A knowmad’s thoughts about Thanksgiving

Welcome to another episode in which I post about my strange journey through the Wonderland of online courses. Last week I had a most wonderful session of the Digital Awakening course in Second Life: we discussed professor Sherry Turkle’s fascinating text Video Games and
Computer Holding Power
, and we also had Howard Rheingold (from the Toward a Literacy of Cooperation course) visiting us. For a great overview of what Howard is up to these days, have a look at the Meeting Howard Rheingold post on the course blog.

I kept thinking about the notion “holding power of the computer”. Watching people staring at the screens of smartphones, tablets and laptops I realized the importance of that idea. What should we think about it? Is it bad, like an addiction?

Compared to the holding power of the television screen it seems to be better as there is interactivity and user generated content – even though not every creation is another Wikipedia.

What about our perception of reality? Is the world of the computer richer or poorer compared to physical reality? One of those interviewed by Turkle prefers his world of games, considering it richer. These are worlds governed by rules which we can, in principle, discover and exploit.

The rules of the non-game world are more intractable and sometimes mysteriously suspended. People lose or fail in the “real world” and they feel cheated, while the computer program just follows its rules and sequences. So is this gaming universe the new ’opium for the people’? Professor Edward Castronova would disagree as he reads characteristics of virtual and game environments as a kind of revolutionary program and the environments itself as a New World where settlers start a new society: read his book Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality. Another story about settlers and starting all over again, seems appropriate for Thanksgiving.

But while games are here with us to stay, the debate seems to belong to another era. The big shift in games did not lead to massive mainstream adoption of sophisticated graphical environments, but to social and casual games.

The big dream of a 3D internet in which the 2D web would just be a less exciting part, appears to be – at least for now – just that: a dream.

It’s interesting to see what Philip Rosedale, the founding father and chief visionary of Second Life, is up to these days. He’s all about coworking spaces and virtual currencies which are being used in the ’real world’ to facilitate exchanges in resilient networks (which does not mean he declares Second Life dead and buried).

’Resilient’ and ’durable’, local while staying connected to global networks is the new rallying cry now. A lot of the user-generated creation ethos is making the transition from isolated virtual spaces to connected virtual spaces (using standardized technology which can be used in many environments), to mixed reality spaces (augmented reality) and plain good old reality (co-working spaces) even though using all the affordances of the net and eventually mobilizing the knowledge acquired while running virtual worlds (management of virtual currencies).

On Queen Street Commons I read this from Robpatrob:

Back in 1800, 80% of people in America worked for themselves. The rise in industrialization created the Job as the new normal. By 1980, the apogee of the Industrial model, 80% of us had jobs. But look now at what has happened in only 40 years. 40% of us now work for ourselves.

The Industrial Revolution made work and life in factories, big offices and institutions the new normal. Our education system became more efficient in preparing youngsters for those environments.

Even though our Western societies were advocating the free market, for most workers and students their daily life was governed by that other major steering system: the bureaucracy.

Evangelists of the network economy now see a new “new normal’: back to the micro-projects and -companies, but this time as parts of networks and using aggregation platforms.

There are three pillars mow: markets, bureaucracy and cooperation. This is not detrimental for the market, quite the contrary. If it pushes back something, it’s bureaucracy. Companies rely more on markets for stuff they used to organize internally by bureaucratic procedures.

At the same time more market makes it harder to accumulate capital: the network economy exerts relentless pressure on profit margins (if any). On the other hand, the cost of living could diminish also as people share rather than wastefully underuse computing capacity, transportation, certain household appliances.

People define new Commons and rediscover & modernize old design principles for governing those Commons. Life seems to become more interesting instead of less so: compare a holiday in another country in some fake resort to participating in a ’share the couch’ network.

Or compare indebting yourself for getting a degree from one of the leading education factories to organizing peer2peer learning, deciding your own objectives. Have a look at this TEDxBrisbane video featuring Edward Harran talking about the “knowmad” movement, “an emerging generation that has the capacity to work, learn, move, and play – with anybody, anytime, and anywhere”:

 

 

I must admit I feel sometimes like a “knowmad”, traveling from one course session in Blackboard Collaborate to another in Second Life, while exchanging ideas on The Well or in Howard Rheingold’s social media classroom. My fellow-travelers come from North-America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia (unfortunately, there are few or no fellow travelers from Africa). My esteemed US co-learners are about to start the Thanksgiving festivities, which inspire me to think about our journey.

