#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.

How does Social Media Function in Activity: A Vygotskian (Via Attwell) Inspired Idea

Reading Graham Attwell’s post on Vygotsky and Learning Environments leads me to relate a social cultural constructivist approach to the educational critique he discusses.  It relates to the idea (originating in my study of Vygotskian ideas)that knowledge is a mediator for doing things and knowledge develops a different mediational function and purpose if you insert it into another activity.
Think of the Vygotskian triangle encompassing and unifying the subject object and mediator in a specific activity.  All three aspects (subject, object, mediator) are defined by the way they are joined in activity.  Contrast that with many educational endeavors where we take practitioner knowledge, originally design as a complex mediator that  enables a worker to  achieve a specific outcome.  (eg. a theory, used by a scientist,  to produce new knowledge) and put it into an educational setting.  In the educational setting the Vygotskian triangle changes.  The worker becomes a student, the outcome – a representation of the knowledge, and the mediator is some sort of memorization schema.  Is it any wonder that the represented knowledge does not transfer to a new situation (i.e. transform from a knowledge representation to a complex mediator in a completely new activity).
A valid critique of the way education is set up is Graham’s reference to Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver (2005) and teachers focus on giving information or knowledge to students.  I relate this quote to new educational methods like Carl Wieman‘s (discussed here) and Middendorf’and Paces’ Decoding the Disciplines (2004) (discussed here).  These methods focus on using knowledge in a mediation function to do things instead of learning information.
I differ from Graham when he says “socio-cultural theories of knowledge acquisition stress the importance of collaborative learning and ‘learning communities”.  Communities are important because that where activities are historically developed, where mediators are thought up and where activity outcomes become culturally important.  Community is also important because that is also where everything is passed on to others.  But if you want to know how social media functions, don’t look at the surface, look at how it functions within activities (how people functionally integrate social media into culturally important activity).  If you look at the surface of social media, what pops out at you is the communication collaboration aspects.  But, from this (Vygotskian derived) educational theory, the importances is in how social media can be adapted as a mediation source and incorporated into ones activity.  The communication and collaborative aspects are usually surface aspects (unless it makes sense to think of them as the activity itself).  What I advocate for is to look beyond appearances to how social media functions (or could function) in people’s activity.
Non-linkable References
Herrington, J., Reeves, T., and Oliver, R. (2005). Online learning as information delivery: Digital myopia.Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4): 353-67.
Middendorf, J. & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98, 1-12.

The Big Shift: Moving to a social-cultural-constructivist Educational Framework for Organizational Learning

While reading Jay Cross’s comments on John Hagel’s definition of the Big Shift the thought came to me, that this is really a re-definning of knowledge management within a framework that would be acceptable to a social-cultural-constructivist.  Here are a list of Hagel’s definition categories and my thoughts about them.
From knowledge stocks to knowledge flows: I interpret this as a shift from an attempt to objectify knowledge to the recognition that knowledge is bounded by people and contexts, and that knowledge becomes useful when actualized in real-time processes.  You don’t need a database of content that was written for different contexts and different times.  Instead you need access to conversations with people who have a degree of shared understandings (cognitive contexts).
From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation:  Constructivism is often considered synonymous with discovery learning and I don’t think that is correct, but learning is a building process.  Except for modeling (think: mirror neurons) transfer isn’t a valid metaphor for learning.  Better metaphors are creating, building or growing.  These are literal metaphors if you think of learning as the neurology of synaptic development.  Knowledge creation is often achieved by synthesizing new connection between previous knowledge in new ways and learning is represented neurologically by making new connections between existing neurons.
From explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge:  I really don’t like the term tacit knowledge; I’ve never seen a good definition.  Sometimes it’s explicit knowledge that hasn’t yet been well expresses, sometimes it refers to contextual elements.  I’ve always believed that knowing only exists for doing things, the idea that the deed preceded the word.  Sometimes explicit knowledge is just about trying to ascribing more capability to abstract knowledge than it is able to handle.  Let’s just accept that knowing is for doing, it’s one of the main reasons for getting learning out of the classroom and into the world.  Hagel doesn’t seem to realize this yet and why I don’t seem to get much value from his paragraph on tacit knowledge.
From transactions to relationships:  Trust is indeed becoming more and more important.  I also relate the idea of trust to Umair Haque’s idea of profiting by creating thick value, doing things that make peoples lives better.  I really believe that the transition from transactions to relationships and from thin value to thick has a lot more to do with financial and accounting frameworks than it appears on the surface.  The financial set up has to fit the situation correctly, especially if finance is driving your activity.
From zero sum to positive sum mindsets:
This has a lot to do with boundary crossing, open source, and the aforementioned transaction to relationships paragraph.  A major goal of all organization should be identifying their zero sum process pockets and thinking about moving them to positive sum frameworks.  Often the key is not in the processes themselves, but in the frameworks and cultural understandings that support those processes.
From push programs to pull platforms:
People tend to think of social media here, but that’s just a technology platform.  What is needed first is a cultural platform that makes employees partners and then a relationship platform that blurs organizational boundaries so there is a network to pull from.  While technology can facilitate much, people are the foundation and institutions are important facilitators.
From stable environments to dynamic environments:
This is not a choice, environments are becoming more dynamic, the trick is to develop resilience, the ability to identify when change is needed and the ability to adapt in a timely fashion.  The trick is to not let change become disruptive from a cognitive and a work-flow standpoint.  Sense – learn – respond, it needs to happen all the time and at all levels.  Organizations can cope if individuals are always learning and striving to improve, (something I believe is a part of human nature, that is if organizations do not make structures to stifle it) and if organizations take steps to be flexible in their policy structure.  Refer to the previous paragraph on transactions and relationships.  It is important the employees trust their organization and that their organization must trust their employees.  It;s about creating thick value through and through.
Again this is all pretty much consistent with a social cultural constructivist psychological and educational framework.  Previous ideas about knowledge management could be thought of as a management corollary to positivist psychology.  A rational view that just doesn’t square with the way things seem to work in real life.

