Just spent the last couple of hours listening to Prof. Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University. This was a 11 year old lecture on emergence and I’ve enjoyed every single argument and every single story he said. I can’t believe how lucky we are to have access to this kind of input on the click of a button. Interestingly (and also ironically) enough, he concludes his lecture discussing bottom-up emergent phenomena: people not needing experts or blueprints to tell them how to go about, just randomness and simple rules that in high quantity produce quality. This is around the time first xMOOCs showed up and connectivist theory was taking off. I can’t believe how related the two are.
- eliminate the use of journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, in funding, appointment, and promotion considerations
- assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published
- capitalize on the opportunities provided by online publication
- improve research by strengthening research assessment
- changes in academic culture to ensure that hiring, promotion, and funding decisions focus on the qualities of research that are most desirable – insight, impact, reliability and re-usability – rather than on questionable proxies
- increase awareness of the need to develop credible alternatives to the inappropriate uses of metrics in research assessment: showcase the implementation of good practices and how policy changes have improved research assessment in hiring, promotion, and funding decisions
- research and promote tools and processes that facilitate best practice in research assessment
First source of uncertainties: No Group, Only Group Formation | Intermediaries versus Mediators | Intermediaries: is what transports meaning or force without transformation/ defining input is enough to define output | Mediators: they transform, translate, distort and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry/ their input is never a good predictor of their output. (Groups are made)
Second source of uncertainties: Action is overtaken | Who and what is acting when we act? Actor is not the source of an action but ‘the moving target of a vast array of entities swarming toward it.’ An actor on stage is never alone in acting. By definition action is dislocated (…) Just as actors are constantly engaged by others in group formation and destruction (the first uncertainty), they engage in providing controversial accounts for their actions as well as for those of others (…) Will we have the courage not to substitute an unknown expression for a well-known one? (…) We have to resist pretending that actors have only a language while the analyst possesses the metalanguage in which the first is ‘embedded’. (agencies are explored)
Third source of uncertainties: Objects too have agency | power, like society, is the final result of a process and not a reservoir, a stock, or a capital that will automatically provide an explanation. Power and domination have to be produced, made up, composed (…) the flagrant asymmetry of resources does not mean that they are generated by social asymmetries. (Social) is an association between entities which are in no way recognizable as being social in the ordinary manner, except during the brief moment when they are reshuffled together (…) what is new is that objects are suddenly highlighted not only as being full-blown actors, but also as what explains the contrasted landscape we started with, the overarching powers of society, the huge asymmetries, the crushing exercise of power (…) objects overflow their makers, intermediaries become mediators. (objects play a role: they become from intermediaries to mediators)
Fourth source of uncertainties: Matters of Fact vs Matters of Concern|Even more so than in art, architecture, and engineering, science offered the most extreme cases of complete artificiality and complete objectivity moving in parallel (…) we began using the expression ‘construction of facts’ to describe the striking phenomenon of artificiality and reality marching in step (…) for other colleagues in the social as well as natural sciences the word construction meant something entirely different: made up and false (…) Objects of science may explain the social, not the other way around (…) ‘factors’ are unable to transport any action through any event reduced to the status of intermediary (…) a concatenation of mediators does not trace the same connections and does not require the same type of explanations as a retinue of intermediaries transporting a cause (…) the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting (…) there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties, but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations (…) How could a fact be that solid if it is also fabricated? (…) The discussion begins to shift for good when one introduces not matters of fact, but what I now call matters of concern (…) It is the thing itself that has been allowed to be deployed as multiple and thus allowed to be grasped through different viewpoints, before being possibly unified in some later stage depending on the abilities of the collective to unify them (…) Once you learn how to respect shifting ontologies, you can tackle more difficult entities for which the question of reality has been simply squeezed out of existence by the weight of social explanations
Fifth (and final) source of uncertainties: Writing Down Risky Accounts (networks)|namely an uncertainty about the study itself: bring into the foreground the very making of reports (…) A text, in our definition of social science, is thus a test on how many actors the writer is able to treat as mediators and how far he or she is able to achieve the social (…) (The Network) is nothing more than an indicator of the quality of a text about the topics at hand.It qualifies its objectivity, that is, the ability of each actor to make other actors do unexpected things. A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations (…) So, network is an expression to check how much energy, movement, and specificity our own reports are able to capture (…) The fact is that no one has the answers—this is why they have to be collectively staged, stabilized, and revised (…) Assembled around the ‘laboratory’ of the text, authors as well as readers may begin to render visible the two mechanisms that account for the plurality of associations to be taken into account and for the stabilization or unification of the world they wish to live in (…) We, the little ants, should not settle for heaven or hell, as there are plenty of things on this earth to munch our way through.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Full text available here
These two resources, read in parallel, offer a fascinating read. I have mentioned the Whole Earth Catalog before when discussing ecological architecture, but up to now I hadn’t quite investigated what it was about. Fred Turner’s article ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy’ discusses the Whole Earth catalog in detail and how Stewart Brand -the catalog’s master mind- sought to establish a common ground for all dispersed individuals living in communals in the 1960’s by offering a venue where they could communicate and form a single social network. These individuals had stepped away from agonistic politics and the bureaucratic myth of ‘objective consciousness’ and sought to change the world by establishing exemplary communities and change the consciousness of individuals.
