#cck11: Oppression, Freedom, and Control of the Learning Experience

Some great reading this week; some of my students have gleaned inspiration from Friere’s work and referred to it in their assignments, but until this week I hadn’t engaged with it myself that much. Ideas on freedom and oppression arise in many strands of pedagogic theory and there was much here that I was already familiar with. However, Friere communicates these viewpoints ever so effectively in the Olsen interview.

One of my favourite bits:

“when we reach a certain state of freedom, we immediately discover we have another one to attain”

Like power, and oppression, freedom is relative. This year, the CCK11 facilitators decided to do away with the Moodle forums and move to an entirely distributed model, primarily in an attempt to prevent a small number of dominant individuals from controlling the forums. Having been liberated from this particular form of oppression, a proportion of participants felt that they were now being shoehorned into working in a more distributed way than they would have liked. Are we now grappling with Illich’s principle of counterproductivity? A critical point at which we can no longer liberate in one way without oppressing in another? Have we reached a threshold of expertise in connectivism and connectivist knowledge where what we produce begins to counter what we set out to achieve?

During Friday’s live session, Stephen posed a question on the whiteboard – something along the lines of ‘how do we avoid oppressing others/our students?’ Many participants contributed suggestions like ‘giving more choice’, ‘more freedom’, ‘more flexibility in the learning experience’, ‘negotiated assessment’, etc. I think I wrote ‘find out what makes them tick’. As I’ve mentioned previously, I teach on the postgraduate professional development courses we offer our full-time and associate teaching staff. I was relieved when Stephen posted up a link to a post from Tony Bates suggesting that more choice & freedom in the learning experience might not be so desirable. Offers of choice and freedom don’t generally go down well with my PG Cert students – an experience echoed in Tony’s quote from Guri-Rosenblit and Gros (2011):

“Most students…are unable and unwilling to control fully or largely their studies.”

This mismatch between the learning preferences shared by my personal learning network, and the dominant preferences of my own students, brings me back to the question of the design of the CCK11 course being particularly – and perhaps solely – appropriate to those interested in MOOCs and connectivism. Would a MOOC in applied general pedagogic theory work? Would it appeal? Probably not. Would it be more realistic to try and incorporate MOOC-like elements (okay, cut the M; ‘OOC’-like elements) into a general applied pedagogy course? Because I have tried – in a dabbling, non-committal kind of way. I’ve facilitated debates on the role of networked technologies in learning, provided examples and case studies, shown my groups how I use blogs and Twitter in my own learning, started group blogs, asked them to set up online research journals… yada yada yada. Some have taken the bait, but an abridged version of the exchanges I’ve had on the topic over the last two years probably looks something like this:

ME: So, having done this activity, do you think this is something you might see a use for in your own practice?
PARTICIPANTS: No. I can’t think of anything worse. This kind of thing epitomises everything I think is wrong with the world today. How on earth do people have time to do this kind of stuff, and why on earth would they want to? What’s wrong with having a proper conversation, with someone you genuinely know, in the real world?

Over time, I’ve developed the following explanation that seems to help:

motivationImagine a triangle. The three points represent ‘self-development’, ‘helping others’, and ‘ego’. Every interaction – online or offline – can be said to occupy a particular point within that triangle, depending on the relative contribution of these three motivating factors. With online interactions, particularly those of a one-to-many nature, we can immediately see that there is greater potential for both helping others, and boosting ego. I honestly feel that the majority of people in my own network prefer to learn in this way because they have experienced a greater degree of self-development. That’s not to say ego doesn’t come into it; similarly with altruism – either of these may also be the dominant factors, and they often are!

In my experience of trying to introduce this kind of learning to those for whom it is entirely alien, this explanation seems to go down best. I’d be interested to find out if others have had similar experiences, and how you go about introducing the uninitiated to networked learning.

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23 Comments on “#cck11: Oppression, Freedom, and Control of the Learning Experience”

  1. >the CCK11 facilitators decided to do away with the Moodle forums and move to an entirely distributed model, primarily in an attempt to prevent a small number of dominant individuals from controlling the forums

    This is the explanation given. I find the language (dominant, controlling) a little ‘irksome’. It is interesting (for me anyway) to first look more closely at how it developed that a small number of individuals made the most contributions to the forums, then make the move to assigning value judgements to the phenomena, if one must.

