It’s interesting to see the theme of complexity pop up in unexpected places. A couple nights ago on the Daily Show with Atul Gawande. He was talking about how complexity is a problem for many experts, and how a simple checklist can save lives, but many experts felt that a checklist was too much of an ego bash to  take. And I guess he was plugging his book, the Checklist Manifesto. Guess that Connectivisms ideas about complexity are getting around. I know that this isn’t  a new idea, they are in fact, fairly old. When we go through our primary school education we learn using building blocks (and pretty much the same building blocks that we’ve always learned with). We learn a new concept, repeat it until it becomes second nature, then build on it. What ways can a simple tool like a checklist improve education?

As subjects become more complex, perhaps we could take this approach to remind educators (or ourselves) that even though we are at an advanced stage of understanding a subject – perhaps deeper and aware of more facets than our learners – we should always consider the fundamental underpinnings of those topics. Maybe checklists can assist us in seeing patterns where grouping makes sense; that makes checklists useful as a sensemaking strategy.

Aesthetics and Community

So to continue this train of thought, I was watching this digital rough cut of an interview with Howard Rheingold. In it Howard makes a few statements about digital communities, groups and nation-states that appeal to me. Particularly this statement:

In fact when I first started travelling about this was erm during a brief period when I worked for Wired Magazine, I had a little wired hat on.  It didn’t matter whether they spoke English or not, there were people who identified more with me than with they’re neighbours, with they’re parents, with they’re peers, erm even though we may not have even spoken the same language, they knew UNIX, they knew Photo Shop, they knew communicating on line.

That resonated with me for a bit. Earlier Howard mentioned his sense of dress as well, and how it can be offputting for some people. Now I don’t want this to come off as a love letter for Howard, I would think that his dress is what made me interested in him. He was confident in himself enough to put himself out there, and that confidence and uniqueness speaks to me as a person. In the same way that Howard’s way of dressing (through his Wired hat or colorful jackets) made an impression on people and acted as an attractor or repellent, the aesthetics of online spaces will do the same thing. So is it important that online spaces be as aesthetically neutral as possible?

No. There is no neutral. Think about color for a moment. White background color has a different context depending on culture – your actions will be unable to alter those cultural reaction. So you have to rely on your own aesthetic choices and make sure they reflect you as much as possible. I think the individual need to express this is what will begin to differentiate institutions from one another. We’re already seeing this in higher education where certain lecturers are the “top free agents”. I’m sure sometime in the future, as online learning becomes more prevalent, we will begin to see the better learning designers, and by that I mean aesthetically and pedagogically, become more important.

Howard makes some mention of what makes a community later on, and in my interpretation it comes down to a like-minded group – some sort of connection occurs between all the parties. It could be worldview, it could be musical tastes. In web design, we recognized that a certain consumer expects a certain level of design. For instance, an opera house website would be rejected if it wasn’t sufficiently “high class”. You wouldn’t see a graffiti font on the opera house website. These groups have an aesthetic identifier as well, it’s an external clue, part of that first impression decision making process.

So thank you Howard for helping me make the connections from this video!

Buzzwords, Docs and Word(s)

I guess that Adobe has thrown it’s hat into the ring with the announcement that Buzzword is in beta – as a competitor to Google Docs and Microsoft’s Online Office suite. It’s interesting that it can import existing Word files, as well as export PDF. If it’s embeddable, it’ll be a great thing for people to use.

CCK09 – Initial Thoughts

Connectivism and Connected Knowledge, 2009 begins again. One of the themes that keeps running through my head is the idea of individuals in this structure of sense-making. In traditional, and constructivist classes, the individual is very connected to a class as a social construct, there’s an emotional bonding that occurs with people going through the course even on a subconscious level. I found myself in the Elluminate session tonight looking for familiar names, a sense of community and belonging. Belonging to a group. Even having this event (a course by any other means) is a social construct, which will lend itself to creating groups (which as Stephen said last year in CCK08, can lead to group think). What power does the network have over group think and what sorts of counter-force opposes group think by distributing the resources? There will be people who will immediately gravitate to thinking one way, based on their history with the subjects. I suspect that the people who think one way will invariably have a similar background. I wonder if they will gravitate towards each other naturally. Enough thinking, more sleeping.

Looking Forward to CCK09

With the holiday here in Canada I’ve spent some time doing exciting things like laundry, mowing lawns and other domestic duties that I’ve been lax in doing lately. While I was matching up socks, I was thinking about my participation in CCK09, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2009, which is essentially a course but has a real expansive social element to it. I participated last year as a registered student, so my writing and bits were rewarded with marks.

This year will be different for me, so it’ll be interesting to take a second kick at the can without the “pressure” of marked submissions. Participation for me will be a little less, I’m up to teaching three different courses in the Fall Continuing Education semester (XML, Fireworks, Searching The Internet Effectively), and two for Distance Education (XML and Searching The Internet Effectively). Plus the e-Learning work and completing a degree. Busy? Yeah.

I’m very interested in seeing how my ideas about well designed educational spaces match up with Connectivism. We know that good design lends credibility to sources. We also know that good design can manipulate people’s opinions about things. Considering that Connectivism accepts “knowledge” from multiple sources – can you game a network into altering the “truth”? Truth,  in my opinion is mostly subjectively agreed upon by groups of people based on their experiences – and that I need to define what I mean by truth backs up my belief. There is a sense that somehow the Internet is killing knowledge, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s a case of setting priorities straight – I don’t need to know how to get somewhere – Google Maps will do it for me. Of course, this only works if it’s right.

This is an important piece to education: educators used to rely on books as a symbol of truth. “Hey, someone published thousands of books, and we’re using it in school, so it must be true!” Schools used to be the gateway of that knowledge. The yang to that yin, is that you have to have enough of a crap detector to understand when it goes wrong. Now that knowledge has moved out of books and into online spaces, or into devices like your cellphone, it’s easier to fake people out. Never mind that it’s easier to publish a book now than it ever has been in the history of the human race…

When the Simon Wiesenthal Centre came and spoke to the College last year, they illustrated that point where a hate group had bought – and essentially put together a fairly slick website to defame Martin Luther King.  It only came to their attention after a student had used some of the “material” for a class project. If the design of the site had been cruder, maybe some alarm bells would’ve sounded sooner.

Good design, good looking designs, add credibility. And it’s not hard to get good looking stuff, especially when we’re all playing a credibility game to get our voices above the noise.