The catalog presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in categories (..) It also established a relationship between informational technology, economic activity and alternative forms of community that would outlast the counterculture itself and become a key feature of the digital world
The catalog aimed at creating ‘a countercultural style of consumerism’ by making product suggestions but also to ways of thinking and speaking; a transformation of the self. Personal power believed Brand, develops from the power of the individual to conduct his own education and environment.
After the significant success of WEC (the catalog was fully operational for ten years after which Brand continued to publish additional versions), back in the 1980’s when Brand was approached by Larry Brilliant (founder of Network Technologies International) to help him promote computer conferencing systems, Brand came up with the idea of WELL. By now an online platform (a bulletin-board system then), WELL is based on the countercultural conception of community to create a network forum.
Brand wanted The Well to appeal not just to the Whole Earth crowd but to a wider audience: he wanted hackers, he wanted journalists (…) At the same time, he had a hunch that, in addition to electronic dialog, there should be a strong face-to-face element to The Well (…) He sensed that the most interesting possibility to arise from knitting electronic dialog into the fabric of everyday life would lie not in championing either the virtual or the human-contact model but rather in finding the place where they overlapped (…) But probably the most important of Brand’s early convictions for The Well was that people should take responsibility for what they said
For many members of the WELL, on-line collaboration offered a chance to revivify the spirit of the counterculture farms while also establishing and supporting a new type of individual professional, one that cultivated professional and interpersonal networks and key sources for future employment. The latter was directly related to the changes in 1980’s company culture and the dismantling of hierarchical systems towards the formation of corporations. WELL technology and thematics supported this new type of individual. Interactivity was instantaneous and yet collective: it was possible to exchange smaller, time-sensitive
pieces of information, ranging from data on a not-yet-announced technology to a bit of gossip and the forum could enhance the reputations of its users.
I keep that WELL has been ‘a non-hierarchically organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset.’ As web communication had not yet been centralised, these forms of network exchange were the first manifestations of networked online learning communities: people learned from each other. Whilst WELL perhaps focused more in the interaction part than content sharing, and despite its shortcomings, it represented a more democratic medium for co-existence where everybody had a name and were accountable for what they believed and wrote. Thus we come to the second part of the title ‘back to the future’: on our way ahead we fell behind on what made networked communication so alluring in the first place. The possibility to openly speak our minds but to also stand up for and take responsibility for what we are saying.
Turner, F. (2005). Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy. The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community, Technology and Culture 46 (3), pp. 485-512. Full paper available here
Hafner, K. (1997). The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). The Wire magazine. Full article available here
- Mind the assumptions: assess uncertainty and sensitivity as their role in predictions is substantially larger that originally asserted
- Mind the hubris: complexity can be the enemy of relevance; there is a trade-off between the usefulness of a model and the breadth it tries to capture; complexity is too often seen as an end in itself. Instead, the goal must be finding the optimum balance with error
- Mind the framing: match purpose and context; no one model can serve all purposes; modellers know that the choice of tools will influence, and could even determine, the outcome of the analysis, so the technique is never neutral; shared approaches to assessing quality need to be accompanied by a shared commitment to transparency. Examples of terms that promise uncontested precision include: ‘cost–benefit’, ‘expected utility’, ‘decision theory’, ‘life-cycle assessment’, ‘ecosystem services’, and ‘evidence-based policy’. Yet all presuppose a set of values about what matters — sustainability for some, productivity or profitability for others; the best way to keep models from hiding their assumptions, including political leanings, is a set of social norms. These should cover how to produce a model, assess its uncertainty and communicate the results. International guidelines for this have been drawn up for several disciplines. They demand that processes involve stakeholders, accommodate multiple views and promote transparency, replication and analysis of sensitivity and uncertainty. Whenever a model is used for a new application with fresh stakeholders, it must be validated and verified anew.
- Mind the consequences: quantification can backfire. Excessive regard for producing numbers can push a discipline away from being roughly right towards being precisely wrong; once a number takes centre-stage with a crisp narrative, other possible explanations and estimates can disappear from view. This might invite complacency, and the politicization of quantification, as other options are marginalized; opacity about uncertainty damages trust (…) Full explanations are crucial.
