McLuhan’s Tetrad

McLuhan’s Tetrad comprises 4 laws of media that can be used to analyse the effects of technological change on society, rather than the causes.

Timothy Kraft describes the tetrad as:

Enhance
The technology must enhance some capability of the person. The medium is an extension of the person.

Retrieve
The result is a retrieval of some earlier service or capability that was lost and is now brought back into play in a new form.

Obsolesced
What is pushed aside and made obsolescent.

Reverse
If the new media is taken to extreme what will result that reverses the original characteristics of the media when it was first introduced.

While the first three of the tetrad seem quite obvious to me, the fourth, “reverse” has troubled me somewhat.  McLuhan suggests that a medium “overheats”, or reverses into an opposing form, when taken to its extreme.

Reading articles of how people have interpreted and applied reversal to other medium has caused some confusion, as I think many who have written about the Reverse law of the tetrad may have misunderstood its meaning.  Or perhaps it is just different interpretations of what McLuhan defines as the reversal.  Or more likely, maybe I have it all wrong. 🙂 After reading through some of the Canadian Library Archive notes about McLuhan’s work, and listening to a radio interview with Nina Sutton in 1975, it became more clear to me.  McLuhan says that when a medium is pushed to extremes, it reverses or flips into an alternate form.  In an excerpt of an interview with Nina Sutton hosted on the Library and Archives Canada webiste, McLuhan discusses the revolution of the steam printing press to the telegraph press.  When the telegraph press emerged, the way that people wrote for newspapers changed immediately and flipped.  The type of writing that was required for the telegraph was inverted so that all the very important information was transmitted first sentence, and then all the other information followed in order or most importance.  This was due to the risk of the transmission being interrupted, so that the critical information had the lowest risk of being lost.

The misunderstanding of the Reverse is derived from the word “extreme”.  I wonder whether the flipping or reversing is not a result of extremes of adoption as seems to be alluded in examples online such as here or even here where the more it is used, a flipping effect occurs. I take from McLuhan’s examples, the demonstration that it is extreme changes to the medium, rather than the application thereof that is the catalyst for the reversal.  I don’t know whether this is significant or not.  The flips that McLuhan speaks of are in response to extreme changes in the medium, that then have extreme impact on their use.  So the flipping of the steam press was a result of introducing the telegraph press, rather than changes in how they used the original steam press or how much the stream press was used.

A different take on an analogy for McLuhan’s press example for flipping or reverse, is with the mobile phone as described by Library and Archives Canada.  Mobile phones changed things a lot and brought to prominence aural communication, over written anywhere anytime.  However, the mobile phone taken to extremes saw the advent of SMS texting, which became very popular and evolved as a result of the high cost of mobile telephony.  SMS Text Messaging quickly became much more frequent than mobile phone calls.  So the mobile phone taken to the extreme (at the time) has flipped the prominence of aural communication to short written messages, perhaps akin to the telegraph.  Of course mobile phones have evolved considerably more since text messaging, and McLuhan in his radio interview with Nina highlighted the fact that there has been many “flips” in the printing press leading up to the 1975 interview.  So extremes seem to be able to persistently take on new heights again and again, flipping as they evolve.

Looking at internet technologies is considerably harder than the examples of printing presses and mobile phones, because the rate of change is significantly faster, and because of the modern convergences of technologies.  I also wonder whether many of these technologies have not yet reached the extremes necessary to cause a reversal.  Dan Pontefract’s article highlights the following reversals for Learning 2.0 as a medium:

  • Everyone is an expert
  • Content & opinion overload
  • 90-9-1 hypothesis
  • Time mismanagement
  • Learning groupthink
  • Loss of certified company staff

I suggest that each of these items is part of the extends or enhances category.  These are aspects of learning 2.0 that are enhanced, intensified, made possible, or accelerated as a result of the learning 2.0 medium’s introduction.  They are just some of the negative outcomes that sit along-side the positive ones, and likely emerged around the same time.  In other words as learning 2.0 extended positive things like formal classroom/eLearning, Social Networking/Web 2.0, Traditional Corporate University, and so on, it also extended the everyone is an expert paradigm, content & opinion overload and so on.

