I’m going to use this posthuman pedagogy exercise as a way of introducing a small project that Michael and I have been discussing outside class (although I appreciate that within a posthuman, digital classroom, the idea of distinct boundaries between between being ‘in’ and ‘out’ of class, is perhaps redundant).

In a couple of weeks time, Michael and I will be contributing to a Conference at Edinburgh University, offering the perspective of the distance learner under the title of ‘my space’. I’ll be attending the conference ‘in the flesh’ while Michael will be contributing on film. We hope to involve our fellow EDC-ers in this in some way and have made loose plans to explore this next week. Meanwhile, lets focus on the task in hand.

I think the manner in which Michael will be contributing to the Conference could be seen as posthuman. I’m not going to prejudge what Michael might offer, however its perfectly conceivable that his contribution could be made without appearing on screen or using voice. In this example, the academic conference delegate becomes information rather than a corporeal body. Taken to the nth degree (and using Hayles’ argument) we could question whether Michael exists at all in a physical sense.

Now within the EDC classroom, we’ve seen what we presume to be Michael’s portrait and avatar. We’ve also seen his ideas in written and visual form. But can we confidently conclude from the evidence on screen that Michael exists in reality, or is the digital trail he has left behind the product of consciousness that exists purely within a computer?

In the posthuman classroom, the corporeality of the student is less important than the ‘information patterns’ he/she/it produces. I think our EDC class is a classic example of this. We’ve never seen Michael Sean Gallagher in the flesh, but does that really matter?

Another example of the posthuman classroom, when physical corporeality is the insignificant relation of informational pattern or digital output, can be seen in how Michael and I hope to collect the thoughts of our fellow students ahead of the forthcoming Edinburgh University conference.

It is our plan to create a simple discussion board/forum that will enable individuals to share their DL experiences, perhaps under a small number of questions. There are other ways of collecting information, however the discussion board will enable members of our learning community to offer their thoughts without a prior registration.

This will provide the individual with anonymity. I think this presents the discussion board – a tool I employ within my own teaching – as a posthuman space. For instance, the individual is less important that the information they share, indeed they need not exist at all in the physical sense in order to exist within this learning space.

Combined with the examination of Michael’s contribution to the forthcoming academic conference, I hope this might be seen as posthuman pedagogy.

16 Responses to “The academic conference and discussion board as posthuman pedagogy”

  1.   Sue Grundy said:

    Think this is a great idea – and that the idea is more important than the person – seems to me to fit very well with the post human theory of education – where we can all be experts and, as Barney says (!) that sharing is caring. Like the concept that Michael might not exist…or not in the way we perceive him. He could after all be Bill Gates taking the course anonymously.

  2.   Michael Sean Gallagher said:

    Great post, James. Still in transit here so let me respond with more detail soon, but love the idea. On a slight twist, when I go back and look at my early contributions to a collective digital culture (via coursework from 2000 or so and beyond) will I recognize that Michael Sean Gallagher? Who will that person be in relation to me? Reminds me of the avatar discussion as well. On some level, the minute the construct is born is the minute it is divorced from me. Released might be a better term than divorced.

    Sue, the anonymous thing is actually kind of interesting. What is to stop anyone from taking this course anonymously? I suppose our representations could earn Masters degrees as well, participate, etc. And I am not Bill Gates alone, but rather a conglomerate of Bill Gates, Sergi Brin, Steve Jobs, and Tim O’Reilly. We decided to do this on a dare as all four of us and Michael Sean Gallagher seemed like the most innocuous name we could muster.

  3.   James Lamb said:

    @Sue – great digital detective work in unravelling Michael’s code :-)

    @Michael 2.0 – I’m also in transit at the moment but discuss soon. Time is short, but then isn’t it always? We’re still time bound in the digital academy, even if we don’t have a rigid timetable. Speak soon.

  4.   Michael Sean Gallagher said:

    James,

    If you throw out a few times for a Skype chat this week, I will clear out the schedule for it. We can discuss how to take this forward ahead of December 14th. If you don’t mind, I am going to transfer a bit of your post here over to my blog as well not to steal the idea or anything, but to just do a bit longer form response. Hope that is alright with you.

  5.   Martin Gibb said:

    Hi James,

    This all sounds very interesting indeed. In fact, I was momentarily ‘freaked’ to think that Michael might not exist, but could in fact be an ‘impostor.’ Hoping that you are not Michael! ;)

    Information is key in today’s world, why do so many of us surf the web, browsing, reading, viewing a range of sites? Discussion boards and forums (I use Wallwisher quite successfully) are great examples. Indeed, on one task, the students quickly forgot who was doing the posts, because they were far more interested in the links to other websites.

    I very much look forward to seeing more of the project as it unfolds :)

  6.   Jen Ross said:

    “In the posthuman classroom, the corporeality of the student is less important than the ‘information patterns’ he/she/it produces.”

    “I am not Bill Gates alone, but rather a conglomerate of Bill Gates, Sergi Brin, Steve Jobs, and Tim O’Reilly. We decided to do this on a dare as all four of us and Michael Sean Gallagher seemed like the most innocuous name we could muster.”

    - that explains why you don’t seem to need sleep…

    I wonder if it’s true that corporeality is insignificant to us – I’m not sure that it is – at least if we consider embodiment to be one aspect of individuality. Is ‘voice’ (in the sense of the authorial voice) another such aspect? Could we really not tell if 4 imposters were creating MSG (I think that’s a different issue from one imposter)? What is the nature of that knowing that we think we have?

  7.   Michael Sean Gallagher said:

    Agreed, Jen. This is really a sort of metaphysical/ontological kind of questioning, as in what is knowledge itself. To know someone exists is the same at some level as knowing yellow is yellow (perhaps bad example).

