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February arrived in light and went out in shade. We had gloriously crisp cold sunny days for the first half of February in North West England and wet, windy, stormy weather for the second half. It’s ironic that this should also reflect the light and shade around my working life and research practice.

At the beginning of February our first research paper about learner experiences in the Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum MOOC (Rhizo14) which took place at this time last year, was published.

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

In the spirit of openness, and because we were grateful to all those who participated in the research, we published this in an open journal, Open Praxis, and then on publication sought feedback in various locations, such as Facebook, Twitter, on our blogs and Google+. This has been both a light and shade experience, reflecting the light and shade experiences that we reported on in our research.

I’m not sure why light and shade have been perceived by some to be oppositional to each other. My perspective is that they need each other to be able to see each other more clearly. We learn from both. But the paper seems, for some readers, to have further polarized discussion about the learning experience in Rhizo14, making the light and shade even more obvious and oppositional than it was before. An emerging light for me is that some of the issues that were raised by the paper are being discussed, which is surely a better outcome than the paper being ignored.

Other aspects of shade dotted through the month have been continuing concerns about the effects of ageing, not on me personally, but on those around me. I now find myself sending 80th birthday cards more than I have ever done in the past. With respect to dementia, I have learned this month that many people with dementia become grazers in their eating habits and that the best way to deal with this is to leave small bowls of chopped fruit, vegetables, nuts, chocolate and so on around the house. This piece of information has been comforting.

Two highlights this month have again been around art exhibitions. The first was seeing a film about David Hockney, his life and work which prompted me to think about his recommendation that we try and see the wider picture.  February has been all about trying to see the wider picture and reading Iain McGilchrist who writes that there are two ways of being in the world: in one (the way of the right hemisphere) we ‘experience’ the world, in the other (the way of the left hemisphere) we experience our experience, that is a re-presented version. The right hemisphere sees the whole. The left hemisphere sees the detail. What is new must first be present in the right hemisphere before it can come into focus in the left hemisphere (the new versus the known). The left hemisphere then returns the known to the right hemisphere for further experience. These are not McGilchrist’s words, but my understanding of his words. It seems to me that they might have something to say about experience, interpretation and practice in research. I am still thinking about this.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 14.44.43

The other highlight on the last day of February was a visit to Liverpool to see a fantastic production of Educating Rita at the Liverpool Playhouse, a play that asks us to consider what we understand by ‘education’ and shows us the light and shade that can occur in the process of education. What could be a more fitting play for me to see this month? :-)

Tate Liverpool

And this was followed by a visit to Liverpool’s Tate Gallery and the free Constellations Exhibition on the first floor, which explored connections between major contemporary works of art. There was a lot here that resonated with my learning this month, so I’ll finish off this post with a few images and observations, thoughts that struck me as I walked round, whilst still thinking about the meaning of education and the light and shade of the learning experience.

IMG_0426Robert Adams. Space with a Spiral 1950. (Steel Wire and Wood)

‘The spiral enables the incorporation of space into an art work as an       architectural element, bringing the surrounding space into an active relation with the physical volume of the sculpture.’

My attention was drawn to this sculpture and the role of space in its construction because of the discussion about our research paper (mentioned above), where the question was raised as to whether a participant who was not active and did not contribute openly in the course had the right to fill in the survey and feedback on the course. This sculpture reminds me of the value of not ignoring the invisible and not assuming that it does not have a role to play. In this sculpture the nodes and connecting wires are as much dependent on the space for their definition as the space is on them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 15.16.59

Henri Matisse 1919. The Inattentive Reader. (Oil on canvas)

I have sometimes wondered in the past month and in reading the comments that have been made about our published paper (mentioned above), at some of the interpretations. Alternative perspectives are welcome and differences of interpretation are inevitable. As with any published writing, benefit from these alternative perspectives and interpretations can only come from close attention to the ideas presented in the text and a dispassionate attempt to discuss and understand them. What exactly did the authors say? Emotional responses might be inevitable, but might also be a distraction from focused attention, as for Matisse’s ‘Inattentive Reader’.

