Trust, Truth, Consensus and Community on the distributed web

The seventh topic in the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC  has been Community. I have invested quite a bit of my time over the years learning about community – or more specifically communities of practice. I have been a founder member of a community (ELESIG which is still going strong) and a facilitator/moderator in a community (CPsquare – which no longer functions as a community, but relationships still remain – see image below). I have attended courses on CoPs to dig deeper into the theory behind them (BEtreat workshops ), published three research papers about communities of practice and have written numerous blog posts. (I should add a page to my blog about this). I thought I had a reasonable understanding of what it means to be a member of a community, but this week has made me doubt this understanding.  Why?I have been asking myself this question for quite a few days now, and today it occurred to me is that it is a language problem. The way in which language related to community is being used in this course about the distributed web, i.e. what we mean by community, consensus, trust and truth in the distributed web, is not how I have previously understood it.

Let’s start with trust.

Trust is thought to be an essential component of communities of practice. In their book (p.8) Digital Habitats, Wenger, White and Smith write:

‘Learning together depends on the quality of relationships of trust and mutual engagement that members develop with each other, a productive management of community boundaries, and the ability of some to take leadership and to play various roles in moving the inquiry forward’

And in Wenger, McDermott and Snyder’s book, Cultivating Communities of Practice  (p.85) they have written:

The trust community members need is not simply the result of a decision to trust each other personally. It emerges from understanding each other. As one oil reservoir engineer observed, “Sometimes you can share an insight that is so useful it saves a well from going down, but you don’t save a well at the first meeting.”

In other words, communities take time to develop, which is also depicted by the diagram above.

But in the conversation that Stephen had with Pete Forsyth they both agreed that the internet is a trust-less environment. In his post on ‘The Problem of Trust’, Vitalik Buterin has written:

If you were to ask the average cryptocurrency or blockchain enthusiast what the key single fundamental advantage of the technology is, there is a high chance that they will give you one particular predictable answer: it does not require trust.

This suggests that trust either functions differently or doesn’t exist at all on the distributed web. Stephen and Pete both believe that trust is an aspect of community. So both trust and community on the distributed web, in their terms, seem to mean something different to Wenger et al.’s understanding of it.

Pete Forsyth suggested that in Wikipedia (which I have written about in a previous post) we put our trust in facts and not in people. I can accept that on the distributed web it probably makes more sense to understand trust in these terms. That’s not to say that there won’t be trust between people, but perhaps we don’t need this on the distributed web. So the meaning of trust might be more limited term on the distributed web?

But what about community?

In a draft document he has shared with us (I have typed draft in bold, so that we can acknowledge that it might change), Stephen distinguishes between what he calls ‘natural’ communities as opposed to ‘organised’ communities of the type discussed by Wenger and his colleagues. He describes natural communities, e.g. ‘your average city’, as lacking in trust, where there are enforcement mechanisms, because we don’t trust people to obey the law or rules. ‘Cities are polyglot, factional, disjointed. Yet, still – they are communities’, he writes. I have yet to be convinced by the idea that a city is a community.

I believe that there can be and are communities within cities, but that cities are not communities. I agree with the author of this post about ‘What does community mean?’ where s/he has written: ‘just living near each other, as in a suburban neighborhood, doesn’t mean you’re in community.’ (The rest of the post is also interesting). ‘Neighbourhood’ may be a more appropriate term for a city, as Mike Caulfield suggested for FedWiki – which could be described as a decentralized distributed wiki (see my previous post for further discussion) and ‘network’ may be more appropriate for the distributed web.

But there is a reason for Stephen’s focus on community this week, which seems to be that working on the distributed web requires consensus; consensus to agree on what information can be trusted to be true. How do we achieve this consensus on the distributed web where there is no ‘leader’ and no ‘common ground’? Stephen believes that we do this through community and that community is consensus.

My question is, do we have to have community for consensus on the distributed web?  Unless I have completely misunderstood this, the evidence from Preethi Kasireddy’s post How does distributed consensus work? would seem to suggest that the answer is ‘No’, unless we are attributing the word ‘community’ to non-human actors. I have a horrid feeling that I have completely misunderstood all this, but from where I am standing, the word ‘community’ being used in this context just does not fit with any of my prior understanding.

In relation to achieving consensus on the distributed web about what information we can trust, we are told by Waggoner et al. that there are many consensus methodologies, to the point where they have written a paper questioning whether there is a consensus on consensus methodology.  From this article we can see that many researchers are working on how to achieve consensus in relation to the trust we can put in facts on the distributed web.

But what about in society? What are the consequences of a consensus driven society which relies on agreement. As John Kay wrote way back in 2007 in his article ‘Science is the pursuit of truth, not consensus’, ‘Consensus finds a way through conflicting opinions and interests’. (The Financial Times has blocked me from posting a link to this article. You will need to ‘trust’ me that this is what he wrote!) Kay seems to suggest that consensus is often arrived at, at the expense of truth. If this is so, should we ‘trust’ in the ‘truths’ arrived at by consensus?

