Week 11 Summary – Algorithms in Education

Click for article – How AI is taking over the classroom.

In the final extended week of the course I decided to further my social media interactions on algorithms by exploring how they increasingly intersect with secondary education. Recently, my school invested in Century Tech, a nascent technology start-up that offers a teaching and learning platform powered by artificial intelligence. Using vast quantities of student data gathered through diagnostic assessment, as well as student responses in learning activities, the AI is able to use algorithms to generate unique and individualised pathways for a child’s progress in core subject areas.

This made me ponder the role that algorithms may play in education in these coming years, and the impact that that an emerging algorithmic culture will have on classrooms and teachers. Adrien DuBois, in his TEDx speech is vociferous in his view that ‘teachers are on the path to becoming obsolete’. It is impossible to know how accurate this assertion will be.  That said, other evidence from the lifestream suggest whilst AI, and the algorithmic culture they create, are certainly a threat to corporeal teachers’ viability, there is a strong counter-argument offered that posits human creativity and insight, inherent qualities within the teaching profession, are irreplaceable and cannot be replicated by machines.

It is perhaps the middle ground being presented in the third YouTube clip,  that really shows what the future truly holds. The clips explores the growing symbiotic relationship between teacher and technology, with AI and their associated algorithms, working as supporting actors alongside the teacher in developing students’ education, particularly that of special educational needs and ensnaring student engagement and positive behaviour.

Week 10 Final Summary – Thinking About Algorithms

Thinking about algorithms

As I draw to the end of Education and Digital Cultures, there are a number of issues I would like to reflect upon to close the blog. As a nascent student of digital education, algorithms have been a key player in the development of my own knowledge and understanding, with them ‘sorting, filtering, searching, prioritising, recommending, deciding and so on’ as the course has progressed. As David Beer states, an algorithm provides us the opportunity to ‘to shape our knowledge and produce outcomes’ (Beer, 2017, 2) This has certainly been true throughout the EDC module, and there is there is no doubt they have played a vital role in sculpting my understanding of digital cultures within an educational setting, and cultivating my success in the completion of this lifestream.

Despite much of the evidence from the core reading that ‘algorithms produce worlds, rather than objectively account for them’ and that they are ‘manifestations of power’ (Knox, 2015), I would still hold the view that much of the algorithmic governance, in the context of my EDC learning, has been fairly innocuous in nature. Perhaps others would argue this position is naïve, but generally, I am confident that the algorithms throughout the lifestream have always steered my learning in positive directions, offering sensible and useful links to capture my interest, and further learning. This was mostly frequently noted use within my use of YouTube, whereby recommendations normally had congruence with the prior clip, that I had watched or searched for. Whilst my algorithmic play noted the problematic nature of this within other settings, and how this could entrench users in a negative cycle of confirmation bias, within an educational setting there are real benefits to this for the potential it has in furthering learning. In short, I have not felt undertones of subliminal messaging encoded into algorithmic suggestions throughout the duration of this course.  That said, I do not deny the existence of algorithmic power, and the manipulative qualities they possess. Indeed, ‘algorithms …are the new power brokers in society’ (Diakopoulos, 2013 cited in Kitchin, 2017). That cannot be denied.

Finally, I wonder where algorithmic governance leaves education, particularly high school children, many of whom are happy to mindlessly watch clip after clip on YouTube, or click on every link or suggestion within their social media?  I wonder how much this impacts on their ability to harness enquiry skills or ask valid questions, and steer the direction of their own learning. Do the algorithms exert more influence on their learning pathway than their own processes of enquiry and logical thinking? Are the algorithms encouraging students to think less, and follow more? Is this further contributing to a spoon-feeding, instant gratification culture, that appears to be growing in younger generations? Furthermore, if the algorithms lead students down an incongruous route, how much time would be wasted in watching superfluous clips or heading up ‘digital blind alleys’, before a student is able to realign with the task in hand? Perhaps, with this in mind, it is incumbent upon the educator to ensure that use of this media is mitigated or digital tasks are directed more so by the teacher, than that of an algorithm.

Beer, D. (2017) The social power of algorithms, Information, Communication & Society, 20:1, 1-13, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1216147

Kithcin, R. 2017. Thinking Critically about Researching Algorithms. Information, Communication & Society, 20:1, 14-29, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1154087

Knox, J. 2015. Algorithmic Cultures. Excerpt from Critical Education and Digital Cultures. In Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. M. A. Peters (ed.). DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_124-1

Week 10 – Algorithmic Play


Choosing my social media – For my algorithmic play activity, I decided to focus on my most frequently visited social media site – YouTube. I watch a variety of YouTube clips almost every evening as one of my primary sources of news, and I often follow my selected pathway of clips, as recommended by the YouTube algorithms.
That said, I was interested to monitor more closely how the algorithms ‘guide’ me in my recommended viewing and personal decision making, and whether or not, I was actually in the driving seat.

I decided to start with the type of video that I watch almost every day – The View. This is a daytime American talk show, co-hosted by four women, including Whoopi Goldberg. The show is highly political in nature, and discussion amongst the women mostly centres around American politics, and in particular the Trump Administration.

Methodology – Before starting the algorithmic play I decided to delete the watched history, to avoid algorithmic influence from previous YouTube sessions and other videos I had watched.
When the sidebar of recommendations was shown, I opted for clips that piqued my own personal interests and I always chose one from the top six recommended videos. I continued to click through the recommendations for over 30 videos, and I recorded where it took me. The results of this pathway are shown on the Timetoast attached to this blog.

