Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

November 7, 2008

Environmental Engineering and Course Critique

Filed under: Week 9 — lisahistory @ 7:21 pm
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The Waiting Room

Yesterday morning I sat in a waiting room for a routine blood test as part of my check-up. The room was crowded, warm, staffed by unsympathetic people who treated the patients like things they had to do, refusing to move clipboards (used to distinguish those with appointments from those without) from one window to another, instead forcing the patients to go to the other window. There were no plants or life in the room, just bad paintings of flowers at their peak. Amid the occasional thumping hum of some machine behind the wall, people sat silently, all hiding in books, knitting, or their electronic devices. The only smile was a woman in a poster hanging on the wall, smugly inviting you to make an appointment next time. The display with the comments cards (“Your Opinion Matters to Us”) didn’t have any cards. Every time someone left, which they did with alacrity, the door automatically slammed behind them.

That place didn’t have to be so horrible. The control was held by the women behind the desk. They determined the tone in an already oppressive setting, and everyone else just shut down in response. Since I’m not the kind of person who could add my sunny disposition to this setting (I wanted to either scream or say “god, isn’t this awful?” to everyone), I shut down too.

The Classroom

Now, I admit, the waiting room of a phlebotomy lab is not supposed to be a learning environment, but I couldn’t help wondering, “wow, do students see my classroom like that? a sterile, unwelcoming environment with dragons in control?” We were all utterly dependent on a system over which we had little control, and we knew it. So then I come home and see these pictures posted by Bob Bell in the Moodle forum this week, with the photo of students in a 19th century classroom juxtaposed with one of students facing the presenter in today’s classroom.

That’s when it occurred to me: it’s ALL environment, the environment created by the setting and the people within it. Teaching is environmental engineering. I joke with my students when we move the chairs, that after class we have to put them back in the “standard” position, all facing the front. It chafes that my “presentation screen” is stuck at the front of the room; only students with laptops have internet access, and they are facing me so I can’t see what they see. Everything about the way our classrooms are structured encourages presentation and passivity. Wonder what would happen if we all came in one day and the desks were gone, replaced with pillows and decorative rugs on the carpet, colorful cloth walls and a plate of couscous for sharing? We’d do different things, I bet.

The MOOC

When I enrolled in this class, I was seeking that kind of unusual learning space. Self-directed learning? engineer your own environment? learn from such cool dudes whose work I respect so very much? I’m in.

We come to this class, where I just know things will be different. And they have been. But a couple of environmental elements have reasserted themselves anyway.

One is in the synchronous meetings. I hoped the live sessions would be highly interactive, and I’m sure our instructors did too. But the focus is always on some sort of presentation, the lecture mode, but with backchannel chat and questions. Our instructors and their guests present, with slides they control. We listen, and are invited to comment with open microphones, but we students do not set the subjects for discussion and it’s hard to take the lead.

Another aspect of the traditional environment is text depedence. An image (as we see above) can show a lot, but I have seen them used only rarely on the blogs and in the forums. In presentations, most of the slides are text based. The videos we have in the “readings” are all presentations, watching people stand and talk, or talk with slides with text. Even the CMaps (visuals!) are have been text, connected with arrows that have text in the middle. (This is in the interest of the explanatory text inside the arrows, and the alternative would be a mindmap, where we could have images. But a mind map, we learned, isn’t a concept map, so it would be very difficult to create a concept map based on multimedia instead of text.) When we join synchronously, the Elluminate whiteboard or Ustream window is too often blank, and only the moderators can access them. By the time a multi-window environment seemed accessible in the October 31 Ustream session, no one outside the moderators were accustomed to the possibility of entering the conversation as full video and audio participants. After awhile, I just wanna say “show me!”:

Some of this, of course, is technological. We can’t really have everyone together, on video, on one screen, promoting a sense of group equality. Or get Elluminate to truly allow more than one microphone open without echoing (I know it says up to 10, but it just ain’t so). I can bring my comfy pillows, but there’s nowhere to put them. The multimedia experiences happen outside the class (Second Life, creative slideshows or videos) and must be brought into the “room” somehow, so it’s awkward, especially since there isn’t really a central room, in the interest of decentralization, although The Daily had to be manufactured anyway to help fill that gap.

