Emergent Training Communites – Slaying the Gatekeepers.

There have been some really solid objections coming around to my idea of emergent training communities (see attached paper from NMC poster session). Some people have asked me how communities can ever get started. Others have suggested that a deus ex machina is pretty much necessary in order to get any work done. The third objection, and the one that I’m going to treat with in this little blog post is “how do people get started?”

It’s all fine and dandy for people familiar with wandering around the internet as a digital nomad to slide into a virtual space, set up shop with a random group of folks, and become an emergent training community. Happens all the time. Someone sends in a comment to Edtechtalk, I meet someone at a conference or talk to someone at my university and go “right, i need to learn how to do that too, here’re my delicious links.” We work near each other, figure out what needs to be done and go our separate ways.

Imagine, if you will, overhearing a conversation in a bar in some far flung town. You respond to a question sent out to the room, sit down next to them, introduce yourself… The conversation moves on to other topics. You find that you have many things in common… beers are consumed, and by the end of the evening, you have a plan to work on world hunger. You run into people by accident, keep your options open, and then very cool things can happen. It happened to me yesterday on skype, I sent a letter to a person I know (very quickly becoming a friend of mine I believe) on a lark… kind of a ‘this is what I’m working on.’ The idea he came back with just plain blew my mind. More on this soon.

When we break down those and other social situations where everyone is contributing you find that there are a multitude of literacies at play. Some people are good coordinators,  organizers, real world experience… all these things are just as or more important than any facility with technology. What is, I ask, a vblog without the artistry to conceive of good framing? A blog without a sense of literary style? An e-learning course without a grasp of how to empower…?

Point being… most (if not all) people have something valuable to contribute to a community – emergent or otherwise. The problem is the gatekeepers. They’re sneaky little miscreants. In many cases the biggest problem is not even slaying the little buggers it’s correctly identifying them. The biggest one for me is patience. I have a VERY hard time reading through the directions before i try something. It’s the thing that keeps me from installing complicated software like Jabber. I just wanna go out there and do it.

Another problem here is that I’m an early adopter by nature and by breeding. My Father, a refinery worker and fisherman, bought a Vic20 when they first came out, he bought a Video camera (twice at the early phase) the second one was still attached to half the VHS-VCR which you had to carry around with you in a bag. My mother was my baseball and hockey coach long before word of women’s lib (for lack of a better expression) came anywhere near my small town.

Yes, an early adopter. And my goal is attract the ‘second wave’ of folks to the conversation online. To get them feeling empowered enough to contribute to these conversations without being ‘forced’ or ‘prompted’ but of their own volition. As an early adopter, i have no business deciding what the gatekeepers look like for those second wavers. Or, at least, limiting them to what they are for me. It does, according to all the things I keep babbling about, need to be decided by those folks who are actually dealing with it.

So. I’ve hatched a plan. A plan that I’m challenging other people to take a shot at. I’ve asked all the tech support people at my university to find me a group of course designers. They are going to design a gatekeeper slaying course that I want to put on our moodle at the university. (Those of you saying “hey… didn’t you just choose the model and the place for your course?” sit down and be quiet. I have enough of that voice in my own head. 🙂 ) These designers I’m looking for need to be the following:

  1. Extraordinarily competent at the work they do
  2. Have a vested interest, a need to become familiar with technology
  3. a luddite (opposed to technological progress)

My hope is to help them design a course for themselves, a course that we can then send out to the rest of my university that addresses the problems that they had learning to use Moodle, to be put into moodle. The course, as I see it (subject to change of course), would be a short, maybe 3-5 topic course that anyone could take. Simply being willing to register, sign in, and complete the material would be enough to certify your willingness to try. The key criteria is that everyone needs to take the first course by themselves. On their own time.

That’s my proposal, in short. My hope is, once they realize that they CAN go in and do it by themselves, then the rest of the community can benifit from the rest of the stuff that they know how to do. The digital can then feel the impact of the rest of their literacies.

And then, maybe, they’ll start being willing to be part of emergent training communities on their own.
Anyone up for the challenge?

Linktribute – neologism from the nmc online conference

IN the chatroom at the nmc online conference and we were looking for a new word that drops some of the old baggage around plagiarism etc… A fine chatter came up with a great word – linktribute. As the first official linktribute I would like to linktribute the the coiner of the word Alan Levine

More on the conference in a post tonight. cheers all.

My Space At School Watch – That is… watch out for the Secret Service!

We had a great chat with some of the folks at ISTE about the DOPA issue on Friday(Amongst other things). They agreed with what I understand is the general community opinion, “if we don’t teach them safe social networking in schools, who will?” There is a significant literacy gap between children today and their parents…. It was easy enough, fifty years ago, to explain that walking down dark alleys, in the middle of the night, holding a hundred bucks over your head wearing a bikini in November was asking for trouble. Or, for instance, that saying you wanted to do bodily harm to a public figure on the radio was not a good career move.