So what would I consider the reversals for learning 2.0?  Well I guess it depends on context.  My context in higher education and curriculum development appears different to Dan’s article which uses terms such as training which makes me think of VET type education rather than education via the academy.  This assumption may be incorrect of course.  Nevertheless, from a university context, the first thing that comes to mind in terms of pushing learning 2.0 to the extreme is the explosion of the MOOC concept.  Within higher education, MOOCs have flipped the learning 2.0 medium by breaking the mould of the traditional university course as being closed and elitist, to open and accessible.  It is the MOOC that has pushed learning 2.0 to extremes that has caused this flip, rather than the amount of people engaged in learning 2.0 in higher education.

The idea of the reverse law sings to the swings and round-a-bouts we see in technological circles.  McLuhan’s tetrad is a fascinating construct for analysing the influences of technology on society.

 

McLuhan says the medium is the message

McLuhan is probably most popularly known for his theory succinctly posited “The medium is the message”.  Federman offers a very clear explanation of this concept in his article “What is the meaning of the medium is the message?”  Federman explains that McLuhan considers the medium in quite broad terms, more so than perhaps first impressions give of this famous statement.  In particular, McLuhan considers anything that is an extension of ourselves as a medium.  So medium is more broad than human communication, and can encompass any technology that extends our physical and intellectual essences.  Federman puts it well when he states: “… since some sort of change emerges from everything we conceive or create, all of our inventions, innovations, ideas and ideals are McLuhan media.”

There are examples of “the medium is the message” everywhere in modern society.  For instance, the rise of social media has seen changes in television entertainment programs.  While in the past, some programs might have had a “mailbox” for you to post a letter or more recently an email, containing your thoughts and opinions on a matter, there would then be a delay until the next broadcast where these letters would be selectively read on-air.  In the past year or two, more new and diverse approaches to interacting with audiences have occurred afforded by social media.  Twitter was one of the first medium’s to be used to facilitate “talk-back” or back-channels for live television programs, typically syndicated across the bottom of the television screen.  Question and Answer from Australia’s national broadcaster, The ABC famously (within Australia) use the QandA hashtag to denote tweets relating to the political television program.

 

 

In the past week, Australian television programs are now making use of a service called zeebox.com.  This provides even tighter integration with the television format where the television programs can have their own “space” within the zeebox medium itself – the cloud service.  It is also mobile enabled so viewers can participate in television programs no matter where they may be viewing them.  It is also an approach to stem the flow of viewers resorting to digital video recorders to playback television programs, and skip the ads while they are at it.  The use of social media offers an incentive to be present at the live broadcast, and consume those wonderful advertisements that keep the television network executives happy.  McLuhan is quoted in Federman as saying “a ‘message’ is, ‘the change of scale or pace or pattern’ that a new invention or innovation ‘introduces into human affairs.'”.  This change in television programming would have been an unintended consequence of social media at inception. There are many other examples that demonstrate McLuhan’s theory.

OERs: Publishing Software – Open source or Open API

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba.

I have been asked to comment on the use of “free” open source applications in the context of OERs.  I blogged about this just recently.  My classmate, Stu has responded to the same question in his blog post where he discusses the virtues of open source software in the creation of content in Education. Comparisons have also been drawn between the virtues of open source software, and open educational resources.  It is true that there are some similarities in the spirit of each of these models of publishing and sharing.  Like me in my blog post, Stu highlights the benefits of free technology such as Google Apps in education. However, a clear distinct needs to be made – Google Apps is not open source software.

Google Apps is part of a new breed of software known as cloud computing software.  It brings new ways of sharing and re-using information.  While in spirit, cloud computing software appears to be “open source”, it is in fact typically “open API“.  So what is an API?  In short, it is a published and standardised way for computer programs to interact with one another, typically on the web.

