Saturday, October 25, 2008

what is knowledge; then what is learning; then what might be the shape of teaching CCK08

"Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience." (Kop & Hill, 2008)

This is a very actor-network way of thinking.
That knowledge happens in relation; in connection.

If we accept this as true, then how might we reconfigure teaching?
What is it we need to teach?

What becomes important?
The ability to discern the networks inside of which 'knowledge' is constructed.
The abilities to judge 'knowledge' in terms of how it explains or stands up in various applications.
The ability to cross networks.

These are contentious teaching and learning skills.
And more.
Power becomes central.

Foucault's knowledge/power inside of learning theory?
Bruno Latour's actor-network theory put to teaching about learning?

This has potential for radical transformation of education as we know it.
What would be taught would be critical engagement.
There is no need for learning facts, the emphasis shifts to what can be done with knowledge in relationship and how is that knowledge constructed in relationships.

Chaos and anarchy and power and control.

At its most base, a connectivist approach emphsises
"its not what you know, but who you know."
This is not tongue in cheek.
This is a radical approach to take on teaching and learning.

Who you connect with, what happens in those connections has been described in the writing of Johansson, F. (2006). The Medici effect. What elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Crossing networks creating opportunities for new knowledge to occur.

But what is truly radical here is the critical engagement with how knowledge is constructed and maintained. This is about power.
As such a connectivist theory of learning would, to my mind, be positioned within critical educational pedagogy.

I find myself disagreeing with Kop and Hill (2008). In their conclusion they argue,
"A paradigm shift, indeed, may be occurring in educational theory, and a new epistemology may be emerging, but it does not seem that connectivism’s contributions to the new paradigm warrant it being treated as a separate learning theory in and of its own right. Connectivism, however, continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies, where control is shifting from the tutor to an increasingly more autonomous learner."
What I think they have failed to take into account is the very serious business of what happens when knowledge is seen as and taught as being constructed in relations, applied in relations, and that this occurs inside and outside of formal educational institutions.
There is potential in this for a paradigmatic shift.
The balance of power gets shifted, or at least shaken, for a start.

This was brought on after an almost two week break from engaging in CCK08, and a very light reading of the paper by Kop and Hill
I could be totally wrong.
But its worth thinking about.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

the plot thickens

I had been reading Ken Alder (2007) Focus: Thick issues.
And this reminded me again of Sherry Turkle's Evocative objects, things we think with.
I keep thinking I should add a fanfiction site for Sherry Turkle but it has yet to happen, I would need more time.

Here's another thicker story:
In my childhood, we never had a wooden spoon. I had heard of these, they were after all a common entity, ubiquitous even had the word been known. But not in my family home.
My eldest sister and her friendly neighbour buried each and every one they came across. Or to be more exact, which came across them.
Or so I was told when I asked how come we didn't have one.
I know what wooden spoons are for, they are for burying in the garden.
Apparently they were also for hitting unruly children; stirring pots of jam, porridge, whatever.
I was never hit with one. They were all buried.
I have never owned a wooden spoon either. I had learned to live without this weapon. However, I have a spurtle. It's short, it's a Scottish variation; after all porridge is (arguably) nicer lumpless.
The shorter handle lends itself less to hitting.
And it's short length suits the modern size of saucepans, and the 'modern' cook who infrequently makes jam.
Has economics altered the ubiquity of wooden spoons?
Has birth control?
For myself, its also the less violent norms in domesticity.
A 'good' story provokes more questions, or so I am told.
A humble research approach doesn't tell others how their world is.
It suggests it might also be otherwise.

In providing a functionalist description of objects, Alder reminds me that this denies the incredible capacity for people to repurpose their tools. He says

"to reduce an object to its [stated] function involves more than a failure of attention: it is a slur on the human ability to repurpose the material world and on the power of things to reshape the contours of human experience."

As much as we think we shape our tools, they also shape us; there is push and pull.

Do you have a story? Write it with a backlink to here, I would be interested in 'hearing' it as I practice writing thicker stories.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Feeling contained; text messaging and I just dnt want it 2 b real

Talking therapies assume that being able to talk about how one is feeling is therapeutic.
Its an assumption worth talking about.
What are the necessary or sufficient conditions for this to be beneficial?

If I text, is this enough?
Is text a bandaid?
Deep wounds get infected and the bandaid is a superficial fix on something that needed a whole lot more...
Or is the text more like a lance? A way in- and out preventing a worsening of the condition...
The following txt message suggests its a way to contain what's going on.

talkn out loud makes it real, i dnt wnt it 2 b real

Suggesting: I dont want to hurt
I dont want to fall apart
I dont want to acknowledge whats going on for me
I want it to go away...and i also know its (t)here.