Enter the internet.

Enter the trials and tribulations of one Julia Wilson. She was visited by two secret service agents on Wednesday who visited her at her place of daily travail. She was hard at work and was pulled from the room and “yelled at me a lot” and threatened with incarceration. Apparently she had threatened to ‘Kill Bush’ on a very popular social networking site that you will find in the title of this post.

Catch is… Julia is a 14-year-old freshman at Sacramento’s McClatchy High School.

This SFGate article details the “unnecessarily mean” way she was treated by the agents. You’ll notice this key line inside the article “She replaced the page last spring after learning in her eighth-grade history class that such threats are a federal offense.”

wow. talk about the standard issue kicking in your door.

They take her OUT of class, question her in private, scare the crap out of her and then send her back in. Beside the obvious didactic opportunity lost, does it not seem odd that the plan for dealing with kids posting inappropriate stuff online (and i certainly am not condoning her actions) is to send SECRET SERVICE AGENTS?!?

just wow. that is all.

Emergent Training Communities – rhizomes part deux.

One of the most interesting images you’ll see today is Josie Fraser’s Leiarth. It’s the art that tells the tale of personalization that i think of as one of the core value of what I’ve been calling ‘Emergent Training Communities’. Her separation of the different ‘kinds’ of personalization and focus on ‘dynamic personalization’ has given me the language that I needed to pound out one section of the philosophy behind the work that is being done at the webcast academy, and the work I’m doing with Virtual Research Environments.

Dynamic personalization differs from ‘adaptive personalization’ and ‘customization’ in that dynamic personalization includes “the ability to create orginal or derivative works, to collaborate, form networks and connections via the users choice of applications, locations and plaforms.” In Josie’s prefered model, the user is limited by their imagination, by their ability to netword and nodesearch. In the other two models, they are limited by the imagination of person who is designing the system, and the willingness of that person to give over power. This analogy works nicely alongside the model of education that I’m proposing for online training.

If a teacher/curriculum person/designer is responsible for the entire design of a course, and, more specfically, for setting the limits on the course, the many, the users, are going to be contained by the imagination, and limitations of that particular person. This model, which is one that has served us very well for thousands of years, depends on various truth values being in place.

  1. Relatively close connections in goals of the members of the training community
  2. Close linguistic and technological context connection trainer/trainee, trainee/trainee
  3. Clear realworld goal mechanism (degree, certification etc…)
  4. Consistent (over time) list of skill objectives generally agreed upon

The current market for online communities does correspond with these premises. If a group of people desire, as in the case of the webcastacademy, to learn the skills necessary for ‘webcasting’ it is almost impossible for us to define a single, all encompassing path for trainees to follow. To codify a single curriculum would be to take a snapshot in new, emerging discipline, and have the students settle for that picture, which, by the time they learn it, will likely be outdates. The solution traditionally taken on this issue is to slide to one of the two ends of the spectrum; to hyper-specialize, or to hyper-generalize. To create a course for grade 4 teachers in Wisconsin who want to webcast at 3 o’clock, or a single rigid step by step training program recorded in screencast for all to see and use.
Emergent Training Communities are a third option. In an ETC the trainees bring their own needs and contexts with them into the ‘design’ of the training community. By making choices, by looking for exactly what the trainee needs to accomplish their goals and posting it within the ETC, “the production, reception and relationships [of the community] are… determined by the user“. It does require a framework that allows for this degree of interactivity, but it means that we as the hosts of the website are able to work with a training community that is affecting what it means “to know how” in our field. During the course of the webcastacademy, we, who in another context would have been considered experts, have learned a great deal about this skill set, and do not (I hope) create boundaries with our own inadequacies.

Now, lets go back to the iniatial discussion on rhizomatic communities. The definition we pulled from wikipedia said rhizomes described “theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation.” In a internet context, the varied directions, backgrounds and perspectives that people bring to a community require those non-hierarchical entry and exit points that can be decided upon and acted upon by the user at their own whim. There are people who have ‘taken the course’ on webcastacademy that we have never, and will never meet. There are others who’ve done it for baby shows, some for politics and many for education. They are all welcome and all can participate to the extent and in the way that they need to. The end result is, that there is a growing entity that adapts to the new technology without our control. It follows trends before they can be observed, codified and integrated in to a traditional educational model.

This natural, non-linear development of a curriculum is what an emergent training community is all about. It allows the digital nomads to wander in, set up tent for the time necessary, and move on, include or mashup as necessary.

