Postscript to Restrepo

27/09/2012

There was a quite a large hole in my critique of Restrepo namely Said’s “Orientialism” and how the media presents Islam and terrorism. I tried to address this in a subsequent piece of critical media analysis:

Critical Media Analysis – Mohammad Merah

My decision to compare how the Guardian and the Daily Mail reported the same story was influenced by having recently read Terranova’s (2007) paper which led me Said’s (1978, 2003) Orientalism.

The Mail positions Merah early on in the article with the terms ‘Al Qaeda fanatic’ and ‘Toulouse terrorist’ and further on with ‘convicted Jihadist’. Language like this reinforces the hegemonic view, which newspapers like the Mail through their reporting steer public opinion, that Islam poses a threat to the Western way of life. The Guardian uses more neutral language in describing Merah as claiming “allegiance to al-Qaeda. The Guardian goes on to report the events surrounding the shooting of Merah quoting the police and French authorities. The Mail however, misuses information by saying ‘the fanatic is understood to have had contacts with fellow North African extremists living in Britain’. Where is the evidence to support such a claim? The language perpetuates and reinforces a particular vision of reality that Islamic extremists are working together to try and overthrow the West. This language will also confirm Daily Mail readers’ view of the world by appealing to their confirmational cognitive bias. The Mail makes other claims that it does not provide sources for and in fact even contradicts itself when it says Merah ‘was arrested by U.S. authorities in Afghanistan in 2008 and sent home to France’ but then says he ’broke out of an Afghanistan jail in 2008 as part of a mass Taliban escape’. By prefixing such claims with terms like [he] is understood and it has been reported the Mail can suggest that these are statement of fact. The Mail clearly is manipulating and misusing information to put forward a particular point of view while the Guardian tends to stick to reporting the facts.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/22/mohamed-merah-toulouse-shootings-sniper?INTCMP=SRCH (Accessed 29 March 2012)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2118052/Toulouse-shooting-Mohammad-Merah-dead-jumping-flat-window-guns-blazing.html (Accessed 29 March 2012)

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Communication in Education – Reflective Journal

03/07/2012

I have been meaning to publish this journal for a while. I have now found the time to do so.

 

02/10/2011

Regarding reflection in anticipation of events (Boud, 2001). After reading this paper I will ask my new class on (04/10) to write down what they hope to get from this course, what their expectations are from it. Reflection in anticipation of events resonates with me, the other two types of reflection (in action and on action) I have come across before and seen it mentioned explicitly, However, the reflection in anticipation of events I have not seen mentioned explicitly but it is something I and I assume every one does before an event. Hence, the butterflies before a new class or mulling things over in your mind prior to a class which keeps you from sleeping. It is almost as if I act out in my mind how I imagine it will be. I think about what students want from the course. Being a student myself again gives me the opportunity to see what it is like to start a new course from a student’s perspective. Much like I am doing now about this Communication in Education course. Am I going to enjoy it? What are the other student’s going to be like? Will there be the one that writes huge posts on the forum again? I hope I will not be intimidated by them now as my assignments have been good which has boosted my self-esteem. All in all, being a student I feel in a better position to see things from a learner’s point of view.

04/10/2011

(Reflection in anticipation of events) What will the students be like today (class starts in three hours time). I did not quite have a sleepless night but it was disturbed and I acted in my mind’s eye my lesson plan. What will they bring to class with them in terms of expectations, previous learning experiences and word knowledge? What are their goals? I am going to foreground learner training and the importance of them being responsible / taking responsibility for their own learning. I want to explore PLEs with them, though perhaps not explicitly defining what one is. I want to highlight that learning is not just about what is going on inside the classroom. If they do not continue with their learning outside the classroom they will only maintain their level of English. I will certainly use a class wiki for developing writing skills. Anyway, I feel excited as I haven’t been in the classroom for 6 months. Butterflies? A few, but good ones. ¡A las barricadas! (Not literally, of course).

07/10/2011

Reflections on teaching on my second class on 6/10. I felt I was talking too much. Perhaps this is because it is the second class and I have to impart a lot of information. I also focused on pronunciation and how important it is for learners to try and model good pronunciation. Spanish pronunciation of English words will not be understood by native speakers or other English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers. I think by laying down the ground rules for my class: English only, work in groups and pairs, focus on pronunciation I was playing the “traditional” role of teacher.

On the other hand TTT (Teacher Talking Time) is also useful comprehensible input. I just wonder how the students feel about me rambling on. I must ask them in the next class. I really want to get them to inform me (and themselves) what they like and want from the class. There are cultural differences though; Spanish students are very used to a didactic approach. I have seen very little evidence of socio-constructivist approaches to learning in all spheres of education from primary to post-graduate degree level; it is very much the “you teach, I learn” view of learning. The question is how does one go about changing the perception that the teachers is there to implant their knowledge; that students are empty vessels to be filled

12/10/2011

We had our third class yesterday and I feel that, as a group, we are starting to gel. Supplying your students with insights to your personality, personal circumstances, beliefs, views and interests really does help towards creating a sense of community (social presence if it were online learning) – Lomicka and Lord (2007), Garrison and Anderson (2003). It also reduces transactional distance (Moore, 2007) between the teacher and learners (these references relate to online learning but I feel the concepts are equally applicable to face to face (F2F) learning). We spent much of the class looking at adjectives and nouns that describe personality. I then used an activity I have never used before called Psychoanalysis. Students asked me the question “Would you describe yourself as being ….”  adding an adjective such as, and these came up, sensual, hardworking , spiritual, ambitious and boring just to mention a few. I think the activity could have gone on for ages, the students were rapt. They asked follow up questions. Finding out personal details about their teacher clearly motivated them (and I would assume the same is true for the majority of students/people).  This resonated with what I had been reading in Neuliep (2006:7) “unity is impossible without communication” and “communication with others is the essence of what it means to be human” and so teaching without showing something of who you are as a person to your students perhaps does not fully facilitate communication. Interestingly, on reflection, it feels as if I have been on a psychoanalyst’s couch as I feel closer to the students after telling them, truthfully, about myself.

Europe’s Blackberry server went down in Sloughhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/oct/12/blackberry-outage-executive-apologies on 10th & 11th October. I read this joke on Twitter, “Thousands of Blackberrys crashed yesterday. I bet that caused a jam.” It made me laugh at the time, but not out of a sense schadenfreude (I have an iPhone)

 

16/10/2011

I have just posted something on the forum about how after a year of contributing to forums it feels quite natural to do so now. I used to lie awake this time last year thinking about what I would write on the forum. I would sometimes get up in the early hours and jot down some ideas so that I could include them in my forum post the following day. I did this in case I forgot what I had been thinking about when I got up in the morning. It is strange how you get used to things without really noticing the change. I was reminded how I felt anxious and stressed about having to post on forums by a new (first year) student describing how she felt “communication apprehension” (Neuliep, 2006) now that she was in context where she had to communicate with  students at a master’s level. Yes, it was daunting. I remember deliberating over every word because I was worried how my fellow students would read it and what opinions they would form about me based on what I had written. I worried if it would meet the grade, if what I had written was to a master’s level. But, is being a post-graduate student trying to become a member of a group or a sub-culture? We exhibit schema and persona to win approval from group members so that they accept you into that group; in this case post-graduate students studying a master’s degree. In language there are various registers to express formality. In order to show that we are “worthy” of being post-graduate students we use an academic register and tone when communicating with our classmates so that they will accept us as an equal; so that we can be considered members of the group. However, over-use or inappropriate use of the academic register might give the impression that we are trying to demonstrate we are more academically superior to our peers.

