Premature Stabilisation of MOOCs and other things

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I have already posted on the recent discussion on MOOCs, and I was quite pleased with the discussion that ensued in the comments. There does seem to be some interest in the nature of the MOOC discussion, at least in the outer fringes anyway.  I had thought of posting a follow up but didn’t do so until I found myself posting an incredibly long comment on Dave Cormier’s recent post about the need for a philosophy of learning. Hmm, I thought – you really do want to write a blog post about this.

I liked the pragmatic tone of Dave’s blog post, particularly his recognition that in teaching and learning that we sometimes deal with ‘points’ of knowledge as ‘facts’ to move us on to the really interesting and challenging learning  that inhabits (or is banished from) the lines and spaces between points (read his post for a better explanation).

Dave’s post led me to reflect on the (in)stability of knowledge in the context of the recent discussion on MOOCs and on Connectivism.  My main experience of both of these phenomena was CCK08 a MOOC on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge in which I participated in 2008.  I have critiqued Connectivism as a theory, questioning its premature stability  “If Connectivism is mutable knowledge as it extends its network, then it will behave like the knowledge and networks it describes in the theory.” link to Networked Learning paper.  I have argued that Connectivism is a useful phenomenon rather than a theory and suggested ways in which it might be developed and used.  In those papers I compared Connectivism with Actor Network Theory that deals with the concept of stabilisation but I was pleased to find a somewhat more accessible treatment of stabilisation knowledge in Engestrom’s writing.

Stabilization knowledge is constructed to freeze and simplify a constantly shifting
or otherwise bewildering reality. It is used to turn the problematic into a closed phenomenon
that can be registered and pushed around rather than transformed. It
commonly takes the shape of fixed and bounded categories, but also narratives may
be used to stabilize. Stabilizing categories often become stigmatic stamps on objects,
both human beings and things. Engestrom 2007.

(Note: I just found Engestrom’s writing on stabilisation and possibility knowledge – other examples of the (in)stability of knowledge very welcome)

So we are sitting in a room at something that we call a table and we acknowledge that this table means something different to all of us but we can somehow suspend these differences and have a worthwhile conversation about the table that increases our personal knowledge of this table thing as long as we acknowledge the differences and are listening to each other.
In the part of the recent MOOC discussion I saw, this was not always happening.  I would characterise some of the contributions as either trying to solidify and stabilise the concept of a MOOC, or perhaps in Wiley’s case reject it.  To me it seemed like a bit of a power struggle between Knowledge as fact to be transferred, preferably via OERs, and Knowledge as implicated in the ‘new’ concept’ of MOOCs.  In both cases, there is the risk of a premature stabilisation of knowledge taking place: in the first case of fixed knowledge artifacts: and in the second case that MOOCs are a label for something that has happened in other ways in the past, and the label and premature stability could impede future development.

So why does this matter?

I would say because premature stabilisation removes the possibility of development and can exclude valid and relevant perspectives, as I argued in my previous post.  I don’t know if Siemens, Downes and Wiley complete the assigned Belenky reading;)

Let’s have some possibility knowledge in the OER and connected learning discussions.

Possibility knowledge, on the other hand, emerges when objects are represented
in fields with the help of which one can depict meanings in movement and transformation.
One traces transitions of positions in a field, which destabilizes knowledge,
puts it in movement and opens up possiblities. In this sense, possibility knowledge is
agentive knowledge, the instrumentality of agency at work.Engestrom 2007

I am a simple soul who needs to ground ideas in my personal experience or other examples, and so my reflections led me straight back to my own personal contrasting experiences of CCK08. (Warning: these are neither points nor facts but my own subjective interpretations of what happened within my own experience).
1.Once the disrupter had left, there was some great discussion on the (disapproved) Moodle forums where I was learning and observing others (appearing to be) learning. There was a great tolerance for different views and pragmatism of approach.
2. External speaker sessions where new ideas could be introduced and these may have sparked discussions amongst participants in the chat window, on blogs or in forums (suggesting learning).
3. Friday sessions which tended to be broadcast-only by George Siemens GS and Stephen Downes SD, with slightly quizzical moderation from Dave Cormier, plus a bit of lively chat window interaction often strangely disconnected from the monologues (at least in the ones I observed before giving up on the Friday sessions).

