Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

2017 year in review - school edition

From wikipedia: 1779 illustration of a Catholic
Armenian monk of the
Order of St Gregory the Illuminator,  
Happy New Year! Yeah... it's the fourth of January, but I figure I can get away with it since we're still in the first week of 2018, and this is my first post for the year 😉

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog as of late. Not a lot of MOOCing, not a lot of virtual connecting, not a lot of collaborative or cooperative learning as was the case in previous years.  There has been a lot of reading, mostly in monastic form - you know, lock yourself in a room and read until your inner teenager starts screaming at you "are we done yeeeeeet????" - I guess I am really in the thick of dissertation prep "stuff" (reading and sorting mostly) which I hope I'll get through in 2018 (for the most part anyway)

I thought I would take a break from the monastic lifestyle to put together a few things that really struck me in 2017, at least as far as my own learning, and learning journey, go.

I guess the first thing of interest is that  2017 was my last year of courses. In spring 2017 (winter 2017 in Canadian terms) I completed EDDE 806 which was the last structured and graded seminar for my EdD.  Coming into the seminar I really wanted to get done with classes, so even though I had until Fall 2017 to complete the requirements for the seminar, I made sure I was there each session and doing what was required to be done. 2017 didn't start off energetically though...

I think the major realization I came to in 2017 was that I had over-exerted myself in 2016, and as a consequence I really felt burned out; not starting to feel burned out, but actually burned out. I felt a little guilty because I still wanted to participate in extracurricular academic stuff such as virtually connecting, MOOCs, and working more on research papers with friends and colleagues as these activities encompassed both an academic purpose but also a social purpose. However, in the quest to get moving with the dissertation proposal I needed to sacrifice most of the more fun things in academic life and work on the more utilitarian parts to just get done. The hope is that people will still be there once I am done 😜

Even though I had bits and pieces of my proposal already forming in 2016, I put all of those mostly in the back burner for the spring semester because I wanted to finish off the requirements for the final graded seminar of my studies (EDDE 806). I think what I learned here is that I am mostly a sequential person when it comes to doing stuff. Many people think I can multitask like a madman, but I guess it's all relative from where you are standing.  I think I can do two or three ongoing projects at a time (of varying cognitive intensity), but class + proposal weren't working out for me.

So, once EDDE 806 was done, I took a mental breather, and a month later I begun working on my proposal again.  The introductory chapter (chapter 1) and the methods chapter (chapter 3) seemed to be on a better path, so I focused on that.  I think the core  of what my proposal is was pretty well done in August when I completed writing chapters 1 and 3. The who, what, where, and how were pretty much answered.  The big question still looming was  the "why".  It was hinted at during the introduction, but it needed more exposition, via a literature review chapter. So, September to December I read...I read a lot...and then I read some more (all the while taking notes)...until my inner knowledge glutton decided it was enough. That was after around 500 PDFs which breaks down to about 20 books/conference proceeding compilations and the around 480s articles (overkill?).

This past month I've been going back through the readings and I realized a few things: First is that I had downloaded some articles twice or thrice (since I had been collecting articles on MOOCs since 2014 in anticipation of this moment), but there weren't that many duplicates (less than 10% of the total, definitely).  In reading the same article a few times, over a period of a few months, different things jumped out at time; some things were the same, but my increased knowledge from readings was definitely coloring how I interacted with the texts.

The second part that jumped out at me is that no matter how detailed my lit-review search is, there is still stuff that will be missing from journal database searches. By looking at the references of the articles I read I saw that there were things that could be of interest (maybe), but they were in specific disciplinary journals that didn't deal with education (travel, medicine, geology, etc.), or that were in proceedings of conferences from various professional associations that my library doesn't have the most current access to, or even things that were in a different language.  I could decipher things in French, Spanish mostly without a problem, and some Portuguese, but reading academic discourses in languages that you are not used to reading academic discourses is definitely slower and more taxing. This is not a revelation - I know this from a theoretical perspective as a linguist, but this is one of the few times I felt it personally. Even so, there is probably good stuff out there in languages that are not accessible to me, and things that are not even on my radar, so 100% completion on a specific topic is a fool's errand.

The third thing, that really surprised me, was how much misinformation there was about the history of MOOCs.  In the grand scheme of things it was a small amount of articles, and it was limited to the introductory sections of articles where they were introducing the topic, but having such erroneous info printed in academic journals was a bit jarring. An example: complete lack of discussion around cMOOCs, and xMOOCs being described as evolving from OER. Now, while a nuanced discussion on the topic could reveal that certain xMOOC providers do have dotted lines in their histories to OER, I don't think this is a broad generalization that can be made, and in an introductory section to a journal article it seems quite misleading, especially to someone who might know nothing of MOOCs.  This got me thinking about literature reviews in general, and how little work goes into them sometimes; the write something, cite something, to get it done approach, rather than really thinking about it.  I know that I may have gone overboard here with mine, but I think that the minimalist approach also can be troublesome because it can (and sometimes does) devolve into a find the reference that supports you POV.

This leads me to AK's Theorem of the Funnel of Usage for the literature review (you read it here, so you better cite me! 😝). Basically what my theorem says is that for a literature review you may read hundreds or thousands of pages of stuff, you may comment or find useful things that amount to several hundred pages, bu ultimately only a small amount of what you comments on and find useful will make it your your literature review.  I am looking at a lit-review of 40 pages (double spaced) maximum. Assuming 15 pages per article on average (or around 300 per conference proceeding and book), I'd estimate 13,000 single-spaced pages read.  I have around 200 pages of excerpts and notes, which will go down to 20 pages. All that reading doesn't go to waste, it informs my views and stances (and also impacted some questions I'd like to ask in my interviews, in the methods section), but there is definitely a funneling effect here.

Speaking of overkill, perhaps I didn't have to read as much as I did (we'll never know). I think the fear is that my exam committee will decide to ask me about an article that I actually have NOT read that they think is important and then I'll be standing there like an idiot (and possibly fail 😖).  There is a Greek expression that has stuck with me πιασμένος αδιάβαστος which basically translates to "caught unread" (unprepared). It goes back to the days where children read at home, and they went to school to be quizzed on what they had read. You get caught unprepared, it's a bit of a mark of shame. I sort of felt like this when I was preparing for the comprehensive exams for my MA in applied linguistics and I passed that with flying colors, so I guess I shouldn't be as worried about these things...but I guess students reap what teachers have sowed...even if it was more than 25 years ago...