    My observations tended towards thinking that only a few individuals contributed, and a larger number lurked, and that it is misleading to assess cause one way or another, although there is a perspective that the contributing individuals provided a form of entertainment for the lurkers.

    I think there is at least one other story to be told about ‘dominant Moodlers’.

    • Thanks for this Ken – yes, there will be many other stories to be told; I’ve only taken part in one MOOC before and only survived for four weeks so I don’t even have my own story… just secondary evidence :-)

      What did you think of my ego-altruism-learning triangle?! :-D

      Lindsay

      • Freire sees the exercise of dialogue (between and amongst students and teachers) as the proper form of education, and education as the practice of freedom. In this approach, a curriculum-based course is flawed, something he refers to as ‘banking education’ where the students are infused with the knowledge of the teachers, the teachers having authority and seen as possessing knowledge.

        Interestingly, although the claim is made to the contrary, CCK11 has similar attributes to the banking education model and the authority of the teachers within the course can be seen in the decisions on structure. So you have probably right| in asking this:

        >Have we reached a threshold of expertise in connectivism and connectivist knowledge where what we produce begins to counter what we set out to achieve?

        I am having a little difficulty understanding the difference between ego and self-development in your triangle. When it comes to encouraging online study, I might be more inclined to let the students select their preferred modes of engagement rather than shepperd them into blogs or whatever, make it more of a discovery process than a prescribed process. That said, I might never have started blogging had it not been a prescription of a course I took some time ago. So maybe there is no one formula for success, people are different in their approaches. But I do think the dialogic ideal of Freire is good: the point of the pedagogy is to encourage dialogue, not drive a certain ideology, curriculum or tool-use. I also think of the refusal to grant a student’s wishes, in the absence of any good reasons, ethical, legal or otherwise, is an unnecessary exercise of a teacher’s authority. In CCK11 a few students requested the Moodle forum and were refused. I think this was wrong, contradictory to the stated aims of the theory, and suggestive of underlying motivations and ideology.

        • The triangle is a great way to show your student the (Freudian) motivating forces behind messages. Aliicia Parr is right you could have mentioned other motivating forces, but that is not the point. Your student will search for motivating forces herself, now you showed this triangle.
          @Ken, I did try courses in Moodle. I do not prefer LMS or any environment to learn in. The texts I made in Moodle are in a more or less closed system and it is difficult to share that and use that when the course is over. The blog and other text I write in CCK11 will be my blog when the course is over.
          Moodle is a safe haven, a MOOC is more open to the world. (In my experience safe havens have a downside: a safe haven is hard to escape from.)
          It is all about preferences of different humans, Tolerance and appreciation for different approaches is most helpful to all. (this is my first MOOC)
          @Lindsay I do like your ME vs PARTICIPANTS discussion on using social media. My question : The participants do want F2F discussions with well known people, a proper conversation, with someone you genuinely know, in the real world. Is this because they like discussions with people they agree with and is it a way to avoid conflict? Is it because they are young and trying to find a partner for life? Why this fear of unknown people in a virtual network?

          • Jaap – I’m not sure whether they fear ‘unknown people in a virtual network’. I couldn’t presume to know exactly why their learning preferences differ from mine. In some cases I think there is a connection with the discipline; I teach art educators, and many – I’m not sure whether it’s the majority but it’s a significant proportion – work almost exclusively in the physical world; painting, ceramics, fine art. Physical spaces, presence and touch are fundamental elements of their practice and perhaps the perception is that the online world is lacking in these elements.

        • Hi Ken – thanks for this :-) I can see your point of view about the Moodle forum, and I can also see why the facilitators didn’t want to provide this (see my response to Mary above).