In his article: Fake News, Wikipedia and Blockchain (Truth and Consensus), Arthur Charpentier seems to suggest that the words we use matter. He writes:

This plurality of words, and the absence of a reference word, is not unlike the philosophy conveyed by crypto-currencies: instead of a centralised mode of governance (validation, certification), it is a global validation by a network, a consensus, which will prevail. Have we changed our definition of what truth is?

This resonates with me because this week I have been asking myself similar questions. What does community mean in relation to the distributed web? Can community function on the distributed web? Do trust, community and consensus take on different meanings on the distributed web? Perhaps we need to go back to what these words mean and whether they have taken on different meanings for use in discussion about the distributed web.

Stephen Downes’ summary of this topic – Community – Summary of the topic

https://el30.mooc.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=68638

Source of images

Stages of development of a community of practice  – https://www.slideshare.net/richard.claassens/communities-of-practice-stages-of-development-388654

Fake News, Wikipedia and Blockchain (Truth and Consensus) – https://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/52608

Digital badges and the purpose of education

We have now come to the end of the sixth topic – Recognition – in Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC.  For me, this has been the least satisfying of the course topics so far. I have been trying to work out why this is so, and think it must be because I have somehow failed to ‘recognise’ what it is all about ;-). At some level, which I am finding it difficult to identify (I am hoping that writing this post will help), I have not been able to align my own knowledge and understanding with this week’s course content. This has been somewhat demotivating.

I started off on the wrong foot. When I saw the topic ‘Recognition’ I thought we would be digging into how knowledge is distributed across a network and how we identify or see this as knowledge. I thought this might lead to further discussion about how we learn across a distributed network. And, yes, on one level the topic was about this, but it was much more about ‘giving’ (or collecting) recognition for knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours and keeping track of this through the award of badges.

It took me until the end of last week to realise that the topic wasn’t really about assessment or learning, but ultimately about how to automate the issuing of records of achievement in the form of badges. This is what Stephen worked on for most of the week; he has shared his learning on how to do this on his Half an Hour blog. See the Badge API and Setting Up Badges. He is rightly pleased with this outcome. A job well done. He could award himself a badge 🙂

Meanwhile the rest of us were exploring how to create a badge in Badgr or similar sites, with greater or lesser degrees of success. See the end of this post for links to participants’ posts. A very useful post was shared by Random Access, who, it turns out, has extensive experience of working on Open Badges with the Scottish Social Services Council. I liked the video explanation of Open Badges shared in that post, which I’ll include here, and the emphasis on authentic learning experiences and reflecting on learning. It’s worth watching the video and reading the whole post.

Stephen also emphasised authentic tasks in his summary for this week. He hopes that these will be designed by humans to balance the possibility of biased algorithms. I think this is one of the things that has been troubling me. It has all felt a bit detached from the learner – a mechanism for determining at scale ‘what counts as success’ and how we measure that success.

As well as badges, Stephen discussed competencies and competency frameworks. He writes in his summary for this week Badges, certificates and awards are recognition entities. So are endorsements, references, and plaudits. I have said in the past that the recognition entity of the future will be a job offer.’ This of course has implications for the purpose of education. I really hope that there is more to education than collecting a personal backpack of badges to prove to employers that we are who we say we are, and that it is more than an encounter with robots or algorithms (Gert Biesta talks about this in his video talk about The Beautiful Risk of Education – with thanks to @mark_mcguire for sharing this in the #el30 twitter stream).

Stephen shares the draft writing of his weekly summaries in a Google Doc, which is a great example of open practice and the summaries are so very helpful This week he wrote:

The traditional educational model is based on tests and assignments, grades, degrees and professional certifications. But with xAPI activity data we can begin tracking things like which resources a person read, who they spoke to, and what questions they asked – anything.

This concerned me – so I commented:

Is this what we really want? How can we avoid living in a ‘Big Brother’ /panopticon world?

Laura Ritchie replied:

In reply to Jenny – to me this is more about the possibilities of a more broad understanding and acceptance of evidence rather than a surveillance model. I doubt Stephen is suggesting ‘spying’ on students or tracking/mapping, but that instead it could be something they catalogue as part of ‘evidence’ for some task/concept.

I doubt it too, but that’s not to say that this couldn’t happen. In fact, unless the purpose of education remains really clearly thought through and all these developments are clearly underpinned by clarity of purpose, then I think it would be easy to slip into practices which might be detrimental to learning.

Biesta sees the purpose of education as going beyond student-centred education. He sees it as learning what it means to live together in the world. Ronald Barnett hopes that the student will develop a sustained will to learn. (Barnett, T., 2007, A Will to Learn. Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty. Open University Press ). Etienne Wenger discusses in depth, in his book, Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity, issues related to how learning changes who we are. These are just three of many authors, not to mention philosophers, who have questioned the meaning and purpose of education.

Stephen believes that’ new decentralized network technologies will enable individuals to manage their own credentials’ ( see this week’s summary). In his final paragraph he writes:

These developments represent a signal change in the deployment of both learning analytics and artificial intelligence in education in the years to come. Today, such systems focus on process, and centrally and institutionally designed, and benefit teachers and employers far more than they do individual learners. Indeed,  the only people not benefiting are the learners themselves, with their own data. And that’s what can and must change.