Next time around, maybe the technology will have moved forward, and be used in such a way as to create a playground inside a classroom. Maybe RSS feeds will somehow be visual as well as textual. Maybe there will be more equal participation, not just in the freedom to post and say what you want, but in encouragement of interactivity via more than blogs and forums (post/respond). Open class meetings where everyone attending is expected to bring something for show and tell. Central course pages that can be created by the students, with us adding feeds and media ourselves to the “main” classroom (I never got the feeling we were supposed to touch the wiki). And for the grading, way more emphasis on the participation/community aspect (now worth 10%), and less on formal papers and concept maps (now worth 50%).

As you’ve seen, I’m not very good at knitting silently, nor do I wish to complain — I’ve learned amazing things in this class so far! And I hope our instructors will take my critique in the spirit it is intended. If not, I’ll go to the other window to sign the clipboard. ;-)

November 6, 2008

Paper #2: Insurgence for Emergence

Filed under: papers,Week 9 — lisahistory @ 4:58 am
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As social needs change, so do educational methods and the desired “role” of the educator. At present, there appear to be two roles for educators in western societies, each reflecting society’s conceptions of teachers. The Lecturer is the font of all knowledge, and relays information through didactic methods, telling the students what they should know and thus writing on their Lockean tabula rasa. The other role is Facilitator, mediation using Socratic techniques to help students discover the same knowledge, but through a different discussion-based method. The recent popularity of (and fears about) this latter method has led to a societal demand for a further role for teachers, Accountant. Teachers are held responsible for demonstrating that particular outcomes are achieved through assessments. This role was created by authorities, legislators responding to social critics calling for “accountability”, as if education were a measurable social investment instead of a public good.

Since the roles are viewed as oppositional, they are usually presented as the only two methods. At the college level, where the Accountant role is only just slipping in, the lesson in recent years is that we must be less a Lecturer and more a Facilitator. The instructors using more “active learning” methods are seen as the classroom innovators. The division between Lecturer and Facilitator may be an introduction to the problem, but it misses the larger issue of creating learning environments. As George Siemens’ writes, “I’m rather sick of ‘sage on stage’ and ‘guide on the side’ comparisons. The clear dichotomy chafes” (2007). Active learning and facilitation creates a more participatory learning environment, but its basis is still in the learning of the individual via the method controlled by the instructor. It is “learner-centered” but not “learner-directed”. What if instructor control were substantially less, and the learner far more independent than even the facilitation model allows?

Connectivist learning theory presents the possibility that the neural networks of the brain, and the natural tendencies of social networks, could be used as models for formal learning. The emphasis is on the instructor creating an appropriate learning environment and providing access to resources rather than controlling learning through either lecturing or facilitation. Connectivist roles thus look different, although each deals with the balance between control and freedom.

The Curator role, presented By George Siemens on his Connectivism Blog, is part museum curator and part Clarence Fisher‘s “network administrator”. This viewpoint provides enough control to allow the continued role of educator as facilitator and guide:

An expert (the curator) exists in the artifacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But she’s behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map.

Curators, however, control not only which items are on display, but what the tags say. Freedom is built in because the “path” through material need not be indicated, allowing for greater exploration and individual interpretation.

The Master Artist role emphasizes modeling for students. I currently use a Master Craftsman model myself, which emphasizes constructionism more than just observing the artist at work. These models use metacognition about the learning process as a tool, as in Phelps’ ideas about making learning more explicit in non-linear complexity-based learning. The Craftsman also emphasizes the development of skills that can be used and adapted to many fields. In my discipline, History, I teach that the pattern of facts -> interpretation -> analysis can be used not only to construct arguments in history, but to understand any discipline. Elements of patterning, wayfinding, and sensemaking (as Siemen’s Instructional Design and Connectivism week 7 introduction indicated), can be taught through any discipline.

