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Is Amazon becoming the educator of the Internet Age?

Fig.1. The debate on this book in Amazon comments is turning this into a self-directed, open module on the outbreak of the First World War

Amazon is going way beyond selling and reselling books to aggregate conversations. The sophisticated way that discussions are offered might be a lesson to educators – reviews aren’t simply stacked, but are offered in a variety of ways: contrasting arguments, newest first, based on rating for the publication or likes from other readers. While simultaneously, playing upon serendipity multiple alternative reviews are offered in a ‘side bar’. You can begin to pick out types of voice, from the academic to the belligerent, to those who have yet to read or complete the book, to those that have read it more than once. Innovations here are seeing Amazon becoming a social platform in its own right with recently launched platforms inviting discussion and group forming. i.e. Amazon gains in stickiness and frequent visits and revisits.

(First posted in OpenStudio as part of H818: The networked practitioner).

Serendipity, Creativity, Innovation and Change (B822)

With another 60 credits to achieve the MA in Open & Distance Learning I learnt I could ‘stretch my legs’ and pull in some points from other fields of study.

B822 is a Faculty of Business and Law School module; its fans, I have learnt are many and vocal.

My fear is the return to books and studying after a too brief interlude; it doesn’t half muck up you weekends, what is more it has taken me entirely away from something else that I do (or did): writing fiction.

My fear too is that I am at the Faculty where the module was written and from where it is taught so there is little distance for me with this piece of distance learning.

However, that Muse ‘Serendipity‘ just came to my rescue (during an interlude from sleep where I was busily asking myself ‘should I’ or ‘shouldn’t’ I?

I stumbled upon the blog of Barbara Wilson, which happens to be my late grandmother’s name, she happens to be an OU Lecturer in Creativity and Leadership (living in France) and her latest blog is about a paper from one of the authors of B822 which I promptly download and put into iBooks.

Being playful and smart?

The relations of adult playfulness with psychometric and self-estimated intellegicne and academic performance.

It doesn’t take much for me to feel the familiar comfort of reading, contemplating the application of ideas and taking notes. In one respect I spent a year, full-time, studying this at the ‘School of Communication Arts’. Let’s see.

Tutor as host – its your party and your responsibility to make it work

This from Mary Thorpe (2009)

If face-to-face is the answer, how do you  replicate the combination of informal and formal discourse opportunities that characterise the face-to-face campus. (Crook and Light, 2002)

The answer is in social networks such as Linkedin being alerted every time someone in your circle updates, or adds friends or writes something, though different, there is at least an inclining of this meeting serendipitously around the water-cooler, or passing in the corridor. Also the random offering up of ‘people you might know’, even if they haven’t instigated it.

This is beyond face-to-face, but designed to replicate the chance encounter that makes up human interactions.

In Diaryland (1999) a similar trait is offered as within a set number of 75 friends you always know who has updated i.e. who is active and therefore around and more inclined to engage. All that matters is this sense of sharing the same space. It matters therefore that you are present often enough to be someone in this environment and that the affordances of the platform alert others to your presence.

The debate over the differences between face-to-face are dry

Why hybrid?

What community?

As the two worlds are now so familiar to many people, this is like saying, what is the difference between the Rugby Club and the Bridge Club.

There is no other difference. The means of engagement are ultimately the same, between one person and another. Like everything as you become familiar with these platforms, and as your friends are online too, you accept their presence or otherwise as if you have bumped into them walking the dog or a conference.

This isn’t revolution, it is barely even evolution, it is us being people with a bunch of different tools as we crafty humans have done for millenia.

‘Technologies, such as social networking, can be used to construct personal learning environments designed by the learner precisely in relation to their interests and goals across a range of practice boundaries.(Anderson and Dron 2007)

Better still you start to allow tools like Stumbleupon and Zite to do this for you, by feeding in a specific, tailored profile you can get these aggregators to draw down who you are and feed back intelligence.

The day we don’t trust it we drop these tools like a hot-potato and go somewhere else.

They CANNOT afford to get it wrong.

I signed up in error to MY LIFE, I say this because I only wanted to trial it on a monthly basis. The moment I was on the phone was the moment I was reimbursed, which actually is a sound thing.

This expression, this test of ‘trust’ might be enough to take me back (except that I feel the entire idea was mine in 2001).

‘Technology self-evidently involves tools, understood as both the physical resources and practical skills required to make use of them, but to focus primarily on the tool or the virtual space would be to make a categorical error, mistaking a component part for the system as a whole (Jones and Eshault, 2004)

We still use pen and paper, we still talk to each other face to face, we may even share how we are getting on with our parents over Sunday Lunch.

