Information Obesity: resources for chapter 12

Information Obesity: The web site

Chapter 12: Connecting learners and teachers to the community

12.1 Resources

Some links to resources mentioned in the chapter:

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12.2 Is a true LGC desirable?

I raise this question on p. 184 of Information Obesity:

It is when informal learning networks are permitted to disseminate the results of learning into the formal educational setting that we can say that a learner-generated context exists. But there is another qualification needed; a significant one. Teachers, managers, technical support staff and others with formal educational responsibilities may be averse to students being allowed to bring whatever technology they liked into a classroom and use it as they wished. What about the distraction value, for the owners or their peers? What about the risk of computer viruses? What if the pedagogical value of the technology was unproven, or dubious? What about students who cannot afford such a technological aid? What about cheating and plagiarism? What of dumbing down? Counterknowledge?

THINK: well, what of them? What freedom do you think that students (whether in a school, university or any other teaching setting) should have to bring technological tools into the classroom? What difference does it make regarding the age of the learners, or the subject being taught?

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12.3 Your communities, and the links between them [pages 186-187]

As noted in the book, I consider myself a member of the following principal communities, and there are many other secondary ones:

  • my immediate and extended family, including my in-laws;
  • the local Hebden Bridge community;
  • a lecturer at the University of Manchester; thus, a community of fellow employees, and the community of students and staff on my degree;
  • the academic community with which I am aligned (studying educational technology and the management and organisation of education);
  • a wider network of friends (though these are more like many separate, small communities);
  • a supporter of Brighton & Hove Albion FC (see pic);
  • the community of parents who send our children to a particular school.
Image: a crowd at a Brighton and Hove Albion game, Drew Whitworth highlighted

THINK: What list would you draw up for yourself? It might also be interesting if you paired up with a friend, partner, work colleague or other acquaintance and tried to draw up this list for each other. Do your perceptions of each other's situation match? What differences are there between what you individually consider to be your community ties, and what your partner thinks? Do they matter?

Consider also the links between them. Of the communities I mention, perhaps the most obvious link - for it is part of my job description - is to make connections between the academic research community and the work I do as part of the community on the MA: DTCE. In other words, feeding my research into my teaching and also the professional development work that I do at Manchester. But - as you might have noticed through reading the IO book - I also try to reflect on my experiences as a member of other communities, and disseminating them through my teaching. I use Hebden Bridge in the book, for example, both in chapters 3 and 13, not just as an abstract example but as the result of active enquiries into the problems the town faces and trying to think about how they relate to ICT and information obesity. Also, I always organise an annual trip for my students to come and visit the town they also have heard about in their teaching. So...

THINK: what similar links can you make between your different communities? Are you permitted to make these links? Conversely, would you prefer to keep these very separate? Are there links which you think could be damaging for your activity in one or other of these communities? Finally, if you believe a particular link might be positive - and remember that the point of making these links is (on p. 187 of IO) considered to be the possibility that groups otherwise kept separate might start empathising with each other's problems - how do you, or might you, go about this? What do you think the benefits of creating such a connection might be? What problems might arise?

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12.4 Learning in social movements [page 191]

The study of social movements is a huge area and it is not the place of this web site to cover it. In addition, academic study in this field is often treated with disdain, even suspicion, by activists - not always fairly, but often they have a point. Self-motivated research into how to best protest against a particular issue is one thing: treating social movements as if they are some kind of laboratory specimen of alternative forms of organisation is quite another, and can lead to fairly justified worries that what is being done is to establish how these spontaneous, energetic movements function, in order that they can better be stopped.

Image: cover of 'Battle for the Trees'

What I therefore offer here are just two quotations which show, in different ways, how information exchange and learning can take place within a particular social movement: in this case, environmental protest. The first comes from Battle for the Trees (by Merrick and published in 1996, Godhaven Ink, Leeds), a brilliant discussion and testimony about the Newbury by-pass protest which is itself a valuable and inspiring resource. Merrick here (from pages 14-15) is discussing how activity and learning can happen spontaneously, without the existence of any kind of formal organisational structure: and indeed that information exchange and learning can often take place without the learner(s) even being aware of it:

Someone said there was a meeting of sorts. Everyone gathered at the south side of the woods, and a guy sat on the bonnet of a Land Rover and organised: It was essential that a kitchen area be built, can we have five or six volunteers? What impressed me was the way it was organised - he didn't pick people and tell them what to do, he got volunteers and let them do as they saw fit. It's not easy organising a group of autonomous individuals, but there's a difference between organising and commanding. There's a difference between having organisation and being an organisation. If people are encouraged to use initiative and are trusted and respected, then what emerges is the fusion of the best ideas, without the wastefulness of competition and the narrow vision of hierarchy...
You hear these names, Dongas tribe. OK Simon, Dave the Chef, Scouse Mick... and you think, oooh, they're so involved, so in the thick of it, and here's me sort of doing stuff but kind of on the sidelines and just glad they accept visitors. I'm not really part of it like they are. Guess what? It's bollocks. The fact is: nobody keeps the whole thing going. Someone who organises and co-ordinates is not someone in charge with all the ideas. The ideas come from whoever's there. And it's bizarre how you suddenly realise that you've done loads of stuff, and just by getting things done you've come to know loads of other people and learn stuff. And to someone fresh in, you seem to be at the centre of stuff and must've been there for months.

The second example comes from my PhD Thesis ("Organising for Environmentalism", 2001, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds). Amongst the groups I studied were Friends of the Earth (FOE), who of course are a large collection of national campaigning organisations but are also organised in a way that contrasts the central, professional campaigning core with local groups who remain mostly autonomous. These groups in turn can act as sources of information - and filters for information - to other groups in their local areas, as I show here with reference to two different groups (pages 252-3):

Another example occurred in 1999, when residents of Byker in Newcastle wanted to mount a campaign against the expansion of a local incinerator. They contacted Newcastle FOE and arrived at that group's monthly meeting with plenty of arguments against the proposal (all of which FOE was familiar with anyway) but no idea of how to express them to media and decision-makers. Although Newcastle FOE was a relatively inactive group it was able to suggest some practical first steps, and also fed the issue upwards to the RCC [Regional Campaigns Co-ordinator: a post which formally connects the professional wing of FOE with the local, unpaid activists]. Through the efforts of all parties involved the Byker Incinerator had, by summer 2000, become the case most often cited nationally when the incinerator issue periodically emerges into the public sphere. And while FOE are sometimes quoted in these resports, so are the Byker residents. Their voice has not been swamped by FOE's: on the contrary, the two appearing together give both more weight....
One local group in the West Country has offered more general help to other local organisations. Its core group of 5 or 6 members has actively built strong links with local TV, radio and press as well as other local contacts. These are not just campaign-related: the group act as a key environmental information provider to the local media. Contacts are with and between specific individuals and not just maintained under a general FOE banner.... The principle is that the FOE group offers expertise, key media contacts, informational resources and so on, so that fledgling groups have a platform on which to build. This local-level network helps bolster against groups folding in their early stages by putting them in contact with interested parties and allowing them to take advantage of the FOE group's expertise and experience in this area. With time and resources limited, there is some picking and choosing of what issues can be actively supported, but passive help can still be offered, with a key tactic being a stall in the town centre every two weeks, a centre for the dissemination of information.... What the West Country group have become is a recognised first stop for other campaigners seeking information, advice and ultimately empowerment. They have become a resource for other local groups.

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