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Web Networks – from the micro to the macro

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We are each unique – our brains make us so. At the microlevel the network in our heads is then tickled out into the the Web in, at first. the simplest of ways. Our first post, our first comment is that first baby-step. Unlike our firsf steps though, online everything we do is saved, is monitored, is shared. It takes on a life of its own. Multiplied billions of times now many millions of us have learnt to crawl, then walk, then run online. As we are virtual we can split into many versions or parts of ourselves too – the professional and private the immediate split, but then into hobby groups and as here, a study group. The network of networks is a living thing that mathematics can help to weight and categorize, even to visualise, but crucially – the point made here, humanising the maths requires the insight of someone asking questions, seeking to interpret what it taking place. I see currents in a digital ocean that transpires into a cloud that then precipitates digital artefacts in a myriad of other places. Others, like Yrjo Engegstrom, see the growing tendrils of a funghi. Either way it is fascinating to condense, simplify and sharing the thinking.

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Reading ‘Red Nile: a biography of the world’s greatest river’ – a gem

At times you laugh out loud, always informative, great stories, full of well-known facts with a twist, as well as a myriad of gems. The kind of book I would have bought and sent to people for the pleasure of it … not sure how that works with an eBook. If Michael Palin had got stuck in Egypt for six years, without the film crew, he might have made a stab at it. I described Robert Twigger to my wife as Michael Palin’s mischievous younger brother. (I know Robert, though I’ve not seen him for twenty years). He’s exceedingly bright but very modest, even humble. A boffin you might find going through second-hand books in a pile at a charity shop.

There’s an intimacy, cleverness and a flash of British funniness throughout. Encyclopedic whilst as readable as an unputdownable novel.

For me this is the very best travel writing. I’ve bounced into it via a need to take an interest in ethnography in H809 Practice-based research in e-learning. I found myself watching ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ then reading the book by Heinrich Harer. ‘The Red Nile’ is written in a similar vein, though Robert’s relationship is with the river and not the Dalai Lama. The book touches on a good deal of anthropological study of the peoples of the Niles (blue and white). It’s value is how easy it is to read after all the academic papers, and how quotable and informed it is too.

‘It seems peculiar to me that specialisation should involve developing a point of view that obscures the very subject you wish to study’.

This is I will take as a warning as I venture towards doctoral study. My interest is in learning, and e-learning in particular. Learning can apply to many, many fields. We all do it whether we want to or not.

If you study the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education a reading list after three years might look like this

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What will the impact be of the Web on education? How is knowledge sharing and learning changing?

Fig. 1. Father and daughter

From four or five months after conception with the formation of the brain, to the moment of brain death we have the capacity to learn, subconsciously as well as consciously.

Whether through interlopers before birth, in infancy and early childhood, or through family and carers in our last moment, days, weeks, months or years. At both ends of life the Web through a myriad of ways can advise, suggest and inform, and so educate, like never before. While for all the time in between as sponges, participants and students we can access, interact, interpose and interject in an environment where everything that is known and has been understood is presented to us. The interface between person and this Web of knowledge is a fascinating one that deserves close study for its potentially profound impact on what we as humans can do as people and collectively:  Individually through, by, with and surfing the established and privileged formal and formal conveyor belt of education through nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary centres of learning. Individually, also through expanding opportunities globally to learn unfettered by such formal education where such established opportunities don’t exist unless hindered through poverty and politics or a lack of communications infrastructure (a robust broadband connection to the Web). And individually and collectively alongside or beyond whatever formal education is provided or exploited by finger tapping into close and expanded networks of people, materials, ideas and activities

Open learning comes of age.

By seeking to peg answers to the role the Web is starting to play, at one end to the very first opportunity, at the micro-biological level to form a thought and at the other end to those micro-seconds at the end of life once the brain ceases to function – and everything else in between, requires an understandings neuroscience and an answer to the question ‘what is going on in there?’ How do we learn?

From an anthropological perspective why and how do we learn?

Where can we identify the origins of knowledge sharing and its role in the survival and domination of homo sapiens? And from our migration from the savannas of Eastern Africa to every nook and cranny of Earth, on land and sea, what recognised societal behaviours are playing out online? And are these behaviours mimicked or to a lesser extent transmogrified, warped or elevated by the scope, scale and speed of being connected to so much in such variety?

A history of learning is required.

From our innate conscious and subconscious capacity to learn from our immediate family and community how has formal education formed right the way through adding reading, writing and numeracy as a foundation to subject choices and specialisms, so momentarily expanded in secondary education into the single subjects studied at undergraduate level and the niche within a niche at Masters and doctoral levels. And what role has and will formal and informal learning continue to have, at work and play if increasing numbers of people globally have a school or university in their pockets, courtesy of a smartphone or tablet and a connection to the Web?

