In defense of lurking

A couple of days ago George Siemens made a post to his Elearnspace blog in which he strongly criticised lurkers as follows:

Creation, collaboration, and sharing are the true value points of a PLN. It’s not what it does for me, but rather what I am now able to do with and for others.

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding. http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2010/12/01/my-personal-learning-network-is-the-most-awesomest-thing-ever/

What George has written seems to me to be a complete contradiction of what I perceive open learning networks or courses to be all about. Stephen Downes has outlined the principles of learning in networks as being openness, connectivity, diversity and autonomy. For me, autonomy lies at the heart of how this works, and has been central to the success of the open courses I have so far attended (PLENK, CCKO8 and CritLit). In other words, a key principle is that we have the choice of how connected, open, interactive or participative we want to be. We can therefore choose to lurk. Actually, I dislike that derogatory term ‘lurking’ and prefer to recognise that in any course, online or f2f, we will have active participants, but also those whose learning preference is to ‘read’ or ‘observe’.

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state.

My question here would be what is wrong with that? PLN (personal learning network) is by its very name just that – personal. It is not for George Siemens or anyone else to tell me what being connected means in relation to my personal learning.

Lurking=taking.

Not so, or no more so than in collaborative creation and contribution. And just to remember here that Stephen Downes famously said at the ALT conference in 2005 that ‘Collaboration is the joining together of things that do not naturally want to be joined’. So there are two points here. First is that George’s rant against ‘lurking’ is an example of the ‘Tyranny of Participation’, written about by Ferreday and Hodgson and cited by me in a number of posts. Second is that there is no evidence that ‘lurking=taking’. By its very nature we do not know what ‘lurkers’ are doing. They are not present and therefore we have no evidence with which to judge them in this way. The responses to George’s post list many reasons why people might be perceived as ‘lurkers’. From my own experience of working as a tutor on international online courses, I know that participants may not be present for a whole host of reasons including access difficulties, technology difficulties, illness, significant family or work disruptions/distractions and so on. The best they can do in these circumstances is to read or observe. I also know that whilst these people may not be connected and contributing to my course, they are often heavily engaged elsewhere. It is not for me to make judgments about where their priorities lie. They have the autonomy to decide that for themselves.

The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative.

To throw out a comment like this about a well established theory of learning, without any further explanation is not helpful. My interpretation from reading Wenger’s work is that legitimate peripheral participation is about the development of competency and identity within a learning community and the learning trajectories that people follow to achieve this within a social learning situation. It acknowledges that when people join a community (or, I would suggest, even a network), they join at the edge and gradually develop their identity within it. In addition Etienne Wenger’s more recent work has a lot to say about learning on the boundaries of communities. At a recent conference he suggested that this is where there can be the most powerful learning experiences, where people at the edge straddle the boundaries between different communities and can feed information/learning back and forth across these boundaries. This relates also to Granovetter’s work on the strength of weak ties and suggests that far from being negative, legitimate peripheral participation can have positive consequences.

Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding. (my bold)

Finally, although I have been guilty of this myself in the past, I do not think ‘should’ is a helpful word in relation to learning. Learning in any environment, network, community, course, classroom, is ideally about negotiation and learner empowerment. This also means allowing people to choose whether and when to interact with other learners, whether to read and observe (lurk) rather than be actively interactive and to decide for themselves what connectivity means to them personally.

#PLENK2010 Scaffolding Open Courses

I have just attended the Friday Elluminate session of the Plenk2010 course (will post recording as soon as it is available).

I have been out of touch for more than a week trying to meet research and work deadlines and so it was great to be able to attend this session and also that the session focussed on a topic which is of great interest to me. The question that I honed in on was around the role of educators in ‘massive/large’ open courses. I have missed more than one week’s content of the course, so I am unsure of the context in which this question arose, but since I have participated in at least one other large open course – notably CCK08 – I do have some thoughts about this.

