Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The 'Real' vs. the 'Fake'

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 07, 1997

I am inclined to agree with Jan Whitaker:

I can't resist, it must be said. Isn't there some philosophical dispute about the 'realness' of any of what we are on about and that all of what we see, hear, and do is filtered through our own views of 'reality'? Sort of makes the topic of this thread irrelevant, I would think.

In philosophy, 'realism' is the school of thought which holds that there exist, independently of our perception of them, other objects, people, small woodland creatures, etc. The opposite of that view is 'idealism', which holds that what we could call 'reality' is a phenomenological construct.

Most people are realists. We believe that there are independently existing objects, etc. However, most people believe that we arrive at this knowledge through some sort of mediating process (people who believe that we are aware of reality directly are called 'direct realists' and there aren't very many of them - Gibson is the most prominent advocate of that position).

Because our knowledge of reality is the result of an inference, we can infer to the existence of objects, etc., in a variety of ways. For example: - we hear a twig snap, and infer that there is a lurker in the woods - we see data from a radio telescope, and infer that a galaxy exists in a certain quadrant - we hear a voice on a radio, and infer that there exists an announcer

From this, it follows that objects and events at a distance can be as real to us as objects and events right in front of us. Nobody really doubts this. People will agree, without even having seen the city, that Paris exists.

Afterall, my reality of communicating on DEOS-L is just as real to me as if I were in a the back of a classroom and making this comment. Message starts in my brain, forms into words, gets transmitted by a medium, is taken 'in' by a sensory receiver, and hopefully processed from the words back into an idea of meaning to the receiver. True, you miss the body language and the body [may not be such a bad thing at times]. But I might add that there are just as many opportunities for message disruption in the classroom space as there is online - echo, a dropped book or AC coming on, a bell that ends the class period, maybe I mumble or don't speak loud enough, or maybe I have an accent that is difficult to understand. In the online 'fake' world, those things don't happen, but other interferences are possible.

I agree. A person at the front of a classroom seems real to you because you infer - from the sounds she makes, the way she looks, etc., that she is real. In a distance environment, you do not have the same sensory modalities available to you. However, you have enough information from which to infer to the reality of the person at the other end of the mocriphone, computer screen or video camera. This makes the person at the other end just as real as the person in the classroom.

This is a simplificaiton, but I doubt that anyone would say that the event was any less real online or any more real in the classsroom. Is the classroom more 'sensory'? Perhaps, but not necessarily in a good way at all times, just as the online or what I prefer to call 'mediated environment' is sometimes not ideal.

I don't think that the classroom is any more or less sensory than an online environment. True, in a classroom, information is available to us from a wider array of senses (sight, sound, sometimes touch, and if you're really unlikely, smell (and if you're really brazen, taste)). But the information available online, while obtained via fewer senses (sight, and sometimes sound), is often a lot deeper.

More information passes between two people via a computer conversation than would pass orally between two people engaged in a conversation. For example, both instructors and students report a higher rate of interaction online than in the classroom. In a classroom, an instructor asks one student for the answer to a question. Online, she asks everyone for an answer.

This gives us some guidelines for online course development. In order to stimulate interaction (and hence, learning), we want to ensure that online students are aware that there is a *real* human being at the other end. This encourages the use of mechanisms which promote this awareness, for example, personal emails, dynamically changing web pages, online conferencing, individualized exam marking, etc.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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