There is this so often used word to describe what I feel about my learning and exploration experiences, a word which sounds very American to me: “awesome”. It’s the feeling of awesomeness I recognize in Harran’s talk, which I share and understand. But at the same time I’m also worried. Knowing how to use online media to organize your own learning together with others is much easier when you already had a decent education – and I’m afraid getting such an education is getting harder, not easier.

Those who lack the talents and skills to become an individual entrepreneur are at risk. As the economist Raghuram Rajan says in his article The Undeserving One Percent?, we use to speak about the one percent and the wealth they accumulated. But we could also look at the top ten percent and about how differences in education and opportunities split the middle class into a upwardly mobile, innovation-minded group and a group which gets poorer and is at risk of being left behind.

Who will help them? Are we sure we’ll have an infrastructure for helping those who have great difficulties in gaining access to the education system, those who are needy, or will the networked society leave gaping holes in which the elderly, the digital illiterates, the socially disadvantaged and the sick will conveniently disappear, out of sight for the young creatives? Will taking care for the poor become once again a feel good-activity for the rich?

There is a challenge here. We should not retreat completely in our networked micro-companies, in our resilient durable local communities. There remains the challenge of scaling up and influence big corporations, the schools and universities, big government, the international institutions because they remain relevant and important. Toppling dictators and challenging university chancellors is not easy, but we do know people can do it. The next phase should be going beyond our local or theme-based networks and contribute to solutions on a macro-level.

Do the G20-leaders have a wiki and other questions

I had some busy days covering the European debt crisis for my newspaper De Tijd and trying to keep up work for my online courses. I had to focus on the Toward a literacy of Cooperation course, facilitated by Howard Rheingold, as the course itself is now in its last days and we, the students, had to cooperate to create to last session, ‘The Big Picture’.

Somehow my experiences liveblogging the G20 in Cannes, France and the Cooperation course got linked together.

- As I was liveblogging the G20 (I was in Antwerp, Belgium, and my fellow journalist Peter De Groote was in Cannes), we made a very intense use of Twitter. It was remarkable how Twitter, as experienced through my list of financial journalists and commentators, became like an augmented, open, international newsroom.

Journalists in Athens provided a realtime translation of the debate in the Greek parliament, other colleagues in Cannes translated, commented and analyzed what was going at the G20 itself. They were reaching out to each other, on the ground and on Twitter, regardless of nationalities or commercial interests. I think the readers of the liveblog somehow sensed that what they were reading was a curated collection of human voices, with all the seriousness, drama and humour involved.

- While the spontaneous virtual newsroom emerged, one could ask whether our beloved world leaders are very knowledgeable in the practice and the ethos of social media. Just wondering whether there is something like a wiki for world leaders, where they can brainstorm, exchange references and ideas. The G20 wanted to discuss new ideas for a new world, but instead it was all about solving the problems of the eurozone. I have no doubt it is crucially important for world leaders to meet each other at such summits, but I can only hope they also cooperate using some kind of secret wiki, forums, blogs and mindmaps. But somehow I doubt they actually use that stuff. Maybe the dominant model of competing nation-states is not compatible with online social tools? But then again, maybe cooperation is at least as important as competition…

- Which brings me to the Toward a Literacy of Cooperation Course. One of the many discussion topics is the application of the principles for the governance of common pool recources (cfr Elinor Ostrom) on online communities. Another one is about collective intelligence. One of the leading thinkers about collective intelligence is the French scholar Pierre Lévy. Howard Rheingold had this video interview with Lévy:

 

Watching this, I had some other questions. Not only whether world leaders do use or do not use social media tools, whether or not in a confidential settings. There is an even more serious issue: do they have the framework and lenses necessary to even see the importance of the amplification of collective intelligence? Because this amplification brings along opportunities and challenges and makes paradigms shift. It demands new literacies – do our education systems provide those literacies? Do those systems change themselves fundamentally so as to be relevant in a post-industrial society? Do they understand that even the notion of “learning” itself might be changing, as is discussed in the MOOC Change11?

I have my doubts. And the disconnect between the formats for cooperation on the level of our world leaders and the disruptive changes caused by globalization, networks, and the amplification of collective intelligence will lead to even more upheaval.

“Yes, they are digital natives, but not tech-savvy”

I’ve been thinking about the term “digital natives”. In the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #Change11 Tony Bates facilitated a week about “Transforming teaching and learning through technology management“.

