08 March 2010

Dependence, independence, interdependence

Harold Jarche, Jane Hart and Stephen Downes have been discussing learning generalised into concepts of dependent learning, independent learning, interdependent learning.

I like things in threes, and wanted to try these out in a practical sense of how people work their learning.

One of the more important principles I have set myself is independence. When I show a teacher how to do something, my goal for them (whether or not they share the goal at the time) is for them to achieve relative independence from me and the organisation they are affiliated with. Some of the more contentious examples of this thinking involve my discouragement of the use of an LMS or organisational email. The argument goes something like this:

Why would people, in an increasingly casualised teaching and research work force, invest time in learning a system that makes them dependent on and limited by their employer - especially if the functionality of that system is surpassed by external tools that also serve to give that person independence and the organisation gains as well?

Similarly, why should a student invest time in a system that makes them dependent on the organisation they are not likely to keep a relationship with for longer than 3 or 4 years, often much less - especially if the functionality of that system is surpassed by external tools that serve to give that person independence and the organisation gains as well?

It is easy to explain with email. You join or enroll with an organisation and for reasons that are not clear, they issue you with an email address with its own password and its own peculiar ways of operating. Inexperienced in the trappings of dependence, you build up a reputation, a network, even your professional reputation in that email system, only to be faced with a big problem when it comes time to leave that organisation. All the functionality of that email system can be surpassed using your own email address that frees you from the risk of dependence.

This scenario plays out across almost all the dwindling systems provided by the organisation. With the quality of external, utility even "cloud" based systems already surpassing what can be provided by the organisation, the question of should I use external systems can be answered by what both stand to loose and gain. What do you lose or gain by asserting independence? What does your organisation lose or gain by your assertion of independence?
  • Do you use their restrictive Internet, or bring your own in via a wireless USB key?
  • Do you build up a profile page on the organisation's website, or simply link it to your Linkedin profile or stream your own site into it via RSS and embed codes?
  • Do you build your teaching and/or learning inside their learning management system, or do you build it outside on more popular channels under your own name, and link it in to the LMS if you have to?
  • Do you publish research only on the restricted journal or do you negotiate release so you can link another copy on your own web?
  • Do you use the lecture recording system, or put it out on your own uStream or Livestream channel with the connected functionality and cross posting features?
The list goes on.

Even those who have come to see the benefits of using external platforms fall into the same institutionalised trappings however. Recently I attended a seminar by James Neill for an initiative at UC called Hothouse. James arrived ready with his own uStream channel, but the host had also arrived with a uStream channel for the Hothouse. Confronted with the choice, James accepted to stream over the Hothouse channel, thereby surrendering his independence and accepting dependence on the Hothouse project. As it would turn out, the Hothouse forgot to click record on their stream, and so Jame's lost doubly, and the Hothouse gained very little.

An alternative would have been for James to stream on his own channel, and to link to and mention the Hothouse in his talk. The Hothouse could add James' recording to their own playlist, offsetting a variety of liabilities, and benefiting from the immediate exposure to James' network. James would also benefit from exposure to the Hothouse network while accepting responsibility for his own presentation. Hothouse gets networded, Jame's keeps independence. Its a win win situation. See also Out from under the umbrellas, and What would it be like to be the rain.

An institution, even an initiative within the Institution, has more to gain by networking. Take for example the Otago Polytechnic's Youtube channel. I set that channel up not to upload videos, but to collect and create playlists of any videos found on Youtube about Otago Polytechnic. The desire for an Institutional identity is still served, but without weakening a network and asking individuals to forgo their own identity for the sake of a collective. See also groups vs networks.

Where I personally draw the line in this independence, is in setting up my own domain. My personal challenge and long term experiment is to see how far I get free ranging, and how well I can manage an online identity that is distributed across free online services. I still follow the rules of thumb in terms of backup, but by cross posting rather than saving on my unreliable hard drives or servers. I agree however, that ultimate independence is in setting up your own domain and managing your own media. It doesn't have to be at the exclusion of popular channels, but that is more hassle and cost than I'm prepared to take right now. See also Tools for Conviviality.


Harold Jarche said...

The best move I made as a free-agent was setting up my own domain. I would recommend it for anyone without guaranteed employment. Gee, I guess that's everyone ;)

Great post!

Ben Rattray said...

Nice, I Particularly like the point about ustream or YouTube, create the channel, amalgamate, create where needed and benefit from existing networks and content.

I'm not sure if this extends to all things though. Email for instance, having separate emails for work and personal I see as a good thing. When I move from U.C. I lose the email address, but if my network is not bigger than the email I'm in trouble anyway. I don't feel I lose anything if I lose the email, but appreciate that it helps separate my work and non working life. While this distinction between work and personal often gets blurred, for many it's nice to have some things that help determine those distinctions.

Leigh Blackall said...

Indeed! Some ppl do separate work/life.. not me admittedly, but doesnt the argument still stand? If (as our generation evidently is) your faced with a work life that extends across multiple organisations, isn't it wise to set yourself up a work domain of your own? You can still have a private email etc, but at least you are managing the risk of network depletion (not to mention autonomy) by resisting the provision of it from your current org..

Besides that though, it has been my experience so far, that the quality of service that the organisation provides is considerably less than what I can provide myself while remaining functional and effective in my current employers organisation...

Leigh Blackall said...

Just a quick note. I've updated this post with a video.

Ben Rattray said...

No, I don't think so.

Plenty of things I don't want to transfer across. There are some I do want to transfer across. So I make a decision about it.

Email I don't think I ever want to transfer across. I don't think this compromises any network connections. Perhaps I don't have a wide network?

I think if you are incapabable of making choices about seperation, then you are too dependent on thing too a much greater extent than systems that an organisation may use. If you choose not to seperate, than I agree it should be a choice. But if you take that so called dependence away (and force people to be independent of the organisations systems), you are just restricting choice in a different way.

Leigh Blackall said...

Totally! The proposal isn't to take it away though. But to make the option an opt in option perhaps.

So when a student comes to UC, for example, they are asked for their contact details. Communications with them proceed based on those details. They are offered a UC email if they want.

As it is at the moment, we take their contact details, issue them a UC email and (forget to) tell them they can set that email to fwd to their preferred email. Then we chastise them for not checking their UC email.

I think the staff relationship could be thought of in the same way. And extend that across all the provisioned systems. Make the offer, keep it a choice, but make the choice as seamless as possible starting from where they are at.

alexanderhayes said...

I'm of the opinion that it's best to have one.

I agree with Harold.


It says nothing.

I'm pretty certain that Leigh Blackall actually still lives in Dunedin, New Zealand - http://wikieducator.org/User:Leighblackall

Is this blog being authored by someone else ?

Is Leigh really the same Leigh ?


ps. it's interesting to note that leigh.blackall3@tafensw.edu.au is still operational.