The global village Marshall McLuhan described is now, for the person connected to the Web, the global digital fireplace.

It has that ability to gather people around. Where though are its limits? With how many people can we develop and maintain a relationship? Once again, how can an understanding of social networks on the ground inform us about those that form on the Web? Multiplicity reins for some, flitting between a variety of groups while others have their niche interests indulged, celebrated and reinforced. Is there an identifiable geography of such hubs small and large and if visualised what does this tell us? Are the ways we can now learn new or old?

In relation to one aspect of education – medicine – how are we informed and how do we respond as patients and clinicians?

The journey starts at conception with the mixing of DNA and ends once the last electrochemical spark has fired. How, in relation to medicine does the quality (or lack of), scale and variety of information available on the Web inform and impact upon our ideas and actions the length of this lifetime’s journey At one end, parents making decisions regarding having children, then knowledge of pregnancy and foetal development. While at the other end, a child takes part in the decision-making process with clinicians and potentially the patient – to ‘call it a day’. Both the patient or person, as participant and the clinicians as interlocutors have, potentially, the same level of information at their fingertips courtesy of the Web.

How is this relationship and the outcomes altered where the patient will know more about their own health and a good deal about a clinician’s specialism?

The relationship between the doctor and patient, like others, courtesy of the connectivity and capacity of the Web, has changed – transmogrified, melted and flipped all at the same time. It is no longer them and us, though it can be – rather, as in education and other fields, it can be highly personalized and close.

Can clinicians be many things to many people?

Can any or only some of us cope with such multiplicity? A psychologist may say some will and some won’t, some have the nature for it, others not. Ditto in education. Trained to lead a classroom in a domain of their own, can a teacher take on multiple roles aimed at responding to the unique as well as the common traits of each of their students? While in tertiary education should and can academics continue to be, or expected to be undertake research as well as teach? Where teaching might be more akin to broadcasting, and the classroom or tutorial takes place asynchronously and online as well as live and face-to-face.

Disaggregation equals change.

In relation to one aspect of education in medicine and one kind of problem, what role might the Web play to support patients so that they can make an informed decision regarding the taking of potentially life saving, if not simply life improving, medications? Having understood the complexity of reasons why having been prescribed a preventer medication, for example, to reduce or even eliminate the risk of a serious asthma attack, what is going on where a patient elects, sometimes belligerently, not to take the medication. Others are forgetful, some misinformed, for others it is the cost, or the palaver of ordering, collecting and paying for repeat prescriptions. Information alone isn’t enough, but given the capacity of the web to brief a person on an individual basis, where they are online, what can be done to improve adherence, save lives and enhance the quality of life?

My hypothesis is that a patient can be assisted by an artificial companion of some kind, that is responsive to the person’s vicissitudes while metaphorically sitting on that person’s shoulder i.e. in the ‘Cloud’ and on their smartphone, tablet, headset, laptop or whatever other assistive interface will exist between us and the Web.

 

Fig. 2. Where it ends … more or less

At a parent’s side when they die is a profound experience. The breathing stopped and a trillion memories drained away. To what degree will this no longer be the case when a life logged digitally becomes a life in part preserved?

 

We’re no longer trying to sell magic potions out the back of a tub-trap

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Fig.1. We’re no longer trying to sell magic potions out the back of a tub-trap. 

Still playing catch-up after the Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA)

Through week six writing and most activities (a few hours left to wrap)

I’m on my seventh Open University Postgraduate module – six on e-learning, one from the MBA programme.

I’m familiar with week 7 as we begin week 8.

I’ll catch up over the weekend.

Perhaps.

If it rains a good deal and my son’s football is off (again). This will come back to haunt me – with all the bad weather they are moving to two matches a week. The Daddy Taxi might be busy.

For H809 conjured up the ‘Perfect Storm of Online Research’

  • Young people, including minors
  • Online – gamified if not virtual worlds, with social aspects (whether wanted or not)
  • Medical – not a medical market research but ostensibly an ‘intervention’ of sorts that would require expertise, training and sign off for everyone involved.
  • Global – what isn’t if it is accessible online?

The good news?

  • They haven’t found life on Mars yet so I can keep it contained to Earth.

My plan

  • Set further parameters.

I’m looking at use of e-learning to improve uptake of preventer medication by young people with severe moderate asthma (i.e. they are supposed to take a daily preventer inhaler, like me, I do – they don’t).

