Open education tends to put much emphasis on digital literacy (or literacies) development as a way to benefit from internet use. Some authors boldly state that: “Digital literacy skills are essential for today’s citizens. These skills are expected for everyday personal use, learning and effective performance at work.” JISC defines digital literacies as, “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society” and The Oxford English dictionary defines a capability as the ‘power or ability to do something’. Digital Literacy research locates ‘success’ within individual self improvement, as seen by the use of terms like skill and capabilities. The estimated size of the US self-improvement market was $9.62 billion in 2014 (source: MarketDataEnterprises); and yet, some suggest, with little evidence of success when success is defined as effective functioning in a given situation rather than people accessing the self-improvement market.
Whilst open education practitioners have spent, and continue to spend, time defining and re-defining the kind of skill or capability the individual may need to learn to be effective in digital engagement, little attention is paid to psychological findings that clearly show capabilities, and other internal dispositions of the individual such as personality traits, are a very weak predictor of behaviour. Many studies since the publication of ‘Studies in the nature of deceit’ in 1928 show that a better predictor of how we act in the world is the situation we are in and its characteristics.
People do learn, but what we know or believe in is not the only factor that determines how we behave in a situation.
This post offers a counterpoint to the mainstream idea of self-improvement as a road to effective action by reviewing a classic psychology study on the role of situational factors in the way we act. It concludes that given the results of these studies and many that both followed it and preceded it, open education would do well to look beyond self improvement as a road for addressing shortcomings and learn to ask more often: What are the characteristics of an online situation likely to lead to effective action?
In my digital storytelling work I have of late become interested in Twitter Bots. There are wonderful bots as well as crappy spam ones. Just as in the rest of life amongst humans. Some make art for you, others poetry, and yet others make a fine go at sounding wise mediated by text at least, like @everyadage above. I have made several posters illustrating the sayings as they are in that uncanny valley space of almost making sense and that interests me.
The saying made me stop and reflect. The sense it made for me was in connection with the light and shadow side of groups of people who come together to learn (apologies for the long description but other terms such as communities, connections or networks come with too much baggage for my purpose here) in open online learning events. I have written before and often about the implications of a free-for-all ethos where no social or psychological contract is agreed upon or followed through by participants or facilitators.
Just as I realised nearly 2 years on just how useful DS106 Headless 13 had been to my professional life, I am only now realising that the Thought Vectors on Concept Space MOOC (TVCS in what follows) has been the most impactful MOOC I have taken part in since my first DS106 experience. What did I say about DS106 recently?
[23/01/2015 13:03:30] Mariana Funes: I just wanted to say thank you! I am so grateful to all I have learnt on DS106 about making stuff…only today I am seeing how useful it has been beyond making art to the business of buying kibble for Colin 🙂 have a good day.
[23/01/2015 17:04:49] Alan Levine: This is the kind of evaluation of a course that means something, it comes much later than the end of a course.
This post is about TVCS and the impact it has had in my journey to become an open educator. It has done so much and so quietly that only now, a year on, I realise how privileged I have been to be part of something that is showing me in a very practical way the true potential of this form of open learning.
Warning: this is a very long post (when are these short?) as I want to use this as a reminder of our work this semester to learn for next year when the course will run again.
I have been on many back channel conversations of late that have led me to reflect on Bateson’s idea that only ‘a difference which makes a difference’ is information. It makes me smile to think that so much of what I read and write may be just noise and not information.
Let me explain.
Just this week a paper that looked at the light and shade of one MOOC was extensively discussed on the web. Jenny offers a balanced view of the discussion in answering some of the commentary. I must say that her description of the reaction to their paper is much kinder than mine would be – I have seen a great deal more defensiveness and unwarranted personal attacks than her post may indicate to the casual reader. Of course, unless you have a Facebook account, you will be unable to see the full conversation. The joys of the not so open web. I digress.
What I see foregrounded in these interactions are categories and the application of those categories to a given idea. Interaction is about whether the reported research applies cMOOCs, or to xMOOCs, but not to our MOOC because it is different. Ah! but this research applies to networks not communities, communities have people and networks have nodes. Networks lack caring, no they don’t. Each position taken can, of course, be defended (and I chose the word purposefully) with a long list of references depending on what your particular perspective and interest might be. Clearly there is value in making distinctions that map a territory. Perhaps there is less value in arguing if my food map is truer than your road map of the same territory. I am not interested in taking a position on the issue here, I learn each day from the wisdom with which Jenny and Frances deal with dialogue online. Read their article and make up your own mind about the value of some of the commentary about the paper.
