This is an agenda-drive, single-answer to the world’s problem, California and US centric production.
There are problems with its presentation, the production techniques and approach and the choice of and use of evidence, and the ethics of how they treat those interviewed.
This is not a BBC Horizon or Panorama, or a BBC / Open University production. In GB we are used to the highest production standards. Ask yourself if the BBC would broadcast this.
Cowspiracy is the TV equivalent of the News of the World.
The story telling technique and style is to use exaggeration, scaremongering, a pastiche of the Hollywood storyline template, and exploiting tropes and clichés of the investigative documentary genre.
- People and organisations that do not wish to take part are assumed to be guilty of a cover up just because they do not wish to respond to emails or the presenter doorstepping their offices..
- Doorstepping and gratuitous use of ‘hidden camera’ angles suggests that those approached have something to hide – that is not proven; they just cannot respond to every nutter who presents themselves at their door waving a camera.
- Using emotive scenes where animals are killed or culled.
- Unnecessary and gratuitous lingering on a duck as it goes under the chop then cutting later to the presenter puffing up his cheeks and shaking his head. Yet this was an example of small-scale backyard farming that in reality is one of the answers to decreasing industrial-scaled meat production.
- The presenter playing the role of Jesus in the wilderness. ‘Someone like us’ – not a journalist, or academic, just a member of the public making his enquiries. He claims to be going on a learning journey but follows a singular path to prove his hypothesis.
- Scaremongering by making unqualified claims about potential mass extensions of species and lines such as ‘we’ve stolen the world from free living animals’.
- The death of an activist.
- Shot choice and cliches: tuna fishing, animal culling.
- By the end of the film, with lingering shots of California trees there is a distinct ‘hug a tree’ atmosphere.
- Cutting away to the presenter and his easy to read body language and facial expressions.
- Emotive, exaggerated animated graphics that are unrepresentative of the evidence they purport to come from making naive scaled-up calculations to illustrate the problem and make projections.
- Inadequate introduction to those interviewed i.e. their context and stance relating to the argument.
- No interviews with the people who wrote the reports, news paper, magazine articles the ‘evidence’ was selected from.
- The quality of the research is weak. The sources poor, biased, limited and often of no value.
- The assumption that ‘peer reviewed papers’ were read and used throughout, when in fact only three are given on the website as ‘facts/
- Failure to adequately cross-reference and corroborate the ‘evidence’ uses.
The Ethics and Legality of some of the interviews
- Setting up an interviewee to be mocked/humiliated on camera then putting this online.
- Recording before and after the interview to get the person off guard then using this. It must be assumed that a ‘release form’ of some kind was used, yet did these people know that the material would be used in this way?
- Showing and naming children on a sustainable farm who were indirectly mocked. If I was the parent of this farm I would have taken legal action against the producers.
- Using access to a sustainable farm and a backyard farm to mock them and in the case of the sustainable farm probably doing significant damage to their reputation and trade. Implying that what they were doing is worse than industrial farming was ludicrous and revealed the presenter and the programme makers to be unscrupulous activists not documentary filmmakers.
A single issue mockumentary aimed at animal activist vegan supporters.
More like a recruitment video for a movement or cult produced for believers to support their preconceptions.
The US is the guiltiest party, with by far the greatest consumption of meat per head in the world.
Abuse of selected evidence too often using newspaper and magazine journalists as the supposed ‘expert’ sources. (See the website).
What an Oxbridge candidate should do:
Use it as a catalyst for candid debate seeing the argument from multiple points of view and backed up by scrupulously qualified and cross-referenced research.
Causality is complex but the presenter wants to reduce it to one thing
Go to a reputable source such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment and find and use only peer reviewed papers in reputable journals. Take nothing for granted, check the papers cited in these papers and construct your own understanding of the issues.
Use Google Scholar if you don’t have access to a university library.
Don’t just read the relevant papers. Follow up the lines of argument and researched cited by these papers too.
Don’t buy the T-shirt.
Gone is the computer. Here is a fountain pen and paper. It is easier to spread out, easier to gather up ideas in bundles … better for brain? This has the makings of a dissertation.
