Mark's E-learning and Digital Cultures Blog

part of the MSc in E-learning at the University of Edinburgh

Mark’s Lifestream summary

Posted by Mark Garratt on December 12, 2010

From humble beginnings, my Lifestream has grown almost along organic lines into something that visually reflects my learning over the last 12 weeks. That said, I think that it would be near impossible to capture the sheer volume of thought processes that have taken place – although the Lifestream process (at times chaotic and multidirectional) represents an extremely effective means of capturing the tangential thinking that has at times occurred. 

For me, perhaps the biggest element has been the public nature of the Lifestream, and having a reflection of my thought processes available to scrutiny by other course members (and indeed the greater public). I have not experienced such a forum of learning before, but I must admit that it has been galvanising in terms of the generation and the development of “half-baked” ideas and concepts – and I am now used to producing material for broader comment, and indeed commenting on the ideas of other course members.

As a “Digital Immigrant”, the Lifestream process has also greatly improved my networking confidence. It now seems hard to believe that prior to the beginning of the course (even with IDEL under my belt), I had no idea of how to use Flickr or Tumblr, or indeed how an RSS feed worked.  In this respect my Lifestream has grown with an increasing (and then regular) use of external feeds, the use of which now seems second nature. I am also pleased that some of my initial thoughts were capable of being developed and refined. Indeed, the distribution of knowledge and agency has been a thread which has run through the course, and which has also featured within the interactivity and sharing between course members.

My week 4 representation of a “cave-circuit” painting reflected the visual aspects of digital transliteracy, and how alternative forms of communication are facilitated by digital culture. Digital forms of communication are thus likely to allow a greater diversity of pedagogical representation, and perhaps a divergence from the dominance of stoic written text – especially as the essence of digitally facilitated pedagogy is a two-way process of exchange between the student and the educational medium. The week 7 virtual ethnographic study was also extremely engaging, and perhaps demonstrated how the virtual environment allows a much more diverse (and physically hidden) community to form. However, this task did also highlight that traditional dualistic inclusion/exclusion boundaries may be transferred to virtual communities (and may even be necessary for community formation).

Following on from the ethnographic study, the posthuman pedagogy task and cyborg myth related course activities were interesting in terms of suggesting an approach to digital pedagogy that may potentially undermines traditionally dualistic forms of representation. For me, this represents an antidote to conceptions of virtual power and oppression that were discussed during the early stages of the course – and to a degree within the ethnographic/community readings.

Please find links below to each of my key end-of-block activities:

Visual artifact:

Ethnographic study:

Posthuman pedagogy task:

So how do I sum up my Lifestream over the last 12 weeks ?

 My original Lifestream entry focussed upon a mechanical pocket watch, and how with enough patience, anyone could decipher its inner workings. I used this an example of what digital culture is not – eg. controllable and knowable by one person. However, on reflection (and following the later posthuman readings), I can see a few potential flaws in my original argument. When analogue pocket watches were at the height of their use and production, unseen networks ensured that silver was mined and appropriately smelted (and hallmarked) for the cases; similarly, metal alloys were created from raw materials for the inner workings. Glass faces were made by one group of experts, whilst the porcelain faces were made by another. Various parts were made in various areas of a workshop, and assembled by an unknown number of craftsmen/women. Anyway, my point is that although the medium can be traced to the last 50 years, digital culture is not necessarily so easy to define in physical terms – especially as what we may term as “analogue” was equally influenced with unseen networks of communication and distribution.

In this respect, my Lifestream also represents something akin to a network of production. Whilst I have physically built it, innumerable influences have been at play in it’s creation – from the creation of the medium by the course tutors, to the influences to my course peers.

 In homage to my original entry and my thought processes since, please find below an image of a digital watch.  

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Week 12 Summary

Posted by Mark Garratt on December 12, 2010

The above image had a two-fold purpose in being a metaphor for my Lifestream activities this week, and as a reference to my blog response to Dennis’ post “PostHuman tree as Column or Beam”.  Although my Lifestream entries have been fairly sparse this week, I have been “trimming” and adding material as necessary in order to present something that realistically portrays my learning and engagement over the last 12 weeks. Not an easy task.

As with plant-like organic structures – and indeed perhaps within evolution itself (now there’s a bold statement !), my Lifestream seems in places to have taken on a life of it’s own, with branches  of varying lengths separaing at various points from the central “trunk” of the core material. Some of these branches could perhaps be regarded as evolutionary dead-ends, that did not necessarily bear fruit; others however have led in unpredictable directions, and have taken my thought processes into uncharted territory. Other branches will probably remain dormant, awaiting a rainfall of further inspiration to flourish.

