Trust and security in open networks

The second topic (unit) of the ccourses MOOC (Connected Courses. Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed) is Trust and Network Fluency .

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Source of image

Each unit in ccourses lasts for two weeks. For me this is good. For those who want to do a lot of reading – and there are plenty of resources listed on the ccourses site – then there is time to do this. For those, who simply want to interact with others, or think about the topic and reflect on it, this is also good. Reflection takes time as we can see from Mariana’s blog post in which she reflects deeply on trust, privacy and interaction in networked environments. It is a great post and has prompted me to respond, but also to add some of my own thoughts.

What happens when trust breaks down in online relationships? At the very worst level your life or career can be destroyed as in the case of Kathy Sierra – but even at the level of just one relationship the damage can be irreparable. (See Kevin Hodgson’s blog post).

Perhaps the answer is not to assume that trust in an online environment is a possibility. In a post a few years ago Stephen Downes wrote of person to person trust

We don’t trust each other (and we shouldn’t). Spam, viruses and phishing are the most manifest cases of this sort of breach of trust. Consequently, we have attempted to create walls around ourselves – spam filters, social network buddy lists, so-not-call registries. We seek control over the flow of information into and out of our systems through technology over which we have less and less control (because of the needs of the other forms of ‘trust’).

He concludes that

….. for the network to work, we must all give up control – but at a measured pace, in step with each other, to avoid one element of the other abusing this greater openness

Give up control. Keep in step with each other. Is that possible?

In our research into emergent learning, trust is one of the factors we consider to be essential for emergent learning in open learning environments. We discuss it in terms of the tension between competitive self-interest and mutual respect, support and growth.

Perhaps it’s competitive self-interest that we must give up, rather than control. Competitive self-interest can lead to voices that are ‘too loud’ in the online environment. Mariana writes about the ‘silencing’ effect that some online personalities can have, either through overt harassment or simply by being over-present and dominating every conversation.

How do you cope with the person who is not overtly harassing, not a troll, but whose voice is too loud in the online environment, given that people’s perceptions of what constitute a loud voice differ? This is something I used to discuss with teaching colleagues in the past when we were just beginning to run online courses. i.e. how present should we be as online tutors and what should we do about the over-present dominating student. Gilly Salmon describes this type of student/online learner as ‘The Stag’ and suggests giving them a job to do, which keeps them busy enough to prevent them from ‘spamming’ their fellow students. But not all dominant voices online are students. What of those everyday users of the internet who are trolls or who are simply always ‘in your face’; then the only alternative response is to walk away, as Kathy Sierra has done, or ‘unfollow’ or ‘block’ i.e. to disconnect.

But where does this leave the development of skills of systemic dialogue that Mariana talks about?

The more choices to be ‘public’ one makes, the more likely one will find people who disagree with one’s world view and are unable to engage meaningfully with disagreement. The open web does not come with a built in facilitator to teach people the skills of systemic dialogue.

We need more meaningful dialogue and less shallow answers.

Trust should not have to mean always agreeing with each other and establishing cozy echo chambers. In fact quite the opposite. The people I trust the most both on and offline are those I can speak my mind to and who will engage with me in what I perceive to be meaningful dialogue. They do not have to agree with me, but neither do they attack me. There is as I mentioned above, mutual respect, support and growth.

I have a lot of sympathy with Dave Snowden’s comment that he made in a talk to the Change11 MOOC and which I recorded on my blog at the time

Negative stories carry more learning than positive stories. Appreciative Inquiry is often unethical and used in inappropriate contexts; it tells people what stories they are allowed to tell.  Open space is also like this in that it rewards consensus and punishes dissent. Anyone who survives in an open space does so because the only people there are those who listen – everyone else votes with their feet.

So trust in the online environment is a complex issue. It should not be taken lightly.

Online Residency

Yesterday (April 19th) I dipped into an HEA workshop (face-to-face in Oxford with open virtual access – I was in the latter group) and enjoyed it so much that I stayed the entire day.

The Process

There were a few things that made this event enjoyable.

1. I knew, at least by name, quite a few of the people attending – both face-to-face and online. It felt like a comfortable space.

2. At first I thought that online participants would simply be an ‘add on’. The chat was not being streamed to the room, so unless people were on their computers and logged into Elluminate – we, the virtual participants would not be visible.

3. But having made this point, the wonderful Simon Ball put everything right! Simon amazingly had never used Elluminate before, and thought he was attending as a f2f delegate, but was co-opted at the last minute to look after the online group. He did a fantastic job of acting as a mediator between us and the room and made sure that the mics were working OK, the video panned the room and that our questions were put to the room.