An example will do well here.  Consider flickr.  There are many different software products for uploading your photos into flickr. Each of these products uses the Flickr API to login to your flickr account, select your photo files, tag them, title them, and upload them into Flickr, and so on. Google has similar APIs for interacting with their Google Apps services, and in fact most of their cloud services.

While the API is open and anyone (who is authorised by the service provider) can write programs to interact with the service, the service software programming source code isn’t is open.  So it’s behaviour cannot be changed or extended or adapted for other contexts.  It also means that if the service provider decides to change the terms of the service (Ning) or simply decides to shut them down (ask Google Wave customers about that), then you are out of luck.

PLEs and PLNs

This blog post relates to my study of CCK11.

What are the downsides? (http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7049.pdf)

As a learning platform that is by definition always evolving, a PLE requires students to engage in ongoing decision making to maintain, organise, and grow their learning environments.  The process of self-directed learning requires a degree of self-awareness, and it must be given time to mature.  Some students, however, may have never taken the time to think about their own metacognition or to reflect on how they learn best.  These less experienced students may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with building and managing a PLE.

Interesting, and a serious downside indeed.  Managing one’s own learning is not a trivial task – it’s a big responsibility.  Is it reasonable to expect that everyone be able to manage their own learning to this level of detail?  A noble vision, but is it practical or reasonably attainable, or simply a fairy-tale view of education?  Let me explain my context, and why I believe this downside is understated, and why I don’t believe this ideal is realistic in a global way – a panacea.

I’m from Australia.  Higher education in Australia is partly funded by the Australian Government.  Students pay a portion of the tuition fees, and can defer their payments until after they obtain a job.  In the meantime, the tuition debt only grows inline with the CPI.  In other words, Australian tertiary students do not pay interest on their loans, and only pay a proportion of the overall costs which are subsidised by the Government.  Tertiary education in Australia is very accessible. Given this accessibility, and the diminished cost to the individual, there is greater diversity in the motivations of students in Australian higher-ed.  The fall-out from failure isn’t as significant as other countries where the individual bears the burden of the full costs of their education.  Don’t get me wrong, I think we have an outstanding system in place, that provides equitable access to higher education.  You don’t have to be wealthy to have a go in Australia.

I’m getting to the point… promise. 🙂  Take the following quote from a blog post I wrote some time ago, where I was reflecting on the book Teaching for Quality Learning at University, written by John Biggs.

Biggs introduces two student characters that represent two distinct groups of students that comprise a class.  They are also featured in a short film titled Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding.  Their names are Susan and Robert.  Susan is the typical academically minded student.  She comes to classes prepared, including pre-reading class materials, reflection on this material, and questions about her understanding of it.  Then there is Robert.  Robert is characterised as a student who is there out of necessity rather than desire.  He only wants to achieve sufficiently to be able to get a good job.  The course he is doing may not have been his first choice.  He comes to class with little preparation or prior reflection.  He hopes to rote learn and memorise to be able to pass his course.  These two characters form the cornerstone of his theories into the effectiveness of active versus passive learning.

Not all students are motivated in the same way when it comes to managing their learning.  Robert is not so interested in managing his learning – its about hoops to jump through to get his piece of paper (qualification).  Constructive Alignment, a theory by John Biggs suggests amongst other things that learning must be active – it is all about what the students do.  This in my opinion has merit, but like all theories, is contextual.  That aside, Biggs believes that you can create learning situations that force students such as Robert to be more active learners. As John puts it in an epilogue to the Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding Video (Part 3):

Thus we see that alignment throughout the system is based on the relevant constructive student activity.  In our “apply” example, the intended learning outcome, the teaching/learning activities, and the assessment task are all focused on that single verb “apply”:  we have woven a constructive web from which students would find difficulty in escaping without learning.

However, this method of making it difficult for students to escape in my view can often lead to task corruption.  It astounds me what lengths students will go to to avoid doing something if their heart just isn’t in it.

