A Novel Concept

05 Oct

We’ve all heard it before, seen it in movies, read about it in books… that world where the “parlor families” of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 meet and laugh and eat together, that world of Pixar’s WALL-E, with slug-like people in their floating chairs, playing virtual golf, wearing virtual clothes.

That world in Minority Report, where mall-advertisements know you and your preferences with a simple scan of your iris. Not to mention our old favorite, that world in The Matrix. And if you’re looking for an even MORE outlandish version, check out The Social Network and Zuckerberg’s crazy online world, that one where human beings supposedly can meet and interact with other human beings… virtually? What a novel concept!

…Oh, wait.

JK. LAWLZ. ROFL.   (note my clever integration of online lingo… oh, the irony…)


Or rather, worlds.

The idea of a life lived totally and utterly fused with technology is nothing new to us. For many, it has become pure reality… and as hackneyed or heretical as it may sound, I truly believe that this brave new electric frontier may well one day (today?) morph into some ugly universal curse, rather than the shining progressive blessing we’ve venerated.

As for me, that day arrived a year ago, when I first was introduced to online education during my year in China. I took a mere 3 classes via the web, and ultimately, those classes consumed my life. Literally. To give you an idea, I spent more time on the computer during the day than I actually spent teaching English, which was one of my main reasons of going in the first place. I found myself unable to devote myself to my Chinese family and to their world because I constantly was drawn back to the nagging, hypnotic, blue glow of the world inside my screen. It was a tragedy… there I was, living in a country full of intrigue and adventure and challenge, breathing its air, eating its food, befriending its people… and I stared at an 8-by-11 inch space of pixellated unreality for a good third of the day. (That said… I should probably be thankful for the fact that I had a computer to use in the first place; without one, without the online classes, my year in Beijing never would have been possible, so… I guess that makes my argument slightly less plausible…)

Nonetheless, my deep and burning bitterness towards technology remains… (dramatic music cue) …and believe it or not, as thankful as I am to OSG, this same bitterness has rekindled during these last few weeks of classes.

The Haiku interface and all the supplements (Twitter, Voicethread, GoogleDocs, GoogleReader, Vimeo, WordPress… am I missing any?) is engrossing, engaging, useful… it “connects” me with people I never would have otherwise interacted with, it allows me to study and discuss on my own time… it has successfully managed to plug me into a myriad of various networks with which I can more easily connect with my fellow human beings.

This is exactly why I dislike it so intensely.

First of all, I’ll just say, as a kind of disclaimer, the class itself is brilliant. I love the questions we’re asked, I’ve been forced to think deeply about my country, I’ve become more aware of my responsibilities as a citizen. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my classmates and my teacher (even if, to put it bluntly, they will remain nothing more to me than a pixellated face for the entirety of our acquaintance). I genuinely and truly can say that I like AP Government (even if the workload occasionally is a little… ah, shall we say… strenuous? Challenging? I’m-dying-of-court-case-report-syndrome-please-call-an-ambulence?)

But learning online is tough. I like people. I like knowing their stories, seeing their faces, engaging. The classes I perform best in are the classes in which I am most engaged on a personal level.

Let’s face it… I know nothing more about all of you than your academic writing style, your inferred political opinions, and the few personal facts you imparted to me over a slightly fuzzy computer-camera film (loaded and posted to Vimeo). For all that I’ve been able to know via Haiku, Mr. G could actually be an ax-murderer (NO OFFENCE, MR. G!) with an astonishingly convenient amount of knowledge about U.S. and World government. I can’t hear him or my classmates laugh or shout… I can’t see them just be human.

And in a very sad (but true) sense, I can never truly be friends with my fellow OSG classmates… when you boil it down, friendship is action, not a few pixels that form a face or a word, even if it is a kind face or a kind word. I still don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

An online education is convenient. It’s fast. It’s full of facts and figures and thoughts. It’s impressive. It’s progressive. (or so they tell me…)

But when all is said and done, what do we want education to be about? The speed and ease with which we can post or repost thoughts and ideas? The amount of ways we can express ourselves virtually?

