Collaboration

Who gets my things after I’ve taken my life?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

As a Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I will give all kinds of things a go. I’ve done a few FutureLearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This eight week course on writing fiction from the OU looks like being one of the biggest; the OU pedigree also shows – the thinking and ‘broadcast quality’ of the video pieces shows compared to material put up by some universities.

Activities, activities, activities I remember someone saying from the OU when it came to designing learning online. This course is a little bit of telling, a bit of doing, that a lot of sharing. You can be thinking up a comment and before you post there can be five or six posts ‘land’ ahead of you. There are 1000+ responses to a thread. To some this is daunting. To those not used to these environments it may be off-putting. When you get used to it its fine, like going to a huge nightclub in London that’s on several floors rather than a mate’s part in their front lounge.

In this exercise we watched a clip of a dozen folk going about the daily business; all had feature in the opening piece about writing, so most are ‘at it’ pen on paper, into the laptop or onto an iPad. We are invited to take a person or moment and invent a story from it. I had never consciously done this before and was delighted with the effect, not trying to figure out what people really are doing, but rather inventing something for them.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. From an activity in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from FutureLearn

I have a young woman innocently keeping a ‘writer’s journal’ who I decide is writing suicide notes to five or six people; she puts a key from the bunch in each envelope, posts off the letters then kills herself. A bit morbid. I suppose I should now figure out why, and reveal what is behind each key.

Go see.

FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

See also how a shared, threaded forum such as this can be used to create a vibrant asynchronous conversation with several hundred, even thousands of people. Several things FutureLearn do which would work well here: word count limited to 1200 characters, 16 minutes timed out having posted to edit – then its done. A ‘like’ button and an easy way to keep abreast of comments left in a discussion you have started or joined without having to try to find it.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

Oxford Television News: a 1983 video-based undergraduate TV news programme

Oxford Television News: May 1918 On YouTube

From OU80s

Fig.1. Julia Brooks, one of the presenters on this edition of OTN

Oxford Television News (OTN) presented by Julia Brooks and Su Wolowacz.

Fig. 2. Su Wolowacz presenting the Trinity Term (1983) edition of Oxford Television News

Items include voting in the Council Elections, warnings about a rapist in an alley behind St.Peter’s, OUSA education system and the abolition of the admissions exam (ratio of private to state sector was worse than 70% 30%), May Day Celebrations, the importance the CV from Mr Snow then head of OUCAS, a Student Union Committee meeting, reported Stephen Howard reviewing Andrew Sullivan’s term (Trinity) as the Oxford Union President, Balliol College Music Society 1500th Concert (interviewed those who attended). Then set to music clips fro the Oxford & Cambridge Ski trip to Wengen. Clips from Abigail’s Party, directed by Anthony Geffen. The Roaring Boys. Matthew Faulk and Alex Ogilvie acting out a scene from ‘The Labours of Hercules Sproat’ and finally Jonathan Vernon doing a mime.

Fig.From OU80s

Fig.3. Students interviewed on the local elections.

From OU80s

Fig. 4. Mr Snow of Oxford University Careers Service giving advice

From OU80s

Fig. 5 Stephen Hellwen reviews the Oxford Union Debating Society under the presidency of Andrew Sullivan

From OU80s

Fig. 6 Richard Davey, First Year History Student at Balliol College and other Balliol undergraduates interviewed about the 1500th Balliol Musical Society Concert that included a performance by Yehudi Menuhin.

Production Credits

Presenters:

Julia Brooks

Su Wolowacz

Stephen Hellwen

Advertising

George Monbiot

Belinda Brown

Matthew Grayson

Production

Pete Collins

Ian Conway

Alan Jay

Editor

Jonathan Vernon

Director

Mike Upton

An OTN Production

The importance of digital literacy in learning online

Fig. 1. Mozilla Webmaker Digital Literacy Map

Learning online for a degree means that over a number of modules, sooner rather than later, you are likely to master a number of these digital literacy skills; the more the better.

Navigation, search and credibility and vital for any student. Can you find your way around the web and your university’s virtual library, the student forum and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? Can you search elsewhere for credible results – remembering to tag and cite these?

Learning online you may never need to code, but other ‘building’ skills are important; the basics of this blogging platform for a start, remixing and re-blogging and accessibility issues.