When I reflect on my early teens as an undergraduate student, my level of maturity and my motivations at the time were not conducive to learning management.  I was more interested in drinking, girls, and having fun.  I’m not suggesting that all teenagers are this way, but I don’t believe I was unique either.  Only when I commenced my Master degree, in my mid-20s did I become mature enough to take on the responsibility of managing my own learning.  This is evident through my improved GPA. 🙂  At the time, the web 2.0 revolution had not yet hit mainstream and many of these ideas had not yet been conceived (Oh I’m getting old).

Some may be able to manage their learning using a PLE/PLN, and I see PLE/PLNs as but one way of student learning.  We must remember the crucial point that whatever we do, it must fit the context.  Forcing students to create their own PLE/PLN and be able to manage their learning through this personalised environment is thwart with danger.  Even if you spend the time developing students’ abilities to manage their own learning, doesn’t mean that they will actually do it.

Concept Map for Emerging Technologies for Learning

As part of my studies of Emerging Technology for Learning, I am required to develop a concept map of the course, which is illustrated below.

Emerging Technologies for Learning Concept Map

I was attempting to identify abstractions, themes, symmetry and an attractive arrangement for my concept map.  I gave up in the end after a few different versions, as it just all wouldn’t emerge for me.  This was partly due to the complexity of the topic and limitations of the concept mapping tool.

What I have produced instead is a concept map of the course topics most relevant to my particular context.  The nodes in my map represent the most important issues that affect my work in higher education.  Naturally not an exhaustive list as there are many other elements that could be added to my map, some of which are probably equally as important as those presented.  However, as I have previously mentioned, you could map to infinity and so you have to draw the line somewhere.

The major themes that I identified for my concept map are Learning, Technologies, Information, and People and Connections.

I placed “Learning” at the top of my concept map; really I believe that all nodes encompass and underpin learning.  Learning is the focus point of the map.  In a way, technology is also a focus point of the map, but only in the context of the course.  I did not enumerate the various online social services in my concept map.  I did have them there, but decided to remove them, as the services themselves aren’t specifically relevant to my context.  Technologies come and go, as we are in a time of perpetual change.  It is more important to recognise this and adapt, and knowing the affordances or action potential is the critical element.

Critical sub-themes in my map include literacies, connections, and engagement.

Literacy is a crucial element of interpreting information.  Not just in the language sense which became quite evident as part of these studies.  While I was aware of information literacy, the other literacies identified in the course broadened my perspective on this issue.  In particular, the information and digital literacies were of interest to me.  Dealing with abundance of information, learning to be social online, and learning technologies are so obvious, yet were not explicit in my thinking.

My previous experience and reading suggests strongly that interaction and engagement with other people is a crucial element to learning.  The ability to share and gain alternate perspectives broadens one’s knowledge.  This I have tried to capture in my map, and comprises a considerable portion of it.  I liked the idea of discerning between peripheral and central participants in online fora, and especially allowing ourselves to accept that peripheral participation is legitimate.  Being a lurker myself in many contexts, that discussion did highlight for me that while sounding sinister and seedy, being present by not necessarily contributing is not necessarily a bad thing.

I have to say that I have found the concept of the concept map to be a real eye opener and an effective way for me to make sense of complex thoughts.  I am a details oriented person and it can be difficult to see the big picture at times.  Using concept mapping, I can arrange details in a way that makes the bigger picture easier to see.  I will try to make greater use of this type of technology to organise my thoughts in future.

As always, I find studying at U Manitoba a very rewarding experience and this term was no exception.  Most particularly the cross-cultural mix and more global perspectives open my eyes more broadly – always a good thing.  There are sometimes a few language barriers, as education language can be quite contextual, and localised.  But again, the differences keep things very interesting.  I would love to visit Canada one day with my family, but I might make it a summer trip. 🙂

My Personal Learning Environment

I have been assigned the task of mapping out my personal learning environment.  So using the IMHC Concept Mapping Tool, I have created the following map.

I have to say that I am not really happy with this map.  The thing with concept mapping is it is difficult to know when to stop, as you can map to infinity.  It lacks structure and abstractions, has duplication and is frustrating me.  I will need to think it through some more to see if there is a better way to represent my personal learning environment.  This while a start, is far from a true and accurate representation.

More to come…