- Mind the unknowns: acknowledge ignorance; communicating what is not known is at least as important as communicating what is known; Experts should have the courage to respond that “there is no number-answer to your question.”
Mathematical models are a great way to explore questions. They are also a dangerous way to assert answers. Asking models for certainty or consensus is more a sign of the difficulties in making controversial decisions than it is a solution, and can invite ritualistic use of quantification. Models’ assumptions and limitations must be appraised openly and honestly. Process and ethics matter as much as intellectual prowess. It follows, in our view, that good modelling cannot be done by modellers alone. It is a social activity. The French movement of statactivistes has shown how numbers can be fought with numbers, such as in the quantification of poverty and inequalities (…) We are calling not for an end to quantification, nor for apolitical models, but for full and frank disclosure. Following these five points will help to preserve mathematical modelling as a valuable tool. Each contributes to the overarching goal of billboarding the strengths and limits of model outputs. Ignore the five, and model predictions become Trojan horses for unstated interests and values. Model responsibly.
Saltelli, A. et al., (2020). Five ways to ensure that models serve society: a manifesto, article available here
Complexity is one of four challenges expressed in the acronym VUCA — Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity (…) VUCA has largely been adopted in the business world to refer to challenges which traditional leadership models find difficult to address (…) it requires different skills, structures, modus operandi, mindsets and organisational principles from those currently taught and practised (…) current leadership approaches are counter-productive, even harmful, to working with uncertainty and complexity. In trying to gain control of complexities, in trying to get a grip, our management methods are actually making things worse (…) the cumulative effect of applying the wrong management practices to complexity has exacerbated the challenges of VUCA (…) (complexity management) can only be achieved by including and integrating the perspectives of all the people affected (…) wide-scale conversations in the form of what he (Stacey) called “reflexive inquiry” (…) VUCA skills include: interpersonal skills (e.g. active listening), perspective coordination skills (complementarity), contextual thinking skills (shifting perspectives according to context) and collaboration skills (inclusive decision-making) (…) VUCA requires the integration and fusion of different perspectives, and not alpha heroes with all the ‘right’ answers (…) What we should learn, instead, is how to respond to complex problems from a vantage point of not knowing, probingly approaching inquiry with an empty mind and humility; likewise we need to learn how to integrate seemingly polar opposite perspectives collaboratively (…) Some of the ways suggested to learn these VUCA skills include design thinking and practicing Sociocracy. We should take note, however, that one cannot learn integration skills by oneself, these have to be practised and refined in groups. We therefore need to create more Communities of Practice where people can hone these new skills (…) Uhl-Bien defines complexity as ‘rich interconnectivity’. Interconnecting parts become complex when the parts interacting actually influence and change each other (…) what complexity calls for are deeper conversations that matter
(…) Globalization is not primarily economic. It’s not solely driven by the global marketplace. It’s actually about what we’re doing now. The driving force of the new globalization is the communications revolution (…) one mustn’t think of these things as solely driven by technology, and one mustn’t ever imagine that technology drives itself, and one mustn’t imagine particularly that technology is unilinear — that the future will always be more of the same as the present. History moves dialectically; it takes us by surprise. The future is not linear. You will get many different kinds of reactions to these technologies, some of them hostile, some of them producing new technologies, many of them unpredicted (…) I still write about risk because it’s deeply, deeply involved with technological transformation, obviously. What’s happened in our lifetime is a transformation from one type of risk environment to another (…) It’s only when you have a future-oriented world that you need the notion of risk, because the notion of risk is a confrontation with the future, essentially. It’s about future time and the management of future time. What’s happening now is that we live in the most future-oriented society that has ever existed (…) What we have to deal with is a very, very interesting thing, which is very crucial to scientific innovation, which is exploring the edge between the positive and negative sides of risk (…) Now, when scientific innovations happen they impact on our lives very directly (…) tradition and custom, and nature itself, no longer structure our lives like they used to do (…) Now we know that whenever you drink a cup of coffee or you stick to water as you’re doing there, you’re calculating risk there (…) You can’t just turn to experts to give you an authoritative opinion in many situations, particularly in innovations, because they disagree. Therefore, you must have both a public debate and political and legal decision-making about these things. This is particularly true when different people say completely the opposite things, even though both seem to be equally eminent scientists. I’m not saying that in the end they wouldn’t find some agreement, because they might after years of research, but you have to deal with it now, plainly (…) You must restrict the role of the market in human life, and you must try and create a form of political thinking which is no longer half-theory.by John Brockman
Full article available here
Great article on the development of the perception of expertise by Reiner Grundmann
The pool of knowledgeable citizens has increased enormously between the 1960s and today. Many more people are highly educated and earn their money as ‘knowledge workers’ (Brint 2001). At the same time, as traditional ties have been loosened, people cannot rely on received wisdom and traditional ways of life. They have to make decisions about their lives themselves. This trend towards individualisation and risk decisions has been well described by Beck (1992), Giddens (1991) and others. This means that individuals are seeking expertise, and may find it being offered by non-certified experts (…) The laboratory as the site of knowledge creation, and the scientific institute which signals competence of the researcher and thus makes her a ‘certified expert’ is not the only source of expert knowledge, and it is arguably not the most important one when it comes to political decision-makingThe Problem of Expertise in Knowledge Societies, Reiner Grundmann
Full article available here
This is one type of learning: the intake of information (…) if the intake of information ends with the intake of information, then it is incomplete. There is another form of learning that doesn’t need discovered, only recovered (…) That Intake must lead to embodiment (…) We only honor a life if we leave different than when we walked in. The only way to truly honor a life is to be changed by it (…) you take in the plethora of information being deposited everywhere you look by everything and everyone you look at (again, undisguising the world), but then you lean into it. You distill it, you parse it, you connect with the “thing” — the gift, the image, the story, the root that arches through what you are learning — and you take it in so as to shape you. You honor that gift that is now seen via knowledge, but then you allow yourself to be changed by it.Information Intake Vs. Information Embodiment
What will you do with what you learn?