Another thing that really piqued my interest was thinking about how many web 2.0 technologies have died between now and 2008.  In reading articles about the original CCK, and MOOCs or other collaborations that have happened since I see quite a few technologies that closed down (either recently or some while back).  This makes me ponder a bit about what can be done about digitally preserving some of the artifacts created, or ways in which things worked, or something else.  While describing activities with PageFlakes (for example) is interesting, what happens 20 years down the road when no one knows how PageFlakes worked?

Finally, I realized that this entire process took about five times (or more) the length of time I expected it to take (there are quite a few "LOL :-)" next to self-imposed deadlines I've missed), and in academic articles I've read I noticed that others have also forgotten to include something in the reference list that they referenced in the body of the text, so it makes me not feel as bad when I've done my due diligence but still something goes missing or is erroneously ommited.

I kind of feel like the quote from Francois Truffaut is applicable: "You start a film and you want to make the greatest one ever made. Halfway through, you just want to finish the damned thing." - just substitute film with dissertation :)

Anyway, back to the monastic lifestyle to get some more things done.  How was 2017 for you, academically speaking?

PS Hey! Committee members! I don't know who you are yet, but if you googled me and came across this post, go easy on me 😜


The vConnecting about Cupcakes and Pokemon!

Another docublog from virtually connecting from a few weeks ago, at OpenEd Berlin with Alec Couros.  This one has the innovation of being the first "pop up" virtually connecting session.  Enjoy!


wrapping up this MOOC book...

Finally!  I've made it to the end of the book!  It only took me nine months to do so (a couple of chapters each month?) but it's finally done!  This will be my final review of chapters in Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future.  I was going to write two separate blog posts about this, one for each chapter, but I've sort of run out of steam, and I have a sense that I will be writing the same (or similar things) for the last two chapters. Today under the microscope are chapter 11, which is titled MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution, and Chapter 12 which is titled The Evolution of Online Learning and Related Tools and Techniques toward MOOCs. It should be noted that there is actually a chapter 13 and 14, but I had received those to review before I got this book, and I've written briefly about them, sometime last year - so no rehash in this post.

The abstract for chapter 11 is as follows:
This chapter introduces the evolution of the MOOC, using narratives that are documented by research generated from the educational community. It concentrates on the history and progression of distance learning and its movement toward online education. The authors' perspectives focus on their own anecdotal evolution, from traditional classroom teaching, infusing distance and online learning, to designing and teaching in a MOOC setting. In examining whether the MOOC is more of an evolution or a revolution in learning, they explore questions that have emerged about MOOCs including what distinguishes this model from other online offerings, characteristics of learners who succeed in this environment, and debates regarding best practices. Critical reaction and responses by proponents of this learning format are presented and acknowledged. The research, perspectives and debates clearly impact what the future of the MOOC appears to offer. This continues the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.'

The abstract for chapter 12 is as follows:
The latest development in the online learning environment, Massive Open Online Courses, dubbed ‘MOOC,' has garnered considerable attention both within and without the academy. This chapter discusses tools and technologies that can support the development of a MOOC, and concludes with commentary about the potential for such a development to continue into mainstream postsecondary education. This chapter delivers a small yet meaningful contribution to the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.'

For me, chapter 11 seemed lengthy (which isn't bad) but it has sparse citations.  Granted, the abstract tells you as much -that this chapter is the author's anecdotal perspectives on the evolution of the MOOC, but I guess I expected something more than that.  See, when I sit here and blog, whoever reads this blog knows that I am generally responding or reacting to something I've read or experienced.  So, when I write about something there is usually some sort of link to that original something.  On the one hand I did like this chapter's look back at educational technology, and specifically looking at the minitel system and how that was applicable to language learning here in the US - historical details like that don't seem to be acknowledged in our EdTech world of today and some of us seem to be suffering from memory loss in this experiment quickly and fail-fast world. I think there is value in knowing about the past and what those heuristics, affordances, and capabilities were (especially for systems that no longer exist).  That said, I really don't think think this chapter was well researched (makes sense since this was mostly anecdotal), and to me that doesn't provide a lot of value, especially since the list price for this chapter is around $38 US.  Furthermore, the authors seem to be hyper-focused on worries about cheating MOOC, which to me seems like a non-issue. There are articles in open access journals that do a better job than this chapter with the same theme.

In Chapter 12, on the other hand, the chapter was very brief.  In this chapter the technologies used to support a MOOC might as well be technologies that support regular, "traditional" online and distance education. I really did not see a convincing  differentiation between MOOCs and the traditional, for-credit, online learning environment.  I did like the little section that the authors wrote on getting the MOOC publicized and having people sign up for it because I know I haven't seen this elsewhere. So, for a novice in MOOC this might actually be valuable. Again, though, this was only a small part of the chapter.

All things considered, I am glad I read this book, but I really didn't come away with seeing the value in it, include those who are novices at the MOOC. I'd personally prefer to curate the equivalent amount of chapters from open access journals and people's blog posts and package that as a perspectives on MOOCs volume. I hope I am not being too harsh :-)


Siri, Alexa, Cortana...OK google - show me something to learn!


Alright, so here it is, week 6 of NRC01PL. Even though I am technically in the same week as everyone I guess I am still marching to the beat of my own drummer.  I wanted to join the live session on Tuesday, but other things intervened.  Oh well.

The topic of this week is the personal learning assistant.  Hence my little callout to the four major virtual assistants (Siri for Apple, Alexa for Amazon, Cortana for Windows, and Google...for Google). I actually did try asking Cortana to "show me something to learn" but  I guess the bing search engine didn't know what the heck to do with my query. Google wasn't that much help either.  We haven't reached the point yet where they know enough about me in order to recommend something.  It's a little odd given how much data google probably "knows" about me.

So, what is a Personal Learning Assistant (not to be confused with Personal Assistant for Learning)?  According to Stephen the PLA is a platform that  (1) provides a convenient interface for the user to perform the task (of learning), (2) the platform treats each user interaction as a training example (think amazon recommendation engine); and (3) it learns general regularities from this training data (think google knowing where my home and work are based on how much time I spend at locations, and during what times).

Another thing that Stephen mentioned was something called Business Oriented Personal Learning Agents (reminds me a lot of my HR and KM days). Some components of this are (1) human learning profiles across demographics (meaningful demographic, not the silly stuff that we fill out), (2) integration of operations and training databases; (3) unbiased evaluation of performance (I assume this is by your manager); (4) development of enterprise learning profiles and patterns of learning and action; (5) making training available in multiple modalities (and multiples providers and sources).

