This week on the E-learning and Digital Cultures course we moved on to the second main topic: being human. The four short films (1) explored ideas of what is valuable about being human and we were asked to think about how this can be re-asserted when human existence may be seen to be under threat from technology. Instead of core reading this week we had a recording of a talk from TEDx Warwick on the topic of defining humanity (2).
In our edcmooc discussion group (Thursday, Teaching Grid, 3pm. Shameless plug.) we demonstrated some key elements of the definition of what it means to be human. As humans we are, I think, the only race on the planet to discuss, compare, debate. And this week, all pretty stuck for ideas, we needed it! Moving on from how technology affects us, we have arrived at what it means to be human in today’s world. Is there some irreplaceable value in human ways of being and learning? Is this undermined by technology and science?
I think that my lack of ideas this week was not helped by the ‘film festival’ clips. From a car advert, to a short film depicting two aliens trying to understand the nature of humans, and a man creating a virtual world in an attempt to treat an ill partner, the overwhelming thrust of the clips seems to be that we can only be interesting through technological involvement. This is pretty uninspiring. We have undeniably come far beyond the hunting and fishing stage of humanity. Through using our brains to research the world around us we have earned the right to go beyond the simple Darwinian ideas of survival. In my free time I like to cook, read, go to the theatre, travel. None of these activities necessarily further my chances of survival on this planet. Frankly, I’d be no good at hunting, I’m much happier reading a good book, so I’m glad that we have developed systems which allow me to partake in developing a wide understanding of the world around me.
When developing technologies then, or deciding which ones we want to use, we must not forget that we should only adopt them if they enable learning and understanding, which are the things which make us human. This could be through facilitating scientific research (the Hadron collider comes to mind), or by saving us time which we can then use more beneficially elsewehere (and here I am thinking of… the washing machine!) With some rather dystopic images still hanging around from previous MOOC weeks, I tend towards the pessimistic, but maybe the chance to enhance ourselves with the aid of technology, to add or remove things from an (imperfect?) human nature, is actually rather exciting.
I’ll be honest, I struggled this week. In previous weeks we’ve seen a collection of films which shared common themes and that each seemed to build on the ideas of the former. This week the collection felt disconnected. That’s not to say I didn’t engage with them though. The short clip from the BT advert resonated; I’m currently living 250 miles from my partner and much of our communication is through social media. It makes you think about the quality of human interaction when it is through a layer of technology. Themes that I think came through and were discussed in relation to last week’s resources. We talked a little about the quality of relationships made online and the awkwardness of finally meeting someone who you have previously only known virtually. I was also oddly gripped by They’re Made of Meat. It was quirky and comical, but I’m not sure what it added to my understanding of this week’s theme.
The resources I got most from this week were the further readings (3) under the heading Perspectives on Education. These had a lot of interesting ideas that relate to the experience of students through online learning. Both suggest that there is a requirement for the human touch in the delivery of education in a virtual environment. It is something that I am very aware of when delivering live sessions online; your voice is not enough, people want to see you sitting in front of your computer too. I was particularly interested in the ideas around the development of literacy and communication skills presented in The Human Touch. To communicate effectively online, we need to have the skills to communicate offline. In using social media, we already need to have an understanding of the social contract and the responsibilities of being part of any community.