The life(stream) pursuit – (final) Week 12 summary

quote from earlier post

This was my summary at the end of Week 1. There’s a rather sweet prescience to the quote above, especially about randomness. Back then, I was apologetic; by comparison, last week I wrote about the uncertainty and variety of lifestream content, about the artificiality of imposing themes onto its heterogeneity.

The use of ‘extension’ cements a sense of otherness back in Week 1. It carries an inherent implication of being added on, attached but not part of the original structure. I’m over here, engaging; the lifestream is over there, blinking, nudging. This has changed too. We haven’t quite hybridised, but as the flexibility of the lifestream, and the mobility of its boundaries, have become apparent, so has its centrality as pedagogical apparatus to represent my confrontation with course themes.

Striated and smooth space come to mind as I consider the shifting role of the lifestream: its smoothness has become more evident to me. It has come to represent a mooring for the contestation of ideas.

a local integration moving from part to part and constituting smooth space in an infinite succession of linkages and changes in direction. It is an absolute that is one with becoming itself, with process (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p494).

Both of these observations – the heterogeneity of lifestream content and its integration in practice – speak, I think, to the nature of digital culture as a ‘subject’. They speak to its fluidity, its infiltration, its rhizomatic nature. With that they speak to the struggle of forcing it into a recognisable mould of subject. It’s like shoving a sleeping bag into a briefcase.

Here there is little conflict between content and ‘subject’: the content too is multifaceted, multimodal and diverse. As I read it through it, I’m struck by how much of it I have not written, how much is the work of others, passively gathered in, reappropriated. This points to the shifting tectonic plates under our definition of ownership of digital content.

There is, however, evidence of my attempt to engage actively with course themes. In particular, I have tried to layer ideas of digital culture on top of my professional practice. But the vulnerability of that practice is clear to me: it is the earth’s crust, digital culture is the magma, cracking through. Our main defence is critical thought, and it still needs work.

I would be remiss were I to exclude from my final summary ideas around the sociomaterial, which have fundamentally changed the way I think. Critical posthumanism is a constant later theme in the lifestream, and I’m taking it into the final assignment. I’m starting to see the lifestream as a representation of the coming together of the discursive and the material. In this conflict between active and passive gathering of content I’m starting to see myself as decentred – after all, it has done much of the gathering itself. I’m starting to notice and comprehend its biases and subjectivities: assessment criteria, its public nature, institutional structures, the traditional educational rules to which it must be seen to adhere.

So, lastly, the lifestream is an entanglement: of networks, technologies, algorithms, bots, software, bits of code, institutional structures, texts, communities. These are active, generative and performative (cf. Scott & Orlikowski); they have qualitatively changed what I have come to understand of digital cultures. I hope that the lifestream reflects this.

References

Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-Learning and Digital Media, 1(2), 302–316. https://doi.org/10.2304/elea.2004.1.2.6
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., & Massumi, B. (1988). A thousand plateaus : capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Athlone.
Edwards, R. (2010). The end of lifelong learning: A post-human condition? Studies in the Education of Adults, 42(1), 5–17.
Scott, S. V., & Orlikowski, W. J. (2013). Sociomateriality — taking the wrong turning? A response to Mutch. Information and Organization, 23(2), 77–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infoandorg.2013.02.003

Confessions of a distance learning refusenik-linear courses

An occasional blog, pulled together from my research diary for the Teaching and Learning Online Module for the MA: Digital Technologies, Communication and Education at the University of Manchester.

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via IFTTT

The post above is written by a colleague and friend of mine, Ange Fitzpatrick. Ange is a student on the Digital Technologies course at the University of Manchester. It is a brutally honest post about the ways in which she engages with the course she is taking, and in it she talks about her engagement with the course structure, and the technology through which it is enacted.

The post resonated with me for several reasons. I’m interested in the way that Ange is taught, in comparison with the way that I am, in the similarities and differences between the two offerings. Empathy is a big thing too – like Ange, I’ve juggled this course with a family (occasionally in crisis, like most families) and a demanding job. I can snatch time here and there during the week, and usually am able to carve out more time at weekends, but it means I’m not always available (or awake enough) for much of the pre-fixed ‘teaching’.

Like Ange, I’ve been an independent learner for a long time; I fear it’s turned me into a really bad student. I like finding my own stuff to read rather than going with what is suggested. I feel as though I don’t need much support (though others may disagree!). I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, but it does put me at odds – and it makes me feel at odds – with what has been an extremely supportive cohort of students and teachers. I have a laissez-faire attitude to assessment: I’ll do my best, and I do care a little about the marks. But more than anything I’m here to be ‘contaminated’ (to borrow the term of Lewis and Khan) by ideas that are new to me. I’d rather things got more complicated than more simple.

The reason I really wanted to share this, though, was that I feel that Ange’s post highlights and exemplifies the entanglements of digital and distance education. It reveals the complex assemblages and networks at play in how we engage with course materials, in how we define ‘engagement’. It uncovers the dispersal of activity, the instability, the times when instrumentalist approaches feel like the only option. It epitomises our attempts to stay in control, to centre and recentre ourselves at the nexus of our studying. It underlines the networks: the multi-institutional, political, cultural, familial, social, soteriological networks that combine and collide and co-constitute. It exposes the totalising sociomateriality of experience, “the delicate material and cultural ecologies within which life is situated” (Bayne, 2015, p. 15). And it does so from the perspective of the student.

But it also, I think, emphasises the – I say this tentatively – relative redundancy of these ideas and critical assessments. Recognition of the networks and rhizomes does not provide Ange with a more navigable path through her course. This doesn’t mean that these considerations are not important but it does – for me at least – point to a disjunction between theory and practice.

References

Bayne, S. (2015). What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’? Learning, Media and Technology, 40(1), 5–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2014.915851

With many many thanks to Ange for letting me share her post.