Pas de Deux online partnerships

Today I was really warmed by an email I received from a colleague I am working with in which he wrote that the work we are doing together is ‘ a great pas de deux’.

The description of Pas de Deux that I found in the first few lines of this website  –  I think perfectly describes the working relationship that I have been fortunate to have with many colleagues, both men and women.

Pas de Deux is French for “Step of Two” and is what partnering is called in ballet. By dancing with a partner the lady can jump higher, take positions she would never be able to on her own, and “float” about the stage as she is carried by her partner. A partner allows a man to extend his line and show off his strength.

It also reflects Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development –  but I prefer the Pas de Deux analogy as it is less one sided and suggests that both in the partnership benefit, but in different ways.

In the working relationships I have, I am usually the one who, through the partnership, is being helped to jump higher than I could on my own.  This makes me feel very fortunate, but also to wonder sometimes, whether I should in some way be doing something more.  The idea of a ‘Pas de Deux’ partnership, is very helpful, as it points out that even those being lifted can have a positive effect on the lifter.

What is most interesting is that for me these Pas de Deux partnerships have come about almost entirely as a result of my online activities and in particular in participating in MOOCs. Why this is the case I have no idea. I find it an intriguing question.

The Selfish Blogger Syndrome

‘Selfish Blogger’ – This jumped out of the page of Tony Bates’ blog post .  He has been bemoaning the fact that there has been little discussion around his presentation to Change MOOC  – and that the discussion that there has been, has been distributed across people’s blogs and he has had to go out and find it to collate it on his blog. As an aside – I’m not sure that we could class people individually posting to their blogs as discussion. Tony asks:

  • Could I have done something that would have resulted in more comments, more discussion and more integration of the discussion in this MOOC?
  • Or is the topic itself the problem – just not of interest to most people in this MOOC?
  • Or are people just too busy to go beyond the webinar and a short response?

I think the answer to all three questions is ‘No’. I think it is a problem of the design of the MOOC, which actually promotes ‘the selfish blogger syndrome’.  I should say at this point that I am a self-confessed selfish blogger and likely to remain so. Roy Williams, John Sui Fai Mak and I explored people’s preferences for blogs and forums in our paper, which we presented at the Networked Learning Conference in 2010 –   – so I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on being a ‘selfish blogger’.  In my own defense (do I need to defend myself?), I like to think that I am making a contribution, albeit small, in other ways – but perhaps this is over-rationalization 🙂

I should also say that I recognize the effort required to synthesize and analyze ideas from distributed blogs – that is why I am staying here in my blog. If I make my own comments and observations here, then at least I know where they are. So despite Tony’s comments, I am still not inclined to go to his blog and post there. I would rather keep a record of what I think at this point in time here. Sorry Tony!

It does feel to me though that this MOOC is missing potential for some deeper discussion. In line with being a selfish blogger, I am not desperate to get involved in discussion forums, but I do like to be a ‘lurker’ in forums – and there are always plenty of people in a MOOC who like to engage in them – which makes it even easier to lurk and not feel guilty. I have recently been reminded of the benefits of engaging/lurking in discussion forums through the Networked learning Conference Hot Seat – where the depth of discussion was very rewarding.

The other thing that is constraining the potential for in depth-discussion in this MOOC, is the speed at which the topics are changing. We get a new speaker each week –  and they have all been great so far – but we scarcely have time to get our heads around one speaker’s issues – and they are big issues – when we move on to the next. This is a shame. Each of the speakers has clearly put such a lot of thought and work into their presentations and have provided us with carefully designed and interesting tasks. It’s just a pity that we haven’t had more time to engage with them.

Then there have been the consistent weekly technology problems. These haven’t bothered me particularly but I can see how they detract from getting into the nitty gritty of the subjects being discussed.

Frankly, it’s all I can do to keep up with being a selfish blogger. I had sort of promised myself that I would make one post each week related to the topic – but when the topic is new, there is little chance of posting anything significant within the week. All I can do is put down some sort of a marker and I am wondering this week whether I will be able to keep up with this minimal engagement.