          By ‘ego’ I mean promotion of the self; the building of self-worth through attracting interest, respect and appreciation from others. When balanced with the desire to learn and grow (self-development), and to help others to learn and grow, it doesn’t bother me that people are motivated in this way, and I haven’t got my head so deep in the sand that I would claim that this doesn’t play a part in my own motivation! Again – as I responded to Mary – as a quick and dirty response to the question ‘why on *earth* would anyone want to do *that*?!!!’, it satisfies my students.

  2. Why not just design the class to exclude all students?

    Scott

    • Why would you want to do that…? :-/

      • My comment on excluding all students was originally part of a larger response to what I see as an assumption that “open” in Open Courses plays in only one direction. Control still resides in the facilitator who picks the learning environment. If you don’t want fish in your class you don’t say something as provocative “no fish allowed!”, you just drain the pool and innocently invite everyone to participate.

        • Hi Scott – I’m not sure that analogy works for me; it depends if you feel that the facilitator *should* be providing the learning environment. I guess the way I see it is not building a pool in the first place; appreciating that there are already many places for fish to swim in, enjoying several waterside picnics and perhaps even taking a dip here and there :-)

  3. Lindsay,

    Your model of 3 communication motivators is interesting and your thoughts are well-formed. I’m pressed to think about other motivators that might drive communication. I think of more basic motivations of exactness/correctness, supporting/building, discussing/relating and controlling/directing perhaps underlying some of these motives (DISC model), but I may be casting the net too wide to be helpful. Just thinking out loud here.

    I do want to discuss this statement from your post that I’m not 100% sure about:

    “With online interactions, particularly those of a one-to-many nature, we can immediately see that there is greater potential for both helping others, and boosting ego.”

    I’m not so sure that the individuals most critical of online communication would buy into the idea of “greater potential…(for achieving many communication motivations)”. I tend to think that there are underlying thinking and communication preferences that better explain the differences in behavior between your online-critics and learning network cohorts. The real message is that neither preference, and therefore neither communication method, is inherently more powerful or better than the other – just different. Lilke most parallel pathways, the most powerful results come from using multiple paths.

    Perhaps an interesting discussion with your students could center around appropriate use of each approach and greater tolerance of those with different preferred modes. The idea that online communications is “what’s wrong with the world today” is no more true than the extremely thoughtful, quieter individual assessing the ails of the world being due to people talking too emotionally and without thinking, as can tend to happen in person-to-person communication. Neither story is true. Both stories are greatly colored by what feels right and works for that individual. Tolerance and appreciation for different approaches is most helpful to all.

    Anyway, thanks for listening!

    • Thanks Alicia – great comments!

      You’re absolutely right in that the triangle of motivators I proposed is only part of the story. But as a quick and dirty response to the question ‘why on *earth* would anyone want to do *that*?!!!’, it works for me.

      I also agree that the words ‘greater potential’ weren’t brilliantly chosen and on reflection that was a rather lazy statement for me to make. I guess I was thinking purely in quantitative terms; the numbers of interactions or connections that might possibly result from a blog post are pretty much infinite, whereas the number of interactions I can have in a 30-minute session in Room 311 at the London College of Fashion is restricted by time and space. (It’s not a big room). But I agree it can go either way depending on the circumstances.

      Thanks again :-)

  4. [...] Jordan shares her views about oppression, freedom and control in networks, in particular referencing to Tony’s post [...]

  5. [...] read the comments by Ken here in Lindsay Jordon’s posthttp://lindsayjordan.edublogs.org/2011/03/13/cck11-oppression-freedom-and-control-of-the-learning-ex… Moodle, gRSShopper, or Facebook, or other forum postings, which is a better one for [...]

  6. Hi Lindsay,

    I appreciate your lens for looking at the distributed model of learning.

    Each time I have taken CCK since 2008, small experiments have been conducted regarding the format. Each time, I have participated in the learning experience, I have reflected on my learning process and my responses to the experiment.

