Once again a BBC Radio 4 podcast has sparked a long line of thinking and critical reflection, this time on the current phenomenon of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their impact on education and all sorts of related topics (e.g., society, access to education, the value of education, etc.).
I have to admit that I don’t yet have a clear picture of how I would/should react to and interact with MOOCs, but the discussion and documentary certainly elicited a long series of questions, with different answers leading to further questions and a gradual fleshing-out of the overall picture that may at some point allow me to reach an internal equilibrium consensus:
What is the importance for me?
- Can I supplement my current knowledge with additional courses (i.e., fields of interest outside my career specialisation, or job-related fields complementing what I do all day)?
- Would it be time well-spent, or am I better off spending more time socialising as I am already using up my “available capacity” for facts and learning?
- Where are my strengths and weaknesses, and how could an online course complement, compensate, or strengthen the one or other? Which leads to the old debate: work on your weaknesses to balance out the overall palette, or focus on your strengths, which requires far less effort and might achieve more in the short term?
What is the importance for my children?
- What will be the impact on their education? Will education be a mixture of “school” learning and online help-yourself?
- What will be the impact on travel for them? If you can do more by staying at home, is this what they will choose? What are the drivers of going abroad to learn something, or staying at home? Again, how do you balance the advantages and disadvantages (i.e., stay at home and spend the time not traveled wisely, compared to the thrill of traveling with intense periods of learning while standing still/resting in a particular place)?
- How will it affect their ability to get a job? Will MOOC certificates and degrees be recognised (on paper), and how will companies test whether a candidate is a good fit (i.e., how will they assess knowledge, creativity, and ability to think)?
- How would online learning affect their social skills, given that “social skills” in an online environment work very differently compared with in the offline world (someone from my generation probably grew up learning mainly offline social skills, while the current generation probably spends as much time working with other people online as off). How will future societies work in groups, and how will this affect group dynamics?
- In particular the last point is one that concerns me: making friends and interacting with teachers strikes me as oh-so-valuable, and consequently also important for society, given that each teacher has a very particular way of teaching and influencing pupils.
What is the importance for society?
- Will MOOCs reach out, enabling those who cannot attend the great bricks-and-mortar institutions to access their “library,” or do they somehow simply entrench those elements of the rich world, who already have spare time, greater access to a broad range of options, and a quick internet connection?
Overall, the more I read the more I am convinced that for people like me and my family the biggest store of value is creativity and the ability to generate (and concretise) ideas, as well as the development of social skills and the interaction with other people. MOOCs might support this in a multitude of ways, but as with so many things, the key lies in the balance, and I will be following this story as closely as I am able to see how things develop.
Re-visiting a BBC Radio 4 – Start the Week podcast from late last year (28 October 2013) in the context of a story that is in a continual state of creation I was returned once more to the subject of the city, and how the individual interacts with the city.
Three main topics came up that are all inter-related and weave in and out of each other:
- Seeing the city – Seeing the city when you visit, and when you live in it. You see the city at different levels, you see different layers: different distances, perhaps, as visitors often see the up-close, the grime, the quotidien, whereas locals overlook these, at a different height, blending out the noise (different signal-to-noise ratio).
- Re-using old buildings, re-purposing: building life, or perception of people living in them? – Are old buildings worth saving? What constitutes the criteria for preserving something? Is it a feeling of an era, something representative, something that fits into a temporal environment? And so when moving out of this frame/window, what happens to the building? Does it become a museum, attracting visitors, or can the building be used again to attract people who will live in it (again, the immersion question)? And how is the feeling of the building perceived, depending on which it will be?
- Patrimonie, not heritage nor nostalgia – A call to define something that is not heritage (i.e., needs to be preserved as is) or nostalgia (i.e., go back to how they were), but rather that the old becomes incorporated into a library of “things” which the people living through an era, and those coming directly afterwards (since the effect wears off over time), share and can at any time dig into to root themselves, ground themselves, and find a framework.
Overall, the sense is one of what happens when one immerses oneself consciously in a city, beginning to see things that one might not have seen before. Light, layers, a built-up history of settings, buildings, an urban environment in which one is both forever a (transient) visitor as well as a permanent resident, leaving behind a scent, a trail, a kernel of existence.
It has been some time now since I listened to the following BBC Radio 4 – Analysis podcast including an interview with Eldar Shafir on his new book entitled Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.
The podcast itself was styled as an interview in front of a live audience and as such a little different to the usual format, but what I have found in the weeks since listening to the dialogue is that the topic keeps cropping up over and over again in a variety of different contexts during the course of otherwise normal days. It’s not so much what I think Prof. Shafir is getting at, that is, that people who have to cope with scarce resources and means are bad at making good financial decisions not because they’re not smart or able to think through things, but because scarcity leads to a kind of tunnel vision that makes one lose sense of the bigger picture. I’m lucky enough not to have to worry too much about money, but then there are other things in my life that are becoming scarcer and that on occasion can lead to what I assume is a similar over-focus and lack of perspective.
Perhaps it has something to do with my current phase in life, my growing family, and the constraints and interests of various time-consuming and intensive activities that populate my day. Perhaps it is also a question of having reached certain limits (of time, for example), while having transcended others (basic financial ones). In short, however, the main thrust of the argument (scarcity matters for all aspects of life, especially when it comes to making decisions) seems to be a profound one that I am returning to time and time again. Scarcity of money, of time, of personal energy: all these are particularly relevant, especially when it comes to work-life balance: I keep coming back to the thought that if you invest an hour at midnight into work, it’ll be an hour you’re missing somewhere else.
A sobering thought (one of many), but well worth thinking about if it lastly means achieving a more productive prioritisation of the things that are important.
Ironically, this is the third reference to anonymity in a row, although in an entirely different context: “rescuing these soldiers from anonymity.”
I refer to a BBC Radio 4 – Crossing Continents podcast on the volunteers making extraordinary efforts to find the bodies of Russian soldiers fallen during the second World War.
The story touched me both for the emotional aspect as well as the psychogeographical element: there is a strong psychological and historical element regarding where these men fell, how they were “incorporated” into the landscape (i.e., overgrown, intertwined with trees, planted over, lost [actively] in the forest), and how their simple historical reality is reflected in their physical presence in the landscape (literally).