Familiarity and mastery
Your head gets into a place it never wants to leave. You take command of a subject and want to build on it.
Or should do. I resist mastery in favour of novelty.
So I have to find ways to keep everything fresh. To seek out the challenge.
According to Coursera, the 'learning facilitator', a new role that they are developing and will wear several different hats: managerial, technical, social, and pedagogical.
Coursera goes on to say that "effective facilitators must know how to guide learners in their learning journey, provide formative feedback, offer technical guidance, foster community, and communicate in a way that encourages learners to construct knowledge together".
This 'facilitator' role is somewhat more demanding than the current Coursera 'moderator' who is there simply to nudge things along. This Facilitator role sounds more like the Open University 'Associate Lecturer' (AL) – a practitioner, a graduate of the course they support, and typically someone at PhD or PhD candidate levels. The Coursera moderator is merely someone who recently took the course on which they plan to moderate and gained a score of over 82% and have done the Coursera E-Moderator MOOC.
The development of the Coursera Facilitator is in line with their move increasingly towards developing undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses.
Where Coursera will struggle is expecting facilitators to have enough technical knowledge to do much more than answer the most basic technical questions: they need to know where they can turn. Also those who have invested so much to gain this greater academic knowledge required to be a facilitator will expect to be paid. Coursera will be charging, as they do increasingly as they move away from the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
Developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus some 150 years ago while the hypothesis is sound the results are representative rather than an individual’s response. How might e-learning respond to the different capacities and inclinations of each learner to retain or lose the knowledge they pick up?
A number of platforms have tried to address this, the most successful coming out of Harvard Medical school 6 years ago and more recently rebranded and commercialised for sakes training for the pharmaceutical industry under the name QStream.
Trained and experienced educators will know that they are constantly faced by the challenge of getting what they teach or facilitate to stick . How can these techniques be supported online? How do you educate a class of many thousands? Coursera are determined to crack it. As a Coursera Mentor it feels as if their technical team is responsive on a weekly basis to making improvements – improvements that increasingly come from the 1,900 volunteer mentors they have recruited and trained in the last two years, all of us completing a Coursera Community Mentor’s course before we are permitted to interact directly with students on a course we have already successfully completed.
It feels like being part of an educational movement and a pleasure to be in touch every day: you gradually see patterns in where people get stuck, where they need a hand, where the technology may trip them up, or the content could be improved. Everything can be refined so Coursera take the view that nothing stands still.
These are the benefits educators commuting their content to Coursera get – opportunities to refine, and improve the ‘knowledge transfer’ part (the lecture typically) so that once ‘flipped’ they can give, in small groups by rotation something akin to the personal attention of the Oxbridge Tutorial.
This is a simple expression of over six years of formal study and a couple of decades working in or around ‘technology enhanced learning’ of some kind, whether in ‘Corporate Training’ or in education.
This image sums up the best courses every time; its is obvious really: you build on experience and crank up the level of difficulty. To be achieved in ‘machine learning’, something that ‘gamification’ does deliver, is learning that is responsive to the individual learner. This is being offered piecemeal, for example, by being able to ‘restart’ a Coursera course every week, joining a new cohort where you left off each time – hardly conducive to creating any kind of collaborative learning though. It is also offered in fact-based, first year undergraduate courses where smart, well-researched and written ‘multiple-choice’ questions are part of the learning experience: the best not only guide the student to points in their course content where the answers they are seeking can be found, but the questions are shuffled each time you do them (better still would be to reword them). Some multiple choice ‘activities’ can be dire: full of double-negatives, too vague about the answer, or offering unfunny and stupid answers (the kind you have interrupting TV talent shows and morning breakfast TV).
One of the best at the multiple-choice question are QStream. Developed at Harvard Medical School and beginning life as ‘SpacedEd’ here heavy-weight courses, sent by email to your phone, helped medical students gain the knowledge they have to have.
I have many learning platform favourites: Rosetta Stone for languages, Youscian for guitar, Coursera for Photography, FutureLearn for Writing Fiction.
