The things I learned last week

Last week I commented a research about Rhizo14 in this blog in three posts. I have followed research about MOOCs all the time (since the year 2009), so it was something I would normally do. I didn’t know how other people had commented this one and I was very astonished about what I have seen. It is The Thing I learned last week. There are different orientations toward research.

First some facts about my background and orientation. I have been interested in action research since the 1970’s when I acted as a researcher for the first time. The idea of participatory action research, where the doers are the subjects, not objects, it has been close to my heart for forty years. Another dream was to do practically oriented research and avoid narrow academic traditions. I still remember when a famous professor Martti Takala smiled at me and my colleague and said that he agreed with our motto more than the research itself. Now I can comprehend his feelings. Since then I have learned how challenging it is to act as a ‘practitioner researcher’ and I understand that it is necessary to focus every research, to find the question which can be answered. I have done action research and every time got negative feedback. If you follow development in an institution, they want to hear that they are excellent, not anything else. This is my background shortly and too simply, but I’ll handle the basic concepts in another blog post next week. Now I’ll concentrate on my learning last week.

I could not imagine the amount and content of some attacks on the research which was handled. It was impossible to follow or understand for me. I felt astonished and embarrassed every time I visited the Rhizo14 group in Facebook.Ā  Yesterday I decided to sit down and learn more. So I read again two long threads which began as follows:

  • another from the negative results of the research I am speaking about and
  • another about a blog post of a Rhizo14 participant which had not an account in FB. So they spoke intentionally behind her back. They named her an attacker and I don’t know why. It was a normal or good post for me.

The discussions varied a lot and I could follow many constructive paths, not only of inferior quality as I had earlier seen. The keys of solutions were included in some comments; they used the concepts defense mechanism and ego. Many people said that in every research of students’ opinions, there are some that won’t like it. It is normal. But why it was not acceptable in this rhizo14 case? I draw a simple image:

Dia1There was much “we-speech” and that orientation excluded the others. I used the concepts Resident and Visitor here instead of Insider and Outsider. David White developed those concepts for participation in the internet in online studies. I think they are the appropriate concepts here. I feel myself a visitor even if I have written there sometimes, I have had long breaks as well.

After drawing that image I noticed that it is like the old social psychological description of groupthinking. The residents belong to the group and this frame influences all their interpretations. For instance the line around the box, the border, changes what is bullying and what is not. Those inside are free to name others but they are very sensitive about “others'” sayings.

The discussions in the two threads consisted of different parts. Many people behaved well and then it turned to low level again. This is ridiculous, said Simon Ensor many times and I agreed in my mind. Simon said earlier that he participates in Rhizo14 in an affinity space. Perhaps I should understand what it means.

Another image:

Dia2The rhizo14 course supported creativity and the use of artistic ways to describe one’s experiences. I appreciated that and enjoyed as long as I could follow without being a native in English. Poetry was difficult to follow but the videos easy. This all helped me to realise that some participants accepted only artistic ways. Every presentation should be dynamic and include whole and complex life in it.

So this way may lead to a point where research is not possible or not acceptable. I wonder whether it is possible at all to conceive a research for these people? There are other ways. For instance participants’ experiences may be collected on a platform Padlet where videos can be included as such. Here is an example of the last Padlet of EDCMOOC.

I could recognise huge differences in attitudes toward research in the rhizo14 group. Many rhizo14 participants are doing research and want to learn about doing it better while some people deny its value totally. There seems to be a gap between these lines. Building a bridge between these is perhaps too challenging. Anyway it should be understood what research is and why it is necessary to focus on appropriate questions which can be handled.

In both groups of the image (interested in research and artistic line) I have recognised negative attitudes toward so called academics or even universities. Sometimes those who make fun of universities know what they are saying and sometimes their criticism comes across as children’s crying or mere envy.

I have an intention to handle this issue, I mean research of online learning, during this Spring many times. This is my farewell to the Rhizo14.

10 thoughts on “The things I learned last week

  1. This post have been hidden and its comment space was closed, because I received a huge amount of spam after publishing this post for the first time: spams with perfect English and very polite but not from real people, one every half hour, nights and days.
    Akismet had to work hard in order to stop it. It was my first experience of real spamming and I don’t know why.

  2. Thanks for your post Heli, and for reopening for comments. I am always impressed by your willingness to contribute from your extensive experience and by you contributing in English – how long would you have to wait for me to contribute in Finnish – so many consonants:) ? (BTW I have a nice story from a train trip in Finland – will share sometime:))
    Back to your post – as an author of the paper you mention, and someone who participated in the FB group discussion of it, it was very interesting to read your interpretation of it. But of course, while your interpretation can add to a critique of our paper, a question is – will it? I value it, and your ideas will feed into mine and Jenny’s ideas for future work. But what of the things you speak of ? – the Facebook group discussion? I would be really interested to see if your insights can impinge on those who participated in the discussion on our paper. I certainly tried and failed to engage on Facebook – quite sad!. I am hopeful that your insights might provoke a productive discussion. They were insightful for me.