Reflections – It is clear that starting the algorithmic play with a television programme such as the View, resulted a preordained pathway being lain by the algorithms. The View, as mentioned, is highly political with three-quarters of the panel coming from liberal, left-wing backgrounds. The programme has a high degree of ‘Trump-bashing’ and although there is one Republican panellist, Megan McCain, unlike the majority of the Republican Party, she is an ardent outspoken critic of President Trump. The initial clip I watched focused on the Trump Administration’s lacklustre response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
It seems that the tenor and tone of this particular clip was highly influential on the subsequent recommended pathway suggested by the algorithms. Each of the clips that followed were imbued with the following themes:-

• Left-wing liberal news organisation e.g. Vox Media/ CNN/ MSNBC (20 clips)
• Anti-Trump (9 clips)
• Coronavirus Pandemic (7 clips)
• Race relations (4 clips)
• Brexit (2 clips)

At several points the algorithms had restricted my options, limiting what I could see and what I could choose for a period of time. In particular this happened when I selected the first of the Vox media clips. This resulted in being ‘stuck’ with only Vox choices to choose from for another 12 selections.
In order to change the options of the algorithm, I purposely selected a video clip that would create a new direction. This worked, and I was able to ‘escape’ the Vox loop and move onto content created by other organisations, although still within left wing, liberal media.

On reflection, it seems that there was certainly a loop of information, with the algorithms directing me to clips with very similar themes and information. At no time was I directed towards media such as Fox News or other right-wing media groups.

It is clear that with this type of ‘algorithmic power’ or ‘algorithmic governance’, there is threat of algorithms giving rise to confirmation bias in users. This is highly problematic, particularly in a society that is extremely polarised in political opinion.  How can society ably solve problems if it is unable to objectively see the other side of an argument? If algorithms do not show me alternative political opinion, how will I ever be able to understand opposing perspectives? This type of algorithmic echo chamber, is therefore very dangerous. This has congruence with the view put forward in by Rob Kitchin who states that “Far from being neutral in nature, algorithms construct and implement regimes of power and knowledge…. Algorithms are used to seduce, coerce… regulate and control: to guide and reshape how people… and objects interact with and pass through various systems… ” (Kitchin, 2017, 19).

Ethical Issues – There are a certainly some ethical issues to consider. For instance, there would be very little doubt, having seen my list of viewed videos, as to which end of the political spectrum I belonged. Could this data be misused or manipulated? Do my political affiliations no longer hold the same degree of privacy as they had done in the past, now that such data is widely available to large companies and organisations?

Another ethical consideration is how to disentangle between private and professional. As a user of YouTube both at home and at work, it is important to the ensure that the algorithms do not unnecessarily reveal private data and personal preferences in a professional setting, and so ensuring appropriate log ins are used in each of the settings.

Kithcin, R. (2017) Thinking Critically about Researching Algorithms. Information, Communication & Society, 20:1, 14-29, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1154087

Week 9 Summary – Algorithmic Bias

David Beer raises the issue of the decision-making power of algorithms and identifies that there is need to understand how algorithms shape organisation, institutional, commercial and governmental decision making (Beer, 2017). There are criticisms of those holding the view that of algorithms as ‘guarantors of objectivity, authority and efficiency’ and with others arguing that due to the fact algorithms are created by humans, they embed layers of social and political bias into their code, that result in decisions that are neither benign or neutral. Furthermore, these “decisions hold all types of values, many of which openly promote racism, sexism and false notions of meritocracy” (Noble, 2018). As such ‘algorithms produce worlds rather than objectively account for them, and are considered manifestations of power’ (Knox, 2015).

It was this notion of algorithms bias that drove my inquiry in this week’s section of the lifestream blog and there was no shortage of social media commentary on the issue. Cathy O’ Neil identifies this in her YouTube clip and supports the view by claiming that algorithms are not objective and that they are merely ‘opinions embedded into math’. Perhaps most interesting, was the work of Joy Buolamwini, whose investigation  artificial intelligence face recognition software, has unearthed inherent racist and sexist elements from its developers.

To what extent are racism values embedded into algorithms?
Joy Buolamwini’s has carried out extensive research on how algorithmic code determining facial recognition, fails to recognise black women – Click the image for more detail

However, where does this notion of algorithmic bias intersect with education and what type of educational landscape will the algorithms produce? With the rise of anti-plagiarism software, and the growth of intelligent teaching and learning platforms such as Century Tech, many educators fear that there is incremental dependency on algorithms within schools and colleges, particularly for assessment. This is certainly not without difficulties or tension. Ben Williamson claims that many studies have highlighted inaccuracies in the Turnitin software, which many institutions use to cross-check student work, incorrectly branding some students as cheats, whilst missing other, and very clear instances of plagiarism. This ultimately leads to a growing level of distrust between youngsters and their educators, and is responsible for breaking down relationships as the use of technology, and algorithmic dependency increases. How else will students and teachers be negatively impacted by algorithmic biases (or errors) and, as dependency on these tools continues to grow, will educators be able to even identify when this happens, let alone how to mitigate it?


  • Beer, D. (2015) The social power of algorithms, Information, Communication & Society, 20:1, 1 – 13, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.121614
  • Knox, J. 2015. Algorithmic Cultures. Excerpt from Critical Education and Digital Cultures. In Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. M. A. Peters (ed.). DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_124-1
  • Noble, S. (2018) Algorithms of Oppression, NYU Press, New York.
  • Williamson, B. (2019). Automating mistrust. Code Acts in Education

“Algorithms are still made by human beings, and those algorithms are still pegged to basic human assumptions… They’re just automated assumptions. And if you don’t fix the bias, then you are just automating the bias.” https://t.co/dWrDdN1FyL

Liked on YouTube: The Truth About Algorithms | Cathy O’Neil

Some key takeaways from this short clip, that have congruence with the themes of the Algorithmic Cultures block.

Cathy O’ Neil argues that algorithms being presented as objective fact is a lie. She says ‘a much more accurate description of an algorithm is that it’s an opinion embedded in math“.  “There’s always a power element here” she adds, and that “every time we build an algortihms, we curate our data, we define success, we embed our values into algorithms.”


