Thoughts about community as curriculum in #rhizo14

richard-giblett-mycelium2Source of image- http://www.galeriedusseldorf.com.au/GDArtists/Giblett/RG2005/source/mycelium.html (Richard Giblett)

The idea of community as curriculum is not new. Etienne Wenger wrote about it in his 1998 book on communities of practice – and since no ideas are truly original, his thinking was probably influenced by prior writers -but nevertheless his book is the most thumbed on my bookshelf and in 1998 he wrote that education is:

‘… about balancing the production of reificative material with the design of forms of participation that provide entry into a practice and let the practice itself be its own curriculum… (p.265)

He has grounded the idea of ‘community as curriculum’ in the practice of the community, but he has also stated very clearly what he means by community and what he means by curriculum.

There is clear evidence from communities of practice that the practice itself is its own curriculum. The strongest community that I am a member of is CPsquare – the community of practice about communities of practice. This has been going for many years and has a strong group of core members who welcome peripheral participants and support them in their learning trajectory. It is a semi-open community – full access is through paid membership.

I am also a now peripheral, but originally a founding, member of the ELESIG community  – a community for people interested in researching learners’ experiences of e-learning. This also has a strong core group and is an open community. This community does not yet have the depth of shared history that CPsquare does, but time will tell and it is already developing a substantial shared repertoire.

So community as curriculum is not problematic for me. I have seen it in my communities and it is evident in #rhizo14.  I blogged about it early on in the course – The Community is the Curriculum in rhizo14 

BUT

#rhizo14 is a course  – a learning community rather than a community of practice? As Sylvia Currie (responsible for the SCoPE community  – another community I am connected to)  pointed out on my blog (in a comment), and I have also heard Etienne say, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, so long as the basic principles for a community and curriculum are in place.

I am, as yet, unconvinced that this can happen in ‘a course’.

What I am finding interesting to follow through in my mind, is whether it is possible to have a ‘course’ about something like rhizomatic learning/thinking without contradicting the very premise on which it stands. I have heard Stephen Downes also talk about problems with the word ‘course’ in relation to cMOOCs.

For me the most interesting curriculum topic that has arisen in the #rhizo14 ‘community’ (and I still question whether this ‘course’ qualifies as a community – but I think only time will tell) is the topography of the learning environment.

In particular I am interested in the notion of ‘ learning spaces’.  Keith Hamon wrote a wonderful post on this relating it to a soccer game and field, and it relates very closely to work I have been doing with my colleague Roy Williams about the effect of the relationship between structure and openness in learning environments.

So today, I have spent some time reading around this idea of what ‘space’ means to a learner and the constraint that the idea of ‘community’ and ‘course’, if they are not carefully cultivated, might put on a learner in relation to their space for learning.

I think Ron Barnett in his book ‘A Will to Learn: Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty‘  has summed it up for me when he writes about the tension between singularity and universality. This tension is not, I think,  problematic in a network.  It might be a bit more problematic in a community, but I think it is very likely to be problematic in a course.

On p.148 Barnett writes:

‘There is here a key spatial tension: to let learn, to let go, implies singularity. By this I mean that the student is to be permitted to become what she wishes, to pursue her own intellectual inclinations, to identify sets of skills that she wishes to acquire to come into her own voice. However, the teacher in higher education has a kind of tacit ethical code of ensuring that that student comes to live in keeping with the standards of her intellectual and practical fields. The student is going to be judged by those standards, in any event, but standards of this kind imply universality.’

Whilst this quote obviously applies in a situation where a student is studying for credit or some sort of certificate, I think it also says a lot about the role and power of the ‘teacher’, ‘convener’ of any course – and how that power, knowingly or unknowingly, can constrain the learner’s space.

Barnett also writes on p.148 ‘The teacher’s presence may serve perniciously to reduce the students’ space’.

This for me explains why community, course and curriculum are an uneasy fit.

Further quotes from Barnett’s book that I think are relevant to #rhizo14 are:

p.148 ‘Given spaces in which to explore and to develop, students will become differentiated from each other’.

