The theme for this next block is “Being Human” and looking at what it means to be human in a digital culture.
As Elaine Graham expresses it:
What is at stake , supremely, in the debate about the implications of digital, genetic, cybernetic and biomedical technologies is precisely what (and who) will define authoritative notions of normative, exemplary, desirable humanity into the twenty-first century. (Graham, 2002, 11)
Book Discussion: Professor Francis Fukuyama talks about his book Our Posthuman Future. The video link insn’t embeddable but you can see it here:
Professor Fukuyama discussed his book Our Posthuman Future, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Professor Fukuyama talked about the possible future impacts of biotechnology around the world. He looks into three general areas of concern: gene manipulation, neuropharmacology, and life extention. Professor Fukuyama argues that while there are definite benefits to biotechnology, government regulation is required to offset the negative impacts. He answered questions following his remarks.
I found this talk fascinating. The book is subtitled “Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Although the summary tells us that he speaks about three areas he actually split his talk into four areas. He spoke about the advantages such as cure for diseases but then spoke about four areas that he saw as cause for concern.
1. A revolution in our cognitive thinking of genetic causation. This was a very interesting talk about current research into twins to determine how much of our behaviour is learned and how much is genetic. There are many people who are uncomfortable about saying that behaviour is genetic.
2. Neuro Pharmacology. He then spoke about overt agents of social control that are used today such as Ritalin and anti depressants and their moral implications. Sometimes these drugs are used as a convenient medical short cut because people don’t have the time or the skills to spend on character building.
3. Life extension. This section went beyond pure life extension he also spoke about increases in the use of and effectiveness of birth control. In Europe and Japan this has lead to the populations actually being in decline. This isn’t the case in the USA as the birth and immigration rates are higher. The median age of the population is increasing in those countries and in a few generations will be as high as 60. The reduction in the working population leads to importing people from the third worlds whose cultures are very different. Another interesting point was that we no longer have a change in the population with distinct cultural changes in a country. For example only people over 60 vote communist in Russia because it was part of the social norm for the people of that generation.
4. Genetic Engineering. There are already great strides in manipulation of DNA in embryos. The current research is hoping to extend this to overcome genetic disease such as cycle cell anaemia. There was a recent case of a woman who had early onset alzheimer’s disease. She had her embryos screened and chose one that didn’t have this defect. How much further would this have to go before “designer babies”. We have the technology and it will be possible for the rich to buy it.
The professor feels that the only thing we could do about these concerns is to regulate the technology.
Here is another interesting article about the Professor’s book. Fascinating subject and a lot to think about.
Reasserting the human
In week 3, we are looking at examples of approaches which respond to the apparent threat to ‘the human’ posed by technology by re-asserting the importance of what is (arguably) irreplaceably valuable in human ways of being and learning. I watched the two short adverts Toyota GT86 and BT-Heart to Heart.
Here they are with the explanation give from the course notes. I can’t get the embedded images to show up any smaller. If you know how to do this please let me know.
“The real deal”
This advertisement for the Toyota GT86 plays on some of the dystopic visions of our immersion in a pixellated simulation of reality which may be familiar from some of the previous clips you’ve looked at. Here, the reality and authenticity of human emotion is aligned with speed, control and a ‘breaking out’ of the artificial into the ‘natural’. (Note, however, that the means of breaking out is still entirely technological!) The opposition created here is between digital technology as ‘unreal’ and de-humanising, and the natural world as authentic and living;
“It’s hard to have a heart to heart when it’s screen to screen.”
This advert takes on the theme of mediation and, again, the nature of ‘authentic’ human contact.
The opposition created here is between digital technology as ‘unreal’ and de-humanising, and the natural world as authentic and living; how does this opposition continue to be played out in popular discussions about technology-mediated education?
Whilst I can see the opposition in this promotional video and I understand the question I don’t know what “popular discussions” are on this subject. Looking at the Kolowich and Monke articles real is better. These are quite old one is from 2004 and the other from 2010. I don’t know if these are still part of the popular discussions or not.
What aspects of ‘the human’ do you see as being ‘re-asserted’ here?
Face to face communication is very human. I liked the phrase “how can you have a heart to heart when it’s screen to screen”. Much of our communication is now screen to screen, ha of a PC or a telephone. Speaking to someone by telephone gives a different dimension and being there is the full monty.
Can you link this clip with the notion of ‘the illusion of non-mediation’ referenced in the Kolowich article we are also looking at?
There is a link discussed about the drop out rates of learners in relation to the proximity they feel to their educators.
For Hersh, engagement goes hand-in-hand with audio-visual communication. The more that exchanges occurring within an online learning environment resemble those that occur in classrooms, he says, the more that students will feel connected to their professors and classmates, and the more likely they will be to stay in a program.
When students are able to see the face of the instructor who is guiding them through a course, they are more likely to trust that professor, and they feel more invested in the course, Hersh says. The same applies to classmates in an online program, to the extent that future learning environments enable visual contact among them.
This is very interesting. I work in an E-Learning environment and students often say that they would like to see their coach. We do however speak to our learners. The article does not comment on this only text as opposed to visual. He does not investigate text as opposed to spoken courses.
The BT advert discusses the benefits of voice over text. There are many ways to use voice technology such as SKYPE and mobile phones.
Whether the course is on-line via text, telephone or video the course content is the final determining factor in course success.
Reggie Smith, president of the United States Distance Learning Association, says that based on his experience, “The learner-instructor interaction is the most critical one to the success of the learning experience,” for not only instructional but also emotional reasons. But while he said that Hersh’s customized learning environment “looks great,” he warned that the overall design of online courses — not just the tools involved in delivery — still have the greatest bearing on whether a course is effective.
“We are seeing more and more [instructors] make use of video and audio within their environments, but using it to just add some flash does not make it award-winning content or instructionally sound by design,” says Smith.
“While student-instructor and student-student dialog is important and can support learning outcomes, it is not a required… ingredient for success in an online course.”