Having reached the end of this post I realise that I do understand that if teaching and learning are to happen at scale across a distributed network, so that there is the potential for anyone anywhere to have access to an education, and learners can be in more control of their learning,  then we need new systems to recognise and validate this education. I suppose my concern is whether these new systems can or will encourage the type of purpose for education so eloquently discussed in such depth by authors such as Biesta, Wenger and Barnett, and whether learners will ‘recognise’ that there is more to education than being awarded a badge, a certificate or even a PhD.

Update: 05-12-18

In addition to the comprehensive comment from Stephen below, in which he responds to this post, he has also now posted this video, in which he explains his thinking with respect to this topic – Recognition – and why he thinks it important.

References to Participants Blog Posts

Davey Maloney – http://daveymoloney.com/el30/el30-recognition-task/

Roland Legrand – https://learningwithmoocs.com/uncategorized/el30-task-congratulations-you-earned-a-badge/

Frank Polster – http://frankpolster.com/blog/elearn30/elearn-3-0-week-6-recognition-task/

Kevin Hodgson – http://dogtrax.edublogs.org/2018/11/30/when-you-give-yourself-a-badge/

Lou – https://learningreflections.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/week-6-recognition-task-create-a-badge/

Random Access – https://randomaccesslearning.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/recognition-assessment-realising-the-potential-of-open-badges/

Laura Ritchie – https://www.lauraritchie.com/2018/12/01/connected-learner-badge/

Matthias Melcher – https://x28newblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/el30-week-6-automated-assessments/

E-Learning 3.0 : Identity Graphs

We are now in the fourth week of this E-Learning 3.0 open course/MOOC. The task for this week is to create an Identity Graph, which Stephen Downes (convener of this course) has outlined as follows:

Identity – Create an Identity Graph

  • We are expanding on the marketing definition of an identity graph. It can be anything you like, but with one stipulation: your graph should not contain a self-referential node titled ‘me’ or ‘self’ or anything similar
  • Think of this graph as you defining your identity, not what some advertiser, recruiter or other third party might want you to define.
  • Don’t worry about creating the whole identity graph – focusing on a single facet will be sufficient. And don’t post anything you’re not comfortable with sharing. It doesn’t have to be a real identity graph, just an identity graph, however you conceive it.

Here is my graph, which I created using Matthias Melcher’s Think Tool – Thought Condensr, which is very quick and easy to use.

Like Matthias,  I puzzled over why Stephen required that the graph – “should not contain a self-referential node titled ‘me’ or ‘self’ or anything similar”. How could I avoid this if the graph is to be about my identity? In the event, it became obvious that not only is it possible to create the graph without referring to me, but also that doing this clearly demonstrates that knowledge of my identity is in the network rather than any specific node. My identity begins to emerge from the graph, without me having to specify it.

You can see from the graph that there are three links which don’t connect. I did this by simply cutting them off for the screenshot of the graph, because I wanted to suggest that this graph could, in fact, go on and on. This image provides only a glimpse of my identity. I could not only expand the graph, by making more links and connections, but I could also make more connections within this section of the graph. I am also aware that if I started afresh and drew this tomorrow it would be different because my identity and how I think of it is fluid and evolving.

I was also aware in drawing the graph that pretty much all of it is traceable online. It reminded me of the introductory task that was set on Etienne Wenger’s online course  Foundations of Communities of Practice that he ran with John Smith and Bron Stuckey in 2008. The task was based on the idea of six degrees of separation. “Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps” (see Wikipedia). At the start of that course we were given the name of an unknown fellow participant and had to find out enough about them to be able to link to them in six steps and then share this information. This was a very good way of learning more about fellow participants at the start of the course, but also of recognising that we can easily connect to anyone across the world in just a few steps.

Stephen set some further optional questions for us to consider:

  • What is the basis for the links in your graph: are they conceptual, physical, causal, historical, aspirational?

They seem to be physical and historical, whereas Matthias’s graph seems to emphasise the conceptual. 

  • Is your graph unique to you? What would make it unique? What would guarantee uniqueness?

I think it must be unique. The nodes are not unique, but the relations between the nodes, whilst they might not be unique individually, as a whole must be unique. I think it would be impossible to guarantee its uniqueness if it remained static. Anyone could come along and copy or mimic it. Uniqueness can only be guaranteed if the graph is continually updating, evolving and new connections are being made. I am not sure whether old connections can be broken, or do they just become inactive and move way off to the edge of the graph?

  • How (if at all) could your graph be physically instantiated? Is there a way for you to share your graph? To link and/or intermingle your graph with other graphs?

I’m not sure if I have understood the question correctly? Isn’t the graph I have created using Matthias’s Think Tool, and posted here, a physical instantiation? Does physical instantiation have a specific meaning in relation to graphs? I think I might have missed the point – but I can see that it would be relatively easy to intermingle my graph with Matthias’s graph. It might be necessary for us both to add a few nodes and links, but not many, to be able to connect the two graphs fairly seamlessly (a bit like the six degrees of separation task described above).