In a blogpost about this subject Squire Morley says:

So one of the questions Tony asks of us is whether universities can change from within or if new institutions are required for the 21st Century. Unless there is a disjuncture then there is no incentive to change. The system seems to be self-perpetuating. The training (or apprenticeships) of research graduates to become the next generation of lecturers and academics in the same ways as previously is at least partly responsible for this, as are the pressures for advancement through publication in closed, peer-reviewed journals.

But maybe one of the driving forces for change (facilitated by the use of social media) are the students? A new generation of digital natives? In my own experience, primarily among young journalists and journalism students, the fluency of digital natives in using social networks on a personal level does not really mean they “automatically” use these skills in the context of their learning or journalism. There is a subtle difference between being a “digital native” and being “tech-savvy”.

I gave a presentation at a journalism masterclass in Belgium, MasterClass IHECS 2011 – with Open Newsroom – at Eghezée, Belgium and I had this video interview with facilitator Damien Van Achter:

Visitors and residents

But maybe “digital native” is too problematic a term to use. On the TALL blog David White uses the distinction between “residents” and “visitors” instead of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”:

(Hat tip to Stephen Downes for mentioning this video and blogpost). This distinction between “residents” and “natives” is not age-related nor even skill-related. Residents of the internet seem to inhabit a certain “space” and to maintain and develop a digital identity. Visitors seem to consider the net as a tool box.

This insight could be very useful. I often despaired when presenting Twitter to non-Twitter users, or Second Life for that matter: one can explain easily enough the buttons which one has to press and the basic practices (hashtags, lists for Twitter, creating an avatar and learning how to move around and communicate for a virtual world), but even then people are often reluctant to put that “knowledge” to good use.

So maybe the real issue is not the technology, but a cultural (often unconscious) choice for being a visitor and not a resident (I think active Twitter users are more like residents just as virtual world users are clearly “getting” the spatial metaphor). Which does not mean that promoting stuff such as Twitter is hopeless – it just means that the reluctance has to be recognized and addressed on the right level.

SmallTalk

I could not participate at the weekly Digital Awakening course session in Second Life, but I did my required reading: Alan Kay/Adele Goldberg, “Personal Dynamic Media“.

In that 1977 essay the authors foretell the importance of notebook computing. “While most saw the computer as a tool for engineers or, at most, businesspeople, Kay thought computers could be used even by children, and could be used creatively”, so it is explained in the MIT New Media Reader.

One of the great aspects of the Dynabook project was that it involved children as users. The kids were not just consumers or filling boxes which were provided by professional designers and developers, they were also programmers:

Considering children as the users radiates a compelling excitement when viewed from a number of different
perspectives. First, the children really can write programs that do serious things. Their programs use symbols to stand for objects, contain loops and recursions, require a fair amount of visualization of alternative strategies before a tactic is chosen, and involve interactive discovery and removal of “bugs” in their ideas.

Second, the kids love it! The interactive nature of the dialogue, the fact that they are in control, the feeling that they are doing real things rather than playing with toys or working out “assigned” problems, the pictorial and auditory nature of their results, all contribute to a tremendous sense of accomplishment to their experience. Their attention spans are measured in hours rather than minutes.

The kids used the Smalltalk-language: “Smalltalk was created as the language to underpin the “new world” of computing exemplified by human–computer symbiosis. It was designed and created in part for educational use, more so for constructionist learning” (Wikipedia)

I cannot help but contrast this enthusiasm with my experiences during a recent debate about the future of the newspaper industry. When I suggested journalism students (so university level, not junior high like in the Dynabook project) should have some basic experience with programming in order to see new story-telling possibilities, there was great indignation. A journalism instructor said that his students would not be interested in such a thing and an editor-in-chief exclaimed that such talk made him very nervous: journalists have to write stories, have scoops, not to mess around in programming languages.

Which means that more than thirty year after these Dynabook experiments, we failed to convey the message that computing literacy is not something for “the nerds in the basement”, but fun stuff which enables people to envision tasks and projects in very new and exhilarating ways.

Are we building a new grand narrative, or are grand narratives things of the past?

At our latest live session of Howard Rheingold’s course Introduction to Cooperation Theory we discussed about narratives in the US and Europe about competition and cooperation. A European participant suggested that the narrative in the US is about competition, while in Europe cooperation is a more common theme. The American Howard Rheingold expressed doubts about this opposition: the US and Europe are big places with huge internal differences, and where different narratives co-exist.