Or… do we want it to be about encouraging us to take action in the world… the real, physical, people-are-getting-shot-at-and-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it world?

Maybe we can talk about that choice sometime, as a class, in a real room somewhere… a room where “chat” is more than the pixels and sound waves of a “chat room.” Discuss and comment face to face… where faces aren’t compiled into some kind of “face book,” or crunched into some kind of “face time.”

Real people talking to, learning with, real people.

What a novel concept.


Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Learning


28 responses to “A Novel Concept

  1. Ellen

    October 5, 2012 at 7:25 am

    While reading your blog, I was surprised by the stance that you took and I reflected on my own opinions about the subject. The issue of online learning and its benefits has been hotly debated for the past couple years. In my personal opinion, I believe that there is some positive effects of using technology to connect with other learners around the world. However, I also agree with the statement that plain-Jane, old pencil and paper learning has huge benefits. The published books that are accredited and factual, are better educational tools than the internet. It is very difficult for students to dig through and decipher information that they can use. Thank you for your opinion and I look forward to hearing more from you!


    • miasinpie

      October 5, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Hi Ellen,

      Thanks for your speedy reply! You’re absolutely right… online learning does have it’s benefits! Re-reading my blog post this morning, I worry that I didn’t quite emphasize my appreciation for it enough; online learning does open doors to parts and people of the world I otherwise never would have experienced! However I do feel strongly about my various reasons for disliking it… I guess, because we live in such a technological age, I have the rest of my life to make the ultimate decision on my feelings toward an internet education. Anyway, thank you so much for your comment; I hope you have a fabulous weekend!


  2. mckay1128

    October 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Your blog post was not only insightful, but a lot of fun to read. Right away you pulled me in with your movie references and personality. I think it’s great that you were able to acknowledge the pros and cons of technology, especially it’s impact on education. I can relate to quite a few of your examples on use of technology, also being one of Mike Gwaltney’s students. However, while you take his class online, I come to school each day and take class with him in person. While it’s great that technology allows us to connect with people all over the world, face to face interaction is also extremely important. Keep up the great blogging!


    • Mike Gwaltney

      October 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm


      Thanks for commenting here, and confirming for Mi that I’m not just a virtual person, or “ax-murderer” (a bit harsh, Mi).

      To the bigger point about technology, it’s important to note that, for both of you, your experiences with online courses/connections are just little pieces of all your contact with other people every day. By no means would anyone like me, or other tech enthusiasts, suggest that you should only ever interact with people online. And in your education, one class online or partially online during a school year doesn’t seem like too much “virtual connecting” – as Mi might call it – since you are face-to-face most all other time, right?



      • miasinpie

        October 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm

        Hi Mr. G!

        (Just to get this part of the story straight, I’m sure you’re not an ax murderer… but if you hadn’t notice with my incorporation of the movie clips, I do have a flair for the dramatic! 🙂
        And you’re very right about the tech-to-reality ratio… however, I failed to mention that my school has a one-to-one laptop program, which means all of our classes are conducted with the computer as our primary tool… science experiments are done virtually, notes are taken via Word, all of my friends and teachers communicate via a program called First Class. So, perhaps it makes sense that I react so strongly to the OSG interface. The technological implications of my educational experiences have built up over time, and though face-to-face interaction is not entirely off the grid for me, I do feel as though a kind of pixellated noose has been tightening around my school experience since I started my high school career. Either way, I just want to reiterate the fact that the class itself is truly fantastic; I just have developed a kind of psychological electric allergy due to overexposure, (if that makes any sense) and felt as though the blog would be a good way to express it. I hope my ideas have been helpful, and not harmful to your efforts through OSG!


        • Mike Gwaltney

          October 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm


          Thanks for the explanation. I think you’ve described your situation well, in this comment, and I can sympathize with how it must feel.