This isn’t replacement technology, it is hyper complementary technology, it is as convenient as having a hanky on which to blow your nose, no more. You pull out your smartphone to share a thought. Or in my case at 3.10am I get up, doodle an idea for a video production and then stick up a discussion question to a number of Linkedin groups.

Serendipity

Thinking of my late grandfather’s garage with all its tools, the context would be the mix and combination of tools, some complimentary, some one offs, and the space (once he’d rolled the car out of the garage). Most importantly it would include him, both actively engaged in a task and from my point of view, someone who was always keen to pass on skills and insights.

Issues regarding identity -practice/familiarity

Trust and authenticity (checking/verification) ‘Students may not take up the opportunities offered, or may do so to little good effect.’ (Thorpe, 2008:122) ‘Asynchronous conferencing for example has fostered both utopic and dystopic views of its potential (Haythornthwaite 2006)

The importance of the beginning of the course the same as in face-to-face, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.

‘That particular aspect of getting everybody involved right at the very beginning really sets the scene for the rest of the course.’ (Thorpe 2008:123)

Tutor as host.

A good start is forgiving. A poor start is far harder to retrieve. The problem institutionally is if your are overwhelmed by students. Are there enough tutors? Are there even intermediaries to step in? ‘The design in effect performs a mix of compulsion and engineered interaction that combines formality with informality.’ (Crook and Light, 2002)

Too much of either is a killer. Overly familiar and talking about pets and holidays in the middle of a forum puts your off. So do course materials on the rare occasion with The OU when it is if your are interrupting the conversation between a couple of professors who have developed their own private language that only means something to each other. (This isn’t far from the truth). ‘The potential for expansive learning’ (Tuoni-Grohn and Engestrom, 2003)

We all want our heads cracked open like a part-boiled egg. ‘This is learning that crosses the boundaries of different activity systems, expanding involvement with others and developing both individual and collective learning’. (Cole and Engestrom 1993)

I call it Pixie dust over Object 3.

Object 3 must be the moment Dyson and his team come up with the airstream device. Innovation, inspiration and originality is there in front of us, like Macbeth’s dagger, tantilizingly before our hands.

So talk to Lady Macbeth and your colleagues, let it out, share your thoughts, make the dagger real, You may find it’s more of a tickling stick.

‘A context has to be reconstructed and participation invited through the use of activities, structured formats and textural genres operating at various levels.’ (Thorpe, 2008:130)

I no longer think this is the case. We aren’t creating false or mimicking landscapes or environments online, rather we know what these environments are and behave accordingly.

This comes with experience, it IS NOT, and has NEVER BEEN GENERATIONAL.

I am not the only forty something who despite my children being infront of a computer before they could walk have vastly more experience of the internet and computers than they do. I challenge them to keep up or catch up, indeed, I am quick to run after them if I think they are discovering something I too have not tried.

Ask me for evidence, research by educational institutions in the UK, US and Australia, that debunk Generation X and Digital Natives as utter TOSH.

Engestrom (2007) emphasizes the importance of learning across multiple activity systems where knowledge is being developed across many sites, from the formal academic context through practioner-focused websites and fora to the workplace.

Technologies, such as social networking, can be used to construct personal learning environments designed by the learner precisely in relation to their interests and goals across a range of practice boundaries (Anderson and Dron 2007)

True.

But like an allotment you might start as an idea, the worth comes from putting in some time and effort.

A hybrid mix of community and network. (Thorp, 2008:129)

Yes, like weeds in the allotment and a few cacti on a tray of sand in the shed.


Making meaning of complexity and change through metaphor

H800 wk23 a Activity 2

Stepping over the edge

‘A key characteristic of these new technologies is “learning by doing” – users need to be immersed in and “play with” the affordances that these new digital environments offer, and hence over time get a sense of how they can change practice.’ Conole (2011:403)

MY STUDENT BLOG AS A WORDLE

Whilst I may highlight and annotate, doing do on paper isn’t the easiest way to share; using a screen reader is worse because I find myself not enjoying having the obvious affordances, such as cut and paste, disabled.

I have an iPad to learn from it and to share what I discover.

It is both the angle and the devil on my shoulder.

Does it super-size my mind?

It thrills and engages it, indulges and expands, but also risks loosing me in its labarynthine tangles.

Saved for now by a To Do list that I refresh and follow.

But then I find an idea from Conole (see above) that is key.

The internet is a trip to the sea, it is somewhere to play and discover.

We may require Lifeguards and lane ropes but it remains largely an environment that can only be understood through engagement.

You will get you face wet,you may get bitten by a crab.

To share this thinking I must go online, and cannot help myself.  For the last three months I click through Linkedin, reading and responding.

For the next three it may be Stumbleupon, which through tricks and traits I find increasingly insightful, feeding me like a favourite aunt or uncle , the weirdness of the www.

