We are back with another great episode of Fully Automated. In this episode, we step back a little bit from the grander political themes that we are usually preoccupied with, to do an episode on the pedagogical possibilities (and challenges) presented by contemporary technology.
When it comes to online teaching in the discipline of International Relations, there are very few that can claim to have the experience or insight of Dr. Sebastian Kaempf. Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland (Australia), Kaempf is a scholar of global media politics, focusing on the impact of changing media technologies on contemporary conflicts. He is also is the producer (with UQx and edX.com) and convenor of ‘MediaWarX’, one of UQ’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and probably one of the largest political science MOOCs in the world.
For some, MOOCs seem to represent a sort of ultimate form of “democratized” education whereas, for others, they seem to herald the dawn of a new dystopian age. For Kaempf, now a longtime veteran of online teaching, its important to bring some nuance to this conversation. Pedagogy can make a difference. And, as you’ll hear in this conversation, Kaempf and his partners at UQ put a lot of thought and material resources into their approach, pushing the medium to the very edge of what it can accomplish.
Here then, Kaempf discusses the minutiae of how he and his colleagues actually built and delivered the course. On the one hand, they avoided the traditional lecture form in favor of what they call “spaced learning” — because research shows that human beings kind of struggle to concentrate that long. On the other, and in a break with the usual stereotype of dry pre-recorded lectures, a central theme of MediaWarX is the seriousness with which they approached the class as a kind of media production. So, for example, portions of the course are presented in a kind of ‘road movie’ or documentary style, blending diverse archival footage with on-site discussions from locations all around the world, and interviews with well-known academics and experts (including Glenn Greenwald!).
We’ll also hear Seb discuss the ethos of “Hacktivism” that he tries to bring to his online teaching. Thus, he uses discovery assignments to teach about everything from how search algorithms work, to how we are addicted to being online, to the power of big data and surveillance. In this way, the course develops a kind of “crowd sourced” content.
Finally, I ask Sebastian about Covid, and where and how it has changed the fate of MOOCs and online instruction in general. After 18 months of more or less totally online instruction, how does his experience of working with, and thinking about, MOOCs effect his perception of the future of online education in a post-pandemic world?
Sebastian Kaempf can be found on Twitter @SebKaempf and his podcast, Higher Ed Heroes, can be found on all leading podcast apps. And his International Studies Perspectives article with Carrie Finn, discussed in the interview, can be located here:
Thanks for listening. Next episode, we go to Korea to visit the crew from the podcast Red Star over Asia. And in the next episode after that, we will be chatting with Christine Louis Dit Sully.