It hit me today that in a MOOC, the massiveness is not a given in that for an open course the facilitators/moderators/tutors (whatever you wish to call them) can have no idea of how many people the course will attract. CCK08 was massive – more than 2000 people signed up. The critical Literacies course was less ‘massive’ in terms of numbers and definitely fairly small by the end. PLENK2010 is massive – more than 1000 participants – many of whom are very active.

But the ‘openness’ is a given. We can attend for ‘free’ – but – we are expected to work autonomously and openly ‘share’ our resources and thinking in a very diverse group. The expectation is that thinking and learning processes will be transparent – but despite these expectations, we can still choose not to – making the whole experience very flexible. This flexibility can be experienced as a double-edged sword.

We found in our research following CCK08 that the more massive the open course the more difficult it becomes to function effectively as autonomous independent learners and the more difficult it is to adhere to the expectation of openness – Also, the more likely it is that participants will congregate in small groups and therefore be liable to ‘group think’ – another problem that was mentioned today – although my personal experience has been that small group work does not necessarily lead to group think, but can instead lead to significant learning as has been my experience with Matthias, John Mak, Roy and other f2f colleagues.

But if we stick with learning in a ‘massive’ network – as a number of people have already noted in PLENK2010 it is easy to feel lost, to find the open course lacking in terms of ‘tutor’ support and scaffolding, to experience the ‘dark side of networking’ as was mentioned in the chat room today.

It seems to me that it’s not possible to have it all ways. Evidently Alec Couros has managed to provide scaffolding in his open course (which I admit I know nothing about so this is second hand information) by ‘recruiting’ mentors to support his online learners. I would have to see this for myself to be able to judge it in action.

My feeling – during the session this evening (UK time:-)) – was that it’s a question of knowing what you have signed up for and what you can expect – and given that these open courses are free, then, as learners, we have a responsibility to check on what we have signed up for and what we can expect.

My expectations would be:

– for a small open course, there would be recognisable structure and ‘tutor’ input (small I would regard as anything under 30 – or possibly 50)
– for a medium sized open course, I would expect less tutor interaction and more peer-to-peer support (not sure about the numbers here, but anything between 50 and 200)
-for a large open course – I would be thinking in terms of ‘networked learning’ rather than course and not expect any personal interaction with the ‘tutor’ at all and to have to rely totally on my peers for support.

The numbers I have put in here are arbitrary – and just to give and idea of what I mean.

However, if I was paying for the course I would expect significant tutor interaction and support, but not to ‘have my hand held’ by the tutor. I would hope that even on a paying course a tutor would be encouraging independent autonomous learning.

I think it’s rather a shame that convenors of a ‘MOOC’ have to justify their approach when they are giving freely of their time and effort. That’s not to say that we and they don’t have a lot to learn about the management of open courses – but it is something we can do together rather than being an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation.

#PLENK2010 Immediate thoughts

It is interesting that this course has attracted so many people (over 1000?), but the Critical Literacies course attracted far fewer – and I’m wondering why, since a critical literacy must surely be to be able to manage a personal learning environment/network. Is it because the management of a personal learning environment/network is more practically focussed, but consideration of critical literacies is more conceptual/academic?

I have had a quick look at all the readings for this week. I was intrigued by Scott Leslie’s Mother of All PLE Diagram Compilation and thought I had better try and construct my own diagram – which I started to do and even considered using Prezi, until I realised that all this is terribly time consuming and I didn’t see that I would gain a lot. In my head I know which tools I use, why, when and with whom – I use most of them every day. I also know who I am networked with, which communities I follow and which tools I use to meet up with different groups/individuals. Having said that, looking at the diagrams was a spur to activating my Twitter account which has lain dormant since I created it ages ago. Now seems like a good time to test out whether it should be part of my PLE/PLN.

But more interesting for me is Dave Cormier’s blog post – Five points about PLEs and PLNs – Dave Cormier (Blog post) because he is talking about the related issues and why we should think about this at all. Like him I have always been concerned about the confusion between e-portfolios and PLEs (he didn’t express it like this – but this is the issue that his post raised for me). A lot of universities in the UK have introduced e-portfolio systems which are tied into the University’s platform. (Is this because of assessment requirements or am I just being cynical?). When the students graduate and leave the University they have to buy their own portfolio. It all seems very inflexible to me and ties the students to a system which ultimately may not suit their needs, when they move out into the world of work.