    As I engage in CCK11, I am reminded of a line from a song by Bob Dylan, “Freedom isn’t anything, but nothing left to lose.” With the ending of the moodle, somethings were lost. I think that some people might get completely lost. I don’t know whether or not dominant voices were lost. I wouldn’t say that…

    The best feature of the moodle was that it provided a structure for newbies and more experienced people to access the content and network and to collaborate in the experience of creating an online learning network. It was not a particularly effective way to collaborate in knowledge building, but the discussion threads did provide people who lacked training in technology with invitations to learn about new technologies and how they were being used. The worst feature of the moodle was, I suppose, that it could become a “data mine” for people who might not have fully appreciated or understood the experiment.

    Bob Dylan wrote another song. I think that the title was “Love Minus Zero, No Limits.” Why did Stephen do away with the moodle, I wonder? Did he do it to get away from oppressive voices? Hard to imagine that. In this second song Dylan wrote, “My love she speaks like silence with no ideals or violence. She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful if she’s true like ice like fire.” What this means to me is that a person is committed to something is not easily deterred. As I see it, Stephen Downes (and George Siemens), and the other participants in this network are seriously looking at informal learning in networks. They are simulating the experience of open network learning in this iteration of CCK, as far as I can discern. Stephen is pushing the limits, it’s true.

    It is odd, I did not experience “dominant” voices in any of the earlier iterations of CCK; I experienced “perspectives”–some favorable and some not so favorable. By requiring participants to take control of their learning and to establish an authentic communication, people appear to be working in a more collaborative manner. It is hard to know if that is because people have been through the earlier experiences and feel more comfortable or if it is a function of the distributed environment.

    I can’t imagine establishing this kind of environment as part of a formal course, though I can imagine encouraging people to develop some kind of personal learning environment and network. I can imagine establishing this kind of an environment as a way to explore informal learning in networks.

    • Hey Mary – thanks for this :-)

      My perception was that the facilitators wanted to reduce their influence on the structure and format of our interactions and to let the participants have more ownership over this. I would imagine they would be keen to see what systems would evolve naturally; would we work in a completely distributed way or would we start to create central spaces through which to connect? Would one of these spaces gain popularity (dominance?) over others?

      If I were to allocate a Dylan song title to this course, I might pick ‘subterranean homesick blues’ – because it often feels like we’re tunneling around in the dark, and sometimes it can feel a bit lonely. Talking to people with different perspectives is fantastic for learning and we’re constantly engaging in critical reflection – but it can get a bit much sometimes! Do you ever feel you just want to crawl back in a nice safe place with a kindred spirit or two; someone who agrees with everything you say? :-)

      Like you, I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced any ‘dominant voices’ here; different perspectives, yes. I was thinking – in the online environment it’s easier (than it would be in a classroom) for the dominant voices to carry on talking, but it’s also easier for us to stop listening if we want to!

      • Lindsay – I think I should have read this very well thought out post and excellent comment stream before my rather more rambling one on how we are communicating on this course. I concur completely with ‘Do you ever feel you just want to crawl back in a nice safe place with a kindred spirit or two; someone who agrees with everything you say?’ though I don’t think a forum is necessarily that.

        The argument against a Moodle forum (or similar) seems to revolve around the need to minimise the dominant voices – however they will emerge anywhere but I suppose the effect is dissipated when everything is so distributed. The Facebook group seems to provide a type of forum so I have really welcomed that even though I am not much of a FB user in the normal run of things. My current feeling is that successful forums (in whatever form) allow us to gain more rounded views of each other so interaction becomes more natural and respectful even if perspectives are very divergent? I have experienced this on a couple of online courses with fairly experienced educators, elearning specialists but it was closed course not a mooc. Is there room for social learning within the connectivist paradigm?

        • Thanks Rose!
          You wrote…”My current feeling is that successful forums (in whatever form) allow us to gain more rounded views of each other so interaction becomes more natural and respectful even if perspectives are very divergent”

          …I think that’s a fabulous way of describing it. I find ‘dominance’ quite a challenging concept to define and recognise, whereas I feel like I know where I am with ‘respect’. Perhaps this is because respect describes the intention behind the input (which, at least by the writer or speaker, can be determined) while ‘dominance’ is a description of the perceived output and is therefore more subjective…? One person might feel dominated or oppressed while another might not. I’m not sure…!

