Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Is the Dissertation still relevant?

It seems like the cosmos is back on another round on beating down on the venerable dissertation as final exercise for a doctoral degree. Stephen Downes posted yesterday this article from Times Higher Education which is asking the question as to whether or not the Doctoral Dissertation is obsolete.†

The article quotes Jeremy Farrar of Imperial College London:
“An awful lot is going unused and unread,” he says. “Is this really appropriate for the modern world? Communication within the science world and with the public is becoming shorter and snappier, yet our PhDs still seem to be stuck in the 1960s.”

Another strand here is a recent post from Maha who writes:
What’s a PhD got to do with….
  • Writing 6,000 word articles? My PhD was over 100,000 Words. That prepared me for writing books but not articles. Some PhDs are composed of articles but most aren’t so… 
  • Working collaboratively – you work alone and you learn to manage. Then in real life your research can be so much better when working with others 
  • Teaching. Unless your uni offers prof dev or you teach while doing the PhD  Audience. PhD prepare you for the safe-ish limited audience of your supervisor(s) and examiners. The rest if the world seems so much more intimidating by comparison. –
  • Confidence/ego. Let’s face it we need some kind of confidence and ego to succeed in academia. PhDs don’t help with this really unless the transformation happens within you. I was lucky i got some stuff published and some good feedback from mentors to give me that push in the end. 
  • Carrying oneself. I still get the “no, you have a PhD?” look/talk because I wear jeans and stuff to work more often than not (P.S. Having a 3-year old means other pants look dirty real quick from her shoes as i carry her on my lap and walking to daycare and stuff).
And finally, Latour (from the fifth uncertainty) writes:
A 50,000 word thesis might be read by half a dozen people (if you are lucky, even your PhD advisor would have read parts of it!) and when I say ‘read’, it does not mean ‘understood’, ‘put to use’, ‘acknowledged’, but rather ‘perused’, ‘glanced at’, ‘alluded to’, ‘quoted’, ‘shelved somewhere in a pile’.

I've been thinking about the dissertation as a final exercise for one's doctorate for a while now - maybe I've even written about it on here before (I honestly don't know what I've written over the last 5 years on here!).  Personally I think that the idea of one academic monograph, that is of book length, as your final exercise in a doctoral program is pretty antiquated.  I get the historical reasons for it, but I think that our world has changed a lot since doctoral degrees started being conferred. While writing a book, or having your hand in some sustained piece of writing is important, I don't think that  it is indicative of what we are asking of academics to do today! 

What we are asking of academics to do, people who have earned a doctorate is to publish original research in journal articles that are space-constrained (which boggles the mind considering that we are mostly foregoing print these days for OA journals). We aren't asking academics to go our and write books.  If anything (book related) - we are asking them to be editors, to compile works of others into cohesive and coherent volumes. Now, your mileage may vary by your discipline.  I can only speak from my little corner of the galaxy - the field of education.  Are there original works out there?  YES.  Are they coming out in droves?  Nope!  The most published things are academic articles.

No convinced? Pretty much all faculty members that I have spoken to about a potential dissertation (not at Athabasca- but that's just by chance, but at my home institution) tell me that I should pick a dissertation topic that lends itself to break it apart and creating a few publishable articles out of it.  Huh?  Really?  If you are meant to show a train of thought, and a way of processing something from soup to nuts, how are you also going to break it apart and have the smaller chunks make sense?

Furthermore, even if we accept the prevailing narrative of the one monograph standard, we have Latour (above) who bursts our bubble who says that the thesis is only read by half-a-dozen people.  We may not believe him, but I can also go (anecdotally) by my own experiences.  Most of what I read are academic articles.  I did read through a few dissertations this past semester as part of a class project and I have to say that most of them didn't impress me much. They were OK reads, but I expected much more quality, fewer typos, more coherent thought processes, and the answer to the "so what?" that Pat Fahy asked us to ask of what we read and what we do.

Lastly, having spoken to an acquisitions editor for big academic press a few years ago about dissertations I learned that dissertation almost never get published as books unless they undergo heavy editing and changes.  If the book is the gold standard, and publishers won't publish unless major rework is done, there is something wrong here.

So, where do we go from here?

