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Xenophilia: how a love of difference is essential in making connections

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Keynote at the 2016 libraries@cambridge conference. I discuss the importance of making connections for learning, and why we should embed 'xenophilia' -- the love of difference -- into our information and education systems in order to optimise the environment for learning.

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Xenophilia: how a love of difference is essential in making connections

  1. 1. Xenophilia or, how a love of difference is essential in making connections Andrew Whitworth, University of Manchester libraries@cambridge, 7th Jan 2016 All images in this presentation are © A. Whitworth 2015 unless stated otherwise.
  2. 2. In 2004 George Siemens proposed connectivism as an educational consequence of increasingly dynamic informational environments The ‘half-life’ of knowledge (time to obsolescence) is greatly increased… This is an educational issue for individuals, communities, organisations…
  3. 3. Social networks: studied since the 1960s One’s position in a network can itself be an informational resource e.g. Granovetter… “strength of weak ties” Valuable informational role played by brokers, bridging different commu
  4. 4. Making connections is not only essential for learning… … it is what learning is. But connectivism goes beyond even this…
  5. 5. Landauer and Dumais (1997) explore the phenomenon that “people have much more knowledge than appears to be present in the information to which they have been exposed”. They provide a connectivist focus in stating “the simple notion that some domains of knowledge contain vast numbers of weak interrelations that, if properly exploited, can greatly amplify learning by a process of inference”. The value of pattern recognition and connecting our own “small worlds of knowledge” are apparent in the exponential impact provided to our personal learning. This from Siemens (2004): Learning does not just take place ‘inside’ the person…
  6. 6. I don’t remember all the contents of the books I have ever read but have enough ‘weak’ or residual knowledge to fulfil informational needs when they arise… I follow ‘pathways’ through my personal ‘information landscape’… mental models or maps of the connections therein …not to mention knowing colleagues who are likely to have needed info.
  7. 7. …and these maps are, in large part, collective creations. How one becomes ‘literate’ or ‘competent’ in a given setting is something that is negotiated, through practice (Lloyd, Wenger) and reflection.
  8. 8. Internet technologies clearly facilitate this process… But, a key question… Do we lose out when we get other people, or technologies, to make connections for us? …whether with informal or formal learning.
  9. 9. Pariser thinks we do…. … stating that the operations of popular tools like Facebook and Google have created ‘filter bubbles’
  10. 10. They push search results and news feeds based on what we have ‘Liked’ or searched for previously… Thus skewing the flow of information towards that which we have previously found relevant. In some ways this is a sensible filtering strategy…
  11. 11. …but it also creates what David Shenk called ‘microcultures’. Compare this with the Top of the Pops approach to informal learning… a boundary zone in which the new could not just be encountered… but that this encounter would be collective
  12. 12. For example… This is not just a trivial matter. Jürgen Habermas (amongst others) observes how this leads to cognitive separation — fragmented perspectives and a lack of synthesis (Hebden Bridge, 9/7/12)
  13. 13. …and on 26/12/15
  14. 14. Cees Hamelink (1976): “An Alternative to News”, Journal of Communication 20 (pp. 120-3) His Freirean view of literacy sees it as populations learning the value of their own stocks of information — networks — stories — connections
  15. 15. Is it too much to suggest that these ‘bubbles’ are a contributing factor to increasing intolerance? ….or at least, can we postulate that there is less awareness of difference in the ‘Internet Age’ than we might expect, despite increased exposure to information?
  16. 16. XENOPHILIA Hence my call for… xenos… = stranger, foreigner Two people meeting were xenes to each other, and therefore had reciprocal responsibilities and relations filios… = friendly, in alliance
  17. 17. The obvious antonym is xenophobia… …but with xenophilia I am calling for more than just tolerance, ‘love and peace’ (though calling for that should never be unwelcome)
  18. 18. I suggest xenophilia can be a purposeful, active knowledge management strategy. It is in boundary zones and through brokers that ‘translation’ occurs and parochialism transcended See Wenger, Tagliaventi & Mattarelli
  19. 19. Allow for the serendipitous… Thus, it can be a design principle: we can cultivate conditions in which difference is more likely to emerge or be exposed Does a ‘perfect’ information system deliver only what the user requested? Does its delivery mean the search is over?
  20. 20. Teaching through exposing learners to diverse perspectives Bruce et al (2006): the relational frame of IL education Raise awareness of difference… make it a focus of scrutiny, attention (reflective practice….)
  21. 21. A brief example: The MA: DTCE (www.MAdigitaltechnologies.com)
  22. 22. In conclusion…. our ability to maintain connections must be sustainable Just as the ecological sustainability of landscapes is supported by diversity… …so it is with information landscapes
  23. 23. XENOPHILIA …the principle underlying the effective making of connections? Making connections doesn’t ‘just happen’. THANK YOU…. @DrewWhitworth1 drew.whitworth@manchester.ac.uk www.MAdigitaltechnologies.com

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