A more open role would be that of Organic Gardener, where learners are like plants. Gardeners allow a great deal of freedom, but encourage desirable patterns (Kurtz and Snowden 466). They are prepared for chaos and are aware that the uncoordinated actions of the lower orders can result in higher levels of action, as in Bullock’s emergent learning in chaotic systems. The edges of the garden metaphor emerged in this course in Carlos González Casares discussion of Node Gardens, and more specifically in Eyal Silvan’s comment in the chat room during the October 21 Elluminate session: “metaphor alert: it sounds less like building a house, more like growing a garden… all you can do is steer the students, but you can’t really “plan” anything…“. Inez Whipples’ blog post used this to remark that the process of learning “looks less like building a house and more like planting a garden”, and Stephen Downes’ referred to instructional design as “seeding” the environment in the session on October 24, 2008. An organic gardener creates only the conditions in which plants can thrive, and while control is evident in the choice of what to plant, unexpected life is taken as a boon so long as it does not destroy what was planted.

The impediments to implementing such connective classroom learning are many. The accounting super-environment of schools encourages the reduction of natural complexity in learning, as population and financial pressure creates groups of students too small to be diverse, too large to be taught individually, and too trapped into an annual ‘course’ system to encourage free opportunities for learning. These can be seen as the “initial conditions” (Siemens 2008) in the ecology of classroom instruction as it exists. While the ideal may be overthrowing the old system, bureaucracies do not change this way.

What we face is a lack of magic. Aware of increasing access to information and resources via the web, we envision a world of self-motivated learners, unhampered by bureaucratic straight-jackets and obedience training. We want to use new technologies to bring them the world, controlling their learning only so they don’t hurt themselves or others. We want them to learn like we learn, through connections and discovery. We want assessment of learning to be based on personal empowerment of knowledge rather than passing tests and earning degrees. Ultimately, then, we want the role of Wizard. The ultimate power, not to control people, but to change the system.

The solution is subversive application of connectivist and other useful learning ideas within the current structure, an insurgence for the purpose of fostering emergence. In addition to being an appropriate response to the hyper-controlling accounting being demanded by authorities, this sneakier approach is necessary because of another impediment: the difficulty students have becoming self-directed learners, having been trained all their lives to be reliant on the instructor. As noted in the session with Alec Couros, the main problem with too much openness is people’s inability to handle it in an appropriate manner. This problem is the same whether we’re talking about politeness in Moodle forums, the stupidity of crowds, or the difficulty of requiring students to “think for themselves”. As Ruth Duggan noted in the Moodle forum of October 30, “Rather than the teacher having the ‘power’ it is about empowering students to learn.” Having not been given this power, it’s necessary to take it. Our new role is Insurgent, creating a better way by undermining the system.

October 30, 2008

Response to Stephen: rights and power

Filed under: Responses — lisahistory @ 3:54 pm
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[Normally, I’d be able to respond to a comment on a previous post because the commenter would put it in the comments. But in this case there was a power (or really an exposure) imbalance. Stephen Downes asked his questions in The Daily, which I believe automatically goes out to everyone in the CCK08 class. I do not have the “power” to respond the same way, but I figure the title of this post will hit at least the Contributions column in The Daily if people want to see it! :-) ]

Stephen wrote,

Good post, but let me question it. Lisa Lane writes, “I think I have a right to personal empowerment by virtue of my being able to take control when necessary, or to relinquish it when required.” Is this true? If one cannot take control, does this person no longer have a right to personal empowerment? Do rights depend on capacities? Or to ask the same question from the opposite question: do we exert control by virtue of our nature, our personality – or do we exert control by virtue of our actions?

The post was a continuation of the wonderful discussion we had on Wednesday in Elluminate (unposted so far, but I hope it will appear here), where we got into issues such as personal empowerment and freedom as well as education. “I think” was my effort to explore this again, and the questions are very good ones.

Thanks to Stephen, I spent my morning walk mulling over distinctions in rights, control and power. By “control”, do we mean controlling the self, or controlling others? Do we have a “right” to both? Is power about personal empowerment, or about power over others? Do we have a “right” to both of these too?

Our actions are indeed what counts, and they may be founded in our personality, but that doesn’t mean they are justified by rights.