Connecting might be the most important skill and habit to acquire: sharing, collaboration and community participation are what make the Open University learning experience so special. ‘Connectivity’ is considered by academics such as George Siemens to be the learning theory of the 21st century; that by taking part, connecting and commenting you and others benefit from the insights gained, mistakes corrected, problems solved, issues understood, theories tested …

While ‘openness’ is a state of mind that takes a bit of getting used to; some make feel it is ‘exposure’ or compromising their privacy. Others simply prefer to get on with a task alone, and therefore with less disturbance. You can see that I am an exponent of openness and connectivity.

The value of networking face to face not just online

In the spirit of doing something different in order to effect change I attended a ‘Get Together’ organised by Wired Sussex and took the attitude that i would be open to everything and say ‘yes’ to all. Over two hours I listened to, shared with and learnt from Neil, Gerry, Olly, Karla, Tristan, Simon, Michael … and ‘TV Simon’ as I will call him to differentiated from business managing Simon16 (number of employees). I only remember the people, what they said and names to faces as, shared with them, I did this thing of pegging a face to a place on a familiar journey – walking through the house. And so I found Carla at the front door designing jewellery, Gerry on the stairs coaching folk in life skills, Tristan enteringmy bathroom talking agile eaterfalls, Kanban abd SCRUM techniques while Simon was on the landing with our dog – his blonge haird and scruffy beard in keeping with our blonde Labradoodle perhaps? Olly was in the garden talking to John, while Neil moved away and subsequently left. These are only those I met. There is no so much to follow up on: things to do, things to research, people to get back in touch with. So here’s me making some kind of public promise to do so, including having a business card by the time of the next meet up. I own the domain name ‘Mind Bursts’ which is where I plan to seed ideas and seek ways for them to flourish and bare fruit.

Much of the conversation came from my experience of the Open University’s Master of Arts on Open and Distance Education in general (graduated in 2012) and the module H818: The Networked Practitioner that ends tomorrow having submitted End of Module Assignments last week.

Do you prefer to read widely or pick the brains of experts?

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Reading a history of the Armistice after the First World War – I’m a few years ahead of the centenary of 1914, I learn the Lloyd George preferred the former: picking the brains of experts was preferable to reading widely.

Studying with the Open University can be both: you read and discuss at length – it depends so much on the course you are taking and serendipity. If you are goash you ought to be able to approach anyone at all in your faculty – not that you have much sense of what this is. You have an immediate student tutor group of 12 or so and a wider module cohort of say 60. You can read widely simply by extending your reach through references courtesy of the OU library, though I think what is meant here is a more general and broad intellect, that you take an interest, liberally, in the arts and sciences, in history and politics …

Increadingly this ‘widely read’ person can have multiple degrees – learning online may be more expensive than a shelf of books but you emerge at the other end a wiser person?

Being online affords a thousand opportunities to both read widely and to pick the brains of experts; what this requires is Web 2.0 literacy – the nous to drill deep when you read in a way that has never before been possible, unless, perhaps you have been privileged enough to have ready access to and the time to use one of the world’s elite libraries and your father or mother is a senior academic, government minister or captain of industry who loves to hold ‘house parties’ at the weekend. For the rest of us, there is now this new landscape – if not a level playing field (there are privileges based on cost and inclusion) – it is one where, with skill, guile, knowledge and experience you can gravitate towards and rope in the people and the books.

Studying with the Open University ‘at a distance’ can be neither: if reading is tightly focused by the content provided and you are penalised rather than admired for reading widely: you are supposed to stick to the text as it is on this that your tutor will assess you. And the participation of experts is random: my seven modules with the OU has had some of the more prominent names of distance and open education as the chair and as tutors, some are present and make themselves readily available though some appear only in the byline or tangentially not taking part in any discussion or debate – it is their loss and ours. I sound as if I am denegrating the tutors as my expectation has come to see in them an ‘educator’ – not necessarily a subject matter expert, but a facilitator and an enabler, someone who knows there way around the digital corridors of the Open University Virtual Learning Environment.