This seems like something that is quite interesting from a work perspective.  The one concern I have about this is data lock-in.  In days past people used to stay with one company for a big part of their career.  Learner data-lock-in would not be such a big issue if you're someone like me (at the same institution for close to 20 years now), however if you're like some of my classmates, you've worked for at least 3 different companies in the last 10 years.  Having an internal gauge of how employees are doing, what they need to learn, and how effective that learning is great. It helps corporate instructional designers and talent developers do their jobs more effectively.  However, I do think that this data does also be long to the learner, as it forms part of their lifelong learning record.  If they leave that company, and if the data is proprietary (or under some sort of NDA) then that, to me, is a bit like a brainwipe (at least a partial one) for the learner's record. If there is a need to keep some information compartmentalized due to NDAs and a company's competitive advantage, then I'd like to see an appropriately scrubbed and generalized learning record exported concurrently to the learner's preferred performance and assistance platform.

Finally, when we're thinking about the personal learning assistant, I am reminded a lot of the Knowledge Navigator (see video at the bottom).  While this was meant to be a concept for PDAs, I think we're still seeing a lot of this vision coming to fruition today with our connected devices.  I think the PLA also falls into this category.  The problem, as I brought up in my previous blog post, is that we have a lot of data about us out there, but they are inaccessible to a central platform of device that crunches all of that into something that is useful for the learner.


Will MOOCs replace the LMS?


My apologies, in advance, if I seem rude.  One of my teachers in high school (maybe a few of them, in fact!) said that there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Perhaps this is true in the context of a classroom where if a learner (or group of learners) don't get a concept and they wish to ask a question to disambiguate.  Sometimes the questions we pose also demonstrate our understanding of the basic component that build up our question and hence our question can shine a light on things we've misunderstood and give an opportunity for more knowledgeable others to help us correct misconceptions.

However, this is not the case.  Will MOOCs replace the LMS is a really stupid question. I was reading a post over at YourTrainingEdge that was titled Will MOOCs replace the LMS. I actually came to it thinking that it was a bait-and-switch type of situation because the two aren't comparable. a MOOC is a course (and in the corporate sector I would say that the most likely type of MOOC is the xMOOC), and an LMS is a set of technologies that allow one to build courses, offer them, and track learner progress. An LMS is not a course.

The authors start off (sort of) with explaining that MOOCs and the LMS are not the same, in fact they say "Many trainers confuse LMS with MOOC, which needs to be stopped."  Phew!  Now that takes a load off!  So I continue reading for something enlightening... and I come across this: 

Now let’s see why MOOCs are going to replace LMSs in 2016. MOOCs, in my view, are not only for college students or budding programmers any more. The courses offered from top notch MOOC providers like yourtrainingedge, Coursera, EdX, and Udacity have, until recently, been mainly focused on the academic setting. In addition, all of the main MOOC vendors have developed their classes by means of partnership with renowned and prestigious universities like MIT, UPenn, and Stanford. However, evidences show that academic and students might not be the only user base for the MOOCs.

OK, for me this is a massive facepalm.  Basically what the authors are arguing is that self-paced elearning created by a third party will replace you in-house training. That's perfectly fine.  As a matter of fact it's nothing new!  Companies have been purchasing access to courses on, Microsoft, and SkillSoft for many years now - way before MOOCs came along.  The only narrative that is changing is that of prestige.  The self-paced elearning is, perhaps, not as prestigious because it's developed by your own in-house team, or by some nameless instructional designer at Lynda.  However MOOCs...well...those have the names of big name schools and professors behind them (rolling my eyes).

Listen.  I have no problem with partnering with coursera or universities directly to develop courses specifically for your corporation.  I think it's a fine and dandy idea.  What I really dislike is the repackaging of the old, adding some new luster, and calling it a new and improved product.  Let's be honest about what we're selling and how it differs from what's currently being done.


Who's a teacher?


With the semester over, and the brain working on momentum, I've decided to capitalize on the spare brain-power, and time, to finally read a book that I agreed to write a review for back in the summer (yeah, I know - a tad bit late...). The book is a collection of articles titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  I'll come back to the topic of the book as a whole after I am done with this process.  I think that going through chapter-by-chapters, picking and reacting to some things that piqued (and poked at) my interests is a little more interesting that trying to condense 15 chapters into one book review. This is sort of what I did with the #rhizoANT review.

Chapter 1 is titled Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment.  The abstract gives us a sense of the article:
In July 2014, a massive open online course (MOOC) entitled The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) was offered within the University of Melbourne's programme. Designed as a research engagement and dissemination initiative, the ATC21S MOOC enrolled 18,000 education practitioners, predominantly interested in teaching and assessment of complex 21st century skills. This chapter describes the experience of developing and teaching in the MOOC, and of learning through it. The authors suggest areas for ongoing research, and highlight areas in which MOOCs may stimulate broader change. This chapter commences the dialogue for the opening book section – policy issues in MOOCs Design, and responds to the topic of ‘emerging technology and change management issues for eLearning in the MOOCS environment.'
This article seemed a bit like an action research project, which is fine, but it did not really add to my own understanding of MOOCs. It does provide some data, which in aggregate can be considered as part of the xMOOC learning environment, but the MOOC aspect of the article didn't provide much for me personally.  On the other hand, some comments, and assumptions about technology, did pique my interest a bit.  For example, right from the start the authors comment that MOOC platforms are still in their infancy.  While this may be true when discussing platforms like coursera and udacity, we've had the LMS around for at least 20 years.

Another comment "The platform determines the organization of the materials and the processes of the course..." while, in it does ring true, it seems to me that taken together with the previous quote is sort of an excuse to work within the confines of what the MOOC LMS allows.  While I don't consider myself an EduPunk, it's kind of hard to think of MOOCs (these days) and conceive of people painting within the lines of the LMS when what kicked off MOOCs was this sense of the untamed and MacGyvering to reach your aims. In other words, your aims were not determined by what you had available.

The authors asks us to consider that "'teaching' should not be conflated with what a teacher does."  This is true, in a sense.  What a teacher does is teaching, however teaching isn't solely defined by the actions of a teacher.  Fellow students can be teachers as well, if we - for example - take a Vygotskian view of the more knowledgeable other who helps scaffold fellow learners to new learning. That said, I do find it a bit problematic to consider the platform as a teacher "who tirelessly organise[s] the learning experience".