Rights should certainly not be dependent on capacities, or there would be no concept of human rights. Most conceptions of rights, whether Lockean (life, liberty, property) or utilitarian (Mills’ “legitimate and authorized expectations“), are used to justify actions (as in overthrowing an oppressive government). I do not know of any virtuous reason why I should have a right to control others, even with good intentions and legitimate authority. It is not correct that I have a right to power because I am able to use it. I seemed to be saying that might makes right, and of course we know that’s not . . . right.

Personality is still a factor in the assertion of power, even if it does not justify a right to that power. Forceful assertion of control can lead to power. We have two presidential candidates running around right now trying to convince us that they will have power they do not have under our constitution. Asserting this power may well give it to them, if Congress (the entity where this power originates) allows it, as they have done with the current president. Once the power is given, the executive is seen as having a “right” to that power by virtue of precedent. We could get into a whole discussion of right by precedent, and even consult Edmund Burke on the subject.

As a teacher, then, I have power not by right, but by precedent and social norms. Students allow me that power, and I abuse it when I use it in a way that causes harm. (I think that using my forcefulness in a way that limited openness caused harm.) Thus I revise my statement: “My ability to exert control when necessary, and relinquish it when needed, creates greater opportunities for personal power”.

In fact, I revise the whole idea. I feel that Stephen and I actually assert our right to power by virtue of our hair, a commonality noted in some Twitter posts yesterday:

There is, of course, Biblical precedent for this.

October 29, 2008

Control by Personality

Filed under: Week 8 — lisahistory @ 7:57 pm
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I just got out of class, where we had a group discussion on Bernard of Angers’ Miracles of Saint Foy, from the 11th century. Eschewing the didactic configuration of desks in the room, I arranged the whole class in a large circle. I have noticed before that this decreases the perception of instructor control, and that’s what I wanted, so more students would participate. The document was handed out right then to be read, so there was no previous work needed to join; this also tends to be an equalizing tactic.

However, as the discussion increased and intensified (getting into interpretation of the document following reading it together and determining what it said), I noticed that personality played a great role in who “controlled” the discussion. Although it may be assumed that, as the teacher, I would automatically possess the authority, a number of students who were assertive in their ideas (and willing to interrupt each other) were able to express themselves forcefully. In delighted response, I (unfortunately) allowed myself to express my own personality more than I usually do when attempting to engender discussion. By the end of the period, I had to vocally reinforce the valuable contributions made by everyone who had participated, in a somewhat desperate attempt to ensure that I made my own points without insisting that I have the “last word”.

In other words, I did not necessarily want the power I had, and this power, already unavoidably present by virtue of my position, was exacerbated by my personality. In this morning’s Elluminate session we considered the possible justifications for asserting a learner’s individual power against a teacher’s authority (however well-intentioned or legitimized), and I was hoping to see some examples of this in class. Instead, I found myself in a position of experiencing the aspect of personality as a major factor in the assertion of power.

In an asynchronous online environment, the forcefulness of personality can be mitigated somewhat by the vagaries of the medium itself. As evidenced in the varying negative responses to Stephen’s e-mail blast of Moodle posts, one can always ignore, redirect, or filter communications through determined use (or non-use, as Jason Green notes) of the technology. In any synchronous environment (including a face-to-face class session, or an Elluminate meeting), sessions can be dominated by those whose personalities fit the medium. There are those whom for reasons of language, typing speed, or focus cannot participate quickly (as in Sia Vogel’s feeling of loneliness during an Elluminate session), and they are already at a disadvantage in a synchronous environment. Add a more reticent personality to that mix and you have a situation where one would feel powerless.

It seems to be the perception of power that is important, rather than the power or authority itself. Forceful people appear to have more power. I have a strong personality, tend to perceive power imbalances rapidly, and act quickly to equalize them. If I believe someone is trying to increase their power at the expense of my own, I respond by turning up the juice. Perhaps, to answer Stephen’s question of this morning, I think I have a right to personal empowerment by virtue of my being able to take control when necessary, or to relinquish it when required. If I perceive I am overpowering people (as I did in class this morning), I attempt to tone it down. That does not mean that I have actual power over anyone.

