#PLENK2010 On Networks and PLENK

I hope I could contribute more in this PLENK course, by sharing what I have learnt from George, Stephen in particular in the CCK courses.  I hope there would be more success stories with MOOC, as shared in past posts.

I would like to reflect this mind changing post by Stephen Downes on Groups versus Networks.

Stephen says:

Why networks? Three major reasons.

First of all, the nature of the knower. Human beings resemble ecosystems more than they resemble lumps of metal.

Secondly and very importantly, the quality of the knowledge. Because the knowledge comes from the authority, from the center, even if there’s consultation and all of that, the knowledge of groups is limited by the capacity of the leader to know things.

And then finally, the nature of the knowledge itself – the knowledge in a group replicates the knowledge in the individuals and it’s passed on simple in a transmission communication kind of way.

Those of you who are into learning theory think more about transaction theory, of communication theory. It goes from here to here to here to here. And consequently, that limits the type of knowledge that can be created and communicated.

But in a network, the knowledge is emergent. The knowledge is not in any given individual, but it’s a property of the network as a whole. Consequently, it’s a knowledge that cannot, does not, exist in any individual, but only in the network as a whole. It’s emergent. It’s more complex in the sense that it is able to capture and describe phenomena that are not simple like cause and effect, but complex like the nature of societies or the nature of the weather. That’s a very loose characterization about it.

I must admit that Stephen’s ideas have greatly influenced how I perceive groups versus networks since I read his post, and I have then better understood some of the fundamentals of networks through subsequent interaction with him on numerous occasions, throughout the courses of CCK08, 09, CritLit2010, and especially when I met him whilst he presented a session in the University of Wollongong.

Upon deeper reflection, I could see the merits of learning and knowledge growth with networks over groups, in particular when it comes to learning as a person within a community or institution, and the “personal” and “social” knowledge that are important in ones learning.  What is important is the identity of self within the learning ecosystem.

The distributed knowledge concept is especially critical for even the most self-paced and independent learner as mentioned by Terry here .

Does self paced learning mean no interactionMorten Paulsen (2005), myself (Anderson et al, 2005) and a growing group of connectivist researchers are developing online learning designs that allow students to “have their cake and eat it too”. We do this by creating compelling, but not compulsory learning activities, that allow learners to engage with others within the contexts of self paced learning. Key to accomplishing this is to have students engage in sophisticated social networking contexts that allow students to discover  each other, study and interact with peers and project collaborators and as importantly to engage asynchronously with learners, by reacting to the stored comments and artifacts created by learners who have undertaken the same course of studies in earlier times

Even self-paced (self-organised or independent) learners may not entirely be alone in a networked learning environment at this digital age.  At times, such learners could be reading and interacting with books, artifacts or watching television or video programs or educational news broadcast, or others in the web, or social networks.  They may be taking a more passive role in the learning process at various times, for various personal reasons, as consumers rather than producers or creators, and their learning are still “networked” in some ways, whereas some of the learning media might have been “curated” by others rather than by them only.  They may be the legitimate peripheral learners at the border of the groups and networks, lurking through in their journey of learning, in quest of knowledge and understanding of the networks.

Have we been learning like that pre-internet age?  So, would it be surprising if some of our habits carry on even at this internet age?

So, what are my take aways from Stephen, especially when reflecting on Networks (PLENK 2010):

1. There may be a temptation for one to define the vision, learning goals, outcomes as a group exercise – which would lead to a close boundary, or closed course, admitting only someone who have certain attributes to continue with the discussion, and setting unnecessary barriers for further conversation and engagement

2. Power issues and conflicts do arise in both groups and networks.  However, in networks, the diversity of opinions do allow many conflicts to be surfaced, debated or resolved through multiple channels, or not even resolved, if found not deemed to be that important (the power law doesn’t apply that easily).  In other words, it leaves choice for the learners.  If learners don’t find one network to be particular helpful, they could consider other network sources.  Similarly, if they perceive overly unwarranted power over them in networks, they could resort to other networks or media.  So the power issue may be degenerated into a smoothing of views.  This is not that easy to resolve in the case of groups, unless one is to quit from the group.  But is the web hierarchy free too?

I particularly like Rita’s discussion of power here:

Of course we have found other ways to filter our information; knowledgeable others we trust can provide us with relevant and interesting information . Bouchard (2010) and Boyd (2010) still see problems with these as well and question the possibility of hierarchy-free peer to peer connections on the Web:

However, the notion of  ‘supernode’ predictably emerges when some contributors are recognized by a  number of others as having particular relevance to, or knowledge of a problem. There seems to be a natural tendency within the ‘perfectly’ democratic network to organize itself, over time, in a hierarchical system composed of leaders and followers.

(Bouchard, 2010, p. 3)

3. The significance of how each of us learns is important in Education, Teaching and Learning

I see individuals learning in networks do make a difference in my way of seeing the group, networks, the communities and the world.  I have to be cautious in avoiding the stereo typing of concepts mentioned in this Animal Farm: Two legs good, four legs bad, OR Two legs bad, four legs good.

So it is not as simple as that whether group is better than network or vice-versa, but how each would support one in ones learning journey.  It’s a personal judgment and for those who wish to decide the education and learning for somebody else (adults in particular), we just need to be aware of the underlying assumptions behind such teaching paradigms and their implications.

Didn’t we all experience group learning in our school (and university) days?   But how did it compare to network learning when we left schools?

So, does it leave me with the same impression about MOOC as I did in the past? No, as we once shared in my previous post.

The critical points about networks are still important to me as mentioned by George on Connectivism:

Connectivism finds its roots in the climate of abundance, rapid change, diverse information sources and perspectives, and the critical need to find a way to filter and make sense of the chaos. As such, the networked centrality of connectivism permits a scaling of both abundance and diversity.

In PLENK, we may be re-writing our own story of learning, using our own narratives, experience, but putting them into ACTION AND REFLECTION in totally new ways of connections.  That could be challenging for me.

As I once posted here:  What are you doing?

1. I’m cutting stones

2. I’m earning a living

3. I’m building a cathedral

So, hope we could enjoy the PLENK together in whatever ways.  I wish to be connected to you, though I am using blog principally in PLENK.

This reminds me of the thoughtful discussion here when learning in a course (a network or a group? Is a network better?)

And the importance of cluster and focus here by Dave to survive in Week 4.  And disaggregate power not people in Networks.

Would it be clustering in groups within networks in PLENK?  I suppose it is.

I am interested in the science of networks.