Educational Technology & Society 4(3) 2001
ISSN 1436-4522

Distilling a Language for Cyberspace

Moderator & Summariser:
John Laurie

Australian Emergency Management Institute
Emergency Management Australia
 john.laurie@defence.gov.au

Discussion Schedule
Discussion: 12-21 March 2001
Summing up: 22-23 March 2001


Pre-discussion paper

“Quaero non pono, nihil hic determino dictans Coniicio, conor, confero, tento, rogo….”
(I inquire, I do not assert; I do not here  determine anything with final assurance; I conjecture, try, compare, ask…)

Motto to Christian Knorr von Rosenroth,
Adumbratio Kabbalae  Christianae

 

The situation

In the past  twenty years the Internet has grown, from text-entry green-screen communication between the military, a few universities and researchers, to a visually-based mass communication and advertising medium and even a tool for political activists.  This growth has been ad hoc, spectacular and peripatetic. The advent of the GUI into mainstream computing was the point at which the Internet began to be a largely  visual medium.

The nature of the internet  with its dispersed networks, massive redundancy and its MO of sending information on small packets, means that it  was always going to be an accretion of disparate particles rather than a structured flow . (Codognet P, 2000) Today  the average website is a mess of text, graphics, flashing ad bars, animations,  java applets, avatars, VR, media  players and dialogue boxes all constructed by different people to different designs with different fonts and layouts all jumping around competing for attention in one screen. Despite various champions of website usability (Jakob Nielson, 2000) promoting their theories, (sometimes in almost  as chaotic a form as their  targets),  the average website  appears to be structured like the interior of a  garbage bin.  There are no rules on the internet except convergence,  and strangely enough convergence does not diminish the chaos. This doesn’t deny the possibility that the Entropy Law is at work here  (Codognet P, 2000, pp2/20) - particle motion becomes faster and  vibrates in a smaller and smaller field until the  null point is reached.

This alphabet soup of seemingly formless chaos extends throughout the cyberworld right into on-line education. E-mail, bulletin boards, course support tools, as well as the internet,  are all in the vortex.

Part of the problem in on-line education has been the disassociation between all the tools and the educative elements. As developers keep working on more patches to overcome drawbacks technically  the questions must be asked: is the solution actually a conceptual one? Is there a way to make sense of, and turn these weaknesses to strengths – to move from dis-integration to integration?

Education on line-is increasingly hindered and remains at risk from the  situation described above. In seeking means to teach on-line,  the traditional pedagogy has been questioned and often found wanting.  One of the major problems has been, and remains,  for both students and teachers, the lack of any  holistic and focussed way  to interpret and use the apparent  chaos to enable nuances and a sense of community to thrive on-line.  In place of that, development has  concentrated on discrete sections to address problems reactively without any holistic concepts.   But this may be  the nature  of the medium,  requiring research into new modes of  language, and an understanding of the relationships between all the elements, in an attempt to develop that holistic vision,  rather than any vain attempt to control the way the on-line world develops.

 

The Problem / The Question

Currently there is  no language which  embraces and extends the mechanics of the on-line screen.  Semiotics has some relevance here,  but the discussion is not intended to centre around semiotics, which concerns itself with understanding language and meaning, rather then creating it. It may  be suggested that semiotics has some  part to play in any solution to the problem, but it is no way intended to be central to the discussion.

The arguments herein are not beholden to semiotic theory  but are largely empirical deductions derived from working with the media. One medium which has a well-codified audio-visual language is that of film. Film has the advantage of invariably creating narrative. In fact, it could be said that the narrative line of film enabled  the creation of its coherent language, or perhaps, as TV soap operas suggest with their open endless stories, narrative is an inevitable by-product of film language (Butler, JG, 1986).  In modern film the sound is an integral part of the language. The on-line screen can use sound at will, but currently places it as just another discrete disassociated element, ranking it comparatively at the level of sound in silent films. The film screen is kinetic, but the on-line screen is both kinetic and static, part textual, part visual, but never settled.  Rather than kinetic the on-line screen could be described as ‘unsettled’.