But an alternative perspective on e-portfolios is that at least everything is in one place in what is presumably a secure environment.  The disadvantages of open source distributed environments are not too difficult to identify; for example, you may lose your environment, as when Ning suddenly decided that users would have to pay for their previously free site.

There is also a concern lurking in the back of my mind about the effect of distributed environments on the quality of learning – i.e. the old breadth versus depth concerns. I personally find it very difficult to balance these. I have been very fortunate that my experience with distributed networks such as those promoted by the open courses I have attended, CCK08 and Critical Literacies (I only attended part of this one) has enabled me to experience more depth than breadth, in that I have ‘met’ research partners in these courses and have been able to collaborate in research projects which, as an independent consultant, not affiliated to any institution, would have been difficult to organise without these networks.

For me the  personal/conceptual interactions between small groups are more stimulating/interesting/fulfilling than a wide network of connections, but paradoxically I need a distributed network in order to find the resonating connections to lead to the conceptual and personal connections that I value. Resonating connections is very much at the forefront of my mind at the moment since Matthias Melcher and I have just completed writing a paper on this very topic after months of discussion. See The Riddle of Online Resonance – and yes – now that I have realised that there obviously is a link between the issues surrounding PLE/Ns and e-resonance – this is a shameless plug of our paper 🙂

Learner Autonomy and Teacher Intervention

I am sorry that I missed Paul Bouchard’s talk. I see that the recording has finally been posted today, but I have not yet had a chance to listen to it (so I am more than a week behind now in the Crit Lit course) – but I had to make a long train journey today, so had the time to  read his article…

Bouchard, P. (2009). Some factors to consider when Designing Semi-autonomous Learning Environments. European Journal of e-learning, Volume 7, (2),June 2009, pg. 93-100. Available from http://www.ejel.org/Volume-7/v7-i2/v7-i2-art-2.htm

… which offered some perspectives on learner autonomy that I haven’t previously though about.

For the most part his article reflects my own experience. Online/distance learners often equate the flexibility offered by the environment with ‘easier’, ‘less-time consuming’ etc.  which of course isn’t true – and – as he says/writes, it’s up to the course convenors to make this explicit at the start.

However, I was surprised by the generalisation that distance education equates with excessive teacher control. My experience is that instructional designers may tend to do this, not with the intent of controlling the learner, but because they get carried away with the design and technology and lose sight of the learner. Also from my experience, online teachers/course designers can get carried away with the possibilities offered by online resources/information/technology. Again, they don’t necessarily want to control their learners. Rather it may be that they think that the web offers their learners increased choice in the resources available and therefore increased autonomy in choosing which resources to select, so they overload the course with resources and hyperlinks. In doing this they assume that the learners have the skills to filter and select from the wide range of resources that they upload, or even understand that that is what they are supposed to do.

Alternatively online teachers may be concerned that they need to support their learners and they cannot do this unless they can see them visibly online, so unwittingly subject them to the tyranny of participation in discussion forums, in the belief that this is a form of support.

So I suspect it is not so much a matter of teachers/instructors wanting to control the learning, but more that they may lack understanding of how learning occurs in an online environment, what learner autonomy means and that learner autonomy can be a double-edged sword.

One thing I am having difficulty with in Bouchard’s article is where he writes that the teacher/instructor should not participate on a level with the students. Bouchard doesn’t explain or justify this. For me this assumes a distinction (possibly hierarchical) between teacher and learner and that the teacher can’t learn from discussion with the learners or that the learners wouldn’t know, understand or want this. This does call in to question again, who is the teacher and who has the expertise?

