In my first blog entry, I mentioned that I had read Dreyfus’ “On the Internet“, which I described as a:
…fascinating, philosophical and accessible tome that looked at the Internet and, in particular, distance learning in a critical and provocative way.
Oddly enough I went to see Dr David Starkey (“the rudest man in Britain“) who was guest of honour at my partner’s school. The school had just received humanities specialist status and Starkey was telling the audience, inbetween sips of red wine, that eduation had “saved him” and that learning should be a “pleasurable experience“. I say “oddly enough” because I could almost hear Hubert Dreyfus speaking through Starkey – maybe I had too much wine that night as well?
Anyway, even after re-reading chapter two, “How far is distance learning from education?“, I still stand by my initial statement (see above) in the respect that we do need more of these philosophical debates that look upon the 21st Century world and opens up those big issues of self, society, education, technology and identity. There is an awful lot of academic literature that tackles these issues within psychological, sociological, cultural, technological and educational dimensions and perspectives. What is lacking is work that covers the deeper essences surrounding these themes.
What is maddening about Dreyfus’ work is that it lacks the academic rigour that is usually expected from essays submitted by first year undergraduate students. This is plain for all to see. What’s not so obvious, to me at least, is Dreyfus’ “selective borrowing of past philosophers to support [his] arguments” and is quite rightly brought to task by the likes of Champion (2004) and Burbules (2002).
One of Dreyfus’ main issues with distant / online learning is that of “embodiment“. How can a student learn from a teacher without being physically in a classroom? How are they able to pick up on the most subtlest and intangible of stimuli if they are learning “at a distance“?
Champion (2004) notes an interesting Amazon review of Dreyfus’ “On the Internet“, which is allegedly written by one of Dreyfus’ former students (Geoffrey Cain) who says:
I took one of Dreyfus’ classes at Berkeley as an undergraduate and I never got to talk to him, there was no face to face learning. If you feel that the lecture method is the only way to learn, then the internet is not for you. If you want to feel like a “disembodied presence” go take a class at Berkeley as an undergrad.
Over the past 10 weeks on this course, I have had adventures in Skype, Second Life, pbWiki, Web 2.0 and WebCT; not to mention my past adventures in e-Mail, MSN Messenger, Blackboard, Discussion Forums and host of social networking and dating sites – yes, I am a former user of online dating sites. In all of these environments, and contrary to Dreyfus’ beliefs, I have never felt disembodied. I have never felt alone, despite my own personal belief that we are creating new forms of isolationism using this technology (which we can trace back to the early days of radio and television).
As my fellow students have articulated this week; embodiment, risk and involvement has been brought about by the power of the written word on the screen; an emotional attachment towards the course and the people that populate it; a yearning to learn more; and a keen imagination – it is not held together by a teaspoon and pieces of string, nor smoke and mirrors.
Like OU psychology undergraduate, Kieran Lee Marshall, in Katbamna’s (2007) article: I am not a student ID number – I am a fully embodied human being.
Blake, N., (2002). Hubert Dreyfus on Distance Education: relays of educational embodiment. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 34(4), pp. 379-385.
Burbules, N.C., (2002). Like a Version: playing with online identities. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 34(4), pp. 387-393.
Champion, E.M., (2004). The Internet and Its Enemies: A Critique of ‘On the Internet’. Computers and Society, 32(8). [online]. Available at: https://www.vle.ed.ac.uk/webct/RelativeResourceManager/Template/readings/DigitalSocietyanditsEnemies.htm [Accessed 22 November 2007].
Dreyfus, H.L., (2001). On the Internet. London: Routledge.
Katbamna, M., (2007). Open (almost) All Hours. The Guardian [online]. Available at: http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,2201273,00.html [Accessed 22 November 2007].
Turkle, S., (1997). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. London: Phoenix.