Singularity is a necessary outcome of space’.

This raises for me the tension between the pressure of community, course and curriculum and the learner’s desire/need to find their own space, their own voice in relation to their own learning.

And p.149 Barnett writes:

Giving space to students, therefore, brings into play ethical dilemmas, as the singularity-universal tension itself becomes necessarily apparent.’

And so I come full circle to the question of ethics in a course, curriculum and community, which I wrote about in the very first week of #rhizo14 – Rhizomatic Learning and Ethics

Wenger-Trayner new website – new BEtreats

In 2011, I was very fortunate to be able to attend BEtreat, in the home of Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner in Grass Valley, California. This was a unique and unforgettable experience and one that I am still reflecting on and learning from.

What is BEtreat?  This is what was written on the website last year:

‘In a collaborative atmosphere with a small, strategically committed group, we spend four intensive days developing leadership and facilitation capabilities for cultivating communities of practice and networks.

Together we push our current practice, explore the state of the art, and produce resources to address our respective challenges.

BEtreat is a hands-on, practice-oriented gathering of network and communities of practice professionals, who work closely together in a collegial learning environment. The number is kept small so that we can address in depth the specific issues and challenges brought in by people who are there.

This intensive but collegial learning environment will provide you with a unique professional development opportunity:

You will be the first to hear about the latest developments in the field

You will interact with peers who face similar challenges in a variety of contexts

You will be able to build your own network and expand your horizon by hearing what others are doing

You will be able to bring your specific challenges to the table, engage the collective brainpower of the group, and come back with new ideas and solutions

We end these four intensive days of working and learning with a party.

BEtreat is a unique workshop. If one is in charge of leading or supporting communities of practice or networks, this is the place to be for professional development.’

This year Etienne and Bev are offering three different BEtreat workshops in 2012 and starting a one-year certificate as a professional development program.

  • State-of-the-art BEtreat – covering the fundamentals of the field: July 9 – 13
  • Cutting-edge BEtreat – exploring advanced topics and emerging issues: July 16 – 20
  • Academic BEtreat – for researchers, lecturers, and students: July 30 – August 3
  • Certificate program – intensive one-year certificate: 2012 – 2013

Participation can be face-to-face or online, but for an early-bird discount, you need to sign up before Feb 1st.

For full details see their new website: http://wenger-trayner.com

And to get a flavour of what it all involves – a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun – here is a link to the photos I took last year – http://www.flickr.com/photos/53375223@N00/sets/72157627019335585/

Thumbs up to Big Blue Button

Well – I can give BBB the thumbs up. We had an enjoyable, informative and stimulating webinar today.

That’s not to say that there weren’t things that BBB and presenters in BBB need to think about.

I am used to Elluminate and missed some of the functionality of Elluminate – but not a lot. Three things I missed. These were:

  1. Being able to write onto the whiteboard using a text box and your keyboard. Currently BBB has a drawing type tool, which is just too clumsy for participant interaction and contributions. It is really helpful if participant responses can be typed up onto the whiteboard.
  2. A voting system – which is great for generating interaction. So for example, the presenter can create a slide with a number of contentious or thought provoking statements which participants need to think about and then vote on.
  3. The ability to applause (clap) and smile in the participant window. I think these symbols are very important for gauging the ‘mood’ of participants.

But the advantage of BBB is that its open source. This is so important. Elluminate is very good – but is very expensive, especially for small self-funded community groups. Even HE institutions are struggling to meet the costs of Elluminate – given all the cuts that are happening at the moment.

BBB is developing and there will be increased functionality with time – but this is what I learned about using it today.

  • You do need headphones and microphone to avoid echo and feedback (similar to Elluminate)
  • I’m not sure how well it would work with large numbers – we had a small group and I found it difficult to see all the participants in the ‘listener’ block without a lot of scrolling up and down.
  • We sought participant interaction in two ways 1) We asked participants to take the microphone and speak. 2) We asked participants to summarise discussion and upload their slides. This was a little slow – probably because we were all learning how to do it – but worked well. We found that power point slides saved as PDF worked best.