Although I’m not so sure about the tone and the narrative, I like the idea of knowledge creation as the embodiment of information. I am not as sure as to if this is life’s purpose (be changed), I just think this is the only way of deciding at each instant who we want to be and how to get there.
We need to open up the meaning of the identity concept towards relations with a multiplicity, with others. Through opposition to the idea of identity as something completely closed, already formed, and static. We are subjects under construction, we are always becoming something (…) we are now going through a very complicated political era (…) Theorists are seen as speculators and their task as useless, while we let fake news and alternative facts to spread. The reputation of academics is very poor during periods of populism. We need to stop these attacks on universities, academics and experts. We need to develop a culture of respect for knowledge (…) I believe that revolution today is a fascist concept. I believe that the people calling for revolution are from the extreme right (…) I believe that at present a more preferable option is active activism, a collective commitment to creating affirmative values, rather than joining what seems to me to be a fascist restoration of the notion of revolution (…) I prefer the concept of affirmation. I propose to create affirmative values and to work together. In other words, we need to discuss the problems together (…) What is necessary is a radical transformation, following the bases of feminism, anti-racism and anti-fascism. An in-depth transformation around the types of subject that we are. And that can only happen collectively, by redefining the type of world that ours is becoming. That is the plan.http://lab.cccb.org/en/rosi-braidotti-what-is-necessary-is-a-radical-transformation-following-the-bases-of-feminism-anti-racism-and-anti-fascism/?fbclid=IwAR0rtdRjRuTnXEiLGaDNR6mKmPYgfMFl3f8nHGjidbjDh1IvE7r6unB_-mQ
This Thursday Prof. Nelly Marda (my phd supervisor; collaborator and dear friend) will be presenting our paper entitled: “The networked studio: first cooperation, then design” at the aae2019 conference on learning through practice. The conference will be held at the University of Westminster in London on 24-26 April, 2019.
Sometimes, when we talk about learner independence, active learning or agency, we forget that this is not always for granted. Student consensus can not be considered a given. Trying out new things in a course (changing formats, layouts or mediums) produces changes that can be met with resistance and suspicion and it usually takes time until the cohort is convinced that what you are doing is actually working for them.
Student-Centered Learning and Student Buy-In article in Inside Higher Ed shows the results of curriculum change in a Biology course over a period of four years in relation to student satisfaction and acceptance. Pre- and post- course surveys show that student resistance decreased over the years and while grades did not change, the students’ perception of their gains has.
I remember that when we first introduced networked practices in an undergraduate design studio, students were terrified of the idea that their preliminary research and drawings would be published online for everyone to see. When talking about this, some expressed the fear that their ideas would loose their originality or that by the end of the semester everyone would converge to a single design idea/concept. Of course, none of this happened: in fact, it was quite revealing to see how diverse the research approaches and their respective representations actually were from a very early stage in the design process.
But there is also another interesting aspect in this article: the very fact that there was no single teacher but 13 of them. Now, I think this severely enhances the idea of a learning community. It’s not just about changing the format, it is about how you do it. By opening up the curriculum to more researchers and more teachers and by presenting the students with a course that is founded on a collaborative effort you ultimately denounce the idea of the expert and what comes along with that. And it is not by chance that grades have nothing to do with this. The very act of learning and being part of a learning community luckily can never fall into the hands of assessment.