While I do think that technologies can be actors in a learning network (at least from what I've read and experienced with the ANT readings) and they can influence how actors connect and work with other actors and knowledge in that network, I think that the authors of this paper are giving technology, and the LMS in particular, too much of an active role.  The LMS is an inert piece of technology. It does not organize anything. A human actor acts to organize the learning materials, and perhaps learning opportunities, that occur in that learning network.  While, from a connectivist view (if I am interpreting connectivism correctly), the learner can access 'learning' from a non-human appliance, I don't think that the act of providing materials is the same as being a teacher.

In their conclusions, the authors indicate that the "distinctive teaching power of a  MOOC arises from the combine 'teaching' efforts of  three components: a course team of collaborating professionals; a digital platform that tirelessly organises and provides feedback to learners; and the peer teaching capabilities of a collegial, experienced, qualified, group of participants".

Those three components, in my view, are available in traditional online courses as well, so I am not sure how MOOCs are different in this view.  However, I do think that there is a subtle distinction here around the concept of peers: they are collegial, experiences, and qualified.  This to me indicates that MOOCs do have pre-requisites (and those should be encouraged during development) and there is an aspect of collaboration hinted at with the collegial piece. I don't know if I've read in other pieces in the past about "ideal" learner characteristics for MOOCs.

Next blog post, chapter 2.  What do you think of chapter 1?

Milligan, S., & Griffin, P. (2015). Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 1-24). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch001


It's the battle of the SPOCs!

"Fractured Spock"
- by me and Net Art Generator,
for #clmooc
Over the past couple of years, since the silly acronym "SPOC" was invented to denote a course that was the antithesis to the MOOC, a Small Private Online Course, I've had issues with the acronym, and took exception to this new discovery on the part of schools that newly invented this form of education, considering that there are schools that have been doing it since the early aughts.

In any case, I was finally going through my Pocket account today, trying to read as many things as I've saved for later reading since
Rhizo15 when I came across a couple of articles that really made me roll my eyes a bit and made me want to facepalm...

The first article is a featured article in Harvard Magazine, July/August issue, titled Is Small Beautiful? This was a fairly quick read, but I couldn't help but think that this was mostly a PR piece on the part of Harvard and Harvardx. There is a lot left to be desired in this article, and about this innovation in general.  For instance, when talking about  the CopyrighX, what does teaching in a "networked" form mean? Does that mean teaching online? I've written before about the application process for Copyrightx and other "limited enrollment" courses, which I think really goes counter to the ethos of Open Education, and it really doesn't take into account the diverse reasons for which learners sign up for MOOC, and their rationales and many varied reasons for the patterns in which they participate in.  Hmm... now that's an interesting topic for research: "activity patterns of MOOC participants and the motivation for learning"! Feed free to borrow this from me and do something with it ;-)

Anyway, some more specifics from the article:

Since the program’s launch, a number of courses at HarvardX have tested a simple solution to many of MOOC detractors’ biggest complaints: scaling down, not up. These experiments—which come with their own acronym, SPOC (small private online course)—enable professors to more fully engage a targeted group of learners, who benefit in turn from an intensive, personal course setting.
First of all, I don't get what the detractor is for scaling up? Is it that you can't practice the same pedagogies?  Well, that to me seems like a no-brainer. New modalities probably require new pedagogies, and those are things we need to discover. We can certainly use our existing paradigms as a base to begin with, but we need to go into this knowing that we will most likely need to adapt.  I'd like to congratulate our colleagues at Harvard for inventing something that those of us in online education have been doing for more than a decade now - the "small, private, online, course" - otherwise known as a traditional online course. There is ample literature out there for these "SPOC"s (horrible acronym) which people should really jump into and read.   Now, don't get me wrong, I think that it's freakin' fantastic that Harvard Law is offering a free course on copyright that looks and feels like something you'd get by paying good money for tuition, but let's not pretend that they've discovered something innovative in terms of pedagogy.

In the end, small courses’ successes rest on defying many of the very promises of the MOOC revolution: they might not be massive, open to everyone, cheap to run, or entirely online. But by using technology to combine the centuries-old lessons of campus education with the best promises of massive learning, SPOCs may be the most relevant and promisingly disruptive experiments the MOOC boom has yet produced.
So, if they aren't MOOCs, why do you bother comparing them to MOOCs?  Even so, MOOCs are not necessarily expensive to run, that is a design decision.  My colleague, Inge deWaard, ran 2 successful MobiMOOC cMOOCs (when cMOOCs were just MOOCs) and I am pretty sure it didn't cost her much. Ray Schroeder ran EduMOOC - again, that was most likely not costly.  We also see examples like #Rhizo14 and #rhizo15, as well as #CLMOOC and #CCourses.  Now, granted all of these are MOOCs of the cMOOC variety, but my point - I hope - still stands.  You can do a MOOC on a shoestring budget.

The other notion that is laughable (please forgive me, I appear to be in an extremely cranky-pants mood today), is the notion that "SPOCs may be the most relevant and promising disruptive experiments..." Really? You mean the thing that my department has been doing for the past 10 years (offering a fully online, accredited, rigorous, Master of Arts degree) is the most disruptive thing to come out of MOOCs? And, the irony is that my department wasn't even first to the online game. There are other departments that have offered online courses that are SPOCs.  They are not free, but nothing in the SPOC definition hints at free. I think this blissful ignorance of what's happening in education outside of the walls of some institutions is astounding.

Fisher’s innovation [with CopyrightX], in a sense, was to be less experimental: using digital resources to engage students in the kind of intense learning experience expected on campus.
Wow... It seems like now we're offering a golden star to everyone ;-).  No, seriously, how can one claim "innovation" when "innovation" is defined as business as usual?

The course was designed to be demanding across the board. “I hoped, from the beginning, that it would be possible to reach these audiences without dumbing down the material at all,” Fisher says. “That was just a hope in the beginning, but it proved to be true.”
I think that there is a sense out there that MOOCs cannot be "demanding" and that materials need to be "dumbed down" for MOOCs.  There is also an assumption that MOOCs are directly correlated to the college course as that course exists for accreditation purposes, based on the credit hour.  It also assumes that the learners want to get exactly out of the course what the instructors want you to get out of the course. These are huge assumptions to make, and they are - in my opinion - largely wrong in the MOOC world.  There are many reasons why people choose to sign up for MOOCs.  Some people just window-shop.  Other people are interested in specific aspects of the course.  Heck, even in a cMOOC, in #rhizo14, we had people who were interested in reading and discussing more of D&G, and people who did not.

