Diversity is hard

complexity

Source of image

dana boyd has written a post in which she discusses why America is self-segregating and she comes up with a few suggestions such as the role of social media in segregating people into filter bubbles and echo chambers. But a key point she makes is that diversity, which is ‘often touted as highly desirable’ is hard – ‘uncomfortable, emotionally exhausting and downright frustrating’. So instead of using the many online tools we now have at our disposal to become diversely connected, we use them instead to find like-minded people who, as Kirschner wrote in 2015, ‘discuss, confirm, validate and strengthen the group’s position’ (p.622). In doing this we reduce diversity.

(This tendency to try to reduce diversity is not only evident in online networks. It can also be seen in ‘The Big Sort’ and geographical clustering that I mentioned in my last post, i.e. people physically move geographical location to live near those more like themselves.)

More than ten years ago in 2005 in his ‘Introduction to Connective Knowledge’ (revised in 2007) Stephen Downes wrote of diversity as a key principle of ‘knowing’ networks. Downes sees the fostering of diversity as the means to

 ‘counterbalance the tendency toward a cascade phenomenon in the realm of public knowledge’.  

(Information cascades occur when external information obtained from previous participants in an event overrides one’s own private signal, irrespective of the correctness of the former over the latter’ (Wikipedia ). Cascade phenomena can sweep through densely connected networks very rapidly).

Downes writes

the excesses made possible by an unrestrained scale-free network need to be counterbalanced through either one of two mechanisms: either a reduction in the number of connections afforded by the very few, or an increase in the density of the local network for individual entities’.

According to Downes, the only way to avoid information cascades is to ensure multiple viewpoints and alternative perspectives from observers with different sets of prior experiences, world views and interpretations.

Related to this, a couple of years later Downes wrote of the different affordances of groups and networks – Groups vs. Networks: The Class Struggle Begins – saying that a group is about what members have in common, whereas ‘a network is like an ecosystem where there is no requirement that all the entities be the same.’ If we accept this it follows that a group tends towards homogeneity, but a network to heterogeneity (see also my post on the hazards of group work). Diversity is therefore essential to a healthy network.

But what is diversity?  Dictionaries, e.g. Cambridge dictionary, define diversity as being many different types of things or people, ideas or opinions, being included in something. I would add that in addition many different resources are needed to inform these ideas or opinions. In a paper that Carmen Tschofen and I published in 2012, Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience, we also suggested that there is a need to recognise the importance of psychological diversity of online learners, the complexity of their human needs and connections, i.e. that diversity is not just an external manifestation of difference, but also internal to individuals. Each individual is unique. We argued that connectivity needs to be viewed not only in terms of the network but also in terms of individual characteristics and biases, further complicating an understanding of diversity.

But why is diversity ‘desirable’? dana boyd points to more diverse teams outperforming homogeneous teams and claims that diversity increases cognitive development. In my own field of research into learning in open online environments, this point of view is endorsed by the call for more interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and cross global, international working (see for example Haywood, 2016 and Eynon et al., 2016).

However, Cilliers (2010) suggests that there are deeper reasons. These are related to viewing the world in which we live as a complex adaptive system. Complex systems are heterogeneous, asymmetrical and full of non-linear, unpredictable interactions, which means we cannot fully know or control them. Complex environments exhibit the following characteristics (and more!):

  • Distributed knowledge
  • Disequilibrium
  • Adaptive
  • Self-organisation
  • Unpredictable
  • Emergence
  • Connectedness
  • Diversity
  • Openness
  • Co-evolution
  • Interaction
  • Retrospective coherence

Cilliers tells us that diversity is a key characteristic of complex systems and is essential to the richness of the system, because it is difference not sameness that generates meaning.