          This is a place to reflect on your learning, which is what you have done, and I appreciate your honesty. Thanks for sharing. Good work. 🙂


    • miasinpie

      October 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks McKay! I’m so, so glad you found my post engaging, and it actually is SO cool to hear that you’re able to interact with Mr. G in the real world. Because I’ve come to value real-life education so highly, I’m envious! Great to hear from you and thanks so much for taking the time to read and think about my post! Peace,


  3. kevin1234567

    October 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Hi there,
    Awesome job on this blog post! It was very interesting and skillfully written, and it really got me thinking about the topic at hand. However, without technology, how would I, along with the rest of the readers, have heard what you had to say about this topic? Although I agree with you that technology has really overrun the real world, it has its advantages. As I have learned in my experience of blogging for my class (also taught by Mike!), I’ve learned that technology is an extremely efficient way of conveying ideas to people that you would never have been able to meet or talk to. I’m on your side though; I think it has gotten too much, and face to face communication and education seems to be undervalued in our world today (although I’ll admit, I’m a victim of technology myself). Thanks for your interesting thoughts!


    • miasinpie

      October 9, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Kevin!
      Thank you so much for commenting on my post! I’m so glad that others get a sense of what I brought up in there… but you’re right too, in the sense that I wouldn’t be able to so widely express my thoughts if not for the integration os technology into the whole process; it definitely has made a whole new world for knowledge and opinions in the sense that everyone now has a way to express themselves. If only there were a way to genuinely balance the scale? Where do we draw the line? (I feel like I ask the “line” question ALL the time in AP Gov… gosh…) anyway, thanks again for your comment, and shared opinions about this “technolomonster.” Never give in! (haha)

  4. diane2014

    October 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    I thought your post was very insightful and interesting! I too am an online student and use all the required online sites like Vimeo and Voicethread. A comment that I thought was very interesting was what you said about not really knowing the personalities of the other students in the class only their writing styles and political opinions. I understand where you are coming from in some aspects because in my class what I know about my classmates’ lives came from their introductory video. However, I believe that their personalities are reflected off their writing, and I feel as I have gotten to know them through the discussions. Every so often I can tell who wrote what even without looking at their names. Some are funny; some are relatable; and some are intellectual. All the girls in my online class have different personalities, and so I think to know and get a long with someone does not necessarily require knowing every detail of their life. I agree with you that the workload of the course can be stressful at times, but I have learned so much from this class that I think that even though it can be challenging the experience I have gained has surpassed the difficulties. Had I not joined the class(Global Issues), my knowledge of the world affairs would be basically non-existent. I enjoyed reading your post and appreciate how you stated your opinion about your experience with the online course!! I hope to read more posts from you! Great Job!


    • miasinpie

      October 9, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      (I see by your pic that you’ve been to Old Faithful! I really hope to go there one day! I hope it was as cool as I’ve heard it is!)
      Anyway, thank you so, SO much for comment! You’re so right about the writing… one’s writing does tell you a lot more about a person than the mere “style” I guess. One’s personality is often evident in their words… so in that way, I DO know my classmates. I guess I’m so much more of a visual, audible learner that this literally sense-less technological learning is getting to me a bit… Either way, you have a great point! Hope all’s well,


  5. olivia1414

    October 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I really enjoyed reading this post! It’s very interesting, and you expressed your opinion very clearly and eloquently. Most of the people I know think of technology as an advantage, and it definitely has its uses. But having said that, I agree with your point that however much you get out of an online course or project, you still don’t really know the people you are connecting with. Though I’ve never taken an online class, and I don’t have firsthand experience with this, I can’t imagine what it would be like not to know your classmates and teachers personally, not to see and talk to them face-to-face every day. I think we get the most out of technology when it’s used to support personal connection, not take its place. Do you think it would be possible to integrate virtual life and reality in a way that still allows face-to-face communication to be valued? Great post, keep up the good work!

