Skills for ‘Being’ in a Digital Age

I have been puzzling over George Siemens’ idea that learners need to develop ‘being skills’ if they are to cope with what it means to be human in a digital age.

George discusses this with Neil Selwyn in an interview recorded for Monash University, Australia, Faculty of Education.

George does qualify, right at the beginning of the interview, that his question ‘What does it mean to be human in a Digital Age?’ is posed from a learning in knowledge development angle. During the interview he says that technology can ‘out know’ us, artificial intelligence is taking over human roles, and that in the future technology will become a co-agent rather than an enabler; you, me, colleagues, algorithms and robots will all work together in a techno-socio distributed learning model. George tells us that learners (humans) need to learn how to participate in this and that this will be through ‘Being skills’ which, as yet, machines can’t succeed at. He says we are necessarily entering a ‘being age’ because the technological systems around us are more intelligent than we are.

My immediate thought was that this is not so much a techno-sociological issue, or even an education issue, as a philosophical, ethical issue, which will involve deep inquiry into robot and machine ethics and the nature of ‘being’.

I have recently attended an ethics day course, in which in one session we discussed robot ethics in relation to whether we can teach robots ethics – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-41504285  and https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b098ht04 . I have also attended introduction to contemporary philosophy and epistemology courses in which we were introduced to how some of the great philosophers in our history have thought about knowledge and being. So philosophy, epistemology and ethics have all been on my mind recently.

George said that he has only just started this work, and that his ideas are still emerging/forming, but  I wondered how philosophy and ethics will fit into his future work.

I then came across this article – ‘Our Technology Is Our Ideology’: George Siemens on the Future of Digital Learning‘ –  in which the author  Marguerite McNeal (Aug 11, 2016) writes of George

Throughout his various projects, of which there are too many to track, he focuses on education’s potential to develop the capabilities that make humans unique. Affect, self-awareness and networking abilities are all traits that separate mankind from machines and will be important for work and life in an increasingly automated world.

This reminded me of what Iain McGilchrist said about the difference between living organisms and machines, on a course I attended earlier this year (see posts on The Divided Brain):

According to McGilchrist there are eight things that differentiate living things from machines:

  • An organism cannot be switched off. There must be an uninterrupted flow from the origins of life.
  • A machine is at equilibrium. An organism is far from equilibrium. A cell carries out millions of complex reactions every second. Enzymes speed these up to a thousandth of a second.
  • The relationship between steps and an outcome are different in machines and living organisms. In an organism there are no steps – there is a flow of process.
  • In living things there is no one-way step. Interactions are complex and reciprocal.
  • The parts of a machine are static. The parts of an organism are not static, they are constantly changing.
  • An organism is aware of the whole and corrects for it in its parts (see the work of Barbara McClintock)
  • Organisms have no precise boundaries.
  • Machines don’t generate other machines from their own body parts.
  • Machines’ code is externally generated. Organisms manufacture their own instructions.

For McGilchrist, things come into ‘being’ without being forced (p. 230/231 The Master and His Emissary; see reference below)

“The feeling we have of experience happening – that even if we stop doing anything and just sit and stare, time is still passing, our bodies are changing, our senses are picking up sights and sounds, smells and tactile sensations, and so on – is an expression of the fact that life comes to us. Whatever it is out there that exists apart from us comes into contact with us as the water falls on a particular landscape. The water falls and the landscape resists. One can see a river as restlessly searching out its path across the landscape, but in fact no activity is taking place in the sense that there is no will involved. One can see the landscape as blocking the path of the water so that it has to turn another way, but again the water just falls in the way that water has to, and the landscape resists its path, in the way it has to. The result of the amorphous water and the form of the landscape is the river.

The river is not only passing across the landscape, but entering into it and changing it too, as the landscape has ‘changed’ and yet not changed the water. The landscape cannot make the river. It does not try to put a river together. It does not even say ‘yes’ to the river. It merely says ‘no’ to the water – or does not say ‘no’ to the water, wherever it is that it does so, it allows the river to come into being. The river does not exist before the encounter. Only water exists before the encounter, and the river actually comes into being in the process of encountering the landscape, with its power to say no’ or not say ‘no’. Similarly there is ‘whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves’, but ‘whatever it is that exists’ only comes to be what it is as it finds out in the encounter with ourselves what it is, and we only find out and make ourselves what we are in our encounter with ‘whatever it is that exists’.”

Iain McGilchrist (2010). The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press.