Personally, I have been led back to an old idea in my knowledge map, that of the expert linchpin. A facilitator role to support individuals navigating the tacit seems an important element in any conversation of what can make these open educational spaces safer for us all.
This is what this post is about and the above is offered only by way of context. It feels to me that, sometimes, after we create our ideal structures, procedures and technologies we start to wonder about where and how people might fit in. Do networks have nodes or people? Do communities care about people or not? To me this reasoning is a little back to front.
What is a difference that has made a difference to me in my journey into open education?
The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. […] Once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together. The potential of the mixture of humans and machines working together and communicating through the web could be immense. Tim Berners-Lee (in 1998)
I love the ‘webness of the web’ for learning, I love the relationships I am building and am full of wonder about the kindness and gentle nature of the people in my network. Yet there is a dark side to it all that makes me wonder what role I want to play as I engage in online dialogue with others going forward. Each day I learn a little more about the implicit norms of behaviour a given collection of individuals shapes as they come together online. Decisions about belonging or ‘liking’ are often made on the basis of unstated group norms. I have spent my life offline noticing these patterns and the web does ‘make sense of what we are doing and where we individually fit in’. It is easy for me to see pattern even without engaging in fancy analytics.
As I reflect on my role I notice a world where acronyms abound. This is similar to the insular organisational cultures I visit offline in my consulting work. They are a marker of belonging as much as a marker of exclusion.
I learn about OER, about the OpenEd, about MOOCs of assorted varieties, about the pros and cons of the LMS, I observe confused metaphors about what it means to teach online – is it a course, it is the open web, is it the platform, is it blended or BYOD or all of the above? Am I a teacher, a learner, a peer learner, part of personal or professional learning network? Am I part of a community, a group, a CoP or a network? Can we measure my BC (between centrality) to see if my life is worth living? I can go on. All of this has felt quite unsatisfactory to me as I reflect on how to engage those people who have not made the transition to working in the open web. It is not self-evident that this is a ‘good’ thing and historically it is often just thought a ‘good’ thing by those who stand to benefit from it.
In this post I clarify an online role for me personally that aligns with evolving values and beliefs about open practices.
I have seen this animated gif many times but only this week I focussed on the quote ‘a tsunami of poorly understood pedagogy’. It really does seem as if the word MOOC carries some kind of magical properties. The miracle tonic that will cure all the ills of education for some, as soon as faculty agree to drink it; the evil monster that will destroy all in its path if it is not stopped. I have learnt in my old age to be a more than a little skeptical of polarising constructs and am with Bateson on the need to keep stamping out nouns rather than keep creating them.
I was only there for a day due circumstances beyond my control, and was struck by the kindness of those who came to my session – the first time I was talking about emerging ideas on the psychology of open education.
Whilst at the conference, I was saddened that both those supporting faculty and faculty itself see the potential and the barriers of open education as something that is in some way dependent on the chosen platform or some other external circumstance. So I listened. The biggest barrier is that faculty just do not want to deal with the technology. The biggest barrier is that the university does not support us. The biggest barrier is….I kept being reminded of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and the famous scene ‘It is beyond my control’. I am sorry but it is beyond my control….
Gif by @gifadog (Film Source: http://youtu.be/cjUmvHBgHr0)
Monsters dwell in the hinterlands of the known world, symbolic expressions of cultural unease. Inhabitants of an imagined realm adjunct to the everyday, monsters offer powerful tropes and tools for learning and teaching in the arts and humanities
I have come to believe that the success of open education may rest on our ability to support new adopters in wrestling these inner monsters and find spaces to tell epic stories about inner battles with open sharing. Without this inner viewing, interest and learning about infotention and other digital literacies may be tactical but not sustainable. I am not alone in this belief. Jim Groom was quoted as saying recently:
You don’t need new technology to change your teaching… you need a new you.