I suppose that I cannot help but compare this digital creation to a biological structure, and as mentioned previously (both this week and before), I believe that most of what we create in a virtual environment has a “natural” precedent (perhaps there truly is nothing new under the sun) – and that if anything is likely to “blinker” our thought processes in this respect, it is the Western tendency to organise structure and label – please see the below link for a reductionist  take on web 2.0, and how the emergence of collective intelligence may be more than the sum of it’s parts.

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Week 11 summary

Posted by Mark Garratt on December 5, 2010

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This week, my activities have focussed upon the Posthuman pedagogy task, assignment ideas and Lifestream tidying. I have been re-examining my weekly summaries, ensuring that they reflect the Lifestream activity for that week, and considering what threads of learning  emerge. This is helping with regards to my planned final entry, and also my assignment topic – Aspects of digital community representation and the negotiation of online identity.

I have also been responding to the interest generated by my posthuman pedagogy task (thank you !), and leaving comments on the tasks created by others - all of which have really made my rethink my conceptions of online pedagogy and multimodal forms of digital representation.

In response to Jeremy’s twitter entry, I have also posted a link to a Youtube clip in which James May “meets” the Gemenoid robot (see above). This is interesting as it seems to generate genuine unease in the host, and the viewer can empathise with the “uncanny” feeling of interracting with something that is almost human in appearance. Hoping not to labour the point too much, this reminded me of a previous entry that I made with regards to the film “Surrogates”, and ethical issues surrounding human identity, CGI and representation. Does interracting with  a human facsimilie provoke something primeval in terms of an almost superstitious revulsion  ? CGI experts have also predicted that once the “Holy Grail” of perfect digital human representation has been cracked, we could be seeing films starring deceased Hollywood actors – but how would the paying viewers respond to this ?

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Week 10 summary

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 28, 2010

I have just completed my posthuman pedagogy task and hope that it it is on the right lines ! I have chosen the orientation exercises used within MUVEs as a means of negotiating Halyes’ dualism of information networks and materialism. I have also been giving great consideration to my final assignment, and would like to focus upon aspects of digital identity portrayal. This is however a potentialy massive field, and I am attempting to narrow things down somewhat. My lifesream links this week have involved entries that are based upon my assignment ideas and the posthuman pedagogy task. As part of my task investigations in SL, I re-entered “welcome island” (unwelcomingly hard to find) and had a look around Holyrood park. Within Holyrood park, I was delighted to find an posthuman and cyborg themed “Imaginarium” hosted by a cyborg curator - unheimliche.


Holyrood park posthuman themed “imaginarium”.

Other lifestream feeds this week include a blog between James, Michael and myself concerning the desire to visit Edinburgh (especially during graduation) and physically experience that which we have only experienced within the virtual. This was interesting in that questions were raised regarding humanism vs posthumanism, and similarities with religious concepts.

I have also posted some comments within Tumblr regarding this weeks readings, and I feel as though I am beginning to become “familiar” again with notions of the “uncanny” which were explored within IDEL. I have also revisited Sian’s 208 paper -  Bayne, S (2008) Uncanny spaces for higher education: teaching and learning in virtual worlds. Alt-J, Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 16 (3), pp. 197-205. Which highlights notions of the uncanny, with some useful examples of student/user experiences. This was a favourite of mine during IDEL, and something that I feel has real mileage in terms of creating and manipulating  a sense of presence and involvement for teaching within virtual worlds (I won’t re-relate my initial (naked) experiences of SL !).

One other link that I have shared relates to Atherton’s onlne teaching pedagogy resource, which I found invaluable during my PGCE, and will I am sure be useful again in terms of remembering the difference between humanistic and behavioural schools of learning (well, you never know).

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Mark’s posthuman pedagogy task

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 28, 2010

Please find my posthuman pedagogy task at the below link:



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Mark’s assignment idea

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 25, 2010

I must admit that I am struggling a little with the EDC assignment. However, my title idea is:

Aspects of digital representation and the negotiation of online identity.

In addition to the set assessment criteria I was also thinking:

Does the assignment draw upon relevant theoretical concepts and literature in exploring some of the potential influences of “digital culture” in relation to various forms of online representation.

My thoughts were to include aspects of online identity negotiation within communities and within other forms of digital representation, and to bring in elements of post-human pedagogy in terms of the potential distribution of agency. I was also considering perhaps including aspects of the “uncanny” in terms of identity formation.

Do you think this is workable ?

