Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Cockroaches, beetles and ants

Through my CSU INF530 course I was recently exposed to the ideas of (digital) information ecology. And fascinating indeed they were.  As I wrote in my blog:

"In information ecology, an information system is compared to a natural organism or ecological system whereby internal and external knowledge is integrated in a balanced manner, and information objects, services and products are managed using organisational and digital tools, and sense making “cleaning filters” which adapt and change in response to changes in the environment or the constituents (Candela et al., 2007; Steinerová, 2011; Wang, Guo, Yang, Chen, & Zhang, 2015).

I've been thinking a lot more about this idea of an information ecology and how that pertains to the rate of absorption of new tools and ideas, particularly as I'm reading "Language and Learning in the Digital Age" for my forthcoming scholarly book review, and as I watch the interactions of teachers and students and my fellow classmates.  Taking the ecological idea further, I'm wondering how robust the various ecologies are and how they perceive and react to change as it occurs. There is this urban myth about cockroaches and their ability to withstand anything including a nuclear blast and just carry on with their scavenging activities as survivors.  Then I must think of beetles, (excuse the analogy - borne of a child with an obsession with creepy crawlies a while back, we experienced passionate affinity spaces before I knew of their existence) who, through intervention or accident land on their backs and are unable to right themselves without further intervention. And then the ants - encountering a change or obstacle or intervention, just forge a different path and carry on determined as ever with an unyielding idea of a meta-goal greater than themselves or the temporary inconvenience (another aside - if you've not read "The Soul of the White Ant" I would encourage you to do so).

Something else had me pondering this further. The recent media frenzy around the ultimatum set by Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh to his employees concerning adopting Holacracy. Once I overcame a certain scepticism on the veracity of the reports, it became fascinating. Adapt, accept or die. I had to wonder what the 'natural' rate of absorption of change is for an organisation or system.  Naturally there must be some tipping point at which the resistance towards change becomes dangerous to the system itself and change has to be enforced, but on the counter-balance, perhaps change that is too swift and not scaffolded sufficiently also kills the system as it hollows out the ecology without any compensatory survival mechanisms.

What does this all have to do with education and educators?  Well, it's something we have to think about. For ourselves and our peers and students. Particularly if we're in leadership positions.

What stance do we take to change? How vigorously do we accept and absorb or reject it and at what cost either way?

In the International School environment, the ecology is continually being disturbed and prodded and poked at as students, families, teachers come and go at the whim of international assignments and global forces outside of individual control. Admissions and human resources officers put obstacles in the way of certain elements while giving a leg up to others and that maintains or changes the balance.

And the information. The institutional knowledge, the parental knowhow, the street smart survival noes of students who thrive or the anguish of those who give up. Where is it situated?  The private or secret Facebook groups, the Instagram chatter, vine, Snapseed, dinner parties, coffee mornings, corridor chatter. Where do we find the live beating heart?

The school as an ecology (see Perrault, 2007, 2010, 2011,  on this).  As parents, within each of us we carry the seed of the ecology of our own educational experience and context. It is then interrupted for a period of years and lies dormant until our children enter a schooling system. And then we fear for the germination and thriving or otherwise of this tender shoot. For the ecology probably differs from what we "know" to be suitable and fertile ground. We hanker for the familiar and fear the changes and point to our survival as evidence of the suitability or lack thereof of the current ecology.

I must admit a partiality to Gee's (2011) concept of "shape-shifting portfolio people" and would like to see myself as such. I think it is the perfect complement to the concept of Information ecology and that they meet in a type of "meta"-ecology that transcends individual systems or nations or environments.

Comments? Considerations?


Candela, L., Castelli, D., Pagano, P., Thanos, C., Ioannidis, Y., Koutrika, G., … Schuldt, H. (2007). Setting the Foundations of Digital Libraries - The DELOS Manifesto. D-Lib Magazine, 13(3/4).
Gee, J. P. (2012). The Old and the New in the New Digital Literacies. The Educational Forum, 76(4), 418–420. http://doi.org/10.1080/00131725.2012.708622
Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2011). Language and learning in the digital age (1st ed). New York, NY: Routledge.
Greenfield, R. (2015, March 30). Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh: Adopt Holacracy Or Leave. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.fastcompany.com/3044417/zappos-ceo-tony-hsieh-adopt-holacracy-or-leave
Perrault, A. M. (2007). The School as an Information Ecology: A Framework for Studying Changes in Information Use. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(2), 49–62. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=28746579&site=ehost-live
Perrault, A. M. (2010). Reaching All Learners: Understanding and Leveraging Points of Intersection for School Librarians and Special Education Teachers. School Library Media Research, 13, 1–10. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67740987&site=ehost-live
Perrault, A. M. (2011). Rethinking School Libraries: Beyond Access to Empowerment. Knowledge Quest, 39(3), 6–7. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=58621336&site=ehost-live
Steinerová, J. (2011). Slovak Republic: Information Ecology of Digital Libraries. Uncommon Culture, 2(1), 150–157. Retrieved from http://pear.accc.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/UC/article/view/4081
Wang, X., Guo, Y., Yang, M., Chen, Y., & Zhang, W. (2015). Information ecology research: past, present, and future. Information Technology and Management, 1–13. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10799-015-0219-3