Serendipity would be a better word for it.

I am rewarded by 25 minutes of browsing with ‘new finds’ that becomes stuff that I recommend which in turn obliges me to update my profile, might I even say ‘brand tag’ the finds as ‘mymindbursts’. (I need two days off to take stock and write up some ten on more blog entries.

Draft I know will do, from my experience as a diarist, just enough to trigger a more expansive and reflective entry)”.

To remind myself:

Monday 11th

Livestream on Social Media Metrics from IET. Five presenters. All to write up from my notes and screengrabs, cushioned or suffocated by the ‘official’ word and slides that have since gone up.

Tuesday 12th

Picklejar Social Media for HE in which Tracy Payle shares insights from a number of universities and through activities tips my thinking upside down and shakes it out onto the conference room table. I come away enlightened and as I had wanted, more confident if mot emboldened.

Thursday 20th

Faculty discussion on VLE and my experiences of The OU VLE to date. I take a look at the poster in the Post Room and discover a ‘common room’ I had been unaware of.

How do we cope with this inexhaustible choice?

It isn’t for lack of overwhelming, immersive and engaging content online, especially ‘how to’ movies and ‘clips’ in YouTube, its how you as an individual cope with this inexhaustible choice.

Armed with an 3G tablet and sim card will we find we are learning more on the fly, taking it with us, much of it free, some of it guided and paid for?

Taking advantage of participation (John Seely-Brown), learning on the periphery (John Seely-Brown), vicarious learning (Cox) and if you can get your tongue around it ‘serendipitous learning.’ (me I think).

I’m finding that 18 months in, and having really started this gig in 1998 when from the agency end we were migrating interactive DVD based learning to the Web, that I of necessity must balance the tools I can play (musical instrument metaphor), compared to those I play with (sandpit, training pool metaphor) … and I suppose those ones I am obliged to master whether I like it or not (prescriptive tools for work and study – in at the deep end metaphor?!).

Conole (2011) invites us to use ‘metaphors for meaning making’.

I always have, often visualising these metaphors. Just search this diary on ‘Metaphor’ to see what comes up. Also try words or phrases such as ‘traffic light’, ‘nurture’, ‘gardening’, ‘swimming’, ‘spheres of influence’, ‘hub’, ‘serendipity’ as well as ‘water’ and ‘water-cycle’.

I therefore offer the following:

Linkedin (For Forums, like this, in groups and networks)

WordPress (for blogging, sharing, wiki like affordances, training, updates)

iPad (or Tablet) (Whilst PCs and Laptops have considerable power and versatility

Twitter (only for niche/target live discussions or quasi-synchronous conversations.

The rest of it is ‘Twitter Twaddle’

Spam of the worst kind being pumped out by pre-assigned links as CoTweets or random disconnected thoughts. This is killing some forums where RSS feeds of this stuff overwhelms any chance of a conversation).

I’ve seen two Forums killed, temporarily I hope, by this stuff, the largest victim being the Oxford University Alumni group.

I believe it is simply the case of a new moderator niavely permitting Twitter feeds in on a discussion, ie. having the conversations between 30 disrupted by the disconnected chattering of 300.

Is calling someone a student derogatory?

What’s in a word? A subtle shift. Perhaps we’ll come one day to consider the word ‘student’ derogatory – why? Because it’s a put-down that places the educator at a higher level. We’re in it together, learning always and often playing dual roles as learners and the learned.

I find I am as likely to be involved in social media policy for internal communications as external so need to find ways to facilitate ‘proactive serendipity’ – one approach is ‘Yammer’; the other is low tech and inspired by John Seely Brown – the better organisation of social spaces to engender multiple chance encounters with colleagues (such as the coffee-machine) and eating lunch together rather than at a desk! (working in France was a joy on this front).

Metaphor and meaning making

6 July 2011

Metaphors to illustrate:

Musical instrument
Sandpit
Training Pool
Nurture
Gardening
Spheres of Influence
Hub
Serendipity
Traffic light
Water molecule
Water Cycle

It isn’t for lack of overwhelming, immersive and engaging content online, from ‘how to’ movies and ‘clips’ in YouTube, but how you manage this inexhaustible choice. Armed with an 3G tablet and sim card will we find we are learning more on the fly, taking it with us, much of it free, some of it guided and paid for? Is learning all the time a viable approach compared to careful and strategic time management?

Taking advantage of participation (Seely-Brown), learning on the periphery (Seely-Brown), vicarious learning (Cox) and if you can get your tongue around it ‘serendipitous learning.’ (me I think).

I’m finding that 18 months in, and having really started this gig in 1998 when from the agency end we were migrating interactive DVD based learning to the Web, that I of necessity must balance the tools I can play (musical instrument metaphor), compared to those I play with (sandpit, training pool metaphor) … and I suppose those ones I am obliged to master whether I like it or not (prescriptive tools for work and study – in at the deep end metaphor?!).

