Monday, January 28, 2013

the shadow of a mooc

When i started mooching around, a mooc was a novel beast, a massive open online course that could be used for learning purposes that were self set. My experiences in both CCK08 and CCK09 ... was with a collective of people some of whom were interested in what i was, and some not. I got to hang out with people who were questioning and talking about things that i also wanted to question and talk about. Primarily with learning from and through each other.

The mooc of this age was young, and like many youngsters growing up was a bit unsteady and it was still developing its identity.

(MOOCow - - Based on 'la vaca de los sinvaca' by José Bogado)
When it was good it was very very good, but when it was bad it was horrid.

The mooc was the network platform on which one could learn openly, set one's own learning goals and learn in a community where there was mutuality in both the teaching and learning. Or at least that's what i was getting and giving. In addition, connectivism was important pedagogically. Rather than a pedagogy of knowledge being something to consume, there was a sense of constructivism, things could be made better or bigger or applied further.... and more than this also there was potential for the knowledge developed to be created as an open outcome of connectivism, with perhaps a shift in typically individually focussed pedagogy of education evolving into one so much more socially oriented and focussed on collaboration.

What's evolving currently is a thoroughly different kind of beast. This one sets the learning, is massive and online but that's where the similarities stop. Co-opting what was meant by "open" is anyone can still enroll (assuming they can link in) but the learning becomes a predetermined curriculum for which one can, if one pays, be credited and certificated inside of mainstream educational institutions.

The networking gets obfuscated; no longer is networking required, just the network as a medium through which a predetermined course is provided, as indicated here
and here

We are in danger of accepting the shadow of the mooc for what it might have been.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing a phd in plain english.

At up-goer-five there is a challenging little piece of software that challenges a writer to explain things using only the commonest english words.
Actor-network theory has been described as having a propensity for obscure terms if not deliberate obfuscation. So I thought I would try and see if I could explain my actor-network theory study simply. While I think there are some oddities in the language of this methodology, I thought I had a pretty good handle on it and that the language I had used in my thesis was simple enough. So I attempted it.

I tried it for explaining my thesis in simple, commonly used words. The site limits you to writing in the 10,000 words most commonly used in english,
I failed on the first two words I attempted to use!

I can now breathe a sigh of relief that thesis writing for supervisors is easier than writing only in the commonest 10,000 words of english language! Thank goodness i didnt have to write in the format of both common words and rhyme that Dr Seuss accomplished for discerning 4 and 5 year olds. Thank goodness PhD examiners are easier to please!!!

Here's what I managed for my actor-network informed study into telephone counselling when it gets shifted from an oral medium to a text messaging based one.

What happens when we start to use different things in what we do? As much as we think we are in control of what we do and what we use, how much do those things in turn also change us?

I studied how our changing use of phones changed the work of a young people's help-line. The phones at this help-line now ring less and less often; young people still have problems, and still need help, but this happens in silence. This study looks into what happens when talking through problems is done in silence; what happens when young people write about their problems instead of talking; and what happens when that writing is made to fit the very small space of a cell phone window.

Finding out what happens is told as a story of many parts. I tell a story of the people, and things, that grow this new type of work.

What is also shown is a story of power and control; a story of what is weak or strong and it talks of who gets to decide what is good, bad, right or wrong. The story I tell does does not suggest what people should do, it is a story that makes for a way of seeing things which makes it possible to see that things could also be done in other ways.

Meantime for those in the know of actor-network theory and its convolutions, Dr Seuss already has it covered with it being turtles all the way down. Scale of big and little not being as relevant as place and space and connections. Apparently though turtles also falls out of the commonest 10,000 words in the english language, along with 'ant'.

I have written at least the abstract of the thesis in multiple versions on this blog:, a 3MT or three minute thesis, and a thesis by Haiku, a description of the processes of thesis writing in lolcat memes, a youtube clip that enigmatically folds the world... as a form of origami thesis and a Flikr gallery of the phd writing process in pictures.
My procrastination knows few boundaries. I draw the line at a thesis by dance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The life of Pi: a metaphor of Phd survival?

Is it madness to undertake a PhD?
“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
And so embarking on a PhD is not madness, the madness is already within.

