I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, but, sometime in late 2013 I resolved, once again, to put aside dichotomized thinking. I believe it had been on my mind for awhile, but I most clearly articulated it in the Community Inquiry event on CP2 (a community of practice) when I stated to the group that my hope was to “Avoid demonizing! Avoid dichotomizing!”
So one when Dave Cormier suggests that I think about rhizomatic learning in opposition to the “hierarchical, linear image of the tree” (Cormier, 2014), I want to put it in the context of it is one way of learning, but that hierarchical, tree-like learning is not evil. In Western society, we have relied on it probably too heavily, but it is not all that is bad in the world. I love patterns; I love finding patterns when I am learning. It is an important part of the connections that I make in learning. The “decentralized, unpredictable” rhizomatic learning is the part of learning where I explore and uncover. It is the divergent part of learning. But I also value the part of learning where – after being surprised by what I have uncovered, I connect it to other things I have been thinking about and sort it into some kind of schema. Or where I discuss with my fellow learners and tweak or even upset my thinking about the discovery and come to some agreement about it. That is the convergent part of learning.
I want to be clear also, that I don’t believe that dichotomizing is always the wrong way to approach things. Understanding concepts in relation to other concepts is an important part of how we understand the world. We create “ideal types” so that we can characterize what we see and compare it to other ideas that are in some proximity. I only want to avoid the dichotomizing to the extent that I remember that in the world, things are messy and don’t fit into one of the other of those types. I don’t want to demonize dichotomizing!
Secondly, Dave has suggested that we use the concept of cheating as a way to uncover and “take apart the structures that [we] work in.” In reading over several of the posts from others in this course, I was happy to find comments from Jenny Mackness and by Chadi Aljundi on the differentiating cheating from collaboration or plagiarism from citing. To me, these are important distinctions. Dave’s question did make me stop and appreciate, though, how much my own thoughts are a result of reading a blog or a conversation with a colleague. The line is often blurry between repurposing and restating. And how often I use the phrase, “Can I borrow that example?” of “To borrow an idea from a noted scholar”. I think I use borrow as a word with fewer negative connotations than steal.
I think the point Dave was getting at, though, is that knowledge is not an object that one can appropriate. Learning is about connecting, separating, agreeing, disagreeing, and sorting and settling – for the moment at least. I think I cheat when I don’t do something with the ideas of others, when I make them my own without dwelling with them for awhile and putting my own sense-making into the mix. But that is about cheating myself as much as cheating anyone else.
I applaud the stance of Melissa Fong in her blog post below:
On personal attacks
*Note on commenters who make personal attacks:
I mean, it’s not the best way to get across that you didn’t like what I wrote. To be able to reply to you it would be best if you stayed on content. But if all you can muster is a personal attack on me then that’s fine- I just can’t develop a conversation from that. When I speak about these issues they sometimes can feel personal to some readers. I get that; I understand. However, know that more often than not I’m talking about structural problems or systemic issues.
If your concern is about my “expertise” and you do not think I should be speaking on this topic. Well, again- I can’t help you there. I see a lot of comments on blogs in general from people who are trying to disqualify the writer by pointing out potentially meaningless facts about their lifestyle choices. This is kind of weak. I think that no matter who you are, you can insert yourself in any conversation and dare to be political. That’s all it is, daring to be a little more engaged with an issue and a little more political. There should be space for that. One of the most important thinkers I know has no personal identification with Palestine, yet he became a really important voice and ally on Palestinian issues. I think that’s really cool of him. Anyhow, I take any comments- pretty much unmoderated too (’cause I’m lazy like that)- but this blog is intended to spark a conversation about a perspective that might not be offered on mainstream media- and, well, a conversation cannot begin through personal attacks.
Thanks for trying to engage though! It’s good to know people are passionate about things even if their opinion may differ.
From my facebook post
“What do you think?” my daughter asks me from Nairobi, near where the attack on the mall has killed over 60 people and injured over 100. She is asking me if she is wrong to continue on her journey to mobilize people in the interest of sustainable agriculture and making the world a better place. She isn’t really thinking about coming home. She is asking me how I am handling this as someone who loves her.
I want to say, “Of course come home. Come home and stay in my house and let me take care of you and never leave.” But I don’t really want that. The world is an unsafe place. I ask her how it is there and she reminds me what it was like when we came home to New York City on 9/11. She reminds me that things like this happen in Washington, D. C. last week and in so many other cities in our own country.
She tells me she wishes she had someone there to share all this with her. She has met and liked so many people in this far away place, and they have been kind to her, but she travels through it all on her own. I don’t really want to tell her to come home. I want to tell her how brave and strong I think she is and how proud I am of her. She tells me her hope that if she can help people to farm better, help them to have better lives, then maybe there won’t be so much need for this kind of violence.
