Peeragogy Handbook V1.0/Antipatterns
Félix Guattari: Imagine a fenced field in which there are horses wearing adjustable blinkers, and let’s say that the “coefficient of transversality” will be precisely the adjustment of the blinkers. If the horses are completely blind, a certain kind of traumatic encounter will be produced. As soon as the blinkers are opened, one can imagine that the horses will move about in a more harmonious way. (Quoted by Andrew Murphy, himself quoting Gary Genosko)
From a design point of view: we should be conscious of interfaces that are "too loud", and think about how that is compensated for by isolation of various forms. With a too-narrow focus, people end up bumping into each other uncomfortably. However, with an over-wide focus, things are chaotic in other ways (see Co-Learning: Messy with Lurkers), motivating a narrowing of focus. An effort that isolates itself will not have the occasion to draw on other resources.
This sometimes goes by the name Not Invented Here. But focus is really only a problem when it becomes overfocus, resulting in uncomfortable bumps. When that happens, it seems like a good reason to try to clarify how to engage in a more fruitful manner. Learning how to manage the uncertainty that comes with experimentation is part of what makes the postmodern organization tick! (See also: Participatory Design vs Navel Gazing.)
While the ideal platform would (magically) come with solutions pre-built, a more realistic approach recognizes that problem solving always takes time and energy. The problem solving approach and associated "learning orientation" will also depend on the task and resources at hand. [...] Arguably, if we "knew", 100%, how to do peeragogy, then we would not stand to learn very much by writing this handbook. Difficulties and tensions would be resolved "in advance" (see earlier comments about "magical" technologies for peer production).
Magical Thinking is the thief of process
Magical thinking of the kind described above robs a context of its "process" (Nishida might say, its "motion"). It seems possible that the more structure we have "in advance", and the more we can fall back on "traditional" modes of doing things, the less we stand to learn. I quote at length:
"Optimization of decision-making processes confers an important advantage in response to a constantly changing environment. The ability to select the appropriate actions on the basis of their consequences and on our needs at the time of the decision allows us to respond in an efficient way to changing situations. However, the continuous control and attention that this process demands can result in an unnecessary expenditure of resources and can be inefficient in many situations. For instance, when behavior is repeated regularly for extensive periods without major changes in outcome value or contingency, or under uncertain situations where we cannot manipulate the probability of obtaining an outcome, general rules and habits can be advantageous. Thus, the more rapid shift to habits after chronic stress could be a coping mechanism to improve performance of well-trained behaviors, while increasing the bioavailability to acquire and process new information, which seems essential for adaptation to complex environments. However, when objectives need to be re-updated in order to make the most appropriate choice, the inability of stressed subjects to shift from habitual strategies to goal-directed behavior might be highly detrimental. Such impairment might be of relevance to understand the high comorbidity between stress-related disorders and addictive behavior or compulsivity, but certainly has a broader impact spanning activities from everyday life decisions to economics." -- Science Magazine
This also has interesting implications when it comes to "detecting learning" (see "researching peeragogy"). How do emotions, stress, learning, habit, and adaptation relate?
Messy with Lurkers
Gigi Johnson: (1) Co-learning is Messy. It needs time, patience, confusion, re-forming, re-norming, re-storming, etc. Things go awry and part of norms needs to be how to realign. (2) Co-learning is a VERY different experience from traditional teacher-led learning in terms of time and completion. It is frustrating, so many people will lurk or just step in and out, the latter of which is very different from what is acceptable in traditonal learning. Online learning programs are painted with the brush now of an "unacceptable" 50% average non-completion rate. Stanford's MOOC AI class, which started out with +100,000 people, had 12% finish. If only 12% or 50% of my traditional class finished, I'd have a hard time getting next quarter's classes approved!
The second point is similar to the earlier Anti-pattern “Misunderstanding Power (Laws)". People have to join in order to try, and when joining is low-cost, and completion low-benefit, it is not surprising that many people will "dissipate" as the course progresses. The "messiness" of co-learning is interesting because it points to a sort of “internal dissipation", as contributors bring their multiple different backgrounds, interests, and communication styles to bear. In Tomlinson et al., we observed:
More authors means more content, but also more words thrown away. Many of the words written by authors were deleted during the ongoing editing process. The sheer mass of deleted words might raise the question of whether authoring a paper in such a massively distributed fashion is efficient.
Misunderstanding Power Laws
If we were to describe this situation in traditional subject/object terms, we would say that peer production has a "low signal to noise ratio". However, it may be more appropriate (and constructive) to think of meanings as co-constructed as the process runs, and of messiness (or meaninglessness) as symptomatic, not of peer production itself, but of deficiencies or infelicities in shared meaning-making and "integrating" features.
Zipf's law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.