  • What’s the ‘source of truth’ for your graph?

This is a big question as it raises the whole question of what we mean by truth. I have been grappling with this for quite a few months now. In my most recent blog post about ‘truth’ –  I reported that both Gandhi and Nietzsche have expressed the view that “human beings can only know partial and contingent truths and perspectives; there are a multiplicity of truths and perspectives.” So in these terms, the truth of my graph can only be partial or contingent. Even if I have not knowingly lied, I have selected what to include in the graph and therefore I have also selected what to leave out.

But Stephen’s question is about the ‘source of truth’. Is he asking about ‘source of truth’ as defined in information systems?  This is not a subject I know anything about.

In information systems design and theory, single source of truth (SSOT) is the practice of structuring information models and associated data schema such that every data element is stored exactly once. Any possible linkages to this data element (possibly in other areas of the relational schema or even in distant federated databases) are by reference only. Because all other locations of the data just refer back to the primary “source of truth” location, updates to the data element in the primary location propagate to the entire system without the possibility of a duplicate value somewhere being forgotten. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_source_of_truth

In these terms I’m not sure how to answer Stephen’s question about ‘source of truth’. If someone could enlighten me that would be great.

Some Thoughts on Identity

The topic for Week 4 of Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC is Identity. The focus of this topic is on digital identity – exploring questions such as:

  • ‘How do we know who someone is?’,
  • ‘How do we project ourselves on the internet?’ and
  • ‘How can we be safe and secure?’

Stephen also writes on the course site:

Our new identities have the potential to be an enormous source of strength or a debilitating weakness. Will we be lost in the sea of possibilities, unable to navigate through the complexities of defining for ourselves who we are, or will we be able to forge new connections, creating a community of interwoven communities online and in our homes?

Looking back through this blog, I see that I have written a few posts about identity, the first about ‘Identity in the Network’ in 2008. It has been interesting to read back through these posts and I am not surprised to see that the biggest influence on my thinking about identity has been Etienne Wenger’s book: Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity, which is one of the best thumbed books on my bookshelf.

Back in 2011, I attended a talk given by Etienne Wenger at Lancaster University, where I heard him say:

‘The 21st century will be the century of identity’ and ask ‘How do you manage your identity in a world which is so complex and in which there are so many mountains to climb – in which there are too many places to invest in who you want to be?’  which relates to Stephen’s question – ‘How do we project ourselves on the internet?’  There is quite a bit of overlap between Stephen’s writing and what Etienne has written.

According to Etienne, identity is a negotiated expression of the self and there are many landscapes and communities in which to do this, which means that we have to manage multiple trajectories all at once. On page 5 of his book, he writes that identity is ‘a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities. It is not just what we say about ourselves or what others say about us. It is not about self-image, but rather a way of being in the world – the way we live day by day – He expands on this on p.151 of his book, writing:

An identity, then, is a layering of events of participation and reification by which our experience and its social interpretation inform each other. As we encounter our effects on the world and develop our relations with others, these layers build upon each other to produce our identity as a very complex interweaving of participative experience and reificative projections. Bringing the two together through the negotiation of meaning, we construct who we are. In the same way that meaning exists in its negotiation, identity exists – not as an object in and of itself – but in the constant work of negotiating the self. It is in this cascading interplay of participation and reification that our experience of life becomes one of identity, and indeed of human existence and consciousness.

Etienne’s book from which this paragraph is quoted was written in 1998. There is no mention of the internet or online learning in this book. But in 2009 he turned his attention to Digital Habitats in a book he co-authored with Nancy White and John Smith. I am again going to quote a paragraph from p.180 of this book. I am quoting it in its entirety because it seems particularly pertinent to our thinking about identity for the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC.

Our engagement with the socially active medium created by new technologies leaves traces each time we do something on the web. These traces become an impressionistic picture of the self – one that is scattered like dots of paint in a networked canvas, which includes discussions, product reviews, blog posts, pictures, podcasts and videos, instant messages, and tags, as well as comments from other people posted on our traces and comments we add to others’ traces.  This “digital footprint” [my bold] is an evolving (but enduring) image of ourselves over which we only have very partial control. Admittedly, we have always participated in many conversations and interactions; we have always had multiple means to store our memories; our identities have always combined what we produce ourselves and what others reflect and project on us. Recorded in a socially active medium, however, our traces are searchable; they can be found and reassembled dynamically; they are inspectable, manipulable, and remixable. Even when we think we have deleted them, they are found again. Scattered and computable, our footprints create reconstructable trajectories in a public space, largely out of our control. Who are we in this mirror that remembers and talks back with a voice that is only partly our own? Does the potential to remember so much mean that we know ourselves and each other better? Or could our digital footprints hide as much as they reveal, as if their very transparency only added to the mystery of identity?

