Sunday, September 28, 2008

educational iatrogenesis; when you swim with sharks try not to bleed CCK08

I'm in a course with a population the size of a small town.
The capacity to learn from connecting with people in this small town is huge.
The potential for being distracted by time wasters is also apparent.
The potential to be damaged in learning is also as sadly apparent here as it is in any schoolyard with its rocks, stones, sticks and bullies.
Horizontal violence is not ok.
Freedom of speech is a noble thing, but as said by Mills: no one has the right to shout fire in a full theatre when no fire exists. It can be damaging.
Its not ok to let criticism continue unchecked.
Staying silent with bullies, condones the activity.
While masquerading as an activity of free speech the outcome is harm.
If education is for achieving greater freedom, the only person achieving this is the perpetuator of a crime. It is not ok to subvert a learning opportunity set up for a particular purpose involving thousands of people for one's own grandstaging.
At its least harmful its a distraction, at its worst it is educational iatrogenesis; an educational environment that is damaging.
In health iatrogenesis refers to medically induced misadventure and illness. In education I suggest it is misadventure and damage to thinking, to learning, to connecting, to knowledge production.
Education is, or should always be, an ethical undertaking.
It should always be for the creation of greater freedom (ref Colin Lanksheare)and not for less.

Connectivism as a theory of learning needs to consider the dark side of networks.
Not all communities are good, warm, caring, supportive places.
CCK08 is not either.
A rosy glow is insufficient. Taking off the rose coloured spectacles, connectivism as a learning theory needs to consider the potential for harm as well as for good.
What then might be the necessary and sufficient conditions for connectivism to do more good than harm?
Being Rogerian in my professional background, I try to demonstrate all the qualities needed for setting up an environment whereby personal growth might occur; trust, empathy, unconditional positive regard. As a responsible educator, I am also aware that these attributes do not help when swimming with sharks.
Greater freedom for one but not for all is perpetuated where the learning environment naively and innocently and with the best of intentions condones distraction, name calling, and critique that is false or unsubstantiated.
Sadly, for an experiment in open mindedness the seeds of failure may be embedded.
Does connectivism as a theory of learning depend on chance?
On who is in the scholastic pool?
If its for a particular purpose, as CCK08 is/was intended, then mediating the mix is valid interference.


  1. Anonymous2:56 PM

    hmmm. thinking.....
    Well Ailsa, your value system is intact and well-delineated, I would think.

    Mine is looser, and less concerned with conflict. In many ways I see that conflict produces value, through clash of ideas, a synthesis is found. The thesis-antithesis-synthesis thing. But I accept the other perspective. As you can tell from my satire, I don't share the same concern with how the course is going in the forums.

    But my bias is towards the glass half-full.

  2. It's reflecting this moment in time. It's not my past thinking.
    However, I am currently contemplating the lecturer involvement in a blended course for 1200 University students in two stage 1 courses in 2010. These will include combinations of wiki, blogs and discussion forums and my experience in CCK08 reshapes my thinking.

  3. Anonymous12:55 AM

    Those forums provide a huge quantity of noise with respect to meaningful and useful new ideas.

    Moreover some participants make a very unfair use of the freedom we have to express ourselves. They are few but they are able to make a lot of noise because they are unfair. Politics in Italy is that way nowadays. I know very well those techniques.

    But Internet is also this. The world itself is also this. It is good that in CCK08 there is also the dark side. I would look with suspect at CKK08 without dark places.

    Every true experiment has seeds of failure embedded.

  4. Part of the lesson in this course is that there are different types of networks, and that while some networks are healthy, leading to progress, learning and innovation, others are unhealthy, leading to conflict, criticism, and crisis.

    My recommendation (for which I am, of course, roundly criticized in the Moodle forum) is to avoid the forums. There is a wealth of content in the distributed blog network we have set up, which you can follow either directly, using a feed reader, or indirectly using sources like the Daily.

    Despite the ongoing antagonism (which really does wear on me) I am monitoring the forums and will include in the Daily or respond in the blog (as I have done today) any posts of substantial content. Others - such as George, will as well.

    This is another bit of the theory being demonstrated - you don't have to be everywhere to stay up to date: content from elsewhere in the network will, if it is of value, make its way to you. That, indeed, is the value of working in a network.

  5. Hi Ailsa
    A very interesting and perceptive post. From what I have seen in the forums, it certainly raises questions about the dark side of the network and how this can thrive. Maybe it is the whole 'perceived' or otherwise anonymity that comes with networking in this way. It certainly raises questions for me with regard to learners who are still minors (U18yrs).

  6. Anonymous10:29 AM

    hi Ailsa- interesting that you connected iatrogenesis to education. I first came across this idea in The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson (Paladin 1981). She wrote about holistic approaches to learning and how allopathic teaching in schools produced pedogenic illnesses - ie. teacher-caused learning disabilities: "the child who may have come to school intact, with the budding courage to risk and explore, finds stress enough to permanently diminish that adventure..." (p.310)
    The potential allopathy of connected learning does place a lot of responsibility on the mediating role of the teacher - suggesting that for novice learners at least, exposure to the unmediated serendipity of the network might be a daunting and off-putting experience.
    So connectivism might need to be modified, restricted, mediated and scaffolded as learners move throught the zone of proximal development - especially in the large classes you are talking about !