We can’t keep our children safe, I think, but we can hope that they will live in the unsafe world and do their best to make it safer and savor the moments in between. That is a better answer than coming home and running from the world. Travel well, dear heart, and enjoy the elephants on your safari on your time off this weekend.
Why do I write daily? This: “Writing daily forces you to come up with new ideas regularly, and so that forces you to solve the very important problem of where to get ideas. What’ s the answer to that problem? Ideas are everywhere! In the people you talk to, in your life experiments, in things you read online, in new ventures and magazines and films and music and novels. But when you write regularly, your eyes are open to these ideas.” Yes, there are some other reasons that involve audiences and persuasion, but for me this is the big one. To me, writing is like breathing. The only way to breathe in, is to breathe out.
by Leo Babauta http://zenhabits.net/write-daily
I am inspired by just having finished Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? I love the genre of the graphic novel. Bechdel tracks so many layers of consciousness at the same time! Her dreams are on black pages. Her conversation with her mother on the phone (often in the background – or is it foreground) progresses at the same time as her thinking about Winnicott (psychoanalyst) or Virginia Woolf – or both and then bleeds into some childhood memory or a session with her own therapist! I wish I could draw – I would love to write this way.
My compromise is to renew my acquaintance with my blog. As Babauta says, above, writing is how I open myself to the ideas rotating in my mind. I write for myself, offline; I write my dissertation; but this could be a more open space, to get down the rotations – like Proprioceptive Writing.
A week or so of health issues and still struggling…
Somehow, in stepping away from the work, I put myself on another path. I was reading and writing about collaboration and community when I left and pretty wrapped up in thinking about that, but now I am on the learning design thread. I guess it happened when Grainne Conole posted the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design on facebook and I got totally caught up in it. How wonderfully helpful this report has been! It was written by James Dalziel, an Australian, whom I had read and quoted earlier, but it came out of the work of a group of people from Europe and UK in December 2012. While their proposal to develop a notation for learning design that they compare to musical notation, the report is important to my work basically because of the concept map for learning design that they have created:
This helps to put my research into context, which is always helpful to me. My research, therefore, is targeted at Theories and Methodologies in the first column, the preparation stage of the Teaching Lifecycle, and the module level of granularity. The core concepts inform my work, but are not directly addressed.
Additionally, the report identifies two important concepts for my own thinking. The first is the notion that a learning design may or may not be independent of practice, that it might be a description of an abstract set of activities that could be instantiated in many contexts or it might be developed for a specific set of learners – which then could possibly be shared more widely. In other words, a learning design may be developed deductively or inductively. Could this be a factor for those I am interviewing? Probably depends on whom I interview. Since I envision that they will be primarily educators who do both the design and the implementation, the inductive or deductive nature could perhaps be an issue. Hmmm, perhaps I should check my interview protocol and add a specific question about how they arrived at the design they are describing.
Secondly, Dalziel and his colleagues validate the impossibility of “pedagogical neutrality”. While this may not be particularly relevant for my research at the moment, it is reassuring to have them acknowledge the bias of learning designs, at any level of abstraction.
I have signed up for two new MOOCs – one a more classic MOOC on the future of higher education – and the second one E-learning and Digital Cultures from Edinburgh University, through Coursera. So much publicity about MOOCs – almost every day someone sends me a link about another one. It could be a full time occupation, getting learned…
Communities and Open Space
Margo Okazawa-Rey, interim dean at Fielding Graduate University, spoke at our Fielding cluster meeting in New York City last week about cluster meetings as gatherings of the Fielding scholarly community. Fielding operates as a distributed learning university, and students meet regularly in geographic clusters around the globe, in addition to national meetings several times a year. At our meeting with Margo, one of the participants mentioned that she hoped that the agenda for the upcoming year would include certain components, as she would only come for those that were relevant to her doctoral work at the moment. Margo pointed out that clusters can be more than a place to come to take away learning and that people might come because they want to be part of the scholarly community, to contribute as well as to take. She offered that one might “get something” out of any meeting of the Fielding scholarly community, no matter what the topic, even if weren’t directly related to one’s immediate goal.
This sounds to me very much like an issue at the heart of my own dissertation – how communities shape our participation in online and blended learning or how our learning is shaped by this participation. Do we engage in learning as part of a community, building meaning through dialogue or in a personal network driven by personal learning goals? Does it suffice to step in and out of online groups, in the fashion of the learner in a MOOC (massive, online, open course), gathering for as long the group is contributing to the advancement of our own learning goals and moving on when it does not? This latter view is the one espoused in the Open Space principle that Harrison Owen calls “The Law of Two Feet.” In Open Space (which, in my view shares many of the characteristics of cyberspace), the idea is to join a group that is engaged in a topic related to one’s current interests and then, when it no longer serves one’s purposes or holds one’s interest, to move on. Owen compares this movement from group to group as the movement of bumble bees, cross-fertilizing groups. The perspective is that of the learner on a trajectory through space, moving in and out of communities as interest demands, a view described by Etienne Wenger at a Networked Learning Conference in 2010.