Do you have any suggestions? What would you want to see in lieu of dissertation? I have some ideas, but I am pretty sure they would all get rejected by faculty councils ;-)

† I didn't know until recently that Downes is ABD (all but dissertation). Maybe he does have a bone to pick, but does that mean he is wrong? I don't this so :-)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Rhizomatic Learning - The Practical Guide

Well, it's week 6, the last week of #rhizo15 that Dave will host. The topic of this week brings us back to the original topic of this rMOOC: A practical guide for Rhizomatic Learning. It's hard to really come up with something that encompasses the meaning and approaches  to rhizomatic learning  - heck, I am only now starting to "understand" it and I've only been really thinking about it for 18 months.  Sure that was that brief exposure in Change11, but that almost doesn't exist in my mind.

I started off thinking that in #rhizo15 I would finally be able to read an engage with Deleuze & Guattari and their book a thousand plateaus, but that didn't quite happen. I was deep in the thick of it with my second doctoral course (end of first year, yay!) when the #rhizo15 started, then I was working on a #rhizo14-related project with fellow "classmates" from #rhizo14 on Actor-Network Theory, so I ended up starting to read Latour, and now we're at the end of of #rhizo15, so no D&G this year.  Oh well. Foiled Again! ;-) I do wonder who engaged with D&G in #rhizoDG this year - maybe Aras knows!

So, what would I tell someone about teaching rhizomatically?  I would say that first you'd start with a topic and let your learners explore the topic.  Engage in it but don't be preachy.  Also, design your course so that there are a few weeks left at the end where the "lunatics" can run the asylum, sort of like how we did in #rhizo14.  I think that two of the bigger hurdles in implementing rhizomatic learning in higher education are the following:
  • How do learners "cope" or deal with their new-found "freedom". Many learners expect to be lead, sort of like that Lisa Simpson GIF that was posted early on in #rhizo15.  How do you help learners acclimate to this "open" environment?  Also, how do you deal with preparing learners for this?  I think that it would not be a stretch to say that most people who made it through to the end of both #rhizo4 and #rhizo15 are people who are (at the very least) determined, curious, stubborn, and can deal with ambiguity (and some of them can have fun while doing this). Institutionalized learners don't necessarily have this (think 1984 Apple ad and people sitting in neat little rows). How do you prep learners for this "revolution"? It's not fair to them to dump them on the deep end of the pool.
  • How do you assess the learning that is happening in the course? I know that we have independent studies as examples of how to assess learners in an emerging environment, but how do you deal with 10-15 different assessments in a fair manner.  Is fairness or sameness something we should be striving for in a rhizome or not?  Are fairness and sameness the same?

In the end, no matter what the intention of the designer and the course instructor (Dave in this case), the rhizome will find its own way! It seems that the thing to train both learners and instructors is how to deal with uncertainty.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Swarn the Google Doc, or so says the ANT

Did someone say "swarm"?
Alright. I've completed the first half of Latour's book on Actor-Network Theory titled Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. In a couple of blog posts (really soon) I will be continuing my exploration of ANT through this dialogue I've developed with Latour. I also, at the recommendation of Maha (I think) read Cressman's brief overview of ANT (PDF here). So now, inspired by Maha's post, I turn my attention to utilizing ANT (whatever my rudimentary understandig of it is) toward an analysis of the #RhizoResearchGroup's use of collaborative technologies.  Specifically I am dealing with Google Docs (or at least some elements of Google Docs given that ANT can lead you down a rabbit hole).

Briefly I would describe ANT as being a philosophy, or frame of mind, that attempts to account for both human and non-human elements in various interactions. Non-human elements can be technology, such as the keyboard I am using to type this up, but also things denoted by collective nouns - such as corporations, groups, senates, parliaments, and SIGs.  Actors can be just actors, or they can also be networks.  It just depends on what frame you are looking at them from. This type of complexity is a bit mind-boggling because  there are many ways of interpreting some occurence. Latour even says to be prepared for failure, which doesn't bother me, but knowing that consensus is going to be hard to come by makes this activity a bit frustrating.

Anyway - I am not focusing on Google Docs, specifically the word processor part, and our use of them for the #rhizo14 collaborations. What I remember using this for were the following (might be interesting to compare our lists). The list is in some sort of order of recollection (not of significance):

  • collection of our various stories for the collaborative autoethnography
  • creation of the Untext
  • Writing of the CAE
  • Preparing for #ET4Online discovery session
What's interesting is that I don't remember the brainstorming document that Maha mentions.  It must be that different things are more vivid in the minds of some actors than others.

