Thursday, July 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Marshall McLuhan!

poster by D. Kuropatwa (
Marshall McLuhan was born 100 years ago on July 21st. McLuhan, of course, is the famous Canadian media guru from the sixties. McLuhan pioneered the study of media and its effects on society and was famous for his aphorisms and use of metaphor. Who has not heard the phrase 'the global village', 'the medium is the message', 'we shape our tools, then they shape us' and others? McLuhan was called 'the oracle of the information age' for his commentary about media and its effects on society. He was sought after by media and celebrities, and looked down on by many in academia (after all, he dared to be popular, to use dialogue and not lecture, to examine areas outside of his own).  In the latter part of his life, his star faded. In the past decade or so, however, he has come alive again, his words seem prophetic now in our digital age. McLuhan was born in Edmonton, did undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (where I am attending now), finished his education at Cambridge, worked at Assumption University in Windsor (where I was born & grew up) and finished his career at the University of Toronto. He was one  of the first to write about advertising (The Mechanical Bride) and teach courses that foreshadowed the current emphasis on media literacy. His third book, Understanding Media was perhaps the biggest one, in it he stated the famous "the medium is the message" and discussed media as an extension of man. People misunderstood what he was saying at the time, thinking he was implying that content was unimportant, but he was trying to point out that, regardless of the actual message, the medium itself has effects on individuals and society. His book, "The Medium is the Massage" with Fiore, was remarkable in its design, with short blurbs and accompanying images. His last book, written with his son, Eric, published posthumously, was "The Laws of Media" (I recently bought a copy). In it the McLuhans lay out four 'laws', really four questions, to guide our examination of technology and its effects;
  • What does the medium enhance?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does the medium flip into (reverse) when pushed to extremes?
It is remarkable that when you listen to people talk and write about technology, how much is what McLuhan said over 30 years ago. Although he claimed he was not predicting the future, he certainly seemed to do just that. McLuhan was really trying to provoke and prod people to think about technology and media, to not let the tools shape them.

Some websites about Marshall McLuhan;
Spark (CBC) podcast series in May 2011 on McLuhan's laws (also a 'tour' of locations he frequented in Toronto).
Marshall McLuhan (official site)
McLuhan Galaxy
Marshall McLuhan Speaks (lots of video clips)
McLuhan Archives on CBC
Video McLuhan
McLuhan 100 (University of Toronto)
The McLuhan Project (ABC Radio)

A few good books about McLuhan;
Digital McLuhan by P. Levinson
Marshall McLuhan (Biography) by Douglas Coupland
and many more ... and be sure to watch the NFB documentary McLuhan's Wake

Thanks to Dr. D. Hlynka, a McLuhan scholar at U of M who made me more aware of McLuhan and his importance.

Monday, July 11, 2011

ICEL 2011: Reflections

On June 27-28 I attended the 6th Annual International Conference on E-Learning (ICEL), along with a friend/colleague with whom I collaborate on various projects. The conference was held at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Okanogan campus in Kelwona. First off, the campus is beautiful - as you can see from the photos below. You can see our poster & handout by visiting this other blog. (this post is cross-posted there as well)

flying over mountains.
Conference opens

UBC, Kelowna Campus
on campus
Some reflections:


Walking up/down hills

View from my room in res.

Walking up and down hills certainly uses muscle not used on the flat prairie, my calf muscles were sore, but it was good exercise!

At first, my colleague and I were not sure to attend to present a poster, kind of like 'second place', however, we decided to do it. Making and presenting a poster was new for both of us (I did do one for a course in my Ph.D. program, so it wasn't completely new for me). Well, I am glad we did this. The posters were up through the first day, then in the morning of the second we stood at the posters and  we conversed with many people - one on one. In this way we could answer the questions the person had, discuss areas they found of interest. I would certainly do another poster. We made great contacts, including a possible future collaboration with some people from the UK. We also found that the keynote speaker, Susan Crichton, was very interested in our work. All in all, great conversations. As a bonus, our presentation was chosen as the 'best poster presentation' - not sure what that really means, but it is nice to have your peers think highly of your work.

This conference is called 'international', and it certainly is. I would guess that at least half of the delegates were from outside Canada and the U.S.. In all 37 countries were represented.It is fascinating to meet and hear about what is going on in so many areas of the world.

from the Eldorado Restaurant
I met so many great, smart and nice people. Several are now twitter &/or LinkedIn friends. I have already exchanged emails with a few. This connecting was probably the highlight for me. On the second day, a person we met who taught at Kelowna took Glenn and I on a quick winery tour, we visited 2 wineries, tasted some fine wine, and we each bought a few bottles to take home! The school bus trip into Kelowna to the restaurant on the lake, the conversation and fun during the meal, and the wine/beer with conversation out in the beautiful night air in Kelowna when we returned to the residence was fantastic. I met people from all over, but especially enjoyed new friends and acquaintances from elsewhere in Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Scotland, U.K.

What can I say, people try, there were some very well done presentations, but powerpoint is still not always used very well! That aside, there were many good presentations and posters. As I said earlier, it is neat to hear what is going on elsewhere. It is also interesting to know that issues and innovations here are also often innovations or issues elsewhere, the infrastructure, language and customs may differ, but we are all part of this Earth and have more in common than we have differences.

Leaving Kelowna

Final words
This conference was not at the best time for me, I am currently writing my Ph.D. candidacy exam, however, the few days off (I did take and do some reading!) was worth it, for the connections made and the knowledge and ideas gained.