As with all affective aspects of learning, personality may be another overlooked element here in the discussion of ways we teach through connection.

October 25, 2008

Open assessment (of my own Paper #1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisahistory @ 8:50 pm
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It seems a little bizarre to me in a course about openness and connectivity that the grading of student work should be hidden, but I understand that there may be privacy issues. I don’t have any of these, so here’s a link to George’s evaluation of my Paper #1. I’d like to answer here some of the questions he poses:

I would like to see you develop some of your ideas on knowledge in particular. You mention that you have difficulty accepting weak-connection knowledge as equally valid with established (traditional?) knowledge. This is a significant statement and potential area of debate. While it’s partly based on Stephen’s views of knowledge, I think you’d do well to begin by defining your view of knowledge. This is a short paper and a full critique is not possible. If, however, you disagree with assertions made, it would be helpful to provide reasons. For example, the introduction of strength of connections as a value base is an interesting concept. As it stands in your article, however, it doesn’t receive the appropriate treatment. What about “connections” can serve to make value statements? Why is weak less superior to strong connections? Or, turning to the readings earlier in the course on latent semantic analysis, why is it that some connections yield greater results than is inherent in the connection itself? Is historically validated knowledge superior? If you feel it is – and can provide reasons why, then you could use it as an effective lever in addressing the technological aspects of connectivism that you find unsettling (or even the moral dimension). Filling out this area of your argument would serve as a basis for addressing the final two points you mention as well: content/connection distinction and the “presentism” that you see as part of connectivism.

History itself does not provide validation, because history is comprised of a collection of interpretations which are as embued with value judgements, emotional context, and presentism as anything in contemporary times. But each traditional thread of discussion does provide a tree of connection among ideas, and the longer the idea has been around, the larger the tree. The diversity is thus apparent through time, rather than diversity of opinion being available only through multiple views created in the same approximate timeframe. This means that historically-developed discussions of topics have a broader base of context. In other words, a discussion of anything taking place only within the last 20 years or so would be a discussion among people whom, despite their differences of opinion, are all working within a similar context: the recent timeframe. Discussions with historical reference propose arguments from within different temporal contexts. To me, that makes them broader, more diverse, and thus more valid.

If one wishes, validity of a sort can also be found by researching particular timeframes, so long as one doesn’t lose sight of the context. For ideas about reason versus passion, for example, the Enlightenment (Voltaire versus Rousseau) is, well, enlightening. Anything implying categorization can be referred to Aristotle, and educational ideas involving “the greatest good for the greatest number” might benefit from access to the 19th century utilitarians. Discussions of voluntary society should at least make mention of utopian socialist conversations, even if they don’t reference Kropotkin or Proudhon directly.

Concerning value in weak versus strong connections, I was not arguing against the value of the former, rather I was raising the issue of automatic validity, as if every idea coming through any connection carried similar weight until shown otherwise. As I noted, I see this as a step toward justifying a disregard of the quality of information (and even, now that I think of it, interpretation). If, as my definition of knowledge states, true knowledge is a higher form of cognition, than more highly-informed nodes would originate connections that carry greater weight. But their connections only do so because the originator is well-informed, or highly educated, or very wise. All pipes are not created equal, and I continue to struggle with seeing “connections” without reference to the “connectors”.

October 23, 2008

My Current Learning Design Map

Filed under: Visualisation,Week 7 — lisahistory @ 3:27 pm
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This is an effort to map my own current learning design as I do it in both onsite and online classes, but with an emphasis on the concepts we’ve been learning this week:

Looking at this, I certainly do not allow a great deal of independence, but my system is integrated and answers the needs of assessing 150-200 students per semester (my regular load is 5 classes, which always start out full).

I have provided a conscious 70/30 balance between factual/content-based expressions of learning and thematic/analytical/higher-level expressions of learning. Students who get the factual stuff only get a C; to get higher requires expression of analysis.