Texting, in this instance, allows for control over how much reality gets experienced. What could be overwhelming is contained.
In this instance, the scenario involved the death of someone very close to the person texting in. and seemed to provide a way of containing and of letting go.
I am reminded of being 8 and finding my sister who had died.
As children we worked out that we would make it easier on the grownups letting them know we knew what was going on, so they would not have to talk to us.
Talking about it with Mum or Dad would have made them cry and that would have been even more overwhelming.
I wish a youth telephone counselling agency had been around then, and I wish texting had been available.

The medium of texting provides a contained/constrained/constructed practical way of relating:
Contains in terms of being held gently.
Constrained in the sense that control is emphasised; that its not overwhelming.
And constructed, carefully, at my own pace, in the medium of my choosing.

Some wisdom from Australian cartoonist, Leunig, on holding on and letting go:

Holding on and letting go seems a recurring theme at the moment; i am rewriting, reediting, and not letting go of, a conference paper I need to complete by 5.00 today...
My supervisor has an inkling I will be like this when the thesis is being handed in also :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

passion and reason; burden and blessings in connectivism; a feminist critique CCK08

Connectivism as a theory of learning values networks as a place of learning. However, what is valued within the network? How might a network be differentiated from a group? In an opinion piece, Stephen Downes argues his difference saying:

The point where group identity becomes more of a burden than a blessing?
So where is that dividing line? Where functional and healthy becomes dysfunctional, obviously. Somewhere between (most) football teams and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Somewhere between family bonding and wiping out your neighbours with machetes.

In my books, that line is the line between reason and emotion.
To put it most simply, groups are based on passion while networks are based on reason. Groups meet our need to belong and to survive, while networks meet our need to connect and learn and to know. In a group, passion drowns out reason, in a network, reason drowns out passion.

I'm feeling othered.
It's like revisiting a world where reason is praised and emotions devalued.
Pre Carol Gilligan, Simone de Beauvoir, Susan leigh Star, or Donna Haraway.
Feminism never had a hand in this construction of reality.
Being of the other sex, and feeling invisible, I suggest that reason can be as threatening as emotions to any aggragation be it named group or network. The division is at best, unhelpful and at worst, damaging.

Unhelpful because its a label for explaining after the effect, what was wrong.
Its damaging because it perpetuates a myth that reason is a better attribute than passion.

More work on what makes for a functional network is required.
The dividing line might do better to consider the different voice, and to consider as Haraway states:
I do not know of any other time in history when there was greater need for political unity to confront effectively the dominations of 'race', 'gender', 'sexuality', and 'class'. I also do not know of any other time when the kind of unity we might help build could have been possible. None of 'us' have any longer the symbolic or material capability of dictating the shape of reality to any of'them'. Or at least 'we' cannot claim innocence from practicing such dominations.

I concede this was posted in an emotional response to the first reading I have undertaken for the week. And to place this in context, I had read the posting in terms of my wondering "what are the necessary conditions for a networked connectivist theory of learning?" Reading the post,that group feeling, leaves me afraid. More reading may help dispel the sense of my feeling excluded.

CCK08 short paper, connectivism, what is it, where is it and can i get some?

This short paper is used to clarify my position on connectivism. In doing this, I choose to ‘connect’ my current threads of learning. I approach connectivism through actor-network theory. The paper then explores whether connectivism provides a new theory of learning and how it connects with prior knowledge in terms of my own learning experiences. This leads to consideration of what further questions, for me, need to be addressed.

I come to this course already connected; to people, my work, my family, and my doctoral undertakings. Such social orientations provide me with relationships that influence my beliefs and my thinking. In relating I am introduced to ideas, as well as challenges to the current ideas I might hold. I am also connected to my laptop, without her, I could not be networked. She extends my reach in terms of hearing and ‘speaking’ with others. In this sense, a network for learning is established. This is congruent with the core premise espoused by George Siemens(2006); learning is a network phenomenon, influenced (aided) by socialization and technology. The social and technological as part of the network is also central to actor-network theory (Latour,1999). Playfully, I name myself cyborg as a learner in the 21st century and embark on telling a sociotechnical story.

Sociotechnical stories allow for an understanding of events that weave together the social and the technical or material aspects. The connective learning approach, situated as it is, within a world more connected than ever before through the Internet, lends itself to such an analysis. This also provides me with an opportunity for weaving together two fields that seem to readily sit by each other, connectivism as a theory of learning emerging in a networked world, and actor-network theory being a means of informing discussion of what occurs within networks and how such networks are configured.

Such stories are not innocent; they provide scope for seeing not only how things are, but also how things might be otherwise.

Our stories are not simple innocent descriptions. They can make a difference, introduce changes, or alternatively bring aid and comfort to the existing performances of technological reality while it could have been otherwise. Technologies could have been enacted in other ways – imagined and enacted. (Law & Singleton, 2000, p.769.)