This morning a colleague sent me the link to an interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach which illustrated the difference between networks and communities that is the focus of my research. Nussbaum-Beach was describing how, when she wanted to build an online community of practice, she brought in some people who she knew as great online networkers. They were not successful at building the CoP. She describes her realization this way:
And that’s when it really hit me that networks are different from communities. Networks are about me, they’re about my learning, my mentors, my passions, my ideas. So really, while our participants were certainly benefiting from the thinking and commentary of the networking experts we hired at the outset, the conversations really revolved around the leader himself or herself. The job of the community leader is to promote conversation about what other people are interested in.
Do we lose learning opportunities when we are solely focused on what we came for and we are not, in another of Owen’s Open Space terms, “prepared to be surprised” by what we find?
David Jonassen co-authored Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments with Susan Land, one of the books on my “favorites” bookshelf. I discovered this week another book that he edited which is a book on the foundations of learning design: Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. The one that I am reading is an older version, published in 1996, but it is available online and the newer version costs $52.00, used. When I decided to order a hard copy, I ordered the 1996 edition for around $5.00. I like reading older editions of books when I am trying to understand the history of a subject. It gives me more of a flavor of the perspective of that time in a way that the more recent editions don’t.
So this is my week to indulge in the wealth of the past. I finished writing a concept paper for my dissertation last week. My current research question is: How do designers of online or blended learning experiences understand or make sense of the connections between learners and how do these concepts inform their designs?
As I explain in the concept paper, one of the areas of literature that I intend to review is the literature on learning theory, but as it relates to learning design, and this is exactly what Jonassen’s book focuses on. Lucky find, and I am indebted to a student named Madeline Ortiz-Rodríguez, a graduate student at the University of Florida, who posted her notes from a 2002 class on her website for pointing me to it. Can’t remember how I found her website!
So, yesterday I tackled Behaviorist influences and started Constructivism. Come to think of it, I might need to get the newest edition of Jonassen’s book to see if there is a section on Connectivism!
MOOC: Connections without Community
The excellent article by Kop, Fournier, and Mak (A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support in Massive Open Online Courses) in the most recent issue of IRRODL provides a great insight into MOOCs for those of us for whom #Change11 is the first time around. It is really helpful as a newcomer to have some idea of the history and to see some of the changes that have already come to pass.
Some of the data about past MOOCs in the article surprised me: the high percentage of participants who were in the upper age range, for example. (All right, I am Galileo’s grandmother, so you know I was paying attention to that!) This seems to be evidence that networked learning isn’t only for the digital natives. One item that didn’t surprise me was the gender bias of females toward wanting more community, but I couldn’t tell if females who were less community-oriented were as likely to show up in the study. Perhaps, as likely as males; maybe not. If those results came from the study of Lurkers, females’ more task-oriented behavior would probably be included.
One conclusion from the study, however, left me pondering. The article concludes that “(t)he research showed the importance of making connections between learners and fellow learners and between learners and facilitators”. The importance of connections seems straightforward enough, but I hesitated when I read further into the conclusion and found:
The type of support structure that would engage learners in critical learning on an open network should be based on the creation of a place or community where people feel comfortable, trusted, and valued, and where people can access and interact with resources and each other.
I had in mind a comment from John Seeley Brown. In A New Culture of Learning, JSB offers this view, “A collective is very different from an ordinary community … In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation” (p. 52). The connections in MOOCs are those of the collective. While a morphing into group life still seems possible in MOOCS (see earlier blog), the group/community brings with it more than the support and trust envisioned in the concluding statement of the article. In a Durkheimian sense, the collective consciousness that provides social solidarity through attracting people to group life also controls them through expectations to conform.
The second part of that concluding statement in the Kop, Fournier and Mak article speaks to connections between learners and facilitators. If participants do want connection with facilitators, might it be a passing phenomenon? Might learners adapt to the more open environment with time and see that reliance on a facilitator is no more necessary than reliance on the teacher at the front of the class? And, likewise, is the desire for a centralized structure, a common meeting place, as with the Moodled MOOC, also a passing fancy? Those who experienced a “lack of coherent and centralized structure” and missed a summary of the learning were mostly novices, the article reports. Once learners acclimatize to the openness, will they find the RSS feed more conducive to their learning than the Moodle forum? It seems like it is difficult to confirm at this point in the development of MOOCs if the issues identified are not just part of a growing process as learners become familiar with the MOOC experience.
Thanks to the authors for helping to put the current experience of #Change11 MOOC in perspective. Doubtless the evolution of the design and the growing experience of participants will continue. I just want here to add a caution against jumping too soon into an assumption of community.