Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum?

PRUEBA001

Prueba 001 by Magdalena Lagaleriade CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our third and final paper from research in the context of the Rhizo14 MOOC has been published in the open access journal of the Association for Learning Technology:

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes (2016) Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, vol. 24 .

As the title suggests, we explored ‘community is the curriculum’ in a MOOC: how community formed and was perceived; how curriculum emerged; and how both of these happened in the context of an absence of explicit community and learning goals.  We also looked at the impact of the choice of Social Networking Sites (SNS) on community formation and on the curriculum.  SNS are being used in and around education and our research can contribute to inquiry into how they can be used, or not.

Our previous two papers were both published in Open Access journals:

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38
Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 32(1), p.78-91 .

I can’t speak for Jenny or Mariana but I know I am experiencing a mixture of pride, in the body of work that we have produced, and relief, that I can take forward the ideas explored in the 3 papers and surrounding interactions on blogs and other social media into broader contexts than a single MOOC. I really hope that practitioners and researchers can benefit from this work, and I would be delighted by their constructive engagement with us, here or in other spaces. Many of us are learning and researching in online spaces. We can work together to find out how to organise our learning better, and choose and use SNS. And all of this is dynamic as we and SNS change.

So I’d love to hear your ideas, objections, reflections that can help us all engage with our research and that of others in this important area of open learning.  What I have learned from this work is that we can and must do that in our own ways, and that kindness is important.

Processing our grief and looking to the future

Yesterday when I heard the EU Referendum result, my feelings moved from dread to grief, and I am hopeful that writing this post will be therapeutic for me. I’d be delighted if anyone wants to respond.  Part of my philosophy is that we can learn from mistakes so surely there is something to be learned from what I see as a colossal mistake, and is already seen as a mistake by some who voted for it . My social media streams have also contained expressions of despair and anger.  Whilst feelings of anger are part of the grief process, when they turn to blame that reifies complex explanations as simple binary truths, they can get in the way of progress. For me, it’s reasonable to question the Tory party’s decision to campaign a General Election on a platform that promised a referendum but when I hear the “old people did this to us” explanation, I worry that view will, in the long run, get in the way of making things better in future. Michael Rosen has a wry response to the old people issue.

Read this:

I am a lifelong socialist and voted remain. I am sad, disappointed and concerned that my view did not prevail. I am also sad, disappointed and concerned that the vitriolic bigotry on both sides of the referendum campaign, which was a significant factor in the outcome, continues today. We have Nigel Farage triumphalism , xenophobia and prejudice; but we also see some of my fellow Labour Party members,  pouring shame and self righteous abuse on the entire group of their neighbours who voted to leave. The oxygen of media and  social media  fans the flames of intolerance, inequality , fear and hatred. To combat these we need education,  empathy and dialogue, not bullying, misinformation and self appointed guardians of ‘the truth’. Now is the time for reflection and analysis. With recognition of the reasons for the EU exit , we can form the basis for a convincing strategy to create a fair, inclusive , prosperous and peaceful world – we have more things in common than divide us .

by email from my dear friend and sister-in-law Patricia Whaley

Pat’s email was so welcome to let me know that someone else was concerned about how we can learn and make change, without despising those who voted Brexit. Understanding why they did would be a good start. I was partially disconnected from the EU Referendum campaign because we were on a month long trip in our motorhome and so I missed much the UK media coverage of the campaign. The day before we returned home, we heard the shocking news of Jo Cox’s murder, and learned more about how inspirational she was a human being and as a politician. Some of the most touching tributes were from constituents who gave testament to how she listened to them and did her best to solve their problems. If some of those constituents voted Brexit, I think she would have listened to them and talked to them, rather than condemning them.

My reflections started with trying to think what was good about the referendum, a thought experiment:

  • It’s good that there was a high turnout whether or not we like the outcome. My idea (pipedream) of a functioning democracy is one where voters have access to a range of views supported by accurate information, vote for politicians who have integrity, and then we all abide by the will of the majority, whilst working honestly to change that will if we think it is wrong.  I hope that the Labour Party will focus effort on finding out why some of their traditional vote turned out for Brexit, rather than blaming its leader. I found these views from Hartlepool, where there was a 70% vote for Brexit, were painful to watch but enlightening.

