A Gathering Together: My #TJC15 Connected Learning Experience

On February 26, 2015 a group of us decided to see what would happen if we live-tweeted our simultaneous reading of a journal article.  It was an experimental un-Journal Club…including an option of not reading the article in advance.  I’ve already blogged about how this all, hashtagged as ##TLC15, came about – here.

It was a well-attended event as these things go.  I used Storify to document it, and have embedded the Storify below. In this post, I want to do three things: I want to summarize the content of the event, and offer a meta-analysis of what happened (from my perspective as organizer and participant).  That’s a lot for a blog post, so I’ll use headers so you can pick and choose at will.

Content Summary

Several content-related themes emerged in the #TJC15 stream:

  • Teacher Identity/Role in Moocs
Several of the participants engaged in a conversation about what teachers bring to the mooc – what is their purpose and role? @merryspaniel and @SuzanKoseoglu picked up on the phrase in the article abstract that suggests the current dialogue on Moocs is “silent” about the role of teacher. They, along with @catherinecronin and @yinbk spearhead a thread that critiques the three common constructions of the teacher: the charismatic celebrity professor, co-learner/facilitator, and automated response.  @Worried_teacher links to Biesta.  @yinbk brings in her own experience as she makes her own MOOC.  @JennyMackness brings in her past experience as a MOOC instructor. 
They bring up the question – is the teacher-student role just about learning? or is it about encouraging an orientation to the world/being in the world?  @Yinbk suggests that, as an instructor she has to make a lot of executive decisions that students don’t have to make, therefore making the concept of “co-participant” ring a little false. @Catherinecronin suggests that the teacher identity shifts depending on the activity – executive decisions in some aspects, but not during twitter conversations, for example.  They list “influencers” on identity as: educational philosophy, values, culture, position, and learning science.  @jennymackness asks how much core identity/core educational philosophy wavers, even across different settings/learning activities. @catherinecronin differentiates between core philosophy and a more flexible “identity.” 
A related conversation started a little later around differentiating teacher roles based on the type of moocs – that c-, x-, and hybrid moocs were different teaching experiences.  There is a question about how much we can generalize…but that we need to generalize somewhat if we are going to be able to talk at all.
A return to ethics – ethics of care, specifically – returns to the conversation about teacher role in MOOCs.

  • The Role of Meeting
Another cluster of participants  engage in a conversation around the concept of “meet;” “Do we ‘meet’ our students even in the physical classroom?” asks @worried_teacher. @GardnerCampbell jumps in with a suggestion from Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) that the word “meeting” has been debased over time.  It originally meant “individual act of gathering” but now it means “institutional product of some agency,” according to Illich (“Learning Webs”).  @Gardnercampbell asks us to consider what would happen if we asked students to gather at a certain time versus meeting at a certain time.  I suggested that this concept of gathering is one that evokes completely voluntary acts while @Gardnercampbell works the meeting metaphor to equate meeting with “clocking in” and grades with “wages” (thank you h/t to @RovingLibrarian)
@GardnerCampbell goes on to quote Illich in a 3 part tweet (with a 1 tweet overtime): What is common to all true master-pupil relationships is the awareness both share that their relationship is literally priceless and in very different ways a privilege for both.”  
He also connects Illich to Bruner’s web of social reciprocity.   
@worried_teacher connected the idea meeting to Biesta.  He and @SuzanKoseoglu talke about the experience of meeting students in video as something that invoked multiple responses. 

  •  The Role of Network

Another cluster of participants focused on the role of network in learning.  @jeffreykeefer disagreed with the notion that network has become synonymous with the nature of learning because he feels this is postpositivistic – it suggests that all students learn in the same way. He would rather networks be seen as facilitating and fostering learning; networks don’t exist without constantly moving actors.

@jennymackness points out that networks as learning is a connectivist view.  I point out that I think that networks are the manifestation of connections between ideas – that networks are learning or possibly the reification of learning.  @jennymackness also brings up the idea that the networks might be the traces that we leave behind us as we learn – mostly written but also multimodal. @jeffreykeefer wanted some better definition around this.  @jennymackness suggests @FrancisBell would be useful to have around right now.

An Organizer’s Meta-Analysis

I’m usually a classic Type A, control-freak worrier.  But the funny thing is that whenever I do something really big, like drive a car with manual transmission through Manhattan or fly alone to Norway with no adapter and no cash, I never think to worry until I’m already in the midst of it.  And so it was the same with this event.  My goals, even up to 2 minutes before the event, were to sit back, read the article, and enjoy great fellowship.  It wasn’t until the actual “go” that I figured out that this event might benefit from some facilitation and that the obvious person for that job was me.*

So I didn’t read a single word of the article on my own (I read your clips) after reading the abstract. Instead, I quickly adjusted my role and learning objectives, and set out to encourage your streams and learn from and through the experience (and not necessarily the article). These are my thoughts on the learning.

  • Learning through the Un-Journal Club vs. Traditional Journal Club

I’ve lived through so many different journal clubs in natural sciences, medical sciences, humanities…notice I said “lived through” because they were all painful, for different reasons. Some chose “irrelevant” articles; some required us to recite the main points of the article to the rest of the group (“knowing” not “understanding”); some encouraged discourse in esoteric academic jargon I didn’t understand (half the faculty didn’t understand it either but they only told me that b/c I was the only student, not each other).

My own experiences notwithstanding traditional journal clubs, can be great places for deep reads of journal articles.  If everyone reads the article in advance and is dedicated to a methodical approach and a safe environment – then that article is going to get R-E-A-D and probably remembered too. I can see how those could be very engaging learning environments.

