TELEDA and text; without visual clues the game is played differently

on the internet no one knows you're a cat photographThe current iteration of TELEDA is over. I shall miss it. Nothing is as effective as applying theory to practice and when it comes to e-learning – there is a lot of theory out there. I learn more about the challenges of teaching and learning in a digital age every time and I hope colleagues do too. Feedback suggests it’s a useful experience but what can’t be predicted are the outcomes. This is what I’ve started to call the Pedagogy of Uncertainty. When you begin to teach and learn online, you are up close and personal to the unknown and very soon get to understand there is nothing cost cutting or time saving about digital education.  Retention within virtual courses is traditionally poor. It’s easy to see why. Without the physical timetable of lecture, seminar and workshop events, online learning is invisible. Easy to ignore. Without the face to face stimulus of personal communication, you are dependent on text. One of the first lessons is how easy misunderstanding occurs when the only language is letters.  Not everyone is comfortable with writing rather than speaking.

Online its more difficult to get to know people. Over time, virtual colleagues develop a unique voice and personality but it takes a while for online community to develop. The risk is people leave before this tipping point occurs. It isn’t easy to teach or learn online which reinforces recent calls to recognise elearning has failed. The early promises of transformation were never based on real world experiences. Rather they evolved from the techie experts or those who mandated use without getting their hands digitally dirty. What’s always been missing is the lived experience of staff who teach and students who learn in physical classrooms. When they find themselves on a virtual brick road instead, it’s where the problems begin. The theory was never written with them – only for them by others.

Face to face offers clues to identity but online we are reduced to text. Now TELEDA has a sister. TELEDA1* and TELEDA2** both have learning blocks which focus on communication and collaboration. TELEDA1 is text based. TELEDA2 will use video like Skype, Google Hangouts and Blackboard Collaborate.  I want to keep it this way. Part of the TELEDA1 process is to encourage colleagues to reflect on the limitations and advantages of text. It’s about stripping communication down to the essentials. I suppose it’s a bit indulgent on my part because I’m intrigued with subjectivity – postmodern style – in particular how we see and present ourselves online.

Postmodernism has always been contentious and it’s brief period in the spotlight was prior to the rise of social media. elearning might not have lived up to it’s early hype but if anything has had its transformation promise realised, it’s social media. Instant, continuous connection across all boundaries of time and distance. Is there were a way to combine the two – or are the words social and educational always oxymoronic.

no one knows your a dog online cartoon

Postmodern theory suggests we are the products of ideology; located within discursive power structures, giving away our social position through language, replicating and reinforcing our own oppression. I’m not a Marxist. There are more forms of oppression than one.

The body is a powerful delineator of social position. Cultural attitudes towards gender, ethnicity and disability produce marginalisation and dis-empowerment which cut across class difference and economics. But online no one knows who you are. Without visual clues, the identity game is played differently. This is a layer of TELEDA which offers the potential for equality. By keeping the video out of it, I hope it also offers a valuable transferable experience.


* TELEDA 1 – Teaching and learning in a digital age; design and delivery

**TELEDA 2 Teaching and learning in a digital age; eresources and social media



Writing as emancipatory practice in Radical Research (John and Jill Schostak)

The word radical is not one I use often. I’m not political or revolutionary and don’t think of myself as activist. I like to work behind the scenes – preferably behind a screen.  I’m a critically reflective practitioner,  using action research to explore my course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and don’t much like speaking in public. Radical was not how I saw myself. Until I found Radical Research by Jill and John Shostak (2008). The book presents ‘radical’ as a mirror where I can see everything I do reflected; raising awareness of digital inclusion, developing online communities of support, exploring how critical reflective practice can emerge from virtual communities and spaces.

Radical Research is bringing together the different elements of my travels in philosophical places. More notes are over on the PhD page. For a book which only mentions postmodernism once, it contains multiple ways of seeing and a respect for alternative world-views which could easily be described as postmodernistic. For example, fragmentation of the social order, reconfiguration of forms of expression and an emphasis on language. ‘Just as the multitude overflows the boundaries of power so language slips from its bonds with content and opens up the possibilities for reconfiguring the visible, the audible, the real according to desires, interests, needs.’ p 10 Data is not given as fixed but is open to configuration and, thus, alternative ways of seeing while ‘…language itself provides the means for the destabilisation necessary for a reframing that includes the excluded.’ P 11

Radical research includes in its designs the means through which voices can be heard. It can do this through the reflective process of action research and collection of narrative which includes voices which have been silenced. ‘Writing difference into the ways in which the world becomes meaningful is itself a radical act.’ P12  As a writer with interest in slippages between the sign and its signification, I liked the book’s emphasis on the power of writing within the research process. This is an area I don’t think is sufficiently addressed. Like the prerequisite digital literacies for engagement with virtual learning environments, there’s an unspoken assumption all postgraduates can write and critically reflect through their writing. ‘Radical research is itself a writing project at every stage. With every interpretation of what the research ‘really means’, a new writing of it emerges. Through the process of writing, the radical becomes embedded in ways of seeing and acting.’ P12.