Whilst I reside on the Internet, I am a visitor when it comes to privacy. I don’t want strangers to know I am there and I certainly don’t want uninvited guests on my video calls. It turns out that when you record a video call on a Google hangout it has to be set to public – you have a ‘Hangout on Air’ or a ‘Hangout’ but no ‘private recorded hangout’ feature yet. So, as I had a team meeting on a hangout on air, I discovered the delights of Trolling behaviour that YouTube is (in)famous for. Well, I say that as if I have known about it all my life, but I found it out researching for this post. It turns out that a troll is ‘any person that comments or leaves their response to a video that negatively effects the community, or provokes the emotions of others in a negative way’. You can also go online to learn how to do it, with some handy student guides or by visiting certain forums. I learnt that some trolls have even been jailed for extreme behaviour…but back to my hangout.
I signed off after an eventful (technical problems saw us lose a team member again this week) hangout, looking forward to working out how Google managed to get a video of my hangout on my YouTube channel automatically. Let me own up – I use YouTube but have always refused to post anything on it as was concerned about privacy issues and had no time to navigate backstage to ensure my settings were aligned to my personal values on internet use. Well, as soon as I logged on I had to get a crash course on YouTube privacy. I was glad that I did not know how to use the software so that all the commenting had happened in the background and we just did not see comments as we got on with our work. I saw 24 comments and frankly, panicked. Yes, I have unresolved issues that lead me to protect my privacy online – more on this later in the post – but it was not an overreaction to feel angry when I found out that strangers had been listening to my private conversation.
So, I read the comments. I noted that it was only 2 users interacting with each other and attempting to get a reaction from us as we talked. I calmed down a little. I used the transparency of the Internet to find out about them. It turns out one of them (scary, but not really, as you will see later) had tracked me down on Google Plus and sent me a message ordering me to ‘Look at your comments’. From there, it was easy to find him and no, I did not want to add him to my circles, thank you very much Google Plus. A photo of a kid who could not be older than 8 at the top of the profile. What did I do? Nothing. I did not know then that this is the advise given to deal with this behaviour in sensible places but after thinking about the many ways I could make him suffer for scaring me – I figured out I was better off blocking him, deleting all my comments from YouTube, blocking both users on YouTube, changing my privacy settings to Unlisted by default, Unlisted my video, blocked all comments on the video, and asked any viewer to sing the national anthem of their country of origin before they could click play. Just kidding on that last one. The whole process took 3 hours – the issue is, of course, that none of these social media sharing sites make it easy for you to be private. There were other factors at play for the length of time it took me to sort out: I was exhausted and trying to get a task done that had nothing to do with navigating privacy settings on YouTube and Google Plus. I was annoyed that I was having to do this at all, and hence not exactly in the frame of mind to learn how to use yet another service. As it turned out, there had been no need to panic, it was just 2 silly kids messing around, nothing malicious about it. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, nevertheless. I set out to learn from the experience. I needed to tackle my unresolved privacy issues. I could not have it both ways – stay private and become an open scholar. Or could I?
Firstly I needed to challenge my fear of ‘being seen’ on the web by strangers. I started to think about the similarities between my home in the physical real and the different ‘homes’ I am establishing in my virtual life. What rules apply? Are the rules for the physical and the virtual regarding privacy the same? Can I expect the same reasonable behaviour from people online as I expect in real life? I did a little thought experiment – How did what has just happened online translate to the physical?
‘ [Web 2.0 tools offer] a new user-centric information infrastructure that emphasizes participation [ ] over presentation, that encourages focused conversation [ ] rather than traditional publication, and that facilitates innovative explorations, experimentations, and purposeful tinkerings that often form the basis of a situated understanding emerging from action, not passivity.’ John Seely Brown
In this post I begin to unpack what innovation means to me in the context of learning; I need to develop a personal working definition of innovation for my Online Education course. I have spent a lifetime teaching people about the creative process and looking at innovation as the output of the psychology of creativity. From a traditional academic perspective I could write and have written a great deal about creativity and innovation. The theories, the practice and application have accompanied me throughout my career. This latest assignment is asking for a working definition that will enable me to evaluate if a particular technological achievement can be called an innovation. It asks less for a theoretical endeavour and more for an exploration situated in my context of operation.