There is a great deal more to be said about this, concerning how this is a threat to traditional business models, and how our solution of charging for ‘the personal touch’ or for the ‘community assessment’ is still in its development stages. But I do think there something here.

Cool Tool Break! Geosense for autodidacts.

A break from all the craziness of patents and rhizomes. I’ve been playing around with geosense.net and thinking that there are about a gazillion uses for it. Not that I’m a huge believer that geography should eat up massive amounts of time in the school day. More that I think that this is the kind of thing that doesn’t require a teacher, at least not in terms of learning where all the countries are. We should be, amongst other things, be training autodidacts. And this is a fantastic site for teaching that.


edit: This does not mean, of course, that i think that geography without context makes bunches of sense. Just that, like memorizing multiplication tables makes math discussions easier, having a good sense of where the countries are, makes the discussion about geopolitics (for instance) easier.

Rhizomes, Deleuze and collaborative models (and online ‘textbooks’) part 1.

I’ve been thinking about how to design online textbooks that are intrinsically collaborative, can be ‘authoratative’ where necessary and don’t revolve around a central, linear narrative. It’s a concept, this lack of linear narrative, that is coming up more and more. People are talking about having websites, groups, communities… all kinds of things that are not tied by spokes to a central core but can move around in relation to each other. I want to talk a bit about this, clear an idea out of my head and throw in out there for you folks to help me work on.

rhizomatic Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari used the term “rhizome” to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation.

I’ve spent much of my ‘free time’ lately looking at models of collaboration. Stephen put up a very cool set of distinctions between linear models of collaboration from a whiteboard he’s drawn on when he was in Australia/New Zealand. I was also looking at a new posting from Nancy White detailing the 8 competencies of online interaction (in conjunction with some fantastic photos… she has such a nice feeling for the transcendent image). The word that popped into my head was ‘rhizomatic’. That’s what’s been bugging me about the profusion of dots and lines connecting with each other to describe collaborative communities. They all look rhizomatic. First a bit of an introducation to rhizomatic structures and what both the metaphor/real have to tell us about how we all can/do communicate, and then back to texts. warning – i am not an expert at this… just a lowly philosopher wannabe.
I was looking for a nice webpage to give a clear defintion of rhizomes the other day and came across this little beauty. It was (i hope) written a while ago, but it does a nice job of detailing the distinction between arbolic and rhizomatic structures. Deleuze and Guitarri’s A Thousand Plateaus is not a book for… casual reading… but the ‘translation’ of it given here is sufficient to detail its connection to the way we talk about collaboration.

Table A.

Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizomatic Versus Arbolic

Rhizomatic Arbolic
Non-linear Linear
Anarchic Hierarchic
Nomadic Sedentary
Smooth Striated
Deterritorialized Territorialized
Multiplicitous Unitary and binary
Minor science Major science
Heterogeneity Homogeneity

(copied from thing.net)
A thousand plateaus is meant to be a rhizomatic book. This is part of the reason it is so difficult to read. Much like a first journey through the later Wittgenstein, the brain yearns for a clear description of what it is that the writer is trying to ‘prove’. What is the position being taken? How can I agree or disagree with what I being ‘told’? It is, indeed, the very thing that I teach my students is key to writing what is known as a ‘good academic paper.’ Tell ’em your gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, tell ’em you told ’em. The problem is, as wittgenstein implied through his later work, we can’t really talk about definitions ‘of the words we can’t talk about’ without pinning down things that can’t really have definitions. His classic example is meaning. Try, if you will, to give a philosophically sound definition of the word, and you will likely end up in a tautology. There is a common sense response? I agree. We do know what it means… oops. There it is again. 🙂
This is one of the ‘the polluted inheritances of the enlightenment.’ We are committed, partially due to the quest for Truth and partially because our technologies (sequential pages in books etc…), to thinking our way through building things in linear ways to answer specific problems. When things build up on their own however – see the way that a blogging community tends to do this (another fantastic set of slides from nancy) – we see a more rhizomatic structure poking through the rigid structures of linear, enlightenment style thought.So, now, how do we build a text this way. The term text, of course, is problematic. It too has a polluted inheritance that suggests something with a certain smell and structure (mmm… old book smell). This is, for those of you who don’t like neologisms, why it is so necessary to control and often change the language we use in order to get new ideas out of the garage. For the next few months I’m going to be experimenting with ways of building rhizomatic texts… I’m looking for folks to come on this journey with me, as its a little tough to create a rhizomatic community by myself. :)tech note: I had orginally hoped that wikis would be the answer to this, but am now not so sure. I’m very open to suggestion on the platform for this exploration. I’m currently leaning towards elggish drupalness… but am not permanently sold on that either.

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