Why does learner choice in the matter of what they want to explore not seem to matter here? Some people seemed fairly annoyed that we didn't tackle D&G all the time in either Rhizo, but that's a choice of the learners. Neither Dave, nor anyone else, could force us to engage with the course ins prescribed way. Why should other MOOCs force a specific pattern of participation?  If I were earning 3 graduate credits from a MOOC, I would jump through hoops because I know that I would be assessed for specific things in specific ways.  But when a course is free, and I am not getting formal and generally accepted external recognition of my course accomplishments, why should I try to fit your mold?

The results of this experiment in scaling down from massive are promising. First are the benefits to on-campus learning—one of the oft-repeated goals of HarvardX. The new TF program offers students a rare chance to gain teaching experience in a law-school setting. And by assigning his video lectures as homework for his HLS students, Fisher has cut down the number of weekly class sessions from three to two. The remaining meetings, he says, now feature deeper, more nuanced discussions.
AHA!  So here is a benefit of SPOC, or at least free online courses: They can be training grounds for  people pursuing terminal degrees. Instead of putting them in a 100-level undergraduate course to teach (which they might still do), and have the university catch flak because the professors on departmental listings aren't really teaching those undergrad courses, you can now get teaching experience in SPOCs, and the pressure is (theoretically) less because those few people have been handpicked to attend a SPOC and the SPOC is free (can't complain about a free thing, right?)  Now, the whole cutting down of lecture time...well...again, I congratulate you on discovering Flipped Learning, and possibly even discovering Blended learning!

“Innovation in Health Care,” version two, launched on edX this spring, and the staff has focused on making the team aspect of the course more robust. This has required moving even further away from MOOCs’ one-to-many model. 
Again, here we perpetuate a myth, or perhaps misconception, that the MOOC is a one-to-many broadcast model.  It is not!  It can be, and we've certainly seen this with many xMOOC providers, but it's certainly NOT the only model for Open Online Courses.

Anyway, that's one type of SPOC.  But, did you know that we have competing SPOCs? In a recent (research) article titled Can SPOC (Self- Paced Online Course) Live Long and Prosper? A Comparison Study of a New Species of Online Course Delivery we learn about the new Self-Paced Online Courses! OK, as a Trek fan, and someone who can appreciate a pun, I'll give it to the authors: the title was catchy and it was a nice callback to Mr. Spock. However, that's where my appreciation for the article ends.

There are several issues in this research article, including calling the MOOC a "ore recent variation of the traditional online model". Another is the same folly as the Harvard SPOC article: trying to make something new out of something that isn't.  Self-paced coursed, be they online, offline in the form of CBT (hey, remember that acronym?), or through correspondence education have been around for a while. Heck, there are universities whose entire undergraduate experience is based on self-paced online learning.  I also remember doing professional development and earning a professional certification by learning through self-paced online learning back in 2002ish (if I remember correctly) Where is the novelty?

The conclusion of this study is that there is no significant difference between self-paced online learning and traditional online learning. This doesn't really seem like a shocker - given all the studies on the NSD. It also reminds me of the talk that Rory McGreal gave us during orientation at Athabasca last summer when he said that he didn't want to see yet another study comparing one medium to another to see which is "better" ;-)

To put an end to this long post - what do you think of the battle of the SPOCs?

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable again - Part III


Drumroll please!  This is it!  The final Latour conversation (at least as far as his book Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory goes.  It's been fun, Latour, but I have a pile of MOOC articles that aren't going to read themselves (note to voice technology people. I need a computer to read things to me like Majel Barrett does in Star Trek - voice of the computer.  The mechanical voice on my Android keeps mispronouncing things...)

 So, the theme of this final write up is Connecting sites...

With ANT, we push theory one step further into abstraction: it is a negative, empty, relativistic grid that allows us not to synthesize the ingredients of the social in the actor’s place. Since it’s never substantive, it never possesses the power of the other types of accounts. But that’s just the point. Social explanations have of late become too cheap, too automatic; they have outlived their expiration dates—and critical explanations even more so
Latour had lost me, until he started talking about the cheapness and automatics of "social" accounts. Back in the early days of "web 2.0" and "social media" the change in the web, from just a read-web (which wasn't completely read-only: I had a guest book using CGI scripts on my old Geocities page!) to a more "social" web where people could provide their own content.  That said, what the heck does social mean these days? It's been almost a decade (or more?) that we've had "social media".  Isn't that something that has been established now?  Social is also talked about in a lot of EdTech conferences, at least as far as vendors go. Social is now a bulletpoint item in a product's sales pitch, but what does that really mean?  Has social lost its potency as a descriptive word? Do we need to find something that really defines our practices and how various non-human actors can enhance our practices?

Three new questions may now be tackled in our discussion. The first is to detect the type of connectors that make possible the transportation of agencies over great distance and to understand why they are so efficient at formatting the social
This just seemed like an interesting point to jot down.  The question that comes to mind now, reading this again a few weeks later, is about efficiency.  Does efficiency matter? And, before you give me the knee-jerk reaction of 'yes!', think about it.  What does efficiency mean? who measures it? how does it impact the social?

The second is to ask what is the nature of the agencies thus transported and to give a more precise meaning to the notion of mediator that I have been using. Finally, if this argument about connections and connectors is right, it should be possible to come to grips with a logical consequence that readers must have already puzzled about: What lies in between these connections? What’s the extent of our ignorance concerning the social?
Well, good questions! I suppose what Latour means here when he says "what lies between social connections" is where he asks us to consider, and take into account, actors that we haven't thought about.  In this kind of sense I think that he is asking us to discover the man in the middle. This is an interesting thing to ponder because prior to this RhizoANT project I only considered the connections between human actors.  By considering non-human actors, as ANT wants us to do, the picture becomes more complicated.  Interesting, but complicated.

Standards and metrology solve practically the question of relativity that seems to intimidate so many people: Can we obtain some sort of universal agreement? Of course we can! Provided you find a way to hook up your local instrument to one of the many metrological chains whose material network can be fully described, and whose cost can be fully determined
Is Latour channeling his inner manager here? All inputs are measurable?  On the face of it I am inclined to disagree.  I think we can reach a point where our perceptions of what's going on are pretty similar, or almost the same, but I don't think that any two perceptions of what's going on will be 100% the same. Most likely, my gut tells me, that we'll just agree on what we put down on paper, compromise in a sense, even though we might not 100% agree (or at least our mental constructs of what's going on might not be 100% the same).

