivating. The ‘conventional’ expression of knowledge through academic writing is self limiting. Using Prezi, twitter or blogs with links to U-tube for example, allow an expression of complex notions; unrestricted by the constraints of an essay. The experience of e-learning has also raised some interesting ethical considerations that I intend to further explore within the assignment. All in all a very worthwhile journey!

Week 12 Summary

Much time this week has been spent reading and looking at PBworks, though this has not been fed into my lifestream. It is only as I come to write this summary that I see how empty my lifestream is this week. I realise that I am naturally inclined to work through ideas in my mind more so that through writing. As this is does not enable assessment of my processes and if probably not the most efficiant way of working, I have made a last minute attempt to represent some of ‘background activity’. A few pages from StumbleUpon and posting a blog in response to the comments received on my posthuman pedagogy have now fed into my lifestream. It has also be useful to take the opportunity to look at classmates lifestreams and see how the themes that have emerged from their end of block tasks vary and also seem to relate to the individual interests.
In preparation of submitting this section of the course I have also played some more with the format of my page. Adding a contents list (in the form of tabs) across the top of the page will hopefully make it easier to navigate around my posts. The final course summary is also ready to publish.

Week 11 Summary

To look at my lifestream this week it would appear that no work occurred this week. However, quite the opposite is true. In preparation for the final assignment I have been looking back over my previous end of block tasks and the subsequent comments. Some posts provide a useful reference to literature that has been identified as being relevant to the work I have produced. This seemed a logical way of deciding the focus for my assignment as the contents of the tasks has been self motivated and therefore the subsequent recommended readings are general found to be of personal interest. These comments have certainly helped develop my understanding and spurred on some critical thinking that I hope to carry over into the assignment.

Week 10 Summary

Much of week 10 was been spent understanding the first half of this block. By moving onto pedagogy I have found some clarity on the previous readings and been able to construct a blog for the posthuman/cyborg readings. After spending considerable time on Prezi and Slides/U-Tube presentations in previous weeks I decided a blog (with hyperlinks) would be appropriate for presenting my pedagogy within the timeframe. I was happy with the outcome and have received useful and interest comments. This has been one of my more enjoyable sections of work as I realise I have a particular interest in pedagogy and inherently find myself looking at e-learning as a method with which to become more familiar…something I am reading around in view of the final assignment.
Now at week 11, I am more comfortable with the format of the course and find myself not needing to make such a conscious effort to use blogs and the likes of delicious and StumbleUpon as they have become part of my routine when looking for wider reading and storing artefacts. My newly acquired familiarity with such sites has most probably contributed to taking some of the ‘stressful effort’ out of studying and allowed me to consider the content in more depth. I have even started using these sites for other courses and browsing personal interests. With the little remaining time left to the structured part of this course I hope to use Holyrood Park Hub some more as this is an area that I can see will help me develop ideas for the assignment AND become more comfortable with sharing ideas in a virtual community.

Posthuman Pedagogy

Background

This week I attended the annual Cardiology Symposium where presentations were made on the developments and aspirations for the management of a variety of cardiac conditions.  Without harping on too much about the medical I will try to provide some background to my pedagogy. 

I have a particular interest in the management of patients that survive a sudden cardiac death.  These are seemingly fit and well individuals who, without warning, suffer a cardiac arrest.  The group that I see are the fortunate one’s who happened to be in the right place at the right time and therefore received CPR, defibrillation (shock) and immediate hospital treatment.  Among a variety of tests to attempt to diagnosis a predisposition/explanation for this event they usually receive an implantable defibrillator   (battery box attached to wires into the heart that provides a shock) should the event happen again.  

What I learnt at the symposium is that these development of the devices for heart failure patients is going in the direction of a a device that resembles a rod, that sits in the heart and has capacity to wirelessly transmit data  (such as heart rhythm and function) to a system that enables the physician to monitor the patients and remotely alter the function of the device to increase functioning of the heart. 

This reduces the need for hospital appointments to interrogate the device for rhythm abnormalities or device malfunctions.  I can foresee the future developments of this smaller device having defibrillation capability.  This is exciting stuff in my world! 

The adaption of the heart; with the heart being the symbolic essence of human life has made me question whether fabrication between “hybrid of machine and organism” (Haraway, 2001) has made the patient a cyborg. 

The ability for the physician to learn about the heart function from the device is a post human pedagogy in itself but I would like to take this concept a step further…

My Pedagogy

A major concern I have with this patient group is the psychological trauma experienced by these patients and how to educate them about the condition.  The technological advances of the device will inevitably result in less human contact between patient and physician…leaving a void in the psychological and educational support these patient require.  I am neither an inventor nor a programmer but with knowledge in this field can see a future that uses a programme to assist in a patient’s recovery, adjustment and future with a cardiac device.  I propose the development of a system resembling (if not exactly like) an app that provides an educational programme incorporating a programme of cognitive behavioural therapy (recommended in European guidelines for this patient group), access to peer support forums that are mediated by professionals and integration of the wireless data transmitted from the device to make support and treatment plans individualised to the patient.  I envisage it being accessible via mobile phones, tablets and computers and will incorporate the most up-to-date multimedia that will appeal to the age ranges targeted.