I can relate to Etienne’s writing. I have questioned in the past, and continue to question, whether I have one identity or multiple identities, how I can know who I am, how I can and whether I should try and keep knowing who I am separate from what others say about me, and how I can know whether the perceived identity of myself, by myself or by others, is ‘true’.

Stephen’s questions (below) are new to me and I’m looking forward to hearing how others on this course react to them. I will need some time to think them through.

  • What do we become in a world of artificial intelligence, linked data and cryptographic functions?
  • We were the client, we were the product – are we, at last, the content?
  • Will we be lost in the sea of possibilities, unable to navigate through the complexities of defining for ourselves who we are, or will we be able to forge new connections, creating a community of interwoven communities online and in our homes?

At the moment, I would like to think that I am, and always will be, more than ‘content’.

References

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E., White, N. and Smith, J.D. (2009). Digital Habitats. CPsquare: http://cpsquare.org

Posts relating to identity on this blog – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/?s=identity

Source of image 

If space is a becoming what kind of spaces do we need for learning?

The second keynote at the Networked Learning Conference 2016 was presented by Sian Bayne. The title of her keynote was Campus Codespaces for Networked Learning, which she framed around the question ‘Do we need other ways to think about networked learning space?’

So like Caroline Haythornthwaite, (see post about her keynote), Sian was pushing us to think about networked learning in a different way, with a specific focus on ‘space’. Of course Caroline has also published about learning spaces:

Haythornthwaite, C. (2015). Rethinking learning spaces: networks, structures, and possibilities for learning in the twenty-first century. Communication Research and Practice, 1(4). doi:10.1080/22041451.2015.1105773

Did they talk to each other before the conference, I wonder, or was it pure serendipity that their concerns for the future of networked learning seem to be similar?

Sian’s argument is that we need to get away from the idea that the architecture of a university is the authentic space making distance education a less authentic space. She said that sedentarism is still driving universities.

Sian talked in turn about

  • smooth and striated space,
  • networked, fluid and fire space
  • code/space

She first wrote about smooth and striated space way back in 2004, basing that paper on the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari (1988) about the limiting effects of hierarchical, striated spaces (see list of references).

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 14.51.52 Slide 10

However smooth spaces are not necessarily utopias, as Frances Bell, Mariana Funes and I found in some recent research.

Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. 32(1), p.78-91 Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.

But notions of smooth and striated space are useful for thinking about how we might need to reconsider learning spaces. Is a MOOC a smooth or a striated space? Is a conference a smooth or a striated space?

Sian then went on to talk about bounded, networked and fluid space and the permeability of boundaries. All these spaces are important. She told us that distance students can have ‘campus envy’, i.e. they believe that the on campus students get a better deal, that the face-to-face bounded experience is somehow more authentic, which is not necessarily the case. The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side and absence can make the heart grow fonder, but her students think of the campus as ‘home’. My experience is that meeting face-to-face in a physical space adds value to connection, so I think I understand where Sian’s students are coming from.

Bounded space, networked space and fluid space are all defined by the relative stability of their boundaries and the relationship between elements. Unlike Etienne Wenger’s work on landscapes of practice and the importance of boundary crossing , Sian asked us to consider space in Mol and Law’s terms (1994) – as being fluid, that is, the boundaries are not permanent.

Mol and Law

Slide 20

I particularly liked the notion of ‘fire space’ – here but not here, presence and absence. I am now thinking about this in terms of Absent Presence, which I have blogged about before.  Absent presence in online interaction.

Sian’s argument is that we should offer students topological multiplicity. All these spaces are important. This resonates with my own research using the footprints of emergence, where we argue that prescribed learning spaces are no less important than emergent learning spaces. The need for each and the balance between the two will be determined by the context.

Finally Sian talked about code/space. I suspect that this is where her current research interests lie, whereas mine remain in the effects on identity and becoming of the multiplicity of spaces available to learners. But I was intrigued by the idea of code/space.

Kitchin and Dodge

Slide 33

Code/space is not coded space. Coded space is space which is not dependent on code, but code space depends on code. For distance students if the code fails, then they are disconnected and no longer at University. Disconnection was a topic discussed by Frances Bell, Catherine Cronin and Laura Gogia in their interesting and enjoyable symposium – Synergies, differences, and bridges between Networked Learning, Connected Learning, and Open Education

Ideas of space, becoming, disconnection, connection, metaphor, code, algorithms, collective well-being and different ways of knowing were threads running throughout the conference. It will be interesting to see if they are followed through in the next conference in Zagreb, Croatia, 2018, and how much our thinking and ideas will have moved on.

I will be following Sian and her team’s research to see how these ideas about space for becoming develop.

NLC2016: Sian Bayne keynote references (posted by Sian on Twitter)

Bayne, S., Gallagher, M.S. & Lamb, J. (2013). Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students. Higher Education 67(5): 569-583.

Bayne S. (2004) Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-Learning. 1(2): 302-316.

Carvalho, L., Goodyear, P. and de Laat, M. (eds) (2017) Place-based Spaces for Networked Learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Cormier, D. (2015) Rhizo15 http://rhizomatic.net/

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1988) A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.

