Where am I? Somewhere in-between?

Clark* explored what am ‘I’ and how technology can redefine who we are. In his piece ‘Where am I?’ Dennett** fictionalised the philosophical quandary of where the ‘self’ resides. Is it in the brain – Yorick? Is it in the body -Hamlet? Or is it elsewhere? Can we create an AI self, like Hubert?

When his brain and his body are ‘severed’ he recognises that ‘he’ is both inside the vat where his brain is stored and outside of it too. We exist in at least two places concurrently: corporeally and cognitively. And cognitively we can range, explore, be ‘elsewhere’.

Greenhalgh and Spenser*** explore how the binary between the corporeal and the virtual has defined discussions and debates about traditional and online education. ‘Skeptics of online education’ they claim, ‘ have argued that online education is anti-real, anti-embodiment, anti-expertise, and anti-human.’ (p.315) They claim that a false binary has been established between f-2-f education and online education and that, instead, we should recognise ‘the possibility of hybridity, flow, simultaneity, and in-between-ness’ (p.315).

This is ‘where we are’ when we are online: we are somewhere ‘in-between’; we are Hamlet and Yorick and Hubert and more simultaneously. And we are creating that ‘self’ too.

Geenhalgh and Spenser go on to highlight Jenkins and Castells’ observation that ‘the digital sphere is reliant on human connections and linkage; reliant on spreading into multiple online and real world contexts, in order to stay relevant’. Successful technologies, they argue, ‘must link spaces, knowledges and people into relationships’ (p.318):



In terms of technologies which ‘augment’ ‘real-life’ experience, they highlight geo-caching, Strava and Google Glasses and they pose a challenge for edtech:


This is a germane challenge and one which, in my field of school technologies, is already being taken up. One school Yearbook which I worked on has within it augmented reality content: scan some of the content with your device and you are presented with voices, videos and animations which augment the printed text. I’ve also worked with schools to use the fabric of their buildings, the physical space, to generate virtual AR content. So, we have a science ‘murder mystery’ hunt which starts with the students scanning their seemingly empty school hall to reveal the prone figure of their murdered Headmaster. They must they follow the virtual reality clues to uncover the identity of the murderer. Many schools are now using QR codes and AR to bring their physical spaces to life, to add layers of digital content and information to the fabric of their learning spaces. Smart-signage is being introduced which knows who is looking at it – Year 7? Teacher? Parent? – and adjusts the content accordingly. Feedback and marking can be transformed through digital layering; when I was teaching a group of Year 8s with low literacy levels a few years ago, I didn’t provide written feedback; rather, they were provided with a QR code which linked to video content of me talking through their work for them. This had much more impact on their performance than written feedback.

These hybrid experiences are powerful and it is encouraging to see also the increasing use of Google Cardboard and 3D content within classrooms. However, these advances are, as yet, nascent and specific. Generalised adoption of such innovation requires, as Greenhalgh and Spenser note, boldness and imagination. Might it be that Zuckerberg’s Oculus or Nadella’s HoloLens bring the required impetus?

*Clark, A. (2003). Natural born cyborgs: minds, technologies and the future of human intelligence, Oxford: OUP chapter 1, ‘Cyborgs unplugged‘, pp.13-34
**Dennett, D.  (1981). Chapter 13:  Where am I?.  From Hofstadter, D. and Dennett, D. (eds) The Mind’s I:  Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul.  Penguin Press:   London.
*** Greenhalgh-Spencer, H., (2014). What Technology Reveals: Countering Binaries and Moving Toward the In-Between. Philosophy of Education Archive, pp.315–323.

3 Replies to “Where am I? Somewhere in-between?”

  1. Hello Helen,

    I see you’ve picked up on my question on your last post in this post.

    I agree that some commentators have created an unhelpful binary distinction between f2f and online education.

    I guess I think that my ‘where I am’ is always in my body but sometimes also crossing the boundaries out of my body. How about you?

    That’s interesting that Strava and Geocaching get a particular mention. I use both of those technologies but I’m not sure how they augment real life experience in a fundamentally different way from something like facebook? Maybe it’s because they give you real time information overlay on the physical world e.g. the location and clues for geocaches or who is cycling past and what marked routes you are doing on Strava? Any ideas?

    Great to see you drawing in your own teaching practice here. Why do you think the videos for feedback had much more impact?



  2. Hi Velda,

    I was thinking about ‘presence’ and about where I am this morning when I was reading on the train into London. I was, while immersed within my reading, disconnected from a sense of my body, from a sense of the busy-ness around me. And then the ticket collector announced his presence and, like Dennett, found myself back with ‘Hamlet’.

    I’m interested that you geocache (is that the verb?): it’s something that’s interested me but I’ve not yet got round to it. How did you start? Is it an engaging community? I think the point that was being made about geocaching and Strava was, as you suggest, the interplay between the grounded, the physical, and the virtual community which builds around it. I think the difference between Strava/geocaching and Facebook is that the digital information can effect a difference in physical interactions with a place. I might, for example, try harder on a particular segment of my run because I know that I want to beat my own or another’s time. I guess you follow particular routes as you are looking for a geocache. You might be motivated to ‘stash’ a cache somewhere too?

    The video feedback worked well for a number of reasons I think. Firstly, these were children who had difficulties with reading and writing and who, therefore, could simply understand more of what I was explaining in a video. This was the practical and utilitarian rationale behind my offering feedback in this way. However, what became apparent was that the impact was not just about the pragmatic benefits; there was much more happening. The children reacted positively to seeing me interacting with what they had produced: they could see me ‘at work’, commenting on their work in personalised terms. They also appeared to begin to make different levels of connection with me. They enjoyed catching the odd glimpse of my house in the background of the videos, or seeing me with ‘Sunday hair’ when I was ‘marking’. It was different too: they may have undertaken a multitude of different tasks within a week of their life in school but, in the main, the feedback they received was either written or face-to face real time and oral. The videos meant that they could interact with the feedback: they could play it back and pause it when necessary. On reflection, the next step which it would be interesting to undertake would be to see if I could facilitate a video dialogue around the feedback and assessment process. I’m no longer in the classroom, but it might be an idea which I can begin to explore with my teacher colleagues.



  3. Hi Helen,

    Yes geocaching is a very engaging community. There’s lots of online chat in the cache logs and also F2F events. You get started here: https://www.geocaching.com/play

    Yes I see what you mean now, both geocaching and strava do affect the way that you interact with physical places in a way that facebook does not. I have hidden some caches and I do now look at places differently as I keep thinking ‘that would be a good place for a cache’. Photography has also made me look at places differently and interact differently with them.

    Thanks for the explanation about the impact of the videos, that makes a lot of sense.



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