Doctoral Musings

Black Mirror

A look into the web of thoughts dark future…

BlackMirrorThe Netflix Original series “Black Mirror” created by Charlie Brooker is a “Twilight Zone” like television show that shows glimpses of technology in the future. Throughout episodes, we see people plugged into technology for various purposes. In the episode “The Entire History of You” written by Jesse Armstrong, we see the ability to recall our memories with specific detail. Of course, this leads to a failed marriage. Similarly, in the episode “Arkangel” written by Charlie Brooker, we see how a similar implant technology can help parents track and even see what their child is seeing. Of course, what parent wouldn’t want to know what their child is doing every second of the day, but at what cost. Things take more of a turn towards the dark in “USS Calister” and “Playtest” both written by Charlie Brooker, where implant technology allows us to enter into alternate artificial worlds. Neither episode has a good outcome. Watch at your own risk!

How does this correlate to the expansion of the web? As technology continues to progress, so will the capability of the internet. TrendOne a research company discusses the progression of the internet and its future.

The internet started out as a web of content, basic information that we as the end user could simply retrieve from. In the early 200’s this became a web of communication, the end user could easily interact with content (eBay auctions or social networks) and could contribute to content (blogs such as this one). Between 2008 and 2012, the internet became a web of context, building virtual worlds and smart interfaces like advertising and virtual shopping.

Today, we are in the web of things, connected in many ways. We have augmented reality, gesture technology, wearable technology, language translation at our fingertips, and of course Siri (or Alexa).

But what does TrendOne predict for the future? Like the show, TrendOne predicts an assortment of new technologies in the 2020’s and beyond called the “web of thoughts” from driverless cars to brain implants that can do everything from spying to augmenting our reality. Other popular items are active contact lenses as seen in the episode “Nosedive” written by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur.   We can also expect to see other forms of human/technology convergence and 5 sense Immersion.

TrendOne The Web Expansion

I am an ever optimistic that we as the human species will continue to use these technologies to improve our lives and help those less fortunate. One of the more personal trends will be driverless cars, in which someday a close friend who does not have good eyesight can actually take himself to the store or not having to worry about grandma and grandpa getting the medicine they need. These technologies cannot come soon enough. But there is a dark side, and this show likes to play into our primal fears when it comes to those dark corners of technology. I must say, if the show Black Mirror is any indication of how technology will lead our society, I am deeply troubled for our future.

Brooker, C. (2014-present) Black Mirror, Netflix

February 26, 2018 – Is Online Learning Situated?

Is Online Learning Situated?

I have been asked recently to discuss whether or not online learning is situated. This is an interesting topic that can go one of two ways. One, we could dive into Situated Learning Theory and its implications in an online or digital environment. Or two, is online learning situated in the context of being set in place or position, i.e. is it a mature technology that is now an established part of our society? My “partner in crime” for this topic, Catlin Tucker, took the Situated Learning Theory road and her wonderful discussion can be found here! Therefore, I will look at the situated stance from a more “established” point of view.

I am currently working my way through the book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology by Michelle Miller. In this book, the first two chapters discuss the idea of online education and its establishment in the greater learning community. In her book, she dives into the idea of online learning being a permanent place of higher education or is it just a fad? Miller suggests that a variety of factors, “it is clear that technology in higher education is in fact here to stay – and that learning to use it well is a worthwhile investment.”

Miller goes on to discuss the validity of online education in comparison to its traditional counterpart. She discusses course design factors and the benefits of technology use versus the hazards. The ultimate conclusion is that if designed correctly, “Empirical research on outcomes tends to favor online learning, with some studies even turning up substantial advantages.”

From my own personal perspective, Miller’s ideas in her book are on point. Good course design does indeed prove advantageous to learning. Furthermore, I do not see online or technology going away, only becoming more prevalent. In fact, online continues to grow at a rate of 5% each year with 5.8 million students taking distance education courses in 2014. (Allen, E., Seaman, J., 2016, p.4).

Online education is indeed coming into its golden age, most instructors use some form of technology in their classroom. If they don’t, they are truly missing out. The advantages keep proving to outweigh any disadvantages. Because of these factors, I do believe online learning is situated. However, there is always room to grow and change.

