Posted by: arieliondotcom | November 2, 2008

The Ping Thing

  The scene is inside a submarine beneath the Pacific Ocean in the middle of World War II.  The sonar is sending a ping out through the water to investigate whether there are any enemy submarines about and, once the sonar wave strikes something, it sends back a signature that tells the sonar operator all sorts of information about the other submarine. 

This same sort of thing happens every day with computers today, with blogs, and with you.  An attempt to connect is sent out and, when connection is made, a signature of information is returned.  As you relate that connection’s information to other connections you have formed and are forming, knowledge is sparked within the network.

As our readings this week suggest, every human being is constantly “pinging”, sending out an attempt to connect to another human being.  These connections are sometimes passed through an artifact, such as a book or painting, or digital object.  But those things cannot contain knowledge; they can only pass the information from one human being to another.  They are only the footprints, in ink, or paint, or digital blips of information that has passed through on the way to another human being.  The knowledge only happens when the connection is made between two or more human beings and that information is sparked into knowledge.  The “dry” footprints are frozen in ink or paint, etc..  The “wet” footprints are still fresh in our minds, still transforming as connections and knowledge increase.

Power and authority come into play when, wittingly or unwittingly, one person (or an institution comprised of persons) restricts the “pinging” range of other persons or groups of persons.  An ongoing discussion in the Moodle and in the synchronous discussions is that the teacher is often seen as an authority and power broker whether he or she desires it or not.  And evaluation is a method of wielding that power, again, though the teacher may not desire to but feels constrained to do so under the authority of the school system that grants certifications/graduations.  As jon kruithof said in the Wednesday discussion: “whether or not we feel that eval(uation) = power, students will assign that power to you as a ‘teacher’…” 

Stephen Downes discovered this with his infamous experiment of turning the auto-subscribe on in the Moodle.  Some folks resented it as an intrusion and intimated “I KNEW you would exert your power sooner or later”, though Stephen himself presents as a liberal among liberals seeking personal empowerment of individual access to information over institutional attempts to control those connections (limit the “pings” or quality of “pings” of individuals in the classroom, for example, both teachers and students).  He pinged, and they responded, with signatures of “lurker”, etc.

I find myself faced with the paradox George Siemens explained in the Friday discussion where he said something to the effect of:  Your perception of human nature will determine how you design your learning, etc.  It’s Power as a concept versus power as a behavior.  Our power structures are shaped by how we see human nature.  Connectivism is trying to redeem individual context and agency and the ways power structures are engaged.  There is an impact on the education system when everything has changed (access to content, other people, etc.) so a shift in education must reflect that.  If that translates into a power change what does the next educational system look like?

Stephen Downes responded to the effect that:  The power structures are changing and the educational system must change too.  He expressed his surprise during his recent Prince Edward Island experience where he advocated allowing more freedom to students but the attendees at the conference seemed to be  saying “no, we will hold power in the classroom.”  Some walked out at saying that sort of teacher-controlled classroom was passing away.  The imposition of power, Downes says, is a problem.  He said, “I don’t care about impact on the educational system.  I care about the impact on the learner and the education system will do what it does.”  He went on to say that the educational system will have to adapt to wherever the learners go which, he seems to believe, is toward self-empowerment.

I missed the live session, but had I been there, I might have mentioned that you can’t legislate morality, but you must also acknowledge the realities of the world.  Thats why I lean more towards George’s views because human nature is, indeed, flawed.  As I’ve written in other posts,  the only solution I can see is that teachers do what they can in the classroom to allow the students to connect as they can to as many sources as they can, safely and legally, and encourage parents to do the same. 

But, again, the paradox.  Who dictates “safety”?  And is it “dictating” at all?  Where does freedom of thought become dangerous access?  Only as the actors continue to interact will the network emerge into the shape of the new education system…if “system” is even an appropriate word at all.

Meanwhile, we each go on “pinging” each other.  Children go on “pinging” in and out of the classroom.  As John said about Christians, ” “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, it doesn’t yet appear what we shall be: but we know when he appears, we shall be like Him (JESUS)” (I John 3:2)., for we shall see Him as He is.  Perhaps as we continue to grow and emerge into more transparent learners and “teachers”, morphing into a sharer who acknowledges being both simultaneously, we will find that the new learning system has emerged as our own connective, transparent image.


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