IMG_0442

Mary Martin 1966. Inversion. (Aluminium, oil paint and wood)

Of this work Mary Martin wrote: ‘Establishment of the surface is a primary move, since the parting from and clinging to a surface is the essence of the relief. Then that space which lies between the surface and the highest point becomes a sphere of play, or conflict, between opposites, representing the desire to break away and the inability to leave the norm.’

In her work she recognizes the tensions and conflict that can arise when trying to interpret and/or break away from norms. For me it is interesting how this work fragments the reflected images, emphasizing that everything can be seen from multiple perspectives and as multiples.

Finally this photograph caught my attention.

IMG_0429

Claude Cahun. I Extend My Arms. 1931 or 1932. (Photograph, black and white, on paper)

‘I extend my arms shows a dramatically gesturing pair of arms apparently emerging from inside a stone monolith of similar dimensions to a human body. Cahun’s photograph is a staged self-portrait in which her face and torso are replaced by inanimate stone, shielding her identity from the viewer.’

My reflections this month on light and shade have reinforced for me that our identities can be fragile and learners in ‘the open’ are vulnerable. The extended arms in this photo show a willingness to reach out, but the stone shield also suggests to me that we might need to protect our identities from open space. Open environments are spaces of both light and shade.

 Update: 06-03-15

In a comment on this post Simon Ensor has posted a link to a post he has made on his blog to which he has given the title – In a tangle. This made me think of another sculpture that I saw and thought about on my visit to the Liverpool Tate. Here is a photo of the sculpture with the artist’s name and details of the work.

IMG_0446

Leon Ferrari (1963)

Tower of Babel

Steel, copper wire, bronze, tin and lead

Following the recent publication of our paper Frances Bell and I are grateful to the number of people who have taken the time to send us some feedback, on Twitter, in the Rhizo14 Facebook group and on Frances’ blog. 

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

Easy access for all to a recent paper is one of the benefits of publishing in the open and we have Open Praxis to thank not only for providing an open platform, but also for their quick turn around time (see previous blog post ), so that the paper was published before our thinking has moved on.

The most spontaneous and fun feedback session we have had so far was on Twitter, when Laura Gogia decided to tweet whilst she was reading the paper. I am still smiling at the memory and at the time I laughed out loud, as well as finding the discussion interesting and helpful.

But the point I would like to pick up here is in response to a comment made by Keith Hamon on Frances’ blog. Keith focussed on a reference we made in the article to Marshall’s work on ethics in MOOCs.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35(2), 250–262.

I should say here that our paper was about learner experiences in the Rhzio14 MOOC. An emergent outcome of our research was that ethics is an area worthy of more attention in MOOCs, particularly MOOCs which take a very experimental approach to pedagogy. But ethics was only one emergent issue. In our next two papers we will pick up on others. A paper about the rhizome metaphor has been submitted and we are working on a paper about community formation in MOOCs.

But to return to Keith’s comment – ‘New structures demand new ethics’. On reading this, I immediately wondered whether this is true, so I had a bit of a hunt round to see what else has been written about this. I explained to Keith, on Frances’ blog that I cannot claim to be an expert about ethics – in the sense that I have limited experience of reading/writing about it. I have been reading Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his Emissary and on p.429, he points out that expertise is actually what makes an expert and comes from the Latin word ‘expertus’, meaning ‘one who is experienced’.

On my search I found that, as you might expect, one of the professions (apart from philosophy) that has thought a lot about ethics is medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised by an alignment of some sort between medical ethics and educational ethics, since both professions are concerned with the care of people.

In a 2004 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, KC Calman wrote about evolutionary ethics and questioned whether values can change. Here is the Abstract for the article:

The hypothesis that values change and evolve is examined by this paper. The discussion is based on a series of examples where, over a period of a few decades, new ethical issues have arisen and values have changed. From this analysis it is suggested that there are a series of core values around which most people would agree. These are unlikely to change over long time periods. There are then a series of secondary or derived values around which there is much more controversy and within which differences of view occur. Such changes need to be documented if we are to understand the process involved in the evolution of differences in ethical views

Calman, K.C. (2004). Teaching and Learning Ethics. Evolutionary ethics: can values change. J Med Ethics: 30:366–370. doi: 10.1136/jme.2002.003582. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1733900/pdf/v030p00366.pdf

A similar perspective, i.e. that whilst values might change leading to new ethical issues, some core principles remain unchanged, has been reported more recently on The New Ethics of Journalism blog.