For McGilchrist the way forward is to recognise the nature of the problem, that we are living in an increasingly left hemisphere dominated world. He thinks we will have to cope with profound change and that will involve our individual practical selves and training ourselves out of habits of mind. We will have to question and invert things to see if we can find truth. We will have to change the way we spend our time, by first stopping a lot of what we do, switching things off, making space, and being quiet. For McGilchrist the answer is to create a different world and change our culture.

McGilchrist didn’t mention ’being skills’, but it seems to me that his concern is that we need to find a new way of ‘being’ in this technological left-brain dominated world. His work is steeped in philosophy, ethics and scientific research.

I wonder if George’s work on ‘being skills’ will cover any of this.

Ethical behaviours online

Ethical behaviour in teaching and learning, particularly in online learning environments, has been very much on my radar this year – or I should say unethical behaviour.

I am not alone in my concerns. I notice that in my Evernote Notebook on ethics, the number of links to articles expressing concerns about ethical behaviours online is growing. Looking back I notice that my interest in ethics went up quite a few notches as a result of my involvement with the Rhizo14 MOOC, which I subsequently began to research collaboratively with my friends/colleagues Frances Bell and Mariana Funes. When we started this research we were concerned about how to deal ethically with the data we were collecting and shared our thoughts with Rhizo14 participants, before determining how we would approach this.

My Evernote Notebook has quite a few references to Ethics Guides (e.g. the Association of Internet Researchers’ Guides ) and I note a post by Martin Weller on the Ethics of Digital Scholarship.

But my concerns go beyond ethics in researcher practice to ethics in teaching and learning, particularly on the open web.

An article that I picked up this week by Max Bazerman bears the title ‘You are not as Ethical as you Think‘ and outlines many of our blind spots in relation to ethical infractions which he believes are ‘rooted in the intricacies of human psychology rather than integrity’. This is interesting, but I think we need to go further if we are to understand and counter unethical behaviour.

Also this week my friend and research colleague Carmen Tschofen, sent me a video in which Dan Currell talks about unethical behaviours and misconduct in the workplace. Carmen and I ‘met’ in CCK08, the first connectivst MOOC about connectivism convened by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. In the paper that we collaborated on as a result of our CCK08 experience we explored the meaning of individual and psychological diversity within connective environments and were aware of some of the concerns raised by Dan Currell in his video.

Currell’s video not only identifies how we can recognise unethical behaviour when it occurs, but also provides a picture of what ethical behaviour might look like – and unlike research ethical guidelines he is not talking about policies, rules and regulations.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 21.33.31

Click on the image to go to the video

The title of Dan Currell’s talk doesn’t pull any punches. He asks straight out ‘Why are people such jerks?’ defining jerks as people who behave badly or unethically. Although his talk is aimed at an audience of businessmen and women, I could easily relate it to educational settings, although I don’t think the word ‘jerks’ would go down too well in educational settings. It might promote even more unethical behavior and confrontation rather than working towards solutions.

Currell tells us that he asked his own children if they have to contend with ‘jerks’ (people who behave badly) at school and they all agreed that they did. Then he asked them why they thought these children behaved badly and they came up with four answers:

  • The behavior is modeled and then copied
  • The behavior occurs when children get together in groups
  • Nobody stops it
  • It is contextual – the same children are not always ‘jerks’ – it depends on the circumstances.

In his research Currell conducted surveys in 150 organisations with about a million people to explore the cultural conditions which lead to misconduct or unethical behavior. As a result of this he identified indicators of what a good workplace looks like, and I would suggest, what a good educational experience looks like.

  1. Comfort in speaking up. If people are uncomfortable about speaking up, then the rate at which others behave like ‘jerks’ is higher and the rate at which people report it is lower.
  2. Trust in colleagues
  3. Direct manager leadership (I would exchange manager for ‘teacher’)
  4. Tone at the top
  5. Clarity of expectations
  6. Openness of communication
  7. Organisational justice (i.e. employees – or in educational settings, learners – believe that the organization will do something about unethical behavior).

These indicators have been identified from both quantitative and qualitative data suggesting that ‘bad behaviour’ cannot be simply a matter of individual perception.

Currell thinks that you can’t have too much of these 7 indicators, but the problem is that ‘bad news wears lead shoes’, i.e. people don’t speak up about unethical behaviour. The two big reasons why people stay quiet are:

  • Fear of retaliation
  • No confidence or belief that the organisation will do anything about it.

These two reasons for silence also exist in online learning environments, but online unethical behaviour not only silences people for fear of retaliation, but also causes them to walk away which is not so easy to do in an organisational setting. This makes it much more difficult to address online unethical behaviours.