    • Hi Frances and thanks for bringing life to this blog again.

      I described here my observations about the feedback you got in the Rhizo14 group. I had to study it because I couldn’t believe my eyes first. Now I have a feeling that I understand how they see the group. They are like a family, they have basic emotional connections to each other and they defend each other against the bad world. Some of your results are interpreted as personal insults and this trauma cannot be handled cognitively.
      So I am not willing to send anything to them.

      They may live happy and make the following course as they like. Perhaps they build a beautiful ideology about connection based on mutual love? One tweet I noticed after blogging was T.elliot’s “I keen, therefore I am” and I was linked to it, so I should understand the message. Keen is a verb too?

      I want to leave this period behind me and find new interesting things and I’ll follow your becoming publications with great interest. Please continue your explorations. I hope you’ll receive deeper understanding in future šŸ™‚

      • Thanks Heli – ‘keen’ is a very beautiful verb. I am sure it has several meanings but I associate it with wailing when mourning – you can hear it in different cultures (maybe not so much Northern European like Finnish and English).
        Jenny and I have two more papers in production from rhizo14 data but we are already moving on from there to do some other work. For me, the most interesting thing about responses to our first paper was the difference according to where it was. At my blog, we got some great feedback from rhizo14 participants and others to this post Meanwhile, at the Facebook group, initially positive responses built up to a bit of a frenzy – on which you comment in your post. I agree with you that it did seem like a group effect and I stand by my decision to withdraw from the discussion at FB group for reasons I gave here
        Your four posts have been an absolute gift – it’s such an honour to get such thoughtful engagement with our ideas and our ongoing work will really benefit.
        I have promised to respond to some of the negative criticisms that actually engaged with the paper but have had other things going on in my life so have put that on a back burner for now. Some of the comments made are best ignored I think.
        We are trying to get on with completing and publishing the second and third papers. We have a duty, I think, to honour the responses to our survey with the best work we can do to reveal partial and provisional knowledge about the variety of experiences at rhizo 14 not just for those who responded and participated but also for others who may wish to do related work in the future.

  3. Heli – I am adding my thanks to Frances’. Like her, I value your opinion, which I know comes from many years of experience. As Frances says, we continue to be fascinated by the data we received from our research surveys and interviews and can see many more avenues for future papers, presentations and sharing in other ways, besides the two papers we are currently focussing on. Many thanks for openly sharing your perspective.

    • Hi Jenny and Francess and many thanks again

      I’ve been a researcher , it is true, and I’ve made all the mistakes a researcher can do. Now I am following with interest and I smile when I see the young ones to begin from the very beginning (they believe they are doing a revolution..)

      How to do a meaningful research about open online learning, it is my theme today and during the next months. Let’s see if I learn something.
      Have a fruitful spring you too

  4. Bookmarking this to come back to it later, Heli. Thank you for your balanced and compassionate way of interacting online. I learn from you and it helps me cope with unwanted behaviour online.

  5. Hi Heli. Thanks for writing this. I think it is important to view interactions written or spoken or unspoken (etc) from different perspectives. This blog post offers yet another perspective on what has become an intriguing episode. I don’t think boundaries are so clear (ever). I had a very short exchange with Maha the other day. There was only one written sentence. From inference she misinterpreted completely what i had meant. There are so many opportunities for misunderstanding. As you say when we are not native speakers or when we come from different generations, or countries, the potential for tension, and feelings of exclusion are multiplied. I remember this feeling in twitter chats where the volume of tweets just made me give up.

    Thanks to you I have found a Shakespeare Sonnet nā€¢26

    Please don’t interpret it as a comment. I just wanted to place it here to reflect (if you will agree)

    “Perhaps all is not as it seems. Perhaps you are not so lordly and I am not as unworthy as my poor wit pretends. Perhaps my loving is not as tattered as I make it out to be, and my reticence in boasting of it is a witness to my merit. Perhaps I have just that right to prove you (put you to the test) as you have to prove me.”

    • My Shakespeare (from Sonnet XXVI)
      To thee I send this written embassage,
      To witness my duty, not to show my wit.
      Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
      May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it;
      But that I hope some good conceit of thine
      In thy soul’s thought, all naked, will bestow it:
      Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,
      Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
      And puts apparel on my tatter’d loving,
      To show me worthy of thy sweet respect;
      Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
      Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

      So? Misunderstanding or deep mutual understanding? You are an very interesting guy in my eyes.
      If only you could write shorter blog posts I could comment on them šŸ™‚
      Have a good life, forever
      Yours Heli

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