Dodge, M. and Kitchin, R. (2005) Code and the transduction of space. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95(1), 2005, pp. 162–180.

Hannam, K., Sheller, M. & Urry, J. (2006). Editorial: mobilities, immobilities and moorings. Mobilities, 1(1), 1-22.

Kitchin, R. and Dodge, M. (2011) Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

Knox, J. (2016) Posthumanism and the MOOC: Contaminating the Subject of Global Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lamb, J. (2016) ‘Away from the university’. http://www.james858499.net/blog/away-from-the-university

Law, J. & Mol, A. (2001). Situating technoscience: an inquiry into spatialities. Environment and Planning D. (19), 609-621.

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

Mackenzie, A. (2002) Transductions: Bodies and machines at speed. London: Continuum Press.

Matthews P. (2015) ‘YikYak’. http://drpetermatthews.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/yikyak.html

Mol, A. & Law, J. (1994). Regions, networks and fluids: anaemia and social topology. Social Studies of Science, 24(4), 641-671.

Pearce, N. (2015) ‘The YikYak lecturer’. https://digitalscholar.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/the-yik-yak-lecturer/

Reticulatrix (2013) ‘#EDCMOOC: School’s out’ https://reticulatrix.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/edcmooc-schools-out/

Ross, J. & Sheail, P. (2015) Campus imaginaries and dissertations at a distance. Society for Research into Higher Education Conference, 9-11 December 2015. https://www.srhe.ac.uk/conference2015/abstracts/0166.pdf

Sheller, M. & Urry, J. (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A, 38, 207-226.

Thatcher, J., O’Sullivan, D. & Mahmoudi, D. (2016) Data colonialism through accumulation by dispossession: New metaphors for daily data. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. DOI: 10.1177/0263775816633195

How does the ModPo MOOC enable or create a community?

In this final week of the third iteration of the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC – Al Filreis (the MOOC convener) has asked ModPo participants how the ModPo community works:

I am now here in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, and will be presenting about ModPo at a conference here. The conference is called “Building Massive Open Online Communities,” and the organizers of the conference believe that ModPo is an instance of a so-called “MOOC” that does indeed make a learning community possible—indeed perhaps even necessary to the success of the course.

I want your help in presenting to the people here about the ModPo community. How does it work? What would you like to say to the people here at this conference about the way we’ve conducted ourselves as an online community of learners? What are some advantages, in your experience, of the collaborative and interactive approach?

This is an interesting question. The evidence suggests that ModPo has formed a community of practice very successfully.

Etienne Wenger in his book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity has written about the formation and work of communities of practice in detail, and on his website writes: In a nutshell ……

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

This is true of ModPo – there is plenty of ‘passion for poetry’ in the forums and webinars, in the Facebook group and even on Twitter.

Here is a recent video of current ModPo students talking about their experience.

This video provides a flavour of the diversity of the community and the shared passion for poetry and for ModPo.

In Wenger’s terms ModPo is a community of practice as opposed to simply a community. ModPo participants (community members) gather together around the domain of poetry and share their practices. In the forums, there are shared interpretations of the poems introduced in the course, shared writing, shared poems, shared readings, shared close readings and shared cultural experiences. Sharing, social interaction and social learning are at the heart of the success of ModPo. Everyone’s contribution is welcome, from novice to expert, and there is a real sense that it is possible, for those who want to, to move from the periphery of the community along a trajectory of increasing competence to the centre of the community. It is also perfectly acceptable to remain as a legitimate peripheral participant. I myself feel very comfortable in this latter location.

Etienne Wenger, also in his book, explains that there are three dimensions of practice in a community:

  • Mutual engagement (engaged diversity, doing things together, relationships, social complexity, community maintenance)
  • A joint enterprise (negotiated enterprise, mutual accountability, interpretations, rhythms, local response)
  • Shared repertoire (stories, artifacts, styles, tools, actions, discourses, concepts, historical events)

Shared history is an important aspect of a community of practice and in ModPo this is evidenced by people returning each year to do the course and through the course materials remaining open during the year. The history of the Kelly Writer’s House, from where the course is run has also been shared with ModPo participants.

This sense of place in ModPo is one of its unique features. ModPo participants are invited to enter this space, either physically or virtually each week and join the ModPo team and teaching assistants for discussion. The place and space feel immediate and real and I think are instrumental in forging a sense of community and belonging.

Returning to Etienne Wenger’s social learning theory, he describes four components of learning in a community of practice, which are all evident in ModPo

  • Learning as doing (practice) – in ModPo doing is related to writing (assignments and peer reviews), close reading the poems, discussion and social interaction in the forums
  • Learning as experience (meaning) – in ModPo learning is a shared experience which is negotiated between community members
  • Learning as belonging (community) – in ModPo, for those who want it, it is possible to become a member of a world-wide community of poets and those who are passionate about poetry
  • Learning as becoming (identity) – in ModPo, the very nature of the domain (poetry) and the personalized close readings inevitably have implications for personal identity development.