So what can we do about unethical behaviour? Currell provides a long list of possible actions in his video, but highlights 4 as being very important.

  1. Be honest
  2. Take action on unethical conduct
  3. Listen carefully to the opinion of others
  4. Respect and trust employees (I would exchange employees for learners)

On his LinkedIn profile Currell has described his presentation as follows:

Unpacking what a million people told us about misconduct, harassment, bullying and enforced silence in the workplace. Punchline: there are a few keys to an environment that fosters and multiplies jerks, and those keys can be identified and fixed.

Currell has identified keys and possible actions which could counter unethical behaviour, which is a definite advance on simply making a subjective judgement about whether a behaviour is ethical or non-ethical. But my sense is that there is further work to be done on identifying the role and responsibilities of leaders (teachers) and in particular in acknowledging the power they hold and how that might enable or disable ‘comfort in speaking up’ and the other characteristics of an ethical working/learning environment.

 

New structures (MOOCs) demand new ethics?

Following the recent publication of our paper Frances Bell and I are grateful to the number of people who have taken the time to send us some feedback, on Twitter, in the Rhizo14 Facebook group and on Frances’ blog. 

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

Easy access for all to a recent paper is one of the benefits of publishing in the open and we have Open Praxis to thank not only for providing an open platform, but also for their quick turn around time (see previous blog post ), so that the paper was published before our thinking has moved on.

The most spontaneous and fun feedback session we have had so far was on Twitter, when Laura Gogia decided to tweet whilst she was reading the paper. I am still smiling at the memory and at the time I laughed out loud, as well as finding the discussion interesting and helpful.

But the point I would like to pick up here is in response to a comment made by Keith Hamon on Frances’ blog. Keith focussed on a reference we made in the article to Marshall’s work on ethics in MOOCs.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35(2), 250–262.

I should say here that our paper was about learner experiences in the Rhzio14 MOOC. An emergent outcome of our research was that ethics is an area worthy of more attention in MOOCs, particularly MOOCs which take a very experimental approach to pedagogy. But ethics was only one emergent issue. In our next two papers we will pick up on others. A paper about the rhizome metaphor has been submitted and we are working on a paper about community formation in MOOCs.

But to return to Keith’s comment – ‘New structures demand new ethics’. On reading this, I immediately wondered whether this is true, so I had a bit of a hunt round to see what else has been written about this. I explained to Keith, on Frances’ blog that I cannot claim to be an expert about ethics – in the sense that I have limited experience of reading/writing about it. I have been reading Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his Emissary and on p.429, he points out that expertise is actually what makes an expert and comes from the Latin word ‘expertus’, meaning ‘one who is experienced’.

On my search I found that, as you might expect, one of the professions (apart from philosophy) that has thought a lot about ethics is medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised by an alignment of some sort between medical ethics and educational ethics, since both professions are concerned with the care of people.

In a 2004 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, KC Calman wrote about evolutionary ethics and questioned whether values can change. Here is the Abstract for the article:

The hypothesis that values change and evolve is examined by this paper. The discussion is based on a series of examples where, over a period of a few decades, new ethical issues have arisen and values have changed. From this analysis it is suggested that there are a series of core values around which most people would agree. These are unlikely to change over long time periods. There are then a series of secondary or derived values around which there is much more controversy and within which differences of view occur. Such changes need to be documented if we are to understand the process involved in the evolution of differences in ethical views

Calman, K.C. (2004). Teaching and Learning Ethics. Evolutionary ethics: can values change. J Med Ethics: 30:366–370. doi: 10.1136/jme.2002.003582. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1733900/pdf/v030p00366.pdf

A similar perspective, i.e. that whilst values might change leading to new ethical issues, some core principles remain unchanged, has been reported more recently on The New Ethics of Journalism blog.

In this article the core principles are thought to be truth, independence and minimizing harm, which are similar to Calman’s list in his article on p. 369: where he wrote that core values which have not altered in medicine are:

  • doing no harm (non-maleficence);
  • a wish to do good (beneficence);
  • the desire to be fair (justice),
  • and a respect for the individual (autonomy).

