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!


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)


Complexity and critical literacies

Is a critical literacy for networked learning to know something about Complexity Theory?

Dave Snowden was today’s speaker on the Critical Literacies open online course, talking about complexity. We had technical difficulties and had to move from ‘Open Meetings’ to ‘Elluminate’ (many thanks to Carmen) and when we finally got going it all seemed like a bit of a rush.  I’m not completely ignorant about complexity theory, but it was too fast for me and I will have to listen again to the recording when it finally gets posted (probably more than once), as there was a lot packed in there. We were also given this link which I have dipped into and looks as though it will be very useful.,-a-new-approach-to-research-and-productive-inquiry

My interest in complexity theory is related to what it has to say about teaching and learning – which comes back to critical literacies. My understanding is that a complex system is one in which you cannot predict what is going to happen and just that over-simplified one statement presents huge challenges for our education system (UK), which seems to want to prescribe and measure everything in sight. In an article that I read this afternoon, this question was asked about what complexity theory might mean for the philosophy of education:

Complexity theory poses a major question: What do the following mean for the philosophy of education: emergence and self-organization; connectedness; order without control; diversity and redundancy; unpredictability and non-linearity; co-evolution; communication and feedback; open, complex adaptive systems; and distributed control?

Any teacher will know the challenges that these ideas present,  just as anyone who took part in CCK08 might also recognise these as characteristics of a complex system.

I found this article (cited below) very helpful as an introduction to thinking about teaching and learning in terms of complexity theory.  Unfortunately it is not available online and I can’t post the pdf because of copyright restrictions, but it is likely to be in a University library if you have access to one.

Morrison, K. (2008). Educational Philosophy and the Challenge of Complexity Theory. Philosophy, 40(1).

So plenty to think about and plenty to come back to! Is complexity theory ever included in a teacher trainee’s degree course? It wasn’t in any of the courses that I was ever involved in, but it seems to me to be important in helping teachers to manage the inevitable uncertainty, unpredictability and emergent learning which is going to increasingly occur as students become more and more connected and networked.

Visitor/resident – some further thoughts

I can’t make up my mind whether I’m a visitor or resident. As Dave White says in his presentation its not a dichotomy – but rather a duality (which is very much Wenger’s approach to communities of practice). In his presentation Dave makes some comments that I have been thinking about:

Visitors leave no trace – my feeling is that this is not possible. Maybe they hope to leave no trace. I can see that they could leave an absolutely minimal trace, but not no trace. It’s a bit like when someone briefly enters a meeting and leaves quickly – their leaving and absence still affects the meeting. In relation to this, I believe that ‘lurkers’ can affect what is going on through their absence.

Visitors worry about identity theft – I would say that visitors might worry about identity full stop, particularly if the visitors are novices. In fact isn’t it possible that visitors may be visitors not by choice but because they are novices in the online environment.

Residents try to keep visible by continually feeding the machine – have residents subjected themselves to the ‘tyranny of participation?’

Remaining visible is important for residents – Why? What is in it for them, particularly if a lot of what they post is banal? Isn’t being perceived of as banal counterproductive?

The word ‘nebulous’ can be used to describe residents – Dave didn’t talk about this and I’m not sure what this means.

A resident is less likely to have their own blog – this seems to contradict the research that John, Roy and I did where we equated residency (we called this a ‘home’) to a blog. This brings up the complexity of the way in which we use language and metaphors to describe the way in which people learn and interact online.

The visitor is no more or less technically adept than the resident – this depends on whether the visitor is a visitor by choice

Visitors take an individual approach to working online – I don’t see an individual approach or autonomy as the preserve of visitors. The question of autonomy is complex and not easy to understand or unpick.

Lots to think about. I’m looking forward to the session tonight – Elluminate Conference

Some great questions out there at the moment

I keep coming across great questions which really make me stop and think.

George Siemens  asked four really thought provoking questions in the Networked Learning Conference 2010 Hot Seat

  1. What skills/attributes do learners need in order to learn effectively with networked technologies?
  2. What role will educators need to fulfill in networked learning environments?
  3. Can learning networks (partly) replace the teacher?
  4. Given the prominence of networked technologies and the growth of networked learning, what types of research questions does our field need to pursue?

In fact I think George must be in question posing mode as in this week’s CCK09 course he has asked another great question

  • This week is an opportunity for you to reflect on what openness means to you, what benefits you get from being open, and concerns with transparent learning (as well as how you expect to overcome those concerns).

And in this post George has alerted us to D’Arcy Norman’s question:

  • How do you connect to people online?

These are all questions that I have been thinking about for some time but haven’t been able to articulate so clearly. They are all relevant to my life and work. So where to start in answering them?

Life cycle of ‘connectedness’

Last year I wrote about my mother’s connectedness –

When you are 83, connectedness takes on a new meaning year by year. This year my mother’s connectedness is ‘shrinking’. Those who she can readily connect to (albeit never online) are dying. And she is becoming forgetful. Her neural connections do not work as well as they once did,  although she still has a formidable memory for times past.

For me this brings a new dimension to the concept of connectedness. It not only means different things to different people, but it is experienced differently at different stages of the connectedness life-cycle. This is similar to Etienne Wenger’s ideas that a community goes through a life-cycle and ultimately dies.

I can see my mother’s connections waning at social, neural and conceptual levels. She has never used a computer, but that is not the point. My mother was once a highly connected person in her own way, but I can now see a closing down of these connections which is not in her control.