In any case - Presenting ANT meets Google Docs (meets RhizoResearchGroup!) I think that the place to start is to acknowledge that technology is neither valueless nor value-neutral. Technology should also not be seen as a black box. Design decisions made during the design and creation stage of any product have a way of impacting how that product shapes the interactions that users have with it, and with others who are using this product.  Here are some of my observations using the Word Processor (WP) function of GoogleDocs (GD).

WP were developed with the mindset that there is one user with one keyboard.  Think of a typewriter and a person typing.  The document that is being written on the typewriter is almost done. It's not a rough draft, it's not some ideas that you are throwing on the page.  This was done, presumably, on paper before you even touched the keyboard. The draft you are creating with the WP is mostly dealt with as a draft-for-comment, your final draft before someone else sees it.  This is due to the historical development of the WP as an electronic update to the typewriter.

The WP does add functionality, however.  The processor part does allow the author (or typist if the author can't type) to go back and edit.  To cut things out, to paste things in, to process the text by adding and removing formatting like typeface, size, style, and various formatting options. It even allows for editor functions, like adding comments, editing text and marking changes and who made what change when.  Of course, even this collaborative function isn't really  collaborative but cooperative.  The software still treats the document as having 1 owner who is ultimately in control of the document, and others who can come in, make some small changes, and add comments. These are seen as parenthetical and on the side, so they aren't meant to distract from the main part of the document, which is the focal point.

So, how does the historical development of the WP affect how we interact with it?  For one thing, the focal point of 1 document, 1 (or few) ideas, 1 author, and many in the peanut gallery make it hard for a swarm to come in and try to make sense of a document in a linear fashion - which is what the WP was created to do: put something into a linear document for consumption by others. Even when reading one person's contribution (e.g. their story in the collection of stories document), the reactions people had to parts of the story (agree, disagree, adding to, cheering on, etc.) had the effect of bringing you out of that narrative and into the sidebar. In essence the WP became a faux-hypertext document in that you could take branching paths to go to different places in the document as you read, but unlike a hypertext document where the author can control whether they click somewhere to go, those highlighted passages, and dotted lines - like the Sirens in the Odyssey - lured your attention from the main document to the marginalia. This isn't bad per-se, but does the technology, and how it presents itself to us, influence how we interact with the words on the page? I would say that WP is not setup for a swarm approach to document writing, even though we made it work.

This "issue" of marginalia, and other attention breaking devices, is device dependent.  If you read the document in a mobile browser, something like a smartphone or tablet, chances are that you didn't see the marginalia, so your attention was not taken from what individual authors wrote. If you did not have full permissions to the document you might see it, you might not see it, and if you did see it you might now have had the comments showing.  Or, you might have been able to make "suggestions" rather than edit right on the page. This has an implied power-dynamic, and it brings me back to the origins of the WP, as a one person-one document setup.  I think that this also, at a subconscious level, had an effect on how we interacted with the text originally. Instead of going in and stepping on someone's toes by directly editing their contribution we added marginalia, asked questions, tried to negotiate, instead of actually allowing the swarm to work it out - to go in and change parts, without permission, and see where the document ends up, as opposed to the negotiation aspect that we've been enculturated into.

From a Power dynamics perspective, comments and the "resolution" of them, again assumes a certain power structure - that the 1 author of the 1 paper has the power to accept or dismiss the comments made by other people.  Even if we are all authors, the fact that I have the power to "resolve" Keith's comments means that others may not even see what he wrote as a comment in the document, one node - one actor, has much power over that network in this sense..

Finally, ideas will not begin with the WP.  They are carried there by actors. These actors have interacted with other actors, both human collaborators and other non-human actors such as collaboration technologies.  As Maha wrote, what ends up on the Google Doc hides much of what happened outside. This reminds me of Latour's fifth uncertainty - when you start notating and jotting things down you lose the richness of what has transpired.  Even with this blog post, I've boiled down something really complex into one post.  Even with this post I have not discussed everything that could be discussed about Google Docs, WP, power, and design decisions around software and group processes, so much is lost. To some extend the fifth uncertainty seems rather nihilistic...


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Post-Grades Assessments...and Grades...