Finally, a community is not static, but dynamic. It has been interesting to see how ModPo has evolved and continues to grow as a community. Each year new members are welcomed and this year there seems to have been increased recognition that 30,000+ people cannot effectively communicate with each, but need to congregate in smaller groups. Study groups are encouraged and this year one of the community teaching assistants (Laura Cushing) took it upon herself to create a list of the study groups that were springing up around the world, so that participants could easily locate those in their geographical areas and arrange to meet face-to-face to socialize, share close readings and their passion for poetry.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.09San Francisco Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.39Prague Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.24Washington DC Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

So there is plenty of evidence that the ModPo MOOC has created a community of practice around the course. I haven’t specifically answered all Al Filreis’ questions, but hopefully this post provides a sense of some of the ways in which ModPo has done this. I could write more, but I think that’s enough for now.

Sensitive Learning Spaces: what architects can teach us

On Tuesday of this week (April 2nd) I went to see the Sensing Spaces Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 15.49.52

On the next day (April 3rd 2014) I attended a one-day conference at UCL in London and ran a workshop with my colleague, Elpida Makriyannis, in the space that you can see in this photo below.

UCL  space for learning

The two spaces could not have been more different. In his introductory talk to the UCL audience, the Provost recognized that space is a problem at UCL. There is not enough and much of what there is needs refurbishment. If UCL has the necessary finances, what a wonderful opportunity to think about the influence of space on learning. As one of the Grafton Architects said on a video on the Sensing Spaces website:

If you put students into a certain kind of space they will expect to be fed. If you put them in another kind of space they will expect to be challenged. Space prepares you to receive or to respond.

The aim of the Royal Academy Sensing Space exhibition was that it would ‘radically transform the apparently dominant character of the classically planned and detailed interiors; transformation that will simultaneously amplify and diminish, mask and frame, illuminate and shade, and reinforce and unbalance the familiar gallery experience.’  The exhibition wanted to help visitors re-imagine architecture – just as when we design learning spaces we hope that they will encourage learners to re-imagine learning.

Bruno Zevi suggested in 1948 that we are ‘illiterate in our understanding of space’. (Zevi, B. 1948. Architecture as Space, Horizon Press). Is this still the case? It certainly isn’t the case in relation to the architects exhibiting in this exhibition. These architects could teach us a lot about how to design spaces for learning. That was not their explicit intention for the exhibition, but that is what I came away with. Through their installations it became clear that a carefully designed learning space will give the learner ‘a sense of being able to claim the territory.’

The exhibiting architects understand that the experience of space is a holistic and relational one. Light, temperature, smell, colour and texture all play their part. Learning should be a sensual and embodied experience. As learners we should be in control of our learning paths, following routes of personal and individual interest, moving from lows to highs, from vertical to horizontal, from light to dark, from quiet contemplative spaces to engaged interactive community spaces, through doorways that allow us to make connections between our past and present, between outside and inside and take us consciously or unconsciously over learning thresholds. The learning space should be adaptive and allow us glimpses of as yet unreached vistas that fire our imaginations. It should be experienced from within, not externally imposed.

In his keynote presentation to the UCL conference, Etienne Wenger said that learners in the 21st century need to be able to work in a landscape of practices, with engagement, alignment and imagination. The Sensing Spaces exhibition was for me an experience of a landscape of different spaces, where I could envisage different practices emerging through engagement, alignment and imagination.

The Royal Academy published a very helpful education guide for the exhibition (Sensing Spaces education guide). I have quoted liberally from this in what follows, to show how each of the architects ‘spoke’ to me, not only about space and architecture, but also about the kinds of learning spaces I would like for my own learning.

Álvaro Siza (Portugal)

Siza’s installation is the first you see when arriving at the Royal Academy. The installation is of three columns located outside the Gallery, which connect the outside with the inside. They reflect his interest in continuity, both the theoretical continuity of architectural history and the physical continuity of place. His work is based on a deep emotional response to the site.

Alvaro Siza

Alvaro Siza 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘…… we are always building in relation to something else. What we create is not an isolated object but transforms and is transformed by what exists’.

Entering the Exhibition

There is no set route for viewing the installations. You enter an octagonal room, which is a central pivotal space to which you can return as you create your own pathway through the galleries.

On the wall of the octagonal space is written: ‘Experiencing architecture involves moving within and around it, absorbing its qualities through our bodies and senses. We react consciously or not, to the characteristics of different materials, vistas, volumes, sounds, spatial relationships and proportions. As well as engaging physically with space, our experience of it is also informed by our memories and habits.’

The exhibition sets out to awaken and recalibrate our sensibilities to the spaces that surround us. As such, it is part demonstration and part experiment, which in the spirit of enquiry requires interaction and participation from its audience. Visitors are invited to observe, move through and around, touch, adapt and occupy a series of specially commissioned architectural installations. (Sensing Spaces education guide)

From the octagonal space the route I chose was to first go through Eduardo Souto de Moura’s door. De Moura created two replica door cases – precise facsimiles of those in the Royal Academy and placed the copies at 45-degree angles to the originals.