Do online connections make a difference? This week I learned that a past colleague of mine has died – very sad since she was considerably younger than me. But what I find interesting is that her Facebook account is still ‘alive’. People are posting messages to her as if she was still alive.

So what does this mean for connectivity? Can it die – or is it that once it has been initiated, it will always be there, ready for further connection?

A lonely experience

It was interesting that on the Elluminate meeting on Wednesday, Mireille described this course as being a lonely experience. I wonder how many other people on that call felt the same.

It also feels a lonely experience to me, although not unpleasantly so and I have to admit to being somewhat responsible for this loneliness, as I have made little attempt to connect with others. I personally know only one other person out of the 2000+ people on the course and have conversed online before with 3 others. Only one of these 4 people is even mildly active in the course.

I have been thinking about my own behaviour on the course. I am very interested in the content, but some of the theoretical and philosophical content being presented assumes a prior knowledge that I do not have, so I am struggling to keep up with the reading, always playing ‘catch up’ and don’t post to the forums as I don’t feel, at the moment, that I have anything of value to contribute.

In her blog, Catherine Fitzpatrick writes:

…..a fraction of people make the content for the rest ….. a few people do all the posting. The rest consume it like sheep munching grass.

From my experience of online courses and work, I know this to be true and on this course, I’m one of the sheep. But I’m usually ‘making the content’. So why is this course different for me.  As well as the  sheer amount and unfamiliarity of much of the subject matter, it might also be something to do with the number of people. It’s interesting that Dunbar’s number (i.e. the number of people with whom you can sustain a stable relationship) is 150. Even 150 sounds too many to me.

As well as doing this course, I am also currently working as a community mentor/facilitator on another course on which there are 30 people. Within one week, I already feel much more closely connected there than I do on the connectivism course.

Argumentation online

The skeptic thread seems to have caused quite a stir, attracted lots of posts and whipped up a fair bit of emotion. This thread, and others initiated by the same author, is where the action is – certainly where there’s a lot of fierce, interesting, stimulating and compelling discussion. And yet this seems to have disturbed some course participants and possibly even course leaders.

It seems difficult to get the balance right online. Either you just can’t get your students to engage in critical discussion – they are all too polite to each other, don’t say what they really think, perhaps don’t even have the necessary critical thinking, argumentation and debating skills needed for academically rigorous discussion or just don’t seem to want to engage the brain – or – they’re going at each other hammer and tongs.

At the Networked Learning Conference in 2004, I was interested that the Open University was trying to tackle a lack of argumentation skills in their students and I often refer back to their paper when working with students online. In my own experience lack of challenge is always more of a problem than ‘flaming’ or the equivalent online behaviour.

As with everything context is all important. If this were a small intimate online course (say 20-30 people), then the fierceness of some of the posts, however justified the content of the argument (and I am finding a lot of the arguments being put forward very thought provoking), could cause a complete collapse of the course, if it caused enough people to withdraw from posting. If it were a small course and I was moderating I probably would do some ‘back channelling’ to try and get the balance right. However, on a course of this size, I can’t see collapse of the course as a possibility and there is no doubt that the sceptic threads have added an energy to the course.

So as a moderator in this situation of a large course and fierce debate in some of the threads, what would be my responsibility to participants who feel intimidated and therefore won’t post. I suppose the alternatives for these participants would include:

  • find smaller/calmer discussion threads/groups to join
  • connect through means other than moodle discussion forums – blogs etc.
  • join the live sessions – Elluminate/Ustream
  • exploit opportunities for making connections between concepts/ideas, through reading, listening, observing and ‘lurking’
  • find like-minded participants and set up your own small groups
  • recognise that participation in forum discussion is voluntary not obligatory

For myself, I haven’t felt the need yet to join the discussion forums. Presumably this means that I am not taking full advantage of this connectivism learning theory – am not connected? Maybe so, but at the moment it feels OK to me.

Succumbing to the tyranny of participation?

I have just made this blog public. I have kept quite a few blogs before but they have never been public. In the past I have invited a few people in and used them either as reflective journals or as a means of keeping my thinking about a given project in one place. This has always served my purpose in the past.

However it seems that I can’t really test out this theory of connectivism unless I do go public. I do wonder though if there is a tyranny of participation. I first discussed this idea about a year ago with Vivien Hodgson, one of the authors of this paper.

I felt a little bit of this tyranny when I read SDs article Seven Habits of Highly Connected People  which for some reason made me feel uncomfortable when I read it.   Here are some selected quotes from the paper – selected on the basis of my own particular biases. You have to read it all to get the full gist.

  • Posting, after all, isn’t about airing your own views (I don’t quite follow this. Isn’t this what most people are doing in the forums, including SD and GS)
  • Connection Comes First (Surely not for everyone)
  • In a connected world, you want to be needed and wanted (Isn’t that one of the problems)
  • Offline people collaborate. Online, people cooperate (I have experienced wonderful collaboration online)
  • Rather, it’s a recognition that your online life encompasses the many different facets of your life, and that it is important that these facets are all represented and work together. (Surely they can all work together without being represented online)

So have I succumbed to a sort of tryanny by going public, or do I really need to go public to test all this out? Time will tell!


Confused not connected

My mind feels in a complete mess. I have spent my time on this course so far trying to work out how I am going to get anything out of it. I have read a little. I have tried to work out where I should be, what I should be reading, who I should be listening to, but so far without much success. With much trepidation I have posted my introduction, a reply and a comment – all very low key.

A map of the connections being made – produced by one of the participants – just made me realise how very unconnected I am.