Miller, M. (2014) Minds Online Teaching Effectively with Technology, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Allen, E., Seaman, J. (2016) Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC. Retrieved December 3, 2017 from:


Activity Theory

Activity Theory holds its roots in the work of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygostky. A core element of the theory is that learning “has always had a strong notion of the individual, while at the same time understanding and emphasizing the importance of a socio-cultural matrix within which individuals develop. (Kaptelinin and Nardi, 2006, p.11) This idea implies that we learn from both (in duality) our natural functions and our cultural functions. Natural functions are our primal needs and instincts. Cultural functions such as the influences of our communities through culture, socioeconomic status, and rules and mediating artifacts such as language or research (tools).

Activity Theory establishes a structural framework or learning activity system by building the relationships of each function.

  • Activity = A purposeful interaction of the subject with the world. (Leont’ev in Kapetelinin & Nardi, 31).
  • Subject (s) = The person or member of the group. The learner.
  • Mediating Artefacts (m) = these are the tools or technology involved with cultural learning. Engeström refers to the use of language as a tool used by communities. (1993)
  • Object (o) = The solution after time has passed. It is the goal or task that is achieved to produce a specific outcome.
  • Rules = The norms and sanctions that specify and regulate the expected correct procedures and acceptable interactions among the participants (Engeström, 1993, p.7)
  • Community = All others that may be affected by or have influence within the activity system.
  • Division of Labor = The continuously negotiated distribution of tasks, powers, and responsibilities among the participants of the activity system. (Engeström, 1993, p.7)

Definitions courtesy of Dr. Lani Fraizer, Pepperdine University (2018).

It is important to establish that there is another dimension in the picture – time – during which the system is constantly synthesized. (Engeström, 1993, p.6)

Brain-Based Learning (BBL) theory is an educational framework that focuses on the “engagement of strategies based on principles derived from an understanding of the brain” (Jensen, 2008). Utilizing Activity theory, a framework can be developed to establish the relationship of BBL, the student, and the desired outcome or learning. Activity Theory also establishes the complexities of the greater community such as federal and state laws, the educational community, divisions of students within the system, and additional tools.

The following is an infographic depicting BBL within an activity system.

BBL Activity Theory

Cole, M., Engeström, Y. (1993) A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition, in: G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (New York, Cambridge University Press), 1-46.
Fraizer, L. (2018) Sway Presentation Feb 14, 2018, Pepperdine University GESP, Los Angeles CA, Retrieved 16, February 2018 from
Jensen, E. (2008). “A Fresh Look at Brain-Based Education.” Phi Delta Kappan. 89(6) 408-417.
Kaptelinin, V., & Nardi, B. (2006). Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design. The MIT Press, Cambridge Mass.

My Educational Perspective

It is hard to specifically pin down what guides my teaching or learning. However, I do keep going back to a framework that I learned while at the Harvard-Macy Institute. At the institute, I was introduced to the educational framework by David A. Kolb called Experiential Learning Theory. Kolb theorized that the differences in the way people learned had to do with the way they perceive and process an experience (Armstrong, E., Parsa-Parsi, R., 2005). Essentially we learn from our experiences. This idea means that education as a whole must start with a foundation for discovering what a person’s experiences are, then reflectin and building upon those experiences to form new knowledge.

Experiential learning does not require a formal educational setting to occur. We learn from our experiences every day. Think about people who become so infatuated with a topic that they often become just as much of an expert than those who teach it. Take amateur rocket scientists for example, with the recent success of SpaceX, there are people who write blogs and create video content that has just as much expert content that an engineer from SpaceX could create.

It is really quite interesting to see how well people can educate themselves about such a complex topic. Not only are they learning it, they are teaching it to others who do not have as high of a level of comprehension. They have become the teacher.

Personally, I do not believe there can be learning without a teacher, even outside of a formal setting. There must be something or someone that does the teaching. It may not be a formally educated professor, but one could argue that there must be a teacher to have learned. A teacher can be a Youtube video, a blog, or a friend chatting about a common interest. This means we are all, in some capacity a teacher. This is a great privilege and should be treated as such!

Armstrong, E., Parsa-Parsi, R., (2005) How Can Physicians’ Learning Styles Drive Educational Planning? Academic Medicine, Vol 80, No. 7.