An abundance of difference is not a convenience, it is a necessity. Complex systems cannot be what they are without it, and we cannot understand them without the making of profuse distinctions. Since the interactions in such systems are non-linear, their complexity cannot be reduced. The removal of relationships, i.e. the reduction of difference in the system, will distort our understanding of such systems. (Cilliers, 2010, p.58)

But this does not mean that ‘anything goes’. To get the most out of diversity and difference, complex systems require boundaries and constraints, negative, enabling constraints, ‘which determine what is not allowed to happen, rather than specifying what does have to happen’ (Williams, Karousou & Mackness, 2011, p.46). There needs to be an effective balance between openness and constraint, structure and agency.

And difference does not mean opposition. Meaningful relationships develop through difference (Cilliers, 2010), but achieving the right amount of difference to support this development, depends on ethical judgement and choice.

To make a responsible judgement—whether it be in law, science or art—would therefore involve at least the following components:

  • Respecting otherness and difference as values in themselves.
  • Gathering as much information on the issue as possible, notwithstanding the fact that it is impossible to gather all the information.
  • Considering as many of the possible consequences of the judgement, notwithstanding the fact that it is impossible to consider all the consequences.
  • Making sure that it is possible to revise the judgement as soon as it becomes clear that it has flaws, whether it be under specific circumstances, or in general. (Cilliers, 1998, p.139)

These points seem as relevant today, if not more so, than when they were written in 1998. Respect for differences and an understanding of diversity is a key ethical rule for complex systems and no amount of retreating into homogeneous groups will help us cope with living in an increasingly complex world.

As Stephen Downes wrote in 2005 when proposing connectivism as a new learning theory appropriate for living and learning in a digitally connected world:

‘Connective knowledge is no magic pill, no simple route to reliability and perhaps even more liable to error because it is so much more clearly dependent on interpretation.’

but

‘Freedom begins with living free, in sharing freely, in celebrating each other, and in letting others, too, to live free. Freedom begins when we understand of our own biases and our own prejudices; by embracing autonomy and diversity, interaction and openness….’

I agree with dana boyd – diversity is hard, but if as Cilliers (2010, p.56) says, ‘Difference is a necessary condition for meaning’ in a complex world, in order to learn we will need to embrace diversity and maintain, sustain and increase our global networks and connections.

References

Cilliers, P. (1998). Complexity and postmodernism. Understanding complex systems. London and New York, Routledge

Cilliers, P. (2010). Difference, Identity, and Complexity. Philosophy Today, 54(1), 55–65.

Downes, S. (2007). An Introduction to Connective Knowledge in Hug, Theo (Ed.) (2007): Media, Knowledge & Education – Exploring New Spaces, Relations and Dynamics in Digital Media Ecologies. Proceedings of the International Conference held on June 25-26, 2007. – http://www.downes.ca/post/33034

Eynon, R., Hjoth, I., Yasseri, T., & Gillani, N. (2016). Understanding Communication Patterns in MOOCs: Combining Data Mining and qualitative methods. In S. ElAtia, D. Ipperciel, and O. Zaïane (Eds.), Data Mining and Learning Analytics: Applications in Educational Research, Wiley.

Haywood, J. (2016). Learning from MOOCs: lessons for the future. In E. de Corte, L. Engwall, & U. Teichler (Eds.), From Books to MOOCs? Emerging Models of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, p. 69-80. Oregon: Portland Press Limited.

Kirschner, P. A. (2015) ‘Facebook as learning platform: Argumentation superhighway or dead-end street?’ Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 53, December, pp. 621–625. Elsevier Ltd. [Online] Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.03.011

Tschofen, C., & Mackness, J. (2012). Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1143

Williams, R., Karousou, R., & Mackness, J. (2011). Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883

Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World

Beyond Assessment slideshare

 

This was the third in a series of 3 talks that Stephen Downes gave in London this week.

Jul 11, 2014
Keynote presentation delivered to 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK.

ePortfolios and Open Badges are only the first wave in what will emerge as a wider network-based form of assessment that makes tests and reviews unnecessary. In this talk I discuss work being done in network-based automated competency development and recognition, the challenges it presents to traditional institutions, and the opportunities created for genuinely autonomous open learning.

