A fairly interesting discussion on this week’s Elluminate discussion. Dr Terry Anderson from the University of Athabasca presented on groups, networks and collectives. He defined groups as people getting together to achieve educational goals, confined in terms of time, space, pace & relationship, often with a high degree of overt control from teacher/institution, isolated from the world of practice and being at odds with the ability for self directed lifelong learning. He also identifies the challenges of control, support, privacy, assessment and ownership & perseverance in a group formation. Networks for formal learning enable and engender cooperative linkages betwen self paced and independent learners, in the process, generating social capital. They are more lasting from the perspective of lifelong learning and the concept of sharing. “Network pedagogies” include connectivism and learning is also conceivable as tools to develop social capital. Collectives on the other hand are constituted by mechanisms that collect and analyze information that is digitally available.

In the discussion, some distinctions were made between:

  • collaborative (“melting pot”, group) and cooperative (“salad bowl”, networks) activities
  • groups are controlled/managed whereas networks emerge
  • collectives – could be intentional (SEO) or non-intentional (contribute but not because others can harvest)
  • technology – is it a differentiating factor between groups and networks
  • individual autonomy (everyone has their own tag, network) and focused agreement (agree to a taxonomy, group)
  • counting (like votes, collective) and connections/linkages (networks)

It was also posited that the Venn-diagrammatic of all three intersecting sets seems to be correct. Groups could emerge out of networks and so on.

The way networks, groups, collectives, communities etc are defined are very specific. I think the problems arise when we try to typecast an existing learning formation into either one of these categories and generalize. So I see a continuity instead of discrete definitions. I find it difficult to say, for example that all classrooms are groups, or that all political collectives are intentional – there are exceptions all around – and these are exceptions not by use of technology, but by factors such as stages of learning formation development (forming, norming…) versus the frequency of interactions, complexity and structure (among other things) of the negotiations in the formation.

A useful model for negotiating knowledge seems to be the Johari window where we are looking at evaluating, in a given context and with the aim of negotiating knowledge (thereby learning), what I/we/group/network (don’t) know vs what “others” (don’t) know. Another very useful model seems to be Rico’s clustering.

Another observation, spurred on by the talk about networks of the dead, is that we should also look at the “living dead”. By this I mean, that there are people whose ideas/knowledge/concepts exist but we have no way of being able to access them because either we are limited by our formation (which shall always be true) or the fact that their knowledge is not digitized (or maybe even expressed in a medium intelligible to us).

Backing up to the discussion around the theories, what seems to be obvious, though, is that theories of learning have been implemented in a specific way in relation to real life challenges of culture, language, expediency, beliefs etc throughout history. To hold these theories solely responsible for their implementation and judge them for that could be and perhaps is a contentious battleground. So if an expert-led, curriculum bound, cognitivism guided traditional classroom is a group, we should not believe that it is the only manifestation of the guidance provided by the theory itself; rather it is an implementation that follows certain principles of the theory and is shaped by many other factors. Or saying that the theory that guided the creation of the nuclear bomb that caused soo much destruction is itself wrong because the same theory affords/guides beneficial implementations such as the creation of energy. Of course, some theories would be more directive or have obviously good or bad, right or wrong predicated implementations than others, but that is not the point I am making.

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