08 March 2009

On-line learning (aftermath 1)

First, given that part of the idea of this blog is to model "reflection", it is worth noting that while I got my previous posts in before the course window closed, the duration of the course is a quite artificial constraint. Reflection knows no such boundaries, for better or for worse.

Two themes have stuck with me;
  • First, the "group in the mind"; the phrase comes from Bion (1961), (as discussed here) who uses it in a slightly different way from what follows, but it still seems apposite. Bion suggests that once we have joined a group, it stays with us, and a fantasy image of it remains in the mind (and of course eventually fades with memory). Certainly that happens to me whenever I take a new class, regardless of its size. That image tends to be typified by some salient features; the faces of some of the members, the room in which it meets, even the temperature of the room. Any of them can trigger a complex set of memories and feelings related to comfort, discomfort, security, enjoyment, stimulating exchanges... which bring the group alive.
  • I realise I never got that with this exclusively on-line course. For all the ice-breakers and "arrivals lounge" and photos, even some synchronous chat, the group in the mind never formed. My interaction was purely task-focused, with no sense of relationship. I responded to posts on the discussion forum, and not to people.
And second;
  • Going back to my earlier reflection on the consensual nature of the interaction and the derivative literature base; the course was all about socially constructed knowledge. Crudely, if someone said something and everyone agreed, it became true. I don't think anyone was ever told (however politely) that they were wrong (and I certainly deserved to be told that on more than one occasion). This of course may be a function of the topic ("on-line tutoring" in case we've drifted too far to remember), which is pretty "soft"; but I also wonder whether it is not merely a matter of choosing the appropriate Web 2.0 tools to fit the topic and its implicit epistemology, but also of the choice of tools dictating how a discussion can proceed? That would after all be consistent with Berger and Luckmann's original argument in 1967, way before the web.

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