Jean Lave in her article Teaching as Learning in Practice (1996) Vol.3, No. 3. Mind, Culture and Activity, about apprenticeship learning, gives us lots to think about. She discusses the case of apprentice tailors in Liberia and apprentice lawyers in a mosque in Egypt, where there is is a lot of self-directed learning, but it is clear who the ‘experts’ and ‘masters’ are – and the experts/masters do intervene. Jean Lave emphasises the benefits of situated and social learning. Is it possible to have an apprenticeship model of learning at a distance and does having a clearly identified ‘master/expert/teacher’ militate against learner autonomy?

So the two key questions that come out Paul Bouchard’s article for me are:

1. Is there a common understanding of what learner autonomy means?

2. Does teacher intervention militate against learner autonomy?

Elluminate v. Networked Learning Conference

Heli has made yet another interesting post in her blog reflecting on the CCK08 experience following our Elluminate session yesterday in which George Siemens kindly invited us to share our research paper – The ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC.

The link to the recording of this session is here – http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2010/07/05/elluminate-vs-networked-learning-conference/

After my Networked Learning Conference hiatus (as a friend has called it) I really had no expectations that anyone would attend the Elluminate session, especially since it was only advertised a day or so before (although George and Stephen do have huge networks and just a word from them can make all the difference) – I emailed Roy and John saying that I thought we would be speaking to ourselves!

It’s ironic that I spent over £1000 of my own money getting myself to the Networked Learning Conference where we had  just 20 minutes to present our paper, were allowed time for only one question, where the session was attended by less than half the people in yesterday’s Elluminate session and where there was no follow up discussion ….. and yet yesterday for the Elluminate session, I could sit in the comfort of my own home, with a cup of coffee, seated in a comfortable chair, incurring  no additional expense and discuss our research with 40 people! I know which I prefer and I want to thank everyone who attended. There were lots of names that I recognised in the participant list.

I do rather wish I had been a participant in the Elluminate session though. I have never been able to follow the chat and the whiteboard (contrary to popular belief not all women are good at multi-tasking!), so having to focus on speaking and answering George’s questions, meant that I didn’t follow the chat, so I sincerely hope that it didn’t appear that I was ignoring people. Fortunately, Roy and John agreed beforehand that they would keep an eye on the chat. It was unfortunate that Roy’s audio was not working as he would have offered an alternative perspective, as did John through the questions he asked. Just because we worked together for all those months doesn’t mean that we agreed on everything 🙂

Despite the limitations imposed on what I could follow by having to take the microphone, I know there was a lot of chat in the chat room. No-one wanted to take the microphone, apart from John and George, but that didn’t mean that people were ‘silent’. How different from the Networked Learning Conference, where we sat in silence and listened to presentations – although I suppose the equivalent there was that a few people were on Twitter. I don’t know a lot about Twitter, but I doubt it’s the same experience as being involved in a fast moving energetic chat room.

In Elluminate I was aware that whilst I was presenting/speaking, many people, perhaps even the majority were holding conversations of their own, possibly on unrelated subjects. I should imagine that I was only listened to by some of the people for some of the time, but this somehow felt much more satisfactory than my experience at the Networked Learning Conference. In the Elluminate session, people were engaged, active, energetic – there was a palpable ‘buzz’ in the room – or perhaps it was just the buzz of my nervous system jangling 🙂

This experience of presenting in Elluminate has caused me to reflect again on the role of the ‘teacher’ and the extent to which a teacher should intervene or take control in a classroom situation. This appears to be an unresolved dilemma in open courses, particularly massive, open, online courses. As someone said in our research, in these courses, where teachers/instructors necessarily have to take a ‘hands off’ approach because it is simply impossible to interact with each participant in a large open network, there is a tendency for the ‘kids to take control of the classroom’. I think the ‘kids were in control of the classroom’  in the Elluminate session – not complete control because ultimately any one of the moderators could have pulled the plug, but certainly in control of the conversation. This seems to be the accepted norm in online conferencing, so why does it seem more difficult to accept in different educational settings?