I wrote (a few days ago) that I am re-designing  an introductory course in instructional design (see syllabus here).  In my assessment activities I've decided to go with a pass/not pass model.  There will still be something approximating traditional rubrics and categories for different things that learners need to address in each activity, but I am toying with the idea of doing away with prescriptive rubrics like this one†.  I think that grading rubrics, and the exercise of sitting down to create one, is invaluable for instructor and instructional designers.  It helps you go through the process of articulating what you want learners to be able to do in this activity.

There is only one problem, not everything can have a meaningful rubric.  For instance, in the rubric I linked to, how does one convey to learners that they minimally summarized vs. summarized something?  Or summarized vs. extensively summarized?  Qualitative feedback is obviously important to help disambiguate, but this is really after-the-fact feedback (once assignment is in and graded). Thus the rubric helps in establishing categories, and some criteria, but they aren't always clear.  Sometimes the rubric maker is awful at making rubrics, and other times the type of assessment doesn't lend itself to that sort of rubric.  Hence, my pass/not pass attempt at assessment.

This, however brings up an interesting conundrum: what will the final grade of learners be? Do they all get an A?  Is that fair?  Am I being lazy and just contributing to "grade inflation"  - is that even a thing? or are we being all doom and gloom about this?

This and a recent (and last!) ET4Online from the OLC made me think of a badges first approach to assessments.  For this I was also influenced by David Wiley's IOE12. For that course David Wiley had an interesting schema for assigning a final grade (see badge descriptions here on archive.org). The final schema looked like this (IOE12 was both a MOOC and a for-credit course):

No badges earned = F
1 Novice Badge = D
1 Novice Badge + 1 Apprentice Badge = C
1 Novice Badge + 2 Apprentice Badges = B
1 Novice Badge + 2 Apprentice Badges + 1 Journeyman Badge = A

I thought to myself... well... this could work, why not try it?  So here is my attempt. I have two types of badges:
  • Known and tied to specific knowledge and skills demonstrated [credit-bearing]
  • Hidden (Easter Eggs) tied to interactions in the course [non-credit-bearing]

No [credit bearing] badges = F
1-2 Explorer badge = F
3 Explorer badges = C
3 Explorer badges + 1 Instructional Designer Apprentice Badge = B
3 Explorer badges + 1 Instructional Designer Apprentice Badge + 1 Reflective badge= B+
All of the above + participation in weekly discussions = A

It should be noted that the easter-egg badges are mostly tied to weekly discussions, but I don't want people to be forced into patterns of participation.  I also do want to encourage a spirit of exploration in the course by having easter-egg badges, so those are hidden until discovered.

The explorer badges are going to be earned by exploring different areas of instructional design throughout the weeks (theories of learning, different modalities, specific edtech, and so on).  The Instructional Designer Apprentice badge will be earned when the learner submits a passing-quality final project in which they have employed ID, and the Reflective badge will be awarded for learners who have completed at least 8 weekly reflections on their own learning.  Participation will be based on participation in the forums each week ;-).

I can already see issues like what happens if I have 2 explorer badges, 1 ID apprentice, and 1 reflective badge?  I guess I will need to figure that out at some point.  What do you think?  Any thoughts at this point?

Now I need to design the easter-egg badges ;-)

† in case the image doesn't show up in the future, it was just one of the first images of a grading rubric that came up on google search.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Latour: Third Source of Uncertainty - Objects have agency too!

Continuing on my exploration of ANT, and asynchronous and indirect dialogue with Latour - this blog post will cover the third source of uncertainty, which according to Latour, is that Objects have agency too! As with the previous blog posts, I've pulled out quotes from the book that seemed interesting, or that I reacted to in some way, and I am responding to them here.

no tie can be said to be durable and made of social stuff (p. 66)
This quote seems to continue Latour's assertion that there is no such thing as "social" or "social stuff" and that "social", or the meaning of needs to be negotiated and better understood.  It also continues the thought that social can only be seen from the actions of its actors, the traces they leave behind, and that these bonds are not durable because they need continuous reinforcement. I guess Social is a perishable item.

Left to its own devices, a power relationship that mobilizes nothing but social skills would be limited to very short-lived, transient interactions (p. 66)
So, social skills aren't all the rage?  They are only one part of a larger equation? What other things are needed to sustain interactions?

