The Connectivist Riots

I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently thinking about things that aren’t real. I’ve realised, that actually, not a lot of things are real. Obviously there IS a lot of things that are real. The computer in front of me, and my car outside are both very real. However there is a vast array of things processed by the human mind, that have no physical form.

From a consumer perspective, consider the ‘Coca-cola’ brand. It has been said that if the entire infrastructure of Coca-cola’s operations were to be lost, it would be okay if the brand were preserved. Where does the Coca-cola brand exist? It is a representation in your mind.

The same can be said about psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioural therapists will help clients recognise that many of their beliefs and fantasies, and how stopping a certain thought can solve the problem.

Many of the thoughts we have concern the qualitative (attributes), quantitative (numbers) and connective factors of the things we interact with. For example, many things are red. You cannot create redness though, can you? You could produce red paint, or show me something red, however red only exists in your mind.

As you can see, the role of these thoughts is as a means to an end. The end is to buy Coca-cola, live more comfortably, or enjoy the knowledge that you own a red car. These ideas and norms only work because of social connections which tell us our ideas are in sync with the wider world, and thus, something more real is taking place.

This is the origin of connectivist theory, a new way to view learning, as a process which takes place across a network of people. It has come to light at this point in time, as we now live in a highly connected age, where we also have a lot of mediated-but-non-existant stuff to sift through. Connections are powerful, as they give us a new perspective on things like accountability and authority. Suddenly, large groups of people are able to communicate, unify, travel or effect change.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The rise of mediation and connection has improved access to education, living standards, democracy and freedom of speech. It has also made possible less desirable things, such as the London riots, and mass terror. I wish to dwell on this point for a moment, because I thing it really does put things in perspective. The London riots began with a small group of youths, discontented with a court decision relating to a member of their community shot by the police. As violence erupted, it was exacerbated as it was shared across twitter. There was no specific factor that unified all who rioted, other than their access to social media.

I’ve often thought that if the connected world has the power to do what it did in England in 2011, it should have the power to do enormous levels of good too. It is connectivism that has given much positive publicity to Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing. (I mean, you don’t think it came from the establishment do you?) The massive quantity of ALS ice bucket videos is another example of the power of networked activity.

There’s a lot of power here, which can be employed in problem solving or divergent creativity. The power of connectivism is decentralised, and virtually impossible to take away, And I don’t think that is a bad thing, because it empowers individuals. In fact, the only thing that could stop it, would be for the energy to run out.

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One in Five Teachers Experience Social Media Abuse

A press release issued this morning by the NASUWT teachers union reveals how 21% of teachers surveyed reported having had adverse comments posted about them on social media websites.

When I look at that, I think of the operant conditioning that Bjork (1994) says teachers become the subject of. Bjork (1994) explains that teachers become conditioned by reinforcers such as the happiness of trainees or performance indicators. Psychologically speaking, neither of these are valid measures of quality teaching, so such would be a flawed system.

I looked on ratemyteacher.com to see what was being said about the teachers in my old high school and I was mortified.

First of all, let’s take a look at what a good teacher gets:

good_teacherThis would appear to be a classic case of the student rating the teacher according to what they value: fun and entertainment.

Now let us look at a badly rated teacher:

poor_rating

Again, I would say this is a narrow minded comment coming from an immature student. I remember being taught by the teacher in question, and I remember being told off a few times. But I also remember the reason why: because I was disrupting the class. This was a good teacher, from whom I learned a lot. I enjoyed attending her lessons.

Last of all, I have some words to say about the sub scales by which teachers have been rated. Easiness is just a joke. If we reward our teachers for making it easy, we really are on a race to the bottom. And helpfulness and clarity are definitely not evidence based scales if we are looking to cognitive psychology for a robust measure of teacher quality. Going back to Bjork (1994), we learn that making it harder is a much more effective way of fostering durable learning. Techniques such as reducing feedback or varying the conditions in which students practise what they learn (Bjork & Bjork 2011) are much more effective teaching strategies.

Now I do not dispute for one minute that there are some rubbish teachers out there. But I also have a lot of sympathy for what I believe to be a majority of teachers who are trying their best to teach in ever toughening conditions. There is a scholarship of teaching and learning, against which teachers ought to be judged and encouraged. It is wrong to measure teachers against shallow performance indicators and the angry mob of rebellious students and misinformed outspoken parents. The whole logic of sites like ‘Rate my Teacher’ or any abuse through social media is more likely an example of ‘stupidity of the mob’ (Wheeler, 2012). Abuse of any type is wrong anyway.

Social Media in the Workplace

networkI have spent a lot of time studying the use of social media in relation to education, and I have concluded that it is very useful. Evidence suggests that crowd sourced projects (such as Wikipedia) actually work, and contain a lot of depth in their articles. The manor of empowering individuals to connect with experts and peers, to share and to discuss, leads learners to enter the flow experience and benefit from intrinsic motivation.