Zipf's law (or other formulations of the same thing) govern the size of cities, and related formulations describe energy use: roughly speaking, an elephant has a lower metabolism than a mouse and is more "energy efficient". At that same link, we see the suggestion that creativity in large-scale environmentsspeeds up! The anti-pattern: how many times have we been at a conference or workshop and heard someone say (or said ourselves) "wouldn't it be great if this energy could be sustained all year 'round?" Or in a classroom or peer production setting, wondered why it is that everyone does not participate equally. "Wouldn't it be great if we could increase participation?" If you believe the result above, large-scale participation would indeed tend to increase creativity! - But nevertheless, participation does tend to fall off according to some power law (see Introduction to Power Laws in The Uncertainty Principle, Volume II, Issue 3), and it would be a grand illusion to assume that everyone is coming from a similar place with regard to the various literacies and motivations that are conducive to participation. Furthermore, a "provisionist" attitude ("If we change our system we will equalize participation and access") simply will not work in general, since power laws are inherently an epiphenomenon of networks. Note that participation in a given activity often (but not always) falls off over time as well. This effect seems related but is also not well understood (many people would like to write a hit song / best selling novel / start a religion / etc., but few actually do). See the anti-pattern "Magical Thinking" for more on that. About the title: Note that those agents who do post the most in a given collaboration (respectively, the words or ideas that are most common in a given language) will tend to influence the space the most. In this way, we can see some parallels between the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and Bourdieu's notion of "symbolic violence". Much as Paul Graham wrote about programming languages -- programmers are typically "satisfied with whatever language they happen to use, because it dictates the way they think about programs" -- so too are people often "satisfied" with their social environments, because these tend to dictate the way they think and act in life.
The difficulty I am referring to breaks down like this:
- Certainly we cannot get things done just by talking about them.
- And yet, feedback can be useful, i.e., if there are mechanisms for responding to it in a useful fashion.
- The associated anti-pattern is a special case of the prototypical Bateson double bind, "the father who says to his son, go ahead and criticize me - with the strong hint that all effective criticism will be very unwelcome."
Indeed -- criticism is not always useful. Sometimes it is just "noise". The art of paragogical praxis is to make something useful out of what would otherwise just be noise.
Actually, of course, living beings are never really in stasis. It just sometimes feels that way. Different anti-patterns like Isolation or Navel-Gazing have described different aspects of the experience of feeling like one is in stasis. Typically, what is happening in such a case is that one or more dimensions of life are moving very slowly. For instance, it seems we are not able to get programming support to improve this version of the Social Media Classroom, for love or money, since all developer energy is going into the next version. This isn't true stasis, but it can feel frustrating when a specific small feature is desired, but unavailable. The solution? Don't get hung up on small things, and find the dimensions where movement is possible. In a sense this is analogous to eating a balanced diet. You probably shouldn't only eat grilled cheese sandwiches, even if you like them a lot. You should go for something different once in a while. This is also related to the pattern that talks about "Carrying Capacity". There is always some dimension on which you can make progress -- it just might not be the same dimension you've recently over-harvested! Remember this from our article on organizing a learning context?
Stuck at the level of weak ties
There is a certain irony here: we are studying "peeragogy", and yet many respondents did not feel they were really getting to know one another "as peers". Several remarked that they learned less from other individual participants, and more from "the collective". Those who did have a "team", or who knew one another from previous experiences, felt more peer-like in those relationships.
Are weak ties "strong"?
"Weak ties" are often deemed a strength: see for example this article in Psychology Today, which says:
"[S]trong and weak ties tend to serve different functions in our lives. When we need a big favor or social or instrumental support, we ask our friends. We call them when we need to move a washing machine. But if we need information that we don't have, the people to ask are our weak ties. They have more diverse knowledge and more diverse ties than our close friends do. We ask them when we want to know who to hire to install our washing machine."
The quote suggests that there is a certain trade-off between use of weak ties and use of strong ties. The anti-pattern in question then is less to do with whether we are forming weak ties or strong ties, and more to do with whether we are being honest with ourselves and with each other about the nature of the ties we are forming -- and their potential uses. We can be "peers" in either a weak or a strong sense. The question to ask is whether our needs match our expectations!
In the peeragogy context, this has to do with how we interact. One of the participants in this project wrote:
"I am learning about peeragogy, but I think I'm failing [to be] a good peeragog[ue]. I remember that Howard [once] told us that the most important thing is that you should be responsible not only for your own learning but for your peers' learning. [...] So the question is, are we learning from others by ourselves or are we [...] helping others to learn?"
If we are "only" co-consumers of information (which happens to "produced" live, by some of the participants), then this seems like a classic example of a weak tie. We are part of the same "audience" -- or anyway, in the same "theater" (even if separated from each other by continuous "4th walls"). On the other hand, actively engaging with other people (whether with "my" learning, with "their" learning, or with the co-production of knowledge) seems to be the foundation for strong ties. In this case our aims (or needs) are more instrumental, and less informational.
People who do not put in the time and effort will remain stuck at the level of "weak ties", and will not be able to draw on the benefits that "strong ties" offer.