I think that 1,2,3 are in order of greatest to least learning taking place.

If we look at each in terms of who was (apparently) learning: in 1 participants learned frequently, GS sometimes, SD rarely; in 2 participants sometimes particularly if followed up, GS and SD more likely than in forums, presenter very little if at all; in 3 if learning was taking place here I couldn’t see it except in chat window interaction.
My own very personal views were probably highly influenced by my own reactions to the different environments, and by my own growing certainty that connectivism was something to be tossed around and critiqued not ‘learned’. I argue that MOOCs and connectivism are organic phenomena that are not ready for being tied down and ‘judged’.

Useful questions are:
How are MOOCs and Connectivism like and not like other phenomena X Y Z?

How do people make effective use of them?

What can the protoganists learn?

I think that Dave’s pragmatic approach might help – that OK we know knowledge isn’t really ‘transferred’ but sometimes that simplification of what is really happening can move things forward a bit. Attempting for precision of definition of things that are still a bit fuzzy for everyone doesn’t always help matters.  It’s still time for possibility knowledge in the areas of informal learning in a digital environment and modes of organisation (such as MOOCs, networks and virtual communities).
I found it interesting that Dave referred to parent/child interactions where provisional/revisional approaches to ‘knowledge’ are most helpful for learning – parents are there for the long haul, they don’t need to the last detail on the first attempt.
I would question every letter of the MOOC acronym with the possible exception of online but that’s not to say I think they are a bad thing – I am just not yet sure what they are going to be.
I think they can really maximise learning when participants can tolerate different philosophies of learning (including “I don’t have a philosophy of learning”), be good-humoured and willing to learn.

doi: 10.1177/1350507607079026 Engestrom,Y.  Management Learning July 2007 vol. 38 no. 3 271-275

Be careful what you wish for

Peer Review Monster

Peer Review Monster Gideon Burton

 

 

 

Some say peer review of research articles is broken and needs to be changed, others that peer review needs a killer app that allows readers within a social network to vote a paper up or down. Cameron Neylon says Don’t (peer review) – the risks outweigh the benefits of publication. He says “publishing anything does no harm’ whereas peer review is costly in expert time.

jch Mary Mc Kinnon

 

 

 

Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, let’s think about what’s good about peer review and what could be improved.

Peer review can be good when:

  • it offers blind review when reviewers do not know gender/age/race/status of authors (unless this is revealed by text and context)
  • reviewers offer constructive advice for authors to improve their article/ creative work
  • it winnows submissions to journal (or other publication outlet) to improve quality of what is presented and filters content for readers

Peer review can be bad when;

  • it introduces delay in publication of work (tardy editors/ reviewers, backlog of accepted articles)
  • opinionated reviewers destroy confidence of authors

Alternatives to ‘traditional’ blind (author does not see identity of reviewer) or double-blind (neither author or reviewer see each others’ identity) reviewing include open peer review and the various recommender systems such as reviews on Amazon.com, Facebook ‘likes’, etc.

What are the risks of abandoning peer review ?

Well of course, the short answer to that is “I don’t know” but a search of scholar.google.co.uk reveals that it is a topic worthy of discussion.

“The refereed journal literature needs to be freed from both paper and its costs, but not from peer review, whose ‘invisible hand’ is what maintains its quality,” Steven J.Harnad from Peer Review : A critical inquiry by David Shatz.

What concerns me is that abandoning peer review will leave us more exposed to the gender, race and other identity biases that remain with us, and flourish in online communication where identity is key.

What do you think?

Do the benefits of abandoning peer review outweigh the disadvantages, and why?

ECE 2011

I will write a more substantial reflection on ECE2011 but I just wanted to capture something of this wonderful event in a few words and pictures before my day out at Chatsworth with @courosa and @heloukee.

I was far too busy to take more than few photos with my iphone but these two images capture for me two of the important aspects of ECE 2011 –

first the team work Chris Procter and Debra Leighton (others were in the audience clapping),

and second the support for authors’ development of their work  in our publication workshopPublication Workshop.