I was kicked out of BBB a couple of times. By that I mean that I lost sound and had to log out and log back in again to hear again. I did notice that changing and uploading presentations could interfere with sound – but I’m not sure why this happened.

Otherwise, the chat had exactly the same functionality as Elluminate. As yet there isn’t the facility to separate into rooms – but our group wasn’t big enough to do this anyhow.

So all in all it was a good experience – and I’m all for open source – so thanks to Big Blue Button 🙂

Communities, Networks and Groups

A new article by Etienne Wenger, Beverley Trayner and Martin de Laat has just been linked to on Etienne’s Facebook page.

Wenger, E., Trayner, B. & de Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks : a conceptual framework. Centrum. http://www.social-learning-strategies.com/documents/Wenger_Trayner_DeLaat_Value_creation.pdf

This is very timely given the online course about communities of practice in HE that I will be working on with colleagues from Oxford Brookes University tomorrow.

The new publication by Wenger et al. is true to its title. It presents a framework and toolkit for assessing value creation in communities and networks. But perhaps of interest to those who follow discussions about the differences between groups and networks in relation to connectivism, will be the introductory section (pages 9-13) where the authors discuss their understanding of the terms ‘community’ and ‘network’ – how these are similar, different, overlap.

I, like many others before and after me, once asked Etienne Wenger – ‘What is the difference between a community and a network?’ His response at the time was – ‘All communities are networks, but not all networks are communities’. It is interesting to see this thinking expanded and further explained in this recent publication.

In line with this evidence of changing thinking over time (which we also see in relation to connectivism), it is interesting to read Chris Kimble’s article – Communities of Practice: Never Knowingly Undersold – written in 2006 – but still relevant to these discussions. This acknowledges the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the term ‘community of practice’ and discusses the reasons for this and how the term ‘community of practice’ has been interpreted and understood differently over time.

BigBlueButton Challenge

Next week (May 18th 2011) I will be working with a team, George Roberts, Rhona Sharpe, Joe Rosa (from Oxford Brookes University) and Andy Coverdale (University of Nottingham) to present a one day online course bearing the title – Benefits and challenges of communities of practice in HE

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/webinars/communities_practice/index.html

This will be interesting because I have never worked in BigBlueButton before, although I had a ‘practice’ meeting today so had a chance to become a little familiar with the technology.  BigBlue Button is an online conferencing platform. It is similar to Adobe Connect, but lacks some of the functionality of Elluminate.

I have been tasked with doing a 10 minute presentation on MOOCs (this might be controversial as I have rather strong opinions about what is and what is not a community of practice – enough said :-)) and also to design a 45 minute activity about the challenges for communities of practice in Higher Education. This will be interesting because, as yet, BBB does not have a voting system and does not allow for participants to write on the whiteboard – so planning for online interactivity is somewhat limited. I will have to put my ‘thinking cap’ on, as I know from experience that the most ‘fun’ sessions are those where participants can take control of their learning. I would like to try and avoid falling into the ‘teacher talks too much’ trap 🙂

So lot’s to think about, especially since I am currently working with two research groups, one on emergent learning and the other on autonomous learning – so hopefully I will have learned something from those which will be reflected in what we do in the online course.

I really need to try and ‘put my money where my mouth is’ 🙂

CCK11 Characteristics of an autonomous learner

The principles of connectivism are autonomy, diversity, connectedness and openness. Stephen has written and presented about this on a number of occasions. My experience of connectivism in MOOCs or even OOCs is that these principles are not straightforward to apply to course design or learning.

My current interest is in autonomy, as I believe that when thinking about the principles of connectivism – autonomy rules, i.e. it is not possible to experience diversity, connectedness or openness without autonomy, i.e. being an autonomous learner.

Being an autonomous learner seems to be a pre-requisite for successful participation in a MOOC/OOC – but what is an autonomous learner? Are you an autonomous learner? Am I an autonomous learner? Are our students/colleagues/children/friends autonomous learners? How do we know? What are the characteristics of an autonomous learner?

