#cck11 – Equipotency: A Potentially Important Concept for Connectivism?

I would like to contrast some recent interesting posts (prompted by the CCK11 MOOC) with the peer to peer concept of equipotency which I will define as: an open and equal capability to participate in diverse social network activity.  The theoretical / memetic foundation of equipotency is the emergence of open peer to peer culture, that I think can also be related to the idea of knowledge flows, as defined by Hagel, Brown and Davison (HB&D) in the Power of Pull.

Stephen Downes notes that we need a precise vocabulary  to analyze and talk about social networks.

Rather than use prejudicial and imprecise vocabulary, . . . we can respond to it meaningfully, with clarity and precision.  . . . the point is that we can use network terminology to explain much more clearly complex phenomena such as instruction, communities and interaction.

I believe we need much more than vocabulary, we also need a framework; a theoretical account to help us distinguish between information and noise and to point out how things are changing overtime.  This is the relevance of connectivism as a theory. What is the connectivism framework?  I like Jennie McKensie’s summary in a Connectivism Linkedin Group conversation when she says:

Understanding according to George Siemens is, “Depth, Diversity, Frequency, Integration and the strength of your Ties”.

But, Paul McKensie reply was also interesting.

Knowledge is distributed with a decreasing half-life – why do we insist on cementing the same blocks of content together.

Traditional education, focusing on content and a specified curriculum is, I think, an example of HB&D’s push learning.  It can only really be successful where knowledge is stable, changing only slowly.  When we are faced with situations where knowledge behaves more like Paul’s decreasing half-life metaphor, we need an openness to change that focuses on more than things like equipotency.  Equipotency may become an important to a connectivism framework.  Concepts such as tie strength may not be focussing on the most salient aspects of learning relationships.

Sui Fai John Mak further expands on this discussion through discourse analysis and asks whether discourse and power relationships are important to the social web.  Quoting Rita Kop he says;

(T)he notion of  ‘supernode’ predictably emerges when some contributors are recognized by a  number of others as having particular relevance to, or knowledge of a problem. There seems to be a natural tendency within the ‘perfectly’ democratic network to organize itself, over time, in a hierarchical system composed of leaders and followers.

In her dissertation Rita also said:

As research has shown, the open WWW has a hierarchical structure and is not the power free environment that some would like us to believe (Barabasi, 2003; Mejias, 2009) (pp. 267-268)

HB&D’s point is that it is not longer possible to identify what will be important in order to push it out to the network.  Digital networks can be seen as a flow of knowledge, and the point is to be open and able to draw on this flow in productive ways.  As I commented on John’s blog: many people are still searching for expertise in their network participation, teachers or knowledgable others (in Rita’s terminology) who can push the knowledge they need to their where they are at the time of need, but participation in peer to peer culture recognizes that value can arise from any node and can not be predicted in advance.  Supernodes, if they are truly valuable, may represent people who are not experts or knowledgable others in content knowledge, but are most able to recognize value in the knowledge flowing around them.

Open peer to peer culture as a way to understand the creation of value and participation in web-based social networks.  Peer to peer culture according to wikipedia is described and defined as:

  • Relationly and structurally dynamic,
  • based on the assumed equipotency of its participants,
  • organized through the free cooperation of equals

Task wise it can be thought of as:

  • the performance of a common task (peer production),
  • for the creation of a common good (peer property),
  • and with forms of decision-making and autonomy that are widely distributed throughout the network (peer governance).

Peer to peer culture may describe a new evolving type of community that is relevant to learning, especial where knowledge is in development.  It is likely important for collaboration and Collaborative Inquiry and it may warrant a prominent place in the Connectivist’s framework.  As I see it, equipotency is an important key to peer network organization.  Strong and weak ties, expertise, authority, and other forms of discourse based power can exist within and can influence network activities, but like Hagel Brown and Davison’s emphasis on serendipity, value creation can not be easily predicted and does not always emanate from expertise or strong network ties. Networks must be open to the unexpected contribution of any node in the network.  This is the basis of equipotency and peer to peer value creation networks.

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