Connection and Locus of Control

These are some very half-formed thoughts that I want to capture so I can re-connect and learn more later.

I have just read a post by Laura Goglia about an experience she had in school from reading part of a textbook when she was supposed to be reading Beowulf. She saw a picture that fascinated her so much that she learned about its purpose and its location (Prado) , and yesterday she brought her children to see it and told them her story. Reading her post reminded me of a related experience I had when visiting Manchester City Art Gallery as student over forty years ago. I saw a picture that I interpreted in a rather disturbing way (but that’s another story) and only recently did I discover the artist’s ideas behind the painting. Maybe if we had the Internet and smart phones in the 1970s I would have learned that at the time but I was too lazy to check it out in the library. What our stories have in common is a visual impression that stuck in our minds: Laura went across time from the text to seeing the actual painting and I went in the opposite direction.

Fragment of Twitter conversation
Fragment of Twitter conversation

The connection that brought me to Laura’s post was a Twitter conversation about whether or not teaching/learning needs to be entertaining. I was intrigued by the Twitter exchange, and understood more about what Laura meant after I had read her blog post. I am still pondering though. We talk a lot about teaching and learning – sometimes meaning the activity and sometimes meaning the outcome but that’s the English language for you.
Laura's blog
Whilst I was at Laura’s blog, I read her previous post about the questions she needed to answer at a mid term PhD assessment. Just after I read “Connectedness is the state of being able to recognize, understand, and act on connections across content, people, space, and time”, I glanced up the screen and noticed the Google cookie message. It offered me the chance to “learn more” and wanted me to click “got it”.  “Pfft” I thought – it’s Google that wants to learn more about me so that it can connect ads to me across time and multiple locations. That sort of fitted with Laura’s sentence that I had just read but then I re-read Laura’s questions and realised that her concern was with human learning. Her story in the first post was about learning something outside of the lesson plan, and that seems uplifting and ever more possible when learners have access to the Internet to connect to people and ‘content’.

So is ‘connection’ an unequivocal good in human learning? and in machine learning?

Google (like other well-connected technology services) learns more about me every time I use it. Its active listening doesn’t seem quite as benign as the active listening of a human teacher in class.    I don’t know if Laura’s teacher was aware of her distraction from Beowulf and was just happy that she was learning something. To learn about the painting, Laura had to disconnect from Beowulf.
Good teachers set up learning activities that offer a variety of possibilities and don’t seek a uniform outcome for all learners, for learning to be in one place or time (unless there are problems, they don’t go home or into the playground with their students).

Google’s knowledge is simultaneously partial and pervasive, following me around and trying to influence what I do. The difference between Google and the ‘good teacher’ is that Google wants to sell ads and demonstrate its influence on my purchasing (so it can sell more ads), whereas the ‘good teacher’ wants us to learn more than they want to teach.  They want to help the learner shift the locus of control from the teacher to the learner.

So I am thinking that one of the things that good teachers will be concerned with is how they can help learners (partially) disconnect from services – how they can shift the locus of control from Google to themselves. And that is not easy.

A wee poem – The Voyeur

Tonight, I was feeling like I needed a wee rest from my desperate attempt to complete the paper from hell, and I plucked a book of poetry fom the shelves to give me a different perspective.

Here’s what I found

Lovely wee dog
A wee dog by Iain Smith CC BY-ND 2.0

The Voyeur

by Tom Leonard

what’s your favourite word dearie
is it wee
I hope it’s wee
wee’s such a nice wee word
like a wee hairy dog
with two wee eyes
such a nice wee word to play with dearie
you can say it quickly
with a wee smile
and a wee glance to the side
or you can say it slowly dearie
with your mouth a wee bit open
and a wee sigh dearie
A wee sigh
put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
oh my
a great wee word
and scottish
it makes me proud.