This pedagogy resembles an amalgamation of; an online (bank-like) account, virtual community/networking sites and educational support systems such as WebCT but enters unchartered territory in terms of existing within a health care system – an environment that does not have an ‘undo’ or ‘erase’ feature should something go wrong.  In discussing this with peers and colleagues I have had mix reviews as to whether this is progress or merely making the best out of a bad situation.  It is commonly believed that ideally, these patients would have access to structured in-hospital support and educational programmes.  To that I argue that making a person attend regular hospital appointments is costly to both them and the facility.  As the devices are technologically becoming posthuman so too must the pedagogy used to integrate and support them.

Week 9 Summary

Finally, a eureka moment!  Week 9 (and 8!) has significantly encroached on week 10 as I have been struggling with the meaning of post-human.  Until now, I considered it to be related to human action and found myself trying to ‘fit’ it into some schema that sat nicely in my preconceived understanding of being human.  After reading Edwards ’The end of lifelong learning: a posthuman condition?’ it clicked that ’post’ is ‘going beyond’ being human.  Perhaps a simple point to grasp but without it it has been particulary difficult to make meaning of Haraway and Hayles.  Now I have a better understanding of this I feel I can read these again and begin to contruct a blog related to some of their work.

I’ve been looking for examples of posthuman in films and media and storing them in Delicious to keep for my blog.  I also added StumbleUpon to my lifestream.  Unfortunately I now realise I saved them in a folder with the same name as my lifestream tag and so they fed directly onto my lifestream.  This left my page with a range of bizzare and disjointed artefacts when viewed without any context.  I have rectified this problem, leaving me just my page to tidy over the few remaining weeks.

Week 8 Summary

Being the first week of block 3 I obtained the readings and had a brief look at them but have been significantly distracted by finishing the ethnography. A lot of my learning this week has happened in the ‘real world’ and I do not feel I have reflected the significance of this in my lifestream. The opportunity to ‘invite a friend’ has led to some motivating conversations with colleagues and friends. This has turned out being an industrious stage in my course journey as I have been conducting some of my studies within a social circle that functions quite dependently around ‘conventional’ communication and wishes to believe it shy’s away from cyberculture, technology and posthumanities.
A few tweets have fed into my lifestream. Previously, finding it awkward to follow conversations in twitter I have had reservations over whether it would be a chosen means of communicating after this course. I realise now that it will…….I have no reservations that it is an effective way of sharing a links to another website. This is what I have tried to do this week when an ‘invited friend’ made me aware of the Free Thinking Festival and some I found some interesting sessions directly relevant to posthumanities.

Week 7 Summary

The ethnography task has been interesting. I would until now have consider myself quite distance to the virtual world. However, the varied contributions from the class have been an eye opener to the fact that many communities that I consider common place in ‘my world’ are in fact virtual communities. This slowly developed realisation is perhaps representative of the fact they are so integrated with the real world…and how little appreciation I had for the fact that ‘my world’ was actually so involved in the virtual world.
Always looking for a new challenge I decided to use Prezi to present my ethnography. I had seen it used my previous students and was attracted to the slick linking between ideas – perfect for snap shots of a community. However, the challenges related to ethics (already identified in week6) became even more apparent when building the ethnography and it the intricacies of Prezi proved to be very time consuming. Despite this, it was worth the effort as I felt my ethnography turned out well for a first attempt and the feedback I received would indicate that posting it supported within a blog enabled me to convey the ethical challenges I encountered.
Looking at my lifestream I see that I have not been adding very varied feeds over the last few weeks so I have gone back to trying to use delicious some more. It takes practice to integrate using sites as a new way to support my learning, thus I realise I must practice some more.

Micro-ethnography: TheGlobalWe

Arrival Story:
As a person who has little association with virtual communities, other than to keep in touch with geographically distance friends and relatives on a very ad hoc basis, the decision of which community to study was not an easy one. Many uncertainties emerged. Primarily, if using the only virtual community I am a member of; can I be impartial when observing a community of loved one’s that were part of my life long before we started conversing by social network sites? I was also troubled by the thought of researching people I know well and did not feel that I would be able to separate my preconceived ideas created in the real world from those observed in the virtual world.
However, I identified that a motivation for embarking on the ELDC course was to see if it is possible to use the virtual world as a medium for patients/carers to correspond with healthcare professionals in an effective (if not more so) way than they might do in a face to face encounter. In order for this to work I consider it necessary for people in a virtual world to not lose their ‘real life’ identity whilst online and not adopt the persona of a fictitious avatar, for example. So, in order to study this I identified it necessary to know them in both worlds. A work colleague of a few years appeared to fall in the middle ground between complete stranger and childhood friend/family member. Fortunately a colleague with an online community was readily identifiable.
BanPlasticBagsEdinburgh (BPBE) was a community that I was aware had an online presence, created by a colleague.

