cck08: Introduction to social network analysis

Finally found some time to listen to Valdis Krebs‘ talk about his work with social networks analysis.

There are various interesting aspects that Krebs has highlighted in his work over the years. I have always worked with information and networking so this topic resonated with me. I could go off in different tangents based on what Krebs spoke about but what is of particular note was the the visualisation of online networks. The center core is highly connected and inter-related, and the next tier is individuals small groups and they are all surrounded by masses of unconnected individuals lurking about (in some cases Krebs cited up to 80 to 90% of the “network”).

image showing distribution of online network

image showing distribution of online network - Copyright Valdis Krebs

The key point of Krebs’ talk is that network representation of phenomenon, people, etc can literally be mapped or visualised. However the real value of network representation as asserted by Krebs lies in deconstructing complexities of the elements or persons in the networks.

To a certain extent, the analysis of social networks offers some insights into the frequency and interactions of the nodes in the networks and may have some use/application. However such quantitative mapping/analysis still requires good qualititative data for the analysis to become meaningful.

Yes, the core of social networks is highly connected and interacting well – how valuable or insightful are the quality of the flows? Again, the balance to drive the quantity of interactions with an eye on the quality of such “connections”. At one point, Krebs asked the group in the session to pick between two visual networks as to which one was associated with “terrorism“. I think he said it was hard to tell which was which just by looking at the visuals.

At this point while Krebs work is fascinating and I see the importance of social networks and analysis, I have to confess that I haven’t quite worked out how it fits into connectivism. No ah ha as yet.

October 22, 2008 at 7:33 pm 1 comment

cck08 Of networks and networked learning

This is Week 5 of the cck08 but I am still some steps behind the flow of this course. Just listened to Stephen Downes’ Week 3 talk on Networked Learning and his currently “definitive” eight principles of network design principles.

I am not an expert in networked learning but I offer some views based on my own learning/personal experiences. My initial response to this talk is that there are some interesting ideas about networked learning but I think there is a limit to how far you can take learning in/from networks based on what I have heard. 

One of the aspects posited by Downes is in relation to networks is the autonomous nature of entities in the network. The autonomous nature of entities is akin to treating every bit of connection (resource or person) as if there is value in them because an entity (e.g. a person) has “interpreted” meaning according to his or her chosen context.

It sounds wonderful to be able to choose your own professor or what to study or who to study with. This may well work within certain levels of higher education but what about kindy or school? If a child who does not really know what he or she wants, will this principle work? Will this be a lifelong learning experience of trying this or that – just pick what he or she feels like doing? Will this equip the child to be a fully functioning member of society? Will it take people to the paths of least resistance?

There seems to be that almost “magical” qualities in these networks that more good will come of it and people will learn and become experts and we don’t have to rely on one source, etc.  The more popular your connections or the stronger such connections will lead you to experts or expert resources. What if the most popular is not necessarily “right”?

Are all individuals capable of cutting through the hype and gloss? I wouldn’t think so. Would it be like saying capitalism is good and market forces will sort itself out! Well the markets sorted themselves alright and the global economy needs bailing out! Relying on the forces and strengths of the connections alone to produce a learning society brings with it strengths but also deficiencies. The internet and web is one big dumpsite: while it can bring into focus good stuff it can also bring to bear the worst society has to deal with.

Downes also asserted that if you go against these principles then you are moving away from principles that work: these principles support open access, open learning from every conceivable source/resource all round the globe – the future of networked learning that has to be. However I find this assertion a bit of a contradiction in terms.  If indeed the learning in a networked environment is deemed to be flexible and dynamic – so how can one person or “expert” declare that the principles should be followed or else… 

I don’t disagree that networked learning is upon us because of the pervasive nature of technologies and the internet: we need to engage with it and leverage it. Proceed with caution: don’t overestimate its strengths and don’t underestimate its weaknesses.

However, there are those who for personal, costs or other reasons may have little connectedness to the networked environment: perhaps they can’t or won’t connect. Some of these hidden people may be experts in their own right and not found within this hyper-connected networked learning sphere.  They want to stay hidden from the networked web. Learning in different forms/experiences will still continue for them, but perhaps from the view of the connectivist, lacking or wanting?