The story too could be otherwise. It will be otherwise when told by others or at different times, even by the same author. This is also a part of connectivism, knowledge is not located as an isolated event, its created in connections, culturally and temporally bound. In undertaking this networked course, I am situated within a connected learning opportunity. The size of my course is the world, spread across this world are something like 2000 people interested in exploring the topic of connectivism, and connective knowledge, as an emergent learning theory. They could not do this without some material means through which to connect. The material semiotics therefore includes the laptops to connect to the connectivism wiki and moodle and emails and elluminate discussions. Some have also chosen to extend this through use of their own blogs, and wiki, some also move into 2nd life. Others choose to connect through mobile phones utilising twitter, as well as the access afforded to wiki, blogs, moodle etc. The technologies and means of access form part of the structure of the network.
“Semiotics of materiality suggests that objects, materials, information, people and (one might add) the divisions between big and small or global and local, are all relational effects” (Law, 1999).

I could not be part of the course without the technology affording me access. In connecting with others the means is part of the message; social networking media extends the reach of others as well as my own, providing the means of connecting. However, the material semiotics of the network, are not the network. While they provide means, what is connected, matters. So people are connected. But it is how they connect that becomes a crucial component to connectivism as a theory of learning. For what then might be the necessary and sufficient conditions for connectivism to be considered a theory of learning?

First, I have to connect. This may or may not be through the media afforded by emergent technologies. These are not sufficient or necessary. What is essential is the connecting for learning. In doing this, I bring myself, my thoughts my abilities and I ‘meet’ with others who similarly bring themselves for the purpose of exchanging thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, even feelings. In this exchange, there needs to be movement for learning to have occurred. I need to be able to let go of ideas, or to reconsider ideas in terms of what they may be connected, how prior thinking may then be altered, accommodated or rejected. During this course, I am reminded that such ‘others’ need not be present; their ideas are what I connect with. Provocatively, Lisa Lane raises the spectre of a network of dead people (Lane, 2008) into my lived experience on connectivism and learning. I am also provoked to consider if the theory of learning is new in the blog post ‘Is connectivism shiny’ (tschofen, 2008) and while I had not been exposed to this authors previous readings, I am aware that I don’t think it is new. My own experience of learning can be traced through who I have listened to; dead and alive. My connections are not all new, some are to people I know such as Stanley Freilick who I meet with on a terrestrial weekly, if not daily basis. However, enrollment in a connectivist learning course creates opportunity for new discussions to occur, and these are not restricted to an Internet forum, but occur in front of colleagues generating further discussions. Such an approach might be considered viral, and this has been explored in the CCK08moodle threads. The approach also has similarities with neuronal physiology; with firing of nodes and catalytic sequalae evolve. Such thinking is not new, the interconnections are identified and applied to learning in Dave Cormier's article titled Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum. The bringing together, and naming, and exploring the application, particularly with consideration for technologies now available within education, is.

Expanding on the usefulness of a theory of learning called connectivism, it is worth considering how the quality of such learning may be measured. As already outlined, new thinking is provoked. New means to shared ways of communicating are deliberately practiced and overtly explored as I bend my blog to new purpose. Minutes of fame quickly dissipate within a fast paced connected learning environment, but evidenced by clustermaps and delicious, my being connecting by others increased. My stated intent on the introduction thread was to apply my knowledge of actor-network theory within this course, this is both extending my thinking and knowledge of the theory as well as expanding my connections with other educators who have knowledge of the approach. In addition, there are new skills acquired. I discovered wordle, eluminate, and hyperlinking within prose. Nonetheless not all the learning is positive, some is challenging. Some students I connect with seem more intent on self if not group distraction and destruction. And not all the learning is straight forward; in moodle threads differentiation between concepts of computation, collectivism and connectivism created a chasm of ‘isms’ to fall into, and required Stephen Downes’ Professorial assistance to get back out. The role of teacher as facilitator, and role model, is sustained.

My current understanding of connectivism is that it’s not new. What is new is its naming and its affordance as a learning theory. I believe it provides a demonstrable and accurate portrayal of how learning occurs, as such it is an effective theory for it illuminates aspects of what is important and from this, deliberate consideration can be given to how learning might be extended. My question remains; what are the necessary and sufficient conditions and how does this extend my own thinking, my own connections, and my connections with others.

