The Hazards of Groups and Group Work

Last week I came across this fun video, which caused me to reflect once again on the potential problems of groups and group work, both on and offline.

For me it’s interesting that the intention of this video is to promote group work and group behaviours in a fun and humorous way, but it also, for me, suggests at least three problems with group work.

First I noted that all members of the group look very much alike, almost like clones of each other. Diversity is in short supply.

Then group members have a tendency to all act in unison and to be defensive. There is the assumption, by group members, that if you are not in the group, then you are either in danger of getting lost (a somewhat patronizing assumption) or subject to the malevolence of a predator. In the light of this assumption, a common action of groups is to close ranks.  All this of course, leads very easily to group think, which in turn constrains autonomy.

It’s not that there isn’t a place for groups and group work – simply that groups need to be very self-aware of these common behaviours, pros and cons.

I often return to Stephen Downes’ post on Groups vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues and this diagram that he drew.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 11.26.20

In the last year or so, I have seen more and more open online courses introduce group work or collaborative projects, or promote learning in spaces that encourage group formation, which is a departure from the initial intention of massive open online courses to promote networking.

Is it time to remind ourselves of the potential hazards of groups and group work and consider carefully what is to be gained and what is to be lost by becoming a member of a group or embarking on group work, or by asking our students to engage in group work?

Blog aggregation

Did you follow the CCK08 course? You remember all that talking we did about how difficult it was to keep tabs on all the blogs you wanted to follow – well Nancy White (who I’m sure you’ll remember from the CCK08 course if you didn’t already know her from elsewhere) and Tony Karrer have obviously recognised the difficulties of lesser mortals like me and created a blog aggregation site – Communities and Networks Connections.  Just those 3 words, tells me its just what I need.

This is not a place to blog or network or hold conversations – it is simply somewhere to go to find out what bloggers are saying about communities and networks and hopefully feel more connected in the process.

I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, as it’s very clearly set out. And it is so easy to find things. I’m looking forward to spending more time, digging around on the site. It’s going to be great for the research project that John, Matthias and I have just embarked on, as a quick look has already shown me that there are loads of links to blogs that are talking about blogging!

Thanks Nancy and Tony for a great initiative!

Identity in the network

George’s presentation this week is very timely, as I have been trying to sort out in my own mind the role of identity in a network. I have trawled the Moodle forums for references to identity and there has only been limited discussion of this. There has been some discussion of how you can create your identity or multiple identities online – see Pat Parslow’s post . But I don’t think this is in question. I haven’t yet looked through the blogs. I don’t think I know a quick and easy way to do this.

How do you establish your identity in an online network?  Etienne Wenger (Sept 28th 2008, forum post) in discussing identity, learning and meaningfulness writes:

“The question of identity is central to learning both because learning changes our ability to participate in the world, and therefore our identity. And conversely a central principle to social learning theory is that knowledge has to be “lived” in a space of meaningfulness by the person, and therefore knowledge cannot be separated in practice from the identity that can live this knowledge as an experience of engaging in the world and making meaning.

George has said in his presentation that the ‘need for individual recognition’ cannot be ignored and that the basis of collective intelligence is a recognition of the self.  George also has a slide where he says that the ‘self’ (a word which he sometimes appears to be using interchangeably with ‘identity’) is shaped and expressed by socialisation, and says elsewhere in his presentation that people seek to retain their identity in network and group situations.

So is identity fixed, i.e. something we can bring to the network or group, or is it always changing, being shaped by the group or network and in turn shaping the group or network? The latter makes more sense to me, i.e. that it is not fixed and if so it is not something that can be retained. 

It seems to me that a lot of what we are observing in this course is people trying to establish an identity. Some appear to be finding this easier than others. Would it be fair to say that the better connected you are the easier it is to establish an identity? Would it also be fair to say that the group offers more opportunities for this than the network and that the group is instrumental is assisting people to find their identity?

This should be an interesting week.

What is knowledge and do we care?

Dave Cormier asked this question in the Ustream session on Friday. It was rather glossed over, but at the time I thought -‘Good for him’. GS felt we should care because  ‘so much in life has an epistemological foundation’. I thought it interesting that at this point someone felt the need to define epistomology for us all in the chat room ( as epistemology = theory of knowledge). I haven’t yet looked this up to see whether it’s correct!!

SD has also expressed surprise in a Daily (today?), that educators appear not to be that interested in the question of what is knowledge and are more interested in the process. Is this something to do with workload and overstretched teachers?

I think I am interested in both, although since even GS and SD couldn’t agree on what is knowledge, I don’t think I am any the wiser.

According to GS all knowledge is connectivist in nature. Presumably that means that there is no knowlege that is not connected. Knowledge can’t stand alone.

According to SD all knowlege is associationist rather than connectivist, but he didn’t explain what he means by associationist. Does he mean that knowledge is connected through the senses (qualities) through quantities and by being connective?  I suspect that this sentence shows how completely confused I am and I do wonder whether it is worth caring about! I need a picture in my head about what associationist means and currently I don’t have one.

Another thing that I have picked up over the week, is that knowledge is distributed across networks. That much makes sense. But the business of knowledge being externalised is still unclear to me. Does this mean that knowledge is something different to and separate from my own personal ‘knowing’? I have to admit to being completely lost here. I’ll have to return to the forums – but the number of posts is ‘blinding’! Aaaaargh”!!!

Like others I did not gel with the coal analogy. I’m not sure what SD was getting at with this. I think the error was in choosing an inanimate object to reflect a living network.

Off the top of my head (and definitely not related to any wider reading yet) it seems to me that

  • we probably do need to think about knowledge differently these days because the internet has made it possible for many people to launch in with their expertise (e.g Wikipedia), so in this sense knowledge is distributed across a network
  • but some people will have more expertise in a given area than others and we will need to be able to navigate networks to find these people. How will we judge who is worth ‘listening to’ and who is not?
  • the advent of connectivity across the internet also means that we can all contribute to developing knowledge and expertise in specific domains, but the question remains of how to judge the validity of expertise
  • and it still leaves the question of the value of ‘knowing’ as a personal quality/attribute. What will be the role of teachers in this distributed knowledge network? What will happen to leaders, to experts, to geniuses? Will they naturally rise to the surface like bubbles of oxygen in a bog?

I have to admit to not having read these yet. Perhaps it will all become clearer when I have!

Network or community?

This question keep cropping up for me. Could this course be considered a community? In some ways it must be.

  • We are all gathered around a domain – connectivism,
  • We are all sharing practice  – Are we? Is what we are doing sharing practice? Even for those who are sharing, is it sharing practice?
  •  And we are learning through social interaction. Well some of us obviously are, but equally I suspect there are many who are not.

So could this be called a community? It doesn’t feel like a community to me. Network seems a better word. Is there a difference? Does it matter? If there is a difference, how does that affect the learning process?