    • miasinpie

      October 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      (love your name, by the way!!)
      Thank you so much for your comment! In answer to your question… well, honestly, I ask myself the same thing every day! I failed to mention that my school has a one-to-one laptop program, which means all of our classes are conducted with the computer as our primary tool… everything we do, all the notes and projects and collaborations have something to do with computers! So, perhaps it makes sense that I react so strongly to the OSG interface, because it’s just ANOTHER kind of technological thing to add to my life! Either way, your question is a super important one… I think perhaps in a perfect world, technology used as a social/communication medium could be limited in a way for relationships that transpire over a great deal of space… so that you would be forced to actually face-to-face communicate with those who are near you, while still be able to connect with those you would otherwise be unable to dynamically interact with! Again, thank you so much for your comment! Stay groovy,


  6. themcpatrick

    October 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

    “But learning online is tough. I like people. I like knowing their stories, seeing their faces, engaging. The classes I perform best in are the classes in which I am most engaged on a personal level.”

    I agree completely. With my experiences with online learning, that’s what I missed most.

    Mr. G’s age-of-ex class is in a large part online, although we meet in class and as far as I know he’s not an ax-murderer. : D

    But yeah, online homework is the worst. There are so many opportunities for procrastination, not a lot of structure, and the screen can suck your soul away.
    That said, there are some advantages, aren’t there?

    • miasinpie

      October 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      Hi… (do I call you McPatrick? THE McPatrick? Or just Patrick? HELP…)!

      It’s fantastic to hear someone else out there echoing my words and thoughts! (And spot ON with the online homework… I’m literally (or is it virtually?) drowning!
      There ARE some advantages… like I said in one of the comments above, education technology definitely has made a whole new world for knowledge and opinions in the sense that everyone now has a way to express themselves… which is wonderful, right? I mean, that’s what we’re doing at this moment, right? …EXCEPT for the fact that after this comment, the odds are we wont really talk again! I don’t really know you, but I know your ideas… but shouldn’t both go hand in hand?
      Again, thanks for your comment and your question – great to “hear” from you!!
      And keep an eye on that soul… like you said, them screens are great thieves!


  7. shoults076

    October 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm


    Great post! I’ve got Mike as a teacher in real life, and I just want you to know he is definitely the ax-murder type 😉
    Anyways, while I can’t say I dislike technology (you seem to hate on it a lot in your post), I definitely avoid social media. I haven’t had, nor want, a Facebook, I don’t really want a twitter, and I only recently got a google plus attached with my Gmail (don’t even use it at all…). That being said, online education is not THAT bad. For example, I have completed a number of courses on Thinkwell and then skipped ahead in my school. I don’t particularly miss the classes that I didn’t take. And you know, sometimes an online education allows people to take something that normally he/she would not have otherwise taken. So perhaps you should relax a bit, take a strange Coursera course, and keep an open mind about online learning.


    • miasinpie

      October 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      Hello David!

      My goodness… I had no idea I wasn’t “relaxed…” I guess I’m just a really passionate person! And I had no idea my post gave such an intensely negative impression! No, I don’t like technology, but that’s not to say I HATE it… I have so much to thank it for!! My main issue with online education is that certain courses/interfaces detract from true interaction with other people. For example, if you knew me as I really am, and weren’t just reading my blog posts, you’d know that though I have strong opinions, I actually am quite a relaxed person, and am very open-minded to many different kinds of education. For example, I did mention in my blog post that I took online classes while living in Beijing… I could have just as easily transferred to an international school instead… but I chose online education because I had an open mind to the potential benefits it offered. (And when it comes to strange online courses… I recently took an Herbs and Planting course online, and I’m now equipped with knowledge about the proper ways to plant basil… all thanks to online education!) Like I said, my main problem with online education is that it takes away from real, human interaction. For example, though I’ve loved replying to your well-though comment, for all I know, YOU COULD BE AN AX-MURDERER TOO… 😉
      Haha, anyway, thanks for your thoughts David, and I’ll try to keep a calmer, more open mind in the future. Hope all’s cool and groovy on your end of the Wi-Fi,