 

To define narrative

Narrative is a coherent flow,   to a goal or purpose.  It is to have a beginning,  an end,  and some excitement in between. That’s all  (Butler JG, 1986). Human beings find narrative in just about anything. It may be innate. Children racing sticks down a gutter are following a narrative. Computer games like  “Tomb Raider”, and even “Need For Speed” provide narrative.

But finding any narrative in  any on-line activity, is very difficult. Some discrete elements might contain narrative and occasionally, while tracking down a research question you might hit one good link after another and Wow! it’s a narrative. But it’s accidental, serendipitous and brief.

 

To define language

A language is a code for meanings.   In its widest sense it includes any set of rules, conventions and codes for communication which exist independently of  the user. (Sussaure, 1998)  It is important to distinguish here  between screen  language, spoken language and text.  Whilst they may all come within the sense described above, semioticians’  readiness  to consider all assemblages of signs as ‘text’ has muddied the waters somewhat. So also the reduction of all language to ‘signs’.  While ‘sign’ might constitute a way of describing the ‘bits’ that make up language, I would argue that the sum of  a language’s signs and their relationships is only the skeleton and that the life force lies elsewhere. Principally in the human  ‘will to story’.  And it’s that force and how to apply it to the advantage of on-line education which will be the focus of the discussion.

 

The language of film

In film, the camera looking up,  or down on,  a subject, a long sustained chord, a simple shot of a knife on a table, are all codes for meaning. Another element of language is timing. Film language relies upon the juxtaposition of shots. A basic editing exercise has students given a number of standard shots, out of which they can make a number of different scenes, all with different meanings, depending on the order and timing of  the shots.

 

Narrative language for  the on-line screen

The on-line screen has a number of key elements. It is framed. It radiates, like television, into a competitive space. The background is almost always static and isolated from the mobile elements which compete in a complex ordered-disordered way.   The content resides almost entirely in discrete ‘bites’ of text, which ignore each other.  Motion is mostly for attention-grabbing and novelty ie., ‘spectacle’.   It could be said the cyber-world  reflects perfectly the “spectacle commodity culture” described by Guy Debord as: “the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself”.

And, more completely:  “The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realisation the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of the total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalised sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual ‘having’ must draw its immediate prestige and ultimate function. Simultaneously, all individual reality has become social reality, directly dependent on social power, and shaped by it.  It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.“   (Debord, 1977).

But at the same time it is  interesting to compare the standard web page structure with the illustration below. (Codognet P, 2000) It seems the image indexing and partitioning favoured on the web has been recovered from past  practise. The formalism of modern graphic design has been jettisoned for a neo- mediaeval iconic approach to visual elements.

Figure 1. Athanius Kircher (1652)

 

What has been added however is a kinetic element which is largely ad hoc and sporadic. There are an almost infinite number of  separate screens and at almost any point the user can select from any number of ‘doors’ (links) and exit to another site which although it  may look different and have different categories of information operates in exactly the same way.  Flow in  the  on-line screen is the subject of much contention. (Poynter.org)  but only limited study.  I could speculate that the flow of the eyes on the screen is almost circular, vortex-like, in a search for the key (remember the will to narrative) as well as static (moving round a point) when navigating in depth, through layers of pages and links. It’s very easy to get lost and little tags of narrative come and go, in a continual parade of ‘taste and reject’. This  interactive quality through the mouse/keyboard is in fact a regression from the Kircher drawing (above) because the vastly increased complexities  of  web ‘indexing’ require many levels of pages or screens, further disintegrating representative elements and dislocating icons from any contiguous meaning.

The on-line screen is iterative, interactive and disassociated.  Content is separated from the static background which operates almost entirely as decoration. Bits of content are discrete.  Timing is amorphous.  Loading is the main time-determinant and that is almost random, so there can be little timing potential.

