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EDC MOOC Final Project

Elearning and Digital Cultures finished up about a month ago. However, before life got in the way of me finishing this class on time to get a completion certificate, I had most of my ideas in place for my final project, so I'm presenting it now, mostly for myself, to prove that I got something out of this new mode of learning.

This MOOC has been quite the journey for me.

I've been very hesitant of the whole MOOC phenomenon because of my own history with online education. About a decade ago, when I was an undergrad, I took a blended online and in person course on Medieval Latin. I was going to a small liberal arts and with it's block scheduling, our academic calendar didn't match up with the other schools in the course, so I had to rearrange my schedule to fit in the class. Our weekly lectures were streamed online with chat function embedded, but there was only one lab on campus where the computers had the software and headphones available to access these lectures without disturbing others.

Try and remember how momentous this technology was ten years ago. Most weeks there were more than a few hiccups with the streaming. During the week that our professor got to take his turn lecturing, he actually had to call in to the lecture on the phone from his office, and the two of us taking the class crowded into his office to help shuffle his papers, and neither one of us got to participate in the live chat that week.

The class was also frustrating because it was supposed to be for both 200 level and 300 level students, but our campus was the only one with 200 level students, and we were by far the smallest participating campus, with only 2 students in the class. Basically, the technology and the structure of the class itself were not quite right to make this a positive experience. So I've generally written online education off.

However, I've worked in higher education for the last two years and I can't help but notice the way online education has taken off, whether it's the more traditional format or MOOCs like this, and I have to say, the technology has definitely caught up, and now that educators have had the time to play around with this format a little, it's clear there's real potential for online education to expand it's role and play a significant part in education in this country. However, for the bulk of my final project I wanted to focus on the pop culture references that permeated my brain through the course of this class. Unfortunately, there will be some spoilers.

***

First there was the movie Wall-E, which I thought really highlighted the utopia/dystopia conversation we started the class with. In this movie we had humans made lazy by the technology that provided for all their basic needs. The ship they were living in seemed like a veritable paradise, and yet it was clear that something had gone horribly wrong with this scenario. While people were certainly surviving just fine, they weren't really living.

In contrast we have Wall -E, a machine, who's been living on a planet essentially destroyed by the unresponsible proliferation of technology. In the technological wasteland, he manages to find a small sign of primitive life and spends the rest of the movie trying to bring that natural life to the people on the ship, where everybody wants life to continue in the simple easy way it has. It's interesting that the one who fights hardest against technological domination in this movie is himself a machine.

During week 2 I mentioned the cartoon series Reboot, which was not at all unusual during it's time for thinking of the internet as a physical place. It was interesting during this week to explore the metaphors used to describe the technological resources that are becoming an ever increasing part of our lives. The people in the cartoon series exemplify the ways we try to personify inanimate objects that play complex roles in our lives. We use the internet and our computers for so many things, no wonder we say our computer's being temperamental when it refuses to work despite doing everything we can to fix it.

During week 3 I brought Wall-E up again stressing the way technology can lull us into complacency by making unimportant things easy, and therefore more likely to fill our time than harder, but more important, things. I also mentioned Brave New World, but since I haven't actually read it, I'm not sure what pictorial representation is most appropriate for the points I'm trying to make.

During Week 4 I wanted to make all sorts of pop culture references, but the main one was from The Hunger Games. In this picture you can see the difference from super modified Effie Trinket to  technology-free Katniss Everdeen. Throughout the books, Collins balances the free, natural state of the people in District 12, with the silly ridiculousness of technologically-modified people in the Capital. There are numerous other movies where folks with more technology are shown as silly and ridiculous. Yet we all line up for the new iPhone, so does our society think technology is ridiculous frivolity or a necessary enhancement?

"All magic comes at a price, dearie"
And finally, throughout this course I haven't been able to get Rumplestiltskin from Once Upon a Time out of my head. I know he's talking about magic, but I spend enough time teaching n00bs how to use computers that I'm fully aware of how magical technology can seem, especially if you don't have much knowledge about how it all works. And essentially the two main topics of the course (Technological Utopia/Dystopia and Being Human) boil down to, all technological advancements come at a price. For all the starr-eyed optimism of the transhumanists, they understand that using technology to augment the human form must be done in the right way, or else there will be serious consequences.

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