For recordings of all three talks see OLDaily

Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World
Jul 11, 2014. 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote).

Beyond Institutions – Personal Learning in a Networked World
Jul 09, 2014. Network EDFE Seminar Series, London School of Economics (Keynote).

Beyond Free – Open Learning in a Networked World
Jul 08, 2014. 12th Annual Academic Practise & Technology Conference, University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote).

This was perhaps the most forward thinking and challenging of the three talks. I wasn’t at the talk, but listened to the recording. What follows is my interpretation of what Stephen had to say, but it was a long talk and I would expect others to take different things from it and interpret the ideas presented differently.

Educators have been wrestling with the issue of assessment, how to do it well, how to make it authentic, fair and meaningful, how to engage learners in the process and so on for many, many years.

Assessment has become even more of a concern since the advent of MOOCs and MOOC are symptomatic of the changes that are happening in learning. How do you assess thousands of learners in a MOOC?  The answer is that you don’t – or not in the way that we are all accustomed to – which is testing and measurement to award credentials such as degrees and other qualifications. This has resulted in many institutions experimenting with offering a host of alternative credentials in the form of open badges and certificates.

Stephen’s vision is that in the future assessment will be based not on what you ‘know’ but on what you ‘do’ – what you do on the public internet. The technology now exists to map a more precise assessment of people through their online interactions. Whilst this raises concerns around issues of privacy and ethical use of data, it also means that people will be more in control of their own assessment. In the future we will have our own personal servers and will personally manage our multiple identities through public and private social networks. Prospective employers seeking a match for the jobs they want filled can then view the details of these identities. There is some evidence that learners are already managing their own online spaces. See for example Jim Groom’s work on A Domain of One’s Own.

Why might new approaches to assessment such as this be necessary? Here are some of the thoughts that Stephen shared with us.

It is harder and harder these days to get a job, despite the fact that employers have job vacancies.  There is a skills gap.  The unemployed don’t have the skills that employers need. We might think that the solution would be to educate people in the needed skills and then employers could hire them, but employers don’t seem to know what skills are needed and although learning skills inventories help people to recognise what they don’t know, these inventories don’t help them to get to what they do know.

Education is crucial for personal and skills development and more education leads to happier people and a more developed society. The problem is that we confuse the outcomes of education with the process of education. We think that we can determine/control learning outcomes and what people learn. See Slide 14

instructional design

But useful outcomes are undefinable (e.g. understand that …..) and we need an understanding of understanding. Definable outcomes such as ‘recite’ and ‘display’ are simpler but behaviourist (Slide 18).   There is more to knowing than a set of facts that you need to pass the test.  Knowing something is to recognise it, in the sense that you can’t unknow it.  Stephen used ‘Where’s Wally’ as an example of this:

Wallywhere's wally

Knowing, according to Stephen, is a physical state – it is the organisation of connections in our brain. Our brain is a pattern recogniser. Knowing is about ‘doing’ rather that some mental state.

My understanding of what Stephen is saying is that if we believe that knowing is about pattern recognition, then achievement will be recognized in how good learners are at pattern recognition as evidenced by what they ‘do’ in their online interactions. ‘Assessors’ will also need to be good at pattern recognition.

Learners are increasingly more sensitive to the patterns they see in the huge amount of data that they interact with on the internet, and machines are getting closer to being able to grade assignments through pattern recognition.  As they interact online learners leave digital traces. Big data is being used to analyse these internet interactions.  This can be used for assessment purposes. But this has, of course, raised concerns about the ethics of big data analysis and the concern for privacy is spreading – as we have recently seen with respect to Facebook’s use of our data. (Slide 55)

Facebook research

A move to personally managed social networks rather than centrally managed social networks will enable learners to control what they want prospective employers to know about them and human networks will act as quality filters.