 

        


 

 

Technology and Change in Education #ED1to1 #TJC15

Link between #TJC15 and #Ed1to1

I have arrived at #ed1to1 ( a twitter chat organised by Bon Stewart over 3 days) via #tjc15 (a monthlyish one hour twitter chat organised by Laura Gogia about a journal article). The framing article for #ed1to1 is (25 years ago) The First School One-to-One Laptop Program  by Audrey Watters.
I didn’t know the first one to one laptop scheme was 25 years ago. I remember using a similar case study for teaching systems implementation in the late 1990s, and interestingly, the school concerned was also a religious all girls school.
Then I got to thinking about Project CEIBAL that seems to be still going strong* after 8 years in operation. I was very impressed with the vision and scale of the project when I saw Miguel Brechner speak about it at ALT-C 2011 and will be very interested in its longer term impact and what can be learned from the project.

This is a 15 minute (10 minutes presentation followed by questions) video where Miguel outlines the project as one of social inclusion  He shows clearly that this was not just a project about the laptop but also included the network infrastructure, support, evaluation and sustainability.  CEIBAL sees pedagogy and enabling teachers and students as at the heart of the project. The laptops used were from the OLPC project, a global mission to give every child a laptop that has itself been criticised for its relevance to poor countries.  What interested me about CEIBAL was that it acknowledged the wider context of change, as this description of the historical educational context in Uruguay shows. Watch this 45 second clip to get a sense of this.

What the laptop program described in Audrey’s article and Project CEIBAL seem to have in common is that they are driven by a commitment to universal and relevant education. In the case of Uruguay, from 1876 education was decreed mandatory, secular and free. Even though many religious schools are no longer free (and were never secular), they can often trace their history back to a commitment to educate working class children. This account of the early history of education in my own home town shows nuns living and dying in similar conditions to those they were trying to help.

I don’t have enough information to really compare these two projects but I admire them. Philosophical/political commitment can be an effective driver and good evaluation can be a gift to future projects (unless you are a disruptive innovator of course).

Education has always been a means by which lives can be improved, and technology has a complex reflexive relationship with changing lives and organisations. In my own old-fashioned way, I am interested in the role of social justice and context in the promotion and use of educational technology.  It’s less than a panacea and more than a business opportunity to my way of thinking.

*It’s difficult to get up to date information in English and this source questions the impact and use of the laptops in Uruguay http://www.humanosphere.org/social-business/2014/09/nail-one-laptop-per-child-coffin/ though I note blogger source works for a bank.

When we can’t see the trees for the wood

Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I can see trees – Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Martin Weller posted a post on the role of personality in education that has attracted many comments. I could have written about many of the thoughts that the post and comments have sparked for me but I thought I would concentrate on one perspective- how we can view an educational experience, as either generalised or particular rather than both.
Martin argued quite powerfully that the OU (and as commenters pointed out, quality systems) try to  eliminate the personal author voice from course materials, and that this might be a bad thing. This seemed to me about creating generalised course materials and whilst the elimination of an author voice from materials can be seen as detrimental in some ways, I would argue that it does not need to be an obstacle to the subjective appreciation of learners (and may even offer them some freedom) as they experience learning. When we hear about the OU ( a brilliant UK institution, complementary to not a replacement for other HE institutions) we can tend to think of the central, the course materials, online resources whereas I suspect that many OU scholars might think also about their more distributed experiences, attending local face to face  study groups, small group interactions, private study. Aren’t these opportunities for tutors, but more importantly learners, to inject their own subjectivities, as they interpret materials, argue, re-present ideas, and hear about the subjectivities of others on the same course? These learners are able to see each other’s trees.
For me, in overly identifying Jim Groom with DS106 and Dave Cormier with rhizo14 (I know little of rhizo15) he is playing into the myths of the lone creator and innovation, as if any of these phenomena sprung fully-formed from the loins of their ‘creators’.  As Kate Bowles pointed out, there is something gendered about this view of personality as cult. For me, this focus on the personality of the leader/ inventor figure can hamper inventiveness and experimentation by freezing agency in a single personality, downplaying what went before and what goes after. It generalises the phenomenon in a way that obscures very important particulars such as learners’ behaviours and contributions.
We become so stuck on the wood, the naming, the labelling, the individualisation of a complex phenomenon, that we can’t see the beautiful trees. We are standing outside the wood, unable to hear the tree that falls – it makes a sound but not for us.