P.S. 13/10/08 6:40pm Just read ‘The How of Connecting’ from Jenny about her mom’s connections sans technology. Thoughtful post!

October 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm 10 comments

cck08 Mapping out connectivism in CMAP

I have had a stab at creating a cmap for a situated learning research paper. It took me a few tries before I got the hang of CMAP. It has some excellent features including browsing the network for public CMAPs shared by others.

Anyway, here’s my first CMAP on connectivism based on the bits that I have read and listened to. As I continue following this course, I will make revisions to my own thinking and future iterations of this CMAP on Connectivism.

Illustration of ideas and concepts from connectivism.

Illustration of ideas and concepts from connectivism

Please feel free to comment or point out suggestions to improve this CMAP.

September 24, 2008 at 1:52 pm 4 comments

Summary of Barab’s Paper

Barab, S., Zuiker, S., Warren, S., et. al. (2007)  Situationally Embodied Curriculum: Relating Formalisms and Contexts Science Education, 91 (5), 750-782.

Gaming environments (MUVEs) provide educators the tools to enrich the teaching of science education by providing a rich context for students who are dealing with concepts and complex ideas for e.g in this paper ecological principles. Situative embodiment is defined as  “immersing student in rich, interactive narrative about serious ecological problems”. The researchers used a design-based research approach whereby the researchers are part of the design “experiment” and taking a lead from a particular theoretical approach of situated learning, the ongoing research provides feedback to researchers to make changes in the research study and design of the curriculum. The challenge for the researchers was how to design a MUVE that will allow students to learn the formalisms (implicitly and explicitly) and then abstract to other context.

Here’s my CMAP of some of the key ideas from the paper.

Illustration of key concepts from Barab's paper.

Illustration of key concepts from Barab

If you are familiar with this work, feel free to comment about the cmap.

September 24, 2008 at 10:48 am 1 comment

Odiogo your blog, please cck08ers

My eyes are dry and tired and I can’t keep up with reading the blogs, readings, web pages, discussions around this connectivism course.

I was looking at posts on mbogle’s blog and he has added odiogo to his blog. Great! I can listen to the blog posting and give my eyes some rest.

The audio quality is high, the voice does not sound mechanical and I can choose to listen to the streamed version or download a copy for listening offline.

I have added it to my blog and I certainly would encourage more bloggers in the connectivism course, including the instructors George Siemens and Stephen Downes, to use Odiogo.

Odiogo adds another dimension to the learning experience and it gets my vote!

Please consider!😀

September 19, 2008 at 5:59 pm 2 comments

What can we gain for our understanding of educational blogging from learning as acquisition and learning as participation perspectives?

(Originally authored April 2008. I am re-reading and reflecting on this in light of this connectivism course. )

Learning is a complex activity and over the years different approaches to the meaning, concept and process of learning have been articulated, proposed, analysed and examined. As “learning sciences are fundamentally concerned with identifying how structures of information are generated and used in learning activities, and with what ways that information functions in activity” (Greeno, 2006, p. 86), this paper focuses on the use of educational blogging in a higher education context and examines it using a perspective from learning science theories and research: acquisition versus participation metaphor as applied to learning.

Blogs are online spaces where individuals publish their thoughts on any subject and the technology enables interaction between authors and readers of their blogs. Within an educational context, instructors incorporating blogging (the term educational blogging will be used to distinguish the context of using blogs in education) to support their online or face-to-face classes may provide a more structured approach to students compared to traditional sense of blogging.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that educational blogging could provide an effective technology supported learning environment that potentially creates opportunities for individuals and groups’ collaborative learning environment. According to Eide and Eide (Eide and Eide, 2005), blogs have a powerful impact on learners:

  • Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.
  • Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.
  • Blogs promote analogical thinking.
  • Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.
  • Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.
  • Bloggers have solitary time to plan their posts, but they can also receive rapid feedback on their ideas. The responses may open up entirely new avenues of thought as posts circulate and garner comments.

