Much of the discussion in both the #Change11 MOOC and the NLC HotSeats this week related to my still-evolving dissertation research question. Anderson and Dron’s characterization of the different forms of “the Many” (groups, nets, and sets) provides a way for thinking a little more deeply about how people congregate in an open networked learning environment. I realize that I have been dichotomizing my thinking into communities and non-communities. (Anderson and Dron use the term groups when speaking of what I call communities.) In groups, the membership is closed, the members collaborate on achieving a common purpose, there is typically a facilitator, guide or teacher who creates the structure and there is “a hierarchy of control.” From my point of view, groups also have the potential for a cloying togetherness, a tendency toward conformity and a desire to please the teacher or facilitator. The Ferreday and Hodgson article, which Jenny Mackness has also referred to in her blog, describes the dark side of such participation.
Jenny brought up the tyranny of sharing in referring to Eric Duval’s presentation last week on “Learning in Times of Abundance.” Eric commented that in his classes, he mandates that students post on each others’ blogs. Jenny questioned the practice and expressed her belief in the value of learner autonomy. I feel some ambivalence around the issue of whether a teacher should mandate sharing. I have learned an incredible amount in this #Change11 MOOC and yet I can’t say that I have shared very much. There were several reasons for my lack of sharing.
While I have contributed periodically to the Global Skills for College Completion blog and the Knowledge in the Public Interest blog, I have never had a blog of my own. More of my time in the early MOOC was devoted to the technology than to the writing of the blog. It prevented me from participating more during some of the early weeks. I tried to figure out how to contribute my blogs with the hashtag to the RSS feed, but I don’t think it ever worked, so even what I did write never made it to the rest of the people in the MOOC.
There were other challenges to my more actively participating, probably the usual challenges that one encounters in joining their first MOOC, but, nevertheless, I was extremely engaged, reading, thinking, doing some of my own writing, and discussing the issues from the MOOC with colleagues. On the basis of my own experience, therefore, I hesitate to draw the conclusion that people who aren’t showing up as sharing in the MOOC are learning less. Perhaps there is a distinction between participation and engagement. I was extremely engaged, even though it may have looked like I wasn’t participating.
But, back to Jenny’s question about the ethics of mandating sharing. I believe also in learner autonomy. I wonder, though, if membership in a group (as opposed to a net) has an expectation of meeting group standards, or of communicating in ways that the group culture has established. In a network, on the other hand, I don’t get the sense that I am sharing as much as publishing or contributing. Sharing, to me, has a reciprocal expectation. Without the boundaries of a community or group, my accountability to the group is displaced. I may have just as engaged as others around the issues, but not in the same circles that others in the MOOC inhabit. Jon Dron’s class was based in a group situation (the class), as I understand it, with an open door to the wider world. As a doctoral student, I think about joining the scholarly conversation around areas that are of interest to my research. In order to be a part of those conversations, one must publish. The teacher’s mandate that his students should post/publish on each others’ blogs may be a way of preparing the students for that scholarly world in the same way as class papers or dissertations. Group mores may have more of a place there. To the extent that the culture of the group is influenced by the teacher, the institution, and the wider academic community, those may come into play as well.
In a totally open networked learning environment, is there a commitment to post or share? Perhaps contribute is the better word here, rather than share. Posting and commenting on blogs is a way of contributing to a larger world – and carries more of a sense of choice and less accountability.
On the other hand, perhaps, groups form in nets. There is the sense of a group or community that has formed at the core of the MOOC. People not present are often referred to by their first names. If you are part of the core group, of course you know who these people are. This may be the question that Terry Anderson was asking when he asked for people to share examples of one form of the Many morphing into another. Is it a natural process that the MOOC evolves into nodes of groups or communities? Is the Nomad (to use Dave Cormier’s term) just looking for a home? And, once the Nomad has found the home, will he or she submit to the tyranny of sharing?