 

I feel, as a Distance Leaner (DL) student, we get more out of the MA because of the time, three years, it takes us to complete it. That means three years of contributing to forums, sharing ideas and reflecting as opposed to just one. This is my second year and I feel much more at ease contributing to forums, joining on-line sessions and “being” a distance learner. Full-time students only get a year to develop the above mentioned skills, although they have to go through a steep learning curve and there is intensity to full-time study that DL students cannot experience. I wonder would I prefer being full-time student again; to be immersed in an environment that was almost solely dedicated to study. It is totally hypothetical as I could never be able to commit to full-time study as I did when I was an under-graduate; I have too many other demands on my time and emotions. So, I reassure myself with the idea that as a DL student I have more time to reflect as the pace and intensity of study is less than that of a full-time student. We also have more time to reflect on practice as nearly all of our discussions are held asynchronously on forums. The Teaching and Learning Online course that I took last semester had no F2F classes; all communication was held online both synchronously and asynchronously with the vast majority being through forums. There was a lot more reflection going on in the forums than any of the other courses I have taken so far. Was this because the course was 100% online? Does asynchronous communication on forum produce more reflection or is just more visible?   

 

19/10/2011

We had a Wimba session today which being a second year student was of more benefit to new students than it was for me. However, it did provide me with the opportunity to reflect some more on the advantages and disadvantages of synchronous CMC.

 

Advantages

Disadvantages

It is the closest we have to replicating F2F teaching/learning.

 

It has afforded students, like me, the opportunity to study at a distance.

 

Being able to see and chat to fellow distance student contributes to building a sense of community through immediacy and social presence. I think community building is slower through asynchronous only communication.

 

Online teaching sessions can be recorded (archived) for learners to watch at their own time and convenience (a key affordance of distance learning)

 

The text chat facility provides an alternative channel of communication that runs parallel to the main audio/video channel.

 

Learners become presenters and facilitators; it’s empowering

Large class sizes have class management implications.

 

Without video the visual cues of non-verbal communication are missing (though the video conferencing facility in Adobe Connect is much better than Wimba)

 

Technical issues such as connectivity can result in the loss or video or audio or less bandwidth in certain parts of the world mean that synchronous communication is not possible.

 

With larger groups a lot of text chat can be generated which could be distracting and result in learners missing what is being discussed via audio/video channels.

 

Some people feel uncomfortable communicating via video and the stress that this causes will interfere with their ability to communicate.

 

On the Emerging Technologies course last semester group work three of us in our assignment group used Wimba to coordinate and this helped build a real sense of community between the three of us. The other two members of the assignment group never joined us on Wimba and I did not feel the same sense community with them. The result was the group divided into two and I felt we diverged in our goals. We did not communicate and lost sight of our goals. What I learnt from the experience was that in future I must express my feelings to the group and not let others railroad the direction a collaborative project takes. I have communicated that I felt that some of the technologies others wanted use were not, in my opinion, emerging. The feedback on the assignment provided me with some vindication. This highlights an important issue with collaborative working; one where participates in a project do not want to collaborate or communicate with other members of that group. Perhaps it’s a personality issue and some people are just not team players.

24/10/2011

I have just read Kolb (1983) on Experiential Learning Theory where he describes learning styles and how they are influenced by, amongst other factors, “Professional Career Choice”. He mentions nearly every professional group and their preferred styles but does not mention the teaching professional at all! Why is that? Is it because we have to be aware of preferred learning styles when planning lessons and interactions in the classroom and therefore do not have a preferred style ourselves? What about teachers of different subjects like the arts or sciences? According to Kolb arts people have a “Diverging” learning style preference while scientists have an “Assimilating” style preference. So, according to this, teachers of different subjects will have different preferred learning styles. I think that the absence of the teaching profession suggests teachers cannot be so easily pigeon-holed, thankfully! He does go on to conclude though that Experiential Learning Theory is holistic and that in reality people are combinations of various learning preferences and those with a more balanced set of preferences are better equipped with skills needed for learning in the current ”networked world of information based economies”.

25/10/2011

The Scarino et al (2007) paper resonated with my views on education being available to all and the benefits of the internationalisation of education. Having a range of students from diverse from socio-cultural backgrounds bring different expectations, experiences and points of view to a teaching and learning context. Is not this the socio-constructivist approach to construction of knowledge in action? On the DTCE I have already experienced these benefits. Students from other cultures have taught me the benefits of seeing things through different eyes. It is so important to appreciate that how I view something is not  the same as the way people from other cultures view something e.g. the rules and social norms that govern teacher-student interactions differ from culture to culture. It is quite reasonable nowadays to address your university tutor by their first name inUKculture whereas in many cultures they would be addressed using their formal title.

I also found one of the co-authors in the Scarino et al paper self-realisation that courses written and designed in one culture (in case the author’s Australian culture) cannot be “transposed” to another culture (Malaysian) and expect these courses to behave in the same way. The author found that roles of modes of delivery, language and culture all have to be mediated. My own slant on this is if modes of learning are “transposed” (or imposed?) on other cultures then is it not just neo-colonialism in another guise.

26/10/2011

I seldom re-read paper but the Blaug (2007) paper got me all fired up. Being one for sound bites this really grabbed my attention “hierarchy simplifies and absolute hierarchy simplifies absolutely”. Blaug uses this to explain how power corrupts as “individuals substitute their own cognitive processes for those of the collective”. He suggests that the interests of power use our neurological apparatus to push out chunks of information (schemas) at the individuals while at the same time these schemas are pulled beneath our awareness by our own cognitive biases, which are orientated to selectivity and automation, we are predisposed to accept what we are being told because cognitively it requires less effort.

What also rings true for me is Blaug’s observation that as individuals are promoted in an organisation and move up the hierarchy there is a “bleeding between self and the organisation”. The individual “.. confuses their own cognition with the information processing of the organisation…[and] this progressive blurring is an important element in how power corrupts”. I see this in the organisation I work for the and how individuals become more and more “corporate” as they move up the hierarchy and speak with the same voice using the same “corporate speak”.

Blaug’s paper reminded me of one my favourite statements [of intent] “Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and tyrant, and I declare him my enemy.” (Proudhon, 1849: 15)

So many thoughts about this paper that I have had to re-read it but I still cannot find the language to express his ideas succinctly.

29/10/2011

Quote of day “In many ways, excuse making lends itself to email.” Bloch (2002). Bloch suggests email gives you space to negotiate meaning without the possibility of confrontation or embarrassment as might be the case direct F2F communication. Email allows you time to compose and craft your message where power relationships are unequal. Perhaps this also true with CMC chat or Facebook, but email is seen, nowadays, as a more formal form of asynchronous communication than chat. Though, this was not the case when Bloch wrote in 2002. I think a lot what Bloch says is perhaps out-dated  but could easily be applicable to forms of CMC communication that were not so ubiquitous 10 years ago such as Facebook and SNS (Social Network Sites)

01/11/2011

Looking at the Self (Burton and Dimbleby, 1995) and intrapersonal communication I find myself monitoring my communication and the projection of Self and how this influences interpersonal communication. I have been trying to smile more when I say good morning to colleagues and I am noticing that they smile back to me and this, in turn, makes me feel better. So simple and yet so obvious I have to ask myself why I have not been doing this all the time. I wonder if this goes back to my adolescence and growing up in aSomersetmarket town and how I projected my Self to my peers.  It just simply was not done to demonstrate any emotion or feeling when greeting people other than a terse “right”. Behaviours become entrenched and you continue with them unconsciously and this is why I am trying consciously to monitor how I greet people and also the affect my non-verbal communication has on interaction with people. I have always tired to be welcoming, open and an active listener in my interactions with students and I hope my unconscious non-verbal communication reflects this. I confess that with some colleagues I do not always display the same level of patience with them as I do with my students. This is why I want to be more conscious of my non-verbal communication; I want to modify some colleagues’ perceptions they have of me.