They’ll all get better. Lessons will be learnt and shared. I enjoyed the attending the Coursera Partners’ Conference last year where some 18 or more universities from around the world present, via ‘Posters’ papers they had researched and written on various aspects of ‘e-learning’. These shared insights will improve everything from use of multiple choice questions, and student forums, peer reviews and grading, to best-practice use of video.
More learning needs to be put through the kind of research labs they have at the Open University. I have been a tester here, and had a website tested. It helps enormously to study and observe, like an anthropologist, just how your site or learning experience is used. It reveals its strengths and weaknesses in a way that can be brutal and thrilling.
At a presentation in The Hague during the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conferemce Gilly Salmon introduced this vision of learning. In any institution or faculty you can pick something that will indicate how far they have or have not taken it – recognising that different subjects require a different approach. I’ve annotated and commented on this at length elsewhere. I know universities that are achieving Education 2.0 and corporate learning that is in the Education 3.0 space.
- Kings College Overdose
- Caffeine DSM-5
Completion rates for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) bug their creators because of the massive fall-out. Like the half-life of something in a pond at Sellafield the figures can half in a week, and half again in another couple of weeks and at the end of a 12 week course there are 50 people left out of the original 15,000.
The excuses and reasons for this drop-out are multivarious: many never planned to start the course – it is too easy to sign up to something that is free; an early poor experience puts people off: it is not for them, too hard, too boring, irrelevant or time consuming. They can have a technical melt down too: the learning platform is pants, or their kit and connection isn’t up to it. A course can over promise and under deliver; there is a terribly fine balance and on the side of the creators ignorance of their students who can and will be ‘anyone’ : digitally literate or not, English their first language or not, lect school young with no qualifications or a professor nosing in on something that is their expertise …
Reasons that people stick include: they’ve paid for it, it should enhance their job prospects or working life (it has practical worth), they ‘like’ the educator(s), they ‘like’ their fellow students and/or ‘enjoy’ the platform, its functionality and experience. The intrinsic rather than the extrinsic motivators work best.
A responsive ‘platform’ by which I mean the educational establishment or organisation (The OU, Coursera, FutureLearn, EDx) will identify and fix sticking points: a flood of people quit after the third multiplechoice assessment – you fix it; the 12th too-long to camera talking head of the same person and you jazz them up, get someonelse or look for alternative approaches; and you acknowledge that everyone studying ‘at a distance’ and ‘online’ probably never had the time to set aside to study your course in the first time so will need time to adjust – to make time. And life is fickle, they may have setbacks. Great therefore if on a 3, or 5 or even a 12 week course or module that they can ‘elect’ at any stage to ‘switch’ to the next ‘presentation’ – so they pick it up in a few weeks.
With switching I wonder if there could be a way to discourage multiple switching though. I fear that what can happen is that having switched once out of expediency, then a second time ‘because you can’ then the third time there is some kind of behavioural pattern established and the person will never complete the course. Were a student physically attending class an aware supervisor would cause the student to think twice on the second ‘default’ switching and may put ‘soft’ barriers in the way of the third – after all, the hidden agenda here is about ‘completion rates’: one indicator of a successful course is the percentage whi make it to the end.
By not having switching, rather like having students paying a fee, you force their hand – gently, and sometimes of necessity. You have to face up to the genuine challenges of learning: you face and overcome obstacles whether they occur in your real home or professional life or because you are struggling ‘in class’. Either you have, or develop resilience; you seek help and advice and get it.
The graphic (actually an ‘installation’) featured at the top of the page is by American Lawrence Weiner whose work I first saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona. His career has been spent trying to visualise something amorphous: how we communicate and share ideas. My take on this ‘Nine pieces in a brown bag’ might have been the odd title, relates to my view on the power of two people making a better job of problem so,bing or creation than a person on their own, or, it could represent the interface between an educational institution and students. It means what you want it to mean. I have often resorted to using basic shapes in primary colours in a sequence to represent concepts or ideas. In a learning context Gilly Salomn famously uses kids building blocks to explain her ‘five phases’ of ‘e-learning’ : learning design for course writers in effect.