Eduardo Souto de Moura (Portugal)

De Moura’s installations make passing through an aperture a more present experience – an experience of movement and transition.

Eduardo Souto de Moura

Of his work he says:

‘Space for an architect does not exist, so we design the limits that give the impression of space.’

‘For me architecture requires continuity. We have to continue what others have done before us, but using different materials and methods of construction.’

‘It is not possible for an architect to design a space – such a concept does not exist. Instead, we design the thresholds and the limits: the walls, doors, and so on. I’m interested in designing the elements that give the impression of space’.

This aligns with Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s comment:

‘Good architecture is often invisible, but it allows whatever is happening in that space to be the best experience possible’.

I don’t only interpret this in terms of physical space, e.g. the rooms/spaces that UCL or any learning designer might design, but also the opportunities for ‘internal’ spaces that are personal and individual to each student.

Moving through de Moura’s doorway I came to an interactive community space.

Diébédo Francis Kéré (Africa)

This was a room within a room, made of honeycomb plastic panels, and designed as an interactive and adaptive space, which relied on the engagement and contribution of the gallery visitor.  Visitors were offered brightly coloured plastic straws to thread through the holes in the honeycomb structure.

Diebedo Francis Kere3

Kéré states that his main aim is ‘ to create comfortable spaces for informal gatherings, and to help communities build their own inspiration’.

‘I believe that it is important to engage people in the process of building so they have an investment in what is developed. Through thinking and working together the built object becomes part of a bonding process.’

‘For me, architecture is primarily about people, about asking questions such as: who is the user? What is going to happen here? How can I respond to the user’s needs?’

For Kéré space, and learning in that space, is social and collaborative.

In the next space the architects took us to places and spaces that we would not normally be able to visit or reach. They took us into the roof space of the immensely lofty rooms of the Royal Academy.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen (Chile)

Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Pezo von Ellrichshausen 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘We are not trying to express the structural properties of our buildings. The emphasis instead is on the proportions of the rooms, their sequence, the way they open – simple things, but which taken together suggest something more complex.’

Eduardo Souto de Moura3

 

Then across another threshold, through another of de Moura’s doors ……

 

 

 

 

 

…. I entered a contemplative space. Here the influence of space on the visitor/learner was so apparent. You could have heard a pin drop. If anyone talked at all, it was in whispers and hushed tones.

Kengo Kuma (Japan)

Kuma created two delicate installations made of lengths of bamboo whittled to a diameter of 4 mm, bound together to form a fragile structure, impregnated with liquid scent of Japanese Cyprus or Tatami and lit by LED light fittings in the floor.

Kengo Kuma 3

Kuma’s aim is to ‘achieve the maximum effect with the minimum use of resources’.

‘The more the volume of the material is reduced, the more the human body becomes sensitive and tries to concentrate on the limited, thin, small and slight material in order to smell out or catch ‘something’ from it.’

‘I always start with something small – breaking down materials into particles or fragments that can then be recombined into units of the right scale to provide comfort and intimacy.’

What I took away from Kengo Kuma is that ‘less is more’, which immediately I related to less curriculum could be more learning, less resources could be more inquiry, less teaching could be more discovery and so on.

Grafton Architects (Ireland)

The Grafton Architects also created a quiet space in their dark space. People also whispered in this space.

Grafton Architects

They made two dramatically different installations, both suspended from the roof lights. ‘Choosing only to work with the roof lights, both installations feature a series of suspended surfaces and forms that manipulate the light and reshape the space in two entirely different ways; one as an exploration of lightness, with what is referred to as a waterfall of light, and the other being the exact opposite, exploring weight, containment and the formation of carved-out space.’ (Sensing Spaces education guide)

Grafton Architects 3

The Grafton Architects seek to ‘make as much nothing as possible’, and to structure space through the careful orchestration of the passage of light and movement through the void’. They have said:

‘There is a sense of pleasure in moving from darkness to light or vice versa because as human beings we are cyclical. How light reflects and how light is contained is the stuff of architecture.’

‘Here we are describing spatial experience using not words but light.’

I can certainly recognize learning in terms of dark and light.

Finally I moved into Li Xiaodong’s maze, where I could create my own journey to the Zen Garden.

Li Xiaodong (China)

According to the ancient Chinese Philosopher Lao Zi, what is important is what is contained, not the container.

Li Xiaodong5Chinese architecture develops from the idea that the building is something to be experienced from within. Li Xiaodong’s installation ‘ adds a new maze of spaces to an otherwise familiar route’. The timber frame is infilled with small sections of coppiced timber and placed on an acrylic floor lit by LEDs. The route through the maze culminates in a Zen Garden.

 

Li Xiaodong states that there is a ‘fundamental difference between “being present” in a space, where you are absorbed within it, and looking at images of a space, where the mind is detached’. Li Xiaodong6

Xiaodong’s work seems to me to be all about identity, which comes full circle to Etienne Wenger’s keynote for the UCL conference in which he said that ‘The 21st century will be the century of identity’. It is interesting to think about the implications of the design of learning spaces for this.

For more photos of the exhibition see https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/sets/72157643464527454/show/