In which some blogging resumes.
The nature of geographically and temporally distributed conversations sometimes means participation feels like walking into a room in the middle of a conversation, and indeed, this is what I’m going to do here. To provide some very basic context for this “wandering in”:
- Jenny Mackness and I wrote a paper related to connectivism.
- Heli Nurmi, Sui Fai John Mak and Stephen Downes have addressed some elements of the paper in their own blogs in varying detail, with several others adding comments to Jenny’s posts about the paper.
- The paper has thus far seemed to have sparked three lines of discussion, focusing around concepts of peer review; open scholarship and open-access resources; and the content of the paper itself, which explores in very rudimentary terms a potential meeting ground or overlap between principles of connectivism and two theories of psychological understanding.
Jenny has done a fabulous job in laying out the issues and our experiences with the scholarship and publishing process, and I want to both expand a bit on these ideas and take up the third thread on the paper’s content in responding to questions about the choices we made in the paper, following in particular Heli’s questions. (Why Jungian theory of all possible options? Why not include identity as a further element? Why self-determination theory?)
There are actually at least two directions to take with Heli’s questions so far. One is to discuss these topics and their relative merits within the confines of the disciplines to which they traditionally belong. The other, and the tack I would like to take first for the purposes of this post, is to talk a bit about the broader contexts and additional aspects of “process” that cropped up in relation to the “differentness” of the type of scholarship/exploration that Jenny and I (and Matthias Melcher) rather inadvertently embarked upon.
First, I must admit the answers to some of Heli’s questions are much more mundane than sublime. It is not that we actively rejected other options or ideas, but rather, in a further irony of the formal publication process, that we ran out of room. The resulting paper is, perhaps, more a result of triage and semi-arbitrary prioritization than deliberate selection. (Although I don’t mean to speak for Jenny on this, who may have felt more focused!) As it was, I believe IRRODL rather generously let us ever-so-slightly exceed the recommended word count, and as Stephen Downes noted, the paper begs for at least four separate discussions, one on each connectivist principle. As Jenny said, this is where we started our conversations—with the single concept of autonomy—but we (or I, in particular, I think) found the complexity and entanglements between concepts almost hopelessly snarled at this point in the evolution of our (my) understanding. Ultimately, it seemed that anything less than the whole four-strand ball of connectivism yarn would leave us more “wanting” in terms of introductory discussion than the perils of “not enough” explication of each term individually. The big picture– or lots of threads— first, in other words.
Lest the “not enough room” sound like a cop-out or a refutation of responsibility, I think there’s a second important recognition here that goes well beyond the issue of imposed limits and quantity. As I noted in a response on Jenny’s blog: “…the review and publication process seemed cumbersome for a discussion that was based in and developed at least in part by an ongoing “feed” rather than deep-diving “search.” In what I interpret as a similar thought, Stephen recently remarked: “The next three generations of web and learning technology will be based on the idea of flow… Flow is when we cease to think of things like contents and communications and even people and environments as things and start thinking of them as (for lack of a better word) media – like the water in a river, like the electricity in our pipes, like the air in the sky.”
I would suggest that the explorations we introduced in our paper are indeed better viewed as and serve in and as “flow.” The “signaling” aspect of academic journal publication– that an argument is definitive and rigorously defensible within limited parameters – is perhaps one source of confusion that blogs avoid when “flow” becomes a hallmark of learning. I have to wonder if the idea of looking for learning and discussion as flow is a critical leap both in understanding the fundamental implications of connectivism and in understanding the emergence of relatively unorthodox conceptual juxtapositions such as those in the paper.
Now to speak specifically to Heli’s discipline-oriented questions so far…
I would note that in the course of events we did veer, thanks to Jenny’s familiarity with Etienne Wenger’s work, into discussions of identity, and that ideas related to the performance of identity (Goffman and others) seem particularly relevant in thinking about the reflection, expression and projection of psychological needs and variables of individuals in connectivist learning (whether on or offline—a whole different can of worms). Ultimately, we edited our “identity” explorations down to about a paragraph, and so think Heli’s expansion and illustrations in this area are very valuable.
Why focus on the “Big Five?”
The Big Five offered an easily identifiable and widely accepted model of understanding, with the language/vocabulary “overlapping” that inspired our explorations in the first place. While recognizing that there are many alternative theories of personality (and that these all may soon be eclipsed through neuroscience), in terms of determining adequate validity, I defer to Kirwan, et. al. (2010; quoted in the paper) on this: “…the Big Five model of personality traits … is widely accepted as a unified, parsimonious model of normal personality that has been validated in many different cultures and across several research settings (De Raad, 2000; Digman, 1997), with supporting studies based on many different demographic and personal characteristics of individuals (Costa & McCrae, 1994).”
(I would also note that Kirwan and, I believe, some subsequent researchers now prefer the term “emotional stability” over its traditionally utilized inverse, neuroticism.)
Why self-determination theory?
I would be the first to agree that a focus on self-determination theory may seem a bit random for someone coming “fresh” to this conversation. In my case, my attention to SDT arose from other explorations related to motivation and performance/expertise/talent development, which included (and whereby you can now breathe a sigh of relief that I did not try and cram this into the already overloaded paper as well) older work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who also uses the term “flow” in learning), Benjamin Bloom, and K. Anders Ericcson, among others.
In addition, there seemed to be, at least for a while, some focus within connectivism conversations on the roles of “sharing” and “participation” that warranted an exploration of why people do or don’t do something that went beyond simple “motivation” or “selfishness.” And I personally have found SDT to be very applicable in terms of developing conceptual tools and vocabulary to address the “emotional labor” of learning and learning support in complexity.
The choice of SDT for the purposes of the paper also seemed appropriate in that it, like connectivism, both acknowledges and explores complexity in ways that completely reframe “schooling-oriented” visions of self-guided, self-determined and self-directed learning. As a very brief example: Schooling-oriented discussions often focus negatively on the “unmotivated learner,” whereby there is little acknowledgment that, for example, what may be interpreted as a lack of motivation may actually be an expression of healthy autonomy through the rejection of imposed goals. By the same token, schooling—and perhaps even more so social learning– often requires as sense of cooperative “relatedness” or “connection” among classmates or fellow learners, whereby a learner may have other sources of relatedness (or competency or autonomy or relatedness needs) that compete with these demands. This discussion seems to have the potential to expand conversations about lurking and other aspects of participatory or social learning– again, whether online or off. (And, for anyone wanting a shortcut, an easily accessible discussion of SDT and its implications can be found in Daniel Pink’s popular journalistic exploration of this theory, Drive.)
From my perspective, many of the choices for the paper were informed by, as the blog title notes, equal parts serendipity and purpose. This is, of course, not a fashionable admission in terms of academic rigor or defensibility, but then again, I’m not sure that’s what we were aiming for. In fact, Heli and John have done exactly what I think we hoped would happen: knowledgeable others gather up some of our strands of yarn and commence to knit a warmer sweater:-)