Educational blogging was incorporated and designed to extend a face-to-face literature unit to enhance the teaching and learning of literature among first year students back in 2004. The students’ blogs formed an important component for student assessment. These first year students were not expected to have knowledge of publishing on the web or using blogging software. They were given instructions in the unit outline on the requirements and expectations of what to blog on in Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com), the online platform chosen for blogging. According to the task expectations outlined at the commencement of the semester, students were to submit their own stories and poetry as a response to literature they were studying that semester via blogs. They were also expected to read each other’s blogs and provide feedback via comments to the blogs. The instructor also used a blog to communicate with, and provide students with additional material that had not been presented in the classroom, and also provide feedback to the students’ blogs. As the blogs are in a public space, potentially people that are outside the course could also view and comment on the students’ blogs.

Applying Learning Science perspectives: Acquisition versus Participation Metaphor

Understanding the interplay between an individual’s learning and impact on the group and vice-versa is not straightforward. The acquisition metaphor and participation metaphor proposed by Sfard (1998) offers a pathway of understanding how the use of educational blogging among first year literature students aids the learning process.

For many years in the learning sciences, theories and research have concentrated on learning at the individual level and students cognition’ were analysed in terms of individuals gaining knowledge as units or concepts. “Since the time of Piaget and Vgotsky, the growth of knowledge in the process of learning has been analysed in terms of concept development” (Sfard, 1998, p. 5). Such approaches to learning have been coined by Sfard (1998) as the acquisition metaphor (AM). Furthermore, these “[c]oncepts are to be understood as basic units of knowledge that can be accumulated, gradually refined, and combined to form ever richer cognitive structures” (Sfard, 1998, p. 5).

In the context of this literature unit, students would need to gain knowledge of Australian literature and demonstrate to the instructor that they have grasped the rich text and sub-text of literary works and pose reflective and critical responses that reflected their acquisition and application of the class material. The AM could explain in part what these first year students were confronted with fresh out of high school. The presentation of the literature material via classes and the instructor’s blog have to be assimilated by students to build upon concepts of literature they had been exposed to through high school. In one sense, these students individually need to master the concepts of literature and be “enriched” (Sfard, 1998, p. 7).

The goal of education from the AM approaches to learning is therefore for educators to transfer some aspects of their expertise to students who would acquire these knowledge concepts and the expert (i.e. instructor) would work at enhancing the individual’s accumulation of the concepts during the course of the semester. “The degree of similarity in cognitive structure between expert and novice was a good measure of whether learning objectives were being met” (Wilson and Myers, 1999). The more individuals could acquire such concepts and retain them, the more knowledgeable they become and therefore achieved a higher standing compared to their peers. In many ways, this acquisitive view of learning is still preserved and continued in the higher education context within many disciplines.

As these students were required to write stories or poetry in response to class materials in their blogs, it would be reasonable to “assume” that they have gained some understanding of the material, internalized the information and published their response (gained through acquisition of knowledge) in their blogs. The AM can also explain in part why individual students have achieved different levels of understanding of the concepts of literature.

However the AM alone cannot suitably explain the context of learning at a wider level and how individuals negotiate and share meanings to knowledge and experience engendered by a media-rich digital environment with the use of educational blogging. As such, approaches to learning in last decade have shifted focus from the individual as possessor of knowledge to individuals’ learning within the wider socio-cultural contexts. According to Wertsch, “[H]uman mental functioning is inherently situated in social interactional, cultural, institutional, and historical context. Such a tenet contrasts with approaches that assume, implicitly or explicitly, that it is possible to examine mental processes such as thinking or memory independently of the sociocultural setting in which individuals and groups function” (as cited by Salomon and Perkins, n.d.). The digital age, enhanced by Web technologies, is challenging the wealth of knowledge that could potentially be accumulated by individuals alone, and aspects of social and collaborative learning are gaining consideration.

This alternative approach to learning considered participatory or social learning approaches as contrasted to the AM of individual learning has been characterised by Sfard (1998) as the participation metaphor (PM) of approaches to learning. “While the AM stresses the individual mind and what goes ‘into it’, the PM shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others” (Sfard, 1998, p. 6). There is a significant shift from the focus on individual cognition to distributed cognition: “Learning a subject is now conceived as a process of becoming a member of a certain community” (Sfard, 1998, p. 6). It “shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others… and makes salient the dialectic nature of the learning interaction: the whole and the parts affect and inform each other” (Sfard, 1998, p. 6).

