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This blog was started as my reflections on the 2011 Change MOOC. It is now an on going journal of my thoughts on Higher Education, specifically teaching Biology.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Collective Learning #change11

I've read over the position paper posted by Allison Littlejohn, and listened to the interview points she posted on her blog site Little by Littlejohn.  After going through this, I feel like I am missing something.  I am left wondering if the author and her colleagues are trying to codify a process that could be better described as fuzzy or emergent.  It seemed an unnecessary complication with a lot of jargon that describes something that has been going on for years.  I know that it is looking at Web2.0 technologies, but for over 50 years this concept has been tried and true in the sciences, long before digital social networking.

In science graduate programs, when you start, you are coming into an environment where there is a strong pool of knowledge.  This collective knowledge is not only about your chosen discipline, but the research in the lab and all of the lab protocols.  As an example, when I first started my Ph.D. research, I needed to learn Gas Chromatography (GC).  I learned from the person currently using the instrument, then I read the manual and article pertaining to what I wanted to do, and eventually I became the expert.  So I started teaching others as they came into the lab.

It was also not uncommon to start corresponding to people in other labs who worked on similar projects, or who were doing things (procedures) that would help in your research (which I had to do during my Masters).  With email, the response time became quicker.  With a stronger internet, companies started putting documents on line.  We shared bookmarks and links between members of our lab, and with other labs.  Now with social bookmarking the process is faster.  If we really needed to learn a new protocol, it was not uncommon to visit the lab of someone who was doing that work.  Now we they can show the technique via skype.  While you may be taking classes, most of the education at the graduate level is done through networking.  So, I would have to say that based upon the model of collective learning, this is something that has been done for a long time in science; it's just now faster and broader.  Now with labs building websites with demonstration videos, blogs, and access to papers, we have broader access.  Still, you may never know about these resources unless you first talk to people in these labs.  (Even my major professor talked about correspondence and visits with colleagues back during his graduate experience...hence the 50 years or so of doing this type of work).

This is why I'm saying that I am missing something in the current discussion of collective learning.  I am not sure why the attempt to codify an emergent social process save to make it more marketable for the masses.  Even then, as a teacher, I'm not sure I can sell it to my students as a canned package.  It seems better to set up a baseline system and then with monitoring, let the interaction develop.

I'm going to continue reading, and I'm looking forward to Allison Littlejohn's presentation.  As I've said, I just feel like I'm missing something about the idea of collective learning.