04/11/2011

I have been thinking a lot recently of the impact of nearly 40 years of dictatorship on intrapersonal, interpersonal and intercultural communication inSpainand how it has shaped contemporary Spanish culture. After over 20 years of living inSpainI beginning to understand and appreciate how deep the legacy of Francoism goes in the fabric of Spanish culture. In post civil warSpainthere were the victors and the vanquished. Of course, this is true with any war but the gulf between the two is more acute in a civil war. The vanquished had low-esteem, what they believed in had been defeated. The retributions by the victors continued for many years after the ends of the war with executions, imprisonment and discrimination. The access to the most basic of resources such as food, shelter, healthcare and employment was restricted to those who held the newly issued ID cards, which were, of course, the victors. Low self-esteem and low evaluation of self-image are generated through intrapersonal communication which affects interpersonal communication. How you are treated (the feedback you get others) by other people affects your image of Self. Attitudes, beliefs and values are part of the Self and if you change any one of these then this will change the Self. Conversely, the victor’s self-esteem and self-image where improved. For nearly forty years the attitudes, beliefs and values of the victors and vanquished were passed on and between to their respective family members and friends and between the victors and vanquished themselves and thus perpetuating the inability (and fear) to express the Self through low self-esteem. People who are denied control of their own lives demonstrate stress and anxiety (Burton and Dimbleby, 1995:20). Cultural stereotypes such as not complaining to organisations; to those with perceived authority because it is considered a waste of time, are rooted post-civil war intrapersonal and interpersonal communication dynamics. There as been no process of reconciliation inSpainlike there has been inSouth AfricaandArgentina. Many of those families and social groups who still have political and economic power inSpaingained that power under Franco. They still feel like and behave like the victors did forty years ago.

As I mentioned above there is a tendency with Spanish students to expect the teacher to spoon feed them with the “correct” answers. Learning, even at university level, is about regurgitating what the teacher has told you. To do otherwise would mean poor marks and failure. I suspect this too is a consequence of living under a dictatorship where only one point of view is acceptable.

09/11/2011

I missed the group planning stage of class presentation through my own fault. I had not read Cormac’s email properly and was waiting for a post to appear in the main discussions area of Blackboard. After a few days of no posts, I thought I ought to get the ball rolling as I appreciate that full-time students have other projects going on and can leave work until much closer to the deadline. This was my experience of group work on the Teaching and Learning Online course last semester. So, when I finally caught up with the rest of the group, several days later, the planning phase was already over. Initially, I felt out of the loop, that I had not been able to contribute and the process had moved on without me. I did not feel part of the project; there was no sense of ownership on my part. What this did highlight were some of the issues involved with trying to coordinate group working in geographically separate locations. The majority of the group met F2F and managed to decide what we were going to do and assign the work accordingly. It was agreed that the distance students would contribute through video, which was the same conclusion I had reached by myself. It seems to me that it is so much more effective and efficient to organise projects like this in a F2F meeting. The fact that I had not even been aware that a meeting was going to take place demonstrates that asynchronous communication slows down the whole process of working together when based in geographically distinct locations. Would it be more efficient if all the distance students worked together? Possibly, but it would miss out on the contributions, expectations and experiences that the full-time and part-time Manchester-based students would bring to a project. I also realise the importance of groups agreeing to a set of ground rules before embarking on a project. These rules should not be fixed in stone and can be modified through consensus. It is important to discuss and explore the potential issues of asynchronous working before starting a project (Roed, 2003:169).

However, there are issues with dislocated working such as coordinating and distributing the workload and the fact, for whatever reason, that sometimes group member just do not “turn up”. On a previous course of this MA one of the members of the workgroup did not contribute a single thing and only introduced their self a few days before the assignment’s deadline. I personally did not have an issue with this as I felt that I and the other group members had shared the workload out fairly. I gained useful insights and observations on some of the practical issues facing dislocated group work especially how long it can take just to get the ball rolling. With F2F meetings when you commit and agree to doing something you have to look the others in the eye and say “yes”. I would, in future, take minutes of online meetings and then ask other group members to read and then, if necessary, negotiate and agree to a version before signing the minutes off.

12/11/2011

I was brought up on a media fuelled diet of World War Two comics, films and TV shows. My play at home often revolved around World War Two either playing with model soldiers or brandishing a gun and machine-gunning friends. At primary school break time was either football or war. I remember Sister Marie-Christine, the headmistress, introducing our newly appointed year 6 teacher as, to his embarrassment, having been “wounded in the [Second World] War” and the buzz of excitement that went around the class (well, around the boys). Later on, in class, he would disapprove of us doing “war drawings” Curiously, I met up with Mr Ewing 10 years later boarding the coach to take us to one of the last massive CND marches in London in the early 1980s. Why was the media still obsessed with World War Two in the 1970s? There had been other wars since then: Korea, Suezand the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. However, none of these could have been so easily portrayed by the media as clear-cut; as being a struggle of good against evil of right against wrong of “winning” over “losing”. Because of this, the media had no other option but to keep on playing the same old record and flogging the same old horse to get their message across which is – boys, war is exciting, fun and glamorous. The goodies always beat the baddies and nobody gets hurt, maimed or psychologically traumatised and at the end of the day we can all go home.

My partner and I have 2 boys and we have tried to keep them away from war. Unlike me during my childhood, they do not have toy guns or watch war on TV or are exposed to it through books. Yet their play is similar to how mine was. It is said that boys are born that way; they are genetically predisposed to want to pick up weapons and play-fight. It is nature. I do not believe so. I have come round to the view that nature plays a very minor role in our development and that nurture is responsible for producing the adults we end up being. Even shielding our children from the influence of media does not shield them from the wider society. Classmates, friends, older siblings, acquaintances, parents (myself included) are exposed to the influences of the media and this will, through interaction and communication, affect children. I try not to let me children see the adverts on television that are specifically targeting children in the commercial breaks by making sure they watch the BBC younger children’s channel, Cbeebies. Nearly all the other “children’s” TV channels bombard kids with advertisements for toys, comics, drinks and food and nurturing them to be good obedient consumers (This was one of reasons we stopped subscribing to satellite TV and now get UK TV via the Internet).

19/11/2011

It is “Reflection Day” here in Spaintoday on the eve of the general election.  Tomorrow is the general election which has prompted me to reflect on how this course is unfolding and developing. I am beginning to appreciate how Cormac has scaffolded the course content; the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place for me, I am beginning to construct meaning from all the input. Through participation and reification (Wenger, 1998) I am negotiating the meaning of all my engagement with the course so far. I have a greater understanding of how important the role of semiotics is in making sense of the reality around us. Chandler (2000) seems to up it succinctly: “[semiotics] teaches us that reality is a system of signs. Studying semiotics can assist us to become more aware of reality as a construction and of the roles played by ourselves and others in constructing it. It can help us to realize that information or meaning is not ‘contained’ in the world or in books, computers or audio-visual media. Meaning is not ‘transmitted’ to us – we actively create it according to a complex interplay of codes or conventions of which we are normally unaware. Becoming aware of such codes is both inherently fascinating and intellectually empowering.” Therefore an understanding of semiotics allows us to interpret the signs that surround us and construct meaning.

21/11/2011

No surprises regarding the result of the Spanish general election yesterday with the Partido Popular (PP) winning a landslide victory.

Above is the PP’s logo which is also a sign. Saussure (1987:67) defines a sign as being the whole that results from the association of the signifier with the signified. The signified here is the Partido Popular and the signified concept here will mean different things to different people. Today, the majority of the population should be happy and perhaps feel optimistic about the future when they see this logo; after all they voted for its signified concept yesterday. For others, myself included, we will feel despondent when we think about what the future will bring; cuts in public education and health services with the money being directed into private education and health. This is not just based on my political views but this is already a reality in the Autonomous Community of Madrid where the Partido Popular has been in power for many years. It looks like I am going to be unfortunate enough to live through a second encounter with Thatcherism. I really do not want to hear myself saying “I told you so” in four years time.

