Saturday, September 30, 2006

Groups and/or networks... the future of learning in a networked world

Home from the FLNW tour and man! am I tired.

The picture on the left represents one of the most significant realisations for me.

A realisation to do with ideas of groups, class, networks, individualism, and connectedness.

Right from the start, Stephen Downes objected to being expected to participate in the group. It wasn't the participation that was the issue, it was the expectation. That there is an important thing to point out, it is the seed of something significant in what a future for learning could be, if we manage to understand the notion of network.

Of course, it was easy to take offense at Stephen's resistance to participate, it seemed out right rude not to join the group, but that's because I wasn't seeing what he was trying to say. By objecting to the expectation, I felt as though he was objecting to participate. That wasn't so. Stephen was resisting the formation of a group, arguing that it is the group that prevents individual connectedness. Are you confused? I sure was, and so were many others. But I've come to realise that this is a very important point Stephen was trying to make. I think it is well illustrated by the photo. Because of the obligation to the group, individual connections can too easily be over looked.

The day after that photo was taken, we went to Auckland to meet people at the University of Technology. It was there, where I spread myself thinly across an even larger group, that Stephen moved to the side and drew this diagram. It was the first time that he had taken the time to represent his thoughts and actions on the issue, and the first time I took the time to properly consider it.

I helped Stephen to video record his explanation of this diagram. In it he attempts to clarify his objections by defining what he sees as the make up of a group, and how that differs importantly from a network. A group demands unity, where a network requires diversity. A group requires coordination, where a network is autonomous. A group is by its nature closed, where a network is open. The information in a group is distributed, where in a network it is in the connections...

It is a radical and troubling proposition, but one that rings true to me. Indeed, it was the same argument I attempted to make last year when I criticised EdNA groups. Troubling it is, that I have so easily contradicted myself, and even found it so hard to understand one year on. I did begin to smell something wrong with the set up of the conference when I posted Where we may be going wrong to the conference blog. But where I could only sense it, others were willing to debate it with Stephen in an at times emotional email exchange. By the end of the tour, and perhaps thanks to the group, Stephen had formulated a compelling and personally moving work, Groups vs networks - the class struggle continues.

But what do I get out of this?

I get a realisation that it is very difficult to properly understand networks, let alone achieve a true network in face to face settings. Even though an open space meeting brings us close, there are still so many aspects of the face to face meeting that can too easily lead us into forming groups, at the expense of the individual connectedness we can experience online.

So it makes it even clearer now, how deeply political the Internet is, and how challenging it can be to power and established norms. I go back to my place of paid work now, a place with almost ancient power rules and very defined groups, with a clearer picture of what needs to occur. My next post will be the vision I have for my organisation, to make way for future learning AND a networked world.

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Anonymous said...

Fascinating post Leigh - to challenge, and undermine our own thinking is probably impossible - we need an external agent to catalyse and provoke us - is only then that our internal inconsistencies are exposed.

Have so enjoyed tracking your conversations and thinking through the FLNW emails BUT most especially the thinking that has come out of Stephen's whiteboard sketching.

Am reading Alexander Sidorkin's PhD dissertation -An ontological understanding of dialogue in education - as a result of a presentation at ULearn06 and reckon that Stephen's thinking about groups and networks allows us to better understand her metaphor for learning - in Chapter 3: Three drinks theory: Types of dicourse in classroom communication - be interested in your thinking on this one

Anonymous said...

Leigh, trying to pick my way through the threads of conversations recorded in podcasts and grabs, reading the email list, the blog and the wiki has been engaging, challenging and bloddy hard to make sense of as well!! Well done on pushing the boundaries - I know as I read and listen more to the captured results of your unconference, I'll be coming back to this blog to clarify your ideas, the group's ideas and the networked individual's ideas so that they make sense to me. Would have loved to have been there but consider me a networked tendril leeching a fair bit of learning from the whole FLNW venture. I still have to listen to Stephen's podcast before I fully understand what you are outlining here - anyway, well done to all involved. The Global Summit might feel a bit traditional after your last fortnight!

Stephen Downes said...

Well I think a prison riot would feel traditional after the last two weeks.

It was still worth doing, though, and this post (even with the photograph, which makes me look like some kind of demented Buddha figure) explains why.

I think that the difference between you and me, in this respect, is that I couldn't return to the logic of groups, while you could and therefore did.

I'm not sure whether to thank you for that. ;) But I will grant you this - you have facilitated an experience that I, for one, will never forget.

p.s. I too have photos and video, etc., which I wasn't able to upload during the event. Watch for stuff tagged 'flnw' on Blip and Flickr and, for the audio, Odeo?