Networked Learning in a Digital world – Or Prisoner’s Dilemma in Disguise?

The emergence of Web 2.0 has accelerated the growth of human networks, both in a social as well as a professional context. The growth of human networks has aided learning both in formal settings (universities and colleges) as well as informal settings in the form of community learning websites (For ex. Stack Overflow, Github, etc.).1

     Being a graduate student, I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Stack Overflow exchange to obtain solutions to tricky coding challenges in research from other netizens.  Similarly, I have provided solutions to problems posted by other (no I have never obtained help for class assignments if you were wondering). This is one of the easiest examples of networked learning whereby individuals all over the globe come together and provides solutions to each other’s problems. The popular phenomenon of Crowdsourcing, first coined by Jeff Howe in 20062, whereby organizations and governments seek to utilize the power of the crowd in solving issues both at a local and a global level also falls under the umbrella of networked learning. The only difference, in this instance, being that knowledge flows from individuals to organizations and governments.3

BRITAIN-RESEARCH-SHIP-OFFBEAT

Fig 1. An example of a crowd-sourcing fail or brilliance depending on how we see it4

        Having successfully diverted my reader away from the current week’s reading, I will now undertake a feeble attempt at doing justice to the role of networked learning in institutions of formal learning. Campbell (2016)5 in his article argues in the favor of online collaboration as a form of experiential learning. This he argues goes above and beyond the class room learning as it forces students to tackle multiple challenges and instead of simply collaborating with one another, to co-create knowledge. In my opinion, his arguments will go uncontested.

         However, I would like to draw your attention to the blog by Tim Hitchcock6, who argues in favor of researchers using their online presence to further their respective fields of knowledge. The author highlights various success stories associated with the use of networking tools in research. The validity of his arguments are however, diminished by a very simple phenomenon in economics known as the Prisoners’ Dilemma.As the game goes two individuals acting simultaneously and bereft of the benefit of  communication with one another, always selects an action which hurts them both due to the nature of payoffs (See fig. 2).

prisoners-dilemma

Fig 2. An illustration of the prisoner’s dilemma game. Defect is the dominating strategy for all individuals8

         Research materials when shared online may be prone to plagiarism. Research ideas are be prone to be stolen (Hitchcock himself admits this being a major concern). Have we as individuals, who are part of a larger society, evolved enough to control our needs for immediate gratification? Can we curb ourselves from stealing our neighbor’s (not in the literal sense) well thought out research ideas? The presence of websites such as Github where contributors share codes and real time data with others is a step towards the right direction. However in my opinion, we, as part of a larger society of researchers, must do more in order to prevent us from going down the route of the two dear prisoners. Else we risk falling into a vicious cycle from which academia might not be able to extricate itself.

P.S. I decided to keep my views about the remedies required to help academia get out of the vicious cycle of non-cooperation private. I would however gladly discuss this offline. Also Go Hokies!!

Notes:

  1. For a detailed exposition on Learning Networks, refer to Sloep, P., & Berlanga, A. (2010). Learning networks, networked learning.
  2. Please refer to “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” here https://www.wired.com/2006/06/crowds/
  3. For crowdsourcing challenges hosted by the United States Government please visits –  https://www.challenge.gov/list/
  4. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/04/19/_boaty_mcboatface_may_be_rejected_by_british_government.html
  5. Campbell, Gardner (2016). Networked Learning as Experiential Learning.
  6. Refer to http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/07/28/twitter-and-blogs-academic-public-sphere/
  7. For a quick insight on Prisoner’s Dilemma game, refer to the Wikipedia article on the same at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma
  8. Source: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/02/08/why-reducing-co2-emissions-is-like-the-prisoners-dilemma/

Networked Learning: Ok, But What Would It Really Look Like?

For the first half of Gardner Campbell’s “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning,” I was wishing that I had a clearer definition of what he believed “networked learning” to be. Is it learning that simply creates interpersonal relationships? For example, working in a corporate company allows many employees to network, meet a variety of people, and maintain connections all over the world. Does it mean building your working knowledge of a topic or discipline off of the learning of others who have come before you? Or, could it refer to online learning in a general way?

After reading the whole article, I would think it could mean any one or all of those things at the same time.  But one line from Campbell struck a chord with me: “The common denominator is a real-world context that provides deeply integrative opportunities for classroom-based learning to be applied to complex and complexly situated problems or opportunities” (Campbell, para. 3). I just started my teaching experience last semester when I was the instructor of record for Virginia Tech’s 1106 section of First-Year Writing. I am now teaching two sections of 1105. I have found that I am a firm believer in this  idea of “real-world context” (Campbell, para. 3). Most of my students are looking to major in a STEM field, not the humanities, because this is, after all, Virginia Tech. I am always wondering how I can make this required English class more relevant to a real-world situation or what we can talk about/read/do that would provide them with real world skills. Honestly, I am terrified of their leaving this class and thinking that it was a complete waste of their time.

