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.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Take Your avatar on Safari with #PLENK in SL: Exploring other Grids

The #PLENK in SL cohort met on Tuesday in Conviviality Corners for a brief meeting to discuss a variety of topics. We have ordinarily been meeting immediately after the Elluminate sessions but we wanted to try another time to see if that worked better.
The main topic of discussion was the importance of online virtual worlds for a personal learning environment. While no clear consensus was reached in the discussion most of the members agreed that virtual worlds held great potential as critical elements of a PLE.

We decided to explore some virtual environments other than Second Life. The owners of Second Life have recently sparked concerns within the education community by removing the substantial subsidies that were previously available for educational institutions. This has lead to an increased interest in other virtual worlds. James OReily calls it Hyper Grid Hopping.

Emerging as popular alternatives are Open Sim options like ReactionGrid and Joykadia Grid. While these newer grids do not have some of the attractive features of the new SL Viewer 2, they are much more reasonably priced and flexible with regard to ownership and transferability of property.

The PLENK in SL cohort agreed that it could be productive to explore the new grids as a group. It was decided that Thurs, Nov 4, 2:30 PM SLT, all interested would be welcome to join a safari to ReactionGrid. See world clock for your time zone.

To join the safari participants will need to download a third party viewer. It should be noted that a viewer is like a web browser in that it is an application that gives access to a virtual environment. Many web browsers exist like IE, Firefox, Chrome and Opera, to name a few. Similarly, a number of virtual world viewers exist such as Hippo Open Sim Viewer and Imprudence

With one of these viewers installed, participants can join other grids to set up accounts in a process very similar to Second Life. You should join the new grids if for no other reason than to stake your claim to your avatar name. Some entrepreneurial types have been registering popular SL names and then trying to sell them to SL immigrants to other grids.

Members of the PLENK in SL group will be available on Skype to provide logistical support for anyone wanting to join the adventure. The easiest way to join the PLENK in SL Skype conversation is to add ggatin as a contact on Skype and I will add your contact to the running conversation at PLENK in SL Skype Chat.

While this may seem complex, I encourage people to explore this very interesting activity. I suspect that in the not too distant future it will be common for everyone to have an avatar that they will use to navigate numerous online virtual worlds for commerce, for entertainment and for education. My avatar will be able to go shopping in the virtual Amazon bookstore, picking virtual volumes off the shelf and placing them in a virtual shopping cart,and paying at a virtual checkout. The same avatar will then proceed to Home Depot and shop for home renovation materials with the help of virtual hardware clerks. My purchases will be shipped to my real world address. My avatar my then join the ongoing discussion in the virtual coffeehouse or log into an online class. My online identity which now is pretty much my email address, becomes a 3D representation of me in the online world.