Slowing down the journal club

tjc15The journal club #TJC15 is a fascinating phenomenon. Laura Gogia ‘birthed’ it from her spontaneous live-tweeting of an article written by me and Jenny Mackness. As authors, it was exhilarating and informative to see live responses to our work. It was spontaneous, people responding to our paper as they encountered it, and I was thrilled by the responses.
As Laura developed the concept, I became interested in this idea of a swift journal club, enabled by Twitter and curation tools. Laura, the originator, moved swiftly to organise around this emergent phenomenon: to create a persistent place at https://tjc15.wordpress.com/ that records archives, upcoming events and even research.

Laura’s idea is that :
“Twitter Journal Club is an open learning experience on Twitter (aggregated around the hashtag #tjc15) in which participants read a previously agreed upon article at a scheduled time, live-tweeting as they go. The articles – which must be openly available either through pre-print or open access – are recommended by participants via Google Doc and read in order of recommendation.” more

Participants are responding with ideas, helping out with support for annotation and Storify by Mariana Funes. I think that the beauty of it is that people can participate in different ways.

Before the June journal club, I spent a little time reflecting on how I could best contribute to and benefit from #tjc15. Anyone who knows me, will know that I have a tendency to talk too much so I always try to make sure that I avoid hogging the conversation in a face to face session. But we don’t need to wait for a gap in the conversation to post a tweet to a hashtag and the stream can get hectic. I came up with a plan to slow down my experience of the journal club to see what difference that might make.

I decided:

  • to read the paper quickly before the session
  • to make my primary focus on reading the stream rather than posting to it
  • to note three issues that seemed important to me from reading the paper and make those my contributions spread over the hour
  • (apart from those contributions) to concentrate on thinking about / occasionally responding to the ideas of others

planI shared my plan with the club and paced my 3 issue tweets across the hour with the first one 10 minutes into the hour.

So how did it go?
I can’t speak for others (they probably didn’t notice) but I had a much better experience. I felt as if I had created more thinking space for me to reflect on what I, but also more importantly others, got from the paper.

I am interested in how we can slow things down a bit in other online associations, creating the pools alongside the fast-running streams. What do you think?

Arguing the case for qualitative research on learner experiences

 

Exploring at the beach
Exploring at the beach   by julochka CC BY-NC 2.0

Reading Simon Ensor’s article in Hybrid Pedagogy about the paper Jenny Mackness and I wrote about Rhizo14 reminds me that I made a promise to Simon and others, a promise that I haven’t kept. I said back in March that I would respond to some of the criticisms that Simon and others made of our paper. I put that on hold because of personal issues but it’s time to put that right.

Simon expresses powerfully his personal reaction to reading our paper and I respect that. I can benefit from reading his article, even though, unsurprisingly, I take a very different view from him in many respects. One aspect that Simon and I share as an interest is ‘community is the curriculum’ and Jenny and I are currently working on more research on how that seemed to play out in Rhizo14.

Simon and anyone else has a perfect right to tell their story but I do wonder if in telling his story, he also tells stories about others. That seems inevitable. Several times over the last year, Simon has told me previously that our research is scientific, and implied that we crave objectivity, presumably at the expense of subjectivity. We explained it differently in our paper. Shortly after our paper was published, someone who left Rhizo14 after a disagreement in the first few weeks contacted me to thank us for publishing the paper, as they put it, “for saying what needed to be said”. I don’t know if this person completed our survey, I suspect not, but I was fascinated by their perspective, and it was different from Dave’s take in this video conversation.

