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This post was inspired by the upcoming Elearning & Digital Cultural MOOC being offered by the good people at the MSc in Elearning at the University of Edinburgh. I recommend giving it a try as it is a variation of the same course I took at the University of Edinburgh as part of my MSc and it had a profound effect on what I believed to be possible in elearning. One of those seminal moments when all the boundaries are erased and you begin to envision another world of what’s possible. So, I do recommend the course if you are any or all of the following:

  1. Interested in open learning and MOOCs
  2. Interested in connectivist/constructivist learning in open courses
  3. Interested in utopian and dystopian projections of our future in popular and science fiction
  4. Interested in multimodal storytelling and writing

The material and activities for the course are engaging and the sheer volume of participants should ensure that some healthy discussions emerge from the course. You will, almost guaranteed, find someone that you didn’t know beforehand that challenges and promotes your own learning. However, I wanted to jot this post more to present what the ‘aftermath’ of such an experience can lead to. It led to my MSc, pragmatically, but it also led to any number of changes as to what constitutes academic dialogue, academic evidence, and writing. I evolved as a result of this programme and in particular, this Elearning & Digital Cultures course.

Evolution of What Constitutes Writing and Academic Representation

Anyone who has read this blog in the last six months or so will know this is the subject of my PhD research: new forms of writing made possible by mobile technology. This fascination started, or was certainly articulated, in the midst of this MSc at the University of Edinburgh. We toyed with learning artifacts, essentially assemblies of media and discourse that aggregated to a knowledge representation. A fairly detailed investigation of multimodal resources and how that constitutes academic discourse. The programme team practice what they preach: we were encouraged, strongly encouraged, to present multimodal essays (for lack of a better term) for our own assessed work. Novelty in terms of presentation and alignment with that presentation in terms of discourse were valued. As such, we created any number of learning artifacts along the way leading to the final assessed work at the end of the term.

Even as I sequenced these artifacts here, I noticed their evolution in terms of confidence and complexity, another testament to the subtle challenges embedded in the curriculum and pedagogy of the course. If this can be scaled for the 36,000 participants registered for the MOOC, then I expect an explosion of novel forms and novel applications of discourse. I expect explosions of interaction and activity around learning content, and I expect to see ‘essays’ that I hadn’t thought possible beforehand. In our Elearning & Digital Cultures course in 2010, we saw such an explosion and that was only for a handful of students. We encouraged and propelled and challenged one another to new articulations of understanding. Multimodal essays were constructed that I still revisit as I marvel at their ingenuity and aptitude for challenging the reader. I have no reason to expect that 36,000 people can’t do better. I challenge them to.

This course in 2010 was also a daring experiment for an ‘established’ university to attempt. It was a course in the open, using freely available tools (WordPress and a slew of social media), where student work and feedback was available for all to see. It didn’t invent open learning, but I might humbly suggest it expanded the range of what was indeed possible in that genre. It challenged overall cliches about the limitations of elearning; I stand convinced it is a richer engagement than much face to face learning if constructed in this highly accessible, interactive way.

Some of the writing that was inspired by this course trickled into my blog over the last few years. The following are some of the learning artifacts that I created or that emerged from the Elearning & Digital Cultures course in 2010. It is the course that gives and gives and gives precisely because it changed so much. It was a threshold learning moment in my development arc. I hope it can be for you as well.

Artifact #1: Sensemaking in Digital Culture


Artifact #2: Artistic Depictions of the Future: Structure as Prophet and Architect

A series of writings I did which touch on some of the dystopian/utopian projections of the future found in our popular fiction and consumer culture. This relates directly to some of the investigations we did as part of the course at the University of Edinburgh.

  1. Artistic Depictions of the Future: Structure as Prophet and Architect
  2. The Role of Fiction in Articulating a Navigable Future; Science Fiction as Illumination
  3. Cohesion, Evolution, and the Currency of Ideas: From Halley to Jenner to Curiosity

Artifact #3: A Case for Geography in Elearning

This is a video I did as a side project only tangentially related to the Elearning & Digital Cultures, but completely inspired by it. Through our discussions, I began to realize/articulate that not only does elearning not erase geographical distinctions, but it repositions them in dramatically different ways. This is my explanation of how nomad students like me, ones who have never seen the city or the university, situated ourselves to it. How it spoke to us, even if we had created the mythology around it for our own benefit.


Artifact #4: Flaneur, Augmented Reality in Mobile Tech, and Lower Manhattan

This video was my final submission for the course and represented a large portion of my overall grade for the course. In the original, I provided a PDF text based essay to go along with this video. Much to their credit, the MSc in Elearning instructors called me out on this saying I should have trusted the structure and effect of my multimodal submission rather than use a text-based essay to prop it up. I am paraphrasing here. Either way, they knew what I was doing (hedging my bets with the text-based essay) and they called me on it. I love that.

[wpvideo vBN9qtvJ]

Artifact #5: Being of, but not at, the University of Edinburgh

This was inspired by the course, but not directly a part of it. A few research projects emerged from the course that I was able to participate on and this one was one of those. A project on the role of sound in elearning was another. I include brief writeups from each of these below the video.


  • Edinspace: Online learning provokes questions about the nature of place and institution for distance learners: what does it mean to be a student at Edinburgh who is not in Edinburgh, and what insight does this give us into learning design for high quality distance programmes? This project explores notions of place and institution for the MSc in E-Learning in the School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. Over one year, we will conduct a piece of research in which narrative and visual data is generated by students within the themes of place, home, and institution.
  • Elektroniches-Lernen-Muzik is our attempt to create a place where members of the E-Learning community – and other interested parties – can share ideas, resources and playlists, and engage in discussion surrounding the role of music in elearning. In this project we explore, in an informal way, the influence that music and sound have upon our learning spaces. The idea grew out of a conversation that originally took place in autumn 2010 between participants on the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course, part of the MSc in E-Learning at The University of Edinburgh. Since then, Jeremy, Michael and I (the self-appointed ‘curators’ of this project) have regularly returned to the idea of ‘soundtracking’ our engagement with the E-Learning programme. We’ve talked about how we might discuss and share the impact and influence that music has upon the spaces in which we learn.

So, I suspect it is safe to say that the Elearning & Digital Culture course had a profound effect on me. I regularly speak with other classmates from that course and we still carry that with us, that sense of real exploration and challenges met. I hope your participation in the MOOC provides some of that.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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