The design and use of blogging technology to support learning is a type of a computer-supported collaborative environment. The goals are to “create artifacts, activities and environments that enhance the practices of group meaning making” (Stahl, Koschmann and Suthers,2006, p. 417). Technologies like educational blogging should be exploited to “explore the potential of the persistent record of interaction and collaboration as a resource for intersubjective learning” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419). Tomes argues that technologies (in general) create new opportunities by “capturing the collaboration and communication between groups of learners and teachers in a form which allows that collaboration to become an educational resource for other students” (Tomes, 2001, p. 222).

More pertinently, educational blogging, like other information and computer technologies has the “potential to make new interactions possible” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419). The additional dimension that technologies like educational blogging bring to learning environments is both dynamic and far-reaching. “Computational media are reconfigurable and representations are dynamic. (it) can bridge time and space” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419).

The use of educational blogging technology is a powerful element in the design of learning environments that can enhance and extend beyond the classroom walls compared to traditional support for students’ learning. Literature studies are a rich and often evolving subject matter and educational blogging provides a useful computer-mediated collaborative learning environment. Technology supported or computer mediated environments can “turn communication into substance; a record of activity as well as product can be kept, replayed and modified” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419).

Tomes (2001) also suggests that “[t]echnologies can also extend the possibilities for collaboration, offering new opportunities to work in richer and more varied ways. And technologies can change the very nature of collaborative learning” (Tomes, 2001, p. 220). This is supported by feedback from students and instructor (Griffith, 2004) and demonstrated anecdotally by the increased quality and quantity of their literary works published via blogs. There is a “wealth of creativity and interaction that blogging is helping to facilitate” (Griffith, 2004). The use of educational blogging had also encouraged new community blogs among the students interested in specific aspects for example poetry writing. Although such community blogs are not part of formal assessment, students continue to contribute uninhibitedly to these additional blogs. For an academic who has been pushing the “power of the pen and paper”, this transformative change that blogging has engendered among his students has brought a fresh and invigorating change to the classroom.

In the context of the PM, the transformative change that has affected this community of students could also be explained through what Scardamalia and Beriter (2006) call Knowledge Building (KB) approach that strongly supports the PM approaches. Knowledge Building “represents an attempt to refashion education in a fundamental way, so that it becomes coherent effort to initiate students into a knowledge creating culture” (Scardamalia and Beriter, 2006, p. 97).

An important component of KB is the “creation of ‘epistemic artifacts’ tools that serve in the further advancement of knowledge (Scardamalia and Beriter, 2006 p. 99). Use of technologies like educational blogging provides explicit records of such ‘artifacts’ and student learning is enhanced through the review and critique of each other’s blogs.

The use of educational blogging also breaks down the constraints of knowledge as discrete units and has broader implications for life-long learning. Unlike the AM approach, the PM approach does not define end dates for learning: “Learning of rich material is termless; instruction should instill a sense of tentativeness with regard to knowing, a realization that understanding of complex material is never completed, only enriched, and a lifelong commitment to advancing one’s knowledge” (Koschmann, Myers, Feltovich, and Barrows, 1993-1994, p. 238).

In the context of educational blogging from the PM approach, the lecturer is no longer at the centre of the teaching process and could be labeled facilitator, and students could also share their expertise with the community of learners. According to Sfard, “the PM has a potential to lead to a new, more democratic practice of learning, and teaching”. (Sfard, 1998, p. 9). The community of students and lecturer engaged in educational blogging is promoting an exchange and interchange of knowledge creation that has strengthened individual understanding of literature particularly by offering opportunities to students to view, reflect and critique each other’s contributions. This is supported by anecdotal evidence from the lecturer: “Not only was the medium prompting deep reflections and truly creative responses to classic literary texts, it was also generating a real community in which literature was a catalyst” (Griffith, 2004).