I have participated in enough MOOCs to know that this is the way it is and also that there is no expectation that we engage with every week’s speaker, but I find myself thinking that the speakers deserve better. I am also even clearer in my own mind that I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool, for the average person like me. They might be a discussion tool for people like Tony Bates, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others who have a well-recognized reputation and likely a lot of hits and comments on their blogs. But for people like me, my blog is not a discussion venue. It’s a place where I post my own reflections. If others are interested in them, then that is great – but I really am a ‘selfish blogger’ 🙂

I have read this through a few times. I don’t want it to sound like a moan about ChangeMOOC. I continue to be impressed by the work that Stephen, George, Dave and others are doing in trying to change the ways in which we think about teaching and learning. I have learned and continue to learn a lot – which is why I hang on in here despite not always being able to keep up 🙂

Is our Education System in Crisis?

Tony Bates – gave us an interesting presentation on Sunday evening – Managing Technology to Transform Teaching – http://change.mooc.ca/archive/11/10_17_newsletter.htm – which many of us who work in HE as teachers or as managers of technology could relate to. Tony asked us a lot of questions and provided us with access to his recent book, where even more questions are raised. But a key question in his presentation was:

“Can universities or colleges change from within, or do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”

Three of my ChangeMooc colleagues (see below) have responded to this on their blogs (and maybe others too that I haven’t yet become aware of)

As you would expect, they each have a slightly different perspective on how Tony Bates’ question should be answered – actually it’s two questions in one.

So I thought I would add my own perspective and respond to the first part of the question– Can universities or colleges change from within – based on my own ‘personal’ experience, so probably not very objective.

My experience is that change has to be from within and without. From without, because sometimes people get very comfortable in their ‘teaching/learning’ ruts and they need a ‘bolt from the blue’ to get them to at least question what they are doing. My experience in the UK has been that these ‘bolts from the blue’ often come from the government and associated agencies – with their grand and usually highly stress-inducing schemes, which are rarely properly funded or alternatively wastefully throw money away. But sometimes they are needed – as in the case of institutions that are failing their student.

Occasionally these ”bolts from the blue’ can come from ‘closer to home’, such as when a new Principal takes over your institution and decides to ‘sweep with a new broom’. Sometimes the new broom is needed – sometimes it’s just plain meddling.

So that is change from without – it has its positives and negatives.

However, anyone who is a parent knows that change from within can be suggested, encouraged, facilitated – but not forced, unless you are a parent dictator or want a revolution on your hands! A child/learner/employee may not want to change and can be resistant to change. I have had a lot of experience of resistance to the use of new technologies for teaching or anything else. So it is crucial that we can facilitate change from within – mainly by empowering people and inspiring them with a powerful and shared vision. Ultimately each person has to adopt the change for him/herself, but with the right leader and the right leadership style – and for me that is not a hierarchical style unless it is a crisis situation in which in case it might be needed/justified, such as in failing systems. But outside of a crisis situation ‘Distributed Leadership’ might be a better model, although other models might also be considered, such as ‘Servant Leadership’.

Here is  ‘true’ story of a crisis situation to illustrate what I mean.

College X was a failing institution. Teaching was poor, staff morale was low, student retention was very poor, recruitment was poor – basically everything was poor. This was an institution that had no vision, no leadership and little possibility of change. The new principal, however, understood that in a crisis clear leadership, clear vision and commitment to change is needed. On his first day in the job he gathered all the staff together and asked for their commitment to change. He said he had noted that the institution was in need of decoration – the walls were bare and in poor repair. The staff could show their commitment to change by bringing an unwanted picture from home and mounting it on a particularly unsightly length of wall. There were 300 members of staff in the institution, so by the next week he would measure their level of commitment to change by the number of pictures on the wall. On the following Monday there were many more than 300. The crisis was on the way to being over – he had won commitment to change – and it was owned by individual members of staff. Change would not be easy but it had had been facilitated to be more from within than without.

But this story begs the question of whether we think our education system is in crisis or not. If not, then change will be slower, but will move forwards at a measured pace. Academics are academics because they question and evaluate how they should behave/teach in their specific contexts.  If change is to be from within, then they will change, when and if they feel the need to or they feel the situation needs it. There are many pockets of excellent teaching practices that make innovative and creative use of advancing technologies, but also many excellent teachers who as yet are not using these technologies.

So I think the answer to the second part of the question –  do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”  – depends on whether we think our education system, whatever context we are in, is in crisis.

Final Thought – is it not so much about technology or pedagogy as about change management?