Algorithms of Oppression

“Part of the challenge of understanding algorithmic oppression is to understand the mathematical formulations to drive automated decisions are made by humans being. While we often think in terms such as ‘big data’ and ‘algorithms’ as being benign, neutral, or objective, they are anything but. The people who make these decisions hold all types of values, many of which openly promote racism, sexism and false notions of meritocracy, which is well documented in the studies of Silicon Valley and other tech corridors”

– Noble, S, (2018) Algorithms of Oppression

Article showing congruence with Rob Kithcin’s view that ‘we are entering widespread era of algorithmic governance, where algorithms will play an increasing role in the exercise of power’ (Kitchin, 2017) https://t.co/A2hbTjrAsl via @Technology_NS

Week 8 Summary – How Algorithms Shape Our Lives

The origins of the word alogrithm – click for a great BBC clip

The TEDx presentation by Kevin Slavin in this week’s lifestream, argues that we “need to rethink a little bit about the role of contemporary math… its transition from being something we extract and derive from the world to something that actually starts to shape it – the world around us and the world inside us.” This has congruence with the themes being explored in the core reading that posits in recent years algorithms have become “increasingly involved in the arranging, cataloguing and ranking of people, places and knowledge… They are becoming increasingly ubiquitous actors in the global economy, as well as our social and material worlds.” (Knox, 2015).  In essence, algorithms are now major actors in contemporary human society and culture.

On personal reflection it is evident that algorithms are highly influential in my own life, and are certainly shaping my every day thoughts and actions. I need only consider my Netflix recommendations to see tangible evidence of how an algorithm can shape day-to-day decision making. This was surmised in both news articles in the lifestream, each which explored the incredible power of major organisations such as Amazon and the impact they have had, and continue to have, on contemporary culture. As the Observer article recognises, this provides these companies with tremendous power, and raises the question of algorithmic objectivity. Are automated processes completely free of biases, or are they, as many would suggest enmeshed with corporate or political biases?

Knox, J. (2015) Algorithmic Cultures. Excerpt from Critical Education and Digital Cultures. In Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. M. A. Peters (ed.). DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_124-1

Liked on YouTube: How algorithms shape our world – Kevin Slavin

Some strong links with the core reading in this YouTube clip that identifies the ‘pervasive’ nature of alogorithms and how they shape and mould every day life.  Similar to what David Beer argues that “algorithmic systems feed into people’s lives, shaping what they know, who they know, what they discover and what they experience.  The power of algorithms here is in their ability  to make choices, to classify, to sort, to order and to rank.” (Beer, 2017, 6)


Beer, D. (2017) The social power of algorithms, Information, Communication & Society, 20:1, 1 – 13.

Week 7 Summary – Results of the Digital Ethnography

On completion of my ethnographic study, I have uncovered, in one particular discussion thread of my chosen MOOC, a certain degree of ‘shared value’ –  a key component of online community, stipulated by Mark Wills’ in his TEDx speech. This was evident in the commonality and repetitive nature of the language being used throughout the thread, from post to post. The visual results of this are shown in the word cloud in the attached ThingLink, along with commentary of the methodology and results.

Some key reflections:- In carrying out this study was frustrated by the fact that I encountered far more limitation in the digital ethnography than anticipated. Firstly, finding a MOOC discussion forum that engendered enough dialogue to allow for a study to take place was perhaps the biggest challenge. And once this was finally done, being able to immerse myself fully into the MOOC discussion was not always possible due to time constraints – as such I found myself acting as a passive observer, rather than an active participant. Furthermore, the qualitative nature of the results made it difficult to analyse and draw precise conclusions. This is likely due to the fact that the study was small in nature. Had this been scaled up and carried out over a longer period of time, a clearer perspective of community and shared values could have been extrapolated from the results. Consequently, I do not feel that the results of my ethnography give a true representation of the community culture that exists within the MOOC forum, but merely a tiny fragment of what it may be.

Week 6 Summary – Conducting an Ethnography

Some suggestions for studying an ethnography – Click on the image

Christine Hine argues that ethnography is ‘a methodology that offers little in the way of prescription to its practitioners and has no formula for judging the accuracy of its results’ (Hine, 2000, 3). To someone such as myself, having never carried out an ethnographic study before, these words are not particularly reassuring. However, as I have been working towards the completion of my digital ethnography, I have been buoyed by the abundant presence of online advice regarding the skills, motivations and qualities required to conduct a study of this nature. Consequently, this week’s lifestream blog has mostly crystallised around these pockets of guidance. ‘How to do Ethnography’ by the Visual Communicating Guy (VCG) was particularly useful in how it established eight clear steps in conducting ethnographic research. Although, as the scope of our digital ethnography is limited and small-scale, some of those steps (e.g. Step 6 &7) are not pertinent. The YouTube video of Professor Sienna Craig, outlining the ethical considerations was also very helpful in establishing some of  the ethical parameters that I should be considering, as I continue to observe and be a part of my online community.

However, it was the YouTube videos by Robert Kozinets and Daniel Miller that were most pivotal in helping to bridge the gap between the ethnographic aspect of the study and the world of digital education. As Miller states the study of anthropology, in its desire to understand people, is essentially the most appropriate crucible for understanding the world of digital.

Hine, C. (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, in Hine, C. Virtual Ethnography, pp. 41 – 66, London: Sage

Liked on YouTube: Digital Anthropology Daniel Miller

This YouTube clip was excellent! It really helped me to contextualise the relationship between ethnography and the digital studies. Leading anthropologist Daniel Miller, from University College London,  says ‘the very best way of way of understanding the digital in as much as when we talk about the digital, clearly we’ve got to be interested in the consequences that it has for people” and “that is really why this is the right domain for anthropology.”