I may ‘contain’ the research to a group where in some cases a step has already been taken to ameliorate the situation – swimming. I’ll talk to the ASA (hypothetical) and have participants as UK swimmers with asthma

This on ethics and permissions relating to research will be of value. 

University of Oxford Research Integrity

By entering medical research I have entered a minefield!

There are pages of protocols and procedures, training and checks with personnel and so on from the universities, the NHS and UK Government legislation.

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Fig.2 A foothill just turned into climbing Olympus Mons, the 21000m largest mountain on Mars.

A picnic just turned into a medieval banquet for Henry VIII and all his six wives … (I’m off to walk the dog).

If I’m burying my head in sand then it is the red sand of Mars.  In any case, why climb Olympus Mons when I can land on it in a Twitter / PayPal sponsored Mars Rocket.

In truth I am reassured by the scope and comprehensive nature of the guidelines, protocols and legislation.

Where do I stand academically? Where and what next? And the madness of being.

Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, UK (OU)

H800: Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

H807: Innovations in eLearning – Learning outcomes

H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students

B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change

H808: The e-learning professional

This completes the Masters Degree. I graduate on Saturday 27th April 2013

Currently (March 2013) I am taking H809 as a bridge towards doctoral research or professional consultancy. Complete in June 2013.

H809 Practice-based research in educational technology

I joined the #H817open MOOC for one component of this module. I will register for 2014

H817: Openness and innovation in e-learning.

I am applying to undertake doctoral research in education – using learning technologies.
 
H809 will help prepare for applications starting in January 2014 for an October 2014 start. Most are now a 4 year programme, with a Masters in research to begin. WebSciences at University of Southampton is an interesting option – I attended an Open Day in January.
Too many active interests was a stated issue on childhood school reports. Nothing’s changed.
 
I am looking at an MA in History with the University of Birmingham which would give me the opportunity study the First World War. (I have written extensively about this through my late grandfather’s memoire ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchandeale’)
I attended the School of Communication Arts, London. A full-time programme in copywriting, art direction and design and have worked in the ‘creative’ and ‘communications’ industries all of my career.
And ‘EAVE’ (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs)
My first degree is in Geography.
My dissertation was on demographics. I love maps. Perhaps I should try to match maps, e-learning and the First World War. Animated it all and add some interviews and n ‘drama reconstruction’.
See what happens when you let something fester and wake up in the middle of the night.
 
Neuroscience and long term memory are fascinating too.
I need my life over. I need to split into three and start again. I need a coffee and a long walk on the South Downs. (I need to go back to bed)
And then there’s Fine Art.
 
And Creative Writing. And cooking. And the garden. There’s teaching, and moderating … and blogging. There’s movies. And sailing and swimming coaching. There’s family and friend … ah. Friend? I knew there was something missing in all of the above.
Scrap the lot and have a belated 50th birthday to celebrate 20 years of marriage, parenthood and the madness of being. Then sign up to crew in the Round the World Yacht Race.
There’s a reason why I call this blog ‘mind bursts’.

Visual expressions of Open Learning

PART ONE

 Sequence showing my conceptions of the shift in learning.

From traditional top down, to horizontal and collaborative and what’s goes in in the human brain – the interaction between different parts of the brain.

However, whilst this might be an expression of traditional classroom based teaching, through to collaborative Web 1.0 and the semantic Web 2.o as I have illustrated before, the reality is that all of these approaches are going on simultaneously: we still have, and benefit from top down learning – being told or shown stuff, there is collaborative learning, more so in certain subjects.

The second line suggests how things are changing: traditional learning being tipped on its head and on its side or at various angles as an institution, or policy changes, due to the influence of the teacher or because of the subject.

Horizontal learning from siblings, friends, family and extended family – always there in the past goes into hyper-mode as we can connect with ease with many of these people making every day like a family event if you so choose, following and joining in with the antics of others or sharing thoughts on school and life. I should add unconscious learning too – asleep, that sorting process we go through when we dream.

I doubt, from what I am coming to understand about neuroscience, that activity in the brains is greatly different or increased courtesy of the Internet or that stimulation has increased – this is for various reasons: our brain gets bored with the familiar, we turn off, we filter, we select. There is a limit to how much can be process. We give up other things to engage online – though I wouldn’t think giving up ogling at the TV all evening is any loss – the average viewing in the UK is 4 hours a day? Really!!

Open Learning is the last image in the bottom right hand corner – a lot going on, a good deal of connectivity.

But not less perhaps than living in a close, frenetic, village community – more akin to how we lived thousands of years ago with the world at our doorstep rather than our being squirreled away as we now are.

