After seeing several MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) come and go over the past couple of years, I’ve decided to play a part in a new one being facilitated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens and Stephen Downes.
This is an unusual course. It does not consist of a body of content you are supposed to remember. Rather, the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person.
This type of course is called a ‘connectivist’ course and is based on four major types of activity:
When a connectivist course is working really well, we see this greate cycle of content and creativity begin to feed on itself, people in the course reading, collecting, creating and sharing. It’s a wonderful experience you won’t want to stop when the course is done.
And – because you can share anywhere – you won’t have to. This course can last as long as you want it to.
The schedule consists of people who are pretty much who’s-who in my corner of the digitally-connected world; I’m particularly looking forward to:
Week 3 – Martin Weller (Digital Scholarship)
Week 9 – Dave Cormier (Rhizomatic Learning)
Week 17 – Howard Rheingold ([How] can [using] the web [intelligently] make us smarter?)
Week 25 – Stephen Downes (Knowledge, Learning and Community)
Week 33 – George Siemens (Sensemaking, wayfinding, networks, and analytics)
Week 34 – Bonnie Stewart (Digital Identities & Subjectivities)
That’s because these are people I know will provide interesting stimulus material and sound guidance. However, I’m also looking forward to being surprised by others!
MOOCs have a structure that allows you to dip in and dip out. This course is running (at least) until 20th May 2012 so there’ll be times when I can pay more or less attention. Given that I’m handing in my thesis in the next 14 days I should, on average, have a whole lot more time on my hands to get involved.
Why don’t YOU take part as well? It’s a great way to meet new people and think through new ideas!
What we are asking here is, effectively, what changes when a new technology is introduced? How does affect how we interact, how we think and how we communicate? Useful here may be Marshall McLuhan’s idea of ‘tetrads’ (as set out in his posthumously-published Laws of Media).
(image from Wikimedia Commons)
Any medium or human artefact simultaneously enhances, reverses, retrieves and obsolesces – although the effects in each area may take years to manifest themselves. If we take the mobile phone (cellphone) as an example to place in the centre of the tetrad, we observe the following. The mobile phone enhances communication by voice whilst reversing the need to keep people close in order to communicate with them. Public telephone booths become obsolete, but certain behaviours (such as infantile shouting) are retrieved.
McLuhan also believed that technologies have to be understood in their historical context, using the idea of ‘figure and ground’ to underpin his famous phrase ‘the medium is the message’. The figure (or medium) operates through its ground (or context) with both having to be understood together to make either intelligible. McLuhan believed that each technology reflects a way of understanding the world, especially in terms of time and space. Attempting to understand a particular technology or medium without the culture in which it was used would be at best anachronistic and at worst useless and misleading.
This idea of each medium having its own tetradic influence, along with McLuhan’s borrowing of the concept of ‘figure and ground’ from Gestalt psychology would seem to make the idea of a single, monolithic ‘digital literacy’ untenable. Not only does the ‘digital’ refer to devices that cover many cultural niches and time periods, but each obeys McLuhan’s Laws of Media in different ways. We have moved from a psychological view of understanding literacy (as with Traditional Literacy) to a sociological view where ‘[l]iteracies are bound up with social, institutional and cultural relationships, and can only be understood when they are situated within their social, cultural and historical contexts’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:12).
As Lankshear and Knobel go on to mention, literacy is always connected to social identity, to being a particular type of person. This is necessarily singular in a world where communication is bounded by physicality, but in a digital world may be multiple. Online I may have as many personas and identities as I have accounts. This has led to what is known as ‘affinity spaces’ – places where informal learning takes place amongst people who have a shared activity, interest or goal (Gee, 2004). This could be a war-game played online through an identity symbolised through a ‘butch’ soldier avatar, involvement of a photo-sharing community where members post comments, ideas and tips on each others’ work, or a fan fiction arena where members share a love of a particular film/TV series/book. It is not difficult to imagine an individual involving themselves in each of these communities simultaneously using a different identity, avatar, and persona each time. These multiple identities are predicated upon ‘the recognition of “difference” and hyperplurality… suggest[ing] that the emerging architecture of world order is moving away from territorially distinct, mutually exclusive, linear orderings of space toward nonlinear, multiperspectival, overlapping layers of political authority. Likewise, modern mass identities centred on the “nation” are being dispersed into multiple, nonterritorial “niche” communities and fragmented identities’ (Deibert, 1996:201 quoted in Hawisher & Selfe, 2000:288)
If communities are defined by communication and creative acts, and if these two activities are based upon some form of literacy, then literacies must be multiple, ever-changing and quickly evolving. In fact, it is difficult to see how such a generalised notion of ‘digital literacy’ would have time to ‘solidify’ and reside within an individual in a pure form. Instead, using theories such as Connectivism to conceive of learning – and therefore literacies – as residing in networks may be more sustainable. Considering education in terms of Discourse(s) rather than as transmission leads to,
thinking of education and learning in terms not of schools and children (place-related and age-specific) but, instead, in terms of human lives as trajectories through diverse social practices and institutions… To learn something is to progress toward a fuller understanding and fluency with doing and being in ways that are recognized as proficient relative to recognized ways of ‘being in the world’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:196)
Social practices become both all-important and compartmentalized. Learners as ‘nodes on a network’ can gain identity and status whilst simultaneously helping shape what, for that particular community, is an accepted and recognized way of ‘being in the world’. As Siemens, one of the developers of the theory of Connectivism puts it,
The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individuals. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed. (Siemens, 2004:no page)
In a world where the ‘half-life’ of knowledge – ‘the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete’ (Gonzalez, 2004 quoted by Siemens, ibid.) – is shrinking rapidly, such networked learning and associated literacies are essential.
There are blog posts I plan in advance and there are those that happen as a result of serendipity and need blogging straight away. This is very much one of the latter. :-p
Earlier this week I was following with interest the tweets of Jenny Luca, an Australian educator, as she sat in the audience during one of Stephen Downes‘ presentations. Before the whole thing even started, she overheard Downes:
In her next tweet she simply wondered how that squared with connectivism, a learning theory of which Downes is an advocate. I thought up several responses, but didn’t have time to get into a debate and so kep them to myself. Jenny’s reflections on the event, if you’re interested, are here. That particular event isn’t the focus of this post. 🙂
Today, during an Easter Sunday afternoon in which I’d run out of things to fill my leisure time, I turned to my feed reader and came across this from Hugh McLeod:
It’s actually a remixed (and, to be honest, improved) version of an original by Patrick Brennan.
These two coming so closely together made me reflect upon my online interactions. Now, before I go any further I need to point out very explicitly and clearly that I greatly value the interactions and conversations I have with individuals. I’m certainly not aiming to devalue that in what I’m about to say.
The power in a network comes from the amplification of individual contributions and connections to make it more than the sum of its parts.
I think this is may be where Downes was coming from in terms of ‘following topics not people’ on Twitter and where McLeod (via Brennan) means r.e. ignore everybody.
Yes, you need to learn the heuristics of the network.
Yes, you have be able to argue for your point of view.
…but when it comes down to it, you need to be your own person, using the network for your own ends. Not in some manipulative, Machiavellian sense, but in a ‘give-and-take’ way that means that the network truly does become more than the sum of its parts. 😀