Thinking aloud about power, authority and control

It has been an interesting experience returning from being away (where I have not been online) to a deluge of emails. It has also been interesting to read the range of different responses, from those who thought Stephen made his point well, to those who just thought it was a bit of a laugh, to those who were either irritated, upset or annoyed. And finally it has been interesting to see the number of people who have suddenly turned up in Moodle – myself included. I know that a lot of bloggers are not posting to Moodle (I myself have only made a handful of low-key posts to Moodle), but I had somehow forgotten that there would be a lot of people participating in the course from the periphery, observing rather than interacting.

As an aside – I have been wondering recently how many people of the 2200+ are still engaging and at what levels, i.e. how many post in blogs or Moodle, how many meet in SL and various other locatons, and how many simply log on and read.

My own reaction to being subscribed to the forums, after initial amusement, has been to think about the extent to which Stephen made his point and how effective it was. In one way it was effective – Stephen has the power to set up the Moodle forums in such a way that, if you have subscribed to the course,  you receive an email copy of forum posts whether or not you are reading them – and he demonstrated this power.

But the course isn’t about whether we receive emails or not. It’s about whether we learn. We all received the emails, but how many read them?  And even if we did read them, did we learn very much about power, authority and control in networks? So, although we can see that Stephen did exert his power – a power that can affect the daily work/life of 2200+ people, I’m wondering if he chose the most effective way to model and demonstrate this. I suppose it all depends on whether or not he considers himself to be a teacher in this course. If not, then the ‘quick and dirty’ act that he took, suffices. But if he considers himself to be a teacher then I wonder if a different context might have been more appropriate for learning about power, authority and control in networks. I’m not sure what though!

I do know a lecturer, who when teaching a group of students about the management of change, resistance to change and the change curve, went into the lecture which was about the change curve and told the students with a completely straight face that their assessment had been changed from an assignment to an exam, which would take place later that week. Needless to say the students went through the initial stages of the change curve and learned experientially. Thinking about it now, I suppose this was also a demonstration of power.

As I see it, we had the power to resist the effect of Stephen autosubscribing us to forums in a number of different ways. Quite a few bloggers have mentioned the fact that they filter out these emails. If Stephen hadn’t turned off the function as quickly as he did, I wonder if we would have taken power into our own hands, by simply not posting to the Moodle forums? My life experience tells me that probably not, because it is very difficult to get people who don’t know each other to work as a cohesive group, particularly in a short time. Is this an argument in favour of groups rather than networks?

So did we all have the power to stop being subscribed to the forums and if so why didn’t we exert it more effectively? Did we feel powerless? I suspect this is linked to knowledge – those who are technically savvy  knew how to get round the system. Was it that we didn’t know how to grasp power when we had the opportunity? It was interesting on tonight’s Elluminate call that when Stephen didn’t speak, most people were reluctant to take the mic. Or was it that we couldn’t mobilise ourselves as a group? Does the fact that we are learning in a network rather than a group, mean that we are less likely to be in positions of power?

Returning to the point about whether or not the lesson that Stephen was trying to teach us was appropriate and wisely chosen ……. In this instance Stephen chose to demonstrate status power. If I was concerned about Stephen’s power, I wouldn’t be interested in whether or not his actions could result in my inbox filling up – I’d be much more concerned about the influence he could have on my thinking, i.e. his knowledge power, and whether that influence was appropriate for my learning and development as a human being.

But ultimately, I think I can choose to resist power, however hard that might be.

8 thoughts on “Thinking aloud about power, authority and control

  1. suifaijohnmak October 30, 2008 / 2:38 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I echoed with your view, in that one (adult learner in particular) can choose to resist power imposed by teachers. I have included details on my post.
    Please feel free to comment.

  2. Michael Chalk November 2, 2008 / 11:34 pm

    Hello Jenny .. i like your point that being technically savvy is a form of power in this case; and You are right when you say that no matter what the teacher does, the student has the power to disengage ..

    .. but i wonder do we actually know what Stephen’s point was, in ‘exerting his power’?

    i agree with you that he was demonstrating “status power”, but was that because he wanted to have control over the situation, or because he wanted to provoke rebellion and make people realise that in fact the teacher is not in control?

    Knowing what i do about him .. i suspect that the end-game may have involved participants realising they are not mere pawns or objects in the learning process, but have the power to manage their own flow of information.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post,
    kind regards, michael

    (The Elluminate session sounds interesting .. a case of the teacher refusing to lead ?

  3. jennymackness November 3, 2008 / 8:23 am

    @John – Thank you John for your visit and comment.

    @Michael – Thanks to you too. I hadn’t actually thought that Stephen might have wanted to provoke a rebellion. I wonder if he has carried out this exercise before with smaller groups of students.

    I’m not sure why we had the long silences in the Elluminate session. Some participants thought that Stephen might be having problems with his microphone, but I didn’t hear him say so. However, I did arrive late to the session. At the time I thought he was trying to get us to ‘take conrol’/lead. If he was, then he was only marginally successful.

  4. Maru del Campo November 8, 2008 / 2:11 am

    Hi Jenny!

    I hope you’re fine, I don’t really know why but I like to picture you taking time off line.

    My impression on last Wednesday Elliminate night session is somewhat different than yours. What I saw was a guest speaker with a host not engaged on moderating for his guest. The silences came up when Nancy said: “Reading chat” and Stephen whas somewhere else and did not react. Then the tactic changed and instead of saying: “Reading chat” I heard: “Your turn” or something of the sort, SD still did not jump in. Another change came along which was finally successful, she said: “What do you think SD?” Then came his mumble yumble souds evidencing he was not listening. It was fun to hear that happen several times. I did not see the case of a teacher refusing to lead as Michael comments. It was a pity that George was away, to leave a guest with a non-people oriented host doesn’t give smooth results. Fortunatelly, Narcy is a great presenter but even if you have an experienced guest you should moderate if you consider yourself a host.

    However, it’s not easy to jump in a conversation spontaneously. If you are the guest you have prepared what to say but if you are a participant you are expected to listen and type. When the chance comes to speak you seldom have prepared something to say, sometimes you haven’t even thought about your own views on the topic you’re there to listen. I think that’s why any participant jumped in. From my point of view it doesn’t have anything to do with power, rather it’s a question about solid or valuable information to share.

    It’s always a joy to visit you, I’ve heard I was on the daily regarding that session in particular but I haven’t read it. What’s the point? I was there right? 😉
    Maru :X

  5. jennymackness November 11, 2008 / 7:45 pm

    Hi Maru

    Thank you for your visit! I’m still trying to work out what exactly it is about the role of the teacher that needs to change in connectivism. I have been reading everyone’s blogs and the Moodle forums, but it is still not clear to me. So far I can only see that a ‘good’ teacher will be needed but maybe my interpretation of a good teacher is not the accepted one. Once I have my thinking clearer, then I hope to make a post, It’s good to be off line for a while, but difficult to catch up when you come back!


    PS I agree about the difficulty of speaking in the Elluminate sessions!

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