Social action is not only taken over by aliens, it is also shifted or delegated to different types of actors which are able to transport the action further through other modes of action, other types of forces altogether. (p. 70)
One of the issues with Latour is that he likes his examples, and he circumnavigates the point he is making.  At this point I am wondering if Aliens was a metaphor, aliens of the Spock variety, or of the kind that burst out of your belly.  I think the key point here is that action and interaction is like a set of dominoes (which I think I referenced in the previous post).  Your action of knocking down one domino will eventually lead to knocking down another, and in the end that action you initially had might even be transformed into another action altogether. The question is: do we treat this as a black-box? as an integrated system with various cogs? Or something else entirely?

if we stick to our decision to start from the controversies about actors and agencies, then any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor—or, if it has no figuration yet, an actant. Thus, the questions to ask about any agent are simply the following: Does it make a difference in the course of some other agent’s action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference? (p. 71)
Figuration here, according to Latour, is the counterpart to agency. No figuration, no agency.  The whole issue of action, and in this case agency, reminds me of the animated videos of molecules traveling fast. If they don't hit anything they travel on their merry way, and if they hit other molecules not only do they alter their original path, but they also alter what that other molecule was doing before the collision.  The question that comes to mind is this.  Can an actor through their own actions make a difference in themselves (think action returning back to self), and in this case would it be considered agency by Latour if the action is reflexive to the original actor and not affect other actors?  I think it would, but how does one measure difference? And is this a joint endeavor by a researcher and the researched (the actor)? Or just something the actor does as well - as in when the actor is an actor/researcher (maybe I am over-thinking this...)

In addition to ‘determining’ and serving as a ‘backdrop for human action’, things might authorize, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid, and so on. ANT is not the empty claim that objects do things ‘instead’ of human actors: it simply says that no science of the social can even begin if the question of who and what participates in the action is not first of all thoroughly explored, even though it might mean letting elements in which, for lack of a better term, we would call non-humans. This expression, like all the others chosen by ANT is meaningless in itself. It does not designate a domain of reality. It does not designate little goblins with red hats acting at atomic levels, only that the analyst should be prepared to look in order to account for the durability and extension of any interaction (p. 72)
Here Latour introduces the notion that non-human (and non-living) elements could be actors in the actor-network. It's not just us humans that are actors and have agency, but non-humans can as well. Of course, from this brief bit, Latour doesn't tell us that non-humans must be counted, rather he is coming from a position that we must ask what the elements are before we start thinking about our network, rather than starting from a presupposition of what's to be included.  This reminds me, to some extent, of grounded theory.  In one of the varieties (because that couldn't be simple and just have one variety) you go into the data without any predispositions (which can be thought of a bit as a white lie because we all have biases), and you let the data guide you.  Similarly in ANT it seems that you can go in and observe what's happening and then determine who or what is an actor in this network.

ANT claims that we should simply not believe the question of the connections among heterogeneous actors to be closed, that what is usually meant by ‘social’ has probably to do with the reassembling of new types of actors. ANT states that if we wish to be a bit more realistic about social ties than ‘reasonable’ sociologists, then we have to accept that the continuity of any course of action will rarely consist of human-to-human connections (for which the basic social skills would be enough anyway) or of object-object connections, but will probably zigzag from one to the other (p. 75)
Quite interesting.  I think the thing to keep in mind here is that I don't think Latour is claiming that objects have personalities and agency, like Robots and Androids on television (see Mr. Data on Star Trek for example), but rather that our interactions between human actors are mediated and translated and carrier through non-human means.  For instance, as with my previous blog posts, I typed this out on my computer and keyboard, on my internet connection, and you are seeing it wherever you are, while the content is stored on some google server.  That said, this medium mediates the communication, the action itself.  If we were in close proximity I would most likely discuss this in person with you, but then what I said would go up into ether (assuming that the air that carries my voice can be considered an actor itself), whereas here there is some constraint (I don't write as I would normally speak for example), but the words and ideas have some sort of permanence. Actors mediate, transform, alter the original actions.

ANT, even though it is not a specific stretch of land nor an enclosed turf but only a brief flash which may occur everywhere like a sudden change of phase. (p. 79)
This is probably one of the frustrating things of ANT thus far - neither here, nor there.  How can one grasp it if it's not concrete?