 

Semiotics

Semiotics concerns itself with signs: “It is…possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology and hence of general psychology.” (Saussaire, 1983). “Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign” (Eco, 1976),  but….     “…semioticians study how meanings are made: as such they are concerned not only with communication but also with the construction and maintenance of reality” (Chandler, D 1998)

It is not the purpose of this discussion to analyse the on-line interface to determine what concepts may be reified within it. Nor to argue about what constitutes a ‘sign’. This discussion in fact has little to do with signs at all.  “A sign is a meaningful unit which is interpreted as ‘standing for’ something other than itself…. Signs have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when sign-users invest them with meaning with reference to a  recognised code.” (Chandler, D 1998)

The aim is to avoid any form of symbology,  treat on-line elements as stepping stones – more virtual tools than signs - and concentrate on contextual relationships to create a new mode of story. While semiotics de-constructs, we are aiming to re-construct.

“Hawks argues, along the lines of Marshal McLuhan,  that within a particular medium, certain senses become dominant and that the medium thus affects the message, so that in extreme cases the medium does not serve simply as a means of communication but as ‘an autonomous semiotic system, with  a life - that is with messages - of its own’.   Hawkes 1977,135” (Chandler, D 1998)

But  McLuhan’s dictum,  illustrated in the above quote, was only a step on the way. From the message being the message, through McLuhan’s ‘bon mot’,   to today,  where  ‘the context’  is now the message.  What Chandler says about  ‘the medium’ is now also true about ‘the context’. In the on-line screen, context may also contain  an “autonomous semiotic system”  so  perhaps now is the time to discover  the way to use it ; a dynamic  principle which embraces not only the visual but also the textual, the relationship between the two, and motion within the screen frame. This raises some interesting questions:

  • Is language possible without narrative?
  • What might a kinetic language for context look like?
  • What is the narrative potential of the existing on-line screen?
  • How can contextual relationships satisfy the will to story?
  • What is the nature of the language that might express it ?
  • How would such a language  change the way on-line education is conducted?

 

The relevance of these questions to education on-line is not to be under-estimated.  Cyber-pedagogy must embrace the context of its delivery.

 

Education on-line

There’s quite a  bit of literature around on why on-line learning doesn’t work. Or on the frustrations of students (and instructors) with various aspects of the medium. (Hara and Kling).   But all we get is more tools, more content and inevitably more frustrations. This is possibly a result of too close a focus. Nowhere does anyone step back and ask the holistic question:  What are all the elements of this medium as it is now,   and  how can we  use these to provide satisfaction in on-line communication for the universal  ‘will to story’?

Could it be that students get frustrated at their inability to find a structured flow - a start, an end and a bit of excitement in between? How would this be achieved?  Not by changing the nature of the web or using  obvious and self-contained story adaptions such as role play and sims,  but by learning how to interpret and engage in the interface story.  Not as in film,  but as in the story of the 21st century - a relative contextual construction of seemingly endless arbitrary conjunctions.

This may include asking  the question: where does meaning reside in random conjunctions?   If that sounds almost astrological it could be because humanity has always attempted to impose form on the formless in order to feel connected and involved,  and that applies to the current  formlessness in on-line communication as well as to the random conjunctions of stars.

Students can learn a spoken language, or film language, but as far as I’m aware, they don’t  have the opportunity to learn any on-line screen language. They can only learn to write web pages, how to  use software and how to operate the  hardware. Current learning (if it’s taught at all)  for on-line communication is entirely operational.  But film students don’t just learn to use the equipment. They also learn how to tell the story. 

What sort of course could be developed for anyone working on-line, in any area, learning, teaching, business,  whatever, to use that universal will to story to take the cyber-world to another level?

 

Summary

Humans  want to find a story in everything. It helps. So where’s the story in the totality of the cyber-experience?   Let’s find it, pin it down and teach it.

 

