The beauty of endless distractions in discussion forums

Diversity and distraction is what I am experiencing in Howard Rheingold’s Towards a Cooperation of Literacy course. One participant described it as ‘the beauty of endless distractions’.  I think there are 31 participants in this course – its difficult to be sure, since there is no participant list and maybe some are just observing – but those who are there are very active.

In all there are 16 forums in this first week, with 5 of these devoted to the subject matter of the literacy of cooperation and containing 183 posts. Some of the remaining 11 forums also contain posts related to the subject matter; in all there are 349 posts in these eleven forums (probably going up as I write) and we are not yet at the end of the first week.

I have tried to capture some of the ideas from two of the forums to illustrate how wide ranging the discussion is. Discussion is so intense and fast moving that inevitably I will have missed some. I do not have the time nor space here to explain the ideas, but they can all easily be followed up on the web. Nor do I have time to attribute them to individual participants – rather I will say that their range and diversity exemplify cooperative and co-learning in this course.

Forum 1: Philosophize about cooperation — looking at the big picture while examining the details

The following ideas have been mentioned and/or discussed:

  • Dancing as an example of human synergy and cooperation, with particular reference to Chicago Step and Swing
  • Morphic Resonance and the work of Rupert Shelldrake in relation to flocking birds. See (I had to copy and paste the URL into my browser to view the video.
  • Ambiverts as written about by Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’. Ambiverts are both extrovert and introvert. The question raised was ‘Do ambiverts best understand their partner’s thinking?’
  • The role of rewards in cooperative activity
  • Risk and failure in collaboration
  • ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – Daniel Kahneman’s book
  • ‘Why plans fail: Cognitive bias, decision making and your business’. Jim Benson’s book

So in this forum there has been limited discussion about cooperation in biology. Most of the discussion has been about the conditions which enable us as humans to cooperate, what motivates us and how and why we might decide to cooperate.

Forum 2: Cooperative arrangements in ecosystems

There has been extensive discussion in this forum covering wide ranging topics with, again, a tendency to move away from biological cooperation (as in plants and animals) to human cooperation – but as one participant pointed out, we are a product of biology too (not her exact words).

Biological cooperative arrangements

Gaia Hypothesis – if the evolution of life and its environment affect each otherr, is it in our self-interest to cooperate?

Self-interest and collective action – how do we make choices? Stickleback fish exhibit Prisoner’s Dilemma strategies.

Plants know their relatives and like them, but is this in their best interest?

Identity and membership in communities was related to mustard shoots recognizing their genetic partners.

Mapping biological concepts onto human consciousness

  • One participant cautioned ‘Don’t press the metaphor of biological evolution too hard’. Consider the

– noosphere (which emerges through, and is constituted by, the interaction of human minds – net-based consciousness)

– Global Consciousness Project

The same participant thinks ‘there is more going on than science and pragmatism can uncover’.

  • Tielhard de Chardin described evolution as a 3-fold process
  1. diversification
  2. individuation
  3. communion when the diversified and individuated entities begin to cooperate

His thinking was thought to be both pantheistic and teleological.

  • Ervin Laszlo has written in his book ‘Quantum Shift in the Global Brain’ about the brain as a quantum computer, connecting to the mind of God.
  • The Institute of HeartMath researches thinking with the heart and heart intelligence; and a participant quoted Pascal ‘The heart has its reasons which reasons knows nothing of… We know the truth, not only by the reason, but by the heart.’
  • Links between the body and environmental cues have been discussed in relation to Dr Shepard Siegel’s work on performance, emotion and environment
  • David Bohm’s ‘Thought as a System’ was mentioned as was Henry Markram’s work on a unified model of the brain.
  • ‘Evolution’s Arrow: the direction of evolution and the future of humanity’ by John Stewart was another book mentioned and of course  Richard Dawkins’ – ‘The Selfish Gene’

But one participant writes:

‘There are not individuals, just interacting systems at all different levels. And we call some sorts of interaction cooperation and other sorts competition.’

The discussion then moved on to the question of…

Where is technology leading us?