We also discussed the Occupy Wall Street movement and how it spreads worldwide. There is a sentiment that the world leaders fail in addressing the problems and opportunities caused by worldwide disruptive forces (related to technology, globalization, changing preferences etc). My first question is whether we can reasonably expect that world leaders constitute a platform or world government for worldwide cooperation tackling the ecological, social and financial problems.

I’d like to refer to what Elinor Ostrom describes as polycentric governance of complex economic systems. Maybe the definition of the problems, the study of possible solutions and the implementation of those solutions have to take place at different levels. In the European Union we have a lot of experience with “polycentric governance”: there is not one obvious center (the European Commission is rather different from the federal administration in the US), and we try to allocate tasks and decisions to appropriate levels of governance. However, confronted with world financial markets, it seems this model has at least one important shortcoming: when optimal decisions should be taken on the top-level, the decision-making process is very slow.

Narratives

We also discussed the importance of narratives supporting cooperation. It was claimed that president Obama fails in delivering a mobilizing grand narrative, contrary to FDR (or president Reagan – whether one agrees with the narrative or not, at least there was a big narrative about markets, deregulation etc). My second question relates to this issue of “grand narratives”: is it a coincidence that leaders worldwide fail to provide a convincing grand narrative (do they even try)? Or is this a structural phenomenon, that the era of grand narratives is behind us? After the demise of communism, of social democracy (debt crisis) and of free market ideology (inequality, rogue banking and housing industries… ), what is left to believe in? It seems people distrust even the structure itself of a “grand narrative” – as postmodernism demonstrates, grand narratives can easily be deconstructed, and this not only on an academic level, just look at the news to see how shaky the certainties of the big ideologies have become.

So the third question is whether the cooperation studies (in biology, sociology, anthropology, economics, pedagogy, learning theories etc) could lead to a new grand narrative. If so, would this new narrative fall apart just like the older stories, or can we construct the cooperation narrative in such a way that it would be a fundamentally different kind of narrative, more flexible, adaptable, convincing and relevant than other narratives? Do we need such a narrative, and if so, what are criteria to judge it?

The thinking of such a new grand narrative has its own history of course, with people such as Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener, J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson among the Philosophers of our Daily Disruptive Digital Revolution (have a look at this site of the Digital Awakening course).

Education

discussion of Ted Nelson's work in Second Life
Last week we discussed Ted Nelson in Digital Awakening (see picture above), and one of the texts which provoked the most emotional reactions was No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks (in Computer Lib / Dream Machines). In this text from 1974 Nelson is highly critical of the education system:

Some premises relevant to teaching
1. The human mind is born free, yet everywhere it is in chains. The educational system serves mainly to destroy for most people, in
varying degrees, intelligence, curiosity, enthusiasm, and intellectual initiative and self-confidence. We are born with these. They are gone
or severely diminished when we leave school.
2. Everything is interesting, until ruined for us. Nothing in the universe is intrinsically uninteresting. Schooling systematically ruins
things for us, wiping out these interests; the last thing to be ruined determines your profession.
3. There are no “subjects.” The division of the universe into “subjects” for teaching is a matter of tradition and administrative
convenience.
4. There is no natural or necessary order of learning. Teaching sequences are arbitrary, explanatory hierarchies philosophically spurious.
“Prerequisites” are a fiction spawned by the division of the world into “subjects;” and maintained by not providing summaries,
introductions or orientational materials except to those arriving through a certain door.
5. Anyone retaining his natural mental facilities can learn anything practically on his own, given encouragement and resources.
6. Most teachers mean well, but they are so concerned with promoting their images, attitudes and style of order that very little else can
be communicated in the time remaining, and almost none of it attractively.

Is Connectivism, as practiced for instance in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #Change11 more than a practical answer to contemporary challenges for the educational system? Could it also be part of an emerging new grand narrative, together with related components from network theory and cooperation theories? Learner Weblog gives some insights in the discussion about the practical and theoretical merits of connectivism.  In the embedded presentation Frances Bell claims that connectivism has far more impact as a practice than as a theory. Then again, we should reflect on what “a theory” is, and whether our notion of “theory” is changing, just as maybe our notion of “narrative” is being transformed.

Roland Legrand

Connecting the dots between digital awakening, massive online learning and cooperation literacies

I should have done this earlier on already, but here it is (or rather, it’s developing): a mindmap about my online learning experiment. I try to connect the dots between the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Change11 (facilitated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes) , the Digital Awakening (Gardner Campbell)  and Introduction to Cooperation Theory (Howard Rheingold). You’ll find links the courses and some course material in the mindmap.

