Tag: groups

My takeaways from Stephen Downes’ talk on personal learning

In general, I have great intentions to watch recorded presentations. However, in reality, just like the number of philosophy books I get around to reading in a given year, I can count the number I sit down to watch on the fingers of one hand.

I’ve been meaning to watch Stephen Downes’ talk on personal learning since he gave it at the at the Canada MoodleMoot back in February. Since I’m talking with him this afternoon about Project MoodleNet, that served as a prompt to get around to watching it.

(as an aside, it’s a blessing to be able to play YouTube videos at 1.5 or double speed — presentations, by their nature aren’t as information-dense as text!)

Groups vs Networks

Downes has been talking about groups vs networks since before 2006. In fact, I often reference this:

Groups vs Networks

CC BY-NC Stephen Downes

The presentation builds on this, and references a tool/environment he’s built called gRSShopper.

Groups vs Networks

Downes doesn’t link any of this to politics, but to my mind this is the difference between authoritarianism and left libertarianism. As such, I think it’s a wider thing than just an approach to learning. It’s an approach to society. My experience is that some people want paternalism as it provides a comfort blanket of security.

Personalized vs Personal

There’s plenty of differences between the two approaches. In his discussion of the following slide, Downes talks about the difference between a ‘custom’ car and a customised car, or an off-the-self suit versus one that’s tailored for you.

Personalized vs Personal

My position on all of this is very similar to Downes. However, I don’t think we can dismiss the other view quite so easily. There has to be an element of summative assessment and comparison for society to function — at least the way we currently structure it…

Personal Learning Environments

Downes’ custom-build system, gRSShopper, is built with him (the learner) in the middle. It’s a PLE, a Personal Learning Environment:

gRSShopper workflow

All of this is based on APIs that pull data from various systems, allow him to manipulate it in various ways, and then publish outputs in different formats.

Note that all of this, of course, depends upon open APIs, data, and resources. It’s a future I’d like to see, but depends upon improving the average technical knowledge and skills of a global population. At the same time, centralised data-harvesting services such Facebook are pointing in the opposite direction, and dumbing things down.

Personal Learning Record

So gRSShopper creates what Downes calls a Personal Learning Record, complete with ‘personal graph’ that is private to the learner. This is all very much in keeping with the GDPR.

Data aggregation and analytics

The real value in all of this comes in being able to aggregate learning data from across platforms to provide insights, much as Exist does with your personal and health data.

Analytics and Big Data

Downes made comments about pulling resources and data between systems, about embedding social networks within the PLE, and browser plugins/extensions to make life easier for learners. I particularly liked his mention of not just using OERs as you learn, but creating them through the process of learning.

Conclusion

I’m looking forward to our conversation this afternoon, as I’m hoping it will either validate, or force me to rethink the current approach to Project MoodleNet.


Main image CC0 Marvin Meyer

Types of relationship and communities of ‘ought’.

Introduction

The most fertile time of my week, ideas-wise? Sitting listening to sermons in church every Sunday. For whatever reason – perhaps because I can think at least twice as quickly people talk – I end up scrawling ideas for blog posts and reminders of things to look-up on the back of my service sheet. Other members of the congregation no doubt think I’m making notes on the talk.*

Today’s sermon was on The Gospel and Witness, which made me think about relationships within communities. I consider the following a work-in-progress, but share my thoughts in a quest for rejection-or-reinforcement – and perhaps even examples/counter-examples.

Types of relationship

At the lowest level are fleeting relationships, those in which we expend very little energy. We offer politeness but no access to our ‘inner world’. This kind of relationship is transactional and, indeed, is perhaps best illustrated by purchases made in shops.

Next up comes networks. Acquaintances, perhaps friends of friends, people you follow and rarely interact with on Twitter. This sort of relationship is give-and-take. I give some small part of myself and in return get something back of use. An example might be indicating that I’m looking for a new car or music recommendations and in return gain some generic feedback.

Further up the chain are groups. These are defined either implicitly or explicitly and exist for customised advice and support. These too can exist via social networks, but – online at least – are perhaps best facilitated through forums. Examples include getting constructive criticism of a new document you’ve drafted, advice about a particular situation encountered, and so on.

After groups come communities of practice, as defined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger:

A community of practice (CoP) is…  a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally. CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunchroom at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment. (Wikipedia)

Whilst informal, communities of practice are focused on a particular end and have pre-determined boundaries. Their focus means that communities of practice are likely to be more successful than groups. Relationships are likely to be predicated upon either informal or formal entry requirements (e.g. job, ownership of an item, previous experience)

The final type of relationships are within a community of ought. This is a term I’ve invented to describe those organizations that have the power to tell individuals (or at least strongly advise them) how to behave. This, of course, includes most religious organizations, but really any organization where an individual defers in some way to authority. Such deference does not have to be formal in nature, but must include adherence to some kind of code or set of rules. Others in the organization must be able to tell whether an individual is ‘doing as he/she ought’.

Conclusion

Although some may feel my description of ‘communities of ought’ sounds somewhat controlling and scary, people do in fact, in some areas of their life (he says, making a huge generalisation), prefer to defer to authority. And, if so, it’s much better to defer to an authority within a community than an individual earthly authority.

This post is more an observation of my own thinking than a statement as to whether such communities of ought should or should not exist. I’m currently thinking that communities of ought are more likely to get things done. I’d be interested in your thoughts, however.

* Before you castigate me for my irreverance, I’m fully able to have a debate about the theological implications of the sermon afterwards as well, thank you very much. :-p

What I learned about leadership from Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’.