Here are some of the ideas that were thrown into the pot:

  • Self–replicating machines
  • Autopoietic and allopoietic systems
  • Conway’s ‘Game of Life’
  • Eric Drexler’s ‘Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology’
  • George Dyson’s – ‘Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe’
  • Game theory’
  • Cybernetics, information theory, network theory and chaos theory are all thought to be important in attempting to understand cooperation.
  • ‘Evolutionary Ecology of Technology’ (an article)

Finally a question from a participant: ‘What are we talking about – semantic cartography?’

Despite the discussion being all over the place the patterns of interest are emerging.

Second NLC Presentation 2010

Here is the presentation for our second paper which we will present on Tuesday at the Networked Learning Conference in Aalborg.

Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC

I think we are all set to go now.

CCK08 Research Papers

We – Sui Fai John Mak, Roy Williams and I – have finally completed work on 2 research papers following our participation in CCK08.

  • Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC
  • The ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC

On November 13th we will submit these papers to the Networked Learning Conference Steering Committee and hope that they will accept them for their 2010 conference in Denmark. The last time I went to Denmark I was 22 years old, quite a few decades ago. It would be great to go again!

Although we have not yet submitted our papers, we have been in touch with a member of the Conference Steering Committee who has encouraged us to share our papers with CCK09 before we submit them for the conference. So we have posted them (having first asked George and Stephen if that would be OK) in a variety of places including:

CCK09 Moodle site in Week 4 and General Discussion forums

Nellie’s CCK09 Ning site

John’s CCK08 Ning site

Roy has also invited discussion in his Google Groups Research site and John has invited discussion on his blog.

There is already some discussion about the papers. We will welcome feedback and are ready to amend the papers if necessary before we submit them.  There is still so much to learn!

Research is scary!

We have launched our CCK08 survey today. Did you blog or post to the moodle forums, or both, or neither during the CCK08 course?

It seemed to us that there must be very few courses that offer participants the choice of where they want to communicate, and that it would be interesting, if not important, to investigate the possible reasons behind the choices that were made.

We have spent a month working out the design for the survey. There has been norming, forming and performing in our small team, and a little storming – but no team would be complete without storming 😉 At one point I thought that Tuckman might have got it wrong – but once we started storming, I knew he had probably got it right!

We have agonised endlessly about whether we are asking the right questions. We have agreed and disagreed. We have referred to other research studies and advice on questionnaire design. We have unpicked each and every statement numerous times, agreeing and disagreeing all over again.  

And today we launched it – and we are all exhausted – and I have found the whole process scary and anxiety provoking. And we are supposed to be doing this for pleasure! No doubt you become immune to it all if you are an experienced researcher, but I am not!

But together with this anxiety is excitement. The results are already coming in. There is still a keen interest in what happened in CCK08 out there. It brings it back all over again. 

Our research process so far is worthy of examination (maybe another research study) as I think our research wiki shows. We are a group of people who have never met and are conducting this study mostly asynchronously on a wiki. So far we have only had two Skype meetings. We are looking forward to opening our wiki for everyone to see  what we have been doing, once all the results are in. We haven’t felt we could open it yet for fear of invalidating our questionnaire. But once we have the results in, we are really looking forward to hearing what others think of what we have done – however critical. It is all part of the learning process and I am certainly learning a lot.

To anyone who responds to the questionnaire – thank you!

Blogs and forums

There has been some discussion about whether blogs or forums are better for connecting. I expect there is no right or wrong answer here – it will be a matter of personal choice. Personally I see the function of each as different.

As I see it, the forums are for asynchronous discussion between large or small groups of people. There is a sense of ‘people in a room’ in a forum, coming in and going out, but gathering in one place.

For me a blog is for personal reflection, although I know that blogs, like Stephen Downes’ for example, can be used to collate information and comment for others. Some people, like Stephen, write their blogs with their audience in mind and certainly making a blog public (which it doesn’t need to be) has an affect on the way in which it is authored. We can receive comments on our blogs and we can post on others’ blogs, but the opportunities for following through on conversation are limited.

I find blogs helpful as a place where I can articulate for myself my own thoughts by writing them down – what John Mason in his book ‘The Discipline of Noticing’ called ‘marking’. He claims that only by marking our reflections will we be able to act on them in the future. For me a blog is a reflective learning tool to enable me to do just this. If people comment on my blog I welcome their comments, am interested and grateful, but I do not expect it nor do I seek it. I think there are other more effective ways to communicate and connect with people, such as through the forums or other group settings.