Archive for November, 2010

Collaborative Participation

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

In critiquing exaggerated claims of ‘self-organizing’ behaviour in social media, Alan Levine (AKA @cogdog) draws on Emergence theory to argue that patterns of corresponding participation – such as Twitter users tweeting on an event – “arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions” and do not necessarily indicate collaborative or coordinated acts.

Resulting ‘constellations’ of participation are frequently interpreted through network analysis and increasingly complex visual data representations. But how do we go about examining any claims that these are more than merely the result of cumulative activities? This requires exploring the interplay between individual and social agencies, motivations and influences, and understanding how these are acted out within cultural contexts and protocols. To use Levine’s example, actors may acquire a ‘sense’ of collaboration (for example, in producing a collective digital archive) but is this realised through a shared cause or an environment for debate? Is the participation – and the nature of the contributions – the result of individual self-will or coerced? What hierarchies, power relations and modes of influence might be at play here? And how does the technology influence these things?

Two Kinds of Knowledge

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Stephen Downes’ article for the Huffington Post is brilliantly encapsulated in this paragraph:

“Two different types of knowledge. Two different sets of skills. If we want people to socialize, to conform, to follow rules, we’ll focus on the repetition of the symbols and codes that constitute explicit knowledge, to have them become expert in what Wittgenstein called “language games,” the public performance of language. But if we want people to learn, then we need to focus on the subsymbolic, the concepts, skills, procedures and other bits of tacit knowledge that underlie, and give rise to, the social conventions. We cannot simply learn the words.”

This makes a lot of sense. But from a learner’s perspective – and maybe I’m drawing too much from socio-cultural perspectives here – it often seems that we need to become skilled in the former to be able to gain access to the latter.

The Business of Knowledge

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Hot on the trail of the Browne Report, Philip Dodd hosted a wide-ranging debate with a group of educational policy makers as part of the BBC’s Free Thinking series, in association with the University of Sunderland. The Business of Knowledge: What do we really want from universities and graduates in the 21st century? was held at the National Glass Centre and broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves on 28 October. Here’s a summary of the key arguments:

HE Funding

James Tooley (Professor of Education Policy, Newcastle University)

  • State funding is stifling innovation
  • Liberate universities from the state – let them be independent and autonomous
  • Many universities were founded from private initiatives
  • Welfare state model ‘crowds out’ philanthropy
  • Promote a mix of learner-, private- and business-driven investment

Bahram Bekhradnia (Director, Higher Education Policy Institute)

  • State withdrawal of funding is unacceptable
  • US public investment (based on GDP) is 50% greater than UK

Nicola Dandridge (Chief Executive, Universities UK)

  • Public funding for public good
  • Underfunding (whether private or public) is the key concern

Paul Callaghan (University of Sunderland Board of Governors)

  • Cannot let the market decide – develop strategies based on balanced funding between public and private sector
  • Recognise the role of the university in the region and society as a whole
  • Traditional philanthropic contributions in the UK have concentrated on university infrastructure not scholarship

Learning Practices

Nicola Dandridge

  • Liberal arts education – challenge the increasing polarity of arts and sciences
  • Promote the criticality of humanities education

Bahram Bekhradnia

  • Changes in learning practices difficult in a pressurised 3-year degree model

Paul Callaghan

  • Promote skillsets primarily related to employment

James Tooley

  • Exposure to a university environment leads to voluntary learning in a wide range of contexts

Learning Equality

Nicola Dandridge

  • Universities are committed to equality – the key problem is a poverty of aspiration in schools
  • Social division – 3-year traditional course will become the privileged route of the elite

Paul Callaghan

  • Withdrawal of public funding will lead to 2-tier system

Nature of Knowledge

Nicola Dandridge

  • Knowledge will be everywhere and fragmented
  • Universities need to become less the purveyors of knowledge – more the facilitators enabling critical learning
  • Greater reliance on IT / e-learning
  • But students still require the physical learning community of a campus environment

Bahram Bekhradnia

  • Investment in training skilled staff to facilitate new knowledge appropriation

James Tooley

  • Liberate the learner from the teacher

Educational Systems

James Tooley

  • Maintaining the status quo will leave UK universities behind overseas universities

Paul Callaghan

  • Shift way from the 3-year model towards more part time and modular education
  • University reputation based on curriculum and accreditation
  • Greater numbers of students at universities are required to compete on a global scale

Bahram Bekhradnia

  • Part time students suffer greater failure rates

Nicola Dandridge

  • We are a knowledge economy – expansion in HE is critical

International Students

Nicola Dandridge

  • Greater investment in universities overseas will lead to less international students physically moving to UK

Paul Callaghan

  • Develop more collaborative partnerships

James Tooley

  • Increased investment overseas will diminish UK universities reputation and ability to attract international students

Today’s workshop at the AGC

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Earlier today, Leroy Hill and I ran the latest in our social media sessions; our first at the Arts Graduate Centre.

The sessions are designed to integrate a range of interrelated key concepts (e.g. networking, digital identities), underlying processes (e.g. folksonomy, aggregation), and tools / media (twitter, blogs etc.), with the hope that personal and disciplinary perspectives, and wider socio-cultural and political contexts will emerge.

Today’s attendees – a mix of doctoral and masters degree students, primarily from the arts and humanities – didn’t let us down, demonstrating thoughtful, reflective and critical approaches to adopting and using social media in their practices.

Within our structured programme of presentations, we try to adopt a flexible approach to encourage an informal and interactive environment, and today, it’s refreshing to note that by the time the two sections we had factored-in for group discussion came around, the attendees had already brought up many of the key issues we were planning to introduce. Key concerns raised during the session included the usual suspects:

  • Difficulties in developing critical mass in networks / communities
  • Questioning the academic ‘value’ of web 2.0 compared with established practices
  • Negotiating multiple online identities and reputations
  • Perceived risk factors in sharing work in progress
  • Time constraints

We hope all the attendees found the session as useful and rewarding as we did, and we look forward to seeing them again on November 24th.