I have spent a bit of time trawling the web and journals with this question in mind and there has been loads written about autonomous learning, much of it in relation to language teaching (haven’t quite got to the bottom of why language teaching yet).  I have been wondering whether learners who participate in MOOCs/OOCs have unique characterstics in relation to autonomous learning – and I invite anyone who ventures here to read this blog post to join me in thinking about this – if you are interested. For me the design of a course based on connectivism principles will have to take account of the characteristics of autonomous learning – hence my desire to get my head round this.

So far I have come up with the following characteristics – the problem is that few of them could be said to be specific to MOOCs/OOCs.

Autonomous learners….

  • show responsibility for their own learning
  • show initiative
  • are able to monitor and evaluate their own learning
  • are reflective and show ‘high’ (in inverted comments because I’m not sure how high is high) levels of metacognition
  • are self-aware in relation to their own learning (need unpicking)
  • are intrinsically motivated
  • are life-long learners (not sure about this one)
  • can manage and regulate their own learning (OK but what does this involve?)
  • are adept at taking/making decisions (how adept is adept?)
  • are meaning makers
  • are risk takers (not sure about this one)
  • have specific skills and strategies for managing their learning online (OK but what skills and strategies?)
  • are adaptable and flexible in their approach to learning (how adaptable is adaptable and how flexible is flexible? How would these characteristics manifest themselves?)
  • are pro-active (i.e. they don’t wait for things/people to come to them)
  • are critical and analytical thinkers (this might be too much of a supposition)
  • know how to ask questions (and ideally good questions – but what is a good question?)
  • are good at filtering and selecting the information they need
  • can take constructive criticism
  • can navigate the web
  • are technically adept (not sure about this)

I am aware that each one of these characteristics could be questioned. After all how autonomous is autonomous?

If you think autonomy is important to learning in MOOCs/OOCs, then I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Learner Autonomy – First thoughts about Stephen Downes’ model

(Stephen Downes’ model in black font) Overall question which I shall come back to later is: How do the recent MOOC/open course designs foster learner autonomy and from the learner perspective, are they successful in this?

A – Factors affecting epistemic states

– empirical factors

– external

– past experience and memory

– current experience

– internal

– emotional state

– pain and suffering, etc

– fear

– psychological

– traumas

– phobias

– philias or needs

I interpret this to mean that any consideration of autonomy must recognise that learners bring with them prior experience on at least three levels. This has a ‘constructivist’ learning theory feel to it. The ways in which learners recognise, interpret and experience autonomy will be influenced by their prior experience. Learners can probably be helped with these by their ‘teachers’ because they are externally recognisable and ‘measurable’.

– cognitive factors

– world view or belief set

– frames or traces – recognition of ranges of alternatives

– metaphors or underlying models

– causation, spirit, or other mechanisms

– morality, sense of agency, responsibility

– reasoning mechanism (if any), including:

– logical capacities (including modal, probabilistic)

– mathematical capacities

– degree of certainty attained, required

– language – languages learned, vocabulary

I interpret this to mean that a learner’s experience of autonomy, or ability to act autonomously (bearing in mind that this is not a constant state) is influenced by their ‘internal’ mental state, frames of reference. This may not be visible to the teacher and therefore may be harder to influence, from a teacher’s perspective.

– external factors

– rewards and incentives

– financial

– intrinsic or non-financial

– punishments, sanctions and threats

– expectations

– professional standards

– organizational vision or strategy

From my initial and brief reading of related research, this is related to motivation. My personal perspective is that truly autonomous learning relies heavily on intrinsic motivation, in the absence of punishments, sanctions, threats and expectations. That’s not to say that these external factors do not exist, but that learners must be in a position to choose to reject the extrinsic in favour of the intrinsic or vice vers

B – Capacity to act on epistemic states

– physical factors

– mobility and location

– perceptual (can you see, is there light?)