Being all at sea; drowning past relationships and not knowing if the current trip will be survived seems an apt metaphor for the phd journey:
There's an alter ego to be managed: trained if not tamed.
One's tiger needs feeding if it is not to consume the self.
All rules for being lost at sea with a tiger need to be followed...and then abandoned. There are no rules for this scenario.
From the research proposal through to the ethics application and to data collecting...
“Things didn't turn out the way they're supposed to, but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Be ready to let go.
Madness, or at least anxiety and depression seem, from my observation, to be what occurs when one tries so hard to hold it tight.

On writing of what is studied, there is no one way, no 'one correct way', to do this. There is no objective reality that can be replicated in one's writing; what is written of is the story, what is drawn is the map; do not mistake the story thereof, or the map, for reality.
“The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?
Doesn't that make life a story?”
“So you want another story?"
Uhh... no. We would like to know what really happened."
Doesn't the telling of something always become a story?"
Uhh... perhaps in English. In Japanese a story would have an element of invention in it. We don't want any invention. We want the 'straight facts,' as you say in English."
Isn't telling about something--using words, English or Japanese--already something of an invention? Isn't just looking upon this world already something of an invention?”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
There's the danger of losing oneself in the journey; of not leaving an apparent safe haven that masks potentially fatal entrapment.
“Misery loves company, and madness calls it forth.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Make friends; play nicely; get support- virtual (#phdchat) or otherwise (other students, your supervisor)
“You can get used to anything - haven't I already said that? Isn't that what all survivors say?”
“I was giving up. I would have given up - if a voice hadn't made itself heard in my heart. The voice said "I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen everyday. I will put in all the hard work necessary.
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
The work gets progressed. it gets enacted not by hope or by wanting, but in action.
“I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and to do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
And having completed this phase of my journey:
“Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart.
I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. That pain is like an axe that chops at my heart.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Flying too close to the sun; the PhD as an Icarus adventure.

I have flown too close to the sun.
For 8 years I've been working flat out on creating a phd that has anti-climaxed and now inhabit a space where i am no longer flying, but i havent hit the ground yet either.

Along the way, I have spent part of my time exhausting myself trying to predict, and then control, what markers as well as imagined other readers would think about my work.
Will they get it?
What does it mean to have a thesis that's not in the usual genre of a thesis?
Is it too avant garde: too "Yoda', too Turner-Hospital? Too ANTish? The partial story line suggest not knowing where its going...
These are criticisms i have already experienced.
Is there only one way to write a book?
I can cripple myself thinking what I have written might not work.

At some level, I also know such thinking can make the colourful beige, the vibrant a still pond. At its worst it can lead to a non submission.

I wanted to go as far as I could, but with fears of being burnt, I hold back, playing it safe, just stretching the comfort zone, mine own and that of markers.

Writing a PhD is to write to be judged. Overtly. This writing is not an act of art for art's sake. It's scary. There is lots of potential for being failed. And of failing oneself. All very self-referential in a thesis of change, of risk and failure as much as it is about innovation and new ways of being. An Icarus adventure then;
of flying closer to the sun.

Seth Godin reports, "trying to control what other people think is a trap".
But that's the trappings of academia: of writing and not being found wanting.
How then to avoid writing with a voice that is stifled by what others might think? Is it possible, or even desirable, to avoid being both audience and writer? As noted by Seth Godin, to attempt both is exhausting and counterproductive. I cannot be second guessing all the time what unknown others might think.

"This might not work" is a curse but reframing allows for flight. I've been reminded I never wanted a perfunctory thesis; I did not aspire to writing it in someone else's voice; I did not want beige or mediocre. A PhD is then also a chance to fly.

Writing at 4.00 AM in the morning, unable to sleep, and with habits of writing in every spare moment, I listen to Seth Godin write of his Icarus adventures, of his newest book and see so many parallels. In his writing (and he is a celebrated successful author) he talks of listening to himself, and of forgetting what he had written, not recognizing his own 'voice'. Of listening to himself and crying. I am very humbled to have this person being so open and honest about his own risks, he writes:

"Hearing myself, months later, reading something I didn't remember writing or reading, I shed a few tears. Yes, this is work worth doing."
And I am reminded also of Patti Lather's an ache of wings in troubling how to write.