      • shoults076

        October 10, 2012 at 11:15 am


        Haha yes, you come off as a passionate… or very perky person. You are right that I don’t know you very well from one blog post. However, there is a lot that you can learn about a person from their writing style — something that may not happen in real life simply because people are more likely to talk with each other. Also, to respond to your problem: there are a lot of new technologies being developed probably to help cope with what you and others like you are feeling (interactive classrooms and such). And maybe I am an ax-murderer ;D


        P.S. by calmer… perhaps I meant a little less energetic 😛

  8. KW

    October 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Mi,
    I really like your style of writing in this! What a “novel” idea! How punny. Beyond your clever jokes, I also enjoyed your post for your points. I’ve also been noticing the difference between regular classes and this class. It encourages me to be on the internet and computer more which unfortunately, for someone well connected with facebook and tumblr, means more procrastination.
    I love technology, and all the opportunities it provides. After all, I’m talking to you, aren’t I? I’m also able to take classes I never would have taken at my home school. But sometimes I wish we would just go back to basics, learning face to face, or with pen and paper, or some other traditional method that, while boring, did get the job done!
    Thanks for your interesting post!

    • miasinpie

      October 9, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      Hi KW!
      Thank you so much for your comment! You’re so right…. technology is addictive, and we have a lot to thank it for… but there IS that draw to return to the “old-school” days. I wonder what EXACTLY that draw is? Like, why specifically can’t I, or you, just be completely be content with technological interaction? What is it about humanity that needs to be so connected, not just virtually? Don’t reply if you don’t want to, I’m just spouting food for thought! Anyway, thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found my jokes funny… (trust me, that doesn’t happen often, so I’m quite flattered!) Stay punny,


  9. skylar

    October 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Hi, your post really caught my attention. I really liked your cleverness and style. I do agree with what your are saying. I do not necessarily like all this online work and such myself. I believe it is because of where I’m from and how I was raised. For the people who like all this internet “stuff”, they are having a blast. I agree with KW, seems like when I do work online, I procrastinate much more than homework out of a textbook. I do like how you can find info fast and watch videos. And of course, buying things online. That might be bad thing though…..I will be looking forward to another post, great work!

  10. miasinpie

    October 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Hey there Skylar!
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my post! It’s awesome to hear that you liked and found it interesting! You’re right… it does seem so much easier to procrastinate with so many online resources… I could be reading an assignment one minute, and the next, with one click, watching something on youtube, or checking my Facebook. The internet is one huge mess of distraction! But you’re right… it does speed things up, and it does open up a good deal of resources (including new shoes…) Hopefully one day we can find a balance! Thank you so, so much for your comment!


  11. Victoria

    October 11, 2012 at 8:36 am

    My name is Victoria and I’m from Mississippi. I’m currently studying at the University of South Alabama in order to become an educator. I’ll be honest, when first reading your post I was a little confused because you seemed to be against a life fused with technology. After reading to the end though, I completely understand where you were going. I agree it gets a little frustrating when you are taking a course online and you never set eyes on your classmates and professor. Being able to put a face and personality to a name is important, especially when you are communicating with your peers via IM or comments on a blog. There are some good things about online classes, however. I like the fact that I can work at my own pace when I’m enrolled in an online course. But, there are some cons, as you discussed. I enjoyed reading your blog post! I was always a bit indifferent to online classes, but your post got me thinking about the things that are wrong with online learning. Keep up the good work! And good luck in your courses!

  12. miasinpie

    October 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Hi Victoria from Mississippi!
    Thanks so much for your comment! I definitely agree… pros and cons come with the whole world of technology in a myriad of ways. And, working at your own pace truly is wonderful (except if you get notoriously distracted like me…) but I agree, that freedom is wonderful, even if it does heighten the amount of self-responsibility involved. I’m glad my post got you thinking, and I hope that your adventures at university are fulfilling and fantastic! Good luck to you as well!