Rather than decrying areas of the country or age groups as ignorant and racist, let’s listen to people and find out why they fear immigration and feel so let down by the establishment. I have heard often this week that not all Brexit voters are racist but all racists would vote Brexit, aimed at those considering voting Brexit – but now a majority has voted Brexit so what can we learn from that? Spoiler: don’t blame the voters.

  • It seems likely that more young people are voting than a few years ago and also that more young people voted Remain. That is great but the whole picture is unclear and more complex than it may at first appear. This article makes use of a comparison of Census and EU Referendum data (interesting but not definitive) and a widely circulated Lord Ashcroft Poll. It’s wise to treat the latter source with caution I think, since its funder has his own agenda. Newspaper articles (quietly) acknowledged the Lord Ashcroft Poll source (how could they resist it?) but the path from this dodgy poll to the ‘truth’ of ‘older people denied younger people their wishes’ ran across those newspaper articles and then across social media with disconnection from the sources. I enjoyed this widely circulated comment from the Financial Times but wondered what was the source of this articulate commenter’s assertion

Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors

The commenter pointed out that we live in a post-factual democracy and that’s a matter of concern.  I don’t know if there is reliable data on if and how people voted by age group but we do know turnout and outcome by area, and that can give us food for thought.

I am thrilled by the thought of young people becoming more politically active and want all of us to be able to access reliable information.

In a phone call this morning, Pat Whaley (who lives in Middlesbrough where there was a high Brexit vote) reminded me that Cameron inaccurately blamed the EU for UK government inaction to save the Redcar steelworks.   People can only make their minds up on the information available to them, and in a confusing situation will go with their gut feelings, voting Brexit against the government or because they have been fed propaganda about immigration or for other reasons.

Mariana Funes shared a 15 minute video aimed at US viewers that managed to convey the contradictions and misinformation of the Brexit case in a humorous #NSFW fashion.

That’s an interesting intersection of traditional media (TV programme) and social media (Youtube channel shared via Twitter/Facebook) but the complexities of social media bear closer inspection.

I think we can be fooled by hearing what we want to hear within our filter bubble/ echo chamber

Facebook’s algorithms tend towards reinforcing certain themes within a social group.

I have done a lot thinking and quite a bit of writing about social media in the last few years and polarisation has been a theme.  I quoted David A Banks in this post

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shown to be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page.

But on social media, the manipulation of what we see is not only determined by our up/down voting, liking or favouriting but also by the hidden algorithms (aimed at maximising social networking systems’ revenue) as they shape what we see and from whom, based on their advertisers interests.

Not surprisingly, social and traditional media are commercial activities, and this can present conflicts for their consumers and producers, not just in terms of what they contain/ share but also how that content is presented. I think that means we need to hold them to account.

So what about the Brexit voters? My social media filter bubble doesn’t contain many who argued for leaving the EU. Some them will have turned to the Sun and the Daily Mail and what did they find? Exaggerations and lies – epitomised by the slogan encapsulated on the Brexit Bus neatly retracted on the day after polling to save excessive spending in a new government perhaps.

At this point, it’s a struggle not to dash my head against the kitchen table, so let’s try to think of how things might be different.  The people of Liverpool, sometimes decried, set us a great example of how to deal with media lies over the Hillsborough football stadium disaster. When confronted with the lies propagated by the Sun and other newspapers, many of the people of Liverpool campaigned for justice, only exposed 27 years later,  and they boycotted the Sun. So ordinary people can challenge the establishment and the media and get some sort of justice, eventually by working relentlessly and defying establishment and media lies. Let’s challenge traditional and social media to be the media that we want and resist them being immovable objects that manipulate what we can learn from other people.