And am reminded that Flying close to the sun is exactly where i want to be.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Social media in Doctoral research

This post is one i had been meaning to write for a while, but today (through social media) the provocation occurred. Over on #phdchat it appears as the topic of the day 3 Jan 2013).
But before I begin its important to decide just what is or isn't social media. Where do I begin when media are mediating the social? Where to begin when it is what people do in talking with one another?
The presumption is that 'old media' is not included; so books, journals, telephone, radio, tv are assumedly not included, but it is worth thinking that these continue to mediate the social and are also deeply embedded in the practices of 'new' social media; twitter, facebook, skype, sms messaging, blogging, nings, wiki's...
Elizabeth Eisentein (1979) on how the printing press as an agent of change might also be seen in more recent innovations in electronic media is worth a look here, she states "if we were to stay with the Wittenberg church with Luther we will miss seeing the historical significance of the event" (p.310). And that "one cannot treat printing as one among many elements in a complex nexus for the communications shift transformed the nature of the nexus itself." What she points to is that unanticipated changes continue to unfold, recognized or not.

There are difficulties in looking only at the new in social media as what's 'new to me' yet may not be 'new' to others. Similarly, what's dated to me may not be dated to others...
And were i to take the definition of social to mean interactive then I am back with newspapers with letters to the editor, and talkback radio...
As Eisenstein argues, the past coms into the future. Newness is therefore an evolution its start and stopping dates less relevant than the way it gets translated into new times. Latour's (2002) metaphoric capture of this refers to the work of Serres and the garlands in time that might be gathered and brought together.

So, with an ambiguous start I am going to limit myself to the use of communication and computer technologies (CCTs) being the platform of social media, and the intention of shared communication with the making of knowledge being a social focus. In emphasising the social, it is the use of CCTs where the intention is not so much the use as a repository of knowledge as information where information might be generated (as with word processing, or where information is contained (as might a digital file of a book) or many pieces of information be collated (as might a library), but emphasis here is placed on communication and on the social interactions made possible. This makes a more overt calling out of CCTs as information and communications enabling devices , as information and computing technologies that are active participants in social media.
And as noted by Kaplan (2010), there is confusion (though I would claim instead ambiguity) among managers and academic researchers alike as to what exactly should be included under the term social media and how Social Media differs from the seemingly interchangeable related concepts of Web 2.0 and User Generated Content. His definition is of Social Media as
a group of Internet-based applications that build on
the ideological and technological foundations of
Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange
of User Generated Content.

This definition excludes the use of emails or sms for exchange. I personally think this is too narrow. His discussion suggests that media differ in ways that might be divided along lines of social presence and media richness, but this is too narrow as it suggests conversations might be more or less important dependent on the size (media richness and its ability to carry more of a message) or of perhaps, real time presence. How are such things assessed? Are they rich or shallow because they are long or short, or loud or spoken softly, accompanied by more or less what? Too much is being read and written into what is or isn't effective based on superficial criteria. (For example there is nothing shallow to saying "I do" such a short statement changes lives. Is it then to be measured in terms of real time responsiveness? Yet the inaugral address of Nelson Mandela is not one I would hold as shallow because i did not hear it in 'real time' and was not physically present. Valuing or not valuing social media would therefore seem to be as complicated a process as valuing community- a concept Raymond Williams suggests as being highly problematic, a value based rather than factually based entity.

My own journey with looking at change and the use of emergent technologies in a counselling practice also involved a personal choice to immerse myself in such emergent technologies as a parallel journey in my thesis. I selected a place of study at a distance. Initial interactions were via a webpage and email, followed quickly by a phone call and a personal meeting with a representative of that university who happened to be in my country. I then emailed a phd proposal and was recontacted by email and a follow up phone call by a person assigned to be my supervisor. At some point following he advised keeping ICQ open, an instant messaging chatline that would let each of us know when the other was online for any 'just in time' thoughts. While this seemed a bit intrusive in my life, at the time, it was the best of supportive media for both of us. More recently this has been replaced by the instant messaging feature of skype which I have also learned to leave open as on the same platform an interaction might switch to audio or audiovisual.

My dedication to immersion also meant I developed a blog; this blog, again on suggestion from my supervisor, and that i follow the blogs developed by others studying with the same methodology or studying vaguely related sensitive areas of healthcare practice. A personal blog though is unique; my use of this space is for writing thoughts, for making loose connections between ideas, and as it turned out also for making connections with other phd students, writers of journal articles i cite or critique here. It provided an early writing space where my supervisor could also make suggestions on direction. Where it has gone to is also the 'librarything' widget that allows me to see who else is reading what i am reading...and what they are reading next. This is also an interesting facet in my use of delicious (and more recently diigolet) a social bookmarking site where I could also observe the bookmarking of those whose writing i liked to read. Along the way I dabbled with social media sites of Bebo (in the early days of my research this was bigger in NZ than face book, but has since been supplanted by facebook in popularity). This again shows the coming and going, ebb and flow, of what's in and what's not. Just as MSN messaging or ICQ has been replaced by skype or chat on facebook. And my use of these instant messaging sites has also broadend to include study buddies, people i can make writing commitments with alongside sharing emotional support. In short my use of SM was to have insider knowledge in the use of CCTs, a means to appreciating what the people I was studying were familiar with, as well as making use of them in my own learning.

