At the beginning of 2013 the Mozilla Foundation announced its intention to work with the community to create a new learning standard for Web Literacy. I’m delighted to say that we’re well on course to release v1.0 of that standard at the Mozilla Festival in London at the end of October. In this post I want to give an overview of how I went from being initially skeptical to an enthusiastic project lead – all because of something I learned about ontology from Clay Shirky.
Shirky, as ever, makes some really good points but the key for me is the way how well he explains the significance of Git version control software – perhaps most commonly used via Github. It has democratic features built into its core.
Watch the video through to the end and you’ll understand why we at Mozilla are trying to create a generation of Webmakers – people who can tinker with the web and, by extension, engage in participative, democratic activity.
I’ve recently finished reading Clay Shirky‘s excellent book Here Comes Everybody. If you’re new to social media it explains why it’s important; if you’re not, it equips you to explain its importance to others. A must read!
Below are some quotations from the book in a Flickr set that will eventually grow to include quotations from other authors… :-p
As part of my Ed.D. course through the University of Durham I had to take some taught modules. One of them that I took back in 2006 was entitled Management, Leadership & Change. It was an excellent course from which I gained a lot. Unfortunately, unlike many of my classmates, I wasn’t then at a time where I could use this knowledge being then only just finished my second year of teaching. Now that I’m in a position that carries more responsibility, management responsbilities and leadership opportunities, it’s time to revisit that course and related reading.
One of the books I read for the Management, Leadership & Change module was Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization. I found it a revelation, especially being so fond as I am of metaphor. Morgan uses eight metaphors as a lens through which to view organizations:
Organizations as Machines
Organizations as Organisms
Organizations as Brains
Organizations as Cultures
Organizations as Political Systems
Organizations as Psychic Prisons
Organizations as Flux and Transformation
Organizations as Instruments of Domination
Each of these perspectives teaches the reader something about organizations; it’s a very clever and interesting way of presenting insights.
Having just come across this neat overview of Daniel Goleman‘s idea of the various leadership styles, I wonder how much overlap/synergy there is between the two?
I’m especially interested in the idea of organizations as ‘organisms’, ‘brains’ or ‘cultures’ as I believe these lenses to be the most powerful for effecting positive change. The remainder of this post will look at organizations as ‘brains’.
Organizations as brains
Morgan starts off the chapter comparing brains to holographs where ‘everything is enfolded in everything else’, there is not centre or point of control and, most importantly,
Pattern and order emerge from the process – it is not imposed. (Morgan, 1998:73)
The philosopher Daniel Dennett, someone who I read fairly widely at university during my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, suggests that our highly-ordered stream of consciousness is actually the result of ‘a more chaotic process where multiple possibilities are generated as a result of activity distributed throughout the brain.’ (ibid.) Competing parallel activities can make complementary and competing contributions into a coherent pattern.
‘Just In Time’ and perceived chaos
Morgan gives the example of ‘Just In Time’ (JIT) manufacturing as being a process that is highly organized yet without ‘boundaries and patterns of membership’:
To an outsider, it may be impossible to distinguish who is working for whom. The fundamental organization really rests int eh complex informaiton system that coordinates the activites of all the people and firms involves rather then the discrete organizations contributing different elements to the process. (Morgan, 1998:75)
The above leads Morgan to wonder whether it is better to refer to a ‘system of intelligence’ rather than an ‘organization’ when describing such states of affairs. These systems break what Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, called the ‘bounded rationality’ of human beings. To my mind it’s Morgan picking up on the start of what Clay Shirky has shown to be completely revolutionary in his excellent Here Comes Everybody (which I’m currently reading).
Understanding how organizations can become capable of learning in a brain-like way is similar to understanding how robots and other objects in the study of Cybernetics are able to ‘learn’. The latter discipline involves negative feedback. That is to say error-detection and correction happens automatically to maintain a course towards a desired goal. In order to be able to self-regulate, systems must be able to:
Sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of their environment.
Relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior.
Detect significant deviations form these norms, and
Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected. (Morgan, 1998:77)
This negative feedback system is only as good as the procedures and standards that underlie it. So long as the action defined by these procedures and standards is appropriate dealing with the changes encountered, everything is fine. The ‘intelligence’ of the system breaks down, however, when these are not adequate leading to negative feedback attempting to maintain an inappropriate pattern of behaviour.
In order to prevent the above happening (so called ‘single-loop learning’) the model of ‘double-loop learning’ has been promoted by Donald Schön and Chris Argyris. This builds in a self-review ‘loop’ to the learning process:
There are three major barriers to double-loop learning: budgets, bureaucracy and accountability. One of the most famous examples of double-loop learning and organization being thwarted by these three barriers came with the US Challenger space shuttle explosion.