Week 5 Summary – Liberating MOOCs, redefining education

As I delved further into the study of my chosen MOOC, my social media postings in the life stream reflected a growing curiosity in the possibility that massive open learning of this nature, is potentially offering a new route to formal academic certification. Indeed, with this shift in paradigm Bayne et. al (2019) argue that “the open education movement has predominantly framed its mission in terms of ‘freedom from’, characterising educational institutions as rigid, antiquated, inaccessible and ultimately ‘closed’, in opposition to which the open movement is cast as a disruptive liberation”. (Bayne et al, 2019, 50) This has congruence with the TEDx YouTube talk by Jonathan Schaeffer, who discusses the disruptive nature that MOOCs have on traditional learning in tertiary education, and examines the manner in which this routeway to formal education could be actualised.

This question of ‘disruptive liberation’ is further examined in the BBC Sounds podcasts by asking ‘could these new free online courses open higher education to parts of the world in a way that’s been unthinkable up until now or are MOOCs an experiment that could destroy centuries of tradition?’ In the second of the two podcasts – Measuring MOOCS by Science AAAS, quantifiable measures are shared to demonstrate how disrupting and liberating, MOOCs can actually be. By sharing some of the enrolments figures of the popular Introduction to Computer Science MOOC at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (an impressive 350k), it is possible to understand the power that the MOOCs have in creating ‘freedom from’ the traditional institution.


Bayne, S., Evans, P., Ewins, R., Knox, J., Lamb, J., Macleod, H., O’Shea, C., Ross, J., Sheail, P., Sinclair, C. (2019 DRAFT). The Manifesto for Teaching Online.

BBC Sounds: The Documentary: MOOCs

BBC Sounds Podcast: Click to access podcast

Some key takeaways from the podcast:-

“Could these new free online university courses open higher education up to parts of the world in a way that’s been unthinkable up until now, or are MOOCs an experiment that could destroy centuries of tradition?”

Amazing fact – at Harvard more people have signed up to its MOOCs than have graduated in its 300 year history!!

Comment on Block 1 – Cybercultures visual artefact #MSCEDC https://t.co/WRDuiYR03A by Valerian

This was great Brian and watching it again I cannot help but be reminded of the ways technology can be used in so many ways, both for the benefit of others or to enhance bodies and make them ‘super’. Your montage was very well executed and the choice of music and font worked extremely well. Like any other ‘development’, good or bad intentions are in the minds of whoever wields them and there is no use ‘blaming’ technology.

source https://edc20.education.ed.ac.uk/bkerr/2020/02/01/block-1-cybercultures-visual-artefact-mscedc-https-t-co-wrduiyr03a/#comment-23

Comment on ‘Val Muscat’s EDC Lifestream’ by vmuscat

Comments on Val’s Visual Artefact

I was really impressed by this and I think you have shown the juxtaposition of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ spaces within education very well. I would posit that, even in today’s 21st century classrooms, there are still significant numbers of educators who would be far more at home sitting on the left-hand desk, than that of the one of the right. I can immediately think of a handful of individuals in my own institution who would fall into this category – the proud Luddites, digital laggards and techno-sceptics, who resist, bemoan and detract at even this tiniest suggestion of technological advancement within their teaching practice.

However, your image could also represent the theme of digital divides that exists in technology enhanced learning, and this is one of the key themes explored in the Digital Education in a Global Context module. It considers how there are deep regional and global divisions in the way in which technology is accessed and utilised for education – the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and all those in between. It also examines how, as technology advances, there comes rapidly changing cultural norms, and discusses how the need to keep apace with those norms creates a high degree of friction amongst educators and their students. I wonder how many learning spaces and educators around the world are sitting comfortably on the right hand desk? Very thought provoking 😊


Ewins, R. (2019) White Paper in Digital Divides, from Digital Education in a Global Context module.

Comment on ‘Charles’s EDC Lifestream’ by cboyle

Comments on Charles’s Visual Artefact

Hi Charles,

Thank you for your beautiful pictures. I have been to Budapest many times, and I have an apartment just near Heroes Sq, so it holds a very special place in my heart.

As a teacher of secondary history, your quotation had real poignancy for me, as it is something I often proclaim to my students, particularly when teaching certain topics that show humans making the same mistakes over (WW1 followed by WW2, African slavery in America followed by the Jim Crow etc). It also brought me in mind of similar quotation from German philosopher Georg Hegel who said ‘We learn from history, that we do not learn from history’.
I would echo what Jeremy has said about how this applies to digital education, in that it seems that there are we are perhaps repackaging the same thing and delivering it over and over again with a nothing more than a rebrand.

I would also extend those comments to education on a wider scale. Every few years teachers are promised paradigm shifts in educational practice through new delivery methods, pedagogies and approaches to learning. But speaking to older colleagues, these only engender a feeling of déjà vu, and a ‘been there, done that’ mentality.

But I wonder, does the ever-changing vernacular of digital education really matter? Surely, the rapidly evolving nature of technology is what is significant in making educational change. Where pedagogies and schools of thought can be cyclical, emerging technologies can only give an upward and onward trajectory to be truly transformative in education.

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana)


Comment on ‘Jon Jack’s EDC Lifestream’ by jjack

Great video Jon. At first, I thought this is what had really happened in the production of your visual artefact, so you had me going all the way to the end!

You say: ‘some techno evangelists will believe that all thing technical will enhance the experience regardless of how it’s used

I have known a few of these individuals in my time in education and they are difficult characters to manage. I used to know one head of school, who was such an ardent believer in the power of technology for pushing boundaries in education, that he brought in any technological development he came across. The only problem was that this done was indiscriminately and without due diligence, and resulted in a number of platforms and technologies working in direct competition to each other. The result was an ‘gordian knot’ of tech, that was difficult, and in some cases near impossible, to disentangle.


Comment on ‘Adrienne O’ Mahoney’s EDC Lifestream’ by amahoney

Comment on Adrienne’s Visual Artefact

Hi Adrienne. Thank you for sharing your visual artefact. ‘The cyborg is a feature of social reality, as well as science fiction.’ This theme has also had an impact on me, and has helped me to realign my understanding of what we mean by the term cyborgs. Prior to starting the course, I had little concept of the ‘social reality’ of cyborgs and had not fully considered the real world application of the terminology. The use of this quotation in your artefact had  poignancy for me.