So there is use of social media as
1. content for study (my own study turned into the study of emmergent technologies in counselling and centred particularly on the use of SMS messaging for counselling (text-counselling).
This can also include as mine has done, multisite ethnography; not only how people act in one geographical space, but how they might also be dispersed virtually.

2. fields for data mining
In my study this included digital traces of text messages
But can also include sites such as discussion boards, twitter...
Please take care with such communities, they are not there for a researcher's benefit and even though they may be open, their use for research needs to be ethical. take note, if its possible and easy to ask, please do. In the case of researching say letters to an editor in a newspaper it was not easy to ask...however with blogs, discussion forums it is, so please do.
Noteworthy here are also spaces that aggregate info, google does a lot of this, words that are media excited etc, but also note a site called the wayback machine which can often relocate web pages thought to have been deleted.
Plus Flikr for creative commons pictures
And wikipedia for definitions in the making as well as for a history of prior and current, argued meanings.

2b. a repertoire or field of articles, books, book and article reviews, plus youtube (both for posting own stuff as well as viewing, along with slideshare for same. Useful here were google alerts and the google scholar function that also allows seeing how often something is cited (helped make decisions on which authoritative source to make use of).

3. means to engage on a topic; a space to write my thinking into being. It provides a more playful space for as yet nascent ideas and the sythesis of thoughts without the demand of a strict academic code for the rigour a journal or conference paper might require. And also as a means to engage with others to clarify thinking, that included the ability to collaborate in the coproduction of meaning ( I have found Moocs- massive online open courses useful for this and it led me into copresenting a seminar via illuminate in a course for thousands with a co-presenter where the only spaces we ever met through were online in blogs, discussion boards and via skype).
3b. there are also sites to assist with mindmapping , eg Prezzie can also be useful for this.
As can Flikr, my own phd journey being commemorated as a series of pictures.
And there are Moocs as well as online conferences, as well as conferences in 2nd life (though 2nd life is now pretty much only for die hards and people who dont mind being asked to get their gear off... so i dont go there anymore.)

4. means of support
anywhere anytime helpfulness; #phdchat being global means there's always someone, somewhere who can assist or point in a useful direction. Particularly useful is the twitter site #phdchat
4b. means of kick startng the writing, through the thesiswhisperer blog I learned of pomodoros and in conjunction with the following or with a study buddy through skype these work well in breaking down my procrastination eg writeordie and writtenkitten

Along the way i remained open to a fifth use
5. means for gathering data, a way of interviewing
(this did not evolve, but is something i have experienced as a research participant)
And also provides a means of advertising for participants

6. backup with or without sharing. Dropbox has proven fantastic for free online storage, but also a depository big enough to share the large document with supervisors and others and so get feedback. The blog also can be drafted ideas where not all gets disseminated but it provides a chronology where the development of ideas might be traced.

And as I near completion
7. A means of disseminating work in progress, for aggregating academic papers, for establishing professional identity and an academic niche. Here i use as an invite only site for work in progress which included phd chapters in process. I also include and linkedin. (NB different parts of the world seem to use different sites). And the use of twitter as well as blogging also provide space for this professional identity development.

And to maintain a group for sharing ideas, networking
8. Facebook for groups such as the actor-network theory facebook page set up by #jeffreyKeever
As well as #phdchat
as well as the blog.

There is nothing superficial or virtual about such spaces, they are different, rather than 'unreal'.

My advice/opinion for researchers is that social media is not designed for spectators, immerse yourself, be reflective, be a participant. Be upfront and honest about presence if researcher. Such sites are not removed from a real world, they are not zoos and the people inside of them are not exhibits.

Eisenstein, E. (1979). The printing press as an agent of change. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Kaplan, A, & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and
opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons 53, 59—68.
Latour, B. (2002). Morality and technology. The end of the means. Theory, Culture and Society, 19(5/6), 247–260. doi:10.1177/026327602761899246
Williams, R. (1983). Keywords. A vocabulary of culture and society (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

i'm going to come back to this, its an unfinished posting