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Week 9 Summary

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 21, 2010

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I am afraid that a Blade Runner link has been selected again in homage to Badminton’s analysis of Descartes and the boundaries of humanism. I must admit that popular culture has also featured quite heavily in other areas of  my musings this week. My blog on the SF/horror film “The Fly” focussed upon popular outrage at transgressed human/creature genetic boundaries – and the cultural shift over time that may have resulted in subtle differences between the 1958 version and the 1986 version. James responded with an interesting blog involving Spiderman (another genetic creature/human transgression), and of how public perceptions were different.  Today, I have also considered the SF space opera series by Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space. This series, set within mankinds spacefaring future involves varying factions of humans with differing levels of technological and biological augmentation.

Factions within Revelation Space

Here we see a posthuman view of an augmented hive-mind with a faction called the conjoiners (nicknamed “spiders”), who are at war with the more humanist Demarchists (nicknamed “zombies”). Other factions include the Ultras, who similar to the Borg of Star Trek  fame, have various degrees of overt (according to personal taste) biological and machine-like enhancements. What is also interesting within this vision of the future is the portrayal of a specific race of beings - ”hyper-pigs”.

Hyper-pig, ” a gentic Chimera of pig and human”.

Races within Revelation Space

Hyper-pigs represent a genetic splicing of human and pig, originally intended as a means of growing human organs for transplantation. At some point Hyper-pigs became sentient, developing human emotional traits. Within the Revelation Space series, Hyper-pigs are treated as alomst second class to other races, and the author explores an unusual friendship between one such being and a key human (conjoiner) character. Hyper-pigs perhaps represent an almost a literal interpretation of Haraway’s theories regarding a deconstructing of animal/human dualism, and the creation of a sentient being (albeit with predictable difficulties in establishing their rights as sentient beings).  

The rest of  the week has seen my understanding of the cyborg myth and posthumanism develop, and I have written a few blogs within Tumblr that explore my understandings of the key texts. Other areas of learning have included a blog response with Alison regarding the aggregation and reaggregation of information within our lifestreams. I have also developed my thinking with regards to how we might develop in tandem with the intelligent machines that we use – and how slight errors in transcription may equate with a form of biological DNA mutation – thereby leading to a form of evolution. My understanding of the potential difference between the cyborg myth and posthumanism is still under construction – despite some attempts this week to outline my thoughts.

Onwards to week 10.

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Some thoughts on Coyle

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 20, 2010

I have to admit that is was with something akin to relief that I read Fiona Coyle’s “Post Human geographies ? Biotechnology, nature and the demise of the autonomous human subject”.

In relatively simplistic terms Coyle examines the concept of being posthuman in terms of it being an area for debate for the “rapidly changing relationships between the conditions of human embodiment and technoscience” (Coyle 2006 summarised from Waldby 2000)  and examining  some of the dualisms that have traditionally existed, and still exert an influence over contemporary thinking.

For Coyle, the posthuman state encompasses the merging of animal/human DNA and the use of nanotechnology. It exists almost in opposition to the humanist view, which has been destabilised following such things as the human genome project which revealed the genetic similarity between humans and all life-forms. Boundaries between humans, animals and machines have become destabilised – allowing posthuman considerations that question what it means to be human. Coyle the difference in views put forward by posthumanist writers, and the dualism that exists between perspectives. In the one camp we have Haraway and Hayles, with a greater focus upon fluidity and cyborg politics, whilst in the other camp we have an apocalyptic stance taken by Virilio and Fukuyama, forecasting the demise of the “fleshy human”.

Haraway focuses upon the polarisation of emotions that is created by considerations of “transgenic border crossings” – and seeks to outline an alternative “myth” that exists within and between popular dualisms (animal/huma/technology), drawing strength from a middle ground.

Hayles however, sees posthumanism as the transference of information between “fleshy” bodies, technology and consciousness. Hayles questions whether humans were really ever in control at all in an ever-changing complex world of fluid boundaries.  For Hayles, “this world is characterised by emergence, reflexivity, embodiment and a dynamic partnership between human and non-human nature”.

Virilio however, denounces genetic manipulation with a potential for it to lead to the “annihilation of science” and the destruction of the essence of humanity.  Fukuyama similarly believes in an essential “human being” – the pure preservation of which is essential as a reference point for the continuation of human experience and “the construction of an ethical community”.  Both Virilio and Fukuyama argue for “ethical boundaries” to protect the essence of the “human being”.