Conole (2011) invites us to use ‘metaphors for meaning making’. I always have, often visualising these metaphors. Just search this diary on ‘Metaphor’ to see what comes up. Also try words or phrases such as ‘traffic light’, ‘nurture’, ‘gardening’, ‘swimming’, ‘spheres of influence’, ‘hub’, ‘serendipity’ as well as ‘water’ and ‘water-cycle’.

I therefore offer the following:

Linkedin (For Forums, like this, in groups and networks)

WordPress (for blogging, sharing, wiki like affordances, training, updates)

iPad (or Tablet) (Whilst PCs and Laptops have considerable power and versatility

Twitter (only for niche/target live discussions or quasi-synchronous conversations.

The rest of it is ‘Twitter Twaddle’ – spam of the worst kind being pumped out by pre-assigned links as CoTweets or random disconnected thoughts. This is killing some forums where RSS feeds of this stuff overwhelms any chance of a conversation).

I’ve seen two Forums killed, temporarily I hope, by this stuff, the largest victim being the Oxford University Alumni group. I believe it is simply the case of a new moderator niavely permitting Twitter feeds in on a discussion, ie. having the conversations between 30 disrupted by the disconnected chattering of 300.

I find reflection spiralling out of control into an extra-terrestrial maelstrom of thought that has nothing to do with the ‘job at hand.’

At the macro level reflection for me is on the scale, and of equal significance to Douglas Adams and ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and the Meaning of Life and Everything.’

I find reflection spiralling out of control into an extra-terrestrial maelstrom of thought that has nothing to do with the ‘job at hand.’

At the micro level, the job at hand is a tiny part (10%) of a TMA in a unit, of a module of an OU Course.

My mindset has to be of a myopic jeweller with some gems and a gold band.

I don’t mean to trivialise it. On the contrary. I worry how in my life reflection has never imposed itself. I see, I feel, I do. If I reflect it is to look in a mirror and accept what I see, not try to change it.

Reflection has been hijacked by educational institutions. Don’t have time to mark a student’s work, get them to mark it themselves  … and then judge their ability to reflect on what they have done.

I think you can take from this that I don’t value reflection as a tool to assess a student. As a tool to gauge a person’s position, as a coach or facilitator to build on that person’s personal view of themselves – brilliant. But to give it a mark, pants.

Given that for the seventh or eighth time in the last two decades I have been advised that I am skewed towards action and visualisation I have to wonder how I can, or do, generate this amount of verbiage.

I am transcribing a dialogue between characters. I have a scene in my mind’s eyes as I type. I even see people, from the OU course, tutors, others … friends, as if attending a garden party.

For me reflection has to be, as it has been taken twenty years to engrain itself, the kind of introspection, sharing and reflection, fictionalisation and admonition, of Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf and Proust. I favour, absolutely, the indulgence of a Proustian ‘Involuntary Rush’ and its relevance to the person in this state. Serendipity. Where is there space for it if we are shunted down a dead track, into a Waste Land.

I go with Kolb and Cowan, their cycles and spirals. I favour the hurricane, the tornado over the spinning top. Which is what this is, spinning a top through a set of questions: what happened? What next? So what?! And then, I suppose, not a lot, or a lot, you defend your position, you stick, you retreat or move forward. Is this reflection.

Stopped by a Police Motorcycle on the A1 South of Gateshead my mother turned to her children and said, ‘cry,’ look uspet.’ And in due course, the traffic cop, seing three miserable children and a harassed Mum let her off the speeding fine.

Was that micro reflection on her behalf? Is this a Proustian ‘involuntary rush’ on mine.

Where lies this in education? Everywhere, especially in education social networking, which I have hated and now smile at. Reflecting on the whiffs of conversation I dared pick up as my daughter typed into Facebook with the speed of criminal law court copyist. The bulk of what her generation are learning is being done this way – socialising, homework, the entire mess of life a 21st century melange which says to me the OU is not right to say I am wrong, when I may be proved right and ‘they’ haven’t a clue.

I suggested to someone today that I would like to do one MA after another, five years a time, ’til the day I day. The OU can have my money and my mind. This is a little boy in a sweet shop.

Next up History of Art … with the OU, while doing an MA in Fine Art.

Then a return to History, 1066 to the Restoration for starters. Or Modern or Contemporary History? I fancy the First World War and have trunks (literally) a libary of books and other resources and artifacts on that one.

Geography, and all that it embraces.

English Literature and creative writing.

And French, once I’ve mastered the written language.

and kite surfing, and paragliding …

In your dreams mate, in your dreams.

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