Some very general remarks:

- In Digital Awakening we discuss texts by the pioneers of our digital era. One of the recurring themes is the need to augment human intellect in order to cope with the complexities and the fast developments in an increasingly interconnected world. Computers and computer networks can help to augment human intellect, going far beyond a vision of computers as just “computing machines for nerds”. Questions here are whether these efforts to augment our human intellect do not contribute to the increasing complexity and the velocity of changes, resulting in increasing unpredictability and chaos. Or in other words: is the empowerment of small groups and individuals leading to a decrease of the capabilities of communities to determine their future development?

- Which leads us to the complexities of human cooperation and the relation between individual rationality and what is good for communities. In the course about literacies of cooperation we investigate what game theory learns about the tension between individual rationality and collective outcomes, but we also explore design principles which increase the possibilities of governing common pool resources. How can online networks and virtual communities leverage the possibilities of human cooperation?

- Talking about literacies: we have to acquire the insights but also the social and technological skills in order to augment cooperation. Is our education system doing a good job in this respect? Do we apply those literacies in designing education platforms (talking here about education and learning in a very broad sense, not only about schools and colleges catering primarily for young people in a formal context).

To put it more dramatically: if computer networks, mobile and ubiquitous computing lead to the development of a kind of worldwide thinking, dreaming and creating brain structure, how does this worldwide structure enables self-learning and -improvement, what is the role of human individuals and groups in this process, what about our emerging artificial intelligence overlords which may or may not become intelligent, self-learning and self-organizing entities?

(For using this map: use the icons next to the blue “share” button to zoom in and out, to enlarge the screen. You can also drag the map around in order to explore the different parts. Please take into account this is just a general structure and the map will be updated in the coming days and weeks).

Should we apply Ostrom’s design principles to online learning communities?

Getting ready for a second session of Howard Rheingold’s course Toward a Literacy of Cooperation. Today we’ll study Elinor Ostrom, the American political economist who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

As is explained on The Cooperation Commons, Ostrom found that groups that are able to organize and govern their behavior successfully are marked by the following design principles:

1. Group boundaries are clearly defined.
2. Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.
3. Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules.
4. The rights of community members to devise their own rules is respected by external authorities.
5. A system for monitoring member’s behavior exists; the community members themselves undertake this monitoring.
6. A graduated system of sanctions is used.
7. Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms.
8. For CPRs that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

What interests me is that those rules could be used for the management (or facilitation) of online learning communities. Most of the time rules for online learning communities have already been established by the organizers of the platform, but it would be interesting to let the community somehow devise rules and monitor them.

How would that work with large online learning communities? One of the problems would be the boundaries of the group and the monitoring of behavior: can we really identify members (not necessarily by ‘real names’ but by online reputation and persistent avatar identity?).

It seems being part of a group, working together durably so that issues of reputation become relevant, enhances reciprocity and cooperation. I guess that is also the way communities of practice work.

However, how close-knit a group has to be? Is antagonism with other groups desirable because it probably even increases this intra-group cooperation? Is it not a bit suffocating to belong to a community of practice which tries to uphold a certain tradition, a hierarchy of members? (E.g. a group of media professionals, ‘accepting’ student journalists in order to ‘teach’ them the proper principles of journalism – with the best intentions and probably good results… )

The question (and I don’t have the answers yet) I ask myself is whether we can go beyond communities of practice. In the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #Change11 the learning&teaching experience is based on the connectivist philosophy/practice. This is what Wikipedia says about one particular aspect of connectivism:

One aspect of connectivism is the use of a network with nodes and connections as a central metaphor for learning. In this metaphor, a node is anything that can be connected to another node within a network such as an organisation: information, data, feelings, images. Connectivism sees learning as the process of creating connections and developing a network. Not all connections are of equal strength in this metaphor; in fact, many connections may be quite weak.

So connectivism is allowing for weak ties, which often turn out to be quite interesting, as those nodes may provide new insights from other perspectives, even though they are not high-level members of some formal or informal group hierarchy.

There is also a price to be paid for the connectivist approach: could there be a higher risk that the principles of cooperation and reciprocity are lost in a connectivist approach? That we’d all end up as lurkers, not contributing anything and just attending silently several meetings or courses, without really engaging ourselves? (In this sense, lurkers would be ‘free riders‘).