In this article the core principles are thought to be truth, independence and minimizing harm, which are similar to Calman’s list in his article on p. 369: where he wrote that core values which have not altered in medicine are:

  • doing no harm (non-maleficence);
  • a wish to do good (beneficence);
  • the desire to be fair (justice),
  • and a respect for the individual (autonomy).

The ‘‘Golden Rule’’, ‘‘Do unto others as they would do to you’’, ‘‘Love thy neighbour’’ or even the ‘‘My mother principle’’ (if it was your mother what would you do?) express in a different ways some of these sentiments.

ethics sign

Source of image

I did not come across these articles before we wrote our paper, but the core values listed in both journalism and medicine articles are very similar to the list sent us by one of our interview respondents, who we quoted on p.9 of our paper:

  • Do no harm
  • The expectation is that interactions will be mutually respectful
  • Provide and allow space for reflection
  • Ad hominem attacks should not be permitted as a method of discussion
  • There should be a duty of care or necessarily emotional labour on the part of those calling together/convening/organizing/providing these amorphous spaces
  • All cMOOC participants have a duty of care and nurture and responsibility toward others or for themselves, mitigating the need or desire to externalize (blame) their learning and experience on others.

So do new structures demand new ethics? Certainly we need to be vigilant in keeping our understanding of educational change and educational values up to date and with that, as in the journalism article, consider whether there are new ethical issues. But my brief hunt around the literature, and my own gut feeling, suggests that there are core principles such as ‘Do no harm’ which will never change and can always be an expectation.

As Iain McGilchrist writes on p.443 of his book The Master and his Emissary:

We can’t remake our values at will. …. Societies may dispute what is to be considered good, but they cannot do away with the concept. What is more the concept is remarkably stable over time. Exactly what is to be considered good may shift around the edges, but the core remains unchanged.

Update 23-02-15: Pat Thomson has just written a post about ethics in research in which there is a line which exactly says what I have been struggling to say

Ethics seems to me to be to be about a sensibility, a way of being in the world as a researcher.

For me this would apply not just to researchers. These are the words I was trying to find when talking about core principles.

So far this year, I have been fortunate to have two journal articles published. It is always exciting after months of work to finally see papers in print. The first paper to come out in January was

Williams, R., Gumtau, S. & Mackness, J. (2015).  Synesthesia: from cross-modal to modality-free learning and knowledge.  Leonardo Journal 

The second came out this month

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

The history behind the publication of these two papers couldn’t be more different. Read on and then decide which history you would prefer. Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 18.08.52 The Leonardo paper which I worked on with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau is published in Leonardo Journal. This was quite a coup for us; on the ranking of visual arts journals released by Google Scholar it came in fourth. If I worked for a University, like Simone does, this would be important not just for me, but also for the University’s Research Excellence Framework’s (REF) ranking . Looking back in my folders and files, this is the history I find:

Jan 2012 Started work on the Synesthesia article
March 2012 First draft of the paper was completed
End of July 2012 Submitted to Leonardo Journal
Nov 2012 Received comprehensive reviewers comments
Jan 2013 Resubmitted and paper accepted for publication in Jan 2014
Jan 2015 Paper published

Following acceptance it seemed to take for ever to get permission for the images we wanted to include and meet the image quality requirements of Leonardo Journal. Roy did a huge amount of work on this. Ultimately the paper was not published until Jan 2015. The quality of the publication in terms of the work of the publishers in preparing this paper is very high. It looks great Leonardo is a closed journal with very strict copyright regulations. We cannot share the paper (for example on Research Gate) for another 6 months. Despite this we have had quite a few requests for this paper.