  13. Bo Goodrich

    October 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Hey Mi,

    I feel your pain, having a class even mostly online is pretty hard for me, I can’t even imagine never seeing people face to face! I’m very much so a person that like to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye, and without that, I feel way less comfortable, and feel like I’m going out on a limb when I voice my opinion online. I do love that I can stay in touch with people from places I used to live like I never would have been able to before, but you just don’t get that body language feedback that you do talking face to face, and thats where it makes me most uncomfortable and what I miss from online communication. When I was little, I didn’t even have cable, and that got me out of the house seeing people face to face, but now when I never see neighbor kids outside I wonder how our next generation will function? Will people only date online, will jobs have people only working from home, will kids just play Xbox all day and no sports? I don’t know, but I think there’s a connection that can only come from being in person with someone, that just can’t be met online. What are your thoughts?

    • miasinpie

      October 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Hi Bo!
      Thank you so, so much for you comment. I totally relate to everything you describe about being a people person… the online world is emboldening, yet also freaky-scary for me, because in some sense, I can hide behind the screen, yet in others I feel like I’m suddenly exposed to the world; body-language and reality in GENERAL just gives me so much mor energy… and speaking of energy… I’ve actually been thinking about that whole tech-vs-exercise thing a lot. What with the invention of “Wii-Fit” etc, will people one day come up with enough excuses to not step outside their houses? The thought scares me… there’s a whole beautiful natural world out there that seems to just be WAITING for me to explore it, running jumping, swimming, biking, etc… but if I’m staring into a screen, well… where will all those activities (and their obvious benefits) go? I absolutely agree that technology will never truly be able to replace in-person, in-world interaction, but I worry sometimes that people are lazy enough to LET it. Especially if you’ve grown up privileged, you can take things like fresh air and exercise/human interaction for granted… whats to say people just wont make an effort to have those things any more, if it’s “just easier” to interacte virtually? Anyway, thank you so much for your comment… your thoughts definitely got these mind-gears whirring!

  14. Amy Archer

    October 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    My name is Amy Archer. I am a student at The University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. One of our assignments each week is to read students’ blog post from around the world and leave a comment. I have to say, I am more than impressed with your blog post.
    You are a wonderful writer, and I cannot tell you how happy I am that I was able to read your post. You addressed your thoughts and opinions about technology critically, and you made it personal at the same time. I haven’t read something this inspirational in awhile.
    I do agree with you that online classes can be frustrating because you do not get face-to-face contact. I do not know if you are enrolled only at an online high school or if you go to a high school each day and take only this class online, but I do believe this class is helping you more than you realize.
    I can tell that you are responsible and motivated, so I know that you will make it far in life. However, I do recommend you take classes that are face-to-face in a classroom if you are not already. Over the past two years in my academic career in college I have taken many classes in the classroom, as well as online. All of my classes are now web enhanced, which means that I have assignments online and resources available for extra help in Sakkai.
    You will be ready to enter college head on when you graduate from high school because you are already familiar with blogging and all that technology has to offer. I know you want that one-on-one attention with your classmates, and it upsets you that you do not see them face-to-face every day, but do not forget how much you are learning through this online class. I am a people person, so I completely understand where you are coming from.
    My suggestion to you is to email some of your classmates and set up a study session if it is possible. I have had study groups with classmates from some of my online classes and we would meet at coffee shops and work on the assignments together. I do not know if this is possible for you in your situation, but I hope that you can!
    Keep up your hard, diligent work, and never give up! You are an amazing student!
    Amy Archer

    • miasinpie

      October 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Hi Amy! Wow, thank you so, SO much for your comment – you have no idea how encouraging it is to hear that you were inspired! Also, you happen to have a serious gift of encouragement in general… it’s not every day people tell you that “you’ll make it far in life!” So thank you very, very much! That’s really, really interesting to here that college classes are more internet-oriented… i though I might be able to escape it all once high-school ended, but it looks like I have some long years ahead of me. Oh well! And thank you for your advice – it probably would hugely benefit me to start reaching out to my classmates in a more proactive way, to try and sort of break the tech-barrier in SOME way by making the class experience more personalized. Your study-sesh idea is brilliant, and I’ll definitely being keeping that one in mind as we all get closer to the AP exam. Anyway, thank you again so much for you comment – it was a total shot of life!


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