Stephen’s final word was that assessment of the future will redefine ‘body of work’.

assessment of the future

All these are very interesting ideas. I do wonder though whether it’s a massive assumption that all learners will be able to manage their own online identities such that they become employable. What are the skills needed for this? How will people get these skills? Will this be a more equitable process than currently exists, or will it lead to another set of hierarchies and marginalisation of a different group.

Lots to think about – but I really like the move to putting assessment more in the control of learners.

26-09-2014 Postscript

See also this post by Stephen Downes – http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/beyond-assessment-recognizing.html – which provides all the details of this talk

Beyond Institutions – Personal Learning in a Networked World

This was Stephen Downes’ second talk in a series of 3, which he is giving in London this week. This is how he introduced it on his blog Stephen’s Web 

In this presentation I look at the needs and demands of people seeking learning with the models and designs offered by traditional institutions, and in the spirit of reclaiming learning describe a new network-based system of education with the learner managing his or her education.

Although I have only listened to the recording of this talk, I found it more interesting than the first talk, which I listened to live, having been a delegate at the conference, although there was plenty of interest in that one too. What I like about Stephen’s talks is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He always challenges my thinking.

The thrust of this talk, from my perception, is, as the title suggests, that learning is no longer in the control of institutions, but increasingly personal and in the control of learners as they occupy a networked world. There is a distinction between personal learning and personalized learning. Institutions don’t understand personal learning because personal learning has to be in the control of the learner. It is made to order. Learning is built not from a kit but from scratch. Institutions think they are catering for personal learning, but in fact are offering personalized learning – which is ‘off the shelf’ learning; one package with a bunch of options.

There is evidence that today’s students are demanding change and want more control. Learning is no longer about remembering. The content, nature and means of learning are changing on a daily basis. Learning today is more about play and socializing. Lecturing is also changing. Lecturing today is not so much about content as creating the potential for dialogue.

A particularly challenging point that Stephen made was ‘Do away with models’ – learning models and design models.  The right model is no model. New versions of old models don’t produce results. It is obvious that people learn differently, have different objectives, priorities, goals and times when they want to learn, but if you use a learning model you are attempting to predefine the outcome, whereas learning should be about discovery and exploration. I would also say from the work I have done with Roy Williams, that we need to recognize that  learning will often be unpredictable and emergent. (See Emergent learning and learning ecologies in Web 2.0)

Autonomy rather than control is the essential in education. Autonomy does not mean no structure, it means choice of structure. Personal learning is based on self-organization and self-organizing networks. Learners need to reclaim management and organization of learning. The way forward will be for students/learners to have their own personal web server and run their own web services from their own home networks.  The University will be a box in your living room. Learning should be cooperative and networked. It is not content that is important, but the making of connections. Learners need networking skills.

What do we need from institutions?

We do not need

  • more models, more designs
  • more learning theories
  • more standards, measurement and centralization
  • more control
  • more of making the same mistakes

We do need mechanisms to support people in learning and bettering their lives. Institutions need to think in terms of serving many different people in many different ways and supporting personal learning, rather than attempting to control and personalize learning.

*************************************************************************************************

And here is an interesting blog post about this talk by Sonja Grussendorf – Beyond institutions: Stephen Downes at NetworkEDGE

See also Arun Karnad’s post:

Connected Learning in an Open World

The Royal Observatory

At the beginning of this week I was in Greenwich, London for the first time in my life. On Monday I travelled up the Thames from Embankment to Greenwich Pier by Clipper (another first) and stood on the decks of the Cutty Sark.The Cutty Sark

On Tuesday I spent the day at the University of Greenwich’s APT2014 Conference, the reason for the trip.

University of Greenwich Queen Anne Court (1)

On Wednesday I stood on the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory.

The Meridian Line

A key question asked in the main exhibition room of Flamsteed House  at the Observatory is ‘Where am I? This related to how you can work out your exact location on the open seas, by knowing how to fix your latitude and longitude positions. But ‘Where am I?’ seems such an important and relevant question for an educator and although I didn’t visit Flamsteed House until the day after the Greenwich conference, I found myself constantly wondering where I am in relation to the discussions that were held during the conference.