Postscript – Some more blog posts relating to this topic

Sui Fai John Mak

http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/change11-what-sort-of-changes-are-required-in-our-education-system/

http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/change11-on-educational-leadership/

Jeffrey Keefer

http://silenceandvoice.com/2011/10/18/managing-technology-in-higher-education-a-discussion-undiscussed-change11/

Jaap

http://connectiv.wordpress.com/about/

PPS – see links below for responses from Tony Bates

http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/10/21/change-11-week-6-managing-technology-the-discussion-so-far/

http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/10/23/change-11-week-6-managing-technology-final-thoughts-and-closing/

IRRODL special issue on connectivism

Our paper…….

Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0

Roy Williams, Regina Karousou, Jenny Mackness

…. has finally been published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. We ran a webinar about this paper in February (with permission of IRRODL) in the ELESIG community (see https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/emergent-learning-webinar-recording/) and have been waiting for the paper to be published ever since.

It is great to see familiar names of other authors in the issue of the journal and I’m looking forward to reading their papers and gaining further insights into connectivism.

I’m also hoping that we will receive feedback on our paper which was very enjoyable to work on – thanks to Roy and Regina 🙂

Autonomy and accountability

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

Overview
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 http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mak.html)

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

 

An Example of Emergent Learning

The open connectivism courses that are run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens are rich with examples of emergent learning and whether or not intended, the design of these courses can promote emergent learning.

The CCK11 Elluminate session on Friday last (4 th Feb – recording here) was an example of this. Stephen found himself moderating the session on his own (George couldn’t make it), with 40 participants – the majority of whom were reluctant (and actually always are reluctant) to take the microphone – no doubt for a number of good reasons. So for the most part Stephen found himself on his own talking to 40 faceless people.

What is so interesting about these Friday round up sessions is that there is no planned agenda. Participants are asked to come to the session with topics/questions for discussion that have arisen from the week’s work, but we are not asked to post these questions in advance – so there’s no way the facilitators – in this case Stephen – can know what is coming at them or whether they will be able to answer the questions raised. This requires such a different approach to ‘teaching’ – a different mind set about what it’s all about and a different view of the meaning of learning.

Through this ‘openness’ a variety of different topics can be discussed.  There were a couple of points that struck me from Friday’s session.

First that we learn by pruning unused connections. This is really counter-intuitive for me.

And second and even more interesting was the fascinating discussion by Stephen about breaking apart the meaning of words from what they represent. He took the example of the word ‘Paris’ and showed that this means different things to different people. It could mean the city Paris, or Paris Hilton, or plaster of Paris etc. If it means city to me then my understanding of ‘city’ is based on all my prior experience which is different from anyone elses. That would also be the case for any of the other meanings of Paris. So around each possible meaning there is a network of meanings and around each of those a network and so on. This is enormously complex and unique to each person. So here is the crunch:

If this is the case then it must be impossible to transfer one person’s network (understanding) to another person.

This seems so obvious, but if it is then why does the transmission mode of teaching still exist?

I attended the session with no idea that I would come out of it with this very strong message about why a transmission model of teaching is unlikely to be successful. It could be that no one else recognised this as a possible message. It is unlikely that Stephen knew he was going to be talking about Paris before the session began.

So Friday’s session was for me an experience of emergent learning in action.

Emergent Learning Webinar

Please note that this webinar will now start half an hour earlier at 12.30 pm GMT

On Tuesday 15th February (1.00 pm – 2.30 pm GMT) I will be joining Roy Williams and Regina Karousou to run a lunchtime webinar for the ELESIG community about our paper ‘Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0’ which is due to be published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning online journal within the next month or so.

The paper will be included in a special issue on connectivism.

Yesterday Roy, Regina and I had a Skype call to plan the webinar. In our paper we have explored ‘the nature of emergence and emergent learning, and the conditions that enable emergent, self-organised learning to occur and to flourish’. It was therefore interesting to consider what a webinar that would encourage emergent learning might look like. We are hoping that the webinar will be very interactive and also that participants will feel that they have the opportunity to follow their own lines of enquiry. It is actually quite hard to plan for both structure and openness 🙂 This is one of the problems that we discussed in our paper.

Our planning meeting yesterday brought home even more strongly that a commitment to encouraging emergent learning will necessarily impact on curriculum design. There is still plenty to think about in relation to emergent learning and we are hoping that between us at the webinar we can consider alternative perspectives and dig a bit deeper into the meaning of emergent learning.

If this interests you, do join us on Feb 15th.