But where does that fit in with employers? Surely it would be a significant turn off to a recruiter when Jimmy the graduate enters and starts lobbying colleagues to use twitter, or to blog on a public forum about day to day operations? It might be fair to say that while academic can benefit from tearing down walls, an element of business success surely comes from keeping them up.

An article by Rachel Happe (2013) provides a good synopsis of the ‘what’ social media can do. And it needs to be noted that social media is merely the vehicle through which it is delivered. Too many people have seen the ‘like us on Facebook’ ads on the back of the breakfast cereal box, or have seen someone on Facebook repost some meme and equated that with social media’s benefits. But the real benefit (and this is why SM is only the vehicle) is in the human relationships that it quickens.

Building relationships is the essence of a dynamic organisation. Experiential learning is essential, but cannot be transmitted via lecture or writ. What you need is the person. Not only do you need the person, but the person needs to be empowered to share. Now think about the reasons they might not share? They might be dissatisfied with their job, they might have fear of becoming dispensable, or they might feel animosity to the person needing the information. Trust and unity are the principles behind the networked organisation for which SM is the vehicle. As I said before, the university benefits from taking down its walls to the wider world. The business could benefit from at least taking down walls within.

Empower the employees to make their own connections. Let them have fun and communicate over their areas of expertise. Regardless of the medium used (email often still suffices) it is the intrinsically motivated and connected workers who have the flexibility and connections that let the organisation solve problems dynamically – in a whole new way.

I don’t even think this is a surprise for a lot of businesses. People have been talking about networking for years. But often it is still an uneasy topic to approach. Still, for motivation and new solutions let these principles be born in mind. The work in education, and according to Harold Jarche (2013), learning is the work!

One iPad Per Child

This is my talk on 1:1 iPad policies and social learning that I gave as part of my Science of Education class of my undergraduate psychology degree.

Of the many movements seeking to comission 1:1 computer access in education, I review the arguments for and against, specifically relating to the recent ‘hull report’.

I talk about how the mere distribution of iPads to students without pedagogical change has key shortcomings, yet when looked at through an autonomy supportive social paradigm, they can be a real enabling force for students.
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One iPad Per Child by Chris James Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Internet Identity: Fear of Failure

This week I had a fantastic opportunity to attend the ‘Flexible Teaching, Flexible Learning’ conference at Bangor University. I was particularly moved by the keynote speaker, Steve Wheeler from Plymouth University.

I am already doing research on social networks and connected learning and the way Steve talks about it is just music to my ears. Let me share some of the points that he put across so elegantly.

People were never designed to be factory taught or put to work in batches. There’s just something that doesn’t resonate through drill or monotony. The most ‘optimal experience’ takes place when we are challenged at a level that corresponds to our skill level. That is why the production (or synthesis) as opposed to a consumption centred model of learning leads to better understanding and higher creativity.

With that in mind, the ubiquitous computing of the postmodern age serves as a tool for the mind, to curate, share and enter into discourse over the how’s and why’s of all things. Never before has the blog or the tweet empowered the common man into a content curator. Never before could people across the world speculate and critique in matters of seconds, and benefit from the enhanced serendipity that comes with the state of flow.

And what’s exciting is that it’s not just about finding information. It’s about being found. With tweets, wiki’s, slideshare presentations and sites such as scoop.it or linked in, there’s never been a better time for the inquiring mind.

This thought provoking video was shown too, which had been produced by a student in one of Steve’s classes. She talks about her online identity and asks different soul searching questions about why we do what we do, and why we might want to hide such trails.

This is something I found really interesting because I am currently in the process of applying for jobs, and I’ve been considering my own various blogs and social networks that I have written online over the years. Some of them I read and wonder how a potential employer might feel reading them. Even now as I write, I feel to choose my words carefully because of what this could imply. The reality is I don’t drink, or engage in destructive rebellious behaviours. But I have blogged about politics and the economy. In today’s climate these can indeed be dividing topics.

Some might suggest abstaining or moderation; however I can genuinely say that it is through the putting of my thoughts and feelings into words that has helped me recognise the efficacy of my view points. In a very real sense, sometimes you have to go somewhere to more fully understand it, and that includes contemplating the extremities of political opinion. Yet because it is an incomplete work I feel to hide it away from the world in case I be misjudged. The problem with the internet being written in ink is that it leaves little sympathy for mistake.

Another remark of Steve’s that I liked was his acronym for failure. A ‘fail’ is simply a First Attempt In Learning. In the attitude of tearing down walls, why should errors and mistakes made using the fantastic infrastructure for social learning that we have hamper those engaged with the best learning of the day. Can the internet just be a little more forgiving?