          I need to check out your post about communication :-)

  7. My experience of moving off moodle forums didnt do away with “oppressive voices” just relocated them to wikipedia and to my blog also. Did others not experience this?
    I must have had a week of prolonged rants on my blog before closing it down for comments. I resented having my space appropriated as an anonymous person’s soap box vilifying the facilitators and the course. I chose to close my blog from all comments until this person lost interest.
    And I wiped the comments.

    • That sounds like it must have been a bit annoying…! What were the people in question ranting about?

      Fortunately I’ve never had that experience… maybe the stuff I say just isn’t interesting enough :-)

      As I mentioned to Ken, I’ve only taken part in PLENK 2010 and CCK11, so I get the feeling people are referring to something I haven’t had first-hand experience of. I get some pretty colourful stuff through on the e-mail from my own students from time to time, but I don’t mind; it’s all feedback and I can choose to feel hurt and offended, or to take what’s useful and ignore the ranting. We’re all fallible humans – sometimes we feel passionate, emotional, or plain pissed off. It’s perfectly possible to communicate any of these emotions in a rational, constructive way; ranting isn’t about communication, it’s about opening the pressure valve. Most of the time I’m happy for people to just let that pressure out; I don’t feel the need to take it on myself and I think if more people were able to separate ranting and communication they’d worry less. I’m not in support of ranting, but it’s probably always going to happen so we’re probably better off choosing not to feel bothered about it :-)

  8. Hi Lindsey
    I remember u from Plenk, u work in an art university. Now I came here from Twitter and liked your “ego-altruism-learning triangle” as u called it in the conversation above.

    I read the comments and tried to pass CCK11 comments and keep my mind in the triangle, Sometimes those three were called motivators. I thought they could be interpretative tools for some phenomena.
    Working as a online teacher (with adults as u so) I thought that I had to “know” or guess what were the needs: personal support or specific knowledge. IF u answer by knowledge to a desperate person, it does not help.

    Perhaps u have same roots for that triangle. Ken already asked the difference between ego and self development. The answer above:
    “By ‘ego’ I mean promotion of the self; the building of self-worth through attracting interest, respect and appreciation from others.”

    I think this is always there – where ever people meet each other. You are able to use this interpretation and i appreciate it greatly. Wanted to tell this :)

  9. What an interesting discussion (which I’ve happened on very late).

    Thinking about Rose’s point:

    “The argument against a Moodle forum (or similar) seems to revolve around the need to minimise the dominant voices – however they will emerge anywhere but I suppose the effect is dissipated when everything is so distributed.”

    At the same time I’ve known many blogs succumb to strident and aggressive comments – sometimes because of the tone on the blog attracts this kind of comment, or sometimes because the commenters hope to derail the blog. So I wonder why we’d assume that ejecting students into a kind of marketplace of ideas would dispel any dominant presence. Perhaps instead it would actually exascerbate the urge to get heard, to be an opinion leader.

    Or as you suggest Lindsay, perhaps what looks like ‘dominance’ is actually more benign – the people with the most time and interest to expend in the discussion are the most prolific and passionate participants. Although the exclusionary effects may well be similar here, the intention is innocent. I came across an article on social software and the recent anti-cuts protests which seems to confirm this. UKUncut has an anti-hierarchy ethos – but on the subject of John Lewis:

    “an argument ensued which was only resolved through long arguments among small numbers of people who had the time to debate the issues over multiple online mediums. The idea of unstructured online decision-making may seem inclusive and democratic: it is actually unaccountable and exclusive.”

    http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=722&issue=130

    All in all if I were running this course I’d probably be inclined to try to achieve more even engagement within a single environment (here, Moodle), rather than what seems a bit Darwinian to me – shooing everything out onto the open web.

    That said, I’m not running this course – and I’m getting a great deal out of observing the experiment. Wish I had more time to join in.

  10. Lindsey,

    Lovely post. I’m a firm believer in self-development especially when it comes to the students bettering themselves and being able to contribute to the real world.

    Thanks again! I have your RSS feed and following you on twitter too!

    See you soon!

    Derek
    American Central

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