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.

Stars in the playground and hearts in the factory

Stars and Hearts by Dan and Fern Treacy CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Stars and Hearts by
Dan and Fern Treacy
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This week the switching of the star/favorite for the heart/like has been a source of a little sadness for many in my slice of Twitter. Laura Gogia and Maha Bali supplied interesting commentaries on views expressed in ‘academic Twitter’  but I felt a little distant from the angst.  Although I don’t have active plans to leave like I do for Facebook, somehow I know that it’s unlikely I will still be active on Twitter in a couple of years time.  Like Kate Bowles, for me the corporate/ economic explanations are the most likely ones.

For a bit of fun, I checked out the symbol/ term variations for liking/favouriting across some popular sites.

Symbols on Social Networking Sites

So it seems that the concept of favourite is passé in the corporate standards of social media semiotics – it’s all ‘like’ now and the ‘favourite’ icon is the heart, thumbs up second. So it seems Twitter are following the trend for terms and symbols but meaning – that’s something else altogether.

In the last two years, I have observed, experienced and written about some highs and lows in social networking. Some old and new reading has been helping me to make sense of it.  I returned to Zuboff(1988) and her concept of informating, the generation of new streams of information about activities. That’s an interesting concept to apply to the endlessly changing yet persistent data collected by Social Networking Sites  (SNS) about activities such as liking/favouriting. Laura Gogia explained the semantics of academic tweeters’ different uses of the old Twitter star/favourite and how their practice might be different with the new heart/like.

Now, I don’t know how Twitter record a favourite/like but I imagine that it is a boolean true/false link between a tweet object and a tweeter/identity object with none of the semantics that Laura describes.  The complex semantics provide the motivation for our actions but are not recorded in the database. This simple favourite/like data is interpreted though, to provide economic value through the advertising services that SNS provide, by targeting tweeters by manipulating their streams.

My new reading has started with Ben Light’s theory of Disconnective Practice (relating to SNS) that helps with our understanding of how states of disconnection come into being and are maintained. Through Light’s book, I came across the work of Ulisses Mejias whose thesis that we need to remove our network goggles and look at what is happening off the network in the paranodal spaces around the network nodes seems particularly relevant to our consideration of stars and hearts, liking and favoriting. Monopsonies are counterpoints of monopolies, where the emergence of a single buyer, particularly of user-generated content, can lead to increasing inequality. Much better to watch this video, where he explains it for himself.

The Internet as Playground and Factory – Ulises Ali Mejias from The Politics of Digital Culture on Vimeo.

So thinking about Twitter’s aspiration to be the monopsony in micro-blogging might be a good way to understand what’s going on with the stars and hearts.  We think we are in the playground but maybe we are in the factory.

Jenny Mackness’s post reminded me that Sonia Livingstone’s hot seat for Networked Learning starts tomorrow.  I have a feeling I am going to be learning more about Sonia’s research that definitely doesn’t have network goggles.

References
Light, B. (2014). Disconnecting with social networking sites. doi:10.1057/9781137022479
Mejias, U. A. (2013). Off the Network. doi:10.5860/CHOICE.51-4485

The tea cosy that taught me – a story about knitting and learning

Saartje bootees
Saartje bootees
8059202995_4ed5a6ae77_m
Berry hat

 

 

 

 

 

I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.

But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.

Cosied tea and biscuits
Cosied tea and biscuits

I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year.   I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”.  Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was.  Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .

Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:

In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.

I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying!  I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.

Here is my unsteeked teacosy.

Teacosy - before steeking
Teacosy – before steeking

Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with.  And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.

So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted  later. Can you spot them?

Where are the errors?
Where are the errors?

So how do I feel now that it’s finished?

First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries.  They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.

So that’s one product but what about learning?

I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.

But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes;  that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.

What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts?  Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?

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

Wonderful Women I follow on Twitter

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I trawled through those I follow on Twitter to create a list of women I follow on Twitter, then create a composite image of their avatars.  This was quite a labour-intensive task but was time well spent as it made me think about these women.  I am impressed -they are a very interesting and talented bunch.  As my gift to you on this day of celebration of women, I offer you:

This Twitter list – as you  might find some lovely new people to follow.

The lovely image that makes me smile

women I follow

Managing networking in social media – what’s in between the zone of homophily and broadcast?

I was interested to read George Siemens post on his loss of interest in social media, I did not completely agree with him , though my disagreement was not so dramatic as Donald Clark’s. I think George might be confusing a channel/ web service with what people can do with it.

I was interested to read George Siemens post on his loss of interest in social media, I did not completely agree with him , though my disagreement was not so dramatic as Donald Clark’s.  I think George might be confusing a channel/ web service with what people can do with it.

However, George’s post did get me to reflect on my own practice with Twitter.  I had a think and came up with this analysis of my own Twitter network.  Everyone’s Twitter network is different e.g. @Downes with 4k+ followers and following 1.
My personal Twitter network

My personal network contains two zones – the blue (those who follow me)and the red (those I follow).  The overlap between those is my zone of homophily. This is a bit of a comfort zone where those with whom I share interests can share resources and conversation (sometimes silly).  However, previous research warns us of the dangers of group think  and the dangers of familiarity can militate against questioning and criticality.

In the blue zone of those who follow me, there will be people I know but don’t follow – I broadcast to them!.  I suspect there are a lot of ‘dead’ Twitter users who followed me then left.  Some who found me via the 112 lists I am in (I own 1 list) may still be following me. I would also guess that there are quite a few bots and spammers that I haven’t managed to spot and block.  This all makes the apparent 1198 to whom I broadcast my tweets (without me seeing theirs) look like  a large  overestimate of ‘followers’. Although my attention is mainly focused towards the red zone, I still value the tweets from some of the 1198 that hop over to grab my attention by using @francesbell.  I will usually click on their name and take a quick look at their recent tweets, maybe following them if they look interesting.

In the zone of those I follow but they don’t follow me, I am on the receiving end of broadcasts from the great and the good of social media /learning technology, a band, a folk festival, news media feeds, a funding body, a cinema,  a couple of celebrities,and  my Vice-Chancellor. I definitely can gain information from these links but there is little or no conversation taking place.  I am in their blue zone and may @message them but only once if I don’t get a reply – I get the message they aren’t seeking conversation;)

So although the focus of my Twitter network may appear to be my zone of homophily, my broadcasters and broadcast audience are also important to me. If your zone of homophily is too big to manage, prune it but don’t blame the channel.  If my valued network decamps to G+, I might need to shift my activity there but currently, I find Twitter a lot more manageable and less intrusive than G+.  I ‘go to Twitter’ via Tweetdeck whereas G+ comes to me every time I log into to my Google account for other reasons.

Edit: a question from @heloukee made me realise I hadn’t said how I worked out the numbers.  I got the number of followers and followed by me from Tweetdeck then got the number I follow who don’t follow me back from http://twopcharts.com/notfollowingback.php?source=gl&user=francesbell. I would have been in trouble if that number was more than 100 (twopchart’s limit) so this method won’t work for everyone.