Forums and Agency

A photograph taken of a sign advertising Australia's largest living hedge maze in Bright, Victoria.

I have had a number of conversations in the last month about how online communities share ideas and practices.

My thoughts about sharing responsibility in online communities were forged in my experiences of the open, online course CCK08 and extended by the publication of Digital Habitats (2009).

In Digital Habitats, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith discuss technology stewardship and propose this definition:

Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs and enough experience with or interest in technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewarding typically includes selecting and configuring technology as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community. (2009:25)

The keyword for me in this definition is ‘leadership’. I have tried to provide this leadership in a number of open, online courses I have facilitated. My aim has been to create an invitational environment that inducts participants into open sharing. I understand that this open sharing is not for everyone but the role of stewarding and driving a community is too important to be left to chance.

My current interests in online communities is being extended by a University’s use of Basecamp and a group of sport coaches using Edufii. Both communities appear to be flourishing with a wide range of contributors and sensitive responses to others. Both groups have peripheral participants who benefit from these exchanges.

One of the topics for conversation about forums in the last month has involved two separate organisations who point to the limited number of volunteers available to act as stewards and drivers in their online communities.

These conversations were brought into focus today in a Stephen Downes alert to a revision to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on shared agency.

The entry starts with these lines:

Sometimes individuals act together, and sometimes they act independently of one another. It’s a distinction that matters. You are likely to make more headway in a difficult task working with others; and even if little progress is made, there’s at least the comfort and solidarity that comes with a collective undertaking.

I think this relates to ideas and practices as well as tasks.

The Stanford entry encouraged me to think about shared responsibilities in forums and how an energised community might develop a ‘plural self-awareness’ that “is and is not analogous to the self-awareness each of us as individuals exhibit”.

CCK08 helped me to understand that an unequivocal commitment to a community’s flourishing is a cooperative enterprise. This commitment can be intense and needs to be shared.

I do try to contribute to community forums and believe that each of us can model a practice of engagement that peripheral participants might find appealing. I sense that stewardship is a profoundly nurturing activity that can encourage others to accept leadership as well as followership.

Each of us who has made that first step in an online community understands just how big a step it is. I am keen to promote those first steps to a ‘plural self-awareness’.

Photo Credit

The Maze (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)


Heather Hankinson has alerted me to the SWARM Conference at the University of Sydney on 30 and 31 August 2017. Link. (“Australia’s only online community management conference connects established experts with new talent for a jam packed gathering of ideas, inspiration, insights, best practices, networking and collaboration.”)

Sharing Scholarship Openly

I followed a lead to Mark Carrigan yesterday. It was the start of a day of finding other connections too … around the theme of scholarship.

In his post, Mark observes:

Social media didn’t create the ambition to rethink scholarly communication, it gave us the tools to do it effectively.

He reminds us that rethinking communication has some fascinating precursors, including Pierre Bourdieu. Mark shares a quote from a 1975 paper in Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales:

We shall present here, side by side, texts differing very greatly in their style and function: ‘finished’ texts, on the one hand, as they are called by academics journals, but also short notes, accounts of oral presentations, work in progress such as interim research projects and reports, in which theoretical intentions, empirical procedures of verification, and the data on which these are based, are all that much more visible. The desire to provide access to the workshop, which has different rules from those of method, and to present archives of a work still under way, implies a rejection of the most clearly ritual formalisms: justified typography, standard rhetoric, articles and issues of similar length, and more generally, everything that leads to the standardisation and ‘normalisation’ of the products of scholarship.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the importance of this workshop approach in a 2002 paper, The Social Conditions of the International Circulation of Ideas:

Texts circulate without their context; they don’t carry with them the field of production they come from, and the receivers, themselves integrated in a different field of production, reinterpret them in accordance with their position in the field of reception.

I enjoyed Mark’s discussion of Pierre Bourdieu’s work and the consideration of making visible of scholarship as a representational activity in a formative ‘field of production’.

I followed up on Mark’s post with an article in the Straits Times, recommended by Stephen Downes, Every space is a learning space. Toh Wen Li shares news of the Singapore Ministry of Education’s investment in flexible learning environments:

A jamming room and an outdoor music garden have more in common than making tunes. These are some of the informal learning spaces that some schools have been offering to students to get them to tinker in and explore in their spare time.

These are playful spaces and resonate, I think, with the open scholarship ideas Mark discusses.

The availability of social media platforms to play with and explore ideas and to share context goes beyond “ritual formalisms”. In recent years, I have really enjoyed the ways the LSE Impact Blog, has challenged this formalism and supported the formative and summative sharing of impact and curiosity.