Chapter 10 W/ri(gh)ting fashions contains much which would not look out of place in a postmodernist text for example the ‘…parading of positions over the truth of a text invokes a catwalk of intellectual, cultural, social, political fashions. Each calls to an audience: look at me; take notice; my interpretation is right. But where in all this is the writer’s intention?’ P 244 Derrida appears in this chapter, Barthes is present elsewhere but there is no sign of Foucault in spite of the book’s attention to power structures, bodies and (Ill)legitimate knowledge(s). Deleuze, Negri and McCluhan make an appearance but Marx, is absent. I can’t position this book – as befits a postmodernist text. Maybe I haven’t read widely enough but I recognise much in these chapters which bring together the disparate range of books and papers I’ve worked through this year. If radical research is about writing as an emancipatory practice, and the making cases for the  inclusion of difference, it looks like I may be more radical than I realised.




Still not fluent with the ontological (and others) but hopefully gaining ground

The phd is taking shape. The biggest challenge is time. Progress is slow because of the vastness of the project versus scarcity of hours. Each week I give up sleep and half my weekend.  At the CERD Awayday 60 hour weeks were reported and accepted as normal. It shouldn’t be but it is. You can’t support, develop, meet, teach and commute without overspill.  thankfully, doing a PhD is beneficial. I’m good at positive thinking and I love words but suspect if there were more time to immerse myself in texts I’d progress faster.

I’m still not fluent with matters ontological and epistemological. I don’t feel comfortable with the jargon. What I feel/believe to be true (ontology?) and my understanding of the nature of knowledge (epistemology?) is developing but I haven’t read enough. I don’t know what is enough. There’s been some progress though. I’ve positioned myself in the post-modern with regard to O and E. From this side, the dark side for the positivists, meaning is both contextual and contested. The inside interests me. Personhood is both external and internal facing. Grant me the serenity to know the difference between what I can and can’t change – and all that.  I value experiential learning as the ground for scaffolding knowledge construction and see the process of critical reflection is the catalyst. Adopting an essentialist objectivist standpoint wouldn’t work for me.

One valuable aspects of doctoral research is the opportunity to position yourself; locate your ‘being-in-the-world’.  It’s a bit like DIY psychoanalysis. Or the messages on the Brayford Pool Bridge. Where have you been. Where are you going. The answers are more complex than you might think. I’m interested in the digital identity. How online text – anything from a tweet to a tome – is interpreted by the reader. Barthes message in The Author is Dead, reinvented as reader-reception theory by Stuart Hall, offer useful starting points for considering the ‘presentation of self’ online. Virtual reality is the ultimate replication of the real; the simulation. The internet epitomises the postmodern condition.

Regarding ‘being’ I’m still not entirely sure where I am. Which could be expected from someone dabbling in postmodernism. Identity contains multiple contradictions. Is open ended and unfinished. We’re all products of our background and location with little certainty about what lies ahead. Berger and Luckman write about social reality hanging on a thread which can be cut. Most people have experience of thread cutting.  I think this is what open ended-ness refers to. We can’t write the future. Or rewrite the past. We are what we are. Postmodernist theory is an attempt to capture the late 20th century human in an age of the machine and information overload.

Mike says I need to look at the slippage from modern to postmodern. Take care not to characterise them as all of one and none of the other. This is useful advice. Marshall Berman in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air insists the world remains a modern one; ‘We might even say that to be fully modern is be anti-modern’ (1981: 14). Anti-modern or post-modern, I need take ownership of my social reality.

Howl’s Moving Castle in Lyotard’s postmodern condition.

The phd machine lumbers on. Like Howl’s castle it’s clunky, noisy, blowing steam, neurons going off in all directions (I’ve stopped questioning how my mind works). Miyazaki’s moving castle is creepy but fascinating. Machine and magic together in a steampunk world. Weird but I like the blended eras – the juxtaposition of historical fact with present-day fantasy.  Steampunk is a postmodern phenomenon.

How's Moving Castle

I’m reading Lyotard. I wouldn’t begin to claim any expertise but Mike says I need to read original texts. The Postmodern Condition is 80 pages thin and there is something special about the connection. Me and Jean-Francois in the library with coffee and cake. There must be loss in translation and cultural difference to take into account, but the trick – I think – with postmodern theorists is to look for what they’re saying rather than get hung up about the way they say it. Sort of instinctive  deconstruction. Part of the postmodern condition is fluidity where language becomes a conduit for impressions and ideas. Meaning is felt as much as spelt out but in this lies all the madness associated with the P word. Has any other movement been so universally hated?  I think one of the reasons postmodernism became the scapegoat for everything associated with academic eliteness was because it was taken out of context. We live in a postmodern world of pic n’ mix and virtual realities, where knowledge is diffused. It’s as if postmodernism was ahead of itself  – and would love the  irony if that was so!