The ‘‘Golden Rule’’, ‘‘Do unto others as they would do to you’’, ‘‘Love thy neighbour’’ or even the ‘‘My mother principle’’ (if it was your mother what would you do?) express in a different ways some of these sentiments.

ethics sign

Source of image

I did not come across these articles before we wrote our paper, but the core values listed in both journalism and medicine articles are very similar to the list sent us by one of our interview respondents, who we quoted on p.9 of our paper:

  • Do no harm
  • The expectation is that interactions will be mutually respectful
  • Provide and allow space for reflection
  • Ad hominem attacks should not be permitted as a method of discussion
  • There should be a duty of care or necessarily emotional labour on the part of those calling together/convening/organizing/providing these amorphous spaces
  • All cMOOC participants have a duty of care and nurture and responsibility toward others or for themselves, mitigating the need or desire to externalize (blame) their learning and experience on others.

So do new structures demand new ethics? Certainly we need to be vigilant in keeping our understanding of educational change and educational values up to date and with that, as in the journalism article, consider whether there are new ethical issues. But my brief hunt around the literature, and my own gut feeling, suggests that there are core principles such as ‘Do no harm’ which will never change and can always be an expectation.

As Iain McGilchrist writes on p.443 of his book The Master and his Emissary:

We can’t remake our values at will. …. Societies may dispute what is to be considered good, but they cannot do away with the concept. What is more the concept is remarkably stable over time. Exactly what is to be considered good may shift around the edges, but the core remains unchanged.

Update 23-02-15: Pat Thomson has just written a post about ethics in research in which there is a line which exactly says what I have been struggling to say

Ethics seems to me to be to be about a sensibility, a way of being in the world as a researcher.

For me this would apply not just to researchers. These are the words I was trying to find when talking about core principles.

Further thoughts and discussion about rhizomatic learning

The video/audio recording of the presentation that Frances Bell and I gave at the ALTMOOCSIG conference last month has now been posted. Many thanks to Mira Vogel  for organizing this event.

We were asked very early on (by a Rhizo14 participant) whether our presentation would be recorded – so here is the link. to all the presentations including ours.

https://lecturecast.ucl.ac.uk:8443/ess/portal/section/6f625859-7a2a-4100-a698-7fa18bdf7994

During the presentation we mention that we wrote about our research into rhizomatic learning to date, and preparation for the presentation, in a series of blog posts prior to the conference. Here is the post with information and links about this.  And here is a link to the complete Prezi that we prepared for the presentation.  The video/audio covers the most relevant slides, but we stopped short of showing them all. (I haven’t yet discovered how to embed a Prezi in WordPress!)

It has been interesting to listen to this recording. I opened it with some trepidation, as I wasn’t sure how well our presentation went, but on hearing the recording I was pleasantly surprised that it is more coherent than it felt to be at the time, and that in a very short session I think we managed to cover the main points we wanted to make and allow time for questions. We received four questions. All were interesting, but perhaps the one that was most relevant to research about MOOCs at the moment was raised by Marion Waite who asked whether our research was/is ethical. This is a question that we have been discussing with Mariana Funes and Viv Rolfe in relation to researching learning in MOOCs in general, not just the Rhizo14 MOOC.

For feedback on the day by various conference participants, see this blog post – responses to the moocs which way now conference . Many thanks again to Mira Vogel for pulling this together.

Fred Garnett has also spent some time putting together a Slideshare which summarises the presentations made during the day. Here it is.

British MOOCs; a Curated Conversation from London Knowledge Lab, University of London

Thanks to ALTMOOCSIG for a stimulating event which has given us plenty to think about.

Rhizomatic learning, definitions and cheating

This is a follow on from my last post where I raised my concerns around the ethics of promoting cheating as learning – as Dave Cormier has done in this first week of his open course – Rhizomatic Learning – the Community is the Curriculum.

In the Google ‘unhangout’ live session, which I didn’t attend (like Cinderella I leave the ball at midnight!, but I did watch the video recording)  – Dave responded to these concerns. Thank you – much appreciated.

Here is the recording of the session, although given that this was a live ‘workshop’ rather than a presentation – I wouldn’t recommend watching it all unless you are interested in how the ‘unhangout’ session worked.

Instead watch the beginning and the end (I’ll suggest some times in what follows), and for what happened in the breakout groups see these slides. Thanks to people who posted these – which was great for those of us who couldn’t attend.

At about 17 minutes into the session (17.45) Dave responds to my concern that cheating is inherently unethical. He says that he is not suggesting that theft is a good thing. He is not talking about cheating as theft. Instead he is suggesting that the assumptions that we have about learning are the problem. He believes that now, through the internet, we have made the transition from a scarcity of information and content knowledge to an abundance of information and cheating is a legacy of a bygone era (i.e. an era of scarcity of information). He believes that cheating is a structure in which the teacher has decided what is true or not true and that this disempowers learners. It is not about stealing people’s stuff – but is about finding your own path – creating your own map. For him this is rhizomatic learning.

