Thursday, November 4, 2010

Are people Keeping Their Distance from a Creepy Treehouse? #PLENK

Suifaijohnmak Weblog asks the question "Why are people staying away from the forum?" This is the #PLENK Moodle forum that is being used to support a MOOC, a massively online open course. John details some possible reasons in his post and a number of commenters add excellent insights.

I find this quite interesting as well and it seems that somehow this particular MOOC has triggered the creepy treehouse effect.
Stein offers a number of definitions for this phenomena but this one seems apt.
n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.

Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.

Other courses of in this series had a spirit of co-learning with the course moderators. This time around it seems as though it is part of their day job and the whole process has become institutionalized. I get the sense that participants are regarded as subjects of an experiment rather than connected individuals.
It is not that the course originators were not straight forward with their intentions, they stated their intentions from the start and had everyone agree to the letter of consent. This is part of NRC research and a number of people, including myself have expressed their intention of conducting research into various aspects of the experience.

My specific research interest is to test a theory that I developed as part of my dissertation research.

The abstract is below.
This analysis began with inquiries into the substantive area of distance education using the classic grounded theory method. Analysis revealed a pattern of problem-solving behavior, from which the theory "Keeping Your Distance " emerged.

The theory is an integrated set of concepts referring to the conscious and unconscious strategies that people use to regulate distance , physical and representative, in their everyday lives. Strategies are used to control physical, emotional, and psychological realities and to conserve personal energy in interactions with individuals and/or institutions.

Keeping Your Distance is presented in terms of a conditions/consequences/covariance theoretical model adapted from Glaser's (1978) Theoretical Sensitivity . Conditions evoke a system of strategic response patterns which result in consequences. Responses and their consequences change conditions and result in additional adjustments, made on an ongoing basis. For all social interactions, people use a personalized algorithm of engagement that mitigates conditions and consequences and preserves optimal distance.

Keeping Your Distance provides a theoretical starting point for considerations of the changing notions of distance. In part, these changes have been brought about by developments in the fields of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and online social networking.

This emerging, multivariate, conceptual theory may be of interest to scholar-practitioners examining distance education, psycho-social processes, and critical pedagogy. Elements of this theory may be of use to higher education policymakers charged with instructional design, institutional advancement, and marketing.

Keywords: "Keeping your distance," Distance Education, Grounded Theory method, Critical Pedagogy

I find a bit of irony in the understanding that this is an institutionalized MOOC about Personal Learning Environments, something that struck me as contradiction in terms. It seems as though an effort is being made to deconstruct the personal in PLE and figure out a way to put it in a bottle for marketing purposes.

I understand that organizing a massive online course like this will require institutional supports and infrastructure but it will be valuable to determine the breaking point, the point where many experienced users of PLE's got the sense that this was no longer personal and they were not really participants but were having their bar presses counted.


Katrina Way, MBA said...

Glen, the points in your blog are certainly reflective of my thoughts. I think, as well, that your comments are worthy of consideration by the moderators. To begin, there has been an underlying attitude that Second Life is another spooky place that may not be an appropriate environment for great minds to contemplate what a PLE is much less anything else worthwhile. Second Life is viewed as a place to play in unnatural and perhaps harmful ways. Very much like the web has been viewed because of predators. The time is now for that naive thinking to move out of the way.
From the beginning of the PLENK2010 MOOC it was clear that the course was part of the moderators’ day jobs and/or their work-related projects. The realization that we were their subjects in an experiment nagged at me yet I relented to my place. How else would I experience this adventurous journey otherwise? However, as the course progressed, I rebelled as a subject and curtailed my participation. Granted, my life held other obligations and my time to contribute to the MOOC became limited. I had to ask myself if I was really learning or spinning my wheels getting caught up in the various discussions that seemed to go in circles with no end-point. I did enjoy a few Friday Elluminate sessions with George’s clarity regarding the course and various discussions. The distance between the moderators and the participants is summed up well in your comment “It seems as though an effort is being made to deconstruct the personal in PLE and figure out a way to put it in a bottle for marketing purposes.” The MOOC is not for the joy of learning and sharing to build knowledge, but to give the moderators some data to publish. Honestly, though, why would the moderators spend so much time and effort if not for publishing? On the upside, they are attempting to do research that may have positive educational relevance for a wide-spectrum and for that they deserve applause. Cheers to the moderators their overall effort.

Katrina Way, MBA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cris said...

So when mad scientists do research, you can either feel that you’re under a microscope or in a “creepy treehouse.” Makes sense to me and explains why subjects could prefer to stay safely elsewhere.

My reluctance to post in the discussions is probably because: a) I’m just sick of Moodle forums. Even used VoiceThread as an alternative in my Spring and Summer courses. b) I’m much more interested in tweeting and blogging and devote the time I have there. c) I’ve been intrigued by the concept of social presence (Rourke, L., Anderson, T. Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (1999) cited by George in the Wednesday, Oct. 29th Elluminate session. Here’s good bibliography of their work -- ). As I remember George was referring to why he and colleagues include the two real-time Elluminate sessions in MOOCs. The social presence sounds like it may be closely related to the fascinating work you’re doing in “keeping your distance.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that I desperately need the real-time sessions and the Second Life sessions for the shot of social presence I need. If I have a cohort, or at least feel that I do, then it's those people I've actually spoken with in Second Life, Skype, or phone conversations.

It's not surprising at all to me how that I refused to take my classes online until I found a space where we could meet real-time each week -- the Bookhenge in Second Life.

Thanks for sharing your take on "creepy treehouses" and really distant education.

rronan6 said...

I can see some of the challenges you describe here as something to consider as we embark on our shared Advanced Moodle Workshop. Looking forward to revisiting your blog for more insight.

Barbara said...

I'm posting as a person new to Moodle. I like what you say about Personal Learning Environments being a contradiction in terms. True, particularly in view of the many eyes who view and comment upon your thoughts. I love the conviviality of these blogs, and being able to see how people get "ahah!" moments from reading others postings. So, Personal Learning Environments are personal musings, indeed, but completely open and shared.

Vanessa said...

Starting late, I stayed more behind than and chalked up mid-course fading in part to that, the rest due to a combination of an up tick in outside obligations and tiring easily.

So maybe not - or at least not as much. Not just my first MOOC but also exposure to Moodle, post learn2learn. I've used other LMS though, there's a sameness about them. Tolstoy's unhappy families. The experience highlighted what we already knew - the importance of moderating.

I noticed the presence of packager types. Dissonance but also the possibility of synthesis. Jury's still out on that. Accommodating packagers might take longer spoons than we have. But that dissonance was also a perhaps even indispensable part of the course.

Upside: interesting people with compatible interests to get to know better, learn more from, share with ~ a richness of resources that will take a while to assimilate, naturalize, bookmark, sort through.

Meeting the "creepy treehouse effect" too ~ worth it all just for that.

Remember Zorba?

Glen Gatin said...

Thanks Vanessa. Jim Groom of EduPunk fame talks about the "fluorescent lit learning spaces" of the corporate LMS.