– effective (can you project into the environment – do the buttons respond, do the pages turn, etc)

– physical support – housing, health, nutrition, etc

– time

This seems to relate to ‘independent’ learning – which has been raised in past research. Autonomy is interpreted in a variety of ways and independence is one of those. My husband is disabled and I know the importance of independence as a pre-requisite to autonomy. They are not the same thing. The conditions have to be right in order to be able to make decisions/choices. This is interesting and I am still thinking about it.

– social factors

– laws, rules and regulations, including flexibility of these

– peer pressure, mores, threat of sanctions

– mode of collaboration – authoritarian, democratic, consensus,         deliberative, etc

– leadership – capacities, temperament, inclinations, etc

– responsibility or authority

This relates to the social constraints of our personal circumstances – so for example my mother married an extremely Victorian man who believed that women should not go out to work – her role was to support her husband (which she did extremely effectively) – but her autonomy in terms of her choice over how she could express her talents was controlled by someone else. Whilst this particular example might not be so common today – autonomy can be restricted in these circumstances.

– structural factors

– predictability of the environment

– complexity of the environment

– barriers, locks, detours, traps, loops – eg. http://tihane.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/motivationalbarriers_seci.jpg

I interpret this as relating to organisational constraints. The organisation in which a learner works may not be able/capable of coping with autonomous learners. An example of this is when University staff are not permitted to use certain softwares within their courses. There might be good institutional reasons for this but it stifles innovation and learner autonomy.

– resources

– range and depth of resources available

– medium of resources – staff, money, equipment

– language and complexity of resources

– quantity of resources (eg., finances)

– mode of presentation of those resources

– sequence of presentation

– duration of presentation

This is similar to the above point in relation to organisations. My son who is doing music technology and cannot do the modules he wants to because of lack of University resources (staffing) is an example of constraints on learner autonomy. But there will also be other constraints on a personal level. In CCK08 and other open courses we have seen how participants whose first language is not English experience constraints on their autonomy. I’m assuming that mode of presentation might be related to ‘learning styles’ although I know that some people don’t believe that there are such things as learning styles. Shall we call them learning preferences instead?

C – Scope and Range of Autonomous Behaviour

– expression

– medium of expression

– language of expression, word use

– association and assembly

– definition of size, scope of social network

– directionality of communications

– selection

– of associates – can you choose your friends? Family?

– communication options – do channels exist? Can they be open?

– of tools, eg., of software, hardware

– resource allocation – spending, delegating, assigning, etc

– method

– operating principle, methodology, pedagogy

– background – influence over environmental factors generally, including:

– noise or music

– colour scheme or visual appearance

– lighting, air supply, mobility

– range

– tolerance – allowed range of results or effects

– quantity of choices available

– quality of choices available (cf. Hobson’s choice)

This section seems to me about the choices that learners can make and the extent of those choices. CCK11 has probably offered more choice than any prior open course. My brief reading of research however indicates that designing for autonomy does not mean that teachers abdicate responsibility for their learners and I will be interested to see how the CCK11 course design balances learner autonomy with ‘teacher’ facilitation and whether even minimum teacher facilitation will be perceived as a constraint.

D – Effects of Autonomous Behaviour

– impact (ie., the degree or scope of the effect)

– audience – range of persons affected by behavior

– efficacy – amount of change potentially caused by behaviour

– improvement (ie., the nature of the effect)

– internal

– psychological – satisfaction, lessening of pain,lessening of fear, etc

– cognitive – beliefs formed, knowledge acquired

– external

– material condition, employment, etc

– capacities, rights, autonomy, etc

– associative – improvements ascribed to others

– social – improvements to society generally

This section feels to me a bit of a departure – it is not about what autonomy might mean to the learner or how autonomy is experienced, but how we might ‘measure’ its effects. How will we know when we are autonomous learners? How will teachers know that their course designs which attempt to promote autonomous learning are successful?

This is my first response to Stephen’s model. I am aware that I have probably not done it justice.  I now want to see how CCK11 and other open courses have been designed with these ideas in mind and also how this model compares with the other models that Stephen posted on his blog.