Ours is the social theory that has taken metrology as the paramount example of what it is to expand locally everywhere, all the while bypassing the local as well as the universal.
As Mr. Spock would say: "fascinating!" (you can't see me, but I am raising my eye brow)

The question is not to fight against categories but rather to ask: ‘Is the category subjecting or subjectifying you?’ As we saw at the end of the last chapter, freedom is getting out of a bad bondage, not an absence of bonds.
I suppose that this is something I will have to further explore, and deal with, the closer I come to beginning my EdD Dissertation... Not sure if this applied to our RhizoANT project, but it was an interesting thought to ponder.

This is why the social sciences are as much a part of the problem as they are a solution: they ceaselessly kept churning out the collective brew. Standards that define for everyone’s benefit what the social itself is made of might be tenuous, but they are powerful all the same. Theories of what a society is or should become have played an enormous role in helping actors to define where they stand, who they are, whom they should take into account, how they should justify themselves, and to which sort of forces they are allowed to bend
Nothing to add here other than don't accept things at face value ;-)  Wait! I think Latour has something here, and I think it can, potentially, be a bit indicting  of Sociology, but also other disciplines. Everyone (and now that we have a lot more PhDs than we have jobs for them) seems to want to go out there and create a new framework for whatever, or a new procedure, or invent a new acronym (SPOC anyone? #shudder) without really thinking about (or caring sometimes) whether they are just reinventing the wheel, or whether their contribution to the professional knowledge is really something that's needed. I don't think that it's just the fault of researchers and other professionals. It think it's also the fault of our respective fields. The whole reason for being for some doctors (of the PhD kind) is to churn out more 'research' which will invariably include more boxing in of what it means to be x, or to be an actant in x, or what frames x.

Metrology is no more the whole of science than the sociology of the social is the whole of sociology. The social that makes up society is only one part of the associations that make up the collective. If we want to reassemble the social, it’s necessary, aside from the circulation and formatting of traditionally conceived social ties, to detect other circulating entities.
I am not sure what a 'circulating entity' is, according to Latour. I don't remember reading about it.  But I do see his point, and I agree.  The measuring part of science isn't the whole of science. There are things that can't be meaningfully measured.  And even if you do measure certain things, and you can measure them accurately, you still need to interpret your findings, which in my mind, is inherently a qualitative process to some extent.

We should not state that ‘when faced with an object, ignore its content and look for the social aspects surrounding it’. Rather, one should say that ‘when faced with an object, attend first to the associations out of which it’s made and only later look at how it has renewed the repertoire of social ties’.
I agree with Latour here.  I think that looking only what what connects with any given object (Actor-network) is a narrow way to look at it.  I think that what the object is, and the objects inherent properties do play a role in what associations it has with other objects.

But any science has to invent risky and artificial devices to make the observer sensitive to new types of connections.
No much to comment on. Seemed like an interesting quote.  It seems like all of our scaffolds are temporary in science and research. As we learn more about the object of our inquiry those temporary scaffolds are brought down and other, equally temporary scaffolds, are erected in their place.

No matter how hesitant the metaphor, it is such a shift in perspective that ANT is looking for. Things, quasi-objects, and attachments are the real center of the social world, not the agent, person, member, or participant—nor is it society or its avatars.
Not sure what Latour is getting at here. It seems like he is saying that the person (human actor) isn't that important when looking at it from an ANT perspective. Rather, what is important as the things that are invisible and that we don't see.  Is this what others are getting?

The problem is that the social sciences have never dared to really be empirical because they believed that they simultaneously had to engage in the task of modernization. Every time some enquiry began in earnest, it was interrupted midway by the urge to gain some sort of relevance. This is why it’s so important to keep separate what I earlier called the three different tasks of the social sciences: the deployment of controversies, the stabilization of those controversies, and the search for political leverage
No additional commentary.

Society is not the whole ‘in which’ everything is embedded, but what travels ‘through’ everything, calibrating connections and offering every entity it reaches some possibility of commensurability
Just a small reminder from Latour that society is itself a social construct. It is not a container in and of itself.

This is Wittgenstein’s greatest lesson: what it takes to follow rules is not itself describable by rules
There was a comment I made here in the text, that this comment by Latour reminded me a lot of bootstrapping. The question that comes to mind is this: do we need rules for bootstrapping? If we do, are those rules arbitrary?  Are we returning to that temporary nature references above? Those scaffolds that are temporary and will come down, only to be replaced by other scaffolds once  we're all moving along in our process?

To interpret some behavior we have indeed to be prepared for many different versions, but this doesn’t mean that we have to turn to local interactions
Is this  and endorsement of the global, zoomed-out, view?

The alternative I have proposed in this book is so simple that it can be summarized in one short list: the question of the social emerges when the ties in which one is entangled begin to unravel; the social is further detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next; those movements can either be suspended or resumed; when they are prematurely suspended, the social as normally construed is bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’; when the movement toward collection is resumed, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world, what I have called a collective; but if there are no procedures to render it common, it may fail to be assembled; and, lastly, sociology is best defined as the discipline where...
Well, straight from the horse's mouth...

It’s worth noting at this point that ANT has been accused of two symmetric and contradictory sins: the first is that it extends politics everywhere, including the inner sanctum of science and technology; the second is that it is so indifferent to inequalities and power struggles that it offers no critical leverage—being content only to connive with those in power. Although the two accusations should cancel each other out—how can one extend politics so much and yet doing so little for it?—they are not necessarily contradictory.
Good question.  Thoughts?

ANT is nothing but an extended form of Machiavellianism 
Whoa! I can't think of a better line to close this post, and this Latour series, with!

Latour - Rendering Associations traceable again - Part II

Alright!  Just as #clmooc is starting, I am finishing off Latour!  Here is part 2, of a 3 part wrap-up on Latour's Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Once he discussed 5 uncertainties, now we're looking at re-assembling the social. Just as before, I've pulled one some quotes that made me go "huh!" when I was reading  the book (finished it a few weeks ago), and I am reacting to them more fully now - that is if I can remember why something made me go "huh!"

This section started with the term glocalization. I just wanted to start off this post by saying that I hate the term glocalization. It is meaningless, and this comes from someone with an MBA background. It's just one of those buzz words thrown around - but anyway, don't let my cranky-pants attitude spoil this post ;-)

How is the local itself being generated? This time it is not the global that is going to be localized, it is the local that has to be re-dispatched and redistributed. 
The notes I had to myself here is that we are working from the bottom and moving upward, not the other way around.  We are going from the local to the global.  Of course, this means that there is both a degree of excitement because you don't have that global view, but also an uncertainty, for the same reason.  The global view isn't there to taint or predispose you to think of the situation in a certain way.