However, I would challenge your assertion that popular culture still depicts female cyborgs as vulnerable. I would ask you to reconsider this by looking at the recent examples of the female Terminator (the TX) in Terminator 3 (2003), as well as the Seven of Nine character from Star Trek: Voyager series and more recently Star Trek: Picard (1997 – 2001, 2020). Both are represented through a strong and tenacious characterisation. Is there perhaps a wind of change, or are these anomalies in how the female cyborg is represented in popular culture?



Comment on ‘Teaching @DigitalCultures’ by dyeats

Comments on Human Digital Screenome Memoir

A really great visual artefact here David. Thank you for sharing this. I had never heard of the Human Screenome Project before, but it certainly makes me consider its practical use and potential impact.

I recently delivered an assembly to our Year 10 students on the topic of ‘screen time’. As a prop in the assembly I shared the data from the app, Moment, on my iPhone, to visualises how much screen-time I had personally spent on my device over the 4 weeks prior. As it turned out, it was quite a lot and that didn’t include hours spent on my iPad, laptop or desktop etc. It was quite shocking actually!

I also couldn’t understand specifically what I had been doing over that time… It felt like a lot of ‘lost’ hours. So, something of this nature, which adds an extra layer of data on the specific patterns of online activity, would certainly have been useful. There is definitely a practical application that this type of data could generate for users.

That said, I don’t think I would have been so willing to share that visual data with my audience, and so privacy is definitely an issue to consider.

Thank you again for sharing this.


Cybercultures Visual Artefact Feedback – In reply to dyeats #MSCEDC https://t.co/WRDuiYR03A by bkerr

In reply to dyeats

Thank you for your comments David.

Yes, I did see ‘Years and Years’ when it first screened. However, I was far more enticed to the programme by its socio-political storylines rather than its commentary on the development of technology. In fact, as the series progressed and the daughter went ever further down her transhumanist journey, I became increasingly frustrated as a viewer and felt that the show was deviating from what was a hard-hitting imagination of a (not-too-distant or implausible) dystopia created by Trumpian policy, Brexit Britain, the migrant crisis and a whole host of other ‘real-life’ contemporary issues. At the time, the transhuman storyline just didn’t ring quite true for me.

It’s odd how my perception of the show has changed since starting this course and I have delved more and more into scholarly analysis of transhumanism and posthumanism. Having re-evaluated the characterisation of the transhumanist daughter it is possible to see that her extropian ideals are actually widely mirrored by many youngsters today, and the idea of biohacking is gaining traction amongst younger people. The scene where the wonky cybernetic eye implant that had installed by back-street charlatans, may not be that far removed from the reality of our near future.

I think you also raise some interesting points here about the ownership of technology, and how there may tensions that could arise, particularly in terms of governmental/ corporate ownership, and how much control they could assert over posthumans. As Hayles states, ‘consider the six-million dollar man… As his name implies, the parts of the self are owned, but they are owned precisely because they were purchased, not because ownership is a natural condition”. She goes to onto say, “similarly, the presumption that there is agency, desire or will belonging to the self and clearly distinguished from the “wills of others” is undercut in the posthuman, for the posthuman’s collective heterogenous quality implies a distributed cognition located in disparate parts that may be in only tenuous communication with one another.” How will we be able to reconcile this dichotomy between self and ownership in a posthuman world? Certainly, within an educational context, there is already tremendous challenge in regards to ownership of technology and how it could/should be used for educational purposes. How much more difficulty and tension will schools and colleges face, when these issues are being discussed within a transhumanist/posthuman environment?

Hayles, K. (1999) ‘Towards embodied virtuality’, in How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics, pp 1 – 24, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

source https://edc20.education.ed.ac.uk/bkerr/2020/02/01/block-1-cybercultures-visual-artefact-mscedc-https-t-co-wrduiyr03a/#comment-19

Cybercultures Visual Artefact Feedback – In reply to jknox

In reply to jknox.

I think you raise a very interesting point here Jeremy. Much of what has been discussed in terms of technological enhancements to humans has been from a wider social perspective. If we look at the issue from a narrower point of view, viz. technological enhancement of school children, I ponder what impact transhumanism would have on our education systems.
Take for instance the most basic of the ‘real life’ enhancements from my video – the insertion of a data chip into the back of an individual’s hand. What educational opportunities would this avail, should schools and colleges insist on turning their students into an army of mini-cyborgs? There would certainly be many benefits from an administrative point of view; for example, schools would be able to undertake expedient and instantaneous attendance as children walk through the school gates, an essential part of their safeguarding procedures. In addition to this, cashless cafeterias would ensure the speedy distribution of lunches, and collate data on the types of food children are eating, with this being visible to both parents and teachers. Furthermore, this could form the basis for health-based discussions and schemes of work centred around real-life consumption data. An implanted chip that recorded biometric data from the child’s body in the same manner as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, would also be highly valuable for PE departments in devising personalised fitness plans and class setting according to physical ability. The list of educational benefits could go on….

However, the ethical concerns surrounding what is being suggested here are glaringly obvious, particularly in reference to privacy, and Orwellian oversight of young people. As such, to my mind, the acceptance of this type of technical enhancement within mainstream education is a non-starter, certainly for primary and secondary aged children. I cannot imagine any teacher, senior manager, head of school, or politician that would be able to put forward a convincing enough ‘educational’ argument that would supersede the ethical implications of doing such a thing. The educational arguments are strong but surely the ethical considerations will always win for the parents and children.

Cybercultures Visual Artefact Feedback: In reply to Crouchipuss

In reply to Crouchipuss.

Thank you so much for you comments. I’m glad you enjoyed my visual artefact.