By coincidence, Andy Miah was discussing science communication as a way of life this week too. He reports:

For me, science communication became a way of life at a very early stage in my postgraduate studies… I heard this at a time when the Internet was really taking off and so I started to think about how I could use the Web to share my work.

Andy suggests “science communication is best approached as a creative practice” and share a link to a new Masters course in Science Communication and Future Media. The course is delivered through distance learning, collaborative tasks, a creative portfolio and a final project.

It will be fascinating to learn if this new course stimulates the curiosity and creativity evident in DS106.

I imagine the future media conversations will include discussions about artificial intelligence. My final read of the day around open scholarship was David Smith’s Living with an AI. In his post, he shares his encounter with Amazon’s Alexa. He includes this section:

Let’s take a look at an Alexa skill called ArxivML. It was written by Amine Ben Khalifa, to allow him to scan the Machine Learning literature updates on arXiv whilst getting ready for work. Alexa will read out the abstracts of the ones Amine wishes to delve into further, and a more traditional title and abstract summary will be deposited into the Alexa app (where all your interactions with her are documented for posterity). The next few iterations of functionality aren’t exactly hard to think of, and not that hard to achieve either.

* Alexa Send to [Mendeley/zotero/DodgyFacebookForScholarsSites]

* Alexa Get me The PDF

* Alexa Share with …

* Alexa Save to my filestore

* Alexa Get the data from the paper

* Alexa Alert me when the authors are speaking at a conference

And so on.

Part of David’s conclusion includes:

AI is going to eat the world, and this time, it’s Scholarly Publishing that has the juicy data with which to feed the beast.

Which brings us back to 1975 and the immense opportunities that workshops will create for open, scholarly sharing connected by linked data protocols that facilitate discoverability.

Photo Credits

Keith Lyons (CC BY 4.0)


I have written about blogging as a scholarly activity in this post. I have written about blogging too. Their APA references are:

Lyons, K. (2012, June 7). Considering blogging as a scholarly activity [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Lyons, K. (2012, June 1). Blogging about blogging [Blog post]. Retrieved from

On-Going Learning: Seeing Patterns, Changing What We Know


Stephen Downes has shared slides from a talk he gave in Newfoundland this week.

His topic was personal professional development.

Some of the points Stephen makes in the presentation resonate strongly with my thinking about personal learning journeys. These include:

  • Learning as the reshaping of your personal world view (slide 5)
  • Learning is changing what you already know (slide 8)
  • Perceiving patterns (slide 12)

For some time now I have worked to find ways to share practice that exemplify, Stephen’s ideas about aggregating, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward in personal learning environments. His work has helped and encouraged me to change what I know and to explore patterns.

One of my favourite quotes at the moment is from a 2006 paper by Peter Dowrick, Weol Soon Kim-Rupnow and Thomas Power. This uses feedforward in a different way to Stephen.

Humans distinguish themselves by being able to learn through observing successes they have not yet had. This type of self-modeling is known as feedforward, an image of future mastery.

Peter, Weol Soon and Thomas’s paper reports work on helping children to read. I think their quote extends beautifully to continuing professional learning too. In terms of my own learning, I saw connections between Stephen’s use of feedforward and my long-term interest (since the early 1980s) in feedforward as self-modeling in Peter Dowrick’s work. (This is the paper that started my journey in 1980.)

Stephen’s talk is titled ‘Riding the Wave’. One of the references in his talk is to Douglas Rushkoff. Back in 1994, Douglas was writing about surfing the wave of Sisyphus. He introduces the first chapter of his book, Cyberia, with a quote from John Barlow:

On the most rudimentary level there is simply terror of feeling like an immigrant in a place where your children are natives -where you’re always going to be behind the 8-ball because they can develop the technology faster than you can learn it.
It’s what I call the learning curve of Sisyphus. And the only people who are going to be comfortable with that are people who don’t mind confusion and ambiguity. I look at confusing circumstances as an opportunity – but not everybody feels that way. … At best it’s a matter of surfing the whitewater.

Anyone who has tried body surfing, body boarding or surfing will appreciate those first feelings of confusion, uncertainty and instability. Persistence leads to some stability and practice can lead to something approaching mastery.

I take the essence of continuing learning to be a willingness to lose balance to find a new balance. As a meddler in the process of other people’s learning I am hopeful that I can support and prompt the transition from one balance to another whilst being mindful of the sensory disturbance that accompanies the surfing.


Photo Credits

Surf (Rafael Torales, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ivy and Joly at Wipeout Bay (Keith Lyons). A photograph taken at Long Beach, NSW after our first bodyboard session. Ivy and I were wiped out coming in on a big wave … but we went back and caught the next one.