Staying human in the age of the machine…

sunrise over the river humber

The the new academic year begins. The days shorten. I see the sun rising as I drive across the Humber Bridge.  It makes everything ok 🙂 On the allotment I’m pulling up plants and digging, getting ready for the winter.

Commuting and digging offer head space. I’m thinking about technology. What it means to be human in an age of the machine. It’s a pragmatic reflection. I spend too much time online. Too many hours connected to the internet. I think I may be addicted to google. Instead of exercising my brain to recall a name or place, I search for it instead. My browser history bears witness to cognitive laziness.

This new academic year will see the implementation of a digital education strategy for the university. Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) will run again. I will live, sleep and breath virtual reality. Open educational resources, inclusion, digital divides, eportfolios, shared communities of practice – I love it but I also worry I ask too much, the university asks too much, we all expect too much of what at the end of the day is a machine.

Soon I will be inviting staff who teach or support learning to give up an hour of their time to talk about digital education. Technically it will be an interview and be recorded. This is my data collection but I think of it more as a conversation about the relationship between humans and their digital technologies. I want to ask practical questions like:

  • Why do we need to reinvent lectures for online delivery?
  • How would you define being digitally literate?
  • What can the university do to support your virtual learning?

I also want to know how how the internet has impacted our lives as well as our careers and professions. If we stop to think about the difference ICT is making; the divides it’s creating, the shifts in practice required by unprecedented access to knowledge, or is it information, or is it someone’s unsubstantiated personal opinion.

Saljo says ‘…[digital] technologies do not merely support learning: they transform how we learn and how we come to interpret learning. The metaphors of learning currently emerging as relevant in the new media ecology emphasise the transformational and performative nature of such activities and of knowing in general.’ (Saljo 2009:53)

I want to create space for conversations about the future implications of the internet for the university. There are calls for flipped teaching but how can this happen when lectures last 50 minutes and are delivered to 100 plus students?  How can time and space be reinvented to suit an alternative education – a digital one? Where technologists across the sector lead on policy, how can non-technologists keep up? What happened to MOOCs. Why don’t we talk about accessibility any more?

These are the limitations of face to face communication compared to the timeless boundary-less landscape within my laptop. What does it mean to stay human in the age of the digital machine?


Saljo, R. (2009) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (2012) 26, 53-64


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