So what would Networked Learning look like in my context? What would it really look like for freshmen in 1105 or 1106, and how could it possibly be framed in a “real-world” context? I then read Tim Hitchcock’s “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-Ons to Academic Research.” I have read articles on Genre Pedagogy that talk about using the Blog as a means of making sure students can narrow down 8-10 pages of writing into a bite size morsel or as using the Blog as the final project altogether–ideas which I have never been crazy about considering implementing.

Hitchcock stated something that I found interesting, but something that I think wouldn’t directly translate to freshmen in a class they have about 5% desire to take: “Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it” (Hitchcock, para. 4). This explains bloggers in a new light to me. They’re so passionate about a subject that they talk about it in multiple ways and genres. This would also explain why I have never enjoyed blogging in the classroom environment. I simply have not been passionate enough about a topic, I suppose. So yeah–would my freshmen students care enough about their argument paper topic to want to write a blog or two about it? I tend to think no, but I guess it really depends on the topic they choose/whether I let them choose it or not.

But Hitchcock believes that undergraduates writing becomes more clear, concise, and, well, readable with the implementation of blogs (para. 8). So, I’m thinking that for my class, a successful example of networked learning could be that I have students start an online discussion about their thoughts on a paper topic, as a means of talking through their ideas before they start running with them? If every student offers at least one fully-baked thought or opinion on another student’s post, I think that could be helpful and a different, interactive learning experience. The students wouldn’t have to take on another’s advice, only read it and think about it. Because this type of brainstorming, sound-boarding, and collaboration does, in fact, occur in the real world, and these type of activities are always something for which I am on the lookout.

 

Works Cited:

Campbell, Gardner. “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning.” EduCause Review, 11 January 2016,  er.educause.edu/articles/2016/1/networked-learning-as-experiential-learning, Accessed 3 Sept 2017.

Hitchcock, Tim. “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-Ons to Academic Research.” LSE Impact, 28 July 2014, The London School of Economics and Political Science, blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/07/28/twitter-and-blogs-academic-public-sphere/. Accessed 3 Sept 2017.

Sorry, No Internet Today!

Facebook – 1.9 Billion Users, WhatsApp – 1.2 Billion Users, Instagram – 700 Million, Twitter  328 Million Users, Google+ – 375 Million Users, LinkedIn – 240 Million Users1,2

Can you imagine just one day without internet? Will you survive? What would you do instead?

Although we are in a digital era, Networked Learning is definitely a new term for me. What can I say? I learned how to use a smartphone when I was 25. Too late, isn’t? Maybe, it is time to be part of this revolutionary technology world. So, let’s get started with the basics.

“Networked Learning is a collaborative online learning where technology/internet is used to help learners connect with others or with valued learning resources3

In education, this approach seeks students to build their knowledge throughout technology tools within and outside the classroom4. It sounds like easy but,

how do you move away from the traditional education to this new concept? How would you change the misconception that grades are all that matters in education?

Although, I consider myself a very creative person, sometimes, I struggle thinking of innovative, interesting, and easy ways to explain students a topic in class. Maybe, I am not aware of all multiple digital tools available in today’s world (definitely true!) or maybe, Networked Learning can be more easily applied in some areas of study than in other ones. What do you think?

Unquestionably, Networked Learning strengths other skills that students will need not only in their careers but also in their life. It forces them to think, reflect, and form their own opinion by exchanging ideas, promoting discussions, and receiving feedbacks. It certainly empowers the students’ voice by giving them the opportunity to share with the world what they believe is important to be known.

The idea to put students in a real context/problems through these digital tools for classroom-based learning is amazing! However, before to jump to this Networked Learning world, we should ask ourselves

What kind of educational experiences changes lives2? and How do you, as an instructor, guarantee that students will gain the knowledge and skills that they will need as future professionals?

For me, education is not only to transmit knowledge for students to learn. That would be the easiest part. Don’t you think? I would have to go class and based on some slides give a lecture. Does it sound familiar to you? I want to inspire and to motivate students to give your best in whatever they have to do. They should enjoy the process of learning. Otherwise, even the most amazing Networked Learning tool is useless. At the end, everything is about motivation. That’s what makes the difference.

Are you ready to make a difference?


1. http://marketingstrategyx.com/social-media-stats-infographic-2017/
2. https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/03/30/top-10-social-networks-how-many-users-are-on-each.aspx
3. https://www.igi-global.com/dictionary/networked-learning/20217
4. http://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/1/networked-learning-as-experiential-learning