You get to know where to look: Amazon for books and the student forum that is the eclectic thread of reviews, then discussions in a specialist Linkedin group rounded off by webinars and hangouts. You may prefer one or the other but I suspect a balance of both is the most effective: you put in the information from books and you form your own opinions in discussions.

Collaboration amongst strangers is a tricky one. I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen it fail

It requires scaffolding in the form of rules, or guidelines, mentor or leaders, and incentives in the form of punishments and rewards i.e. the risk of failure as well as recognition and some kind of reward (which might be a qualification, a monetary award, or part of a completed artefact, or pleasure of participation).

or

It requires people with an obsessive common interest; I don’t believe having a common interest is enough. There needs to be an obsession, which means that the level of expertise can be mixed, indeed, thinking of the John Seely Brown concept of ‘learning from the periphery’ this might be best as invariably the natural human response IS to support those on the edge. The classic example is the young and eager student or junior employee keen to learn from his or her elders.

My concern with the role of collaboration in a module on e-learning is that the above don’t fully apply. We are not GCSE or A’Level students. Most are MA ODE students who need this towards their MA, but I’ll stick my head out and say the pass mark is, in my opinion, is too low. I’ll always think of anything under 50 as a fail … so I personally would have had to retake or resubmit my EMA for the first two modules I took (I submitted journalistic, even blog like pieces as I’d yet to get to grips with the rigours of submitting an academic paper).

To my tutor group I’ve posted too long a piece on a collaborative exercise I have been doing on and off for the best part of twenty year – I’m researching and writing my grandfather’s memoir from the First World War. The Internet has exposed me (in a good way) to several sleuths.

I can however give an example of the learning design MOOC earlier this year that whilst having a good deal of scaffolding and human support relied on strangers each coming up with project ideas then joining forces to complete one. In a rush of activity, with some big name e-learning folk and too much formal theorizing, reading and activities to groups formed. I had no takers and joined a group of three that became five, but very quickythis became two of us … we gamefully pressed on but at some stage felt we were missing out on the real action so eventualy pulled out as active participants.

Amateur dramatics, even volunteer cricket, to take a couple of examples, work because the show is the collective reward. We have bonfire societies here in Lewes that rely on volunteers too – thugh the complaint will be that it is always the same handful of people who do everything.

I believe that the First World War, now that I am an active member of a society and studying it on a formal course, is largelly of the type 2 participant. We are ‘trainsporters’ in that nerdy, glazed eye way – with specialists who know everything about uniforms, or tunnelling, or submarines, or dental decay on the Western Front, or a particular general, or like me – a grandfather, or greatgrandfather who was a combatant.

My worry about e-learning as a collaborative arena is that it is the process, so we are a cookery or gardening club. However, there is significant variation in each of these – vegetarian cooks, cupcake bake off specialists and Heston Blomenfal wannabes – amongst the gardens their are PhD research students growing dwark barley and weekenders who’ve keep an allotment. Whilst we have interst and the module to sustain us, only in a conort of 1000 or more would for some, there be enough likeminds to form a team.

I’m off to the School of Communication Arts in London. It operates from a workshop like open studio. Students are put into pairs to work. There is collaboration here between an art director (visualiser) and copywriter (words). Whether students are forever looking each other’s shoulders when they are working on a competitive brief is another matter. I’ve noticed how one creative brief given to the whole studio has now become three. What is more, the ‘collaboration’ as such, comes from a couple ofcfull time tutors, principal and then a ‘mentors’ who go in as a sounding board cum catalyst cum different voice or perspective. What these people are doing is ‘creative problem solving’.

Why, historically, does one band stay together while another falls apart? Collaboration is a tricky business – and maybe only in a business setting between employer and employee, or between contractor and client can it be sustained?

What do you understand by the word ‘curation’? What does it mean in relation to content online?

Fig.1. Bristol Fighter at the Imperial Museum

My understanding of curation is embedded in museums – I overheard the curator of the current Superhuman exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation Museum being interviewed by Aleks Krotovski on Tuesday.

When I took a picture using my iPad a member of the museum staff  politely told me that ‘the curator asked that people did not take pictures’ (and that the curator was in part to blame as he hadn’t wanted the signage saying ‘don’t take pictures’ too prominent) – curator as stage manager and executive producer of a collection of themed objects. The term ‘object’ itself embracing stills, artefacts, video-clips and activities. You curate stuff in a space and set parameters so that an audience of visitors can get their head around what, in effect, has come the curator’s mind.