 Time from start to finish = 3 years 

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 18.10.30 The Open Praxis paper was published on Feb 14th this month. The history of this paper is as follows:

Feb 2014 Frances Bell and I started discussing the ethical framework and possible approaches for the research
March to Sept 2014 Collection and analysis of data
July 2014 Presentation about research in progress to ALTMOOCSIG at UCL 
Sept/Oct 2014 Literature review and writing
10th Nov 2014 Submitted
13th Jan 2015 Accepted with no required changes. Feedback from reviewers. Made some minor edits
14th Feb 2015 Published

The process was very smooth with great attention to detail by the Editor and a good looking publication as an outcome. All communication with the Editor was courteous and helpful. In addition Open Praxis is an open journal and there were no issues with our coloured Table. We have been able to blog and tweet about this publication and are already receiving positive feedback.

Total time from start to finish = 1 year

Update: Just as I finish writing this post, Open Praxis tweets a brief report on Open Praxis figures and data (2013-2014) which is very interesting and reports an increasing impact as a journal.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 18.32.00 Source of image

I have been following David Hockney’s work since the 1960s and this week I saw a film which wonderfully captured his work and life and brought back so many memories for me; the sort of memories that people usually associate with music. This Guardian article provides good coverage of the contents of the film and this video clip provides a flavour of the film

In such a rich life, there is much that I could comment on, but anyone who knows Hockney’s work, will know that in addition to drawing and painting he is also interested in the role of technology in his work, using the ipad for drawing, and photography and film for seeing the world differently.

Near the end of the documentary film that I went to see this week, they showed his film work in which he has simultaneously used 9 cameras to film the changing seasons of a Yorkshire landscape.

I first saw this at his exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2012. What struck me in the documentary film I have seen this week, was that Hockney said that historically paintings have sought to take our eyes inwards, into the painting, using perspective and the well known vanishing point. But in this film he suggested that perhaps, rather than looking inwards, we should be looking more broadly and outwards, to the sides, above and below, as he does with the 9 cameras.

This seemed to me to resonate with Iain McGilchrist’s work on trying to understand the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of the brain – in his book the The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

The two hemispheres have different ways of attending to the world and produce different realities (p.176). The right hemisphere is the hemisphere of broad vigilant attention, of seeing the whole picture; the left hemisphere is the hemisphere of focused attention, just seeing what it expects to see (p.163).

It struck me in watching the film that throughout his work Hockney has been trying to make us see differently; in other words, to make more use of our right brains.

I wonder what that means for writing,

A couple of days ago, Nancy White posted this video on Facebook (thank you for sharing it Nancy)

David Gregson : A Desire To Relate from Creative Matters on Vimeo.

The video, of the western Australian artist, David Gregson, tries to capture how he uses his art to communicate and his desire to relate. Quoting from the text under the video:

In the year 2000, the late Western Australian artist, David Gregson (1934 – 2002) allowed students from Curtin University of Technology (Perth, Australia) to access his Kellerberrin studio to film him as he worked. David, still recovering from recent surgery, completed the painting ‘Provence Window’ over a period of four days.

A highly prodigious visual artist, whose career spanned over 50 years, David Gregson is one of Western Australia’s most highly regarded figurative painters. His dedication to opening our eyes to the communicative power of art, and his virtuosic talent with a paintbrush, strongly informed his art and continues to influence many an aspiring and established artist.

At the same time as being introduced to this video and David Gregson’s work, I have been following Pat Thomson’s blog in which she is sharing how she is running her 8-day writing course in Iceland . Patter is a wonderful blog and I always look forward to Pat’s posts. I like the initial questions that Pat posed:

  • What is the contribution your paper will make?
  • Why is this important?
  • What will connect your readers with this topic?
  • How will you create the niche for your work?

These are questions that I have been asking myself in some recent writing I have been doing, although they have been implicit concerns rather than articulated. Pat’s next post was all about the writing the Introduction for a paper – and again, all very good advice. Since then she has written about the Literature  and Methods sections of a thesis or paper.

How does all this relate to the David Gregson video? Well, when I watched the David Gregson video I immediately recognised the way of working, whereas when reading Pat’s posts, I had to admit to myself that that is not the way I work. For example, in the most recent writing I have been doing, the introduction was the last section I wrote, I only had a very vague idea of where I was going at the start and I was waiting for ideas to emerge, for ‘Ah Ha’ moments.