I have also included a favourite piece of graffiti that I came across near to where I live during the local and autonomous region elections earlier this year. Esperanza Aguirre was re-elected as president of the Autonomous Community of Madrid. In Spanish esperanza also means hope. I like the ambiguity and play on words here with firstly, the obvious message that is saying no to the re-election of Esperanza and secondly, that if Esperanza is re-elected then there is no hope. She was.

(03/12/2011. When I included the image of the graffiti I had not appreciated that No Hope was referencing Obama’s 2008 election image. See below. Thank you Cormac for pointing this out.)

   

24/11/2011

I have just watched Away From Her (Canada, dir. Sarah Polley, 2006) and having just read the second chapter in Gillespie and Toynbee (2006) I found myself analysing the text from a genre perspective while watching. It seemed to fit into the genre of melodrama quite nicely; there was plenty of pathos and empathy. The film is about a retired married couple where the wife starts to lose her memory and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I initially thought the film lacked realism as the couple were clearly middle class and issues regarding the cost of care in a nursing home were not addressed. However, I went on to revise this conclusion when another character with the disease was introduced and who was unable to return to the nursing home because of the prohibitive cost of care. The film was interesting because it deviated from the genre of melodrama in that the protagonist was male and it was his emotional suffering and plight that the audience identified with.

I am really enjoying reading Gillespie and Toynbee. I feel I now have some of the necessary tools to analyse texts; I feel empowered with the (meta)language to analyse critically what I watch and read. It has been a real eye-opener for me. Also, from my reading on textual analysis, I have picked up on that the musician Courtney Love’s name is a play on the words Courtly Love.

I think I will use a documentary as the source for my textual analysis. It is a media I watch relatively a lot of and therefore I would enjoy deconstructing it.

27/11/2011

I have some thoughts on pedagogies in the information age. I used to delivery training (interesting use of the word deliver and its collocation with training) to colleagues, mostly teachers, when MS Office was introduced as the standard office applications package for the organisation I work for. The training was all trainer-centred and the materials were delivered lock-step. The trainees were seen as being “empty vessels”, to be “filled” with the knowledge and skills to use MS Office applications. It was behaviourist in its approach (“teach” test) and quite different to group work and information-gap activities that I and my colleagues (who I was training) employed in the ESL classroom. I remember thinking at the time how it reminded me of learning by rote at school. I found “teaching” these courses so boring; we were stuck in a hot stuffy computer lab all day long for a whole week and I knew that the participants’ stifled yawns were not just from the lack of oxygen in the room. What did the participants take away from the course? Were they now proficient users of PowerPoint? Most likely, if someone had asked how to animate PowerPoint slides they would say “Mmm, I did this on a course last week, but I’m not sure. Let me check with my notes and look in the training guide”. Was that week of training well spent if the end result is consulting the training manual?

I think that this approach to application training came from corporate training. It was more about managers being able to tick the “MS Office training delivered” box rather than ensuring that colleagues acquire the necessary skills to enable them to do their job. The driver was MS Office being rolled out as the global standard office application package. A similar thing happened when Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) were deployed in the organisation’s classrooms. The primary concern was to train teachers on how to use the Promethean ActivStudio software rather than ways of using an IWB in a communicative classroom context. Some teachers repeated the same training two or three times, because, I assume, that they could not see from their own teaching perspective how to incorporate the IWB into their teaching. The training was all about learning how to manipulate the IWB software rather than discovering ways of using the IWB as another teaching tool. The organisation had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds installing the hardware and saw training teachers in using the hardware as only being in terms of the software that came with the IWBs. The training should have focused on the pedagogies of using an IWB in the ESL classroom and not on application training. According to many teachers the software was not very intuitive and for many it was just too much of a hurdle and gave up trying to create materials with the software; they felt uncomfortable using it in front of students as they did not feel confident enough in manipulating the software while in the classroom. Interestingly, the reason why the software was cited as being counter-intuitive was that it did not operate along the lines of MS Word; right-clicks did not produce the desired menus. It would seem that in the end colleagues did master the use of MS Word, but they did through experimentation, use and sharing knowledge informally with each other and not through week long application training courses. The organisation has recently upgraded to a redesigned version of the Promethean IWB software which, in terms of functionality, bears a much closer resemblance to MS Word. The backwash effects of Word have an enormous conscious and unconscious affect on the design of applications. I am pleased the say that the training workshops I am delivering on the updated application have, apart from high-lighting changes in the new software, focused on ways of incorporating the IWB into the communicative ESL classroom context and making it less teacher-focused and facilitating more learner interaction with materials. Reflecting on the reasons for my change in approach I cannot say it was a conscious decision, I feel it was more unconscious in that I did not plan the training to be constructivist in its approach, it just felt the right way to do it with the input coming from the teachers themselves. Learning how the software worked is technical knowledge that does not operate in isolation but is complimented by pedagogical and content knowledge (Mishra & Koelher, 2006).

4/11/2011

Dierking and Falk (1998) used museum visitation research to suggest the profile of potential museum website visitors. They list the following characteristics in museum-goers and museums:

  • Museums are usually visited with other people; it is a social activity
  • People who go to museums are interested in “free-choice learning” which is “is learning just for the sake of learning, learning for fun, learning if and when the internal motivation strikes. This is the type of learning that motivates someone to browse a museum web site ….”
  • A good museum appeals to people of different ages, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, previous learning experiences (and “levels” of education and knowledge) and interests.
  • People generally visit museums on topics that are of interest to them.
  • Museums need to meet visitors expectations.
  • Visitors need to be able to engage with the materials, they like “hands-on” exhibits; ones they can touch.
  • Multimedia and computer-based interaction is important but it needs to be user-friendly

I do not feel that any of the three websites (Museum of HoaxesA History of the World in 100 Objects, or 3D Ancient Wonders) suggested in this weeks material meet these characteristics and in order to be a successful museum website it probably needs to replicate the above characteristics of a “good” museum. Dierking and Falk (1998) suggest that when designing a museum website the profile of potential users is an important consideration.

One thing that struck after visiting the three online museums compared to students who visited MOSI is that I did it alone; it was not a social activity for me. I think an important part of visiting a museum is being able to talk about what you are experiencing, share your understanding and negotiate meaning. Visiting “museum” websites tends to be done on your own and therefore there is less opportunity for the social construction of meaning through shared experience.

The key area then in making a website “educational” from a constructivist approach, is to facilitate the sharing of the experience.

10/12/2011

What Kirschner et al (2006) are saying that what learners need, when they are learning novel information or that they are themselves novel learners, is that scaffolding is essential. For example, you cannot put a learner of Japanese in a room with a television showing Japanese television programmes and expect them to learn Japanese. The role to the teacher is to present content in such a way that it is meaningful and is not just “white-noise” to ears of the novice learner. In an ESL teaching context the teacher’s role is provide the learner with content that is understandable; it has meaning to the learner. Krashen (1981) termed this comprehensible input and I suppose, reflecting on my practice, what he meant was that teachers of second languages need to present content as being comprehensible to the learner and, therefore, it has be scaffolded.

Experienced learners probably need less scaffolding as they have acquired strategies, skills and techniques to facilitate learning from previous learning experiences, hence they can learn their third or fourth language without much direct teacher instruction. Similarly, being an experienced learner myself, I do not need to go to history classes to discover more about the Spanish Civil War, I know where to find content. What is important in furthering my understanding of this area of history is being able to engage with others who share an interest in the subject matter.

12/12/2011

Blaug’s (1999) paper The Tyranny of the Visible on “disorganised radical collective actions” (ibid.:35) resonated with many of my own thoughts and ideas and as I was reading I was reminded of the 15-M (15 May) protests that sprang up spontaneously across cities in Spain on 15 May 2011 (I took the pictures below on 20 May 2011 in Puerta del Sol, Madrid).

