Topic 1: What would Morpheus say?
“Let me tell you why you’re here. You are here because you know something. What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it.” - Morpheus (Matrix 1)
This Topic 1 was titled, Online participation and digital literacies and it was a great way to start because I was automatically transported back to my favourite movie of all time (and this is amazing since I am not fond of movies in general) but the movie is question is Matrix 1.
I've always been fascinated by tech, science-fiction, and the very big questions that life has to offer and this might be why I find myself in an online education environment right now - this burning desire to continue to question and understand the world around me has only been heightened by the opportunities presented to me in the "augmented" or digital world. Concepts such as the metaverse offer exciting possibilities, much like the advent of social media and collaborative EdTech brought to the fore many years before it.
So many options ... so many questions ... where to start?!
“What is 'real'? How do you define 'real'? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, taste and see then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” - Morpheus (Matrix 1)
This connection with the matrix was only enhanced when watching David White's Topic 1 Webinar when faced with examples from his Internet Mapping Project - trying to envision where you exist in a multiverse can be scary, thrilling, horrifying and scintillating all at once (depending on you you are and where you are from of course). I am deeply empathetic to each person and their individual experiences with the digital world and how these can be positively and negatively rooted in our individual experiences.
For instance, I am a Xennial - born on the cusp on Gen X and Millenial generations and for the most part, we share a common past; a past that includes an analogue childhood and a technology-enhanced young adult experience. What does this mean? Generally speaking, it means that we were young enough to be interested in what tech could offer us, and old enough to know what it meant to have to navigate a world without tech. An interesting article looks at how Xennials could help to establish technology standards that are used for good.
As examples from my own childhood, the following stand as very memorable in relation to my education:
We had to be creative and create an artefact that showed we understood how to write. I had a great idea to produce a short radio show to showcase our group stories and speeches (but in radio format). We sat at school for AGES sitting in front of a tape deck that I borrowed from my parents trying to record and rewind and rerecord for days on end till we got it perfectly right. While it was long and laborious, we learned a lot in that collaborative experience, sitting around that tape deck in the school library day in and day out.
We had a biology/ science project and had to choose 5 animals to research and to produce a report on all 5 animals stating their biological classification, graphics, etc. In our school library we had 5 books on animals (with that level of information) and a few random encyclopedias that could help fill in the gaps. We were a school of 140+ 11 year old's (all doing the same project) and not all of us could get parents to drive us out to the nearest library which was in Bryanston and Sandton (a good 20-35km away). So we learned to share and negotiate at very young ages - working together in the library and using a round-robin system to share the information. Again - it was hard ... but I learned such valuable lessons through the social aspect of planning and sharing.
Playing academic computer games was so much fun (remember TIM? The Incredible Machine). I couldn't wait for my tiny amount of time in computer class just to play that game, and the games were tough (and we had no walkthroughs or hints or YouTube videos to get us through - we just had to figure it out on our own, and work together to get through the hardest tasks). They were fun times and I honestly think that that "mystery" surrounding the computer kept me intrigued to pursue a very tech-type career that has helped me as an educator and learning designer later on.
These are just 3 quick examples of how we lived without tech, and when tech was introduced, how it intrigued us. Honestly, despite having a whopping 1-hour of internet a week at university (dial-up) it was the highlight of my week, and I still remember saying to my designer friends that the internet was an amazing place that we could barely imagine discovering ... and I remember my friend George asking me what I meant and I said ... it's like a massive book with hidden pages just waiting for everything to be found! He asked for an example and I said, "cool - let's try the following ... I am going to search for the following link - www.sheepjokes.com" and I was laughing as I typed it in and pressed send - but then lo-and-behold ... it loaded up and we were provided with a whole page of amazing sheep jokes. [in all fairness, I was trying to show how we could literally find anything, even the most obscure things if we put our minds to it]. You also have to remember that this was pre-Google and Ask Jeeves and all the other search engines out there. The more the internet and digital culture expanded, the more I wanted/ no - NEEDED to use it in everything I did. I realised how all this untapped knowledge was available to become independent and to help shape our lives (if used correctly).