4. In the morning when the f2f participants broke out into working groups, Lawrie Phipps –  made sure we were included by coming and speaking to us, which was great. This didn’t happen in the afternoon, when I suspect the effort of including the online group in the workshop activities just proved too much – and we couldn’t begrudge Simon his time with the F2F group or the others for paying us little attention.

5. So the mix of experimentation, working it out as we were going along, seeing if we could project ourselves into the f2f space, was fun and interesting. It reminded me of Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s Betreat –  that I attended last year in California – but they are ahead of the game in integrating online with f2f. They try to project the online people into the f2f group through the use of video and multiple screens.

The Content
The content was also very interesting. The overall theme was based on Dave White’s ideas about visitors and residents in online spaces. The questions for the day were around how we can encourage those learning and teaching, in HE in particular, to become residents in the online environment and whether we should. Dave was at pains to point out that the idea of visitors and residents is only a metaphor, but despite this it is clear that there is a tendency to classify people as either visitors or residents, just as people were classified as digital natives or digital immigrants from Prensky’s work. Perhaps the metaphor has served its purpose and we need to move on. For me it’s not so much whether you are a visitor or resident, – we will all be more or less of both at different times, in different contexts and for different purposes; it’s more that on and offline we are now offered a multitude of learning spaces which we can inhabit and maybe we need (if we are teachers) to help our learners to recognize the choices and to make appropriate decisions about which to inhabit. Mary Ann Reilly has written a very interesting blog post about learning spaces – how they fold over each other, their different dimensions and so on.

Quotes from the day
There were some memorable statements.

Martin Weller‘Openness is a state of mind’.

I couldn’t agree more. Residency in the online environment is likely to require openness – but openness can be really ‘scary’ to ‘novices’. As an academic, it’s easier to be ‘open’ when you have a recognized reputation to fall back on. Martin admitted that openness is a problem for early career researchers and I concur.

Lindsay Jordan  – ‘Teaching should be done with your mouth shut’.

Wonderful. I don’t need to say more!

Simon Ball – questioned whether residency is necessarily better than being a visitor. He wrote on Twitter  #heanpl Discussions still tending towards the assumption that Residency is the ideal state Visitors should aspire towards. Disagree! – really getting to the heart of the topic.

What was key but largely by-passed?
The person with the most thought provoking message was Dave Cormier –  who talked about preparing students for an uncertain and unpredictable world. His mention of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework seemed to fall on deaf ears. His thoughts about complexity in relation to learning also seemed to fall on deaf ears. I thought it a shame that they didn’t give Dave more time to talk about where he is coming from and whether or not the visitor/residency metaphor is helpful to his teaching.

But all in all a surprisingly enjoyable and thought-provoking event – and special thanks to Simon Ball. Without him we, the online group, would only have been observers, rather than participants.

‘Open space rewards consensus and punishes dissent’

Dave Snowden made a number of provocative statements  in his presentation to Week 17 of ChangeMooc, but ‘open space leads to consensus’ and ‘consensus is rewarded, dissent is punished’ were two that caught my attention.

As with all such statements, they have to be taken in context. He was arguing that spaces that lead to consensus are a constraint on innovation and creativity and that more conflict and processes such as Ritual Dissent, where people are literally harangued for their ideas, are needed in today’s education system. He denounced what he called ‘fluffy bunny’ approaches to learning and even suggested that good facilitation could be counter-productive.

So – what should we make of all this.

In some ways it is easy to understand and have some sympathy for these ideas. Open space (and it’s important to remember that he was not talking about ‘openness’) allows people to come and go as the please into the learning network or environment.

So would it be fair to say that the people who stay are those who can find like-minded people and ideas of mutual interest in the environment and feel reasonably comfortable there? We don’t often find out much about the reasons why many people don’t stay, but it could be that those are the people with alternative perspectives who either try and fail to ‘rock the boat’ (dissent), or just don’t have the patience to engage in ‘dissent’/posting counter-arguments, or for one reason or another can’t cope with the environment.

Are dissenters punished? My experience in Moocs (where most of my experience with open space has occurred) is that they can be, particularly if they make strongly dissenting posts. Usually the punishment is subtle. Dissenters are ignored. Or sometimes the dissenter receives a volley of angry posts and may even be openly asked to stop dissenting; these dissenters may be labelled as ‘trolls’ as happened in CCK08

A strong dissenting post into an online environment may be accepted if there is already a consensus that the dissenting person is ‘OK’ or has some authority and a respected reputation, as in the case of Stephen Downes and George Siemens, for example, and even Dave Snowden himself. For those not in this position of authority, any dissenting comment is often made tentatively, apologetically or politely, in the knowledge that it could be completely ignored or receive a lot of flak. On the whole, people don’t seem to know a lot about how to constructively handle conflict or dissent in open online spaces, so that we can learn from this and avoid group think.