Lane, L. (2008). Networks of dead people. Retrieved 25 September, 2008, from
Latour, B. (1999). On recalling ANT. In J. Law & J. Hassard (Eds.), Actor network theory and after (pp. 15-25). Oxford: Blackwell.
Law, J. (1999). Materialities, spatialities, globalities [Electronic Version] from
Law, J., & Singleton, V. (2000). Performing technology's stories. On social constructivism, performance, and performativity. Technology and Culture, 41, 765-775.
Siemens, G. (2006). Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused?
tschofen. (2008). Is connectivism shiny? Retrieved 27 September, 2008, from

Note to self;
hyperlinks lost on moving word doc to blog (aargh)
However; its not for credit, I dont need to dot the i's cross the t's or get a 'grade'

And next q is how to sustain the links...and or put a word doc into the bog
But for now I have a life to get back to...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Dear diary: Life gets in the way of learning; i need my head read

My mum has been in and out and in and out; and in and out and in and out; and in and out and in and out of hospital. That's accurate. This many times in the last 5 weeks. She has a cigarette induced lack of oxygenation, plus a disinterest in whats happening that adds up to a significant amount of being confused. But at the beginning of this week she almost died.
She has been having significant nose bleeds.
Really significant ones.
This is horrible.

Annenarie Mol is right, the experience of health and of healthcare is multiple.
Mum thinks she's fine, she wants to be at home.
The hospital is happy to discharge her, afterall, she wants to go home and in NZ at least there is no compulsion to provide care.
My experience of this part of my world is different again. I know she is not well, she asks me where my other daughter is. I only have one. She is hypoxic and also in acute nicotene withdrawal again, she is grumpy. So am I.

And to further quote annemarie mol;

Here you will not find sentences such as; we cannot imagine what it must be like to have a chronic disease. Such sentences are nasty! They do not state explicitly the author and reader are in good health , but they imply it all the same. This is not what i am after. On the contrary i want to avoid unmarked normality. To presume that you and i are healthy would go against the soul of what i seek to say. Within the logic of choice 'disease' is a strange exception, it has nothing to do with 'us', while the logic of care starts out from the fleshiness and fragility of life. I hold that dear. Indeed in articulating the logic of care i seek to contribute to theoretical repertoires that no longer marginalise, but face disease, As part of this it is good to underline that 'patient' and 'philosopher' are by no means mutually exclusive categories. 'I' am not immortal or immune to disease. And your normality , dear reader, is not presupposed here either.... i kindly invite you in to imagine yourself involved in the situations described."

While I feel that I have not paid enough attention to my day job this week, and have not done as much on my doctorate as I want to either, and combining this with my time in CCK08 plummeting and a rewrite for the ascilite conference and the moodle dse forum on hold...I am left wondering about my own normality!
Nonetheless: I did one interview for the PhD, and had a cafe breakfast reading Bruno Latour's Society is technology made durable; some excellent insights growing on the descriptive detail of actants and actant substitutions, and tracing of trajectories of actants, and of translations...
I suspect any 'normal' person would tell me to get a life!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fairy bread and concept mapping CCK08

Computer generated word play from, I took my blog postings for CCK08, and this is what Jonathon Feinberg's software did with them. Similar to delicious clouds, the words most commonly used are biggest. So this representation at least captures what has been most topical for me in discussing connectivism.
There is no meaning in this for what lies next to what, and I justify this as linear connections do not seem to last for long enough in my mind for translation to the page, and the cmaps and bubble map software, while providing a this to that connectability dont seem to capture the accurate and repeated importance of concepts, or the 'messiness' involved.
Clicking on the image shows it in a more easy to read form, (at least all the words increase in size proportionally)
NB the software doesnt deal well to author names so John Law became two separated words, similarly actor-network theory gets sprinkled.
Its the fairy bread approach to concept mapping :)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

shape shifting; the effects of computer and communication technologies in counselling

I'm currently editing a paper I have submitted to ASCILITE 2008. The paper looks at how the emergent uses of communication and computer technologies are shaped as well as reshaping a youth counselling agency. The study is still in progress. I would appreciate comments, here's the beginning

Cn I jus txt, coz I don wan 2b heard

When integrating new technologies into practice, we tend to think of ourselves as designers or directors of our own practices. In contrast, this paper considers how technologies may be shaping practices and/or shaping us. In studying change as communication and computer technologies are integrated within a community youth counselling centre, I explore the web of relations where human and non-human actors have influence. The research presented in this paper is informed by actor-network theory (ANT), an approach investigating the material semiotics of what shapes, and is shaped. In this paper, the particular and peculiar effects of mobile phones for text messaging are explored. The effects are not considered in terms of being good or bad. To this author, attempting such normative evaluation is like asking: is talking to strangers good or bad? The answer must be: it depends. Whether the changes that occur are anticipated, desirable, able to be enhanced or moderated requires a fuller understanding of processes involved. Initial findings suggest there are implications for educators considering this medium, whether for providing pastoral care or in integrating text messaging as a medium for learning. The use of a texting medium provides unexpected challenges as well as the opportunities foreseen.