In fact, I think there’s not much of a problem. Lurkers do not contribute to the discussion, but they are not harmful as ‘consuming knowledge’ is non-rivalry: the knowledge available for all does not diminish because some people listen without intervening actively.

It appears that even in the absence of “the real possibility” of punishment for non-cooperation people act as if that possibility somehow functions – so lurkers should be given the benefit of the doubt: maybe that mysterious push to contribute will manifest itself once they start attending sessions on a regular basis.

But maybe the problem is not so much ‘free riders’, but participants who contribute negatively. In the case of trolls monitoring and gradually sanctioning can help. But often the problem is not so clear-cut: what if one wants an in-depth discussion, and too many participants add just noise – without really transgressing the boundaries of civil discourse?

Typically learning communities ask their members to do some required and/or recommended reading, so as to ensure at least a minimal common background. While this may be common practice for academically inspired communities, it’s much less self-evident for newspaper discussion groups for instance.

An interesting experiment for media could be to organize discussion groups for specific topics, with the aim to learn stuff or to formulate solutions for certain problems, enabling the members to define rules and expectations, to monitor and sanction the behavior of participants. Such groups would use synchronous (web conferencing, virtual meetings…) and asyncrhonous (forums) communication tools and/or a blogging platform. Gradually more challenging tools could be introduced such as collaborative mindmapping and wikis.

Journalists/bloggers would be facilitators of the interactions and would help introducing the tools. This is one of the major lessons I learn by participating in the Digital Awakening course (#nmfs_f11): how tools have to do with augmenting our humanity.

As became clear during this week’s discussion of Augmenting Human Intellect (Doug Engelbart), introducing a new tool such as a computer (or a portable, a smartphone or tablet) requires careful consideration of the many ways in which a new tool can change our practices. All too often people use new tools with the mindset of a previous phase: using a desktop as a typewriter, a portable as a desktop etc. The same applies for online social tools: social networks risk being used as just the continuation of the office or pub conversation, while they could also empower people to reach out and explore new possibilities. So maybe that’s yet another thing to take into account when designing online learning communities.

Is abundance a myth? The Original Affluent Society and Social Media

I stumbled upon the theme of “abundance” in the Toward a Literacy of Cooperation course (#cooplit) and the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #Change11 (see previous posts on this blog about both courses) – and I have some issues with the underlying idea that our advanced societies and technology fundamentally alter the situation of humankind from problems of scarcity into issues regarding abundance. In the MOOC there is a discussion of A Pedagogy of Abundance, a meditation by education technology professor Martin Weller on how researchers and teachers are confronted with the avalanche of available content (and of course, this is something happening in many other activities such as news media, music industry etc). In the Social Media Classroom of the #cooplit Kathy Gill posted about Cooperation, Competition and Power:

At its core, however, I believe that zero-sum thinking reflects a dance for power in a world where resources are limited. But today’s economy is moving towards unlimited, not limited, resources. That’s what digitization does to information — it breaks the scarcity barrier. Pre-digital, if I wanted to read “the newspaper” — then you, my partner, could not read it at the same time (unless you read over my shoulder). That’s gone. Ditto for movies and music. And then there is the co-creation that Howard talked about today — wikipedia, SETI at home. Lots of examples in Tapscott’s Wikinomics. Perhaps cooperation is something that humans can achieve only when they have moved to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the U.S., at least, systemic cooperation will require a major cultural shift inside and outside of institutions. And a new definition of “success” that does not rely on wielding “power” over others.

Of course, there is much truth in what Weller and Gill say. But still I’m not so sure we come from a situation defined by scarcity and move to an era of abundance, enabling us to freely cooperate and to stop fighting each other. Howard Rheingold in a comment on Gill’s post gives examples of zero-sum situations such as scarcity of water, but I think there is more. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins articulated the theory of the original affluent society, saying that hunter-gatherers often had far more leisure time than people in contemporary societies. It seems industrialized countries are very good in maintaining a feeling of scarcity, however rich they may be in absolute terms. The structure of desire and the never-ending game of shifting reputation signifiers cause scarcity and competition to stay very important aspects of these societies. This is true – I think – when we think about classical aspects of the consumption society, but maybe also when we think about social media production. What about the effects of shifting reputation signifiers on the competition on social networks? The emergence of new metrics such as the Klout influence index? The time people invest in polishing their online reputation and image, not to mention the work involved in dealing with the noise on the social networks? Which means that maybe, in order to change the nature of often destructive competitions, we’ll need to change the structure of the game. In very (too) general terms I suspect this is related with the production of meaning and with fundamental issues such as how we define what is means to have a good life. It means we should practice the capability of “letting go” of the stream of updates, blogposts and alerts. I guess this has to do what Douglas Rushkoff discusses in Program or be Programmed. He advocates programming, not just blogging in the boxes provided by the big corporations.