Yes, I was trying to encapsulate the view being argued by Knox (2015), that digital education has “largely shifted away from the phase of cybercultures, towards the view of an educational world in which technology is more firmly embedded, but importantly subservient to its human users”. The dystopian image of cybercultures and cyborgs, that has been diffused to us through science fiction, is exactly that – fiction! Knox says the “next phase of education and digital cultures reveals a pacification and instrumentalism of technology for predefined social ends”. I had hoped for the artefact in the latter half of the video, was able to represent this change in how cybercultures can viewed and imagined in more positive ways.

I think you draw a very interesting parallel regarding how those who have altered the human form through technology, aside those who had done so through gender reassignment. I agree that both would certainly receive prejudice rooted in ‘otherism’ and in the belief that the individual has done something ‘unnatural’. However, I think that perhaps fear and hatred of the cyborg is fuelled more from a mistrust of technology, as well as the augmented abilities that a technological enhancement may provide to a human. So whilst there are some similarities in the prejudice, I don’t think its exactly the same.


Week 4 Summary – Choosing a MOOC and thinking about the digital ethnography

The term MOOC was first coined in 2008. Stanford University offered its first MOOC in 2012, entitlted ‘An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ and had over 160k individuals enrol, with 20, 000 passing the course.

Choosing a MOOC – perhaps easier said than done! After initially opting for ‘An Age of Sustainable Development‘ through edX, I soon discovered that the online community within this particular MOOC was significantly lacking in dialogue in the discussion forums. As an alternative I decided to enrol in Holocaust: The Final Solution with Coursera. As a teacher of secondary history I was keen to further my own professional understanding of this topic, in parralel with developing my digital ethnography for this task.

My lifestream additions this week have focused on the broader theme of online community and how this differs from a corporeal community, as well as the development of collective intelligence within wiki sites. A common thread throughout the blog entries has been how to make an online community successful, when there are so many challenges and road blocks that can hinder success. The power of anonymity, intangibility and falsification were all highlighted as potential barriers and points of tension. Some of these entries touched on what had been outlined in Lister (2009) who identified the difficulty in creating community online when ‘participants are there but not there, in touch but never touching, as deeply connected as they are profoundly alienated’ (Lister, 2009, 209). Mark Willis’ TEDx presentation however, provides ways in which real online community can be achieved. He posits that when the following four criteria are met – longevity, shared values, community management and trust – then the group can truly be deemed as ‘community’.

As I progress in the ethnographic study of this MOOC, I am keen to examine whether my chosen course meets Willis’ 4 point criteria for community culture, particularly with that of shared values.  This is further strengthened in Saadatdoost et al (2014) who states that “culture components include shared beliefs, values, perspectives and practices.” I am therefore hoping to investigate how far the participants in this MOOC share values, and if so, what are these? How much do these values provide cohesion within and across the discussion forums? Also, are there tensions that arise due to the presence of disparate, incompatible values? And if so, how are these tensions diffused? Lots of interesting questions to take with me, as I move forward with my chosen MOOC.

Lister, M. (2009) ‘Networks, users and economics’ in New media: a critical introduction, pp163 – 236, London: Routledge

Saadatdoost, R., Sim. A., Mittal, N., Jafarkarimi, H. & Mei Hee, J. (2014) ‘A netnography study of MOOC Community’, PACIS 2014 Proceedings. 116. http://aisel.aisnet.org/pacis2014/116.

Liked on YouTube: The Online Community-A New Paradigm: Mark Wills at TEDxSanLuisObispo



Lister (2009) attempts to define the meaning of ‘online community’ in the context of an environment where ‘the participants are there but not there, in touch but never touching, as deeply connected as they are profoundly alienated’ (Lister, 2009, 209). Thus, this poses a number of challenges, for definitively identifing ‘online community’

Mark Willis’ TEDx aims to show how he believes a real community can be  fostered within an online setting, by focusing attention on 4 criteria for success – longevity, shared values, community management and trust.

Lister, M. (2009) ‘Networks, users and economics’ in New media: a critical introduction, pp163 – 236, London: Routlede





Liked on YouTube: “Introduction to communities of practice,” (Wenger-Trayner, 2015)

Saadatdoost et. al posit that “cohesion in a MOOC community is brought about by the domain of doubts, questions, new knowledge, experiences and the community of learners who meet people around the world with similar interests” (Saadatdoost, 2014, abstract). They go on to discussion how this community of practice, as outlined in the clip, has largely been left undiscussed in reference to the study of MOOCs. Interestingly, this clip fails to provide MOOCs as exemplification of where community of practice could be revealed.


Saadatdoost, Robab; Sim, Alex Tze Hiang; Mittal, Nitish; Jafarkarimi, Hosein; and Hee, Jee Mei, “A NETNOGRAPHY STUDY OF MOOC COMMUNITY” (2014). PACIS 2014 Proceedings. 116. http://aisel.aisnet.org/pacis2014/116




Week 3 Summary – Biohacking and Transhumanism

There are a growing number of Transhumanist socieities. Humanity + is one such organisation. It has over 6000 members in over 100 countries

This week my interest was piqued by the unusual practice of biohacking, and how this has contributed to the transhumanism discussion. Newton Lee, in The Transhumanist Handbook defines transhumanism as anyone that is “using science and technology to enhance or alter our body chemistry in order to stay healthy and be more in control of our lives.” (Lee, 2019, 5). The YouTube clips and tweets on biohacking from this week’s lifestream were certainly representative of this view, particularly in respect to the idea of greater control, which was predominant theme throughout most of the social media on this topic. As individuals merge their bodies with technology, ranging from RFID chips inserted into hands as a replacement to contactless debit cards, to more radical cases such as Tim Cannon’s (rather crude) forearm implant that records biometric data from his body, there was consensus amongst all biohackers – these experimental modifications had given them greater agency and control of their individual lives.