On watching the video some of the things that David Gregson said resonated very strongly with me. On starting his painting he says:

‘You may think that I am dithering. I am not really. I am trying to get into character of what it is that I am going to paint’.

Gregson painted his picture ‘Provence Window’ over four days. The video doesn’t tell us how long he ‘dithered’ for, but in my most recent writing that I have been doing with Frances Bell about the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning, I dithered for weeks and weeks. It has taken almost a year to get to the final draft.

Gregson says that in your work you are the performer, but you have to remember that standing behind you, looking over your shoulder, is the past, the present, the critic and the director. In other words, the act of painting, or in my case writing, is a multi-faceted conversation and you have to prepare yourself in your daily work by first calming down. He talks of becoming re-familiar with your materials each day in this calming preparation phase, saying ‘hello’ again, cruising around the painting surface, becoming as one with it – ‘there’s a little courtship about it’.

This is not dithering. This is becoming immersed in the process. It is not following a plan. It is allowing the process to ‘speak to you’. I find it comforting to think that what might be perceived as dithering is actually a necessary part of the process.

Gregson then talks of introducing the characters and says that it is worthwhile introducing some extremes initially so that you have an intuitive scale from which to work. ‘If you kick off on a high key it will keep you there’, but if you introduce a major dark area you get a tangible meaningful contrast to the light. That makes sense to me. As he says, you can always rub out ‘the bum notes’. If you are immersed in the process, sensitive to the areas which need attention and let the process (writing or painting) speak to you, you will know what you’ve got to get rid of, although in my own case, I have to say that this can take months rather than days.

I agree with Gregson when he says that we need to sustain a mood and be open to ‘happy accidents’. The beginning and the middle of the process can all be very suggestive and vague, but the sense, the meaning, slowly emerges. I can recognise this too. I have to consciously be ‘open’ and patient, because at times, it can all feel so extraordinarily messy.

Gregson’s commentary on his painting relates closely to my recent thinking and reading around Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome and the nomad. Nomadic thought encourages an avoidance of boundaries and free wandering. Rhizomatic thought encourages taking lines of flight and breaking free of traditional, hierarchical thinking – a deterritorialisation of thought. Ultimately though, there is reterritorialisation such that in the case of David Gregson he finally produced his painting ‘Provence Window’. That was a reified outcome, which satisfied the requirements of the art world. Similarly, academic writers ultimately reify their written communications in the format required to satisfy the requirements of the audience for which the writing is intended. Currently many journals, if not most, require authors to write in very traditional ways, almost to a template. This is difficult to escape, for academics who want to be published – but perhaps the process of writing, before the final drafts, can benefit from lines of flight and deterritorialisation – a bit of free wandering rather than following a plan. Does this lead to more creative, communicative academic writing that fulfils a desire to relate, or does it just lead to a messy incoherence?

At the end of last year I wrote a post about art I enjoyed in 2014. That was a time-consuming but really enjoyable post to write. And then I saw Stephen Downes’ post – A Year in Photos –  and the wonderful photos and text have stimulated me to keep a record of my ‘happenings’ over this year of 2015. This may end up being a more personal series of posts than I am used to writing, given that I am a private person, introverted and have never subscribed to the ‘reveal all’ mantra that the demands of open sharing on the internet seem sometimes to impose. Early in my days of online participation I read Ferreday and Hodgson’s article on the Tyranny of Participation and Collaboration in Networked Learning – and it has stayed with me, although I believe that I am as open and participative as it is a possible for a person with my personality traits to be and as a recent connection Alyson Inundras has said, we are all a mixture of introverted and extraverted. If there isn’t a Feburary post, then it will indicate that I have had second thoughts about this degree of openness!

So I thought I would try and write a monthly post about what I have been doing in all aspects of my life and then maybe at the end of the year it won’t take me as long to collate these, as it did to think about what art I enjoyed in 2014. So here are some thoughts about January. The risk of doing this is that I have nothing to write in February – hopefully not, but quite often I feel that I have nothing to say.