In effect, what has been designated by the term ‘local interaction’ is the assemblage of all the other local interactions distributed elsewhere in time and space, which have been brought to bear on the scene through the relays of various non-human actors. It is the transported presence of places into other ones that I call articulators or localizers.
I think this is why it's an Actor-Network, an entity is both Actor and Network concurrently. It seems like we've gotten additional, new, terminology here. Articulators (aka localizers) and translators.  I do wonder, can something just transmit a signal without any degradation?

Here again, ANT’s lessons will be only negative because clearing the way is what we are after so that the social could be deployed enough to be assembled again. First, no interaction is what could be called isotopic. What is acting at the same moment in any place is coming from many other places, many distant materials, and many faraway actors.
We're back to Greek! Isotopic, coming from the Greek words isos meaning equal, and topos meaning place.  So not all interactions are coming from the same place.  This reminds me a lot of online learning in general. We have interactions coming from a variety of learners, be they in a MOOC, or in a traditional distance education setting. The interactions are pooling into one online system (or many online systems as the case might be in a MOOC), but they don't originate in the system that they finally end up in. Of course, what is Latour clearing out?

Second, no interaction is synchronic. The desk might be made of a tree seeded in the 1950s that was felled two years ago; the cloth of the teacher’s dress was woven five years ago, while the firing of neurons in her head might be a millisecond old and the area of the brain devoted to speech has been around for a good hundred thousands years (or maybe less, this is, hotly disputed question among paleontologists). 
So, we have a Butterfly effect, maybe?  Going back to the Greek, synchronic - meaning at the same time.  Events and actions don't take place at the same time. Even when they appear to happen, as was the case with our swarmed document(s), there actions were concurrent, and not necessarily reactions to one another.  When I was typing in the google doc, and one of my collaborators was typing above me, or bellow me, we were working together but separately during our initial idea swarms. If anything the actions they took affected me as I saw my cursor jump all around and my text being pushed down. It was also a little disorienting as I was curious to see what Sarah, and Maha, and Keith, and the gang were writing, so it was pulling me from my own thought process.  Even so, actions were taking place, but there was time-delay.  By the time I read what they wrote and reacted to it, time had passed since they were typed and articulated in the google doc.  We can also see this in traditional online learning whereby students post in a forum and have to wait for responses and discussion to occur.

Third, interactions are not synoptic. Very few of the participants in a given course of action are simultaneously visible at any given point.
It's a Greek bonanza! Well, I think my example of the discussion forum will do here as well!  That said, I do wonder if we swarm a google doc simultaneously, even though it is a bit disorienting, wouldn't that mean that  our interaction at that moment is synoptic since I can see them at the same time?  Or, since I can only see what's within my field of view, a specific page in my google document, that what happens above, or bellow, that page is not visible, and therefore these actions are not synoptic?

Fourth, interactions are not homogeneous
Hey! A Greek word that most people will recognize ;-)  This is quite true, I would say, from the swarm perspective.  When I initially started working with my collaborators I expected plain text to be the medium of our work, but soon I began to see that people were working with images, and text, and memes, and video, and audio.  And text was not all 'academic' text, but there were poems, haikus (well, OK a type of poem), and other types of text.  Not homegenous in the least bit.  But we swarmed some meaning out of it.

When slides are projected on the screen, how many different successive ingredients are necessary when some writing on a keyboard becomes digitalized, then transformed again in an analogical signal before being retransformed in some sort of slower brain wave into the mind of half-asleep students?
Good questions!

Fifth, interactions are not isobaric 
Well, knowing Greek is an asset with Latour it seems. According to Latour, in ANT, not all action have the same weight.  I think that if we look at our human Actors in our network we will see that not all of them have the same weight in all categories.  We swarmed the document as equal contributors, but we all had additional, specialized, roles which in turn affected what types of action we would take as part of these collaborations.

Some of the participants are pressing very strongly, requesting to be heard and taken into account, while others are fully routine customs sunk rather mysteriously into bodily habits
This sound familiar, with life in general.

No place dominates enough to be global and no place is self-contained enough to be local 
This reminds me of some MOOC moves to make local MOOCs more broad, and "big" and "global" MOOCs more localized. I wonder to what extent these efforts are successful, and how one measures success in these environments.

Nothing pertains to a subject that has not been given to it
Quite deep, Latour!

an actor-network is what is made to act by a large star-shaped web of mediators flowing in and out of it. It is made to exist by its many ties: attachments are first, actors are second. To be sure, such an expression smacks of ‘sociologism’, but only as long as we put too much in ‘being’ and not enough in ‘having’.
Interesting that the connective thread that connects actors, that 'social thread' is what's more important than the actors themselves.

collective—an even more radical solution would be to consider these bundles of actor-networks in the same way that Whitehead considers the word ‘society’. For him societies are not assemblages of social ties—in the way Durkheim or Weber could have imagined them—but are all the bundles of composite entities that endure in time and space. 
So, it's not the individual threads that are the focus, it seems, but rather the bundle of these connecting threads is what matters. I wonder how this applies to our RhizoANT exploration, to the untext, and to our collaboration in general.  We have google docs, twitter, blogger, google hangouts, and email as our main non-human actors.  Different threads connect us human actors, but do any threads connect these technologies?  What do you think?

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable Again - Part I

Alright! This is the final countdown for Latour!  I've reached Part II of his book, which discusses the points of rendering associations traceable again.  This continuing exploration of Latour deals with and Actor-Network Theory (in case you didn't remember). I've selected quotes that got me thinking when I first read the book, and now I am providing some current reactions (2 weeks later) to those quotes ...

The adjective ‘social’ designates two entirely different phenomena: it’s at once a substance, a kind of stuff, and also a movement between non-social elements. In both cases, the social vanishes. When it is taken as a solid, it loses its ability to associate; when it’s taken as a fluid, the social again disappears because it flashes only briefly, just at the fleeting moment when new associations are sticking the collective together.
So...I guess according to Latour, the Social is both solid and fluid at the same time?  Maybe some sort of slushy substance that  allows us to both has the ability to associate, but also allows us to see the social in more than just a flash?  Or is that what we are attempting to do with ANT?  To render this two-form thing into something that is in-between?