One of the main reasons for attending the conference was to hear Stephen Downes speak. Where am I in my understanding of what he had to say and the implications of what he had to say? Here is the link to a recording of his full talk, Beyond Free – Open Learning in a Networked World  and this is the Abstract for the presentation:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.00.41

This was the first in a series of 3 talks that Stephen is giving in London this week. He started his second talk, Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World – given to the NetworkEDGE conference at the London School of Economics on Wed 10th July – with the words: If you feel unfulfilled at the end of this talk, it’s because it doesn’t really have a beginning and doesn’t really have an end, i.e. it’s the middle talk in a series of three. I have only listened to the recording of this second talk.

I did feel somewhat unfulfilled after the first talk. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the conference – I thoroughly enjoyed it, attended some interesting sessions and talked to some great people, but at the end of the day I felt that a lot of questions had been raised but not many answers had been found. These questions were around what we mean by ‘open’, what we mean by ‘connected learning’ and what do universities understand about open, connected learning – not only what do they understand, but what are they doing about it, what are they becoming as a result of open learning in a networked world – and are they becoming what we would hope they become? As Stephen said, ‘Institutions are what we make them’.

This thinking about unanswered questions made me wonder whether the idea of flipped classrooms, which was mentioned in the opening talk by the Vice Chancellor, should be applied to conferences. Should we engage with the ideas to be presented by the keynote speaker before the conference, and present a discussion paper/workshop as a result of that – so that the key questions can be discussed.

The points I took from Stephen’s talk were that

‘Open’ means open in all senses, particularly in the sense of open sharing of thought processes, and should be the default position in Universities. Free and open access is not enough.

But Universities are resistant to openness in the sense of open sharing, and content providers do not want people to have free and open access. The promise of open resources has not materialized.

Open access makes a massive economic difference to users, but cost IS the problem for universities because universities see online learning in terms of money making.

The issue is not finding innovative ways of teaching, but innovative ways of learning.

The bulk of MOOCs are created in the image of traditional courses, but this was never the intention of the original cMOOCs.

Change in Universities is slow – too slow.

None of these points came as a surprise. None of them is unfamiliar, but challenging Universities to become more ‘open’ can be a risky business for employees and those that do can land themselves in trouble, as Stephen pointed out in his presentation. (See slide 29 for an example).

In general people seem to be more aware of the risks than the benefits. A new lecturer at the conference said that ‘openness’ is a risk for someone like her who is new in the job and trying to establish a reputation. Sheila McNeill, who was a panel member at the end of the day, urged this lecturer to be brave and just go for it. I wonder whether being strategic about openness is more important than being brave. Sharing openly doesn’t mean that you have to ‘bare your soul’ – there are other ways of sharing. A more impersonal and less risky approach is reporting. If open sharing doesn’t come easily then share what you have discovered to be useful, rather than your own work or personal thoughts. As Stephen said in his second talk to the London School of Economics, every learner is different and reacts to each learning scenario differently.

The Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, also on the panel, seemed to recognize the difficulties when she said that open sharing in the form of lecturers recording their lectures and openly sharing them, is a risk to the University’s reputation – but she also acknowledged that a major issue for an institution is the need for cultural change. As she put it – universities will have to wait for some staff to shift or die before this culture change can be achieved.

Stephen asked for a show of hands for who was tweeting the conference proceedings and a show of hands for who had recorded their conference presentation.  Some were tweeting, but only one person had recorded their presentation. The person sitting next to me during the final panel session was inspired and enthusiastic about what she had heard during the day, but said that she had never taught online and had never taken an online course. It was all new for her.