References
  • Stanford University and  The Poynter Institute, 1998 “Eyeytrack Study”.
     http://poynter.org/eyetrack2000/
  • Jakob Nielson, May 14, 2000  “Jakob Neilson’s Alertbox”
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox
  • Daniel Chandler , 2000 “Semiotics for Beginners”
    http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/
  • Philippe Codognet, “The Semiotics Of the Web”
    http://pauillac.inria.fr/~codognet/web.html
  • Noriko Hara and Rob Kling,  “Students’ Frustrations with a Web-based Distance Education Course”
    http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_12/hara/
  • Ferdinand de  Saussare “Course in General Linguistics” (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth (1916) 1983
  • Umberto Eco, “A Theory of Semiotics”,  Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press/London: Macmillan 1976
  • Tammy L. Bennington,  Geri Gay,  ”Mediated Perceptions: Contributions of Phenomenological Film Theory to Understanding the Interactive Video Experience” Human Computer Interaction Group, Department of Communication, Cornell University, 2000.
  • Jeremy G. Butler, Cinema Journal 25 No3 1996 “Notes on the Soap Opera Apparatus: Televisual Style and “As the World Turns”
  • James Monaco,  “How to Read a Film” Oxford University Press 1977
  • Greil Marcus,  “Lipstick Traces - A Secret History of the Twentieth Century” Secker and Warburg, London 1989.
  • Guy Debord,   “ Society of the Spectacle” trans., Black and Red, Detroit, 1977.
  • CK von Rosenroth,   “Kabbala Denudata” Sulzbach and Frankfurt 1677-84.

 

Post-Discussion Summary

The Discussion

Bill Ellis recalled Ivan Illich and his "Deschooling Society"  and the idea of "creative exploratory learning" as against "skill learning".  Bill reflected on  'nonlinear learning',  the third  much discussed but little practised way of computer education and how it may accord more with the brain's functions as a non-linear organ, sorting what it needs out of the jumble of life's phenomena. He further reflected on how various inputs at the edges of attention are sorted into parallel narratives at the same time as the main attention, perhaps an F2F lecture,  is being absorbed.

(This idea of competing narratives being absorbed in parallel in an 'octopus grab'  fashion is an interesting one in terms of this discussion - suggesting that the brain's internal  relevance selection mechanism may be harnessed in the cause of online education - and connecting   'non-linear' to 'context' quite well. This also recalls a notion  I first noticed in one of Carlos Castenada's books, that actually a great deal of information is absorbed by the brain from things occurring on the edges of attention, while the primary  focus is elsewhere. This explains some dreams – information absorbed directly, almost subconsciously, from the edges of attention).

Bill points out that 'stories' don't exist as such,  they are 'interpreted' out of relative chaos, and rather than looking for linear stories on the internet we should recognise the realities of non-linear learning.

Dennis Nelson wrote that the focus on particular aspects of the online screen and on-line learning, is  reflected in "most of life' as well, and that specialisation has inherent dangers. He went on to suggest that without a "common a life story" a  search for story elsewhere is possibly futile.  He further suggests that a need for  "actualisation and love" drives our selection processes on the web as well as in life in general. 

Charles Nelson wrote,  commenting on Bill Ellis' final paragraph - “The internet is yet to be successful as a learning tool because we look for linear stories on the internet and spend too little time for ourselves and for our students in trying to search for ready made stories that fit our multiple minds rather than recognizing the reality of nonlinear learning”

Charles suggests that optimal learning takes place on the edge between chaos and order and asks how we determine the non-linearity of stories, and further, the juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting concepts.

(The use of the word 'juxtaposition'  is apposite here;  it is this which creates the power of editing - the juxtaposition of shots - and there is always a question in film editing about whether to use the smooth transition of similar shots or the shock value of contrasting images - each of course has its place in the constructing of story.)

Charles goes on to question how we might recognises non-linear stories and/or grade them, or whether there should be a mix of linear and non-linear learning.

(Is this a version of the 'construction/ instruction'  debate?  It would seem that for operational instruction linear is inescapable ie., camera operation  is a linear effort, but how to utilise it in a fluid dynamic situation may well suit non-linear tuition.)

Charles Adamson wrote, pointing out the difference between teaching and testing, and also the difference between "learning to" and "learning about", quoting an example of Japanese students learning "about" English but being unable to put a simple sentence together.

And, commenting on Charles Nelson's contribution, he suggests that "the number of links" would relate to the edge of chaos. Too few = inflexible and too many = confusing. He suggests a series of experiments to determine the point of maximum learning,  measured by change in the student rather than goals achieved. Charles Adamson then goes on to tentatively interpret  "nonlinear" as meaning "having more than one goal" and suggests the choice would depend on the level of education required.