So does this mean that ‘open space’ leads to consensus and if it does, is that a problem? We have to remember that Dave Snowden’s context for his work is in areas such as counter-terrorism and highly complex situations, where innovation and creativity, rather than consensus, is essential for effective decision making. But the open space offered by the net and open courses such as Moocs, allows those of us who are not learning in such highly complex situations to encounter a greater diversity of alternative perspectives than might otherwise be the case.  That is the point of Moocs, along with learning from these alternative perspectives through interaction and having the autonomy to vote with your feet (i.e. walk away) if you so wish.

I would suggest that if we see consensus as a problem (and it may or may not be according to the context), then it is not the ‘open space’ itself that is the problem. Rather it is knowing how to engage constructively with alternative perspectives, such that this engagement will lead to learning and higher levels of innovation and creativity. I don’t see an engagement with alternative perspectives as necessarily requiring dissent or conflict, but rather requiring ‘openness’ – an open environment, open resources and an openness of mind, self and spirit.

Dave Snowden on The 21st Century University

Notes from Dave Snowden’s Presentation to Week 17 of ChangeMooc, 18-01-12

Recording of his presentation

Learning and the Human Brain

The assumption that the human brain is a computational device has led to an information focus in learning. There is a dominance of machine-type metaphors. We have been seduced by machines, leading to an education system dominated by input/output models (promoted by some types of systems thinking) and a view of the brain as an information-processing device (see All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace ).

The human brain is a pattern processing intelligence not an information-processing machine. We need to avoid the pattern entrainment  that results from group think. The human brain evolved to handle messy coherence, not structure and order. It allows us to innovate, have insights and see things in a different way

Knowledge Acquisition

We need more generalists, people with a mix of generalised and deep knowledge, for working in a complex world – people who can work quickly across subjects and in contexts of high levels of uncertainty.

There are whole tracts of knowledge that can only be understood through interaction, e.g. through an apprenticeship model of education, which allows for imitation and failure, such as for London taxi drivers. Failure is key to human knowledge acquisition and the two-year apprenticeship of London taxi drivers has been shown to change the hippocampus area of the brain

The minute a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a measure, e.g. as when academics are measured on the number of papers they produce  rather than the originality of their ideas. PhDs destroy intelligence rather than build it. In universities we are training recipe book users and assessing whether they can reproduce the recipe. We are not training chefs who can achieve a huge amount without a recipe. Chefs have a mix of practical and theoretical wisdom and willingness to engage conceptually and theoretically with real world problems.

We need to avoid the anti-intellectualism that is endemic in Europe and N. America i.e. don’t use big words or read books, keep things simple and become simplistic as a consequence.

Complex Adaptive Systems

Complex adaptive systems are not causal but dispositional, i.e. they are pre-disposed to evolve in random ways which cannot be predicted. So models based on cause and effect which do not have a predictive capacity are of no use in complex spaces.

A way of handling uncertainty is to make use of collective or distributed cognition. Complex spaces need experts to compete/disagree with each other to increase diversity, rather than a consensus based approach. For emergence we need to force conflict by bringing in different people with different backgrounds. In complex systems we should also bring in safe-to-fail experiments and prevent premature convergence by moving people around into different groups.

By contrast, complicated spaces need experts whose judgment we trust.

Innovation and Creativity

Deception is the heart of innovation in any system. Play the game and innovate (under the radar).

Creativity is a symptom of innovation not a cause. Innovative people are creative. Pressure, starvation and perspective shift produce innovation which produces creativity.

Failure, consensus and facilitation

Negative stories carry more learning than positive stories. Appreciative Inquiry is often unethical and used in inappropriate contexts; it tells people what stories they are allowed to tell.  Open space is also like this in that it rewards consensus and punishes dissent. Anyone who survives in an open space does so because the only people there are those who listen – everyone else votes with their feet. Knowledge Management which focuses on best practice also entrains past practice and fosters consensus. In a complex system we have to increase diversity and conflict so that emergent possibilities become visible and can be consolidated.

If you haven’t failed, you have failed.

Any technique which relies on really good facilitation isn’t going to work on a consistent basis. We need processes that don’t require facilitation. It’s not about creating spaces to enable thing, but about creating processes (e.g. Ritual Dissent).

Final Message from Dave Snowden

Don’t give up on formal education, but interact with the ‘real world’ and read outside your subject.

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.

http://learningtobeprofessional.pbworks.com/From-induction-to-abduction,-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.