In the bizarre ways that these things happen I recall, age six at most, creating a fossil museum with ammonites found in the low rocky cliffs of Beadnell, Northumberland.

I was a curator, I brought together a themed collection of rocks, set them out in a room and invited people in – no doubt in the back of my mind imagining the glass cabinets and displays in the Hancock Museum, Newcastle.

Ian McGreggor of the British Museum with his History of the World in 100 objects is a curator – far more so than an amateur’s eclectic collection of e–stuff. Or am I being a 20th century snob? Craving for academic elitism that is fast vanishing down the plug–hole as the digtal ocean and equally digital–cloud washes and blows over everything? I search that externalised part of my own mind, an extensive blog 13 years in the writing, for what I’ve said or stumbled upon before regarding ‘curation’ and find three entries, one prompted by my intention to attend this session in Bath and feeding off a visit to the De le Warr, Bexhill and the rest from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ in which he lists curation as something universities will need to do. On Chapter 12 he has this list on publishing as:

  • Publishing
  • Research
  • Authoring
  • Submission
  • Rejection/modification
  • Publication
  • Dissemination

WHY?

  • Accepted practice
  • Academic respectability
  • Reward and tenure
  • Dissemination
  • Curation

I wonder if this following quote gives a sense of Martin Weller‘s comprehension of the term ‘curation’ as used in a Web 2.0 context:

‘If Boyer’s four main scholarly functions were research, application, integration and teaching, then I would propose that those of the digital scholar are engagement, experimentation, reflection and sharing’. Weller (2011).

On a quest to become ‘digital scholars’ or ‘thought leaders’ we should, to change one word –engage, experiment, reflect and curate’? The word, used in this, come to think of it, ought also to include ‘moderate’, even to ‘chair’ or ‘host’.

In 2002 Gilly Salmon, then a lecturer at the Open University Business School, tried to coin the terms e–tivity and e–moderator.

Perhaps then, as these things go, the digital community have not picked up on these terms – instead they have hijacked ‘curation’. We are going through a rich phase of redefining and inventing words and understandably they result in carnage and debate. Academics are guilty I feel of sometimes wanting to be the first to coin a word or use a new phrase or word in a new way because citation will mean that they are then quoted for every more. This happens in academic publishing and study, unfortunately ‘curation’ can leave you wondering about the source. Is ‘jumbling together’ the content of others from multiple sources even more questionable than turning to self–monitored wikis such as wikipedia?

Weller also says:

‘If the intention is to encourage engagement then low-quality routes may be more fruitful than seeking to produce professional broadcast material’. Weller (2011) and ‘Low quality individual items because of their obvious ease of production, can be seen as an invitation to participate’. Weller (2011)

Is curation a dirty word? Is curated content reliable? What does it mean in the corporate world?

REFERENCE

Krotovski, A (2012) The Digital Human. BBC Radio 4 (last accessed 22 October 2012)
McGreggor, I (2011) The History of the World in 100 Objects –http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/british-museum-objects/ + Neil McGreggor

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ahow/all

Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: the key to active only learning. Sterling, VA : Stylus Publishing Inc. ISSN 0 7494 3686 7
Salmon, G (2002) e-moderation
Stodd, J (2012) https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/creating-and-sustaining-high-performance-learning-cultures/
Sullivan, A (2000-2012) The Daily Beast
Weller, M (2011) The Digital Human. More from Martin Weller in his blog: http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/Wijekumar, K. J., Meyer, B. J. F., Wagoner, D., & Ferguson, L. (2006). Technology affordances:  The “real story” in research with K-12 and undergraduate learners. British Journal of  Educational Technology, 37(2), 191-209.

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I would like everyone to adopt a veteran from the First World War – whether their name is featured on a memorial or not, whether they survived or not. Participants create any kind of online commemoration (blog would be easy, or video, or podcast, or slide show) – likely to be of a distant family member (great grandfather, great uncle, great great aunt) or someone from a person’s immediate community (lived in their house – spooky). A community of interested people may then build around a specific town/village, railway station of post office memorial, for example. Schools may find the stories of and pictures of combatants.