My hopes for the future:

  • That within and without political parties, we can achieve a healthy democracy where people are politically active across the spectrum of listening, lear
  • ning, organising, campaigning, challenging government and politicians, and of course voting.
  • That traditional and social media wield their great power with integrity and respect, and that we are knowledgeable and aware enough to challenge them when they fall short of this, and to appreciate how our own views may be shaped by media, overtly and covertly.
  • That we question the emerging binary culture that seems to be partially fuelled by media and tackle  complex issues with provisional solutions. Let’s resist polarisation, and find our way forward with “education, empathy and dialogue, not bullying, misinformation and self appointed guardians of ‘the truth’” as Pat Whaley says.

I am very pleased to see that some are planning positive futures here and Progrexit.

Update:

At the time I wrote this post, I had done a little research on Lord Ashcroft Polls but I am slightly embarrassed to say that I took the yougov poll at face value – yougov sounds so official. Yougov use Active Sampling from their pool of responders and claim that even though the polling is online, it’s not biased. See what you think. They seem to have a good track rate of predicting election results but I still have a little prickle at the back of my neck.

Facebook and #GE2015

Facebook I voted button
Facebook I voted button

Like anyone else from UK on Facebook this morning, I saw the  2015 General Election I voted button that asks you to confirm if you have voted.  I was interested to see the data it presents – a time series graph of number of voters who claim they have voted, and an age/gender distribution of the same – you will notice that my captions differ slightly from the app’s captions.

Time series of users of Facebook GE2015 app
Time series of users of Facebook GE2015 app
Distribution of Voters app users by Age/Gender
Distribution of Voters app users by Age/Gender

When I checked out where the App came from, I was interested to see it was linked to the About My Vote site from the Electoral Commission, and I posted an enquiry about their and Facebook’s use of the data generated by the app. I will update this post with their response if and when I get it.

I got into a conversation with my son Dan Bell who is a Digital Marketing Consultant  (and takes a different perspective on Facebook from me :).  He showed me the dashboard of his Facebook Audience insights and so we checked out if you needed a Google Facebook Ads account to see that data – you don’t!

Facebook data on UK users with interest 'UKIP'
Facebook data on UK users with interest ‘UKIP’

The image is from my quick exploration of going to https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience_insights, making following choices:
Audience: Everyone on Facebook, changing country by selecting United Kingdom, deselecting USA, and typing UK Independence Party in as an interest.

What isn’t clear to me is how Facebook decided who was ‘interested’ in UKIP.   I will be very interested if Nigel Farage fails to take Thanet South seat. Dan pointed out to me that  it isn’t just who has liked their page as the UKIP page has only 464,000 likes yet the graph above relates to ‘700,000-800,000’ users.

It does seem poor that Facebook Audience Insights are coy about their methodology/ algorithm, given their concerns about privacy.

We built Audience Insights with privacy in mind. It surfaces aggregated information people already express on Facebook, along with information from trusted third-party partners — like Acxiom — through our partner categories targeting.

I can recommend having a play with this – and then you might like to go here and adjust your ad settings 🙂  https://www.facebook.com/help/568137493302217?hc_location=ufi

So how do you feel about these services? Have you any concerns? I do.

Are we there yet? the notyetness of emerging technologies practice and research in online learning

Looking rear view mirror
Looking backwards and forwards CC-BY-NC

Any parent will recognise the plaintive question “Are we there yet?” asked by children impatient for the journey to be over, the holiday to start. In using technology in learning and education, hopefully we will never really get there but experience fun in our experiments and learn from our experiences. We may find that there are better and worse journeys, decisions that opened up opportunities and others that closed them down.

Amy Collier and Jen Ross have come up with the intriguing concept of notyetness, based on George Veletsianos’ assertion that emerging technologies are ‘not yet fully researched” and “not yet fully understood” in online learning. Amy flags up the enabling characteristics of emergence that can flow from notyetness

creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.