   

In what Blaug (2007) terms “Hierarchism” he suggests that we are psychologically hard-wired to see anti-institutional and non-hierarchical forms of organisation as having two contradictory positions. Firstly, any spontaneous, local or grassroots forms of organisation are perceived as being ineffectual and idealistic. However, when they force themselves to the public stage they are perceived as being dangerous; we are afraid of them and the institutions of the state will put them down, violently if necessary. I now see this describes the situation with the 15-M movement. Initially it was dismissed as being marginal and irrelevant and it would go away after a few days. When it did not the anti-disturbios (riot police), a misnomer if there was ever one, were mobilized and waited menacingly in side streets off Puerta del Sol. It was expected that they would try to clear the camp and violence would ensue. But, thankfully, it did not. The movement was seen by the state as having too much popular support to suppress violently and especially in with a general election just around the corner. The movement spread and all acrossSpain popular meetings were held in squares, street corners and public areas and the issues of unemployment and lack of accountability in financial and public institutions were openly discussed. It really was impressive to see groups of people debating issues in the heart ofMadrid.

Participatory democracy requires commitment, time and energy which the majority of us do not have. This is why, in Western Democracies, we vote in order to select people to speak for us; to represent our interests. Unfortunately, in doing this we end up losing our voice, our so-called representatives become part of the hierarchy and cease to speak up for our interests. I have mentioned this above and Blaug (2007) in his paper suggests how we are predisposed to accept ruler/subject structures of power and goes on to explain why power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although the 15-M camps dismantled themselves when general elections we called and although the issues that were debated by citizens in the streets of Spanish cities were not reflected in the issues that were debated (why would they be!) and voted on, something has changed. The younger generation have realised that the status quo does not offer a viable future, something has to change. They have realised that they can have a voice and that hope lies with them and not the politicians (see “No Hope” above).

19/12/2011

I have found this course in communication a valuable and meaningful learning experience and it has exceeded my expectations. In fact, until I was able to access the course content the course I had imagined focused on technology as communication tool. The areas that I found particularly interesting, and this is because they were areas I had little knowledge about, were in communication both intrapersonal and interpersonal and textual analysis. They have changed the way I look at the interactions that go around me and I am more aware of the effects of my verbal and non-verbal communication can have on interactions with people; I self-monitor my behaviour and actions much more closely now. I also find I am better equipped to penetrate the surface properties of texts. Not only do I have a better grasp of the metalanguage which, in turn, has facilitated my articulation when describing what I see in texts but there has been a shift in my consciousness. The course has developed my critical faculties. Everything I read, watch and listen to I ask myself what is purpose of this text, what is the message this text is conveying, and, what is not being said.

I have also found what I have read on this course as driven me with the desire to share and discuss them with my partner, friends, colleagues and students. I have passed on papers, for example, by Boud (2001) and Blaug (1999, 2007) to colleagues. I am better able and equipped with the knowledge, language and metalaguage to analyse, on more equal terms, TV dramas, films and documentaries with my partner now (she has a MEd in Applied Linguistics).

22/12/2011

Reading through this RLJ again I can see the importance and usefulness to my own learning in writing reflections in a journal. Looking over what I have written I see that had I not reflected and written down my thoughts and ideas then much of these would have been lost. Not only does writing down reflections stop them being lost but it also helps in the understanding of ideas and concepts I have come across in readings. For example, Blaug’s (2007) paper on hierarchism is a difficult read and I think that writing down my reflections helped me have a deeper understanding of what he was saying. If I had only read it but without writing my reflections down I do not think it would have been such a profound learning experience as it was.

03/01/2012

I was listening to a couple of teenagers talking, on the number 341 bus inLondon, about places where they were able to gain access to so they could leave their “tags” there. I said to my partner I could not see the point in endangering your life on electrified train tracks just to leave a “tag” whereas I could see the point of leaving thought-provoking graffiti and art in publically visible spaces. She told me I was being reactionary and middle-aged, somewhat offended I reflected on my point of view and decided my attitude was supporting Gramsci’s (Burke, 1999, 2005) theory of ideological hegemony as I was seeing “tagging” as being anti-social behaviour according to the dominant ideology inUKculture. I should see “tagging” as a challenge by teenagers to hegemony, cultural assumptions and the status quo as counter-hegemonic tendencies (Lull, 1995). I stand corrected.

05/01/2012

My partner and I went toIslingtonTown Halltoday to give notice of our marriage in April this year. The process involved us both having to answer quite a lot of questions. One of the questions was to add historical information to a database that would help genealogical searches in the future. I did not have any issue with these questions and answered them. However, when we left the Town hall it struck me that they had only wanted my father’s full name and his occupation and nothing about neither my mother nor her profession. This is sexism. I was annoyed at myself for not saying something during the interview about only wanting information on my father as being sexist. I suppose I was concentrating so much on the questions themselves that I did not consider the underlying significance of only collecting data on my father.

01/03/2012

Inspired (or prompted by a feeling of guilty obligation perhaps (;-)) by Cormac’s comments on my assignment (for communication in education) I am putting down some of reflections on the Media & IL course so far. (Cormac’s comments: ‘I’m glad that the process of reflecting has helped you in your learning – I only wonder what role the motivating factor of handing this in as an assessed piece will play in your decision about whether/how to continue the process of reflective practice.’ I have been reading most of Drew’s papers that I have found cited in readings on IL and I must admit to feeling a bit like a stalker as I have been able, I think, to piece together the development of Drew’s triadic model. I worry that I am not being critical enough in my reflections; that I should be trying to find some flaw in his model. I have read quite a lot at this stage on the unit about IL and I find that I agree with Drew’s thoughts and ideas and this is unsettles me. I don’t feel that I should accept the learning that Drew has scaffolded. There is a tension between how the model resonates with my thoughts and the need for critical reflection that is the cornerstone of this MA. It seems if I am cheating myself if I agree with what someone else has proposed. I felt this after reading the Blaug papers. Should critical analysis be looking for and finding flaws and contradictions in someone’s argument? Or can you simply accept an argument or model as being close to your own beliefs and park it?

07/03/2012

When I leave a formal educational establishment such as the University of Manchester I’ll lose institutional access to on-line journals and also the university library and its database. Of course there are OERs, databases,CreativeCommonsand open access journals, but these are less in terms of volume and probably quality than University ‘membership’ can offer. There are issue with confining searches to Google Scholar (Mackey & Jacobsen, 2011) as the search is limited to what is available and have access to and how much of a book is available on Google Books and Amazon due to copyright. However, as distance learner student I don’t have physical access to the books in the University library and ebook versions don’t always exist. In theory, I can get books sent to me but unless there is some way of previewing and assessing whether the book is relevant or not is this might be a waste of time and money. There is also the issue of the time it takes for a book to be reserved and sent. I can buy a book, but again, the option to preview the book on-line is not always available especially with the smaller print run academic books which are also fairly expensive. So, there are barriers that stand in the way of open-access, permission and price. In other parts of the world there are other barriers such as Internet access.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Blaug, R. (1999): “The Tyranny of the Visible”, Organization, Vol. 6, No. 1, 33-56

Blaug, R. (2007): “Cognition in a Hierarchy”, Contemporary Political Theory, vol. 6, 24-44

Bloch, J. (2002): “Student-teacher Interaction via E-mail: The Social Context of Internet Discourse”. Journal of Second Language Writing, 11, 117-134.

Boud, D. (2001): “Using Journal Writing to Enhance Reflective Practice”, http://blogs.ubc.ca/csl2/files/2009/04/journalwritingreflectivepractice1.pdf

Burke, B. (1999, 2005) “Antonio Gramsci, schooling and education”, the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-gram.htm.

Burton, G. and Dimbleby, R. (1995). Between ourselves: an introduction to interpersonal communication.London: Edward Arnold.

Chandler, D. (2000) Semiotics: the basics. London: Routledge.

