CCK08: Week 10, Openness

I am still struggling with the role of openness in connectivism. Is it a prescriptive, integral part of the theory? Or is it just an ideal frame in which the descriptive power of connectivism can be shown particularly well?

I won’t argue about open read access to as many published resources as possible. Of course this is desirable, without blocking firewalls or subscription walls (although it is paradoxically just the underdevelopped open access to professors’ books that require our LMSs to stay closed, in order to offer this material under fair use regulations). It is the openness of learner’s writings that I find difficult to require.

I would agree that it is an ideal way for growing connective knowledge if we are allowed to watch others learning, to share their unsettled reflections, and to benefit from someone else’s emerging weak conceptual ties.

But not everybody is comfortable with this extent of openness. At best, some will gradually become accustomed to it (as I did to a large extent). And it is paradoxical that despite of the openness we are advocating, we seem to inhabit an echo chamber of likeminded people who don’t realize these reservations any longer that many others outside have.

The first sort of such discomfort is the notion that one’s own thoughts are, by some common or objective standard, not yet qualified enough to utter them in a completely public space. Often this is associated with a perceived unfamiliarity of relevant facts that one feels s/he should know more thoroughly before referring to them.

  • I think this is a major reason why students often hesitate to tell any reflections about newly discovered matters: Reflections are often sparked by some observed deviation from expected or previously experienced frames, and if one feels s/he has no sufficient experience they won’t feel like having reflections. In other words, the valuable (emerging, weak) conceptual connections seem less qualified when the connectable nodes are perceived as too few.
  • A similar reservation may exist with many intranet bloggers serving as radar for their colleagues: As a filter for the non-experts, the “lookout” blogger’s knowledge is sufficient, but not for making it public and exposing him to the derision of the real experts.
  • And a particularly tough case is a criticism that results from a weak reflection but may be not yet sufficiently well-founded. (see my problem with the “public – private thing” I had in the first week. I promised to try more considered behavior and I think it worked, but it is not easy.

The other sort of discomfort with openness arises when there is a major disproportion of abilities.

  • One may be language. For me, the difference between my poor German writing skills (being a mathematician) and my bad English is not too big. But this is very different for German scholars who master their own language with ready-for-press eloquence but may have poor English training (probably due to a classical education of 9 years Latin and 7 years Greek). Many people were very interested when I showed this course to them, but they prefer to stay in the German edublogosphere where they are more confident.
  • Abilities or preferences may also differ in the various modes of public communication. For example, some feel very uncomfortable when required to publish asynchronously written stuff, while they are confident with synchronous communications (such as oral discussions, chat, or microblogging). Or the other way around.
  • On yet a higher level, it makes a big difference if one has a reputation from publishing large PDF articles in major intervals, or if he is a nobody with Technorati authority of zero when he starts blogging his incremental ideas.

In all three cases, an individual’s judgement and expectation about their own performance is even more relevant than their actual ability.

So there are many possible reasons why people would prefer some privacy zone for their learning. And I do not yet understand how this would prevent growing connectivist connections on the conceptual level.

This conceptual level has been, again, left in the background during last week’s discussions, in favor of the social and external level and the ever dominant topic of internet technology. In the context of internet emphasis, a similar emphasis of openness is, of course, plausible. And Lisa once suggested to discuss the role of internet technology this week, together with the question of why it is built into the theory.

So I am still puzzled if and why radical openness needs to be built into the theory.

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4 Responses to CCK08: Week 10, Openness

  1. To settle one question, in my opinion, openness is a prescriptive, integral part of the theory. It is one of four major properties I identify as essential to successful networks (diversity, autonomy and interactivity being the others).

    You raise genuine concerns. However, my response to them is essentially that they are valid fears of openness in a hostile group-based society. When all four conditions are respected, there is nothing like the same degree of risk to openness.

  2. x28 says:

    Thank you very much for the clear and appreciative answer.

  3. Lisa M Lane says:

    Matthias, I think your ideas about why people either wouldn’t want, or aren’t comfortable with, openness is right on. Sharing ones reflections is not for the meek in the society we have (rather than the one that is desired).

    If we consider how many of the over 2000 interested parties chose just to “lurk” in this class, the concerns you present are likely reasons. I’m comfortable learning something academic in public, but not something personal. If this were a class about exploring yourself in a psychological sense, in front of others, I would never have joined. I imagine some people are the reverse, more comfortable sharing thoughts on their dogs and children, but not their intellectual work.

    In addition to concerns about sharing incomplete reflections, or being attacked by experts, there is also concern about random hostility. The very thing that makes the web so appealing to educators is what makes it appealing to deeply disturbed people who flame, troll, yell, and abuse in public. Some people avoid even reading blogs and comments for this reason — I can’t even imagine them writing or producing images or video for public consumption.

    Thanks again for your cogent analysis.

  4. x28 says:

    Thanks Lisa. I think we are all glad that you joined, despite this class is also a little bit about “exploring oneself in a psychological sense”, as far as exploring one’s own learning and thinking is to some extent psychological.

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