Bill Ellis wrote an  explanation of the way that 'content' has been replaced by context and points out  that 'story' no longer is content-centered  but context-relative, and how we "do not need to cram our heads with knowledge which will be out of date by the time we 'graduate'". He reflects that perhaps there's a parallel here with earlier-pre-modern days.

R. White suggests that  time and speed of learning are two factors which are "major hurdles in the conventional chaotic classroom environment" but that there is greater latitude for individual learning styles in online learning.

Lilly Evans writes in response to a question by Charles Nelson on research in communication theory(?), noting the work of Marcial Losada in comparing high and low performance teams where the premise was "that best results are evidence of the ability of teams to adapt to changing conditions"   She goes on to write that the central finding was an optimum group size of 8, which she interpolates to perhaps 8-links being an optimum in online conversations . Lilly then quotes Marcial extensively regarding use of the variables "inquiry-advocacy, other-self, and positivity-negativity" and the attractiveness and utility of nonlinear dynamics.

(JL Personally, in my F2F teaching experience I found that for discussions, and tuition which had a physical component (ie. Performance), 7-8 was the optimum number. However, in lecturing, 30-40 was the optimum size, where the lecture could be delivered in a focussed  efficient manner. In smaller groups, individuals lacked the anonymity that seems necessary in inculcatory sessions and larger groups (100+) had such a cumbersome and unstable dynamic it was necessary to include 'entertainment'  to keep them focussed. )

Bill Ellis writes, commenting on previous contributions from Charles Nelson, addressing "want v. need" and suggests that the school system's assumption that it knows what young people will 'need' might have once  been valid, but in the age of context and lifelong learning a different approach  may be required.  He goes on to expand on this and suggests that "devising nonlinear paths" is an oxymoron  and we need to be prepared for a "diversity of contexts" rather than following the (false?) linear paths laid out by society's 'leaders'.  Regarding prior discussion around "the point of maximum learning",  Bill suggests that this term is part and parcel of a past 'content' paradigm and, if I understand correctly, that it's a static concept in a fluid situation and at best we can be prepared for "optional maxima".

(This relates to the discussion theme in that perhaps it's a mistake to regard the on-line screen as containing static 'content' but rather as delivering information in a suite of fluid contexts - the corollary the being that affinity with the 'language' of the on-line screen is in direct relation to one's attitude to it)

Charles Adamson writes regarding the definition of narrative and quoting Random House Dictionary. He suggests narrative is more than continuity or sequence, that performing a series of actions is not a story but describing it is: "...some sort of meta-description of the story."

(JL  I'd have to disagree here. Firstly,  a dictionary, electronic or otherwise,  defines objects in stasis,  and thus promotes an early modern view of narrative as a linear parade of  artefacts.   In literature that's been very much debatable since William  Burroughs'  first book.. Secondly, there is no performing any act without describing it, if only to oneself. Narrative to me is an interior thing. Externalised stories are just one manifestation.  The point being that no series of actions makes sense unless connected by a purpose. The way humans  visualise/conceptualise that purpose is narrative.  It relates also to the context-world as described by Bill Ellis - perhaps narrative can exist in a vertical as well as horizontal plane, without the imperative of the clock? )

Charles goes on to suggest possible distinctions for various on-line elements which might be used "to discuss  the context in which on-line education is conducted."

(As a start point, these might be very useful as  variables where subjects are tested as to the relative 'impedance'  of various combinations)

Charles then comments on Lilly Evans' contribution regarding class sizes, elaborating,  through use of a 'curve' metaphor, on his own informal research.

Robert Luke writes: ”My question would be to what extent is it desirable to have a unified structure, when post-structuralist thought has taught us (Judith Butler included) that any claim to such structure belies a "suspect nostalgia" for a unified and universal(izing) desire to structure thought and philosophy in general. The characterization of the WWW as an "alphabet soup" fits  neatly within Eco's conception of semiotic theory, but fails to account  for the voice of the Other that may not share this alphabet in the first place. The same applies to online education. The problems with policy development in this area include the need to teach uniform standards  (measured against extant curricula) with culturally and locally relevant material.