2015 came in with the end of Fedwiki or not the end because I am still following and have signed up for the next Happening. It was a fascinating experience which I did write some blog posts about. Also at the start of this year our house seemed to be folding in on itself – no power and even worse in January no heating. After a friend of our son’s had the carpets and floorboards up trying to detect the problem we established that it was a boiler pump problem, so were returned to light and warmth, but then needed someone to refit the carpets. At the same time a decorator was keeping the house (high maintenance Edwardian) in decorative order should we ever want to, need to, move from one day to the next.

On a more cheerful note, one of our sons who lives with us and has a Masters degree in music technology (he is very talented, but I would say that, I am his Mum) has after 18 months out of work finally found a job as a driver for Age UK. Celebrations! I even cooked a roast dinner the night we heard. Now is the time to reveal that I can always find something better to do than cook and now at least he has some money coming in and hopefully a music related job will turn up soon.

At the start of this year, I also acknowledged (must have done to be writing about it here) that my life is changing and becoming quite challenging in many ways. I am in my late 60s and am aware of the need to be alert to the consequences of ageing. I am personally very fit, but my husband and mother are not so fortunate. This prompted me to agree to write a short article for Lifewide Magazine (Issue 12, 2014 ) which was published just before Christmas – a bit painfully open for me, but helped me to establish where my life is at the moment.

I don’t get many offers of paid contracts these days, and those that I have received recently, for one reason or another, I have turned down – but I seem to work pretty much all day most days on things that I love to think about and work on. In January these areas of work have been:

At the beginning of the month – Fedwiki – what an interesting experience that has been. I am so grateful to Mike Caulfield for inviting me to join the Happening. I had some disturbing online interactions last year and Fedwiki has offered a glimmer of hope that it doesn’t need to be like that.

Working with Roy Williams and Jutta Pauschenwein on emergent learning. This is a rich collaborative experience. We are each such different personalities, but the mix makes for a powerful learning experience.

Another rich collaborative experience is working on rhizomatic learning with Frances Bell. It has been almost a year since we completed the Rhizo14 MOOC. Since then Frances and I have jointly presented at ALTMOOCSIG  about our experience and submitted a paper to the Open Praxis journal, which was accepted and will be published any day now. We are now working on two further papers and I find myself deeply drawn to the writing that I have been reading around Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas. What I particularly like about it is the challenge to my ways of thinking and learning. I am hoping that these readings and this learning will change me in positive ways, but for the moment I am simply observing and appreciating.

For the most part January has been a month of hibernating. It always seems to have this effect on me unless we go away. The weather in the UK has, for most of January, been awful, but there is something comforting about hunkering down against the elements with an open fire, a good book or a good film. Talking of films we have been to see:

The Theory of Everything – very disturbing as it relates very closely to my life. My husband broke his neck playing rugby at the age of 20 and has been disabled ever since – so this film was a bit too close to home.

Girl with a Pearl Earring live streamed at Fellinis in Ambleside. This included a virtual trip to the Maurithuis Museum in The Hague –  which was a treat – and a meal in Fellini’s vegetarian restaurant.

Finally January saw the publication in Leonardo Journal of a paper I worked on with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau – Synesthesia From Cross-Modal to Modality-Free Learning and Knowledge . This is a closed journal, but we feel it has been quite an achievement to get published there and there has already been quite a bit of interest in the paper.

Well we are already in February, so time to get this posted!

The Fedwiki Happening finishes today. A big thank you to Mike Caulfield, Ward Cunningham, Paul Rodwell and the Fedwiki team for the invitation to join this unique event. It has been great to end 2014 working in an environment which has made me rethink my assumptions and ways of working online.

I have written two prior posts about this Fedwiki experience: Defeated by technology and Fedwiki: further thoughts

Others have also blogged about the experience. Their posts are very informative.

Mike Caulfield appears to be delighted with the outcome – that’s good because he and his team certainly put the work in to make this Happening happen. They must be exhausted.

Now that it has ended I have mixed feelings about the experience. I don’t feel quite as excited as I did at the start. It will take me a while to think through why, but here are some initial reflections.

Technology

I have written in a previous post what I really like about the technological affordances of Fedwiki, but the experience was not without difficulty.

I started off badly and wasn’t really able to get going until the third day. This was the result of a combination of something I did, and something ‘they’ did (the Fedwiki team), i.e. mistakes were made on both sides (or at least that is my understanding, but at this point I doubt my understanding of any of it).