The Journey:
The destination envisaged was towards the BPBE static website and to discover what other routes passed through there. However, on further investigation it became apparent that BPBE was a small organisation housed with a much larger community. There are recurrent opportunities when starting on the static BPBE site to travel (via hyperlink) into TheGlobalWe community. Inevitably then, much time on this ethnography journey was spent within TheGlobalWe and this became the environment to base this ethnographic.

Considering whether the community I chose to study should be aware of my actions I decided that as no information was password protected it can be considered of a public domain.

As the researcher I lurked, observed and reviewed previous interaction between members. This ethnography was studied in its natural state and those being studied did not know they were a part of my micro-ethnography. On a project of such a small scale I did not consider it right to participate in subjects that were of obvious importance to the members without having much insight or genuine interest of my own.

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Observations:
It is apparent that the founder of TheGlobalWe is a ‘networker’ as described by Kozinets (2010). The smart use of social networking enables campaigns such as BPBE to reach a wider community and potentially gain support from other communities where members may have values complementary to its own cause. The ‘World Opera for World Peace’ is powerful and has potential to attract an audience drawn to the music, possibly before appreciating the motivation of the community as outlined by the mission statement. Strikingly, on arrival into TheGlobalWe community, reference to the Dalai Lama is paramount. Whilst being in the forefront of content, this remained a particular area that I did not feel comfortable commenting on. Inevitably, an ethnographer will make observations but their categorising and processing of observations are not easily made without influence of their own experiences, beliefs and morals. Hine (2000) suggests that the ethnographers ‘process of self-discovery’ can be necessary in developing insight into this community. Perhaps in a larger project more attention would be paid to the moral underpinning of a community and what bearing the individual ethnographer (with their individual beliefs/values) has on the study, but for the purposes of this community I have neither the time, information or intention to express opinion on something as complex as moral belief and behaviour. However, I can verify that the face to face observations, I have made over the past few years, regarding the founder of BPBE are in keeping with the persona that is displayed within the virtual community.
It is worth mentioning here that when the observations were already completed I mentioned to my colleague, for courtesy, that I was using his virtual community for this ethnographic study. With no apparent concerns to my studying the community his response did state that he ‘should make sure the site is up-to-date’. Whilst made as a passing comment this does demonstrates how, in order to study a community in an undisturbed, natural state (Hine, 2000) the ethnographer may need to be ‘undercover’.

Observing this virtual community enabled me, as a novice ethnographer, to conclude that it is possible to develop a virtual community to enhance a face to face connection. In this micro-ethnography it also appeared that the person does not necessarily alter themselves as a result of having a virtual presence. Despite thorough consideration of ethical implications of observing people prior to embarking on the journey through cyberspace I failed to appreciate that what I observe for myself may be ethically sound but the sharing of these findings in a transparent manner for the reader is complex. This would require further consideration if an additional study were to be conducted. As for my personal motivation regarding virtual communities as support networks within healthcare, the ethical consideration would become much more complicated. Encouragingly, the findings of this simplistic study would indicate that the negotiation of such ethical challenges could be of long term benefit to patient education/support and treatment.

Week 6 Summary

Hands writing on the ‘Circulation, Networking [and] Flattening’ came to mind this week and can be related to a virtual community. My chosen community is brought together by the belief that the members are equipped with political, moral and spiritual ideologies that can better the world and make it sustainable. As Hand says, cyberspace reduces the limitations of being a lone, lost voice by enabling people that are geographically distant to join together to form a larger, empowered body of people. The possibilities of the cyberculture restructuring boundaries created by a democratic world tied up in bureaucracy are intriguing. I also hold some cynicism that people can hide behind a persona that is not representative of them in the ‘real world’. This is something I wish to investigate further.
Much of this week has been spent observing the multi-faceted dimensions of my community and taking snap shots of what I feel represents the community. Ethically, I feel I have addressed the essential thinking related to being the ethnographer (as outlined on the AoIR website and course content). However, as I become more acquainted with the community I cannot help but make personal assumptions and question whether I agree with/support their practices. For my participation within the community my participation is not guided directly by the literature but something that I am personally, morally comfortable with. I’d go as far as to suggest that whilst my ethnography is conducted with a benevolent attitude I find myself repeatedly questioning whether in fact I may interfere and inadvertently alter the natural dynamics of the community. Undoubtedly, I have found this aspect the most challenging part of ethnography and have therefore decided not to contribute but attempt to make unbiased observations.