TribesSeth Godin’s book Tribes reads like a coherent narrative version of his blog. It’s organized into nice, easily digestible sections. The whole thing is only 131 pages long. It’s nothing if not concise. I managed to read it comfortably in one session and I’d highly recommend you do the same!

Whilst I was reading it I was lulled into a sense of it seeming a bit obvious. It was only on reflection I realised how Godin’s clever use of storytelling and reinforcement had left me feeling empowered to make a difference in the world.

Here’s a potted version of what I took away from Tribes. I’ve collated more quotations from the book on my wiki. 🙂

1. Anyone can be a leader

If there’s one thing that Godin wants you to take away from Tribes it’s that leadership is a choice and that although it won’t be easy, in the end it’s as difficult as you make it. On the second-to-last page of the book he has this to say:

You can choose to lead, or not. You can choose to have faith, or not. You can choose to contribute to the tribe, or not.
Are there thousands of reasons why you, of all people, aren’t the right one to lead? Why you don’t have the resources or the authority or the genes or the momentum to lead? Probably. So what? You still get to make the choice.
Once you choose to lead, you’ll be under huge pressure to reconsider you choice, to compromise, to dumb it down, or to give it up. Of course you will. That’s the world’s job: to get you to be quiet and follow. The status quo is the status quo for a reason.
But once you choose to lead, you’ll also disover that it’s not so difficult. That the options available to you seem really clear, and that yes, in fact, you can get from here to there.
Go.

Godin’s reasoning is that if you’re passionate about an issue or want to change something enough, then gaining credit for that change isn’t important:

If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit.

There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. (p.115)

Leaders need followers and it’s those followers that Godin calls your ‘Tribe’. There are, apparently (and intuitively, to be honest), only two things that you need to turn a group of people into a tribe (p.21). Those two things?

  1. A shared interest
  2. A way to communicate

In these days of instant digital communications, this should be faster and easier than ever! :-p

2. Hierarchies are about management, not leadership

As a bit of a free thinker, Godin isn’t overly enamoured with structures and hierarchies. In fact, he uses them to explain the difference between managers and leaders:

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it. (p.19)

I took this as meaning that managers work within their job description and expect others to do the same. Leaders, however, see the job description as indicative of a wider truth and ideal.

To demarcate qualities of leadership from those of management (there has to be some elements of management in senior positions, after all) Godin produces a list on p.107 of ‘The Elements of Leadership’. These, handily, all begin with a ‘C’:

Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another. (my emphasis)

These are going on my wall. 🙂

3. How to effect change

The biggest enemy to change is a surprising yet, on reflection, obvious one. Stalling change is actually worse than resisting it. After all, if someone refuses to engage with a problem there’s no way you can convince them of the errors of their ways!

The largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a “no.” It’s a “not yet.” “Not yet” is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. “Not yet” gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put of the inevitable for just a little while longer.
Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late. (p.101 – my emphasis)

You could spend your whole time trying to convince others of the validity of, and need for, the change. But talking is sometimes an academic exercise. To quote a famous tagline, Just Do It!

Nobody is going to listen to your idea for change, sagely shake his head, and say, “Sure, go do that.”
No one anoints you as leader.

Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later. (p.60)

Godin says that leaders need to do two things which, to my mind, come under the one umbrella: walk the walk. First of all, leaders need to share ideas that are worth mentioning, that start conversations:

A remarkable product or service is like a purple cow. Brown cows are boring; purple ones are worth mentioning. Those ideas spread; those organization grow. The essence of what’s happening in the market day revolves around making purple cows. (p.38-9)

Second, leaders should stick to their principles by being radically different and selling that radical difference to others:

[G]reat leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful that a larger group ever could be. (p.57)

But how do leaders effect this change in practice? How do you go from being a voice crying out in the wilderness to being the leader of a tribe? Godin tells us to target the curious people. These will do the work for you!

A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.

Curious people count. Not because there are a lot of them, but because they’re the ones who talk to people who are in a stupor. They’re the ones who lead the masses in the middle who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing, which the curious can’t abide. (p.54)

Once you’ve gathered together your game-changers, it’s time for you as a leader to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. Godin explains:

A thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer.
The thermometer reveals that something is broken.

Organizations are filled with human thermometers. They can criticize or point out or just whine.
The thermostat, on the other hand, manages to change the environment in sync with the outside world. Every organization needs at least one thermostat. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time. (p.87)

Conclusion

I found Seth Godin’s Tribes to be a great read. It ticked all of the boxes that I’d want from such a book. It’s concise, it’s practical, it’s aspirational, and you finish reading it feeling empowered.

Great stuff! 😀

Groups vs. Networks

Comparing groups with networks may be a good idea to get across why education needs to change to meet the needs of 21st-century knowledge. Stephen Downes posted this image to Flickr (there’s a video of him explaining it as well):

Groups vs. Networks

There’s also a presentation here. It might be an idea to discuss the ‘wisdom of crowds’ in my thesis and how and why this could be applied to classrooms.?

The difference between groups and networks

George Siemens sums up Stephen Downes’ distinction between groups and networks in Groups vs. Networks:

‘Groups require unity, networks require diversity. Groups require coherence, networks require autonomy. Groups require privacy or segregation, networks require openness. Groups require focus of voice, networks require interaction.’

This will be relevant in terms of thinking about the nature of knowledge in a networked environment with a collection of people which make up ‘expertise’.?

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