Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Applications and Theory of Educational Social Software

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 15, 2007

Summary of a panel discussion at CADE-AMTEC 2007 featuring Terry Anderson, George Siemens and Dave Cormier.

Social Software session

Terry Anderson

Independent study - type I for information type study
Collaborative - Distance Education - Type C
Social software fits somewhere in the middle - allows collaboration, but also things like tagging, the search and sort thing that we're used to.

Taxonomy of the 'many' -
Group: conscious membership, leadership and organization, rules and guidelines, privacy controls, etc. Metaphor: virtual classroom
Network: shared interest or practice, fluid membership, reputation and altruism driven, activity ebbs and flows: Metaphor: virtual community of practice
Collective" 'aggregated other', unconscious 'wisdom of the crowds', data mining, never f2f. metaphor: wisdom of crowds
In the middle of these: personal learning environment (social learning 2.0)

Amazon recommendations - it's working. But - it's based on 'items you own' - ie., items you bought from Amazon. That's the problem - it's not all open and connected yet.

George Siemens

I remember trying to convince people to start blogging - I thought I really made the case - but exactly nobody started blogging. There's two dimensions that exist: the early adopter viewpoint, where you start to think other people think like you - but the things we talk and think about aren't really the norm we think they are. But adoption moves quickly - at one time you couldn't say 'blog or wiki' at a conference.

We think of the good of technology - but if you're Kevin Federline, you have been tagged 'crap' - when the community is democratic, you don't control the message.

Technology as a transformative agent - we have a role as educators to transform society, but there are some times where we are responsive - society acts on us. Some of these technologies are collecive - they're collective in nature. - it doesn't take you long, the premise is simplicity. That's how you get millions of sign-ups.

Are we really driving the change? Are we really seeking to respond to the change. I don't think that debate is happening in a lot of places.

I'll spare you the jargon. Some quick ideas:
- authority is changing - not gone, but a different nature - not determined by position, bt conferred on a person or group by a network - eg. Google confers authority by how many people have linked - there are experts, but not people who became experts through traditional channels
- communication - look at how research is changing - look at Keynes, it was an enormously popular textbook for 10 years - it wasn't significantly outdated at any point - almost any topic that comes up now is quickly outdated - what is knowledge today doesn't have a lifespan that hardens as an object people can talk about years ago - what is valuable information on educational technology - if it's older than 2004 I'm almost dismissive

Continuous active engagement. Knowing isn't an act of achievement, it's a continuous act of becoming

Complexification of knowledge - any idea we have is dialogued to death - listen to American talk radio - there are so many perspectives, there is this constant desire to talk - take any event in the world, go to Technorati - no matter what your view is, it's represented - it doesn't have the structure and coherence it once had

How do we stay current, we ask. Those challenges arise very quickly. The text was written two years before it was published - your textbook of 2007 was written in 2003. So we start to rely on other approaches. This is classified under the head of 'connectivism'. Many people involved in that dialogue. Learning is a network forming process. Our capacity to function is dependent on the quality of that network that we form. We depend on Google. We depend on social connections. Facebook, as you evidence - that permits that formation of networks.

The challenge today to knowing is not memorization, it's to synthesize multiple narratives. So what we need are tools to connect to other people, other sources of knowledge. The visualization of this starts to show patterns - how does knowledge flow through an organization, for example. What are the trusted nodes - what is the reach of your network - loose connections.

Dave Cormier

How do I start? I agree with George, it's about getting your networks together. But there is huge knowledge clutter, a huge morass of information coming at you all the time. I've got 3000 photos of my son on my computer. He's one year old. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that I have a problem. There's no way to stay current just by reading.

So - how did I get here?

Two years ago I was trying to do a Moodle implementation. I wanted to prove Moodle was the way to go. I was searching, and I found these guys. But my RSS feeds were driving me nuts. You can't just add things together. You have to have a plan. That plan is what your personal l;earning environment is, a way of adding things and dropping things.

