The unforseen affordances of technology

I logged in to the Ustream session this evening and what an event that turned out to be. The ‘leaders’, i.e. Stephen, George and Dave, did not appear for quite some time and even then the video streaming did not work, so we all had to decamp to Elluminate.

But what was so fascinating was how people in the chat room behaved whilst waiting for ‘our leaders’ – especially since this is the very week that the topic is about the distinction between groups and networks. I’m sure others will be posting about this and it will be really interesting to read about how people experienced this.

For me – I felt as though I really was in a group, probably for the first time since starting this course and I have to say, it felt GOOD! There was a lot of good humour and ‘rubbing of shoulders’. But what cropped up almost immediately, even if it was said in jest, was that we needed a leader. There were a number of volunteers! There was some attempt to try and chat about networks, groups and collectives but it was all very light-hearted and unfocussed. Everyone was waiting for the ‘leaders’. But the time was not wasted. it was fast and furious online socialisation at its best. It would have been even better if everyone had logged in with their name instead of a number, because then we could more easily follow up on people who interest us to try and make stronger connections.

There will, of course, have been people who were just observing and not posting and I wonder whether they ‘felt’ part of a group. In fact I wonder if even the people who were posting felt part of a ‘group’ as I did, and whether it also felt good to them. I hope there’ll be some posts about this as it seems significant to me in relation to the role of groups in learning.

So – did we learn anything in the half hour that we spent messing about while trying to get the Ustream session to work. I think I did. I learned that relationships, however fleeting, are really important to my learning process and that ‘feeling’ good about a learning environment makes all the difference to how engaged I am.

The group might have disbanded as quickly as it formed, but it was good while it lasted!

Groups, networks, collectives. What matters?

I thought the distinction between groups and networks would be important, but now I’m not so sure. I have enjoyed the readings this week (Week 5), but I think I have now decided that whilst it’s an interesting academic exercise to try and distinguish between groups and networks, the outcome will not be that important.

There is an interesting discussion thread in the Moodle forum, started by Ailsa with the title passion versus reason. Stephen has said that groups are about passion and networks about reason – and the thread has led to some ‘passionate’ responses! Is a forum, by this definition, therefore a group? Do we care?

Stephen distinguishes between groups and networks as follows:

1. groups emphasize sameness, networks emphasize diversity
2. groups emphasize order and control, networks emphasize autonomy
3. groups emphasize borders and membership, networks emphasize openness
4. groups emphasize additive, cumulative knowledge, networks emphasize emergent knowledge
There are also some interesting blog posts. Here is Wendy’s.

But I think Terry captured what it’s all about right at the beginning of his Elluminate presentation, when he said that teaching and learning can be enhanced by all three – groupwork, networks and collectives. Although it’s easy to start each of these up,  we need to think about why we use them and which tools to use for meaningful contributions to be made. PURPOSE seems to be the key.

From my understanding of what was presented and discussed, on the basis of my current understanding which changes daily (;-))  I would want to do the following:

1. Determine the purpose  of the group, network or collective activity (my ideal would be that ultimately this would be negotiable and jointly agreed).

2. Make students aware that they may be unaware that they are part of a collective -and discuss this, particularly in relation to their online persona and how this can be used by others and how they can harvest from a collective to their advantage. I did not know about collectives before reading Terry’s article, but it makes sense.

2. Use groups when we (I/students) want to develop a sense of mutual support, mutual responsibility and promote collaboration and a sense of belonging – using f2f work and tools that assist this kind of working such as those typically found on a VLE. Like Terry, I don’t see groupwork disappearing anytime in the near future and hopefully it never will.

3. Recommend that students use networks to link with others/sources of information outside the group, using blogs, photo sites, social networking sites and so on. I see ‘networking’ increasing as a way of working and whether or not academic institutions put blocks on the types of technological affordances students can access, there is so much ‘free’ software out there now, that students will just do their own thing anyhow. As lecturers we may as well work with them and exploit the benefits.

So for me, I’m going to get on with thinking about how I can work with all three and not worry too much about the differences.

Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism

Here is the abstract of an interesting article by Barry Wellman

Much thinking about digital cities is in terms of community groups. Yet, the world is composed of social networks and not of groups. This papertraces how communities have changed from densely-knit “Little Boxes” (densely-knit, linking people door-to-door) to “Glocalized” networks (sparselyknitbut with clusters, linking households both locally and globally) to“Networked Individualism” (sparsely -knit, linking individuals with little regardto space). The transformation affects design considerations for computer systems that would support digital cities.

This has set me thinking about whether it is possible to have a ‘community’ with the notion of networked individualism. According to some research done by Wellman – ‘the more people that are online, the less their sense of belonging to an online community.’ That feels a bit like this course.

He also writes – ‘With fuzzy network boundaries, individual autonomy and agency become more important, as each person becomes the responsible operator of her own personal network’.

Some questions arising from this are:

  • To what extent are we responsible for other people’s learning as well as our own?
  • Will networked learning lead to increased individual feelings of isolation?