Traditional learning

Informal learning (circles look good, or a hub)

Neuroscience for Dummies (a great intro to the subject, I recommend it!)

Put it all together – as your brain does in sleep, and as occurs anyway as you daydream in class or have a parent help you with homework … 

Open Learn is kindle in the fire … it stokes it up, motivating, demotivating and distracting. Key is the continued connectivity to friends and family wherever they may be. That ‘hub’ of activity you may get after a family holiday or gathering can be with you in your pocket to support and advise. 

Is this what Open Learning looking like? More of what we’ve always had, but now, if you want him, your grandfather can sit on your shoulder all day – in our family my brother would have been asking advice on car maintenance, I would have been quizzing him on first hand detail of the war.  Cousins often get briefings from my father-in-law a retired Oxford Philosophy Tutor.

And now, courtesy of all learning online, open and formal, the action really gets going. Or does it? Is it not simply replacing something else? The very active person in clubs, societies, in a large extended family and so on would be getting this anyway?

PART TWO

This second A2 sheet works with Vygotsky and Engestrom and the idea of how we construct knowledge in a context.

The second image shows the familiar Activity System, an expanded version of how Vygotsy expressed how we learn. The activity system has six interacting components: subject and object, mediated by tools or artefacts, rules, community and division of labour. Enegstrom’s next generation expression of the Activity System is to show two systems interacting, the key here being the interaction of two objects or outcomes to produce a third.

This model is manageable, with set links between the components.

‘In the field’ it is possible to allocate roles to people or departments, to kits and guidelines but then on the second line you start to consider how many activity systems are connected. However, it is no longer simply the case that there is one point of contact – this drive to an outcome or objective.

Already authors wonder if Activity Theory (I have the reference I’ll dig it out for you) can no longer apply, that it has melted.

The middle image in the middle of the bottom row circumvents the set connections to indicated that everything can interact with everything else. Feed this into a multitude of Activity Systems (the final diagram in the bottom right) and you see what complexity is created – the suggestion being that the there is more direct connecting between people with no mediation factors or systems. This assumes that there are no gatekeepers or other barriers, but increasingly, in tertiary education you may find yourself in a discussion alongside the biggest names in your field, whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral student, no matter what institution you are signed up to.

In fact, it is far more open than that of course – by chance or because of an enthusiasm or wish to connect anyone in theory can connect with anyone else – or at least with those who are taking part.

Some 4% of the population in Great Britain who by all accounts should be digital residents don’t event visit – there lifestyle choice is not to use the Internet, just as in the past people may have chosen not to have a TV. Another13% don’t have access at all – no connection, no kit, no space or place to use kit that is shared. And this is the UK. So Open Learning, though not exclusive, cannot be called universal.

Of course, being a purist, if you’re interested in Vygotsky you need to study him in Russian. Now where is there an Open Learn course on Russian?

Models work, as do metaphors, but with the digital world are all such models melting like sheet ice in a warming climate? Merged and blurred like so much ink dripped into a digital ocean?

Though Engestrom sees this as things and institutions, I like to see two people here, say an Art Director and Copywriter working together to solve problems. Two heads better than one and all of that. Any psychologists out there might offer me person to person models as alternatives. 

And how many institutions can and do interact? Think of a $100m movie. Think of planning the Olympics. Think of six people with different skills and experiences working together. 

Is this what Open Learning looking like?

At what point does the model break down?

Become redundant? Even ideas of ‘learning from the periphery’ (JS Brown and Duguid) falls apart if there is no centre, and no periphery, if everyone is equally ‘linked in’ with no degrees of separation at all, where you are anyone else’s father, brother or son. (mother, sister or daughter).

Engestrom ends up using the metaphor of a Mycorrhizae fungi growth such as this.  I also found this rather beautiful image. But can art therefore fool? Something beautiful that is attractive and persuasive may not acutally be representative of the ‘truth of the matter’ – but what is?

Mycorrhizae = the real thing (apologies to the originator, when I can find the reference I will add it)

Which has me thinking of something more fluid, like the water cycle (think digital ocean into the could, then back again)

And in a system, as something more dynamic, with patterns behind the chaos.

In which case, to my mind, Open Learn and e-learning is like global warming to the climate – it is simply putting more energy into the system. Just re-annotate the above (which I will eventually get round to doing).

And if this doesn’t make your brain hurt or your jaw drop take a look at this:

Scale of the Universe

and click on ‘Powers of Ten’ which is, I feel, evocative of Open Learning too – scalable from the micro to the infinite.