Conclusion

Anecdotal reports and feedback from a university class using educational blogging to enhance teaching and learning of literature have been analysed for the impact of the use of educational blogging in supporting individual and group learning. The use of educational blogging has been explored from a learning science perspective using Sfard’s (1998) acquisition and participation metaphors.

Perhaps Damon’s summary of both these metaphors is an appropriate conclusion: “[E]ven when learning is fostered through processes of social communication, individual activity and reflection still play a critical role. Sometimes individual activity may build on collective questions and insights. Other times, however, individual activity actually may need to resist the collective illusions created by a group. Any paradigm that assumes a one-way, deterministic relation between the collective and individual knowledge construction is overly simplistic.” (as cited in Saloman, n.d.)

The full implications of how such educational blogging technologies are no longer “passive” and how they impact on individual and group’s learning and vice-versa could be explored through further research vis-à-vis the acquisition and participation metaphors. There is still more to reflect, learn and understand about theories, approaches and perspectives in the learning sciences.

References

Eide, F., & Eide, B. (2005) Brain of the Blogger. Retrieved April 16, 2008, from http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2005/03/brain-of-blogger_03.html

Greeno, J. Learning in Activity. (2006). In K. Sawyer (Ed.). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Science (pp. 79-96). New York: Cambride University Press.

Griffith, M. (2004). Using Blogging to Enhance Teaching and Learning (unpublished manuscript). Michael blogs at MG: Literature and Life

Koschmann, T.D., Myers, A.C., Feltovich, P.J., & Barrows, H.S. (1993-1994). Using Technology to Assist in Realizing Effective Learning and Instruction: A Principled Approach to the Use of Computers in Collaborative Learning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3 (3), 227-264.

Salomon, S., & Perkins, D.N. (n.d.). Individual and Social Aspects of Learning. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from http://www.education.miami.edu/blantonw/2800/XBLANTON/READINGS/salomon.html (Dead link 18/9/08) (Has been published in Review of Research in Education, 1998; 23: 1-24, Harvard University but the copy I read was from the url)

Scardamalia, M., & Beriter, C. (2006). Knowledge Building: Theory, Pedagogy and Technology. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Science (pp. 97-115). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sfard, A. (1998). On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher. 27 (2), 4-13. (One version at http://people.ucsc.edu/~gwells/Files/Courses_Folder/ED%20261%20Papers/Sfard_ER1998.pdf)

Stahl, G., Koschmann, T., & Suthers, D.D. (2006). Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. (2006). In K. Sawyer (Ed,), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Science (pp. 405-425). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tomes, N. (2001). Technology-supported collaborative learning. In N. Falchikov (Ed.), Learning Together: Peer tutoring in higher education (pp. 220 – 233). Routledge Falmer :London.

Wilson, B.G. & Myers, K. M. (1999). Situated Cognition in Theoretical and Practical Context. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~bwilson/SitCog.html

September 17, 2008 at 4:58 pm 2 comments

What is Connectivism?

I finally got round to reading Downes’ blog about What Connectivism is and I have retrieved some of the statements he made:

1. Knowledge is not acquired.

2. “Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience.”

3. A phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense.

4. “in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge.”

I had to re-read these statements again because I felt there are some contradictory ideas in What is Connectivism or What it is not?

Point 1, to put it simply, seems similar to the Constructivist position in that the connectivist and constructivst approaches both reject the acquisition metaphor of the old learning theories in favour of the “newer” participatory metaphors of learning theories (borrowing the terms from Sfard, 1998). (After reviewing point 3, this is a clear departure from the constructivist approach)

In terms of Point 2, it seems to make connectivism a way of connecting dots of some networks (human to human or human to computer or is it possible computer to computer).

Constructing knowledge makes no sense in connectivism. So does this mean that knowledge does not grow or contract. It exists, it is there and we just need to recognise the patterns!

And then there is no transfer/creation of knowledge in connectivism, yet connections are formed via interactions or associations. So if there is no transfer of knowledge, can change be effected in the networks (h2h, h2c, c2c)? The connections happen naturally, inescapably? Isn’t learning about change (behaviourist approaches). Why is this called a learning theory? Why not a theory of knowledge?

This is my initial reactions to his piece.

September 11, 2008 at 10:15 pm Leave a comment

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