The quest for openness (and financing) by academics and media

At the Journalism Masterclass IHECS in Eghezée (Belgium) I talked about a social media production flow for the newsroom. It boils down to publishing, as it happens, the “making of” an article, a video, an audio document or an infographic . So journalists do what they usually do: asking for ideas, planning interviews, hunting and gathering stuff on the web, but instead of keeping all that raw material private, they would rather publish it via blog posts. When the article or whatever is “finally” published, it’s not the end, but it can be the beginning of a new round of comments and chat sessions, maybe new and augmented versions. What it means is that the mindset of the journalist shifts toward the open newsroom.

In the meantime, at the Massive Open Online Course #Change11 we’re in week 3 and Martin Weller is facilitating this week’s topic, Digital Scholarship. It’s about ‘changes in academic practice as a result of new technology’:

His book The Digital Scholar was published by Bloomsbury, but is available as a free open access book, under a Creative Commons license.

Academics, as journalists, want to have impact. New media often give more impact than scholarly publications alone. Weller then talks about openness:

(…) ‘digital scholarship’ is really a shorthand for digital, networked and open. Arguably it is the last component that is most significant. Openness in practice – whether it is sharing ideas via blogs, open courses, open educational resources, open access publishing or open data – is becoming a default approach for many academics (and this course is an example). This has profound implications on practice, business models, identity and the role of sectors, which we are only beginning to appreciate.

Impact and openness, the big themes not only for scientific publications, but also for the media in general. Of course there are tensions:

Tension – there exists a tension currently between the undoubted potential of many digital scholarship approaches and the context which it resides within. So we simultaneously have pockets of marvellous innovation, and at the same time, a markedly conservative, resistant attitude from many institutions, which is often manifest in the how digital scholarship is recognised or encouraged.

Journalists and bloggers can only rejoice about openness by scholars. However, there is a challenge here for traditional media: the journalist with her privileged access to scientists is no longer the inevitable go-between. For instance in economics academics are very active on blogs and even – gasp! – on Twitter. Journalists (and bloggers) of course can provide context and curation.

But while journalists and scientists want more impact and are increasingly in favor of openness, what does this mean for the business models? Opening the newsrooms, labs and universities for free? How will we finance those activities? It’s a question for media and institutions of learning and research alike.

Lessons in new media: don’t forget the old, simple stuff

Interesting experience at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) #change11 during this week’s live session. One of the main lessons: do not underestimate simple tools.

First, the presentation by professor Zoraini’s project of implementing mobile technology in Open University Malaysia. It demonstrated how using good old sms helped motivating and guiding the students.

On Not Worth Printing I read a skeptical reaction, asking for objective measures, other than student satisfaction, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the sms technology.

In my humble opinion, it would be great to have those additional insights, but I think that the participants’ satisfaction is a very important issue.

Web conferencing

My reflection has not only to do with the content of the presentation, but also with the tools we used. We started out using the open-source web conferencing software bigbluebutton for distance education. Unfortunately, the more than 60 participants made the poor thing crash and burn.

Good old Twitter was being used as a backchannel, and so we learned that there was another venue we could use in the amazing cyberspace: fuzemeeting.com, yet another web conferencing thingie. Thanks to diligent retweeting, quite some participants made it to that ‘place’.

However, some experienced audio problems and asked for help, using the chat-module of the web conferencing tool. They were saved by a simulcast on livestream.com/ett (EdTechTalk).

Looking at the MOOC-course, a maze of venues, platforms and tools, I think that one of the most popular pieces of it is the Daily Newsletter, aggregating coming events, blog posts, discussion threads and comments.

Second Life

I also started my other course, Awakening the Digital Imagination: A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar. This live session took place in Second Life. One might say that this is a higher level of complexity: using an avatar in a 3D virtual world. However, we kept the technicalities very simple: avatars sitting around a campfire, using voice and text chat. It worked perfectly well – we discussed the text As We May Think (Vannevar Bush). Call be a Second Life fanboy, but I still prefer the immersiveness of the virtual world experience above the ordinary web conferencing tools.

meeting in second life

One has the very real feeling of sharing a same space, of being embodied. People socialize before, after and during the conversation. I have the feeling the whole experience leads to much deeper connections. We have a group blog for the Second Life participants and there is an infohub for the project at large.