REFERENCE

Engestrom, Y Various. I recommend ‘From Teams to Knots’

Vygotsky, L (1926 if you want it in Russia, 1974 for the first translations into English)

Rebecca Eynon from the OII  for ‘Mapping the Internet’ stats on GB Internet use.

(I’ll flesh this out in due course. There are a dozen references related to the above. But this is Open Learning. You get my thoughts on this in all its various drafts).

Women have ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Loose Talk’, men have ‘Top Gear’?

Woman also have ‘Loose Women’, surely the female version of ‘Top Gear’. But do men have an equivalent of ‘Woman’s Hour’ or are we supposed to get that from GQ or Esquire magazines 😦

I don’t make a point of listening to Woman’s Hour, but as I’m at home and have done years on and off as househusband it becomes a regular feature of the day. The radio goes on in the kitchen and in the car. I need to be in one or the other.

Is ‘Woman’s Hour’ a party broadcast for the female gender or fascinating issues presented in a radio magazine that mix topicality, with feature and fiction?

Actually it was this late Friday morning I was running out in the car to walk the dog on the South Downs.

Friday 8th March is one you need to download before it comes off air in a few days time.

Fig. 1 Listing on BBC Website – you’ve got 4 days within which to download this.

BBC RADIO 4 WOMAN’s HOUR – PODCASTS

Topics covered:

  • Women Coaches -(worth keeping)
  • Alice Walker – author of the Color Purple (very worthwhile)
  • Vicki Price and the law
  • Women in parliament – could they job share?

The one that had me stop what I was doing …

Loss of a mother

I’m the boy whose favourite place as an infant was on my Mum’s hip and as I gew up on the kitchen counter learning to cook, taking her tuition as an art teacher (MA in Fine Art from University of Durham). Our parents split up when I was eight and she only remarried in her 60th year. She died a few months ago.

Fig. 2 Women’s Hour, Friday 9th March 2013 A 43 minute programme.

On loss of Mothers – if you only have 12 minutes sping through to 00:30:00

What is the impact of losing a mother?
Alice Walker
What is happening here and why?

Paul Mcartney was 14 when his Mum died of a brain tumour. If he had a time machine he would go back and spend time with her.

A speaker Jane Tilly about her mother when she died when she was 17.

At significant transition moments, having no one to share it with.
A role model

The guests:

Maureen Fearon – Therapsit

Lucy Gannon (Playwright, television writer, plays, shortsand ‘Soldier, Soldeir’ and producer)

Lucy Gannon

  • Lucy’s Mum died when she was eight.
  • Know who you are, what diseases you’ve had, so you lose some of your identity.
  • Children need to know that they are at the centre of someone’s world so that they know they are
  • Your life is going on, try to get continuity.
  • You lose your place in the world – she was in care though.
  • Keep that child in the centre of the world they know.

Maureen Fearon

  • Her mum died when she was 29.
  • Look at the grandparents, look at the average, and she’s going to be at least that = 89/90.
  • Deeply tearful because of trigger music.
  • That overwhelming, ‘I want my Mum’.
  • Smells. Going through the tough times in life. Through challenging times that smell comes and floats away. When there is no smoke there. In our minds, or where it is.
  • Took 12 years of real pain, neurolinguistic exercise … did it once and fixed.

The mention of how the mind brings back smells is intriguing.

Maureen Fearon is a therapist, not a neuroscientist. There is a phenomenon where we see people we love who we have just lost, it might be the end of a close relationship or the death of someone close – our mind sees them in other people. I relate to this idea of lucid reconstruction of specific smells.

Fig. 3. From ‘Neuroscience for Dummies’ – not as stupid as it sounds!

I can, give me a moment, smell the mothballs in my late grandmother’s spare bedroom, and while she smoked them the Benson and Hedges cigarettes which surely made her knitting honk? Other smells I can call up include the silt and rotting fish heads of Beadnell Harbour in the 1960s … and a Christmas tree, and Christmas Pudding, marshmallows roasted on an open fire, melting butter on toast with Old English Marmalade … and our pet dog as a child, Morag the black labrador, wet and warm from being out in the rain …

Fig. 4. Sheila Vernon (nee Wilson) 1931-2012 with her son Jonathan c1973/1972 ?

My Mum’s parents where 83 and 96 when they died, so an average might have been 90?

She died a few months ago age 81. She had planned to beat the Queen Mum. We all thought she’d do so. But as my even later grandfather kept saying having reached 90, ‘I don’t mind when I go, I’ve had a good innings’. He was in his 97th year – we thought he’d make it to a hundred, but at trip to the Western Front to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Paschendaele where he had served as a machine gunner had left him ill (and heart broken).

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