#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 🙂

Resonance in blogging

This idea – raised in our research team – has grabbed my attention. Why is it that when communicating online we are immediately drawn to certain people’s posts/blogs and not to others? We resonate with certain people and ideas and not with others,  just as I was immediately attracted to the idea of resonance in online communication. I have spent a little time checking on my understanding of resonance and these are some of the explanations that for me relate to blogging as a means of online communication.

  • Resonance is the amplifaction of sound through sympathetic vibrations.
  • To resonate means to correspond closely or harmoniously.
  • Resonance occurs when the vibrations of one object come into alignment with another.
  • Resonance evokes a feeling of shared emotion or belief.

These explanations make sense to me in relation to blogging. I can recognise them in my own blogging behaviour. I am drawn to blogs where these ideas come into play. The content of a blog post on its own is not enough to draw me in. I might be attracted by the idea/s but I will soon lose interest if there are no feelings of resonance. But I have no idea why one blog will set off this resonance and another won’t and I don’t think I explicitly recognise this resonance when it is happening – it is more intuitive – a ‘gut’ feeling.  Still thinking…..

Sustaining Communities

The subject of the research paper that I have recently submitted (with a colleague)  is the challenges facing ‘artificially’ created communities. By this we mean communities that are set up as  part of a funded project. We found that there are significant challenges, as you would expect,  to be faced when the funding ceases. The project may have attracted a lot of interest and if an online site has been set up in association with the project, then this interest may have come from across the world.  So what to do with all these people, now that the funding has been withdrawn and the management team is no longer being paid for their efforts? Does this management team have any responsibilities to the wider, larger community that it might unexpectedly have created and if so what are these responsibilities? Should they be obliged to move into voluntary community work when this is not what they originally signed up for? How does the community perceive its responsibilities? So at this stage, when funding ceases, the community faces a crisis of identity which includes determining who the community is for, who should lead it, and what will be the purpose of the community if it is to continue but no longer as a project.

I am writing about this because these thoughts around this research also resonate with experiences on the connectivism and connectivist knowledge course and on the Connectivism Technology Web 2.0 Education Learning and Research Ning site (community?) set up by Sui Fai John Mak.

On the connectivism course there was some discussion about the distinctions between a course, a network and a community. It was clearly a course, but for some it was also a network and for others it was also a learning community. The idea of ‘community’ brings with it a great deal sharing and collaborative negotiation of meaning, which in turn helps people to make relationships more than just simple connections. The relationships that were made on the connectivism course are still alive for some people ( I wonder how many?), but whilst individual one-to-one relationships can be relatively easily sustained, group relationships and a sense of community need a degree of organisation and leadership to be sustained. John has taken this on and people have joined the Ning site, but whilst organisation and leadership is certainly not lacking, as yet there has been little interaction which lies at the heart of an effective community. So I wonder what people were hoping for when joining the Ning site.

Connecting through people’s people

Olavipe Homestay Estate

How do we know which connections are important?  My recent trip to India has made me think about this in a number of ways.

All the connections I made on this trip have enriched my life, but I find myself thinking about the homestay we stayed in, in Olavipe, Kerala towards the end of our trip. This was a unique experience, where the family home which has been occupied by family members for 120 years and lived in by six generations, now makes four of its eight bedrooms available for guests. On one wall of the family home has been drawn an extensive family tree. Although the family is now dispersed and there is some concern about whether there is anyone in the next generation who will be willing  to maintain the family home, the family keep in touch with each other, wherever they might be all across the world by email – and yet whilst there was a computer in the family office, the computer was nowhere near as much in evidence in the Parayil home ‘Thekkanatt’ as it is in our home.

Staying at ‘Thekkanatt’ is really like staying with a family. The homestay is managed by two brothers and one of their wives. This was not like a hotel. The family entertained their visitors. We had meals together, long chats on the veranda, trips to the village and round the estate.  I asked the oldest brother how they coped with having guests in their house all the time. He said that it worked well because his brother and his brother’s wife were people’s people. I knew exactly what he meant and it seemed to me that they were experts at connectivity. They were able to engage in conversation with all their guests, whether the conversation was about Indian politics, religion, clothes, arranged marriages, music, or the equivalents of these in other countries. They took photos of all their guests and these photos were posted up on boards in one area of their home. They took a real interest in their guests and were masters at drawing them out, asking unintrusive questions and following through on these questions. For the 5 nights we stayed with them never once did conversation falter and they had a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.

In addition to connecting with their guests from around the world, the family were actively concerned to remain connected to their village roots. The oldest brother explained that in the past village members had been loyal to the family in times of financial difficulty and now the family was trying to repay this by employing village members from 25 families to work on their estate and running monthly gatherings for the village old people and children at their home, arranging outings and so on.

