Thursday, 30 April 2009

Advancing Science Through Conversations

Yesterday I gave a short presentation to some Library colleagues on the use of blogs and other technologies to liaise with users remotely. As part of that presentation, for the audience's general knowledge, I highlighed a couple of examples to show how researchers are using blogs and I included a link to Research Blogging.

This morning I link to Research Blogging to find 'From Anonymity to Subjectivity in the Blogosphere: Post Game Analysis by BZ' posted by Greg Laden on Greg Laden's Blog but aggregated through the Research Blogging site.

This links brilliantly to my 'role of conversation in education' research interests on several counts:

A) the developing conversation appearing on the blog via post/comments/review and round up/further comments......
B) behavioural aspects including the credibility/expertise/authority issues tied up with online conversations and integral to virtual communities
C) the Advancement of science through conversation

It also provides me with some useful information to add into the online module " The Role of Conversation in Education" I have just developed as an assignment for my latest MSc Elearning Module: 'Course Design for Effective Learning'. All referenced appropriately of course!

I felt enthused enough to comment on Gregs posting furthering the conversation there and have also picked up some very useful references to follow up further - see below.

I would add one further reference to this, again only recently found, 'The Open Laboratory: the Best Science Writing on Bloggs 2008' edited by Jennifer Rohn and recently reviewed by New Scientist. For more information on this read this blog post.


Batts, S., Anthis, N., & Smith, T. (2008) Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy. PLoS Biology, 6(9). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060240

Doheny-Farnia, Stephen. (1996). The Wired Neighborhood. Connecticut: Yale University.

Turkle, Sherry. (1995). Life on the Screen. New York: Touchstone.

Rohn, Jennifer (Ed). (2009). The Open Laboratory: the Best Science Writing on Bloggs 2008.

Zvan, Stephanie (2008). How to Hijack a Thread. Available: Accessed 30th April, 2009.

Zvan, Stephanie (2009). Looking Like a N00b. Available: Accessed 30th April, 2009.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Anonymity and its empowerment in discussion

The potential for Second Life to offer inherent 'anonymity' via the use of avatars, gives us scope to investigate and explore different and multiple identities. Being able to choose gender, colour, dress etc. at the avatar design stage and then being able to 'act , perform and interact with others' in this disguise clearly provides an opportunity for role interchange. The capacity of second life to facilitate such an interchangeability of role could lead to enhanced cross functional and interprofessional team working.

Using avatars to explore role interchange whilst interacting with others could, possibly, lead to a more embodied and immersive experience of the different roles, allowing students to become exposed to multiple subjectivity, thus allowing them to take up muliple subject positions or view points. Messer (2009) considers this crucial in terms of interprofessional working within healthcare profession and believes that this would be very difficult to replicate within real life.

Bayne (2004, p310) picks up this latter point in the context of LeCourts pedagogy and feminist agenda. LeCourt uses anonymised discussion boards to cultivate a learning environment in which students can take up multiple subject positions in order to allow them to express 'multivocality'.

In adopting anonymity on the discussion boards LeCourt also has an emancipatory agenda. Her online classroom has the potential to become a 'feminized' textual space where voices are heard and students' discourse resists reincorporation or silencing within already constituted discourses. LeCourts classroom experiences show that interaction on this level enables 'new' subject positions to be momentarily created that granted students power over how others had positioned them. (Lecourt 1999 p.172 in Bayne 2004, p.310)

Intersubjectivity is a topic picked up by Kim (2001) in relation to social constructivism and development of shared understandings. ' Intersubjectivity is a shared understanding among individuals whose interaction is based on common interests and assumptions that form their communication' (Rogoff, 1990 in Kim, 2001). Kim points out that any personal meanings developed by individuals during such interactions, are shaped by the intersubjectivity of the community involved in the interaction. This has some relevance to the multiple subjectivity and interprofessional subjectivity noted above. Intersubjectivity, if successfully established, could provide grounds for communication and support people in extending their understanding of new information and activities among the group members involved. (Rogoff 1990 in Kim 2001) and (Vygotsky 1987 in Kim 2001).

