It’s 9:43 am. (-5 GMT), and already I’m fighting mindnumb. There are hives of buzz around @coursera, and I’ve been following the noise, as well as maybe six other “trends” since 8:30 am. (-5 GMT), including a Youtube video featuring the CEOs at StumblUpon, and the flight fares to a certain North American city. This morning, one of the things I followed was a link to Jiquan Ngiam’s blog post on Coursera’s site, where he said
I’m continually blown away by our students’ passion to learn, drive to make it through difficult problem sets, and willingness to help their peers in the forums and study groups. We all are building an amazing community of lifelong learners that bridges age, nationality, and language.
“Passion,” “Lifelong learners,” “helping…peers” “bridges”: these are all phrases with mostly positive connotations.
For some reason, though, I feel a shade of foreboding while reading them. First of all, that the global is now local is only one of the ideas (fairly neutral) that sweeps through my neural network while considering Ngiam’s statement. Another idea that comes to mind is Kevin Kelly’s thesis (in his book Kafka-esque dimly lit nightmare? The chatter/buzz feels threatening because the extensive “diversity of ideas” begins to sound and feel like a mind-numbing suzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzazazaaaaaaaa. I become intoxicated with information, and I fear being taken advantage of in my intoxicated state. But maybe this spectre I sense is merely my own idiosyncratic projection. More will be revealed.) that what technology “wants” is for us to share. It’s this thought that raises the doom-spectre in my mind, wafting like a potential gas leak fated to be discovered when the building explodes. Here are a few questions that arise for me: As people of the screen, can we share too much? Might we share our way into a monoculture that is an Orwellian, Huxley-esque or
In my Coursera/Princeton Intro to Sociology course, I’ve been reminded of the idea that personal troubles can mirror societal issues. However, says Duneier, regarding the development of a sociological imagination, “It is really not enough to just imagine. It’s important that we sort through the evidence so that we don’t connect the individual experience to social structure in a baseless and fanciful manner.” The trouble I sense at the personal level is inchoate, and I know that I’m experiencing it within — and because of — the framework of my idiosyncratic history; nevertheless, the trouble is there, here. I feel it pulsing within my psychic radar, and it’s been pulsing for at least a year. Call me Cassandra, but this “pulsing,” for lack of better word, is why I fought to have 1984 and Brave New World put on our school’s Summer Reading list. It’s why I’m going to re-read Kafka’s The Trial. Yes, the incipient revolution inspired by MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses, an acronym I learned only yesterday), is exciting, but I don’t want to miss the potential deadly parasite shuttling inside of it.
At heart, I have to fight against a tendency to see conspiracies (networks of malfeasance).
On the brighter side:
One of my fellow @coursera-mates responds to Ngiam’s blog post with this:
The only course i’m intensively following so far is the machine learning one, and even if it is a subject i’m already very familiar with, it is without any comparaison [sic] the most powerful/beneficial learning experience i ever had in my life.
- comment on the Coursera blog by @padjiman (Philippe Adjiman, who identifies himself as an Israeli-French Ph.D/Engineer in his Twitter bio)
That’s an amazing statement: “the most powerful learning experience” he’s had in his life! I don’t know much more about @padjiman at this point except for what he’s written in his Twitter bio: as a Ph.D at least, he’s probably had many, many learning experiences so far. So there is something unique happening in with these MOOCs, and I’m wanting to understand the texture, color, tone and frequency of what it is. What characterizes this @coursera learning experience that makes it sail beyond previous horizons?
Why, @padjiman, is this the most powerful learning experience you’ve had thus far?