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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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Collective Learning Part 2 #change11

Yesterday, I posted my first response to the Collective Learning concept that is being discussed in #change11.   I mentioned that that I was missing a peice of the puzzle to Collective Learning, and I discussed how in science this does not seem like a new concept.  I was reading Jeff Merrell's post on Collective Learning at Learning.Change. By Design., and I think I found that missing peice.

I started to realize that the difference is in discipline training.  Not all scientists learn collaborative skills.  In my department there are some Principle Investigators that actually pit their grad students against each other.  Most labs work in a model where there is a collective knowledge pool, and it is shared, used, and built upon by each generation of grad student.  In addition, there is the collaboration between labs, that leads to even more growth in the collective knowledge of both labs (see yesterday's post for more details). 

What Jeff Merrell showed me was that in the model of business education, this lesson of pooling knowledge is not learned.  One quick tangent, I've actually taken some KM training courses through element K since it is free for the students, faculty and staff of our university.  I didn't make the connection until now, but there is a lot of jargon in KM.  This was another peice of the Collective Learning puzzle for me.  I could be completely off base, but it seems that KM wants to strongly codify learning so that it can be packaged for corporate entities.  This is where my issue with Collective Learning starts.  Not because it is about corporate entities, but about packaging.

The building and dispersing of collective knowledge in a lab or even between labs is not a cut an dry process.  It is an organic process that occurs based upon social interactions.  Like any social interaction, the initial steps can be hard to predict.  If you have a young grad student that is not confident in their knowledge or ability, they may not speak up when they actually have a valuable peice of information.  A worst case scenerio is when you have someone speak up before they have reflected or considered the question (or the person who just repeats what has already been said).  You can actually have people who actively resist participation in the collective, for example, the person who thinks that they are a lone wolf (but then feeds off of everyone else). 

Then there are the interpersonal issues:  from personal experience there were some people when I was a grad student that I actively disliked, usually because I had gone over the same protocol over twenty times and they were still doing it wrong.  Yes, these are based on face to face interactions, but the same is true in social networks.  How many times have you started to ignore someones post because they annoyed you?  What will you miss because of that annoyance?

My gut feeling is that codifying a process that can be described as an emergent learning system based on social network and personal interaction is a process doomed from the start.  The idea of codifying such a community construction, or a collective and dispersive knowledge pool, is based on an assumption that you can predict and control the initial interactions. 

Now, Jeff Merrell brought up two concepts that I'm going to end with:  Charting and the concept of individual  “practices, literacies and mindsets”.  Charting is a framework that I find questionable, because it is trying to establish a framework for an emergent system to follow.  The four C's of charting are a great alliteration, but it really feels like forcing a condition on an interaction.  In my mind I keep seeing the image of a group of people sitting around a table with straight jackets and ball gags trying to share knowledge.  It looks great on paper, but again it seems like your trying to fit a natural dialog into a report.

The concept of individual  “practices, literacies and mindsets” though is something I believe all of us are looking at when we start to incorporate new technologies into our teaching and learning.  This is the area of Allison Littlejohn's work that sparks new ideas, specifically the mindsets.

BTW:  If you have not read Jeff's post, I recommend it.  He provides a great summary of Allison Littlejohn's position paper.  It really helped me see her concept of Collective Learning in a new light.  Still not convinced it is really a new idea.  I'm looking forward though to the presentation later this week.  I'm still open to seeing if there is more to the puzzle of Collective Learning that I'm missing.