Teach & Learn = Ask & Answer
1) Go to stackexchange.com/sites and choose a site that you find interesting
2) Post (at least) one question and answer someone else’s question (at least one)
3) Reflect: What aspects of the experience contribute to a sense of a learning community? What aspects limit a sense of community?
So much of open learning appeals to me. I believe it to be Utopian in a way. Vibrant communities of learning whose members interact to spur innovation and creativity should be the way of the future. At the same time, free users exchanging free knowledge and expertise also seems too good to be true. Advocates believe the barriers to open entry are low, and members share a rare congeniality. The open congeniality enables both the specialist and the apprentice to interact in an audience of equals. One of the most intriguing questions to open learning is what should it look like? Does open learning excel because of its unorganized and non-hierarchical structure? Or does it need to bend to the forces of conformity with the hope of spurring educational change?
One site suggested to explore open learning was "Stack Exchange". The site offers many detailed topics for discussion. Many of them are computer based, but topics range from Ubuntu, to math, to philosophy, to travel. The topics were no doubt interesting and I wanted to explore the intriguing categories. As I perused, a feeling of inadequacy hit me. The users asked specific questions and wanted specific answers. Was I qualified enough to ask or answer any questions? I really didn't feel like I was. After a lot of maybes and almosts, I logged to the Travel section and asked this question.
It was something I needed an answer to, and even if vague, I hoped to get some feedback. You may notice the question was tagged as closed. Apparently my query was too general for this site. The site is not meant to be a forum, but a specific question and answer site. My question did not fit the specifications. I felt dejected, put-off, and even somewhat humiliated. My general interest was squashed. This was not a site for conversation, but rather a place where experts exchanged Q and A. It didn't seem like open learning as I envisioned. For the sake of the assignment, I pushed ahead and reformatted my question to see if anything could be learned. I was nervous when I posted a new, more specific query. Was I going to be tagged again? Would people see me as an amateur? Am I meant for this? Here is my reformatted question.
I still was not confident. Since I was not confident, I did not even want to check the responses, let alone engage in conversation. I felt inadequate and inadequacy is not a proper emotion for learning. Was it just the site? The format? My own lack of confidence? Or does this speak to larger issues with trying to introduce "the system" to open learning?
The next assignment was to answer a question. I found this even more worrisome than asking. What specialized knowledge do I posses? Who wants my opinion or knowledge on a subject? I went to my old standby, politics. After all, my formal degree is in political science and history. This means I am qualified, right? I cruised the site and found this interesting topic.
I offered a wordy, theoretical response. I tried to show all the philosophical guns in my holster. I felt like I needed to prove something. I needed to prove that I belonged and my answer was up to par. Was it a congeal answer aimed at generating participation? Was I trying to foster a two-way exchange of information? I don't think so. I was trying to show I knew my stuff. I was trying to prove I was worth something. This is not how I envision open learning. Is this a systemic problem or more of a personal lack of comfort?
I think a little of both. I claim openness, but it may take some practice. We, as learners, are indoctrinated into a system of needing to prove our intellectual chops. I think we design systems and institutions with this notion as framework. I believe we are naturally and intrinsically predisposed to be open learners in an open learning environment. This is how humans have advanced to the point we are at. Unfortunately, schools and other educational institutions are not designed on this predisposition. They are designed on a system of rugged individualism. This individualism may be great for competition, but not open learning. This will be the challenge.