We have all these digital eyes that need to be sorted, we need some sort of vetting system. The best sort of vetting system is a community - a community is like a network, but which has some sort of shared value structure. When something comes along - you can ask 'is it necessary' without going through 6 hours of work.

What that community needs is some kind of dedicated space (sacred space) - it will do that filtering, it gives you a sense of security (you can just reach out). It also gives you a way to collaborate. As long as you are in that trusted community, toy can rely on it. But PLE is a misnomer - it's not really 'personal', it's a community.

Ed tech talk - a community with certain values. We do live webcasting, 7 shows, one a day. We've done maybe 450 shows in the last two years. But what I found was - contribution to that community was probably the best education in my life. We talk about it, someone suggests something in the chat room - and me, I have all that information going by, and there's a record (unlike a conference, where it just goes away).

They are finding that that membership gives them a starting point to spread out into all the other communities.

One person can't contain all the information, one person can't communicate it to everyone else, having that group to rely on really helps.


Terry - if it's safe secure sacred, how do you get into it? What are the entrance requirements?

Dave - in Ed Tech talk, we found the community does the policing. The people in the chatroom policed the people, the chatroom is where the people start, there are people who have never been in the audio, but who go in and facilitate entry into the community. Nancy White writes, in communities, there are people who fall naturally into roles - eg., people who are conveners.

Terry - can you be a member and do nothing?

Dave - absolutely. People download and never take part People register - we don't know why.

- Common values - open content, governance, worldbridgyness, politeness rules, etc. Stephen - question of whether the 'community' exists because of a sameness (eg., values) or a connectedness

George - are the values predefined or are the values emergent...? Too often it' a cause-effect mentality - this happened, that happened. People may have a different take on those shared values. People may remember the blogger code of ethics. But a code of ethics isn't the way to go.

-- question for George -- whole idea - say, Bloom's taxonomy - it's often perceived as sequential - and I see this represented a lot in tertiary education - if you don't have these fact,you can't have those facts... that's what first-year is for. And you have suggested that it's not a sequential process - that our capacity depends on our ability to network, that knowledge is distributed, and not where everyone begins.

George - other disciplines have gone through this and education will go through it - news media, music - how do people learn to program these days - if you can participate in a space where you can mentor, be mentored - the network will be different for the discipline you're addressing - trying to orient yourself in relation to the network - and one node that used to be very important shifts - context will change the shape of the network therefore influencing the value of that network

Dave - you can't really come to things with one model - but you can say 'you have to have knowledge of this canon' - in history, maybe, but not so much in technology - you have to address immediate need, and move iteratively.

Terry - looking for war story or theme - of people trying to put these tools into formal learning - eg. using blog in a course - requiring everyone to post two posts and three responses - in a closed forum - and she discovered, it wasn't as good as a threaded discussion.

Comment - the network is outside the institution

George - it's about the value being outside the four walls

Comment - question of what makes them survive and grow, and others disappear... I have been involved in establishing networks that have taken off, while others have been forced and just collapsed

George - there's nothing about networks that need to stay the way a hierarchy stays - a network that comes and goes is quite natural. But what makes a network flourish - it's a function of the ecology. If your in a workplace that's locked down, it's not a very healthy ecology for a network to flourish.

Dave - I have a shorter response: value-add. As long as I'm helping and they are helping me, that network will go on.

Terry - reminds me of the CADE website and the struggles we had - it's not about value-add but rather about more value-add than the others. I think reputation is very important.

quest - what have you done to foster networks?

George - online conference, entrance fee of free - good dialogue. Invite others to the dialogue. I don't want to be seen as an expert - it's not that I have an answer to things.

Dave - for Ed Tech talk I managed to surround myself with hard-working people. It's a lot of work. And at the end of the day it's karma. You do something, you get it back. Feel a responsibility to your network. And we do our very very best to empower other people. It's their space. They have the control.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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