I would like to develop a more connectivist, learner-centered design, perhaps for an honors course. My main problem is distributed assessment, so I am paying a lot of attention to the ideas this week.

October 21, 2008

Lessons from Locke and Rousseau

Filed under: Responses,Week 7 — lisahistory @ 9:49 pm
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I noted with interest the list shared with us this week of the many models of instructional design. Being a historian, I naturally clicked the history links first: A Hypertext History of Instructional Design by Sara McNeil, and A Brief History of Instructional Design by Douglas Leigh. The former began in 1870, and thus was of little use. Leigh, however, at least mentioned Greek philosophers (albeit out of order), Aquinas, and Locke:

The early contributions of thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato regarding the cognitive basis of learning and memory was later expanded by the 13th century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas who discussed the perception of teachings in terms of free will. Four hundred years later, John Locke advanced Aristotle’s notion of human’s initial state of mental blankness by proposing that almost all reason and knowledge must be gained from experience.

He then jumped to Dewey.

While I am not a historian of instructional design, this seemed brief and uninformed considering our emphasis on connectivism and this week’s topic. Even to the layman, it should be apparent that not mentioning Rousseau is doing a disservice to students in this course.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau vehemently disagreed with Locke’s theories on learning. Locke (1632-1704) had not only proposed that children come into this world tabula rosa, but that they are taught through reason and argumentation. Rousseau wrote that nature provided all the motivation and material a person needs, and that the role of the teacher was simply to provide appropriate experiences.

Each, of course, considered education to be important to creating a productive and participatory citizenry. We have these same goals today. In Locke’s view, those citizens were highly individualistic, where the government’s job was to preserve life, liberty and property. People were inherently rational, and religion would instill whatever ethical training was needed: “Teach him to get a mastery over his inclinations, and submit his appetite to reason.” Rousseau’s goal was a more egalitarian, participatory society, whose general will determined government. He distrusted reason. It was in the nature of people to learn, and “civilization” ruined natural proclivities: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man.”

I have created a chart of Locke’s and Rousseau’s Instructional Design ideas. There are good ideas here whose implementation has been interrupted by the advent of industrialized education, which I consider to be the real culprit in poor instructional design. The perceived necessity of educating the multitudes, and the rise of mandatory education in the West, has created our current system of classrooms, divided by grade/age instead of learning from older and younger students. There are vestiges of the elitist systems of education, as in the use of the word “tutor” in English universities. Although open access to education has become the hallmark of democracy, the elitists had one thing right: the tutorial form of education (as opposed to group education) had a great deal to recommend it. It’s mass education that has caused rote learning, lack of differentiantion, standardized assessments. In many ways the theories of connectivist learning are designed as a tutorial system without a tutor, an effort for the individual to make connections through exploration (Rousseau) and develop rational understandings (Locke). In designing instruction, then, it might be useful to jump back to an era before industrialized education and examine the existing models.

October 18, 2008

Stupidity and irony

Filed under: Week 6 — lisahistory @ 1:54 pm
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To behave in a complex system without accounting for chaos is to exhibit a stubborn and persistent stupidity.

Driving a car is using a complex system. There are elements dependent on certain operations, in a certain order, with room for variables. Although it becomes automatic after awhile, as beginning drivers we are most aware of the complexity. Most elements (visual acuity, steering, pedal control, audio input, managing turns, noting signage) must be executed properly for the system to function at all, much less at optimal levels. When elements shift without warning (unpredictability), there can be dangerous results. A fan belt breaks, a child falls while crossing the street, a car at the intersection runs the stop sign.

The drivers in my part of the world operate as if they control the complex system, as if there are no chaotic elements. They don’t stop at stop signs if they don’t see anyone around, they cut in front and behind people in crosswalks, they weave in and out of traffic on the freeway. These drivers know they are in a complex system, and they think they control it, as if they were playing a traffic video game and will simply lose points if their car explodes. The high frequency of accidents here is the result of drivers assuming a lack of chaos, behaving as if all conditions (the placement and speed of other vehicles, for example) will remain the same.

