Making Sense of Complexity – Engaging Others in #change11

I just attended an interesting webinar that George Siemens facilitated during an Open Access Week session at Athabasca, Making Sense of Complexity in Open Information Environments. While his work got increasingly theoretical, there is one thing he mentioned that caused me to stop and think about my current involvement in #change11, the MOOC that I have been discussing for a few weeks now.

In this iteration of a massive open online course, there is not an established form of scaffolding for participant focus (there is not a central Moodle platform, or course home where we all come to gather around). Instead, we blog or Tweet or whatever as we work through the course, and we are encouraged (invited? forced?) to devise our own mechanisms for processing and engaging with our content. I have decided to use my blog and Twitter to process this experience and what I learn in it, and while this generally works for me, it also relates to some ideas that Dave Cormier mentioned in his post earlier this week, and which we developed a little more in George’s webinar today. All this freedom comes at a cost — I am continually struggling to address my 3rd course goal, Revise my network to be wider and more inclusive. Without a central focus or location, it can be quite a challenge to develop a sense of community, or networked learning perspective. Yes, I am begining to comment on more blogs of other participants, as well as increase my Tweeting, though I am still struggling to be able to connect with others in more than a passing way.

While I prefer online communication as a mode of social connection, I am increasingly disoriented by the sheer scope of participation in the MOOC, and thus am really struggling to find a small (or any!) social connections of more than a passing or very focused interest. I know, this certainly does not happen naturally in a centralized course location, though it is an Internet-sized challenge to find this in the wider Web. Yes, it is relatively easy to locate Tweets and blogs and such through the use of the #change11 tag, but even with all that information, it is still a challenge to navigate through everything.

As networked learning is something that is increasingly important in my thinking, I am hoping that some of my efforts in this area will begin to develop in some way. I am reminded of what Dave said:

I’ve also had a difficult time trying to track the responses to the given weeks

and this for me resonated.

I really like the openness and ability to process our thinking in our own ways, though echoing Dave’s comment, finding the information can be a challenge, and then engaging around it enough that community begins to develop, even in small ways (once again, as George hinted at in the webinar today). Somehow, I have not located any of this yet, and while I will put more effort into my processes, I am increasingly recognizing that my goal #3 is very important for my sustained involvement.

I wonder if a sense of community or belonging or valuing plays a role in any online endeavor, especially a 35 week one where we develop and monitor and work toward our own goals?


Does Collective Learning = Organizational Exploitation? #change11

I had a really interesting comment from Allison Littlejohn in reaction to the Week 4 #change11 MOOC discussion on Collective Learning we are having this week. In her examples about collective learning in organizations or the workplace (or even academia), they all involve crowdsourcing or wisdom of crowds or greater learning by the collective than individually. That is wonderful for the development of large ideas or to solve seemingly inflexible problems, but what happens in the process to the individual?

Sure, the individual can relish in the personal learning, the sense of being part of something much larger, and the experience. However, who owns the product, or the solution? Whose value increases as a result of all that individual work? Yes, the organization or the corporation or the government. Perhaps the shareholders or owners or leadership? Ultimately, the collective benefits those who control it, while the individual components to the collective get swept up into the final product with the individual having little to tangibly show for the efforts. Without a vested interest on the individual level, the collective could probably not be effective.

Now, I have worked in nonprofits and academic institutions for years, and believe in the mission and vision of those organizations where I spend much of my time. I know that when I contribute to the collective, some aspect of society (and not shareholders) get the value of those efforts. However, can’t collective learning be leveraged to exploit the individual members by not giving them credit, or reward, or acknowledgment for their contributions? Can “doing thing for the common good” be said for the benefit of the few, and not necessarily of the many? Thinking in the context of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?), what is my WIIFM for participating in any formal or organized collective learning experience, if I will not in some way benefit from all my efforts?

Outside of my personal and informal reasons for engaging in collective learning, what is my WIIFM for doing it when others will leverage (exploit?) the results? I am not asking this in a greedy or selfish way, but there is only so much time and energy, and I have to wonder how easily (cf. hegemony) it is to work together, with only a few reaping the significant benefits. Are individuals exploited under the guise of corporate or organizational collective learning?

Goodness, I am now wondering about a potential connection between collective learning and critical management studies!


To Pilot, or Not to Pilot; THAT is the question + 52 Answers

As I am preparing to begin my search for participants for my doctoral thesis research, I received a suggestion last week to consider a pilot. Not sure why I had not thought about this before, but that is what having active supervisors and a supportive community of doctoral colleagues is for–help point out things when we miss them ourselves. Seemed like a good idea, though I wanted to get some feedback as to the processes.