 The Un-Journal Club had different strengths, and in my opinion, should be used for different learning outcomes.  Trust me, I did not anticipate this.  My opinion was being formed as I scrambled to figure out exactly how I was going to facilitate the event (not unlike figuring out how I was going make bus fare to a hotel in Norway).

Because we didn’t read the article in advance and because we were working simultaneously in different streams, it wasn’t so much about a deep read of the article as much as using the article as a jumping off point for our own connected learning and uniquely shared artifact.  Here’s how I’m supporting that statement:

  • Learning through inquiry

We seemed to engage the content of the article through the act of challenging.   “Golden Nuggets” – concepts or sentences that struck us, either as “good” or “bad” became questions; they turned into requests for the rest of us to engage in discourse around the nugget.  

  • Learning through connecting 

It might not have been comprehensive, and it might not have seemed like it to you at the time, but you guys did some serious connecting across space, time, and domains.  You connected aspects of the article to past experience, future experience, experience in different settings.  You connected to several different blog posts, Biesta, Illich, Bruner, Pring (ok, that last one was me).

  • Learning by externalizing 

There were frequent requests for clarification of the terms we used.  I saw a lot of what Pring calls “stipulative definitions,” meaning we were defining concepts.  We weren’t necessarily defining our terms in other ways – this probably had to do with the breakneck pace of the activity.  But regardless, the requests for clarification of terms is a philosophical practice and the subsequent clarification is something Papert would applaud. We externalize our thoughts so that they can be honed in a social setting.  I feel like the 140 char box was a fabulous challenge, although it could be seen as a barrier by others.  There was some high levels of digital literacy at play here.  The facile use of screenshots was huge.  Wish I could have gotten Vine to work – video would have been a mind-blower I think 🙂

  • Learning through self-organization 

Ingrid DeWaald once suggested that the greater the disequilibrium in a MOOC, the more likely we were to self-organize (she was referring to chaos theory).  I suspect there was a little disequilibrium going on in this event, so what happened was that most of us picked conversational partners  and focused our comments in that area.  This doesn’t mean we weren’t attending to the others, but look at the storify below and you’ll see it – most of us gravitated to our area of interest.  We chose our individual places in the social stream.  Siemens and others would say that’s a good thing.  Students must be able to pick and choose what they attend to, where they participate. Can’t be everywhere, all the time.

  • Learning through gathering 

Gardner’s comparison of “meeting” and “gathering” really couldn’t have come at a better time.  To my mind, this was most definitely a gathering. Obviously voluntary.  Obviously high-energy and engaging (see comments towards the end about the espresso-like qualities of this event). I feel really good about that.

I suspect not everyone had a good time.  I suspect some feel they didn’t learn as much as they should have/could have, given different circumstances. I had a great time AND learned a lot, with the caveat that most of my understanding came afterwards, when reflecting on the Storify (which I knew I was going to put together).  It’s like action learning – you don’t learn while you do it, you learn when you reflect on your actions later.  Or it’s like Bruner talking about going beyond the information given – it requires reflection and its enemy is the breakneck pace.  Note I have allowed myself a full day to think about this event which is a snail’s pace for me.

I suspect some will really want to read the article in advance next time and, personally, I think that’s fine.  But I’m not sure we will ever achieve a methodical read of an article through this format.  I think that trying to do so would kill the magical streaming energy that at least some of us experienced.  And I’m not sure if doing a deep read of an article is consistent with the generative, ephemeral, participatory personality of the live-tweeted event. Deep reads and critiques are very valid endeavors, but they might be better suited to blog posts, and other, more asynchronous approaches, or approaches which require (or are normed to) have people talk one person at a time.  You cannot achieve that with a group in Twitter, I don’t think.  Not when we are synchronous and all.

I’m looking forward to hearing what the rest of you have to say about the un-journal club and whether you want to continue in the future and with what adjustments. And as always, thank you SO MUCH. You guys are part of what keeps me going everyday.

(*I wonder how many other people starting up informal learning groups, un-courses, support groups, etc., go through the same process? How does this play into our conversation about ethics?)


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Fantastic Laura. I'm amazed that you have managed to pull it all together so quickly and the way in which you have made sense of it all in this post is impressive 🙂

    I had read the article before, because it is referenced in the paper that Frances and I wrote. I read it again this morning before the event – so I was doing what you did – just following the Twitter stream and waiting for comments that resonated, although I did have the paper with highlights open beside me as well.

    Not only is this a very good way to engage with a paper in a supportive environment – I notice that tweets have continued right into this evening – but it is also a very good way of drawing attention to a paper.

    Good to hear that there'll be a next time. I'm already looking forward to it 🙂

    Thank you 🙂


  2. Laura Gogia says:

    No, thank YOU!

    The fact that you were familiar with the article (and had it highlighted beside you) makes a lot of sense – I had identified you as someone who jumped streams with ease – in fact, I think you are in all but one of them. You and I were right there together the entire time, but the difference was that you deeply engaged in more of the conversations because you knew what they were talking about. I can do Illich and connectivism without pre-reading, but identity…I didn't want to make a fool out of myself :).

    Reading in advance makes a lot of sense in order to facilitate participatory jumping (bridging). The facilitator (who could be different each time) should probably read in advance.


  3. jenrossity says:

    Despite missing the chat, I feel really inspired by the notion of co-reading in this format – really great to catch up afterward. And this has given me lots of ideas for taking the paper under discussion forward – so I'm especially honoured it was chosen! I'll be thinking about a co-reading activity in the MSc Digital Education context. Thank you very much for letting me know this was happening!


  4. Laura Gogia says:

    And thanks so much for writing such an inspiring article. I look forward to hearing more about the next :)!


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