Saturday, February 19, 2011

Groups, Networks and Grabbing the Mic in cck11

I am watching parts of the recorded Friday Session in CCK11 right now... This is Stephen Downes picture from the session:

According to this picture:

Unity, coordination, closed, distributive=Group

Diversity, autonomy, openess, bridges, connective=Network

As usual, I don´t understand much but one thing I think I know for sure: 
In reality, groups and networks co-exist and depend upon each other. 

I would like to compare it to an equilibrium reaction in chemistry.

If you want to manipulate an equilibrum reaction you should know that the system will balance your manipulation.
Let´s pretend the picture shows molecules in an equilibrium reaction.
Now you want less "network molecules" in the reaction vessel so you remove them. But what happens? The "group molecules" start to react to form more "network molecules" to restore equilibrium in the vessel. And if you try to remove the "group molecules" the "network molecules" will form new "group molecules".

And what has this got to do with school and learning at all?

Well, as I see it, traditional education environment is clearly built on groups

However, networks is still formed in this environment. Informal network structure becomes important for example at lunch-break, in between lessons, in project based learning and after school.

The formal groups and informal networks for learning depends on each other to exist. They also balance and form each other.

What I would like to see is this shift

  • The students being first of all a part of a group (a class, same age, studying the same things, same room) but are at the same time allowed their autonomy and to form meaningful networks. (Worked well in the industrial age)
  • The students first of all build their personal learning environment and personal networks but are at the same time, allowed to take part in strict and formal groups and meaningful group events. (Will work fine, I think, in this postmodern, information, digital age we live in)
What would this shift lead to?
My guess is, many students would highly value to take part in formal group events when given the opportunity.
Why? Well, to balance the "group-network equilibrium" for learning and because it is luxury for the student. It is a shortcut for learning and connecting and the door to a formal group is hopefully (public schools I am thinking of)  open to anyone, not only to the fittest, most connective.
I don´t see networks as being open and groups as being closed. Groups are either open or closed. Networks are neither, but has invisible walls and unwritten rules that can effectively lock non-members out. Open, formal groups can give young students a chance to practice and to get tools and basic skills to manage the invisible walls and to understand the unwritten rules of complex networks in society.

What happens if you remove all opportunities to take part in formal strict group sessions in school and only focus on autonomy and networking? Well, my guess is that other strict formal groups will then be formed to fill the empty space. In the worst scenario this will be non-democratic destructive groups. At best it will be democratic, friendly, spaces, like the facebookgroup in cck11 replacing Moodle in former MOOCs.

The grabbing of the Mic

Seldom is someone grabbing the mic in Elluminate sessions in CCK11 when asked to. Why? Well, I think, for example, my generation is  trained to do the opposite in a classroom environment. And Elluminate reminds me of a formal classroom environment.
Taking the lead for a while, in a group of  people, is a scary thing to do for academic schooled people, who are trained to sit still and listen to information and directions from the leader in a traditional formal classroom environment. (It takes practice, autonomy and scaffolds to change and it is harder with old dogs too)

My students are better at this than I am.

Hopefully, future students will become even better:)

Canadian Geese on the Wing
Canadian Geese on the wing by Brian Guest cc (nd-nc-sa)


Jaap said...

Marvelous post.
Question: Are students first member of a group? A class could be a group, but I think most a class is a bunch of groups and individuals being in the same room at certain times. Teachers seem to see a group, because they do not know the divisions and connections in a class.
All depends on the definition of a group.
Grapping the mic: More reasons to not grab the mic. Some do not speak so much English, some do not want to say anything.
I did have the pleasure of teaching some Swedish classes, and I can say they are different from Dutch classes.

Linn said...

Thanks Jaap:) It is so nice of you to leave a comment when you read a blogpost, you make other people (me this time) happy! I´m inspired, I will leave some comments on blogs today. It is a bit like grabbing the mic isn´t it? Tell me more about the Swedish and Dutch classes! It´s true what you say about not grabbing the mic and English. I come to think of the CO11 conference a few weeks ago, a lovely example of people daring to grab the mic and take the lead in a group/network. I didn´t. I did not dare to speak or to moderate a session. I blamed it on my English. I was just lurking but my goal is to grab the mic next year.
And now your question: Yes I suppose you can see both a group of students and networks depending on how close you are looking or "what glasses you are wearing". But watching a traditional school from outside, from a bird perspective, you see group formations structure I think. In the future maybe we see another structure?

Rose said...

Hi Linn

Good post. I think groups equate to any formal gathering of learners in education from early years to higher education and beyond while networks evolve and develop in connection with and independently of the groups. As learners grow and develop, their networks extend as they shift from group to group. Their PLE should be evolving too, so when the mature learner joins a new group they bring their existing networks and PLEs with them but also develop new network connections and forms of PLE as a result of the group membership - if it functions well.

My half formed thoughts which may or may not add to the discussion .....

Linn said...

Hi Rose! Thanks, you describe in an excellent way, in your comment, the group-network-connection."As learners grow and develop, their networks extend as they shift from group to group." I believe the shifting from group to group is important as well as building your own network. Bringing your PLN when shifting from one group to another might have become easier with the use of social media? Still, I would like school to spend more hours on the building of PLE/PLN and a bit less time on formal groups. I am thinking 1-2 hour quality-time a day in formal groups and 3-4 hours a day in PLE/PLN. By quality-time I mean the students are activated. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Lindsay Jordan said...

Hi Linn - what a great post! It really resonated with my own (embryonic) thoughts and feelings about networks and groups. The idea of a "group-network equilibrium" is helpful and I appreciate your balanced view of groups - their affordances and the learning opportunities they bring. My own students have shown me time and time again that in general we *do* benefit from shortcuts to learning and connecting. Thanks for taking the time and effort to articulate this :-)

Linn said...

Hi Lindsay! Thanks for your comment! And for sharing: "My own students have shown me time and time again that in general we *do* benefit from shortcuts to learning and connecting." It means a lot to me to have a discussion about what actually has shown to work the students, along with a more theoretical discussion. It is tricky but important to try to combine theory and practice. Next week is holiday for me and then I will spend more time reading yours and other cck11 blogs, really looking forward to that.