Following this summary of posthuman perspectives, Coyle then examines the responses of a selection of New Zealanders to questions regarding transgressive biotechnologies and posthumanism. This is used as an ethical tool, with the selected cohort acting as a “barometer” of public opinion. Coyles argues that “the New Zealand public have begun to question both their own status as humans, and scrutinise the taken-for granted boundaries between nature-culture, and human-animal-plant”.

For many, the boundaries between human-plant-animal were clearly defined and impenetrable. This dualism was maintained with comments such as “unnatural”, and their being natural “mechanisms” in place to prevent cross species blending. For many, organ/cell transplants were against nature and abhorrent – although human to human transplants were considered more acceptable.  Others however, felt that the boundaries between humans and animals were a human perception (one commented that we eat animal products – so what could be the difference) that we created, and could just as easily deconstruct. 

Coyles also draws an interesting parallel between the New Zealand position on illegal aliens and bio invasion and the perceived sanctity of the human body. The invaders in this case being alien genes and cells. In a similar manner, fears were paralleled with a continued chain of contamination/replication with regards to potential mutation.

Many participants did however admit to their being a grey area where medical benefits could be achieved in the face of disease of disability. Another insightful perspective involved the “naturalness” of the human species – and therefore our curiosity and experimentation is also natural – and so by definition, genetic boundary transgressions are also a natural product. For this participant, humans “are” nature, and therefore everything that we do is natural – with humans as the “conscious evolutionary force of the planet”.

In light of the above, I blogged earlier in the week about the apocalyptic view of posthumanism in relation to SF horror (the film “The Fly”). I found it particularly interesting that popular culture often views hybridisation with outrage – although within James’ response, it was highlighted that a great deal seems to boil down to characterisation and motivation. Perhaps this reflects some of the “grey” areas with regards to boundary transgression that some of the New Zealand participants alluded  to ?

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The horror of transgressed boundaries 1958 style

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 19, 2010

Whilst reading Fiona Coyle’s summary of Haraway, Hayles and Virilio, and her description of the responses to her New Zealand study, I couldn’t help but think about one of the all time classic horror movies – The Fly. Although the 1986 remake was heavier on special effects, the 1958 version conveyed it’s dystopian representation of transgressed boundries and the loss of humanity just as well.  However (if I remember correctly) the 1986 version went one step further, ending with Gena Davis expecting the child of a genetically modified Jeff Goldblum. This raises the “spectre” of a continued chain of mutation that threatens  Fukuyama’s purity of “human nature”. The moral lesson within both films perhaps reflects the deep-rooted dualism between human and animal (or insect), and the almost religious fervour that seems to frequenty surround it’s preservation – note the Vincent Price reference to “unearthly” and “playing God”.

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I think that it is also interesting that the 1958 version involved a physically apparent splicing between man and insect, whereas the 1986 version involved a more insidious genetic splicing – a reflection perhaps of a more contemporary fear of cancerous mutation that is not immediately obvious, but which will prove devastating nonetheless.

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Some thoughts regarding notions of community and the posthuman

Posted by Mark Garratt on November 17, 2010

“As Haraway reminds us, the smallest unit of analysis is the relation. With this I wholeheartedly agree, but I would go on to ask, ‘What relations should be foregrounded?’” (Hayles 2006:160).

For me this is a very interesting question, and one that may play a fundamental role for online course design. It perhaps links back to the analyses that we undertook during our online community work within block 2, but also to something more akin to posthuman theory. For Hayles, “agency is always relational and distributed” (2006:161), which I correlate with what was suggested within Towards embodied virtuality with regards to a distributed cognition (Hayles 1999:3). Not that I am suggesting that there should be a reduction in agency within a successful course, but rather that we are probably affected in ways that we are unaware of by our interactions with other course members, and our previous experiences of digital collaboration. Indeed, in citing Haraway (1988), Hayles suggests that “there is no way to know the world except through the subjectivity that precedes and grounds our objective accounts”.

In practical terms, the construction of my Lifestream has co-evolved with my grasping at ethnographical and pedagogical concepts, but I feel that a greater co-evolvement has been achieved through the various mediums that have been available for communication between course members. This incorporates the “disaggregation and reaggregation” of material via digital means, which in some cases is likely to include some subtle alteration to the original message. It is within the potential “errors” of the encryption/decryption/interpretation, that I see something akin to the process of evolution. In this respect (even without a direct biological and silicon interface), we are evolving with the machines that we use everyday, and there is almost seemingly the kind of mutation that occurs within DNA that leads to biological evolution – except that in the current case, evolution involves a “community” of online learners and the intelligent machines that they use to communicate.

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