On the connectivism course a number of people were interested in connectivity beyond technology – what it really means to be connected – what are the characteristics of a well connected person and so on. I wonder if being a people’s person sums it up.

The Future of Social Networking

Do you get Stephen’s OL Weekly (or Daily)? I have for some time. I have often thought how does he keep it up. I hate routine. The thought of having to do the same thing over and over for weeks and weeks or years and years just fills me with horror. But of course we all have to subject to routines in some way. This week I am rebelling. I am not cleaning the house. It looks OK to me – so hopefully it will to everyone else too!

But routines and cleaning the house are not what set me off on this post. They are just an aside. It was something in Stephen’s weekly that struck a chord. This was it:

Social Networking Condemned to Die. The Problem Is Commitment.
“Facebook is nothing more than a new version of America Online, with lots of calories but not much nutrition.” I find it difficult not to agree with that sentiment (yet I still update my Facebook status and still check out my Scrabble Wordscraper games. “Creates a major problem for Facebook, and for other Web 2.0 social networks. Facebook has created loyalty without value, quantity that drowns quality.” Yes – but the irony is that today’s political laders still respond to quantity over quality, which is why we keep seeing headlines that read Government backs down after facebook protest. See also Facebook’s Face Plant: The Poverty of Social Networks and the Death of Web 2.0. TonNet, education and technology, December 11, 2008 [Link] [Tags: Books, Networks, Web 2.0, Canada] [Comment]

This has been in the back of my mind for some time. I do have a Facebook account, but to be honest I can’t really see the point (apologies if I am offending my friends here). If I have a close contact I prefer to email them. And I really can’t imagine that even my friends are interested in the triviality of my life. I have similar feelings about Twitter, although the CCK08 course made me realise that Twitter is useful if you want information in the moment, for example when the Ustream sessions moved to Elluminate and I couldn’t find everyone. If I had been using my Twitter account (which I don’t) I would have known where everyone is.

And then there was one of the speakers in the Women of Web 2.0 week who said she was a member of 20 Ning groups. Why? How could you possibly keep up with 20 online communties? Communities involve commitment and reciprocity. I have just been invited to join another online group and I had to join to find out what it was all about. I was invited to join by someone I respect, so I felt obliged to look into it, but I know I will not use it. There are only so many groups that I feel I can belong to at any one time and for me that number has to be small – I don’t want to spend my life online and my attention span is short!

The online groups or social networks that work best for me are those based on the principles of communities of practice. I am an online education consultant and work online all the time with groups of learners. I find these experiences, although very time limited, very fulfilling and enriching – a hugely different experience to posting on Facebook. Why do I find this? Well – for the very reason given in the post that Stephen pointed to in his OL weekly – the reason being that in online courses there is commitment – there is a clear domain – we all join round a given subject in which we are all interested – there is a defined area of practice which is associated with the domain and which we all want to share – and because of this need to share and identify with the domain, we are all keen to ensure that the community gels. Etienne Wenger has explained all this for us in his work on communities of practice. A community of practice needs the type of commitment that Facebook and other social networks of this type cannot give us. In addition social networks of the Facebook type don’t gather round a clearly identified domain and there is no requirement to share practice.

So where does this leave us? How will we move from time-limited commitment and connections made in short online courses, to longer term commitments and connections.? Do we need to? Is it just life that some connections will be transitory?

I have made very many passing connections in my online work. But every so often I make a much more lasting one. Currently I am working on a research paper, which explores learner experiences in an online community of practice, with someone who I met on line and who now is a good friend. This has been a very enriching connection. These are the sort of connections that I would like to make online. Connections that involve more than fleeting, passing engagement and where deeper issues can be explored.

Well I’ve overcome the feeling that I have nothing to say – at least for this week!

Before I finish – just to say that I am still keeping an eye on CCK08 blogs.

Have you seen Viplav, Maru and Carlos‘ final presentation. If not, you must. Isn’t this what connectivism is all about. Three people who don’t know each other, from right across the world working together to produce this presentation – gelling their ideas, accepting each other’s differences, communicating to produce a high quality presentation!

And there  are some more here http://technorati.com/videos/tag/CCK08

And there was one that I found earlier in the week and such are my technical skills that I can no longer find it, but it was a Flash presentation showing how weak and strong ties in the network grew and faded as the course progressed. I am really peeved that I can’t now find this presentation as I would have like to keep a record of it.

Thanks to those who have encouraged me to keep blogging.

One day later – Didn’t realise I hadn’t put a title on this post – so I have added one now