I don’t argue with the principles here. I also believe that abundance of information has necessitated a change in the way we work, that assumptions should be challenged (see Stephen Brookfield’s work on Assumption Hunting), that learners should be empowered to find their own path.  But the word ‘cheating’ is still problematic for me and in at least one respect it is problematic for Dave since he says he is not talking about cheating as theft.  And interestingly, Dave doesn’t like the word ‘hack’ – so it’s not that ‘anything goes’ in relation to cheating for him – in fact it is becoming clear that he has, dare I say, ‘defined’ cheating in a specific way to suit his rhizomatic purposes.

But Dave has more to say about definitions. For this you need to go to the end of the video at round about 1.05.55.

Here he says that definitions make him ‘cookie’ (not sure about the spelling here as I haven’t come across this expression before :-)). He says that for rhizomatic learning definition is a killer because defining means locking meaning up into a little box, which doesn’t recognize the complexity of cheating as rhizomatic learning. Cheating is a complex concept embedded in our culture. It means different things in different contexts, cultures and locations and doesn’t easily translate from one culture to another. There is no common definition. Dave believes that making cheating an effective weapon to do the things we want to do doesn’t mean being dishonest. He says ‘I’m not actually talking about cheating in the dishonest sense as a way of learning. What I’m suggesting is that if we think about what cheating means we may find out that it is not in fact cheating – you may say that it all comes back to intent’.

Again – I don’t argue with the principles here. I completely agree that learning is complex. And I believe that definitions can be problematic and remember now that I wrote a blog post about this during the Change11 MOOC –  – and it’s a relief to know that Dave is not promoting cheating in relation to rhizomatic learning in the dishonest sense – but for me, this simply serves to highlight that there is a problem with the word cheating.

As the ‘fictional character’ Arca pointed out in a blog post ‘Cheating and Logical Types’ -– once we say cheating is OK, then it is no longer cheating.

So my conclusions at the end of this first week of the rhizomatic learning course are:

  • Dave is playing with words and using a very effective teaching strategy to provoke discussion – which has been very successful.
  • Cheating is commonly associated with ‘dishonesty’ – redefining it, or leaving the question of ethics out of the discussion doesn’t change that.
  • Whilst definitions can be problematic and we have to accept that there are always alternative perspectives, definitions are also necessary to help us in at least recognizing that we are talking about the same thing.  Ultimately Dave has redefined, for the purposes of this course, the word ‘cheating’, so that we can all discuss it in relation to rhizomatic learning from a similar perspective.
  • The irony of all this is that Dave has used the ‘power’ of his considerable reputation to redefine the word ‘cheating’.
  • I am in complete agreement with Dave that we should not make assumptions about the way in which people learn, that learning is complex and messy and that as educators we should try to empower learners to take control of their learning.
  • I am in complete agreement with Dave that we should try to avoid abusing the power we have as educators – but I don’t think this is simple, even in rhizomatic learning.
  • I don’t think we can just cut ‘ethics’ out of our thinking about rhizomatic learning, by saying – Yes OK, there is this thing about ethics and dishonesty associated with cheating, but we are not going to consider it in relation to our discussions about rhizomatic learning.
  • And to reiterate what I have written before, I think learning is about learning to ‘be’ and to become a certain type of person – much more than it is learning ‘about’ something – rhizomatic learning or anything else – and for this reason it is important to consider the ethics of what we are promoting.

This has been a very thought-provoking week. The discussion has been intense and very stimulating. From my perspective as an educator and researcher in course design and learner experiences in open online course, this week has been fascinating.  And if the above comments come across that I have decided that everything is ‘done, dusted, sorted, cut and dried’, then I have to say that they are not. I am still thinking about all this and wondering whether I have understood it. This post only reflects where I am in my thinking at this moment in time – but I’m open to changing my mind 🙂

Rhizomatic Learning and Ethics

Dave Cormier in his open course on rhizomatic learning, which started on Tuesday of this week – has asked us in his video to think about/discuss ‘cheating as learning’.

For him it is important to think about cheating in relation to his teaching because this brings into focus power structures in an educational setting. He says that cheating is only a possibility if there are rules to break and rules control what we do giving power to the traditions of our culture. Without rules then there is no need for cheating. He doesn’t go as far as to say that we don’t need any rules – but maybe he is saying that we need to think about changing some of the rules.