Dierking, L. and Falk, J. (1998). Understanding Free-Choice Learning: A Review of the Research and its Application to Museum Web Site

Garrison, D. and Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice.London: Routledge Falmer.

Gillespie, M. and Toynbee, J., eds. (2006). Analysing Media Texts. Maidenhead: Open University Press

Kirschner, P., Sweller, J. and Clark, R. E. (2006): “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching”, Educational Psychologist, 41, 75-86.

Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning.Oxford: Pergamon

Lomicka, L. and Lord, G. (2007): “Social presence in virtual communities of foreign language (FL) teachers”, System, 35, 208-228.

Lull, J. (1995) Hegemony Chapter 5 in Dines, G. and Humez, J. (eds.) (2003) Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text Reader.London: Sage.

Mackey, T. & Jacobson, T. (2011): Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy”

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006): “Technological Pedagogical Content

Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge”. Teachers College Record, 108 (6), 1017-1054.

Moore, M. (2007). The Theory of Transactional Distance. In M.G. Moore (Ed.)

(2007) The Handbook of Distance Education. Second Edition.Mahwah,N.J.

LawrenceErlbaum Associates, pp. 89–10

 

Proudhon, P.J. (1849) Les confessions d’un révolutionnaire, pour servir à l’histoire de la révolution de février. Bruxelles: Delevinge et Callewaert

 

Roed, J. (2003) “Language Learner Behaviour in a Virtual Environment”. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 16(2) 155-172.

Saussure, Ferdinand de ([1916] 1983): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris).London: Duckworth

 

Scarino, A., Crichton, J. and Woods, M. (2007): “The Role of Language and Culture in Open Learning in International Collaborative Programmes”. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 22 (3), 219 – 233.

 

Wenger, E. (1998): Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity,Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

 


Problem-based Learning

20/02/2012

What type of problem is it? (It might have elements of more than one type.)

What information might you and others need to solve this problem? From whom, or where, might you retrieve, or produce it?

What technologies might help you out? What skills? What specialist knowledge?

What criteria would be used to judge the relevance of this information? How might your criteria differ from those of the other people involved in the problem?

What obstacles might get in the way of finding out this information? Or otherwise making best use of it?

What information might you look to produce, as a way of helping solve, or at least address, the problem? (As in the example of the schoolchildren making some kind of presentation to local businesses, the council, etc.)

 

 

The problem is there being a significant variation in the learners’ satisfaction with their teaching/learning experience. How do we try to address this variation.

I think it is probably principally a case/systems analysis and dilemma problem element. Is the problem real or perceived as real based upon the questions we ask in the survey (subjective). Do teachers see it as a problem? Do students?

 

Feedback from students on their learning experience. Information from customer services staff. Observation reports. Information from teachers of their teaching experiences. Meetings with the staff representatives. Official complaints made by learners about teachers. All subjective. Use questionnaires, interviews with CS staff, focus groups with students, focus groups with teachers. Ask colleagues around the network (within the organisation) for their experiences. Seek out experiences from outside the organisation. What solution have been found.

 

On-line questionnaires  of current leaners.(Survey Monkey, Constant Contact). Dropout questionnaires to find out why students stopped studying. Clear observation criteria and experienced observers (using Diploma criteria) what constitutes a good lesson (subjective). Video of other teachers’ classes. Always will be personality differences one students perceives the teacher as very good and another in the same class sees the opposite. Skills in designing questions that will provide you with the information.

(how will you know this? This has to involve double-loop learning http://www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm

“When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.”). Focus group skills – can the facilitator ask questions to draw out the information – good facilitation skills.

 

Filters – managers criteria might different from that of teachers and staff reps. Managers criteria will differ within the group. Seniors mangers criteria are different (legal and contractual) considerations. What do students consider to be a good lesson (cultural contexts of Spanish education)? CPD – resistance as not seen as relevant (IWBs), nearing retirement age. Perception by teachers that there is no problem. Is CPD the answer?

 

Questionnaires, focus groups and information gathering might be seen as imposing a solution from “above”. Need to negotiate and discuss with all stakeholders that there is in fact a problem, and how to go about finding a solution. Danger of colonising the problem as the solution probably lies partly with the individuals and they need to recognise this and respond to it. Teachers’ previous experiences of dealing with under performance becomes part of the collective memory “witch hunts” – create and intersubjective opinion. Teachers question managers’ skills and ability to assess class room practice, especially if they have been out of the classroom for a long time. Are managers up to date with current thoughts, ideas, research and trends in classroom practice?

Did the questions provide the information? Do they need to be redesigned based on the results? Double-loop learning

 

Workshops from colleagues, CPD, peer observations. The raising of students’ awareness of we (as teachers) believe to be a “good lesson” – explanation of the theory and approach we adopt (cultural differences Spanish students expectation that they bring to the classroom are different). Teachers design own training programme. Mentoring. Both mentor and mentee can learn from each other. Develop intersubjective opinion on a plan of action to solve problem. Get teacher buy in.

The dissemination of information – make students’ comments from surveys available to all staff (as with the Ipsos/Mori research from several years ago). There is need for long-term work to develop new perceptions on the information that has been collected. This is change and this is not easy; it is political. It is all very well learning about what the issues are but we need to change them and this needs to be communicated to all those involved with the issue

 

The mental processes involved with this activity and my reflection on it show that  problem solving (where the problem is a case/systems analysis and dilemma) is complex and the process of addressing the problem itself will the change the problem environment. What is the impact of the solution on other people?


Researching a Topic

20/02/2012

For question a) I started my search, as I always do, by putting key words, in this case ‘Bill Archer’ into Google. I then scanned the first few entries to see if I had found the Bill Archer I was looking for and as there was nothing obvious I looked at the Wikipedia entry for Bill Archer and read he once the “controversial” Chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. The Wikipedia entry mentioned ‘Build a Bonfire’ so I decided to search this in Google and this took me to Amazon.co.uk and the book ‘Build a Bonfire: How Football Fans United to Save Brighton and Hove Albion (North, S. and Hodson, P., 1997) and read the first few pages that were available on the Amazon site. I found out that Bill Archer along with David Belotti and Greg Stanley sold the club’s ground leaving the club with no ground and virtually no income from the sale and hence his lack of popularity in Brighton. I also find out that Liam Brady managedBrighton.

 

For question b) I deliberately chose not go to the Wikipedia entry on HebdenBridgeand tried to search in Google using ‘HebdenBridge+ housing + law’ but this, unsurprisingly, just brought up results for estate agents and solicitors. I could not find anything about the specific law (I even posted on the Hebden Bridge Web) but I did find out via the The Independent that the town has a significantly higher suicide rate than the national average and this led to the making of the film documentary ‘Shed Your Tears and Walk Away’ by Jez Lewis. In the end I went back to Wikipedia and found the answer; the Flying Freehold legal arrangement. By not go directly to Wikipedia I found out a lot more about the town than I otherwise would. I did spend much more time finding the answer to this question, but my searches led me to learning more about the town that just the Flying Freehold legal arrangement, for example, how Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath have connections to the town.

 

For question c) I followed my usual search routine and searched for ‘Crowborough and Winnie-the-Pooh’ in Google and found out the local area was used as the setting for A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books. Being a lover of maps I also found Crowborough’s location using Google maps (I did the same forHebdenBridge) and then using Google and Wikipedia located where A. A. Milne lived and where 100 Acre Wood was (500 Acre Wood in reality).

 

 

For questions a) finding that a book had been written on the subject gave validity to what I had read on Wikipedia. I also tired searching ‘Bill Archer’ on the Guardian website and found references to his asset stripping. Unfortunately, the Guardian’s web searches only go back to 1999 and sale of Brighton’s ground happened in 1997. For question b) I checked the Wikipedia citation for Flying Freehold from The Independent which indicated that this legal arrangement exists. For question c) the validity of claims is more difficult to ascertain although the number of different websites stating the same would suggest the claims are true.

