Agile Learning Centers and Cooperative Platforms

I will be going to a conference this weekend called Platform Cooperativism. Here is the introduction from their website:

The seeds are being planted for a new kind of online economy. For all the wonders the Internet brings us, it is dominated by an economics of monopoly, extraction, and surveillance. Ordinary users retain little control over their personal data, and the digital workplace is creeping into every corner of workers’ lives. Online platforms often exploit and exacerbate existing inequalities in society, even while promising to be the great equalizers. Could the Internet be owned and governed differently?

Aside from my history of techno activism and love for cooperative platforms I see this conference as an opportunity to share Agile Learning Centers (ALC) to an audience that would really “get” it. This post aims to be a brain dump for my ideas around how ALC and cooperative online platforms, as a movement, intersect and overlap. This will probably be a rambling mess, you’ve been warned.

New Terms for a New World

What follows are my interpretations of some of the vocabulary surrounding the Platform Coop event and Agile Learning Centers. By unpacking these terms I hope to highlight how ALC supports these ideas and how these ideas support ALC.

The New Economy

This is what we are preparing kids for in Agile Learning Centers. The new economy is based not on extracting energy and resources from the earth and it’s people. It is an economy that values the sustained healthy existence of the earth as a whole, including (but not limited to) people. This new economy understands the value of all natural systems and social systems on our planet.

The old models of business are already done for and largely only exist through the force of inertia. Top down systems are the way of the past. Command and control, or more simply put, having someone telling you what to do and when to do it are antiquated. ALCs are built around this truth. We have done away with teachers—with it’s implicit hierarchy—and replaced them with facilitators. Children aren’t told what to do but given autonomy and freedom to find their own path, a skill necessary in the New Economy.

Cooperatives

A cooperative structure, or coop, in this context refers to a business that is owned and operated cooperatively. These organizations are quite old and were probably the norm by another age before the great experiment of capital and corporations. Simply put, the people doing the work run the business.

In the context of ALCs the people doing the learning (work) run the learning center (business). The cultural tool we use in ALCs are perfectly suited for coops. I feel that the children raised through ALCs are going to be so far out ahead of their “competitors” in state schools, which by and large teach toward the old economy.

Cooperation is a skill like any other. It’s something that must be learned and practiced. In our old paradigm most of us never really get to flex our cooperation muscle and thus when we find ourselves in situations where we must cooperate we are weak and feeble. Consider how cooperation is viewed in most institutions: as cheating.

The Problem with Platforms

I like to equate platforms to fields of play. When one enters into a field of play they are expected to play by a set of rules. These rules and the method for how one plays are typically dictated by the configuration of the field of play. It’s hard to play handball on a football field, there is no wall to bounce the ball off, the ball in play is the wrong shape, and the other players are running around tackling each other.

In most cases someone has set up the field of play before hand. We can draw a parallel here to online platforms. Someone, typically the developers (let’s call them game masters), set up a field of play and then invites players into it. Often the players have no say in how the game is played. The players can not change the rules or how the field is configured.

This isn’t such a problem when we are playing simple games like football and soccer. As we step out of this metaphor it becomes much more limiting. Online platforms can limit the type of interactions through their design. Twitter is a great example with it’s 140 character limit. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that! It’s the game that’s being played and you agree to play it by stepping onto the “Twitter Field”. Things get sticky when the rules change mid play. For example, Twitter has a great way of democratically promoting content through the use of the “re-tweet”. The best content rises to the top and lots of people see it. All fine, but, it costs a lot of money to run all those servers so Twitter has to earn money and they do this by changing the rules of the game in the form of sponsored tweets. These are tweets that get promoted not though democracy but by the influence of money.

The players on Twitter get no say, even though it is them who produce the value. No one would participate in the game of Twitter were it not for the players on the field. Imagine a football game that attracted millions of spectators but the players were not paid (no need, that describes college sports, see John Oliver explain how those players(workers) are being exploited).

Twitter is profiting off the work of it’s “players” yet giving them no way to change the game they are playing.

Enter Platform Coops

So we need to co-own our platforms. If the players owned the field they are playing on then they can change it to suit their play. They can change the game to make it work better for everyone, rather than the owners of the field. That is to say, if the users own the platform they can make it work for them rather than work for the platform.

