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(dis)connectivism: a learning theory for the ghost in the machine

One of the most recent attempts at a learning theory is connectivism, which attempts to address the relationship between knowledge and technology. At the same time there is an increasing disconnect between our physical bodies and our digital souls. In a somewhat baffling and opaque paper from 2010 called ‘Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies’, Siân Bayne of the University of Edinburgh addressed the concept of the ‘uncanny’ in online learning. Once the layers are peeled aside, there are some useful ideas to consider. Bayne refers to ‘the multiple synchronicities available to us when we work online…[the] blurring of being and not-being, presence and absence online.‘ Our online lives are schizophrenically littered across multiple contexts, each one demanding a slightly different type of e-presence; an avatar, a profile, a photograph. We spread ourselves thin over the personal, the professional, the store, the auction, the review; constructing at one moment a Facebook life of “success so huge and wholly farcical“, the next, a LinkedIn profile designed to get that elusive new job to make that success less fictional. We lose the distinction between past and present. Chronology blurs. It is indeed uncanny when my dead mother’s Facebook accounts sends me a message, or a Google search tells me that we will have nuclear fusion by…oh… 2011? Alarming news stories of teenage suicide cults, seemingly driven by a desire to achieve digital immortality through physical death seem to take the disconnect between our real and virtual lives to extremes. Perhaps notwithstanding Ryle’s critique of mind-body dualism, we are all becoming ghosts in the machine. Can we ever call them back from heaven? This disconnectivism between a life lived and a fragmented digital artifact should perhaps raise some disquiet as to the role of pedagogy in the age of ghosts. Perhaps one question for educators is how we temper the tendency to make learning a process of digital publication. It sometimes feels as if the default assignment task these says is to ‘broadcast yourself’. Perhaps a better mantra would be, ‘reflect on yourself, protect yourself’ “for the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.” Some things are better left to the imagination, rather than the app.

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