 

I found with all three questions I could have gone on researching. For example, I stopped with question b) when I found myself looking on Google Maps for Mytholmroyd (Ted Hughes’s birth place) and realised in spite of enjoying myself I had gone off task. I think we have all found ourselves going of task while researching on the web. I think we did this in pre-Internet days too where you could spend hours researching using encyclopaedias, but the ubiquitous nature of Internet access and the huge amount of information held on the web means it is much easier to pursue lines of enquiry in the moment they occur to us.

 

I think Google and Wikipedia can be good places to start researches; the information found using these tools then needs to be validated which I think I did. The main reason we use Google and Wikipedia is that it is that is an uncomplicated and fast way to search for information, though we must exercise caution and be critical of the veracity of the information we find. An ‘information literate’ way of doing any search is to be critical; do not take information you find on the Internet (or any where) at face value. We need to check references and citations; we need to look at the URL and ask ourselves if this is a reputable and credible website or just a page that someone has put together to express their personal point of view. We need to build our own critical framework to direct and assess the validity of the content of our searches and also we need to reflect on our framework of inquiry and modify or re-think it based on what we discover through our research.


Restrepo: A Critical Discourse Analysis

15/02/2012

Restrepo

Restrepo is a film documentary made by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington of the fifteen months they spent embedded with a U.S. Army platoon (Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team) in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. I have chosen to critically analyse the discourse of the text, by which I mean analysing both the language and images used in the documentary drawing on Fairclough’s (1995) categories of representation, identities and relations as described by Gillespie and Toynbee (2006:122). I will briefly outline what I understand of these three categories.

  • In any media text, representations of the world are constructed from social and cultural perspectives. Media texts construct a ‘reality’ of, for example, events, people and places from a specific socio-cultural perspective such as male, white, middle-class or Western. Dominant power structures in a culture exert their power over other social and cultural groups; they use the media to project their representation of world through what Gramsci (Burke, 1999, 2005) termed hegemony. Their representations of the world or ideologies become normalised and accepted as ‘common sense’ or ‘natural’ and are rarely questioned. In Restrepo one ‘common sense’ representation of the world is that theU.S. military is fighting a war against ‘fanatical Islamic terrorists’ who, if theU.S. was not there, would over-runAfghanistan.
  • A text will also set up identities for those who interact within it, such as the Afghani villagers’ relationship with theU.S.military. These identities, sometimes called ‘subjectivities’ (Graddol and Boyd-Barrett, 1994:19), are constructed through the various discourses available in the text, such as army discourse, which is highly exaggerated and not at all subtle (compare it with the discourse of advertising). In any text there may be a number of discourses at work, for example,U.S.military, a Western view of Islam or that of a wealthy developed country. However, the construction of identity is controlled through these; the Afghani villagers have a limited number of positions that they can take up and because of the power dynamics illuminated by the film they are reduced to either poor ignorant peasants or terrorists. There are no other identities available for the audience to assign to them within the discourses.
  • Within a text sets of relations are created which work at two levels. Firstly, there are the relationships created between a text and the audience. In Restrepo different relationships are being set up, for example, film-maker to audience, U.S. military to audience and Afghani villagers to audience. Secondly, there are those relationships which are set up within the text itself. In Restrepo relationships are set up between theU.S. military and Afghani villagers; the film-makers and the soldiers of Second Platoon, the soldiers and the local villagers, the soldiers and the Taliban.

These categories do not occur in isolation; they operate simultaneously. Any part of the text will be representing the world, setting up identities and setting up relations all at the same time (Fairclough, 1995:5).

The most obvious and prominent discourse in the film is the discourse of the professionalUSarmy orU.S.military discourse. In this analysis I have decided to focus on the discourse between theU.S.military and the local villagers as this is where the struggle for power takes place. There is a lack of subtlety in the language used in military discourse; it is abrupt, has its own jargon and acronyms; it is often in the form of orders and uses the imperative and, as a result, there is less dialogue other than acknowledging an order. Military discourse can be hierarchical, patriarchical, masculine, aggressive, violent, gendered, colonial, racist and dehumanising.

Military discourse is about one social group, in this case the U.S.military, demonstrating and exerting its power over another, the Afghani villagers, and the way it goes about it is direct and explicit. In the scene starting at 0:15, Captain Kearney is at the weekly Shura (meeting) with the village elders and is telling them what he wants from them “I need you to join with the government […] and I’ll flood this whole place with money, with projects, with healthcare, with everything”. He is clearly demonstrating his power as he says he can make their lives materially better if they cooperate. His identity and relationship to the elders, at first sight, appears to be one of ‘provider’. His behaviour is paternalistic. He is talking to a group of men who are at least twice his age, who are respected members of their community as if they were his subordinates as if they were children who he is trying to reward if they behave as he wants them to. The elders do not appear to be interested in his offer and their main concern is that with the arrival of a new company of the soldiers members of their community will not be killed while working in the fields. On the surface, one understanding of the relationship betweenKearney and the elders is that theU.S. military are there to help the villagers to develop; to improve the quality of their lives. This representation of the Afghanis is from a capitalist view of the world where it is ‘common sense’ to assume that the villagers would want materialistic improvements to their lives as this would result in their society becoming more ‘developed’.  Another understanding of the relationship is that theU.S. military is an invading army and the villagers are a subjugated people. The villagers primary concern is not the building of a road or material wealth, they just want to ensure that no more of their family and clan members are going to get killed. Can theU.S. military really fulfil such promises of material improvements? Surely, that is not its role. They are more concerned about making the area secure so that they can build a road and fight the Taliban and to do that they need to have the cooperation of the village elders. In the interview with Kearney at 09:48 reveals his true motive behind helping the villagers “… so I want to extend the security bubble because wherever I can place troops and wherever I can provide security is where I am going to have any influence on the populous …”. In short, he can control them more easily.

When theU.S.military are out on patrol and they encounter Afghani male villagers in their villages, the relationship and identity we see is that of suspect to interrogator. Male villagers, especially younger males, are seen as being connected to the Taliban in some way. Like suspicious police officers theU.S.military do not believe the villagers and treat them disrespectfully. In the scene that starts at 28:15 a young male villager is made to come out of his home at dawn for questioning. At 29:52 while interrogating the villager, Lieutenant Gillespie says “… you have pretty clean hands for a goatherd […] where did you get that watch man, you guys have got a lot of goats”. The villager’s subject position is one of suspected Taliban and therefore the enemy, which, from the soldiers’ perspective, means he has probably been shooting at them. The language that Gillespie uses, and the fact the interrogation is taking place in front of the man’s own home in his own village, is to demonstrate that he has the power in the relationship. When asked for information on the Taliban the villager replies “if we let you know about the Taliban we will get killed”. The villagers realise that they can be killed by either the Taliban or theU.S.military and in both cases the subject position is that of victim.

Older male villagers are also treated as suspects and the language and body language used by the soldiers sets up a suspect – interrogator relationship. At 31:59 a soldier orders the village elder to “sit down! Sit down!” while jabbing his finger at him. The elder is then taken away because they find what appears to be an Afghan army jacket while searching his house. The way the soldiers behave towards the villagers is to demonstrate that they hold the power in the relationship and the soldiers believe they have the authority to wake villagers at dawn, interrogate and take them away. But where does that authority come from? One understanding of these events is theU.S.military is justified in questioning and arresting suspects as they are fighting a war, a war which is part of the greater theU.S.“War on Terror”. However, theU.S.military is an invading army; they are an army of occupation. They do not have any legal basis for their actions, yet they act as if they do. A relationship of invader – occupied has been set up and theU.S.military asserts its power in this relationship through its arsenal.