What these pictures don’t capture was the richness of the experience for delegates but the following responses to a Tweet asking for one word to sum up ECE2011 do that pretty well:

Jane_Mooney                 Engaging

DavidCRoberts:             whenisthenextconference

cristinacost            superb!

IleneDawn            convivial

lightb4sound            Inspiring

rbw66            engrossing

ConnectIrmeli            awareness

catherinecronin            connect

francesbell            Exhilirating

bunhill            diverseloquent

CosmoCat            Inspiring

ChrisNewm            energizing

DavidCRoberts             http://twitpic.com/5mzt5m

SueFolley            thought-provoking

chrissinerantzi            fruitful

lindacq            Reflection

AleksejHeinze            WOW!!!

_Tasha__            reflections

courosa            Ricardo

gemturfer            amazing

fredgarnett            networked

mariakutar            exhilarating

courosa             Brilliant

torresk            Inspiring

BenGuilbaud             Inspirational

First Day of ECE2011

I am sitting here reflecting on the first day of ECE2011 at University of Salford and feeling slightly dazed to be honest.   Much of the day was taken up with registration, keynotes and panels: and these were very valuable.  Martin Hall situated us in the current UK HE context (more of his ideas here), Glynis Cousins gave us a masterly account of a research project, simultaneously exposing us to a delightfully different approach to research.

The panel session was broad-ranging and participative, tying the ideas of creativity into the current HE context.

However, for me, the highlight of the day was the session I chaired for the last 90 minutes of the day (Paper Session 1 here).  I have worked on the research papers strand of the conference since at least May 2010 (according to dates on my filestore).  Initially I had modest expectations of the quantity and quality of papers we could expect (since this is the first ECE conference where we have called for full papers) but these have been exceeded massively.  Today, the first eight of the 31 full research papers accepted were presented, four in the session I chaired.  The room was full, the presentations were excellent and the discussion was wide-ranging and challenging.

It was a very sweet moment to realise that the quality of the content we had already observed was exceeded by the reality of its performance at the conference.  As my co-editor of the full papers, Moira McLoughlin observed in our editorial “the meaning of conference is ‘meeting for consultation or discussion’ or ‘an exchange of views’ “.  Well, let me tell you, the first paper session had real exchange of views, as I am sure the other five paper sessions do too.

I heard that the Pecha Kucha session went very well so I can retire to bed happy that our authors and delegates have another two days inspiring, being inspired and learning – I know that I will.

Bring on Day 2!

Knowledge Transfer: old wine in new bottles or how many contentious statements can I make in one blog post?

Punning wine

Punning Wine By Mike Knell

(includes edited content from a comment I made to Stephen Downes blog post)

I have been watching a ‘debate’ unfold over the weekend with increasing mystification.  I even posted a couple of comments but I didn’t really feel that there was much idea exchange taking place. If you want to check it out, George Siemens has some useful links here .

For me the first old wine in new bottles (itself a fairly stale metaphor but I love the picture)  is the idea of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) – I thought that open fora and ‘free’ courses had been around for a  long time for example WebHeads in Action since 1997, open learning environments have been under discussion since mid 1990s at least (though open learning variously defined) e.g. http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bwilson/wils95 and I am sure (though I can’t find links at present) there have been free courses online (e.g. in HTML) since mid 1990s too.  Don’t get me wrong the recent crop of MOOCs has generated a lot of interest and experimentation but this will be more informed if they acknowledge their heritage.

The second old wine in new bottles is the terminology and paradigm debate.  Quite a lot of the talk was about the meaning of learning, knowledge and even the term ‘knowledge transfer’.  This one really made me smile, as the term ‘Knowledge Transfer’ has a fairly well-defined meaning in UK HE, as it refers to a funded graduate recruitment scheme where businesses, graduates and academic work in partnership to transfer knowledge between them – very contextual and processy, unlike knowledge transfer as item of ‘knowledge’ passing from sender to receiver . The knowledge transfer being discussed this weekend sounded more like ‘transmission mode learning’  about which acres of text have been written, and clearly linked back to earlier work on communication, explained and critiqued rather well here in the transmission mode of communication.