So, how are ‘learning organizations’ created? Insights from cybernetics would suggest the following:
Scanning and anticipating change in the wider environment
Developing an ability to question, challenge and change operating norms and assumptions
Allow appropriate directions and patterns of organization to emerge (Morgan, 1998:82)
Morgan follows this with stressing the importance of ‘framing and reframing’ which reminds me of Lord Bilimoria’s discussion of the value of regular SWOT analyses (see this post). ‘Many organizations,’ says Morgan, ‘become myopic, accepting their current reality as the reality.’ (Morgan, 1998:84)
Organizations that embrace double-loop learning sound like the type of places I want to be part of:
For successful double-loop learning to occur, organizations much develop cultures that support change and risk taking; embrace the idea that in rapidly changing circumstances with high degrees of uncertainty, problems and errors are inevitable; promote an openness that encourages dialogue and the expression of conflicting points of view; recognize that legitimate error, which arises from the uncertainty and lack of control in a situation, can be used as a resource for new learning; recognize that since genuine learning is usually action based, organizations must find ways of helping to create experiments and probes so that they lear through doing in a productive way. (Morgan, 1998:85)
Coming back to the metaphor of brains, the intelligence of the brain is not predetermined. It is not centrally driven. It is emergent. A top-down approach to management leads to single-loop learning and therefore is the opposite of such a model of emergence. To prevent chaos and incoherence targets should take the form of vision and value-sharing.
Morgan continues on to articulate a vision of ‘holographic organization’ based on five principles:
Build the ‘whole’ into the ‘parts’ (i.e. ‘networked intelligence’)
The importance of redundancy
Requisite variety (i.e. ‘internal complexity must match that of the environment’)
Minimum Specs (i.e. don’t define more that is absolutely necesssary)
Learn to learn (i.e. ‘double-loop learning’)
After fleshing out these princples, Morgan concludes this chapter with listing the strengths and limitations of the brain metaphor.
Gives clear guidelines for creating learning organizations
Shows how IT can support the evolution of organizations
Gives a new theory of management based on the principles of self-organization
Addresses the importance of dealing with paradox
There could be conflict between the requirements of organizational learning and the realities of power and control
Learning for the sake of learning can become just another ideology
I can live with these limitations. I think the ‘organization as brain’ metaphor has a lot going for it. What do YOU think? 😀
A few weeks ago on an episode of the excellent podcast EdTechWeekly, Jeff Lebow, one of the co-hosts, expressed how he is still a little amazed by wireless networking. It started me thinking about how much technological stuff in my everyday life I take for granted these days – and how that’s a good thing. 🙂
Absolutely! I don’t mean by the title of this post that I want educational technology to be ‘boring’ in the sense of it being tedious. No, I mean ‘boring’ in the sense of it being so commonplace and ubiquitous that it isn’t thought about. I want us to get to a stage with all of this Web 2.0 stuff1 where we’re constantly focused on what we can do with the technology. A bit like wireless networking – at least for most of us… :-p
When anyone asks me, students included, why on earth I became a teacher, I tell them the truth. “I became a teacher to change the system.” That’s why I’m always interested in discussing and debating the future of education. This morning, Dave Stacey, someone I am proud to call a fellow History teacher and UK edublogger, asked some questions:
Why is it that all our pupils do the same courses at the same time, with people who happen to have been born between the same two Septembers as them?
Why is it that school starts and finishes at the same time for everyone?
Why is it that lessons last an hour, and then we all move round again?
Why is it that for all our talk about understanding multiple intelligences, 95% of learning and assessment is written?
Why is it that we try to manage the complicated business of learning by increasing the number of ever tiny boxes to be ticked?
Why is it that at the end of the day, it’s the teachers who leave exhausted?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘because we’ve always done it like that’ then you’re missing the point
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘that’s how it works’ then you’re not seeing the bigger picture.
We (you and me) are failing thousands of people every single day we perpetuate the myth that is the education system.
I don’t have the answers. But I have some questions, and I think that’s a good start.
Now I don’t think young David really wants answer such as “in the 19th century when the education system was set up, children were needed to gather in the harvest, therefore the school year began when after this had been done.” No no no. :p
What Dave’s getting at is that sometimes you’ve got to completely redesign a system from the ground up. It’s at this point I’d like you very much to watch two videos:
If you haven’t got time to watch the above (you really should find some!) or don’t understand what I’m trying to get at, let me make it explicit: we’re in a period of immense social change (1st video clip). This means we’re re-writing the rules as we go along. Unfortunately, to get to where we need to be, evolution isn’t an option (2nd video clip) – we need to start over to make things better.
I’m not sure I agree with Dave’s implication that learners should leave school ‘exhausted’, but I’m with him all the way on finding it bizarre that in an increasingly multimedia society, we insist on assessments to be done in a written format. We need to be responding to the needs of 21st century learners who will live in a 21st century global society. Miguel Guhlin linked to the following diagram by Scott McLeod today. It’s worth looking at these things, especially when in the throes of the daily grind:
Dave writes, “We (you and me) are failing thousands of people every single day we perpetuate the myth that is the education system.” I agree. And it’s the reason, I believe, why many teachers who could and should change the education system end up as consultants or leave the profession due to sheer frustration. I, for one, am not ‘walking the walk’ as I should be. Thanks for the wake-up call, Dave! 🙂