My conclusion: even at the frontiers of new media simple text-based tools help a lot to keep things organized and people motivated. Do not neglect newsletters, Twitter-messages, chat modules or even sms!

Read also: Deconstructing learning through social media
The group blog virtualworldnmfsfall11

Deconstructing learning through social media: virtual seminar, MOOC and OpenCourseware

I’m about to start a wild experiment in learning, by participating in various online courses, using various social media platforms. I have various objectives:
- to experience what learning could mean in this century and what it tells us about the changes in society and in the economy.
- to gain a deeper understanding in the philosophical underpinnings of new media.
- to become more creative, by better understanding what’s “new” about new media.
- to experiment with ways to combine various social media for online learning processes in the broadest sense of the word “learning”.

I’m not an educator working in a school or university, but a financial blogger/journalist/newspaper community manager. I’m already using Twitter, blogs, curating tools and chat systems to interact with our community. This, in my opinion, is a form of online learning and I hope to develop new practices inspired by the courses I’ll participate in during this Fall.

New Media Studies

The course which seems more “philosophical” is Awakening the Digital Imagination: A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech.

The course runs almost every week from September 12 through December 2. There is a syllabus, The New Media Reader (MIT Press, 2003) and we’ll work on various platforms such as Twitter, Flickr and… Second Life. The project in Second Life is being facilitated by Liz Dorland, Washington University (Chimera Cosmos in Second Life) and by Robin Heyden, Heyden Ty (Spiral Theas in Second Life) and the infohub and group blog are up and running.

This week we’ll discuss Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think“. The first week the participants discussed Inventing the Medium by Janet H. Murray, the Introduction of The New Media Reader and watched this video:

The video says “the Machine is Us/ing Us”. While using the web we’re teaching the Machine, which learns from our billions of daily online actions. The Machine is not just connecting data, it’s connecting people. In that sense one could dream of an exponentially increasing worldwide intelligence, which eventually becomes self-learning (the Technological Singularity discussion). It reminds us of the optimism of engineers, who realize that our world and our survival become ever more complicated. However, engineers are optimistic: complexity is a problem which can be tackled. Computers and networks change Thought itself, and enable it to tackle the big challenges of our time.

But then again there are these other thinkers, more to be found in the humanities: they talk for tens of years now about the end of the big Ideologies, the end of the big metaphysical stories making sense of it all. Patient deconstruction and analysis show the fallacies, the inconsistencies, the circular reasonings in those stories. Should we confront the supposed cynical smile of the humanities-expert with the optimism of the engineer, or rather deconstruct this opposition? I’ll find out in the weeks to come.

MOOC

I also registered at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) Change, an international, distributed and rhizome-like learning network/experience. I also attended previous, similar editions (the Connectivism courses), often as a lurker, sometimes active. It’s bewildering and mind-blowing, no, mind-amplifying!

The course is facilitated by  Dave CormierGeorge Siemens and Stephen Downes.

Dave Cormier offers this video to explain what we’re up to.

 

In a post about how to participate it is explained that: “…there is no one central curriculum that every person follows. The learning takes place through the interaction with resources and course participants, not through memorizing content. By selecting your own materials, you create your own unique perspective on the subject matter.”

The interactions take place on various social media platforms, using many tools.

OpenCourseWare

The last part of my program for this fall is studying MIT OpenCourseWare Introduction to Computer Science and Programming (instructors are Prof. Eric Grimson and Prof. John Guttag). The idea is to learn how computer scientists actually think and in that sense the course is about much more than just “learning how to program in Python”.

Interesting to see is how the video, transcripts, reading material can be consulted for free, while direct interaction with the teaching staff is reserved for those who pay the hefty fee for studying at the MIT. This does not mean that using these course materials is devoid from any interaction: OpenStudy provides a platform for collaboration with fellow-users (the platform could also be used for the Change MOOC).

The issue of how to facilitate learning collaboration while also protecting the business model of universities is solved in another way by Stanford University: they’re organizing an Open Class on Artificial Intelligence. Participants will not be able to ask questions directly, but a voting system will select a number of questions which will be answered by the instructors.

That’s one of the fascinating aspects of these courses: we learn how to practice and think in new ways, and while trying to do so it becomes obvious to the participants that the activity of learning itself and the institutions of learning are being confronted with disruptive change.