JL I'd agree. I intended to contrast the "dis-integration" on-line with "integration" of single linear systems wherever they be found. I didn't necessarily propose integration of the screen or its disparate elements. I think I asked myself the question as well, and the more this discussion has progressed the more it seems that any integration must be found within the head space of the individual in coming to terms with the context world-view and that 'interpretation", the hermeneutic aspect, is more important than I originally thought.  If there's physical or 'virtual' integration, it relates to the transparency Robert writes  about further on.

RL”Certainly it is true that our conception of narrative is based (as  implied in the pre-discussion paper with the reference to Butler) on  Aristotle's dramatic theory. But this reduction negates the possibility  of writing marginalia to this narrative. This narrative is not a static  element that acts upon us; we are active players within it. We write in  the margins, creating a perpetual palimpsest as we continually  (re)define relevance to our daily lives. This is especially true of the WWW. This is indeed "accidental, serendipitous and brief," but need not be confined to such interpolation. Thus narrative is encoded in our language, and vice versa.

JL In the original prediscussion paper I had a graphic which didn't make it onto the list version. This was an illustration of the "Magna Deorum Matris" by Athanius Kircher (1652), which in the style of the time was covered with marginalia imposed on the narrative of the illustration (narrative in that it 'represented' a well-known linear story by section). The point of this was to suggest that post-modern online narrative has more to do with pre-modern practise  than modernist linearity.  I would agree that narrative is encoded in our language and thus to find the language we are actually using on-line gives us the narrative as well.

RL”The real issue, as I see it, is to adapt our conceptions of learning to the new realities, rather  than impose a false sense of narrative upon it.”

JL I think a key point in this discussion  is reached in what Robert calls "transparency"

RL”Bolter and Grusin (2000) call the process of rendering a technology transparent "remediation, an 'interfaceless' interface, in which there will be no recognizable electronic tools--no buttons, windows, scroll bars, or even icons as such. Instead the user will move through the space interacting with the objects 'naturally,' as she does in the physical world. Virtual reality, three-dimensional graphics, and graphical interface design are all seeking to make digital technology 'transparent.' In this sense, a transparent interface would be one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium" (pp.23-4; see also Levinson 1997, pp.104-14). The concept of remediation is a goal towards which the development of online media is striving, to more seamlessly integrate all people into the technological fold to use all media as a simple fact of communication. And while the notion of pure transparency may be unattainable, it does apply to the idea of digital literacy and using media to access online learning networks. Digital literacy is the transparency of the computer, as well as the skills needed to manipulate the operating system, dialup/ Internet connection, and web interface with its attendant iconography.

All must be seamlessly integrated into the users' sense of experience in order for this medium to be fully exploited for educational purposes.”

JL This relates to the simplest expression of the question asked by the pre-discussion paper. If the technology was transparent the language would have become innate. Virtual reality, 3D graphics, are bound to fail in this quest because the key is in the user and not the tools. The more technology tries to mimic reality the further it gets from it, the more complex and harder to psychologically ingest. Like make-up, or the finals throes of ideology.  The telephone,  as quoted by Robert, is transparent and a very simple tool, which might give some clue. Digital literacy is probably essential, but calls up questions of equity and accessibility, particularly if the tools are complex. I doubt though if digital literacy is the transparency of the computer. Sure it makes it easier to use, but  the incorporation of the concepts of parallel spaces and time, of context relationships, of learning as accretion and 'weathering',  into the individual psyche might be where the beginnings of  on-line language and transparency is found.

RL”Privateer shows how education has largely been constrained by an Enlightenment notion of information processing:  the rote assemblage of factual data that is then re-presented as knowledge. By detailing how new technologies can challenge and produce change within traditional notions of learning, Privateer encourages us to rethink what skills will be necessary for people entering the 21st century. Skills such as information and knowledge management, connected intelligence building, and group management skills are brought to the fore under contemporary rubrics of institutional change and learning. These skills are characterized by an ability to act within the fluidity of what Castells (1996) calls "the space of flows" of the information age.

JL This relates to the previous  - particularly that  "ability to act within the fluidity of the "space of flows" of the information age". I agree that lack of structured flow is a strong point and monocentric thinking is a hallmark of modernist thought.  One of the problems here though, is that in the world there is a heady mixture of pre-modern, modern and post-modern all running at once, and the online screen currently reflects that reality.