To be accounted for, objects have to enter into accounts. If no trace is produced, they offer no information to the observer and will have no visible effect on other agents(p. 79)
It's not that I disagree with this, but how does one account for traces? And what do traces mean?  Can one person see a trace in a certain ecosystem and another person not see that trace?  I wonder if this is a case where you would need different raters to establish inter-rater reliability.

information—it is clearly more difficult for objects, since carrying their effects while becoming silent is what they are so good at as Samuel Butler noted.(p. 79)
I guess I can't argue with this, Latour.  Then again

Speech acts always look comparable, compatible, contiguous, and continuous with other speech acts; writing with writing; interaction with interaction; but objects appear associable with one another and with social ties only momentarily. (p. 80)
I guess...?  I am not sure what Latour's background is (I could look it up, but I am feeling lazy, and I want to finish this blog post so I can get to other things) but if you ask a linguist I doubt they would think that speech acts are always looking comparable, compatible, continuous, and continuous with each others. I haven't studied linguistics in depth (at least core, traditional, linguistics - I am at the moment more into the applied variety) but even I would disagree with Latour on this.  By the same token, even though social ties are only momentary the should be comparable (etc.) with other social ties. Just because they are momentary it doesn't mean that they aren't comparable (etc.) - unless I am missing something :-)

The first solution is to study innovations in the artisan’s workshop...In these sites objects live a clearly multiple and complex life through meetings, plans, sketches, regulations, and trials. Here, they appear fully mixed with other more traditional social agencies. It is only once in place that they disappear from view. (p. 80)
I liked the metaphor here, the artisan's workshop - it also has a feel of a master/apprentice relationship which seems to me where I am at the moment with my doctoral education. The thing that stood out here for me was that the objects disappear from view. Probably NOT because they are no longer there, but because they blend into the background.  This got me thinking - Latour says that the social needs to be reinforced and groups need to reform and re-establish themselves, otherwise they cease to exist. If actors disappear from view - and objects here are actors - then why not the "social" itself? Why does it need work to keep going?

The third type of occasion is that offered by accidents, breakdowns,and strikes: all of a sudden, completely silent intermediaries become full blown mediators; even objects, which a minute before appeared fully automatic, autonomous, and devoid of human agents, are now made of crowds of frantically moving humans with heavy equipment. (p. 81)
Latour here, in my mind, argues that when turd hits the fan with in-animate objects that's when we notice and they become full-blown actors.  I agree to some extent (if I assume I am buying his argument that non-human actors exist), but I don't agree fully.  I think that non-human actors are already full-blown actors in what we do regardless of whether they are functioning fully or not.  Just because we notice them more when they don't function it doesn't mean that they weren't  full actors before that. It's just that the malfunction makes them act in new, and sometimes, unpredictable ways.

Fourth, when objects have receded into the background for good, it is always possible—but more difficult—to bring them back to light by using archives, documents, memoirs, museum collections, etc., to artificially produce, through historians’ accounts, the state of crisis in which machines, devices, and implements were born (p. 81)
I agree with this. Once an object becomes antiquated (for lack of a better word) it's hard to imagine how it was used.  You have to replicate all of the conditions of the ecosystem that that object in order to better appreciate its function within that ecosystem.  This is one of the reasons I wanted to be a computer and video game archivist in previous years ;-)

Social explanations run the risk of hiding that which they should reveal since they remain too often ‘without object’. (p. 82)
A good caution by Latour.  Not sure what I can add to it other than "I agree".

When a bicycle hits a rock, it is not social. But when a cyclist crosses a ‘stop’ sign, it becomes social. When a new telephone switchboard is installed, this is not social (p. 83)
This is one of Latour's many examples in the book - thus far - .  My feelings here is that there is a level of nuance that goes unexplained with all of these inanimate objects.  The implicit assumption is that because a human actor put up the stop sign, and that symbol means something within our culture, running a stop sign is a social act (what sort of social act it is requires more investigation).  The assumption is that the rock just exists, and therefore when the bike hits it there is just action-reaction but no social.  But, what if someone put the rock there?  What is Wile E. Coyote put that rock there intentionally to stop the Roadrunner?  Does this still leave the rock being asocial?  Or does the act of one actor imbue the non-human object with some sort of social potential?

Thus concludes Uncertainty #3.  Only two more to go. thoughts?