In the wiki, someone else who arrived late wrote that he doubted that he could catch up. The response was that it should be possible to enter Fedwiki at any point and catching up isn’t really necessary or an issue. That might be true if you already know how the technology works, but trying to enter the Happening late and learn the technology was a bit of a tall order. At this point everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, or at least know more than I did. At this point I really had to force myself to keep going.

For support, I attended a Google Hangout, which was extremely helpful. Mike and Ward Cunningham ran these twice every day barring Christmas Day. This covered all the time zones, with Ward even doing one at 4.00 am for our Australian participants. That’s dedication for you! I was only able to attend two Hangouts and I needed more technical help. Although I always received a prompt answer when I asked a question, there’s a limit to how much you feel you can bother someone and take up their time. All this reminded me of how important it is get access right before starting on ‘the work’. I understand that you can learn a lot from your mistakes and by ‘doing’, but it’s very time consuming working this way and I would have liked to have had more of a sense of achievement by the end.

I still don’t know who sees what, but I know for sure that I am not seeing what others are seeing (although I also know that that’s to be expected) and they are not necessarily seeing what I have done. So I don’t know why, if I edit a page, for example a page that Frances has written, and fork it, she won’t necessarily see my changes. Must be something I am doing wrong, or have failed to understand, but I don’t know what.

And yesterday someone collated links to people’s blog posts into one page and I found that David Jones has written a number of blog posts. That was a surprise. David Jones does not even appear in my list of Happening Folks and I can’t see him anywhere on the wiki. On reading through his posts, I see that he has his own separate Fedwiki. Maybe he hasn’t yet connected with the Happening Folks, even if he can see what we are doing.

So how it all works remains a bit of a mystery to me.

 

Learning in the wiki

When I started what I really liked about Fedwiki was the focus on ideas rather than people and personalities, and the possibility of being really selective about which ideas to interact with. Over the past year I have become disillusioned with social media and this felt like an opportunity to get away from it.

As the Happening has rolled out, I can see that it is a really good tool for mining ideas, but from observing how it has worked it doesn’t seem possible to keep ideas separate from the people who contribute them or to keep them separate from social media. Twitter was used during the Happening and people were blogging, including me. There was quite a bit of writing in the beginning about dominant voices; and there has been writing about attribution, lack of attribution and misattribution. My conclusion is that there will always be dominant voices and personalities, and that it’s the norm for people to want to know who wrote something or contributed an idea. So ultimately there was some focus on collaboration and community, but I am not convinced that Fedwiki is the place for either.

My sense is that thinking about Fedwiki in terms of collaboration and community is confusing and possibly dilutes the philosophy behind mining ideas that I was so attracted to. Better for me would be to think of Fedwiki in terms of co-operation and networking. Stephen Downes’ words come to mind:

Collaboration belongs to groups, while cooperation is typical of a network. The significant difference is that, in the former, the individual is subsumed under the whole, and becomes a part of the whole, which is created by conjoining a collection of largely identical members, while in the latter, the individual retains his or her individuality, while the whole is an emergent property of the collection of individuals.

Fedwiki  is a wonderful tool for sharing and amplifying ideas. There have been some great contributions; in particular I have enjoyed those associated with improvisation, music and learning spaces. For example the video of Tallis’ Spem in Alium was posted as a contribution to ideas about collaboration and the chorus of voices in Fedwiki.

There were many more unpredictable and surprising connections made between ideas in Fedwiki. This is the strength of Fedwiki. If I were to use Fedwiki with learners, I would use it for collating a rich bank of ideas around a given topic and enabling each participant to organise and edit the ideas as they wished. I would try to keep the focus on ideas rather than people, so I wouldn’t encourage collaboration or community although I am not anti collaboration or community in the right place.

It will be interesting to see how Fedwiki develops.

Many thanks to Mike, Ward, Paul and the team for all their efforts to make this a memorable event. A wonderful way to end 2014. I am now looking forward to having time to slowly go back through some of the fascinating ideas that have been contributed and reflect on their significance for my own work, research and practice.

 

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