She gives three examples of projects with notyetness that have touched me personally in the last year: Domain of One’s Own , Fedwiki Happening, and Rhizo14.  I am currently reinventing my web site with the wonderful help of Tim Owens at Reclaim Hosting, I have two fedwiki happenings under my belt and I was a participant and researched (with Jenny Mackness) Rhizo14. This morning, I watched the livestream of Sheila MacNeill’s keynote to #OER15, where one of the themes was the different shades of open that might be tried in the drive to mainstream Open Educational Practice. Sheila seemed to be recommending a pragmatic approach to mainstreaming of OEP, and this chimed with Lisa Chamberlain’s identification of Facebook Groups as a kind of not-yetness

The ideas of not-yetness at an MIT or Stanford are so far beyond the realm of my little community college that they would intimidate or even shut down emerging technology discussion for all but a few of the most technologically-edgy of faculty at my school.

But Facebook, good ol’ Facebook, almost the grandpa of social media now, is a kind of “not-yetness” on my campus. (Not to mention it has a nearly flat-line learning curve which is important for a 10 week quarter). The idea of opening a class to social media of any kind is not-yetness here. The use of Facebook groups is not-yetness here. The connectedness of letting outsiders participate with students in a class via Facebook is very not-yetness here.

I should declare that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook: it’s great to keep in touch with my far-flung family but I have concerns about Facebook privacy aspects and its use of data. I taught a first year undergraduate module 2009-2013 where most of the students were Facebook users, making it possible for them to conduct small group investigations into privacy and data use (meaning Facebook membership was not compulsory and there was no Facebook interaction with tutors). So I feel sympathy with Lisa’s pragmatic approach but also a little uneasy.  There are quite a few reasons not to use Facebook in formal education: the creepy treehouse effect, Selwyn(2009)’s recommendation to leave Facebook as a backstage space for students, and the implications of mandating students of a space that is managed externally to the college or university. 

In thinking further, I also recognised an interesting link between the notyetness of both emerging technologies online learning practice and research into that practice. Ferguson(2012) identifies three different interest groups for learning analytics – governments, educational institutions and teachers/learners. When learners interact via Facebook, the major interest groups for the data are Facebook and the customers to whom they sell advertising.  Although, Facebook makes some anonymised interaction data available through apps like Netvizz, their track record for research is questionable. Selwyn’s 2009 study found that only 4% of student interactions related to their studies and so students who elected not to participate in an optional Facebook social space were not too disadvantaged but moving significant  elements of learner interaction to Facebook seems different somehow.

There is already a trend of outsourcing some educational services to private companies, and it’s easy to see that ‘free’ services can be attractive but Facebook isn’t Reclaim Hosting whose strapline is “Take Control of your Digital Identity”.  What will we see in the rearview mirror if there is a substantial move of study-related interaction to Facebook groups?

Ferguson, R. (2012). Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4(5/6), 304–317. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/36374/1/IJTEL40501_Ferguson Jan 2013.pdf

Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook, 34(2), 157–174. doi:10.1080/17439880902923622 also currently available at http://blogs.ubc.ca/hoglund/files/2011/05/facebook.pdf

Open Access and Social Media: Networking around a scholarly article

(The short version is in the last paragraph if you want to skip to there).

Many places
Many places

Heterotopic communication

In writing about heterotopic communication (see Foucault’s Heterotopia ), the prescient Leah Lievrouw showed that public and private can relate to strategies for engagement behaviours rather than being properties of spaces (Lievrouw 1998 ).  As we communicate apparently within one space, we are simultaneously performing across multiple physical and digital channels and spaces with others who have related but different sets of spaces.  Communicating across spaces around the publication of an open access paper that I co-authored has been a long learning ‘moment’ for me over the last week, and I wanted to capture and share my reflections before I forget them.

OA Publishing and Social Media

I have been thinking about the links between Open Access scholarly publishing and social media for some time, inspired by my privileged involvement in two ventures. The first was Cristina Costa’s PhD entitled Participatory Web in the Context of Academic Research: Landscapes of Change and Conflicts. I learned so much from listening and talking to Cristina as she planned, conducted and wrote up her research. The second venture was my involvement as (then) co-editor in the move of the ALT journal Research in Learning Technology to Open Access publishing (including the entire archive). In the editorial of the first open access issue, we said

By attending to, and even influencing, the emergent practices of our members (as well as authors and other researchers) as ALT introduces innovations, we can continue to exploit the opportunities presented by the openness and web presence of articles in Research in Learning Technology. The read/write web, as represented by blogs and social networking services such as Twitter and Google+, offers the potential to develop conversation and interest around our articles, and thereby promoting their use.