Learning Needs Social Innovation, not just Technical Innovation

Reading about e-learning and social media, I get the feeling that people are trying to solve learning issues with technical applications.  While I believe that technology is a key enabler, learning is social at its core.  That means social innovation should come first.  Social media can be a great enabler, if its application is designed to facilitate interaction where social change has already taken place or at least where the ground is fertile for social change.

Here’s an example:

An individualistic idea of schooling led to a university model where people went to school to get knowledge into their heads and then went out into the world to practice and use that knowledge.  But not only is learning not anywhere near finished when you leave school, to be successful in practice many people need to learn everyday.  In short, the learning is never done!

Yes, we need knowledge from schools, but even more important we need a learning network.  This was my take-away from last falls connectivism course (CCK08).  Providing students with a network of knowers is more important than providing them with knowledge.  While many professors may maintain contact with graduates, what is needed is more.  It’s the expectation that graduates will leave school with a strong learning and practice network that includes strong bond to ties graduates back to their original contexts of learning and to ties schools to rich fields of practice and practitioners.  It’s a two way street.  Now in this type of context, social media can be a real enabler because it is focused on facilitating dynamic social innovation.

Two New Project Ideas – Validity and Social Media Pedagogy

For the next couple of months I should have time to pursue some intellectual projects.  #1 is backward looking (extending on things that I have researched in the past) and #2 is forward looking (developing ideas and knowledge in areas to which I have not devoted as much time).  

#1 Evidence-based programs (practice, management, education, etc.) as well as quality programs like six sigma miss an important point if they do not focus on measurement concerns.  All these programs begin with measurement to generate data and measurement concerns should be at the center of their methodology.  All of these programs start by defining a standard methodology, and that is all well and good, but in an example of quality data in / quality conclusions out, their methodologies can only be as good as the quality of their data.  

The question is, how do you determine good data.  A simplistic definition of good data will only obscure the issue and result in an intellectual sleight of hand.  I propose validity as an idea that has measurement and data quality as its central focus and can provide a framework that can eliminate and clarify this issue.  Specifically (as I mentioned before) I like Messick’s framework.  It’s complex, but not unmanageable, and serves to provide a 360% view of data and measurement quality.

#2 Social media pedagogy.  This is about how to use social media to teach and to further student development.  To this question I will also use a Vygotskian constructionist lens by which I determine what outcomes might look like.  That is, Vygotsky help me to determine what I want students to be able to do, and social media are the tools by which those outcomes can be achieved more effectively and efficiently.  These ideas should occupy some of my thinking (and posting) for a while.

Note – Maybe pedagogy is not the best term given its pedantic history, but again I am following Vygotsky who seemed to have a broad and forward-looking perspective on the subject.