For me, the concerns raised about openness should not be brushed aside. Questions of whether an academic’s or an institution’s reputation can be damaged by openness need to be discussed. The benefits or otherwise of openness need to be articulated. For me, it is not about whether you tweet at a conference or record your presentation and upload your Slideshare; all these can help to model a spirit of openness, but it’s more about trying to understand why openness is necessary and how we can all be supported in understanding and doing this. Ultimately, isn’t it about personal values and educational philosophies?

So I came away from Greenwich feeling that many questions had been raised, but that they were left hanging. I would have been interested in more discussion about whether there is agreement about the changes that Stephen suggested Universities need to make and if so how they will make these changes. But I have now listened to Stephen’s second talk to the London School of Economics, which helped me to understand the context of the first talk. Inge de Waard has blogged about it here: Fabulous ideas: economics, innovation, #education  and I hope to return with another blog post.

A big thank you to Simon Walker, Gillian Keyms and colleagues for organizing a thought-provoking event, and to all at Greenwich, particularly the students, who were so helpful, friendly and welcoming.

The Hazards of Groups and Group Work

Last week I came across this fun video, which caused me to reflect once again on the potential problems of groups and group work, both on and offline.

For me it’s interesting that the intention of this video is to promote group work and group behaviours in a fun and humorous way, but it also, for me, suggests at least three problems with group work.

First I noted that all members of the group look very much alike, almost like clones of each other. Diversity is in short supply.

Then group members have a tendency to all act in unison and to be defensive. There is the assumption, by group members, that if you are not in the group, then you are either in danger of getting lost (a somewhat patronizing assumption) or subject to the malevolence of a predator. In the light of this assumption, a common action of groups is to close ranks.  All this of course, leads very easily to group think, which in turn constrains autonomy.

It’s not that there isn’t a place for groups and group work – simply that groups need to be very self-aware of these common behaviours, pros and cons.

I often return to Stephen Downes’ post on Groups vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues and this diagram that he drew.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 11.26.20

In the last year or so, I have seen more and more open online courses introduce group work or collaborative projects, or promote learning in spaces that encourage group formation, which is a departure from the initial intention of massive open online courses to promote networking.

Is it time to remind ourselves of the potential hazards of groups and group work and consider carefully what is to be gained and what is to be lost by becoming a member of a group or embarking on group work, or by asking our students to engage in group work?

JISC Netskills – The Rhetoric of Openness

The first JISC Netskills online seminar, ‘The Rhetoric of Openness’ by David White was delivered on Tuesday 21st June; if you couldn’t join the session – you can still watch & listen to a recording of the session here: http://t.co/8LlU95O – you can also comment on the recording, or if you’re tweeting use #nstalks.

Dave discussed openness from the perspective of the institution and the student. These are some of the notes I made during his talk, from my perspective and interpretation.

Institutions can misunderstand the open culture of the web. They tend to think more about opening access to their teaching and learning resources (such as MIT  and the Open University  have done) rather than think about how the resources are appropriated. In addition the institution’s marketing department is often behind the drive for openness leading to a tension between marketing aims and altruism. Dave reminded us that MIT have pointed out that their open resources do not provide the authentic teaching and learning experience, which can only be realized by signing up for a course at MIT.

When the marketing department gets involved there will also be a tension between professional production and the content of the resources. In some cases it is questionable whether the effort put into media production is worth it. Dave was enthusiastic about Nottingham University’s Periodic Table videos, which he described as friendly. But it is difficult to evaluate open content. There is little more to go on than the number of hits on the website.

There are many aspects of openness – open research, open content, open data, open practice, open software, open courseware (as in the case of MIT and the OU) and so on. But what does openness mean? Roy Williams, Sui Fai John Mak and I discussed this in our 2008 paper, The Ideals and Reality of participating in a MOOC, where we discussed the possible meanings of openness as being openness as ‘free’, as in beer; ‘free’ as in liberty, or speech; and there is an additional sense of ‘free’ as in transparent, and therefore shared. Dave discounts ‘free’ as in beer saying that open source resources are not necessarily free of charge – they incur costs – but he seems more in favour of ‘free as in liberty’, saying that the Creative Commons license can mean that you are free to do what you like with the open source materials. However, he points out that re-use in this way has been going on for years, but mostly below the institutional water line – students and tutors have been engaged in this re-use.