As an example, I spent my entire school career wanting to be an engineer - poised to do it too with an invitation to join a top university at the end of Matric ... but it was not the dream and I remember having learned about Graphic Design from the academic councillors who came to the school on career days. That seemed more up my alley - and there I was in my first job as a junior design/ 3D animator and realising that this was not what I had anticipated. I felt unhappy - I was sold lies! I was running a weekly blog before blogs were a thing, writing long emails called, "My Thursday Epiphany" and had about 20 people who had asked me to send them the email on a weekly basis - somehow, I had not realised it but I loved writing, I loved telling stories ... I loved sharing and using this platform to do that. I had a little more internet access in my first job and started to look for an opportunity to combine design with writing and only then, did I learn about copywriting! Where had this been all my life? That was the day I realised just how empowering the digital world could be - I could search for a potential problem and find a solution - in fact, I found a night course and took it to become a copywriter while employed in my first job - and ironically, that copywriting landed me my first job in education (and, as you say, the rest is history - or at least, in this context - a little too long a story for this blog post).
“You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” - Morpheus (Matrix 1)
I must admit, I digress - but this is just to show how being somewhat involved with tech and having a passion for digital literacy changed my whole life trajectory. I have always valued what technology afforded me but I was also acutely aware of my students not realising the importance (for multiple reasons).
They grew up with it and so took it for granted
They struggled due to socio-economic discrepancies in South Africa which causes a huge educational divide between the haves and have-nots
The expense of data when other expenses such as food, accommodation and travel were more important in relation to the university experience
Their understanding of it was unlike mine - they saw it as a way to socialise and not as a place to access anything nd everything
There are more examples, of course, but these are the main ones.
That being said, I needed to also realise that I was working with much older academics who were also not as passionate as I when it came to technology, and there reasons for not being enthused (or seeing the benefit that tech could offer) was due to their experience with what they believed to be tech - cellphones in class, students sitting on social media, computers being used for games and nothing more. The sadness, of course for me, is that all 3 of these things had potential if planned for correctly, and used within an educational setting - but how to get others to understand?!
"You take the red pill - you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." - Morpheus (Matrix 1)
At some point I realised that I could no longer be held back and just went for it because the only way I could prove the benefits was by actually using the tech with my students and showing both them and my peers. I think the environment I left, left it all way too late and only started wanting to know and understand when Covid hit - but then that wasn't a good reason to force the learning on people who were still apathetic (or worse, fearful) of the technology. This turned out to be far too stressful for many academics who left the industry rather than work their way through it together ... and I can't blame them. It's hard to go from zero to 1000 and expect everyone to be mentally and emotionally comfortable.
"You have to understand, most people are not ready to be unplugged..." - Morpheus (Matrix 1)
Talking to my new colleague, Marjorie, in this first task made me remember so many things - about how so many lecturers and students were 'left behind' and it saddened me. Marjorie also mentioned a fear of making mistakes with tech and once again, I could see how management dealt with making this a problem, rather than assuring academics that it was something we would do, learn and experience together. Support goes a long way - especially in a world where technology is developing at the speed of light and everyone is expected to be on board and know everything (standard pressures of modern society). I think that the last 2 years have been very hard on academics and students in general - but particularly in developing spaces where there are so many more issues to contend with - and just having people understand, rather than throw irrelevant stats and research from developing countries into our faces. What was needed was a little empathy, and a lot of opportunities to learn and find our individual journeys with technology.
I think that this was a key feature in how we, as a group, tackled this question. We looked at the individual experiences of the members in our group and then considered how to help the members through their individual journeys so to speak. We even named the mind-map, "I see myself in the mirror every day".
This extended further into a final online collaborative mind-map using MindMeister where we documented 2 distinct paths in relation to offering support to educators entering the overwhelming world of Ed Tech: Peer-support and Self-Reflection. Furthermore, we provided possible solutions based on readings shared by the members, and their individual experiences with tech. The second mind-map is accessible here.
As we went through the process of looking at the individual stories we established that in today's day-and-age we essentially have two aspects where we exist - the real (physical) world and then the digital world - we are ourselves, but we are also our digital selves, and it is important to learn how to navigate both spaces to find comfort in that.
We established a multiple array of tools and established the foundation of what we are referring to as the "digital discomfort tool" loosely based on the pain scale in medical practice.
All of our combined work can be located in our CANVA presentation and we hope that this can help some of our fellow academics realise that they are not alone and that this is a journey to be taken to establish a new identity within the digital realm - one that you can be proud of as you walk your individual path within this digital space.
“I do not believe it to be a matter of hope, it is simply a matter of time.” - Morpheus (Matrix 1)