Sunday, January 26, 2014

Enforcing Independence

Well, this week has been particularly crazy, with a couple of days of snow making things pile up at  work, and with a presentation this past Friday on international education at NERCOMP, it means that I've been behind a bit (compared to where  I thought I would be) on blogging for #rhizo14.  I have been keeping track of the facebook discussions, so I think this week I'm consolidating both original post and blending them with things that others have written.

The question of the week (or rather, the prompt of the week) was:
Explore a model of enforced independence. How do we create a learning environment where people must be responsible? How do we assure ourselves that learners will self-assess and self-remediate?
The first thing that came to mind actually comes, second hand, from former classmates taking a course on Group Dynamics (a course that I never took during my graduate studies with this particular faculty member).  The story goes like this:  First day of class the professor comes in to this Group Dynamics class (also affectionately called "Therapy Class" by its participants) and the instructor provides them with a syllabus, the books for the class, and information on a final deliverable for the class.  From what I remember, from first hand accounts, the deliverable would be a reflection on planning something in a group. So, at the beginning of the semester everyone need to be in a group, working on something mutually agreed upon, and (I suppose) they needed to reflect on what was going on using the course theory.  The instructor was there, in class, week to week, but there were no lectures. I think, from what I've heard from some participants, that the course session time was like a social where people got to work on some project during class time.

I guess kicking students off the safety of the lecture nest was one way to create a learning environment where students felt responsible for their own learning, but I think that this approach really lacked any sort of "adult supervision."  Now, don't get me wrong, I do think that as educators we need to be working our way to enabling students to be independently interdependent.   I was thinking about learners as independent entities, in a "yes, but of course!" type of way, until I started reading some of this week's posts including Maha Bali's post on enforcing independence, Jaap's post on learner roles,   and Chiadi's post on Openness in education.

First, I'll start with Chiadi's post recounting the experience of defending a Master's Thesis. I have to say, I had a great big smile when I read that the advisor/mentor, when initially approached for advice said "revise, revise, revise" but didn't poke any holes into the thesis, but when time for the defense came, the advisor was right in there asking all the poignant questions, and trying to trip up (and really test Chiadi's knowledge).  That said, this may seem like an indecent thing to do, after all you might be that mentor, but are you doing your student's any favors by giving them all the answers and potential pitfalls before they get an opportunity to think about this on their own?  The answer, in my opinion, is no.  Then again, I would say that through coursework students need to start thinking like Lawyers, in a good way, in thinking about what potential holes their own arguments have, and how they can bolster their own arguments.  This should allow students to hold their own ground when that safety net is removed.

That said, independence is good, but it doesn't work on its own in all circumstances. This is where Jaap's post comes in.  I think that there are learner roles that come into the mix when we are talking about courses, including cMOOCs.  I don't think that any one learner takes on a specific role and sticks to that role throughout  the duration of the convened course. I think we all take on a role, and change our roles, are required.  I think those roles, and the diversity that people bring into the equation, is what makes a course interesting.  I am reminded of David Wiley's Introduction into Openness in Education (#IOE12).  Sadly, I had missed the boat in January, when the course started, and started the course in May, when it was formally done.  That said, I was added to the course list regardless and I was blogging, but I didn't see others participating in the course. As I wrote in one of the post-mortem posts, it was quite a lonely experience, in a MOOC of all places.  To me, that shows that an independent learner can do well, however independent interdependence is the mode where we probably tend to do our best.

While I was taking notes for this post, I had written down:
Need to be able to have students who are independent.  "I don't know how to do X, I am going to find out how to do it" not, "I am going to go to the professor."
I have no idea what made me think of this, but it reminded me of a former student and how she approached courses. She had stated that her goal, for any course, was to push whatever it was to the limits, be it learning about a certain topic or learning how to use a certain piece of software.  She wanted to see what was actually possible - taking any given object to the limits. This, of course, meant that invariably things broke down every now and again, but that is what the course Q&A forum is for (students helping other students), and what places like Quora are for.

Jaap, on Facebook, had started talking about MOOCs as tribes. I didn't quite follow up on this discussion given the craziness of the week, but  I was initially wondering how would a tribe mentality work in the realm of independence? One of the issues I have with tribes is the problem of groupthink.  I think that independent interdependence is a loose enough structure to have people working together without having that potential danger of groupthink.  I am wondering how others are seeing Tribes in Classrooms, and the potential affordances and trade offs of using this metaphor.

Last, but not least, for this week, was an interesting post by Cath Ellis on Theory.  I agree with her that Theory is hard, and theory does require some common understanding and some common vocabulary.  We shouldn't shy away from this challenge, and we shouldn't dismiss educational jargon as needless because something is common sense.  I've heard a few colleagues dismiss jargon, and even more students dismiss theory, wanting "practical applications" for their work.  The problem with "practical applications" is that they are someone else's practical applications.  Sure, someone else's work may work for you, but it may not.  If you understand the theory, you can fabricate your own practical applications from it, based on your own unique needs. I think that by struggling with theory, and mulling it over with others, we can get to an understanding that's useful to us.

That said, I have not rad Deleuze and Gauttari's work yet.  I plan to, it's on my "to read" list on goodreads, but since the semester starts tomorrow, I expect to be might busy with the semester. Part of me is actually also thinking about Rhizomatic Learning as a Cormier thing, so we are all one step removed from D&G's work, and getting our hands messy with what Dave came up with during the Innovate (Journal) days and continued to chew on during all the MOOCs that had Rhizomatic Learning as one of the the topics.  What do you think about this interpretation of this MOOC?

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