This critique also neatly demonstrates how a model originating from a viewpoint different from one’s own can still be useful (up to a point) in one’s own meaning-making.  I am very interested in how those to whom ‘learning’ means something different can still have a productive and meaningful dialogue. I think participants would have to start by trying to explain what the word means to them and then listen to what others have to say. It would also help participants (especially given the context of openness) to enter the dialogue with the possibility of changing their minds even if only in a small way.  Maybe what is important about theories of learning and knowledge is what they mean to learners and teachers, as we personally theorise the world around us. Since that can often be in a social context we need to get the knack of sharing theories in dialogue. I have observed over a long period (and on CCK08 in particular) that teachers use theories in a very pragmatic way (connectivism being a good example), sometimes thinking about transmission modes of learning, other times using constructivism and in our digitally-saturated environment, turning to connectivism to help them practice and reflect.  I spent a short time as a Maths teacher in school and saw the twin disadvantages of knowing your times tables without understanding how they were constructed and vice versa, whereas what practice of numeracy requires both that you know your times tables and understand what they mean.  This may be achieved by combining rote learning and discovery learning.

The last point I wanted to make was about the general tetchy tone of some of the contributions (notable exception being @dkernohan 😉 ) Stephen Downes using the term nonsense and David Wiley identifying a comment as the ‘snob’ response. Just what is this ?  are the writers claiming ‘truth’? ownership of ideas or concepts like MOOCs?  This seemed to me to a very ‘masculine’ debate (OK that’s my interpretation) both in terms of style and inclusivity.  I would playfully prescribe that the main contenders in this weekend’s debate assign themselves an OOC on Belenky’s Womens Ways of Knowing, since Belenky’s work challenged and grew out of Perry’s Model of Intellectual Development which emerged from a very restricted sample of white  middleclass male MBA students and was then generalised to others.

So here is my contention:

that if we want to grow and explore concepts like informal learning online, MOOCs and OERs for the benefit of all, we need to involve all – men, women, young, old, from different philosophical and religious perspectives, from countries all over the world, and acknowledge the contributions of earlier scholars.

Now that isn’t going to be easy, inclusivity never is, but I don’t think this recent ‘debate’ has contributed much – however good some of the individual contributions were, the whole left a sour taste, in my mouth at least.

The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online

The following abstract is for a Symposium that will be presented at ALT-C 2011 by

Frances Bell, Cristina da Costa, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and Helen Keegan

It is considered, eclectic and interesting and we hope it will attract rich discussion before during and after ALT-C 2011. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to guess who wrote which part (and I have to say one of them is pretty easy to guess), and then to go on to engage in meaningful discussion.

Abstract:

This symposium will examine the paradoxes of giving and receiving online in education in a changing economic climate.  Each of the panellists will briefly address topic areas within the symposium theme, followed by an opportunity for present and at distance audiences to contribute, concluding with a 25 minute plenary discussion.

Symposium delegates will be provoked to reconsider the costs of participation online by paid and unpaid participants in ‘open’ discussion and sharing of resources.

Open Educational Resources exist within communities that create, use and sustain them (Downes 2007). When ‘communities’ in Higher Education break down due to redundancy and casualisation of labour what happens to OERs? Are they sustained? Can they reach out to other contexts?

All areas of education, including the school sector, currently face significant financial challenges and uncertainties. Institutions are increasingly reviewing the provision of devices and services, and looking at learner owned devices and commercially owned ‘free’ cloud-based services. What is the real price of an education system supported and transformed by embedded learning technologies?

Ownership in the age of openness calls for clarity about mutual expectations between learners, communities and ourselves. Ideas and content are shared easily through open platforms, and yet attributions can be masked in the flow of dissemination: does credit always go where it is due?

Openness in the production, sharing and reuse of education/resources is meaningless in the face of neoliberalism. Where coercive competition forms a treadmill for the production of value, openness/OERs are commodified. Control of the educational means of production determines power to frame how open are the relations for the production or consumption of educational goods or services, in order to realise value. The totality of this need, elicited by the state for capital, rather than the rights of feepayers, parents, communities or academics, shapes how human values like openness are revealed and enabled within HE.

Scarce research monies focus attention on impact factors, arguably stagnating practice. For publications, Open Access can increase wider societal impact but at the expense of career progression.We explore the tensions, paradoxes and professional costs on societal benefits, individual agency and academic progression.