Some questions that arise for me in considering the teacher’s changing role are:

  • Does the teacher need to control or direct the conversation/learning? – always, sometimes, never?
  • Is the teacher necessarily the expert in a given learning situation? Who is the expert? How is expertise defined?It’s interesting that the discussion that attracted most interest in the Critical Literacies course was the one on “the evolving definition of ‘expert’ ”.
  • Does the teacher need to intervene in the learning process? When? Why? How much?
  • Is the teacher accountable  for the learner s learning? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • Does the teacher need to build a relationship with a learner? What might be the ethical consequences of this relationship?

Judging from some of the discussion in the Elluminate session, these questions remain unresolved for teachers moving into massive, open, online learning environments.

Syntax as a Critical Literacy

Week 4 Syntax: in the Critical Literacies course

The ability to recognize and use forms, grammars, patterns and other structural properties of communication. This would include information literacy and ontology of information

An interesting presentation on this by Jen Hughes and Graham Attwell, which Graham makes a blog post about.  Also a very creative presentation – but the content was difficult for someone not familiar with the intricacies of linguistics and I was wanting a discussion about why a week of this Critical Literacies course has been devoted to syntax.

I have just noted Rita’s post to the course blog which is helpful in putting it all in context – as is Stephen’s presentation which was sent to me by Matthias Melcher when I mentioned to him that I had lost my way and was having difficulty in understanding why the course has been structured into these weeks.

For me it would help to focus less on the what (i.e. that syntax is a critical literacy) and more on the why. Why is syntax particularly relevant for us as learners in the 21st century? It really does not help to be absent in the middle of a course!

Optional Readings/References:

http://www.shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html Shirky on ontology

http://www.adammathes.com/academic/computer-mediated-communication/folksonomies.html folksonomies

http://youtube.com/watch?v=BBwepkVurCI Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe – Reality TV Editing

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/future-of-search.html google blog talking about searching

http://www.slideshare.net/librarianinblack/information-overload-is-the-devil?src=embed Information Overload is the Devil – by a librarian

http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential.cfm USA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/ UK ofcom media literacy

http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article540.html centre for media literacy

http://www.wikihow.com/Understand-and-Use-Basic-Statistics wikihow:statistics

Pragmatics as a Critical Literacy

Week 3 of the Critical Literacies course bears the title Pragmatics which is described in Moodle as follows:

The capacity to use communicative elements in actions, or to take actions using communication, to express, commit, interrogate, and engage in interactions. Including being active participants in the world and on the Web versus passive consumers.

Having been away all week, I haven’t yet accessed any of the readings but list them below for my own future reference. However in this presentation by Stephen , I have interpreted what he says about pragmatics as a critical literacy as being the importance of understanding that the meaning of what you say is in the effect that you generate by saying it. Not sure if I have understood this correctly, but even if not, then this would have implications for networked communication. I will need to listen to the presentation again and come back to this.

Readings

10 best sites to sharpen critical thinking skills

Robin good New Media Literacy In Education: Learning Media Use While Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Thinking like a genius: critical thinking -creative problem solving

Optional Readings/References:

Wikipedia – “Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning.”
http://en.wikipedia.Make a Donationorg/wiki/Pragmatics

What is Pragmatics – http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsPragmatics.htm
Pragmatics is the study of the aspects of meaning and language use that are dependent on the speaker, the addressee and other features of the context of utterance
http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsPragmatics.htm

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Pragmatics deals with utterances, by which we will mean specific events, the intentional acts of speakers at times and places, typically involving language.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatics/

http://www.missiontolearn.com/2009/09/sharpen-critical-thinking-skills/ 10 best sites to sharpen critical thinking skills

http://www.masternewmedia.org/learning_educational_technologies/media-literacy/new-media-literacy-critical-thinking-Howard-Rheingold-20071019.htm Robin Good New Media Literacy In Education: Learning Media Use While Developing Critical Thinking Skills

http://www.studygs.net/genius.htm thinking like a genius: critical thinking -creative problem solving

Here a more general paper by Shor on ‘critical literacies‘ that I used in the discussion forum to show the evolving meanings of the term in the literature.