Saturday, February 26

Groups versus Networks

Is It Just Me ?
Am feeling somewhat disappointed that I haven't been following or contributing to either of the courses for which I'd registered. Jim Groom's ds106 initially whetted the appetite, given the calibre of many of the participants, however having such open ended challenges is always my undoing. I spend too much time agonising over content and form and before I know it, the opportunity has passed and the frustration with self sets in. The format of Stephen Downes' CCK11 course doesn't suit my learning style and I've not the time or inclination to scour more blogs looking for motivating content.

So far the most entertaining and informative discussion I've been able to track down in CCK11 emanated from Gabriella's blog "redeflexiones"- In her post - Dialogues (help!) she asked: Where are dialogues happening? The discussion that ensued on the discussion board came close to the interactions on the forum of good old PLENK2010. This new format seems to provide a 'faceless' network, a list of names and blogs with no central location for background, photos etc. which personalised the PLENK210 group. Admittedly, some members used gravatars, but those too were indicative of the personalities of the members. 
Scott Johnson asked:
Why are conversations spread all over the net preferable to having one collective forum? The single forum means I spend less time “in transit” and can more easily monitor many conversation.
I ask the same question. The CCK11 cohort appear to be gathering on Facebook in the absence of a forum, however it's a small group and contributions are more 'Tweetish' than 'Discussionish' by form

Ken Anderson stated: Re: Dialogues (help!) ken427, , February 9, 2011.
Enforcing a distributed blog mode seems to be a bit of a 'rigging of the deck' to support the theory of distribution, by forcing distribution.
While I'm not necessarily convinced this would be Stephen's intention, I believe it's having this effect.

I really miss the forum format of PLENK2010 and while I recognise the motivation behind the structure, It's too time laborious for me now I'm back to a frenetic work schedule, so I'll just have to be content with hovering on the outskirts of each course until I'm motivated to participate.

Had a nibble at the Discussion threads today and landed on Stephen's blog post from a few years ago comparing Groups and Networks. Once again the ambiguity of terminology rears its head. I'm not comfortable accepting Stephen's logic that ''groups and emotion' and 'networks and reason' are permanent pairings. I would not be so emphatic. I see it more Lisa's way - " Dogs group, Cats network" (personality and learning styles have relevance) or Ailsa's way - "passion and reason; burden and blessings in connectivism; a feminist critique CCK08" ( More work on what makes for a functional network is required).

“One of the things we know about learning is that learning with emotion is a far deeper experience than learning without emotion,” 
Van Sant uses the site in his courses (Technology, Entertainment, Design) which features top presenters talking about a diverse offering of topics, believing that technology provides access to a vast array of content which possesses the potential to resonate emotionally with students.  He observes barriers in the delayed response time, not being able to respond 'in the moment'.

This is also a disadvantage when navigating around the web from blog to blog, rather than having all the comments on a thread in the one location, seeing the faces behind the thoughts, personalising the 'network'. Typically, in an online learning environment, students post to a discussion board or blog and then wait for a response. It may be a long time coming........the impetus is lost. Van Sant perceives the engendered thoughtful reflection in these situations to be one of the positive aspects of online learning. He observes:
"One of the things I see, the students who do not often volunteer or engage in on-the-fly discussion in a face-to-face classroom will turn around in an online environment and become significant discussants. Not that they’re lazy in the classroom; they just don’t process information on the fly quite like somebody else.”
This was my conclusion at the end of PLENK2010. I guess it's all a matter of perspective and as such, permanently debatable.

However, watching Stephen's Google video did serve to clarify for me his distinction between groups and networks. If I understood Stephen correctly, the basic differences are:

Groups = centralised, distributive, closed
Networks = autonomous, distributed, connective
As I see it, it's a herald back to the contrasts between an LMS and PLE. Learner freedom appears to reside in the network and the PLE, not the LMS or the group.
Alan Cooper observes:
Stephen also promotes the virtues of a “flat” network (with all nodes having a similar scale of connectivity) over the power law pattern of a scale-free network in which small fractions of the nodes are relatively highly connected.
I agree that Stephen's model would indicate a healthy network in practice with each and every node connecting and sharing, however I don't believe it's the norm from the small experience I've had observing networks in action. They seem to be very much weighted in favour of the 'few' over the 'many'.

1. What factors determine the  health of a network ?
2. Is there a place for the 'silent voice' in a healthy network - the lurker- the free loader
3. Is a healthy network then a sophisticated evolved group ?
4. When does a group become a network ? When does a network degenerate into a self serving group ?
5. What motivates someone to seek out or attempt to establish a network ?
a. To further a career ?
b. Altruism - to engineer change through numbers, or to share one's discoveries in the interests of collective learning ?
c. Narcissism - the pursuit of network members in order to stroke ones ego ?
d. Gregariousness - the extrovert loves an audience and due to the global nature of the web these days 'anyone' can establish a readership ?
e. the quest for self validation ?
6. Are networkers at risk of developing a 'hive mind' ?

Howard Rheingold's article on Infotention validates the relevance of a functioning, informed network irrespective of the 'ism' one may prefer, if any
"Knowing what to pay attention to is a cognitive skill that steers and focuses the technical knowledge of how to find information worth your attention. More and more, knowing where to direct your attention involves a third element, together with your own attentional discipline and use of online power tools - other people. Increasingly, most of the recommendations that make it possible to find fresh and useful signals amid the overwhelming noise of the Internet are social media - online networks that make possible social exchange and relationship. Tuning and feeding our personal learning networks is where the internal and the technological meet the social "
SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle) Tuesday, September 01, 2009
 A few more of Stephen's ideas while I continue to ponder:

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