Lawrie Hunter writes that "narrative is a kind of document structure, not a kind of information" and that sequence is the underlying information structure in narrative. Lawrie goes on to write that in looking for a language to support online learning the key question is how to situate the learner in the information "to empower the learner to navigate the information wittingly"

Doris Sweeney writes regarding "want v. need"  and that within educational circles it's harder to nail down than societally where the original concept still applies. Doris also writes that lack of functional literacy  will be the main barrier to implementing the paradigm shift from factory skills to managing information.

Dr Eric Flescher commented that non-linear education might involve "inspiration and visual diagramming education", web authoring and "hypermedia stacks".  I'd be interested in finding out more about the first item.

Robert Luke commented on points in my previous Summary, taking the discussion another step further and providing some key closing points:

“The problems of representation within such a heterotopic space are many and  manifest, which to me is a good thing in that we are finally offered a respite from any one author(ity). Perhaps for the first time since narrative was

codified we are finally emerging from the imperative to construct a beginning, middle and end. To this end, we thereby occupy a perpetual present of narrative enunciation, always engaged (and engaging!) in trying to make sense, and liberated from the desire to construct the master narrative in all its finality”.

and

“The distinction about confidence and teaching learning reminds me of the following: the move towards digital pedagogies will result in an emphasis on shifting the goals of education from "the mastery of content (content will be available everywhere, anytime, electronically) [to] the mastery of learning. At commencement, we will graduate students who are 'expert learners'" (Rose and Meyer, 2000)”.

 

Summary

In the context of the question(s) raised by the Pre-discussion Paper, the discussion itself initially  set out the ground for examination of the on-line screen. The zeitgeist of the Information Age, lifelong learning, the idea that 'story' is as much in interpretation as in the telling, and the chaos/ order dichotomy, were all raised as valid mediators. This part of the discussion began to delineate the holistic concepts required and raised the question as to what sort of pedagogy could be valid for cyber-education where the screen reflects a world simultaneously pre-modern, modern and post-modern?

The term ‘non-linear’ was raised several times in the discussion in the context of learning and learning environments. In a sense this might describe a particular approach to the problem/question outlined in the paper and was useful as another perspective in discussion input.

The discussion began slowly, perhaps because the subject is a large  one embracing many smaller issues. Nonethless it grew into something quite worthwhile and  stimulating. I think we reached some sort of consensus about the state of the on-line screen, and significantly,  that online learning exists as part of a paradigm shift from ‘content’ to ‘context’ .  This raised the question of the status of narrative in  such a world and was best summed up by Robert Luke: “…Perhaps for the first time since narrative was codified we are finally emerging from the imperative to construct a beginning, middle and end. To this end, we thereby occupy a perpetual present of narrative enunciation, always engaged (and engaging!) in trying to make sense, and liberated from the desire to construct the master narrative in all its finality”.

Also arising from discussion was the feeling we could be looking towards  the psychological and biological basis of learning in seeking to distill a language from the extant on-line screen. Questions of  the role and status of  ‘confidence’ and ‘entertainment’ in online learning and in teaching generally, arose and implied further questions as the legitimate  role of those in online learning. These implications were not taken up in the discussion.

Concepts of accretive learning and 'weathering'  (the heuristic process)  were raised, and some discussion ensued about technological ‘transparency’.  This seemed a relevant approach which has some commonality with Transactional Distance theory.

 

Conclusion

I think the discussion has been significant in that it has determined transparency, non-linear learning and the paradigm shift from ‘content’  to ‘context’ as being central issues in distilling a context-based language for the online screen.

At the same time it has been extremely interesting in the way ‘technology and representation’,  ‘juxtaposition of elements’,  ‘high and low performance teams’  and the biological basis of learning, were all seen as relevant to the discussion. These elements  may not be central but they  all bear strongly on the question.  In a way it was a luxury to be able to incorporate these. Had the discussion been deluged with contributors these aspects may have been  swept aside.  It also indicates how wide the subject is, how many inputs  and variables  mediate possible solutions, but I do believe this discussion has provided a strong focus and impetus for ongoing  research.


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