Chaos also accounts for a great deal of irony. The fire starts in the closet where you stored the emergency supplies. Your alarm is set to wake you an hour early, but the battery dies. I don’t trim the tree outside my window to keep the shade, and a big wind sends branches flying off. Good intentions, and their accompanying predictions, are thwarted for reasons which are explainable but not controllable.

It was quite clear in this week’s material, particularly the excellent slides accompanying Seth Bullock’s video, that some chaos is simply the result of emergent behavior arising from “the uncoordinated actions of lower-level entities”. These actions, like those of people participating in a collective, are unintentional. I can crush the Butterfly in my hands because I don’t want its wings to move, but it won’t be because I’m trying to prevent a storm in Indonesia. I realize we participate without knowing it, and our intentions don’t always play out. I can pan a book at Amazon hoping to reduce sales, but inadvertently increase sales as people want to read something so awful.

Intentionality, however, is at least an effort to prevent stupidity by acknowledging the existence of chaos. If I purposefully drive slowly in a school zone, and allow children to reach the other side of the street, the chance of danger caused by chaos (or by me) may be slightly reduced. There will always be variables beyond my control, so in that sense intentionality provides an affective influence: I fear hitting the child more than I do being late to work, so I will experience more comfort by behaving this way. Same thing with storing water in a couple of different locations, or checking the alarm clock battery. We balance between the knowable and the unknowable, creating a Cynefin-based narrative to prepare for the unexpected (Kurtz and Snowden, p. 480) instead of assuming basic cause-and-effect.

It’s a less stupid way to do things.

October 16, 2008

Thoughts on Waste, Efficiency, and the Web

Filed under: Musings,Week 6 — lisahistory @ 4:52 pm
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We can be all connected, but do we have anything meaningful to say?

The mobile (or cell) phone works through satellites and huge towers and relay stations, and people use it to make sure hubby gets soda on the way home from work. (cartoon). The student phone conversations I hear outside my office are clearly not content-based. Most are immediate personal reporting: “yeah, I’m OK, I just got out of class, you going to the beach later?” These young people barely talk to each other on campus; all their friends are on the phone, and the people next to them are distant. Much of the technology is thus wasted in terms of creating and maintaining quality communication with others.

Television has the capability to bring extraordinary content into every home, but most of the channels on TV are dedicated to sensationalism and shopping. TV watching can be highly educational, but most of it isn’t. The popularity of reality shows is a clear indication that people are not experiencing much reality in their daily lives. Much of this fantasy world comes in through the TV itself, and through their computer screens. The television networks encourage you to go to your computer and log your opinion on the news byte, the current pitcher, the contest winner. The lure of convenient participation is more important than what is entered.

When we travelled by slower methods of transportation, everything took longer. That meant we met people along the way, ate different foods, heard different accents, and experienced different ways of life. Now we see nothing but clouds between this part of the world and the part we’re going to. We have gained convenience at the cost of beauty and diversity of personal environment. This increases productivity. Its cost is high.

The internet is addictive in its sheer convenience, but does it make for a better world? Organizations that do good can use the internet, but so can those that do evil. Much of the world does not have access to the web, and when they gain it the exposure to things they cannot have implodes communities, as television does. Yes, there is great potential for learning in the underdeveloped world using computers, but that use is only peripherally one of social networking: what the developing world needs is facts, science, specific ideas, not conversation. It can have the conversation on its own.

Our young people use the internet, as Mark Bauerlein writes, to cement themselves in a perpetual state of adolescence, keeping obsessive tabs on friends, fads and fashions instead of extending their cultural understanding or citizenship skills. A wealth of information is available via the net, and, like our libraries, few access it for the purpose of self-improvement so they can contribute to society. They access to answer their own personal needs, be they medical, sexual, or political. The interactive web lets every internet user have a voice, and many of them are loud. But very few of them are saying anything that increases the intellectual capacity of those who read or view it. At their mildest, they can amuse. At their most inflammatory, they can engender hatred. And they can do either at great speed.