That seems very relevant to my current reflections, since I find my own practices to be emergent, with rapid change having occurred in the last week.

Encouraging engagement via Social Media

On 13 Feb 2015, Jenny Mackness and I had a paper published in Open Praxis  an open access journal. Conscious that we wanted to maximise the impact of the fruits of our labour and that of the participants who supplied such rich data, we considered briefly how best to share it . We shared the (open) link to the paper on Twitter, including the hash tags for rhizo14 and rhizo15. Open Praxis use Twitter to market their activity. They stream their own tweets on their web page, and have some means of picking up occurrence of their links in Twitter that they then helpfully retweet including authors’ handles where they know them. On reflection, it occurs to me that it would be really helpful for connectivity purposes for (willing) authors to include their Twitter handles within the paper, and for a share button to be next to the paper that could include author twitter handles when the link to the paper is shared. I don’t know of any journals do this. I have checked out a few publishers and whilst some enable creation of post that links to paper, the twitter post often exceeds 140 characters and included publisher rather than authors’ handles. These look like devices for marketing rather than scholarly engagement.
We decided to blog the publication of the article at Frances’ blog and later at Jenny’s blog and the comment streams are evidence of rich engagement with the paper. We have used the posts to link to activity on Twitter and elsewhere. For example, the very wonderful Laura Goglia decided, on the spur of the moment, to live tweet her reading of our paper (we recorded this via storify) and she blogged the experience too.
Twitter was a very useful way of sharing and commenting around the paper. One less positive (for me) use of Twitter was a reader who used Direct Messages to quiz me about aspects behind the paper ( 17 messages in less than 30 minutes). I suggested redirection to the blog.
During the live tweet there was a playful suggestion that what the paper needed was a hashtag but perhaps this turns out to be something worth deciding at the start (possibly even including within the article as a keyword). We used Storify to capture the chat around Laura’s live tweet of the blog post.

Rhizo14’s most active space is the semi-permeable Facebook group that has a membership of 320 of whom a small proportion are active.  Typically, longer threads will engage ten or more people but one has a sense of not so much an invisible audience, but rather an unnoticed audience. We had not directly posted our paper to the Facebook group but two threads emerged around a link to the paper. The first was started by a positive comment and fizzled out fairly quickly. The second thread was introduced by a comment raising doubts about the extent of ethical obligation of the leader of a voluntary extra-institutional cMOOC like Rhizo14, and ran on to include some other concerns about the paper. post by Rebecca Hogue that was actually about her planned blogging course but I mistakenly thought was about the rhizo14 cMOOC.  I engaged in both threads, trying to respond to points about the paper as they were made. It was strange – I had been active (less so in recent months) on this Facebook group for over a year but I came to feel that my presence as author (particularly in the second thread) wasn’t helping the discussion that people wanted to have (see my comments on cognitive dissonance). Eventually one participant expressed that they felt that I was categorising them and lecturing them. I was mystified by the first point but reread the thread and could see that my contributions could be seen as having ‘lecture-like’ attributes. I was speaking about collaborative work with Jenny on which I had spent many hours, and unsurprisingly my contributions were in an authoritative register that was probably out of place in the context of this particular Facebook group, for some participants at least.

So what are the outcomes of my reflection?

  • there are positive links between open access and social media
  • open access publishers can and do support the dissemination of articles using social media and this can increase the readership of articles
  • publishers and authors could investigate the possibilities of using social media to create engagement with the article that could more easily include authors themselves (if that is what authors want)
    consider creating a hashtag for an article that can be used to tag it and aggregate discussion around it
  • it can be useful for authors to blog the publication of an article, enabling dialogue and using this as a hub to link to other direct and curated interactions around the article
  • Twitter has many affordances for supporting sharing and commenting around articles but DM was less useful from my point of view
  • in future I would not directly engage with discussion of our work in the Rhizo14 Facebook group as my engagement seemed to be of little use to the group participants or to me