Simon and some of the other commenters on our paper from Rhizo14 have criticised the paper for a lack of balance. I think our paper does acknowledge that for many Rhizo14 was a wholly positive experience and we indicate that the negative experiences were in a minority.  My view is that minority experiences can be important and revealing – offering us an opportunity to learn more about something. If more learning is taking place online away from traditional class rooms, then finding out more about how to maximise inclusion, minimise problems/misunderstandings and recover from the ones that occur seems like a worthwhile endeavour to me.  The number of participants and nature of participation is impossible to tie down and we haven’t claimed to do that. We know that we had 47 respondents and that more than 500 people participated in some way in Rhizo14. We couldn’t and wouldn’t claim to say there was an x% satisfaction rate in Rhizo14 – that would be fairly meaningless. What I don’t understand is why we are expected to achieve balance by word count within our article. I am looking forward to reading the auto-ethnography publications when they come out  and I don’t expect them to achieve some sort of arithmetic balance.

We had to develop our research approach on the hoof and we worked hard to consult Rhizo14 participants as we went along. Speaking personally, I am proud of what we achieved and pleased that it has since been reused by others on Connected Courses.  Since some of our respondents elected to be anonymous, I think we can say that they were, in some cases, saying things they wouldn’t have said in public or in Dave Cormier’s published survey. I have been extremely puzzled by some reactions from Rhizo14 participants that seem to suggest that it’s somehow unfair for people to share bad/mixed experiences anonymously – wasn’t confidential sharing the foundation of a long history of qualitative research? Why not wonder about why they didn’t feel able to raise their concerns at the time? or be interested to find that others’ experiences differed from your own?

Simon alluded to what community might or might not mean in Rhizo14
I am beginning to think that ‘The community as curriculum’ is a hopeless simplification of rhizomatic learning.

It is a mess with lions, hyenas, bacteria, and all and sundry running around in an open ecosystem.

and Keith Hamon used the analogy of a rule-based game played on a geographically located pitch.

If a group of people wants to play futbol except for one who wants to play baseball, then that one should disengage or decide to embrace the futbol game, and the group should not feel compelled to quit playing futbol to accommodate the one. Fortunately, MOOCs can be large enough to accommodate both futbol and baseball games, if the players will organize themselves that way. What isn’t acceptable is for the one baseball player to stay and poison the futbol game. It would have been wrong of me, for instance, to insist that Rhizo14 focus its discussion on Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome metaphor just because that was the game I wanted to play.

Leaving aside the question of who might be the baseball player who stayed to poison the futbol game (answers on a postcard please), I was left wondering where was the pitch at Rhizo14?  Was the pitch the Facebook group, the G+ group, the Twitter hashtag, the baseball player’s blog, a futbol player’s blog comment stream?

Or do all of these form an open eco-system as Simon suggests and how will the question of which game (or games) will be played be decided? These seem to be important issues for a community (possibly of sub-communities) that is getting together and forming curriculum.

The possibility of new games in learning online excites me – and I want to play those games and sometimes engage in research in them.

Veletsianos(2013) has identified that emerging technologies may not be new, are always becoming, and may be hyped even though they haven’t achieved their potential. His final point that they are neither fully understood nor fully researched has been taken up by Jen Ross and Amy Collier  as ‘notyetness’ and they have identified Rhizo14 as an example of the ‘’notyetness of practice’ .
I would agree with Veletsianos in seeing research as a potential antidote to hype and would argue that our research is complementary to the notyetness of Rhizo14, uncovering hidden and different perspectives that can contribute to the becoming of courses like Rhizo14 and to the becoming practice of participants.

What does surprise me in some of what Simon says and what I read elsewhere is an attitude that seems to reject (rather than critique) research based on qualitative data. I am beginning to think I am missing something – why would research not be needed?

Veletsianos, G. (2013). Open practices and identity: Evidence from researchers and educators’ social media participation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4), 639–651. doi:10.1111/bjet.12052

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?