Once you get used to an idea, it can be hard to contextualise its initial impact.  Lyotard says technology affects the nature of knowledge. Research and the transmission of ‘acquired learning’ cannot survive unchanged – it has to fit new media channels.  Writing in 1979 – pre internet – Lyotard is referring to computers. The connections are not original – McLuhan was there before him – followed by Postman (was ever a name more apt for a postmodern era?) but Lyotard ‘s questions go deeper into language and the crisis of representation. The link between technology and knowledge has relevance to the implementation of the Digital Education Strategy (DES) at Lincoln. You wouldn’t want to bring Lyotard to the table, but the triangulation of machine, knowledge and user is useful for rethinking the purpose of technology in teaching and learning. There are many questions to be asked. If technology is the catalyst why do lectures and seminars remain dominant modes of transmission? How best can the institution support change?  Are the words ‘digital education’ an oxymoron? How do we keep the language accessible? Reading Lyotard is easier than Baudrillard or Butler but still a challenge. I’m sure postmodernism would have made more friends if it cut the polysyllabics. There are lessons to be learned.

postmodernist cartoon

Anime is a postmodern pastiche where styles blend and convention upended; the depiction of Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle is a typical example where a young girl becomes both old woman and hero. Taken from the book by Diana Wynne Jones, the story is a fantasy made real. Postmodernism suggested the real is a fantasy. Academically, postmodernism was a disaster. It tried to tell us nothing can be fixed and found itself anchored. It promoted parody and found itself parodied. It was taken seriously when it told us not to believe in anything.

We live in postmodernity but struggle with language to describe it. Lyotard is worth revisiting, in the original, and applying to the present.  Postmodernism may have more relevance than its critics would have us believe and Howl has more to do with the postmodern condition than you might think.

Archetypes as reference points for a postmodern social reality

Tarot archetypes

Contemplating social reality needs head space, time, wine and useful points of reference. It’s a tough job. I’m not entirely sure I want to do it, but rediscovering postmodernism keeps me going. The virtual worlds I co-inhabit offer alternative realities postmodernists could only dream about. You can’t hold the internet in your hand but it exists. Being online connects us. The limitations of time and distance get lost. We become ethereal. Virtual reality is performances within a world wide web of forms; a replica, a simulation of the Real. The Other becomes us. We become the Other. Wow!

Cultural eras have retrospective names; renaissance, enlightenment, modernism. As the 20th century evolved into an knowledge network society, we became post-industrial and post–modern. Technology has taken over, integrating humans and machines.  When will we become Posthuman?  If only Marshal Mcluhan could see us now! Public information, welfare, health services all follow ‘digital first’ policy and practice. Education, finance, leisure, retail have moved online.  We live virtual lives.

The postmodern condition was inevitable but postmodernity got hijacked by academics. Those working with postmodern concepts invented new ways of understanding social reality and their theorising became obscure and difficult. Yet no amount of intellectual posturing can change the fragility of the world; academics provide more ways of seeing and being but can’t answer the big questions. No one can.

I’ve been reflecting on archetypes. There are few certainties in life but ageing is one of them, as is death (shhhh….cultural taboo) and I wonder if the consistencies of archetypes can suggest anything about what it is to be human. In the postmodern world of machines, and the cultural condition of postmodernity, archetypes shouldn’t work. They suggest qualities which are innate, constant, universal; the dark side of positivist essentialism. But you can’t count or quantify them. They’re slippery and difficult to grasp. Conceptual. Abstract. Yet we all recognise the hermit, hero and trickster. The tarot’s major arcana is full of instinctive archetypal images; strength, justice, priestess, pope, wheel of fortune, fool. Archetypes exist beyond culture; similar to Plato’s Forms and Aristotle’s Essence. Philosophers have been arguing about them ever since and this is where I need to lie down in a darkened room. My head isn’t big enough and there so much else to do.

Archetypes are constant but interpretation is individual, personal. The way we think about the fool or the trickster is culturally influenced which is in turn historically situated.  The separation of the signifier (word) and the signified (attached meaning) creates the space where postmodern social reality is located. Where alternative interpretations are abstract yet real for each of us as individuals. This – I think – is how a postmodernist lens works. The world becomes fractured and full of possibilities for meaning, which can’t be fixed or finished, but within that fluidity there are always the archetypes;  shared ways of understanding the human condition. I’ve had enough now. My head hurts. Where’s the wine?