There is little doubt that biohacking is a growing trend, and the discussion on the BBC Sounds podcast, as well as the interviews with Michael Laufer and Eric Matzer from this week’s YouTube clips, supports this view.  However, many critics of biohacking argue that its growth will ultimately be limited to a niche subculture, and that the movement is unlikely to gain enough traction to became mainstream. Medical ethics and opposition on religious grounds will ultimately curb the movement and limit its potential to grow beyond the very curious.

Conversely, proponents of the movement claim that biohackers are extropians of human change and that by pushing these boundaries today, they are catalysing an inevitable movement towards posthumanism. However, this does raise some very important questions. If this transhumanist movement is an inevitability for the 21st century, what ethical issues must be considered as we progress down this road of human change? Should there be interventions to regulate the range of practices this encompasses and, if so, what should that regulation look like? And if this were to happen, how long will it take before we start to see the appearance of modification clinics on the high street, offering biohacker-esque body augmentations to a mainstream market? Biohackers would certainly argue that this will be sooner, rather than later.


  • Lee, N. (2019) ‘Brave New World of Transhumanism’ in The Transhumanism Handbook, Springer: Switzerland, p5.
  • ‘Transhumanism’ (10 February 2020) Wikipedia, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism (Accessed: 10 February 2020)

A dystopian novel that imagines the opposite of Lee’s vision of ‘more control’. Instead it shows an oppressive, divided society, examing the possible winners and losers of human immortality. An easy read but it has some links to the themes we have explored in the cybercultures.

Newton Lee in The Transhumanism Handbook (2019) defines transhumanism as ‘using science and technology to enhance or alter our body chemistry in order to stay healthy, and be in more control of our lives’. This brought to mind the novel The Suicide Club https://t.co/fmrRZVN58P

Liked on YouTube: Biohacker Explains Why He Turned His Leg Into a Hotspot | WIRED


Biohacker Michael Laufer recently had a 512GB drive implanted in his leg, which can store data, stream music or movies, and power a hot spot and mesh network. It’s called the PegLeg, and WIRED’s Daniel Oberhaus spoke with Laufer about the device and the field of biohacking.

For more of Daniel’s reporting on Laufer, his PegLeg and Biohacking technology, visit WIRED.com: https://ift.tt/2HAdH5o



Liked on YouTube: Experimenting with Biochip Implants


Humanity just made a small, bloody step towards a time when everyone can upgrade themselves towards being a cyborg. Of all places, it happened in the back room of a studio in the post-industrial German town of Essen.

It’s there that I met up with biohacker Tim Cannon, and followed along as he got what is likely the first-ever computer chip implant that can record and transmit his biometrical data. Combined in a sealed box with a battery that can be wirelessly charged, it’s not a small package. And as we saw, Cannon had it implanted directly under his skin by a fellow biohacking enthusiast, not a doctor, and without anesthesia.

Called the Circadia 1.0, the implant can record data from Cannon’s body and transfer it to any Android-powered mobile device. Unlike wearable computers and biometric-recording devices like Fitbit, the subcutaneous device is open-source, and allows for the user the full control over the data.


Week 2 Summary: Embodiment Relations and mobile technology

Just over half of children in the United States — 53 percent — now own a smartphone by the age of 11. And 84 percent of teenagers now have their own phones, immersing themselves in a rich and complex world of experiences that adults sometimes need a lot of decoding to understand (npr.org)

This week I was intrigued by the concept of embodiment, as it brought to mind some of the school students that I teach. A New Hope questioned ‘at what point do our bodies begin and end. How do we define our most intimate borders?” This has congruence with what Miller defines as embodiment relationship, in that “when technologies are being used, the tool and the user become one” and the object becomes “part of the body image and overall identify of the person” (Miller, 2011, 219). Vincent delves further into the theory of embodiment relation by examining the intimate relationship that many individuals have with their mobile devices. Citing the work of Richardson (2007), he outlines that the close proximity of mobile phones to the body and the manner in which they connect to a number of sensory functions creates a much more powerful connection to humans than any other type of technology we use.

This concept had significant influence on this week’s life-stream and I identified some YouTube clips that explored our increasingly complex relationship with mobiles, and how smartphone dependency has become a rapidly growing epidemic. I was particularly interested in the article that I tweeted from Psychology Today that argued the attachment of a young person to that of their mobile phone is akin to the relationship a child has with a teddy bear. I was further intrigued by the TEDx talks from Jeff Butler and Anastacia Dedykina who respectively delved into discussions of how mobiles phones change the way we think, and whether we could live without them.

In my school, this is particular concern of mine and despite the existence of a ‘silent and invisible’ mobile phone policy, I see youngsters walking around our campus carrying mobile phones as if the device was an appendage to their limb. There is no doubt that these youngsters have a deeply intimate relationship with their mobiles, and any suggestion of their removal can often lead to anxiety, and in some cases despair. As Vincent argues, the devices are very clearly an extension of themselves and the social platforms they are accessing are reflections of their identity and self. Therefore to forcibly remove the technology would be tantamount a technological amputation.

However, the question remains as to how much this increasingly symbiotic relationship humans have with mobile technology, will actually contribute to human development? Does the embodiment relationship enhance our ability to grow into more advanced versions of humanity, or does this desecrate humanity and stymie its potential to flourish?

Miller, V. (2011) The Body and Information Technology in Miller, V. Understanding digital culture pp. 207 – 223, London: Sage

Very sad, but interesting article in the Guardian today. Do our daily interactions with technology mean that we are all gradually curating an indelible digital version of one’s self? Our own digital legacy of life https://t.co/EeqJYdYbzI

Great article on why Japanese do not fear robots to the same extent as the West. It attributes the religion of Shinto, which affixes spirits to humans, animals and inanimate objects, as one of the major factors. ‘All things have a bit of soul’ #MSCEdc https://t.co/tnWzIL9vFg

@harMonica1 @YouTube .. our school due to the essential and transformative role it has within their education. I think its more important to think about how we manage the use of technology for youngsters so that they are educated about best practice and appropriate use.