  7. Anonymous5:37 AM

    This is a good post. PDonaghy's comment really hit home for me. I've been struggling to write a post about connectedness and autism. My daughter has Asperger's Syndrome, and just sensory imput makes it hard for her to be connected to the classroom network (she had accommodations for that).
    As much as people don't want to talk about filtering, maybe we have to think about it. My daughter was allowed to do things during class to help her filter out the onslaught of sensory information. I have my own filters on how much rude behavior I will accept in an online environment that comes under the guise of free speech.
    The trick is: how do you filter out griefers without filtering someone who truly just has a different view of a given topic?

    Nice post!

  8. I think your thesis is very heavily overstated, and you are exaggerating the "rocks and stones" in the forums.

    There is a very stifling and conformist culture in the field of technology in general, that seems even more concentrated in educational technology, that cannot bear to hear criticism apparently even of the mildest sort. This has been very much manifested in this course.

    No one has shouted "fire" in any crowded theater because *there is no fire, and the theater isn't crowded*. There are an abundance of threads to chose from, and the ability to both start your own thread and comment on others, as well as ignore those that don't seem to have content useful for you. To complain about people with critical discourse in a setting where there is the maximum amount of choice, and even the professor actively agitating people to go to moderated "quieter" blogs, is to be petulant and thin-skinned.

    Having seen iatrogenesis very up close and personally, I find it frankly abominable to compare the real-life tragedy of "treatment worse than the disease" to a forums where you don't like some of the critical posts. To imagine that critical posts "harm somebody's learning" means we really are at the birth of a neo-totalitarianism here, aren't we?!

    This is a forum in which the professors have perhaps irresponsibly invited 2200 to express themselves, but in which no one can be "hurt" in the way you can in a real-life medical disaster. Turn the page. Shield your eyes.

    Frankly, professors promulgating an ideology of Connectivism, that says there are no authorities and that all kinds of learning can go on with all kinds of sources, cannot be then induced to control the discourse. That's hypocritical. If they *didn't* have this theory, then their desire to have a very controlled and homogenized and manicured discussion with a smaller group of people would be legitimate -- although not free, and not really what the university should be about. But they don't, so it isn't.

    If this is what you will do with Connectivism, "connectivism might need to be modified, restricted, mediated and scaffolded" -- then it isn't what it purports to be anymore. And then it sounds like what I have long suspected it is: a shill for a new form of digital collectivism with communist traits of control and restriction.

    I totally reject the notion of "unfairness" in a free forums where anyone is entitled to start a thread and express themselves. The comparison to Italian politics suggests that the speakers is in a minority in Italy and doesn't like his present government -- but then the problem becomes not just that one loud president, but all those who vote for him and support him, and finding ways to persuade them, rather than imaging that if only one person were removed from the scene, everything would be fine.

    Prokofy/Catherine Fitzpatrick

  9. Back to educational iatrogenesis; where educational intent is to create greater rather than lesser freedom, then sadly, if it creates lesser freedom and increases ignorance, then I believe it to be aptly named.

    BTW: In medical iatrogenesis it is not always worse than the treatment:
    Australia adverse event rate of 16.6 percent; the United Kingdom a 10.8 percent rate; and New Zealand a 12.9 percent rate of hospitalised patients. (It is important to note the American study excluded adverse events if they did not result in patient harm. The British, Australian and New Zealand studies included all documented adverse events.)
    Worth noting here is what's documented. A lot goes wrong which is not documented. But at least in health it is considered. And with regard to the NZ study the data suggests 1500 deaths per year are caused by preventable adverse events.

    In education, I am arguing that harm done could/should also be considered.
    There is bullying both top down and horizontal.
    And, if education is for greater freedom, what processes detract from this?

    A valid argument here would be considering the ethical dilemma posed in respecting autonomy versus creating autonomy. Having freedom of expression is one thing, being able to do this in a way that does not harm others is another.

    In my current frame of reference, the CCK08 course involving networks and courses i will be involved in in 2009, I am arguing that for a network set up for a specific task, learning, sharing ideas, developing thinking.... that people should adhere, be made to adhere, to rules for engagement rather than be assumed as being competent.

    Such rules might include not dominating, not name calling, using verifiable data, and producing sound arguments.

    I am not suggesting an absence of dissent.

  10. Data on medical iatrogenesis from
    Davis, P., Lay-Yee, R., Briant, R., Ali, W., Scott, A. & Schug, S. (2002). Adverse events in New Zealand public hospitals I: occurrence and impact. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 13-December-2002, 115 (1167). Retrieved February 2007, from
    Evans, S. (2007). Silence Kills. Kai tiaki Nursing New Zealand 13(3), pp 16-19.