    Corporeality is significant, surely, but perhaps it just isn’t a singularity anymore, as in the only way to experience something. Now we manifestations of presence that float throughout this thing called human.

    As for sleep, Michael Sean Gallagher need it not. He simply perches on the edge of his sofa like an owl for six hours every night to recharge. A cyborg owl.

  8.   James Lamb said:

    @Jen,

    ‘I wonder if it’s true that corporeality is insignificant to us – I’m not sure that it is – at least if we consider embodiment to be one aspect of individuality.’

    I agree, however I wanted to put the idea (than information matters more than physical form) out there for discussion. In contrast, the following link summarises how I feel about the ‘physicality of the class’ – the fabric as well as – much more significantly – the corporeality of my fellow learners.

    http://tinyurl.com/35dbpce

    ‘Could we really not tell if 4 imposters were creating MSG (I think that’s a different issue from one imposter)?’

    That’s an interesting question. We know there are instances from Second Life where individuals have interacted within the virtual world while using a spouse’s identity. From recollection (sorry, I don’t have access to my IDEL notes just now!) this change went unnoticed amongst the online friends of the original avatar creator.

    Admittedly, its not the same as a faux-student participating in our course, but I think this suggests that, in a small way at least, it might be possible for several people to manipulate or construct an online identity. Ethically questionable, but feasible nevertheless?

  9.   James Lamb said:

    @Martin,

    ’Indeed, on one task, the students quickly forgot who was doing the posts, because they were far more interested in the links to other websites.’

    If there’s a way of measuring the ‘aptness of mode’, your example might be a good description for ‘desired outcome’.

    ‘I very much look forward to seeing more of the project as it unfolds’

    And I hope you’ll be a part of it – details to follow later this week, fingers crossed.

  10.   Siân Bayne said:

    On corporeality, I wonder if it’s useful to make the distinction between ‘body’ and ‘embodiment’ here? If the former is the ‘fleshy’ and ‘fixed’ bit, the latter allows us an understanding of body as discursive (its meaning constituted via the ways in which we speak of it), a complex, shifting social ’site’ for making sense of things.

    As distance learners we work through complex modes of embodiment, while our ‘bodies’ remain mostly absent. Generally, we seem happy with this, though James’ point about the ritual of graduation suggest that at times only the body will do…

    There’s a nice 1996 paper by Erica McWilliam on corporealities in the classroom:

    McWilliam, E (1996) Corpor/realities in the classroom, English Education, Vol. 28, No. 4 pp. 340-348

    Annoyingly I can’t get the full text from our library collection, but if anyone knows anyone who works for, o say, JSTOR or something they may be able to get hold of it for those interested. ; )

    btw great post James, and I’m looking forward to the conference. Feel privileged to have the option of bodily presence….

  11.   Michael Sean Gallagher said:

    I am not saying I have the above article or don’t have the above article, but simply that there is this link below.

    http://michaelgallagher.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/corporrealities.pdf

  12.   Marie Leadbetter said:

    This is absolutely fascinating! Looking forward to this. I remember at the beginning of the course talking about Catfish and it’s ‘is it/ isn’t it real’ a device used in a lot of films. And about online hoaxes – i’ve heard a few of these. It is possible, and we know it is possible, but it’s interesting that most people’s default is to believe that what is put forward, is real…

    There’s an interesting thing about gut instinct or intuition, though, isn’t there? Which is to say that with daily exposure to someone or something, it builds up your sensitivity to something incongruous. Could someone blog as me and convince others that there was no change? How about Twitter and Facebook? I think to some extent, yes. It’d be an interesting experiment though to see if anyone noticed difference…

  13.   Marie Leadbetter said:

    Ethically suspect, though, of course! I’m not suggesting it… ;-)

  14.   Siân Bayne said:

    Interesting link Michael, thanks ;)

    @Marie I like it – re-thinking identity theft as a kind of extreme plagiarism. It’d be interesting to consider ways in which ’spotting’ identity play/appropriation like this could be more than intuitive – I wonder if we might approach it as a project for discourse analysis…. Discussion this week has made me a little nervous about assessing the lifestreams :)

  15.   James Lamb said:

    @Marie @Jen

    Now here’s a thing. I have a friend who used to work in recruitment and dealt with lots of enquiries from the public. She created two additional identities (using officially sanctioned work e-mail accounts) to deal with different types of clients e.g. domestic, international.

    As well as ordering enquiries, it gave impression to clients that they were dealing with a person, not simply e-mailing an anonymous-this-is-going-to-be-lost-in-the-ether enquiries@company mail address. I think there was an assumption that people would appreciate the perceived accountability from (what they perceived to be) a real person.

    She would sign the correspondence using the name of the appropriate madey-up individual. No one was the wiser – when people made a follow up enquiry by phone, or came to visit in person looking for said individual (yikes!) she was always out. Not to worry though, my friend, who was incredibly well informed on the previous dialogue, was able to help.

    And before you ask, when I say ‘a friend’, I don’t mean ‘me’!

  16.   Sue Grundy said:

    Hi James
    I’ve just done your survey. The last question confused me a little as I presume preference suggests one answer but my sofa (my answer) is in the living room – so the same place.
    But to add to the thinking…my study at home depends on who is at home at the time – ie where I can study that is quiet. Wifi has freed me to move around the house and study wherever is quiet. In the cooler months I can study outside. I try to keep the 3G on my phone switched off (bills!) so don’t tend to study away from the house apart from doing the reading. However I have to admit to reading my emails and course relevant tweets at a children’s party the other day as I was so bored!
    Looking forward to watching/hearing/reading about the conference presentation.

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