The next Shura with the village elders starts at 38:00 with them arriving and being greeted by the soldiers. Kearney wants to discuss the building of the road, but some of the elders want to know why one of their villagers has been detained. You can sense his irritation with the elders at not wanting to discuss his agenda and at 40:18 he tells an elder “you are not understanding that I don’t fucking care”. From his perspective, he does not understand that what is most important to the villagers is the safety of their own family and clan. His ‘common sense’ assumption is that arresting the “bad guys” and improving the material well-being of villagers is the ‘natural’ course of action. The villagers are concerned about the safety of their families and clan. From their perspective the presence of the U.S. military will not make their lives more secure, quite the opposite; their presence endangers them. In the scene at the outpost which starts at 40:48 the soldiers are encouraged by the fact that for the first time three village elders have come to provide them, they assume, with information on the Taliban. However, they have come to discuss compensation for a cow that the soldiers in the outpost had killed because, from the villagers’ perspective, the event is represented as illegal. The soldiers do not share this representation of the event; in fact, they find it amusing that the villagers have come to be compensated. This goes against the soldiers’ reading of the situation. The soldiers’ relationship with the villagers could be likened to a feudal landlord to serf relationship and they are almost shocked by the villagers’ boldness. By killing and then eating the cow the soldiers show a complete lack of respect for the villagers. They do not comprehend how their killing of the cow could be considered illegal and have no intention of paying them compensation. At 43:30 a sergeant tells the interpreter “we are not going to be able to give them the money, if money … if that’s all he came for he’s not going to get any”.

The film shows the lethal aftermath of aU.S.military air strike at 54:43 on a village killing five villagers and wounding ten others. There are powerful images of a father holding the wounded baby and injured children being given first aid by the soldiers. There is a dead body covered by a blanket next to the village elder who, at 56:20, asks the soldiers “there is five guys already dead, ten of kids and females are injured so show which of them is the Taliban, there is no Taliban”. For the audience the villagers are seen as innocent victims. However, this is not how they are seen by theU.S.military.Kearneyat 56:57 “… I’m killing five locals that may not have been pulling the trigger, but in one way, shape or form were connected [to the Taliban]”. The identity, through the discourse, for those killed is that they are at the same time both Taliban and victims and the setting up these identities allows the U.S. military to justify the killing and wounding of the villagers. TheU.S.military brings in Lieutenant Colonel Ostlund supposedly to apologise to the villagers. The audience does not know if Ostlund does apologise, or not, as it is not shown. What is shown is rather than apologising Ostlund warns the villagers of the consequences of helping the Taliban “… [the Taliban] pay your sons a small amount of money to go ahead and shoot at my soldiers and my soldiers end up killing your sons”. TheU.S.military is seeing the villagers as enemies and this allows them to justify the killing of the villagers. TheU.S.military do not show any remorse or accept any responsibility for the deaths.

The killing of the villagers does have consequences. At 60:35 Kearneyexplains that they have just heard over the radio “… the elders are in charge of what is going on and that the elders basically want Jihad down here in the Korengal”. As a result of deaths the elders have decided or perhaps have been given no other option other than to side with the Taliban and fight the invasion. The power struggle in the valley intensifies as the villagers join the Taliban in resisting theU.S. military’s attempt to assert their power over the populous.

The aspect I have focused on in this analysis is the relationship between theU.S.military and the local population. The film makers have shown how this relationship evolves over Second Platoon’s fifteen-month deployment and how theU.S.military see the villagers and how the villagers view theU.S.military. TheU.S.military see themselves as providers of help to the villagers; they want to provide work and develop the infrastructure. They need to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people in order to be able to pursue their war against the Taliban. They do not see themselves as an invading army of occupation. The villagers want to be able to go about their daily lives safely; to work in the fields without being killed. TheU.S.military’s relationship with the villagers worsens over time as a result of their behaviour and actions. TheU.S.military do not view the villagers as equals but rather as less materially developed and inferior to them because the villagers are poorer and they are from a culture that is alien to American’s. They do not win the villagers’ hearts and minds. In fact they achieve the opposite. Through searches, detentions, lack of respect for local laws and customs and indiscriminate killing the villagers join the Taliban in resisting theU.S.military invasion.

The film makers have also contributed to film genre of war documentary by showing the futility of war. In the end theU.S.military pulls out of the Korengal valley leaving it in a worst condition than when they arrived. Over fiftyU.S.soldiers and unknown number of the local population lost their lives. The road does not get built, the villagers’ standard of living does not improve and theU.S.military does not make the valley a safer place.

Bibliography

Burke, B. (1999, 2005) “Antonio Gramsci, schooling and education”, the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-gram.htm.

Fairclough, N. (1995) Media Discourse, London:Arnold

Gillespie, M. and Toynbee, J., eds. (2006): Analysing Media Texts, Maidenhead:  Open University Press

Graddol, D. and Boyd-Barrett, O. (1994): Media Texts: Authors and Readers, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters in association with the Open University


A Second look at Second Life

12/04/2011

I’ve been looking at the affordances of Second Life in preparation for an assignment. I thought it might be useful to share my observations.

Advantages:
1. Appeals to shyer learners as there is increases anonymity which helps reduce their sense of anxiety. The use of an alias, or with SL an avatar, helps them interact as their inhibitions are overcome , they feel more confident and contribute more than they would in a F2F course (Sutton, 2001:.234).

2. The avatar helps reduce anxieties about appearance .

3. In language learning it bring students from different language and cultural backgrounds together where they have communicate via the target language. The communication is authentic and meaningful and therefore is motivating.

4. Communication is synchronous.

5. 3D environment can be exploited in the same way you would a normal environment.

6. SL is a familiar environment to learners that are used to gaming, and so the context is less strange than other VLEs.

7. Interactions are kinesthetic: learners act out particular steps rather than just watch and discuss

8. Promotes a sociocultural approach to learning

 

Disadvantages:
1. You can encounter unpleasant and malicious people – danger of net-abuse.

2. Visual queues such as body language and eye contact are missing which has turn-taking implications.

3. Technological overload for beginners – too many features to take on-board

4. The avatar’s appearance might be over-elaborate and be distracting or offensive to some cultures.

5. People get lost.

6. Technical issues – processor speed, graphics card, and insufficient memory size  to run SL. Bandwidth and internet availability issues.

7. SL is commercial – people are out to make money.


A Second Life to Connect

11/03/2011

I had the opportunity to be shown around both Second Life  Adobe Connect yesterday. I think there is potential in SL, but, how complicated it comes across as! I think the potential technical issues associated with having a class learnings on SL for the first time would put them off. I like technology but, boy, did it come across as complicated. Participants need to haveaccess to a reasonably new computer. Perhaps because we were being an overview of what it potentially could too I was getting TMI. I think it is a great (and free) tool where learners in dispersed locations can meet up and chat synchronously. It offers affordances that  synchronous chat such as Skype can’t. I like the fact that you can move, do things with your hands, see who you are talking too (avatar), interact with the environment; you get a sense of immediacy (Woods & Baker, 2004) . You can also be your alter ego in the form of your avatar which might encourage shier learners to participant. I suppose you shouldn’t think of it as trying to replicate F2F communication or as an alternative to DTVC; it is something in its own right and I can see the potential for teaching, but it would take quite a bit of time to develop the skills needed to teach/learn in SL.

I was instantly impressed by Adobe Connect – by far the best DTVC tool I’ve come across. Just being able to see all the faces of my fellow students (for first time) and tutor via video really helped me feel connected to them; there was a real sense of immediacy. There were breakout rooms to facilitate group work. There are various “pods” where the teacher can poll the students, present documents, use a whiteboard and assign learners to breakout rooms with tasks for that particular group to undertake. There was very little delay between the sound and image and the quality of both was excellent. There were 6 of us altogether so it was easy to see all the participants via video. If there were 10, 12 or more students the size of the video images would be reduced so that they could all fit in the video pod. So far, the closest to a F2F classroom that I’ve come across. This would be an ideal tool to have at the beginning of an online course as it really facilitates the building of a community of learners, connectedess and social presence.