@harMonica1 @YouTube I also teach children, but older students in secondary. Their lives are imbued with technology and, sadly, I am regularly witness to its negative impacts – social disengagement, cyberbullying, tech addiction etc. That said, I could not in good conscience ever remove it from…

@JemMeganMay Fab article Jemima! It certainly makes me ponder ethical issues in such developments. Although I think that if technological boundaries can be pushed to this limit, humans will always attempt to do so, even when our ethical guidance suggests we shouldn’t. Thanks for sharing

Liked on YouTube: Could you live without a smartphone? | Anastasia Dedyukhina | TEDxWandsworth

https://youtu.be/uNQujCwCu88 Anastasia Dedyukhina ditched her smartphone, together with her senior international career in digital marketing, when she realized how dependent she had become on the gadget. Today she acts as a business mentor, supporting ethical tech startups, and runs Consciously Digital, helping companies and individuals be more productive and less stressed in an age of digital distraction. In her talk, Anastasia will explain why we feel the uncontrollable urge to check our smartphones all the time and share the valuable lessons she learned and the tips that helped her find the balance between her online and offline life.

Having worked for 12+ years in senior digital marketing positions for global media and internet brands, and easily spending 16 hours a day connected and even sleeping with her phone, Anastasia eventually realised she needed to unplug to remain healthy and productive.
Giving up her smartphone was the first step to creating Consciously Digital – a London-based training and coaching company that helps individual and corporate clients be more productive online, so that they can have more time for things that matter.
Anastasia is a frequent speaker at global internet conferences on the topics of ethical tech and digital detox, as well as marketing in the age of digital distraction. She blogs for Huffington Post about digital detox, and is currently finalising her first book on the same subject. Anastasia was born in Russia, lived in six different countries, and has an MBA from SDA Bocconi (Italy) and NYU Stern (USA), and a PhD from Moscow State University.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

It identifies the fine line educators must tread between the advantageous application of technology as a tool to enhance learning, against the often dangerous pitfalls and losses, that its use (and overuse) may result in.

As a teacher in secondary education, this video has resonated with me. Youngsters are increasingly viewing mobile technology as extensions of themselves, and as suggested by Miller (2009) have ‘achieved an intimacy with their users that other technologies have yet to match’

Week 1 Summary – Thinking about cybernetics

About 12, 000 individuals in the UK (inlcuding my father) wear a cochlear implant. That’s 12,000 cyborgs to EDC students!

Upon reading The Body and Information Technology (Miller, 2011), my interest was piqued in the manner in which the ‘cyborg’ was represented. The terminology, as a result of popular culture and dystopian notions of cybernetics, has often been framed as something to fear, with the term being imbued with pejorative connotations. Citing Gray et. al’s idea that by using technology as a means to restore, normalise, enhance and reconfigure the human body, it is possible to view the notion of cyborgs through an entirely different prism. Ten years ago my father was lucky enough to receive a cochlear implant on the National Health Service after years of degeneration in his hearing. Prior to the operation his hearing had diminished to such low levels that had essentially rendered him severely deaf. The implant to restore his hearing was life-changing and this ‘normalising’ technology significantly improved the quality of my father’s life. His hearing was restored to such a level that the was able to once again hear the sound of a spoon clinking against the side of a mug, as he stirred sugar into his tea – an everyday noise that he had not heard for years. Until I read the core paper, I have never viewed my father as a ‘cyborg’ but Miller has certainly put forward a reasonable case that has helped realign my perspective on this. Imagining cyborgs as individuals who have benefited from technology to improve the quality of their lives, rather than a traditional view often put forward in science fiction, establishes a more positive framework for understanding the complex relationship between humans and machine. This was very influential in my lifestream this week, with my inaugural tweeted about cochlear implants and cybernetics from the Ear Institute.

That said, there are possible ethical concerns on the horizon with this technology – as auditory cybernetics have developed over the past decade, my father’s device has become increasingly connected to the digital world. He can now connect his cochlear to Bluetooth and is able to attune the device to his mobile phone, laptop and television. This has brought me to wonder whether, in the not-too-distant future, humans who do not suffer from acute deafness, will be choosing to voluntarily implant the technology in order to enhance their connectivity to digital environments. This of course raises a gamut of ethical concerns over the nature of voluntary augmentations on the human body. Is this something that should be prevented from happening? And if so, can it be stopped?

Miller, V. (2011) “The Body and Information Technology”, from Miller, V. Understanding Digital Culture pp. 207 – 223, London: Sage.

@Irene72767440 Interestingly, this was the same Olympics that, now disgraced runner, Oscar Pistorius took part in the main race. Critics argued that his prosthetic ‘blades’ gave him an unfair advantage over his able bodied competitors!

@Irene72767440 Absolutely, there’s no doubt the intention of the campaign was to was to emphasise strength of character rather that physical enhancement. That said, its difficult not to reflect on the idea of homo faber, the maker and user of technology, and the resulting symbiosis that occurs

Simmel (1971)… characterised the human desire to manipulate inorganic matter and create tools and machines as a way of overcoming bodily boundaries and limitations in the pursuit of physical transcendence’.

Just read Vincent (2011) ‘The Body and Information Technology’. Fascinating stuff… My father received a cochlear implant in 2010. A means of using technology for to ’normalise’ his condition. I have never viewed him as a cyborg until now https://t.co/w1QKVUFQni

Me, myself and I

Before we get properly started on the business of lifestreaming, I thought I would briefly introduce myself.

My name is Brian Kerr and I am a teacher of history and geography at the leading British international School in Qatar, where I have been living since 2010.  I have the added responsibly of being Head of Digital Learning for our Primary and Secondary campuses, so this is what motivates me to learn more about digital education.

I have been enrolled on the Digital Education programme with Edinburgh University since September 2018, and have completed the IDEL course and Digital Education in a Global Context.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Educational and Digital Culture has in store for the weeks and months ahead.