For students, openness means that they have access to vast sources of information – Wikipedia, Youtube, blogs etc., but the problem is that institutions often don’t allow them to cite these sources of information in their work. In this sense institutions are a little behind what is happening on the internet. This open access to online resources has led to changes in learning and study behaviours in students. They complain that they do not want to have to evaluate these resources but want to be guided to the ‘right stuff’ straight away, i.e. they don’t want to research and if they have to, then see this as a failure of search engines. As has been commented on before, Dave noted that students lack critical thinking skills and the desire to develop them. They are more interested in contact than content. For them contact is the more valuable resource. This highlights the differences between the institutions’ and the students’ perceptions of the meaning and value of openness. It is one thing to be open in the ‘broadcast’ sense and another to be open in the ‘conversational’ sense. For Dave the latter is the authentic bit of teaching and learning, but it is also the bit that institutions don’t want to let go of.

Dave concluded his talk with a call for ingenuity rather than innovation. We need to look at the use of technologies in new ways.

It seems that the topic of openness is quite ‘topical’. Frances Bell and colleagues Cristina da Costa, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and Helen Keegan will be presenting a Symposium on the subject of The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online  at the ALT-C conference in September. It will be interesting to hear more about what they mean by ‘giving’ in this context.

The second Netskills online seminar, “Supporting Researcher Engagement With Social Tools” presented by  Alan Cann will be on Monday 27th June, 1-2pm in Elluminate.  To find out more about this session, and how to join, visit: http://bit.ly/m61leW

JISC Netskills is also on the lookout for future seminar presenters, so if you would like to deliver a lunchtime seminar (or know someone who does) – get in touch at 0191 222 5000 or enquiries@netskills.ac.uk

The internet and the ‘older’ generation

This morning (9.00 am ish) I just happened to pick up 5 minutes of a programme on BBC Radio 4, which made my ears prick up.

Evidently 8.7 million people in the UK (many of whom are in the over 65 age bracket) have never used a computer. This was being discussed by two people (whose names I did not catch), who held opposing views about this.

One felt that it is a social injustice that nearly 20% of the population do not have access to the internet. She told us that 1.6 million people over the age of 65 do not see anyone in a one month period and believes that the internet could prevent the isolation felt by so many older people. Her view is that the internet helps people to feel more connected and more in control of their lives.  She felt very strongly that social divides should not be increased by technology (i.e. lack of access to technology).

The opposing point of view was put by a man who suggested that the internet increases the problems faced by older people. He likened it to a ‘foot-in-the-door’ saleman, where your privacy is invaded and you are subject to identity theft. For him there is not enough time to simply ‘stand and stare’ and that this is a need increasingly felt by older people, who should not be hassled to be connected and should be left alone to enjoy a quieter less connected period in their lives.

There are good points in both arguments. Ultimately I think it depends on whether using the internet is a choice or not – but the problem is that making these choices is never straightforward. My mother has never owned or used  a computer. She is one of the 8.7 million. Do I think the internet would make her life easier? No – not now. She is in her mid eighties and now after a hectic life definitely likes to spend a lot of time ‘standing and staring’ – metaphorically speaking – and I can see how easy it would be for her now to become the prey of the ‘foot-in-the-door’ salesman. But between the ages of 65 and 80, I think the internet could have saved her a lot of time, in terms of finding information, shopping etc. As for being connected – I don’t think she has ever needed the internet for that.

It will be interesting to see whether the 8.7 million figure drops as the next generation (my generation) moves into our 70s, 80s and beyond, or whether we will become those who like to ‘stand and stare’ – if we do not already!

 

Leisure
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

(William Henry Davies)