Internet Communication and Culture prepares students for the future

By Staff Writer Tighe Ratcliffe.

Professor Stanley Harrison has worked here at UMass Dartmouth since 2003. He is one of our many outstanding professors in the English department, and he has the upmost faith and enthusiasm in what he teaches his students.

In his ENL 368 class, Internet Communication and Culture, he prepares students for a life in the twenty-first century.

And this class is very unique, as it delves into what is actually going on in today’s world.

More specifically, how the rapidly evolving technologies like artificial intelligence are drastically changing our world of today into the one of tomorrow.

The Torch asked Professor Harrison a series of questions to get a deep understanding of how this course helps students navigate and succeed in a twenty-first century world.

The Torch: How does this class prepare its students for the new technological advances in the world?

Harrison: “Internet Communication and Culture prepares students to improve the quality of their encounters with computer technologies – now and in the future – by teaching them to how to estrange themselves from the Internet that they always thought they knew so well.

On the first day of class, students get introduced to the idea that through their use of the Internet, they have turned themselves into computer-human cyborgs – the unnatural citizens of Internet culture.

For having entertained the possibility that they may not be the human beings they thought they were, my students find themselves well positioned to encounter and respond to the many strange, unsettling questions about Internet culture that authorities from across the disciplines have already started to ask:

What losses and gains accrue to my own sense of humanity because people have started to augment their bodies with cyborg prosthetics?

Does my habit of engaging with computer-generated communities in the “digital now” compromise my ability to engage with people in the actual communities that exist here in the present?

How will I relate to internetworked artificial intelligence when I encounter AI that has become socially responsive, capable of meaningful speech, and capable of knowing what I am experiencing on an emotional level by reading such things as my pupil size, thermal response, and chemical signature?

For having considered and responded to a wide range of questions that make strange the once familiar Internet, students in ENL 368 can develop a mode of thinking and wondering about Internet culture that will help them to engage with new technological advances as these technologies enter the world and become part of the fabric of everyday life.”

The Torch: How does this class prepare you for how technology can be useful for your life outside technological based jobs?

Harrison: “Becoming more sensitive to the nuances of life as a computer-human cybernetic organism is a value unto itself.

When people on the Internet begin to recognize in themselves the machine-fashioned cyborgs they are, they can begin to examine the facts of their lives, to ask questions about the meaning of their lives, and to make efforts to ascertain the value of their lives.”
The Torch: What jobs are likely to be affected by these advancements in AI?
Harrison: “Back in 1982, Time magazine named the personal computer “Man of the Year.”

Back then, very few people could have imagined the degree to which the personal computer, and then the Internet, and then mobile devices would penetrate virtually all aspects of society and, in so doing, impact the world of work.

Sitting here in 2019, it is impossible to know all the ways that artificial intelligence will affect the work that people do.

We can, however, already see that artificial intelligence has the power to do all kinds of jobs, including jobs that might have seemed beyond the reach of machines.

Amazon, for example, is experimenting with drone delivery services that could eliminate the need for human couriers. Bloomberg News uses AI to generate about a third of the stories the news service produces each year.

For its part, McGraw-Hill Education is working to create educational platforms that use algorithms to analyze student progress and customize student learning paths in ways that go beyond what a human teacher could do under similar circumstances. In light of such changes, I cannot say how AI’s expansion into the world of work will alter how each of us will eventually work.

That said, I am sure that we can all see that definite change is on the coming horizon.”
The Torch: How has the rapidly changing world of AI changed the way we do things?

Harrison: “The question might well be asked, in what ways is AI not changing the way we do things.

In the home, people already use voice-activated AI to set their morning alarms; control lights and thermostats; and to program television channels.

On the Internet, we all encounter AI when our search bars use predictive matching technology and when Facebook uses AI to track and make profitable sense of your movements on the Internet.

On the road, AI supports us when we drive cars equipped with GPS and parksense.
In the realm of medicine, radiologists use AI to spot cancerous lesions, and robots help surgeons to perform microsurgical procedures.

To be sure, AI is in its infancy, but it’s already influencing the way we complete a wide array of both simple and complex tasks.”

The Torch: How is this class training students to develop their “online personas?”

Harrison: “I’m not sure if my version of Internet Communication and Culture will help students to develop their online personas. If anything, the class should help students to become more aware of some of the less certain aspects of producing online personas.
Toward this end, I ask students to consider the implications of, new artificial intelligence video tools, like FakeApp, that can create a video of someone doing something that that individual never did.

By combining digital videos of one person with digital videos of another person, FakeApp allows even amateur filmmakers to create a composite video that combines one person’s face with another person’s body.

In this way, the mere existence of FakeApp creates a situation in which anyone can create seamless, untraceable videos of people doing things they never did.

Faced with possibility that anyone can become the subject of a DeepFake video, students in my class will have the opportunity to consider the possibility that all the work that they have put into the production of their online personas can become the basis for DeepFake videos that promise to complicate in potentially devastating ways their own encounters with the digital productions of their online selves.”

The Torch: How is teaching students about editing audio relevant to the course’s objectives?

Harrison: “Because one of my personal goals when teaching Internet Communication and Culture is to open students to new ways of thinking about Internet culture and Internet communication.

I decided to supplement my teaching of text-based writing techniques by teaching students how to communicate on the Internet using audio production tools and writing techniques that very few students have encountered or had the opportunity to enjoy.

Because both audio production and writing for sound have relatively low learning curves, students can jump right into their work, confident in their ability to use this strange new way of writing to create polished, sophisticated works of sound art.

At the same time, they can contrast what they are learning about how to write for sound with what they already know about writing for the screen and the page.

For having reflected upon their experiences with writing for both the ear and the screen, they can walk away from ENL 368 having become the kind of writers who can easily adapt and enjoy adapting to the unforeseen challenges that will no doubt greet them in the unwritten future.”

As you can see, Professor Harrison is a unique gem amongst the many great professors here at UMass Dartmouth.

And his ENL 368 class is unlike any class offered before it.

When students leave his class each-day, they are forced to think outside the box, and see all of the intricacies of today’s world that they were unaware of beforehand.

Hopefully this article has convinced you to think about taking his course the next time it becomes available.

It will open your mind to so many different things that are going on today that will affect us for the rest of our lives.

You may even find it to be the most useful course you’ll ever take in your college career.


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