If digital discursive and networking spaces can provide a social space and environment in which an individual can create meaning through their interactions with each other then these spaces can also be said to support social constructivist approaches to education. The examples of multiplesubjectivity and interprofessional subjectivity above show how discussion boards and virtual worlds like Second Life can offer opportunities for online interactions and therefore by extension are spaces able to foster intersubjectivity too. Savin-Baden (2008) supports such an alignment, affiliation, tendancy or sympathy within the context of higher education and currently lobbies for learning in immersive worlds to be reconsidered in the context of a social reform model of education. She believes it is this model of or approach to education which should underpin the implementation of learning in immersive virtual worlds in higher education pedagogically rather than cognitive approaches which have informed practice in this area in the past.

Bayne, S. (2004) Smoothness and striation in digital learning spaces. E-learning 1 (2). p. 302-316

Kim, B (2001). Social Constructivism. In Orey. M (Ed.). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved 10th February 2009 from

Messer (2009). Discussion Board Post: Course Design. Identifying Approaches: Teaching spaces and how they reflect learning beliefs, ideologies and values. 25th January 2009 and 30th January 2009

Savin-Baden, M. (2008) From cognitive capability to social reform? Shifting perceptions of learning in immersive virtual worlds. ALT-J Research in Learning Technology. 16 (3). pp. 151-161

Saturday, 18 April 2009

To Vlog or to Blog - what would teens do?


The use of social media gains a greater foothold in American teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media.......


Lenhart, A et al. (2007). Teens and Social Media. Report 19th December. Washington: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Available at: [Accessed 10th April]

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

How can conversation support the development of PELTS?

As part of a learning event hosted and designed by Dave Appleby, one of my fellow students on my MSc Elearning course, I recently used GoogleDocs to consider the role of web 2.0 technologies in developing PELTS.

Being partial to a bit of chat myself, I noted during the session that discursive spaces could develop many of the PELTS described:

Team work - Discussion exposes you to several viewpoints and often involves you in negotiation both in terms of building an understanding and in terms of communicating your agreement and disagreements with diverse perspectives presented. They are also a way to ask for further information from your team mates - eg James' email about what are the important issues in HE today.

Independent Enquiry - discussion boards are a way of raising your hand in class to ask questions remotely to help extend learning and/or clarify understandings or as mentioned above to ask for more information and/or learn from others who may be more experienced in an area than you. Discussion also presents different perspectives and helps cultivate more rounded critical thinking.

Reflective Thinking - a post to a discussion board can reveal a level of reflective thinking based on the writers understanding so far, often linking to what they know already, highlighting new connections made, gaps in knowledge, incongurities in understandings or ambiguities unearthed thus far. Posts to a DB can also help a writer reconcile what they are learning with their own context, way of working or job currently undertaken. This too is a form of reflection.

Effective participation - by engaging with others in discussion, or through the actual processes involved in the 'act of conversation:

  1. the process of harnessing learning, relating it to ones current context, helping the formulation of action plans detailing what still needs to be done or should be done next
  2. the process of constructing arguments, in conversation, in such a way as to be persuasive and convincing enough to influence others

Creative thought - I think if we see mental agility as a creative force or thought then we can see how discussion can also facilitiate this PELT:

  1. through fostering and engendering understanding and inspiration when interacting with others (a social constructivist approach to learning)
  2. by offering an opportunity for an individual to develop their own voice
  3. via shared musings and collaborative building of methaphors to illustrate concepts and further understanding
  4. by offering opportunties to share and discuss observations and ponder connections.
  5. If all learning is metaphorically construed as a type of conversation and
  6. If it is accepted that, as observers, we learn what we learn by interacting with our environment: the spaces, objects, processes and others-who-are-also- observing all around us.

