Autonomy and accountability

Week 8 of the CCK11 course focussed on power and authority on online networks.

Networked technologies have changed power and authority. This, networked learning has a great deal in common with approaches to learning that focus on personal empowerment and freedom.

The speakers for this week were Frances Bell and Ailsa Haxell. Their session was recorded as was the follow up session by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Both are well worth viewing/listening to again.

There were many thought provoking ideas in these sessions – but the one that caught my attention was the idea proposed by Ailsa that if knowledge and agency are distributed across the network then accountability must also be distributed. She asked, ‘Am I responsible for the ways that others around me act’ and answered her own question with a ‘Yes’ – there is networked accountability.

Given the activity on my blog for the past two weeks I have found this interesting to think about. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about ‘Attacks on Connectivism’ which to my surprise has attracted a lot of attention and comment. The interesting thing is that this attention and comment is not about me or what I have written, but about Stephen Downes, George Siemens, connectivism and those who have something to say about connectivism as a theory.

If we take the metaphor of blogs being a place where we can invite people to come and sit on our front porch, as opposed to forums which can be viewed more as a market place with lots of hustle and bustle*, then my blog has felt a little more like a market place recently – with a number of people visiting and holding their own discussions.

*(see Mak, Sui, Fai, J., Williams, R. & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg (pp. 275-284). Retrieved from

All this has been very interesting for me, but I have not felt the need to be involved in further  discussion about this – so to what extent am I accountable for the ideas expressed in the comments made on this particular blog post and does it matter?

I know some of the reasons for this post attracting such a lot of attention. First the ‘jury is still out’ on connectivism as a learning theory and there are plenty of people out there who are following associated discussions. More than this George and Stephen made reference to my blog post. That always results in increased readers on your blog. But mostly it was Twitter. For some reason there were lots of tweets about this post.  Am I accountable for all this? Am I responsible for the ways in which others have reacted to this? If I am, does this mean that the network has some sort of power over me and what I can post on my blog? How does this relate to autonomy, which is a key principle of connectivism?

Week 8 Readings


9 thoughts on “Autonomy and accountability

  1. Ken Anderson March 13, 2011 / 3:34 pm

    Maybe one’s autonomy is limited in a network. Limited to the amount of accountability one wishes to assume. In the sense that when one provides input to the network (eg a blog posting), the input will produce outcomes, and the outcomes may not always be predictable, and hence could be undesirable (or desirable) as seen after the fact.

    So the accountability must be for one’s input and the risk of desirable and not-desirable outcomes, but the autonomy may exist only in the provision of the input, and not in those potential outcomes – the network maintains the power of outcome.

  2. Rose Heaney March 13, 2011 / 5:45 pm

    Interesting ideas here Jenny – I have noticed comments on other blog posts taking on a life of their own. I don’t think your accountability extends any further than the original blog post though I suppose you could exercise your powers of moderation over ‘offensive’ posts. Thanks for drawing my attention to your paper on blogs and forums based on the CCK08 experience – I plan to post later and draw on some of these themes. I feel many of the comment streams ‘breaking out’ on blog posts might work better in the market place provided by a central forum.

  3. jennymackness March 13, 2011 / 8:09 pm

    @Ken – thanks for your comment. I have also been thinking about how autonomy might be limited, what might constrain autonomy and whether there are degrees of autonomy. Limited autonomy does feel to me like a bit of a contradiction – but I am still thinking about it. I like your distinction between input and output in relation to autonomy and accountability – and will think further about that.

    @Rose – thanks also for your comment. Yes – I would have the power to moderate ‘offensive’ posts. I’m not sure how I would react if that happened – we don’t always all agree on what is regarded as offensive. It’s been interesting to see that a number of people like you have expressed the need for a centrally located forum. Facebook seems to be very active. Does this not count? And of course there are open source discussion forums, e.g. Lefora. I think in the main we still tend to look to the course convenors to organise things for us – which is not surprising since MOOCs are an unfamiliar way of thinking about teaching and learning for many people. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Moodle forums or similar return for the next CCK course 🙂

  4. gbl55 March 14, 2011 / 12:50 pm

    Having, for some reason missed the later comments on this blog I’d certainly appreciate a centrally located forum, or at least somewhere central where links to blog comments were individually aggregated as well as links to the blogs. I’m sure gRSShopper is a step in the right direction and all credit to SD for proving the concept but I think its present unpolished form is a bit off-putting.

    As for accountability, the hustle and bustle of the moment does accurately characterize many blog and forum posts but unlike the front porch or the market place every expression is of course recorded in grim detail. As pioneers in this extraordinary mode of learning, what we write and how we express it, may well be studied and dissected by many in the future. I think we bear at least a modicum of accountability towards future progress in open education.

    Gordon Lockhart

  5. suifaijohnmak March 15, 2011 / 3:47 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Love what you said here. My response I don’t think you are accountable for what others have posted on your blog. Whether accountability is distributed is interesting. Would it be more applicable to the facilitators (in a formal online course) than the learners? Facilitators normally would be remunerated and thus vested with the responsibility of developing the course and supporting the learners in a OOC. For a MOOC, that may be different, as facilitators are all volunteers (as George and Stephen mentioned), and so whether they would need to be accountable to any formal authority could only be answerable by them. Also where is the boundary of accountability?

  6. jennymackness March 15, 2011 / 8:18 pm

    @John – thanks for your comment.

    Also where is the boundary of accountability?

    This is an interesting question – which I will think about. Thanks 🙂

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