Convenience, whether of communication, geography or information, leads to waste. Waste of resources, waste of time, waste of heart, waste of feelings. The articles for this week by Francis Heylighen attempt to deal with the issue of information overload in terms of efficiency and loss of control and anxiety because people cannot handle the overload. He argues that ephemeralization lubricates society’s systems by letting information flow more easily between points, but makes the results harder to predict. His solution seems to be a “global brain”, a system with no center, where intelligence is collective and flexible, and individual use patterns are transformed into massive filters. Limiting the information coming to the user is the way to deal with anxiety.

That creates convenience of output, at the cost of exploring alternative paths easily. It suggests that the way you work today is how you should work tomorrow, the way you explore and play is consistent. It seems to prevent waste, and may make sense in a macro context. But for the individual person, exploratory opportunities are wasted, though time and stress is saved. And what if the personal anxiety did not originate in the overload of information, which can be stopped by turning off your electronic devices? What if it originated in the fact that the access to everything is so very convenient, and the soul realizes that things which come too easily are worthless?

There are a number of people I know who deliberately do not get too connected, deliberately do not take the time to learn much about the web. They frustrate me because they only go online for a few things, like ordering books or looking up something specific. They don’t Twitter or blog — those are things mostly educational technologists and politicos do, and it’s time we looked at why. It’s not just a lack of understanding as to what the internet can do. It’s a desire for peace and quiet, self-reflection, avoidance of the cognitive overload that we already had before the internet. It’s handling the problem at the input end. These friends rarely use their cell phone or watch TV, but they read a lot and are culturally highly literate. They enjoy life, are conventionally educated, know how to relax, and can access what they need without losing sight of traditions, personal relationships, neighborhoods, and efforts to deal with the many problems (poverty, illiteracy, fanaticism) that Heylighen admits we have been totally unable to solve. They have something to say, and what they say is about human philosophical questions, not machines: how to be a good person, what the role of the individual is in society, how you can help the people with whom we share the planet, and how to tread lightly on the earth. Surely here the content is more important than the connections, and it isn’t wasted.

October 13, 2008

Save me from too much connectivity

Filed under: Week 5 — lisahistory @ 5:09 pm
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The 7 Habits of Highly Connected People. I thought it would be descriptive, but it came off as prescriptive.

First, there is my personal take. I don’t like to waste time either, but I see my inability to waste time as a personal failing, not a valuable attribute. My inability to relax, to just do nothing for awhile, is probably shortening my life. In the last decade,the web has succeeded in filling any gaps I may have had (though I don’t recall ever having any) — it just gives me another way to be busy.

The variety of possible connections on the internet is overwhelming — I sometimes wonder whether that alone is the foundation of connectivism theory. Studies note that time on the internet is cutting into people’s sleeping and eating, not just their reading and reflecting. The web is an endless source of things to do, things to learn, people to meet. All night long. All the next day. All weekend. Till your typing fingers rot off.

Second, there are issues of personal relationship. Connections with other people are important. When they are tenuous, consisting primarily of weak ties, they are not very satisfying over a long period of time. This happens a lot with networks over the internet, which we enter and exit as it serves us. It’s like going to a buffet every night. It’s wonderful at first to have such a variety, but if it’s every night you eat too much and get overweight, and eventually wish someone would bring you just one thing to eat.

That’s not to say that deep connections cannot be formed and nurtured on the internet — of course they can. But being always connected seems inefficient. You will certainly meet more people, but the amount of time and energy left for deeper connections is reduced.

Last, there is the social dimension: the opportunities missed to connect with people in person. It’s good to talk to others, participating in that boring f2f meeting to make it less boring and more productive, meeting someone new on the bus, finding commonalities among people who happen to occupy the same real-world place you’re in. And, as should be obvious from my previous posts, I have concerns about the implication that individualized networks are the best thing since sliced bread, when I see real potentional for them to lead us into lives full of echo chambers and a lack of connection to those who differ from us. Because whoever I meet on the internet, they may be individually diverse, but they are part of one big group: people who meet on the internet. Millions of people are not on the internet. Some never were, some are philosophically opposed to it, and some have been active members but are leaving to get their “real life” back after internet addiction. I’d never meet them if I stuck my head in my laptop when I went out in the world.

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