This type of conversation is formally recognised by a conversation theory which was developed by Gordon Pask and which is based on a cybernetic and dialectic framework. In this theory interacting with the environment is considered 'engaging in an exchange which has the structure of dialogue in language' and so forms the basis of a conversation

This theory formalizes concepts such as agreement, understanding, and consciousness with each of these concepts (as well as the concept "concept") existing in relation to conversation."

For more information see: Cybernetics and Conversation:

What about the great thinkers and scientific visionaries who worked on their own?

Lets take Isaac Newton and Darwin as our two examples.

Whilst the sharing of ideas, during these times, was largely done in cafe rooms and salons, both Isaac Newton and Darwin did not, it appears, engage in such activities on the whole. Even though Newton's great quote:

"if I have seen further it is because I have stood on the shoulder's of giants"

infers he consulted others and attributes his success accordingly, numerous books, biographies or other types of synopses on both these men testify to these facts and paint a picture of secretive men who spent many years formulating ideas alone, discussing them with few, if any, and publishing long after their research had been completed.

So what role does conversation have to play in education here, you might ask?

It seems the theories, ideas and findings of both men, although originally unearthed in solitary pursuits, may have indeed remained unpublished had it not been for open dialogue, social interaction, correspondence or conversation with another. Had these important contributors to our education and understanding never published, our current twenty first century knowledge base, scholarship and approach to education might have appeared very different.

Lets review the evidence:

Isaac Newton

He was renowned for his secrecy, solitary working and lack of desire to publish. He was sensitive to criticism and fearful of plagiarism. Newton did not publish or share his findings until very late in his career. In fact he did not publish his greatest work 'Principia' (allbeit in Latin) until 1687, twenty one years after he first worked on it whilst at Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe by Colsterworth in Lincolnshre (both his birthplace and a place I lived for 6 years between 1998-2004), a place to which he had returned in order to escape the plague in 1665-1666.

What made Newton publish? - A conversation.

Newton published only on the back of the persuasion, prompting and intervention of his friend Edmund Halley (of Halley's Comet fame). Halley responded by writing a poem about Newton's achievement and contribution to education. This ode, also originally written in Latin, appeared in the preface to the first edition of I.Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Matematica in 1687.

An interactive application produced by McMaster Univeristy alludes to Newtons secrecy and Halley's involvement in effecting the publication of 'Principia' (do not skip the intro!) as do many of the books written about Isaac Newton and his educational legacy.


Beyond sharing his ideas with a close circle of scientist friends, Darwin told no one of his views on the origin and development of life. Indeed, he did not publish his now-famous volume, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, unitl 20 years after he had first formulated his theory (Masci, 2009) Why?

You've guessed it! It seems that Darwin, too, was only driven to publish as a result of correspondence he had with Wallace, a younger scientist who was working abroad and beginning to come up with similar sorts of theories. Darwin published in a panic the following year.

By July 1858 both papers had been jointly presented to the Linnean Society, by August 1858 both papers were in print and by November 1859 Darwin had produced and published a condensed abstract of his book on Natural Selection under the title: On the Origin of Species.

So in essence Alfred Russell Wallace, via his dialogue and correspondence with Darwin, prompted his eminent interlocutor to publish his theory of evolution. Mark Carwardine's recent video blog (for the BBC) about Wallace, a 'forgotten naturalist', re-highlights Darwin's and Wallace's relationship.

And what of Darwin's legacy?

"By the time of his death, in 1882, Darwin was considered the greatest scientist of his age. Moreover , the very church his theory had challenged accorded him a full state funderal and burial in Westminster Abbey, near the grave of Sir Isaac Newton. Darwin's idea was still provocative, but by the time of his death it had gained general acceptance in Britain, even among many in the Anglican clergy" (Masci, 2009 para 14)
This picture shows Darwin at the age of 51 having just published his 'Origin of the Species'.