There is an interesting discussion on the P2PU site,  which throws a lot of ideas into the melting pot – such as hacking – and the use of cheat codes in gaming – which seem to be regarded as legitimate ways of working. Dogtrax writes ‘Cheating is a natural and guilt free part of gaming’ and Khomotso writes ‘Cheating can allow you to get something out of a flawed experience, rather than just avoid that experience altogether’. Both these comments suggest that cheating is simply a lack of deference to the rules.

There is also an interesting post by Technological about ‘predatory thinking’. He writes:

I”m being flippant, but in closing – I feel that “cheating as learning” is Dave Trotts “predatory thinking”,  – good old fashioned competitive thinking strategies utilised in order to gain advantage in a competitive environment. Dave Trott put it well and I think it fits well with “cheating as learning” – he says “creativity is the last, legal unfair advantage we have.” I think that “cheating as learning” as long as it is not particularly egregious and not wholesale ripping off of someone else’s efforts is part of an avant-garde, a leftfield creative advance that acts to safeguard against outdated dogmas and rules and one that is successfully checking and challenging the status quo. It is thoroughly entrepreneurial at heart, and long may it continue.

Now – defining where it becomes less healthy or problematic – that is a whole other story…

The Oxford English dictionary defines cheating as ‘acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage’.  All the definitions of cheating that I have looked up suggest that cheating is problematic because it contravenes commonly understood ethical codes – the moral principles which govern our behaviour  – so whilst I can see what Dave is getting at, and recognise that it is a good teaching strategy to throw in a controversial statement to get discussion going, for me associating ‘cheating’ with rhizomatic learning doesn’t do it any favours.

I don’t think rhizomatic learning has anything to do with cheating.  I don’t think that predatory thinking is cheating unless it is associated with the dishonesty of ‘wholesale ripping off of someone else’s efforts’.

For me it is more helpful to think in terms of not having to ‘reinvent the wheel’. With advances in technology this is much more possible now than ever before. We are, as Dave has told us, living in an age of information abundance. Using this information is not cheating unless our use infringes the copyright restrictions, which usually require full attribution (see creative commons licenses). Remixing and repurposing, within  copyright restrictions is not cheating. (For more thoughts about this see – It’s not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s Repurposing).  Collaboration and sharing of ideas within a climate of mutual respect, faith, humility, trust , agreed permissions and requirements for attribution is not cheating.  All these activities speed up the flow of information and save us unnecessary work. They also require openness of mind and spirit and it is this ‘openness’ that will influence power structures within our learning environments. Openness is a great leveller.

For me, learning isn’t so much about what we do – cheating or otherwise – but more about who we are and who we become – and as such is associated with ethical and moral dimensions. Does living in a digitally networked world, a world of rhizomatic learners change what we commonly understand to be the basic moral principles that govern behaviour between learners?

The Ethics of Autonomy

Terry Pratchett’s programme last night about assisted suicide – Choosing to die – on BBC1 – raises many ethical issues, which were vigorously debated in the follow up BBC Newsnight programme

Terry Pratchett – a gifted and prolific writer has Alzheimer’s disease. For him not being able to write (in the sense of communicate his thoughts, ideas, creativity and imagination through the written word – currently he has an assistant who types his dictations) would make life not worth living. He would like to be able to choose when to die.

Assisted suicide is not legal in the UK, so those who wish it have to travel to the Dignitas Euthanasia Clinic in Switzerland.

In seeking to find out more about what choosing to die would involve – Terry Pratchett travelled to Switzerland with two UK citizens who both made this choice and followed it through.

The BBC programme was controversial and thought provoking as it explored the question of what it means to choose to die, which must be one of the ultimate acts and expressions of autonomy. For me it raised the question of whether autonomy is a reality (how much does the context influence the degree of autonomy achievable?) and whether autonomy can result in unethical behaviour? This last question was also raised for me by Adam Curtis’ reference to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of each person for themselves in Episode 1 of his documentary – All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.

In ethics, Rand argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest), as the guiding moral principle. She said the individual should “exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” She controversially referred to egoism as “the virtue of selfishness” in her book of that title, in which she presented her solution to the is-ought problem by describing a meta-ethical theory that based morality in the needs of “man’s survival qua man”. She condemned ethical altruism as incompatible with the requirements of human life and happiness

(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand)

These examples highlight again (as have other examples before them) that autonomy carries with it significant responsibility both for yourself and for those and the environment around you. A pursuit of autonomy must take into account the many possible complex associated ethical considerations.

For me there are no answers – only questions.