It’s traceable only when it’s being modified
You know...  I've heard this before, somewhere else I think.  That something is only traceable or visible when it is in a state of flux, but I don't remember where It may have even been Latour himself somewhere.  To some extent this reminds me a little bit of the boos in super mario world.  They are invisible when they are stationary. Then when they start moving toward you they become visible for a few moments, and then when they stop they are invisible again (at least from what I remember of Super Mario World.  It's been 20 years since I've played it).

Thus, much like the pharmakon of the Greeks, the search for the social becomes either a remedy or a powerful poison depending on the dose and on the timing
I think Latour likes both his Greek words and his metaphors. It's a good thing I am fluent in Greek because this metaphor makes a lot of sense. Although I am struggling, at the moment, to find cases where the search for the social is detrimental to what you're doing. If you have any ideas or use cases, do post in the comments.

When a social explanation is proposed, there is no longer a way to decide whether it is due to some genuine empirical grasp, to the application of a standard, to an attempt at social engineering, or to mere laziness.With the confusion of the three successive duties of social science, the social has become thoroughly untraceable.
I suppose there is some truth in this.  The thing that came to mind is academic, peer-reviewed, articles I've read over the past few years where some standard was applied, but it didn't make sense; or attempts of addressing the social were viewed through very odd lenses, thus making the final interpretation a bit off (in not totally bizarre). I do wonder, when other actors come in and render their interpretations of the social traces, do they in turn affect those traces in retrospect?

But it does not require much effort to see that a virtual and always present entity is exactly the opposite of what is needed for the collective to be assembled: if it’s already there, the practical means to compose it are no longer traceable; if it’s total, the practical means to totalize it are no longer visible; if it’s virtual, the practical means to realize, visualize, and collect it have disappeared from view. 
The thing that came to mind when reading this part was to ponder whether Latour was thinking of ossification here, and if not, would ossification apply to this train of thought?

How can we move on and render the social fully traceable again? By following the same strategy as in Part I. We should deploy the full range of controversies instead of attempting to decide by ourselves what is the best starting point to follow it. Once again, we should be more abstract and more relativist than at first anticipated.
Part I here refers to the sections I've blogged about before in this RhizoANT series of posts.  It's quite interesting that instead of picking one thread to try to untangle the entire mess that is social (mess meant in a good way) we have aren't picking just one, it seems, but rather looking at the field in total.

The first corrective move looks simple enough: we have to lay continuous connections leading from one local interaction to the other places, times, and agencies through which a local site is made to do something.
No commentary - just seemed an important point

all of the idiosyncratic terms I am going to offer designate nothing more than specific tricks to help resist the temptation to jump to the global
If we are deploying a full range of controversies, aren't we looking at things from a Global sense, Latour?  I get the idea of looking in, or rather zooming in, but shouldn't we be looking both at the zoomed in and zoomed out view? After all Actors can be Networks, and Networks can be Actors. This necessitates, in my mind, flexibility to pan and zoom throughout the network. No?

Myopic ANT scholars have a great advantage over sharp-sighted all encompassing overseers. Not only can they ask gross and silly questions, they can do so obstinately and collectively. The first kind of clamp is the one obtained by this rather naive query: ‘Where are the structural effects actually being produced?
Not really a naive query - it's a good question actually.  One thing that comes to mind is a two-year-old who keeps asking "why?".  This can be annoying, but if we keep asking why, and trying to answer, I think we get some rich answers (or at least rich views)

Macro no longer describes a wider or a larger site in which the micro would be embedded like some Russian Matryoshka doll, but another equally local, equally micro place, which is connected to many others through some medium transporting specific types of traces. No place can be said to be bigger than any other place, but some can be said to benefit from far safer connections with many more places than others.
Small is big, and big is small? I guess the pan and zoom activity doesn't quite work, according to Latour, because if Networks are Actors, then zooming into it to reveal other actors that make it up reminds me a lot of the Matryoshka doll metaphor.  Am I missing something?

The macro is neither ‘above’ nor ‘below’ the interactions, but added to them as another of their connections, feeding them and feeding off of them. There is no other known way to achieve changes in relative scale. For each of the ‘macro places’, the same type of questions can be raised.
I think I know what you're getting at, Latour, but I am a bit lost (not being funny, or anything...)

As should be clear by now, ANT is first of all an abstract projection principle for deploying any shape, not some concrete arbitrary decision about which shape should be on the map.
Alright, fine.  But, if I am going to use ANT as a thinking tool, shouldn't I come out with something somewhat concrete so as to better explain what's going on to an audience?

As every reader of Michel Foucault knows, the ‘panopticon’, an ideal prison allowing for a total surveillance of inmates imagined at the beginning of the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham, has remained a utopia, that is, a world of nowhere to feed the double disease of total paranoia and total megalomania. We, however, are not looking for utopia, but for places on earth that are fully assignable. Oligoptica are just those sites since they do exactly the opposite of panoptica: they see much too little to feed the megalomania of the inspector or the paranoia of the inspected, but what they see, they see it well—hence the use of this Greek word to designate an ingredient at once indispensable and that comes in tiny amounts (as in the ‘oligo-elements’ of your health store)
Again with those Greek words ;-)

As we saw in the earlier part of the book, it is not the sociologist’s job to decide in the actor’s stead what groups are making up the world and which agencies are making them act
Quite true.

Size and zoom should not be confused with connectedness
One more Latourism.

In effect, the Big Picture is just that: a picture. And then the question can be raised: in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is it shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? I propose to call panoramas the new clamps by asking obsessively such questions. Contrary to oligoptica, panoramas, as etymology suggests, see everything. But they also see nothing since they simply show an image painted (or projected) on the tiny wall of a room fully closed to the outside.
So, a panorama shows you everything, but it's not a panopticon because unlike a panopticon you can't see everything in a panorama.  Am I on the right wavelength here?

Whereas oligoptica are constantly revealing the fragility of their connections and their lack of control on what is left in between their networks, panoramas gives the impression of complete control over what is being surveyed, even though they are partially blind and that nothing enters or leaves their walls except interested or baffled spectators. 
One other aspect of panoramas I can think of is that they focus on the broad, so the details will be quite fuzzy.  The camera lens will focus on a specific spot to make sure that this spot is in focus, and it does so to the detriment of focusing on other things. Thus a panorama gives you the big picture, but you can't really "see" everything clearly.  I wonder if this is what Latour was going for.

Well, Part I is done... Time for a mental break.  Thoughts? :)