Let me be clear, it was suggested (and I agreed) to pilot my semi-structured interview questions, not my research purpose and research questions (I have research evidence from the past 2 years and some literature that suggests this is a real issue that we do not know much about). If I pilot my questions, it can help me determine if they are the right questions (they will give me answers to my research questions and link to my problem and purpose). Nothing like having the opportunity to ask the interview questions and then discuss / debrief them with some people. I think I wrote interview questions that will get me what I want to know, though piloting the interview questions may just be the best way to find out.

Yes, I do follow the suggestions and recommendations of my supervisors, but how about the larger community of doctoral learners (some of whom may even ultimately participate in my study!!) who may have some suggestions for piloting these questions? With this in mind I asked my online doctoral community, #phdchat:

I then received a number of responses, and followed up with one more direct request for thoughts and suggestions and help and support:

The result is there is general consensus that piloting my semi-structured interview questions is useful, though that is not the only thing I learned in this process. I learned that there is power in community, as my two initial posts, along with my individual responses to what others suggested, resulted in 52 responses to me from a number of my doctoral colleagues. They shared their stories, what worked, what did not, what they learned, who to read for more information, and so on. Overall, I am amazed at how generous this network of fellow doctoral colleagues, most of whom I have never met face-to-face though with whom I have established various levels of relationship with, is when there is a need and sharing with one another is just the support that is needed. Can this indeed be a component of a community of practice?

Yes, my supervisors are wonderful, though my fellow colleagues cannot be underestimated!


Call for Papers: Networked Learning Conference 2012

Happy to see that the call for papers for the 8th International Networked Learning Conference 2012 was just announced. I attended this conference in 2010 in Denmark, and hope to be able to attend this again from 2-4 April 2012 in Maastricht, the Netherlands. If this will be anything like the last conference, it will be a tremendous experience.

While I do not usually promote conferences before I have anything accepted for them, I am doing so here because this is such a wonderful conference that I think may benefit more than that specific group that tends to already know about it. I think it needs a wider audience (i.e., from the US, Canada, and Australia), and hope this little post can help that along.

Did I mention that two scholars whose work has greatly influenced my own research will be speaking — Etienne Wenger and Tara Fenwick!


Actor-Network Theory and Thesis (Work in Progress) Discussion

I shared how this week I am discussing my work in the CPsquare Research and Dissertation Series, where I am talking about my doctoral thesis trajectory and work to date. To this end, I will discuss what I hope to do with Actor-Network Theory and the study of doctoral studies during a synchronous session tomorrow, Wednesday, 23 March 2011 at 4:00 EST, in the CPsquare environment.

Want a taste of what I am going to discuss? Here are my slides . . . and here is the visual for what I am proposing to study in my doctoral thesis:


Discussing the A-Ha! in CPsquare

Our conversation has started in the CPsquare community, where I am sharing my current doctoral studies and approaching thesis. One of the community facilitators mentioned the a-ha moment, and this reminded me how increasingly central this is to my work. Don’t you wish we could bottle and share it?

I came to my current academic program with an interest in exploring transformative learning experiences in distance learning, and while I have studied these experiences from a number of perspectives, including from the perspective of doctoral learners, it is this a-ha experience, sometimes called a conceptual threshold, threshold concept, or light bulb moment, that most interests me.

  • What factors lead some people to have this a-ha, and not others?
  • Is there any content or ideas that tend to have this effect on people?
  • What does this experience feel like?
  • What support helps sustain people through this?
  • What ethical issues arise, especially when this experience may be encouraged by a faculty member or researcher?

These are some of those questions that inspire me, as they all lead to the pinnacle, IMHO, of the central questions in education — What did you learn and what will you do with it?


CPsquare Research and Dissertations Series

I was pleasantly surprised to be invited by John Smith at CPsquare (The Community of Practice on Communities of Practice) to discuss my work in the Research and Dissertations Series next week. The title of my session is “Jeffrey Keefer: work in progress – Educational Research + (Virtual) Identity in Postmodernity.”  The subtitle for this sessions states:

We have a time-honored tradition of sharing mid-trajectory work, and Jeffrey Keefer’s Doctoral research to date follows it. He has said, “If we all waited for the ideal time, nothing would ever happen.” The synchronous session will be on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 20:00 GMT (4 pm New York time). Jeffrey will post some bits here before that.

While this session is intended for members of CPsquare, I will share some bits and pieces of what I share there here as well, especially what I hope to discuss and what questions about it I have. For anybody planning or able to attend, here is the internal CPsquare url.