Imagine this in the game analogy again. Most of us play on these platforms because we love the game. We aren’t playing to win we are playing to play. If we have control we can change the rules to keep the game going.

A small but telling example is that of Google Reader. This RSS reading platform was shut down by Google a few years ago and left all the people using it high and dry. Google didn’t want to support the platform and the people using it couldn’t play there anymore because it belonged to someone other than them.

Cooperation is(n’t) Hard

This weekend’s conference is going to talk about how we can collaboratively own platforms. How we can democratically control them.

Digital Technology

Cooperation is hard.There will surly be talk of other platforms like Loomio or ideologies for managing platforms, like free/open source software. I believe that most people will look to digital technology for the answer. If only we had the open source Facebook or the right voting tool. We need digital technology to make cooperation easy some will say.

This isn’t the answer and it strikes at the very heart of why I’m involved with ALC.

Cultural Technology

Cooperation is easy when you have the skills and tools to do it well. At ALC we are developing cultural technology which makes cooperation easy by teaching the skills needed to do it. Borrowing from ideas old (Quaker meetings) and new (Agile project management) we are adapting tools and practices which don’t need digital technology to operate. Our culture is created, adapted, and changed with not much more than a white board and sticky notes!

This is what we have to offer.

Digital Technology is necessary, it is the difference between trying to do this 20 years ago and doing it today. It is the power multiplier that will free us from the old economy. My point is that we must ground the digital technology in a foundation of good cultural technology.

ALC needs help building the digital technology over our open source tools and practices. We need to do so in a way that doesn’t create another platform that might die with our brand!

I look forward to figuring out how we are going to do this.

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Online Community Guidelines

I’ve been trying to gather feedback for a card on the ALF Community Mastery Board:

I feel like it isn’t being taken serious largely due to the amazing community we have who operate from a place of trust, respect, and understanding. It doesn’t feel like a big deal to define agreements because if something comes up we can “deal with it” on a case by case basis.

Perhaps that is right, but I don’t think so. We are growing at a fast rate, 5 new ALC Startups in the past 2 months, with nearly zero advertising on our part. The folks working on network infrastructure (like the website, etc) are foreseeing a “flood” of new interest in the coming year.

I work to keep our communication infrastructure running and transparent. Most of this is configuring web services, documenting their use, and working on making clear how they function. A part of this upkeep is also keeping cultural technology well functioning. An email list or website activity feed isn’t working if it’s full of spam or harassing messages.

Why General group communication agreements?

Right now there are about 6 email lists, multiple forums and discussion spaces on this website, plus endless comment threads on each blog post (including this one). We have no explicit agreement about what is and is not acceptable on any of these channels.

spam.jpg.scaled580

For the most part people can delete comments on their own websites, administrators of groups can moderate their forums, and empowered users can remove toxic people from email lists (which hasn’t ever happened). This is a fine system when we have only about 150 users. What happens when we have 1500 users? 15,000?

I want the General group communication agreements to act as a “baseline” agreement that is applied automatically to all ALC communication channels. Groups can exercise their autonomy to make their own communication agreements by over writing or adding to the general agreements.

What’s the big deal?

This isn’t the first site of this kind I’ve built. In 2011 I worked with a team of activist technologist to build a very similar site for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET in NYC. There was a need to coordinate and communicate about the encampment in the park digitally. It’s scope was limited to the NYC metro area and participants limited to people actually on the ground.

Even with this limited—trust based—scope things quickly spiraled out of control on the website. A minority of people began to create a very unsafe space online for other users. The tech working group who oversaw the site didn’t have clear guidelines around how to remove people. We were too afraid to use our autonomy to police the site because it hadn’t been clearly defined or granted to us by the larger community.

Our site, which we had worked so hard on, died. Only the trolls remained on the site and all the nice people who were interested in social change were driven out.

Trolling, not even once!
Trolling, not even once!

I don’t think the same thing will happen to the ALC site, the stakes are much lower and the community is much more grounded in trust.

The thing is, I don’t want to wait till something bad happens to have a process in place! I don’t want me and the other people I have granted admin rights to make arbitrary decisions about if a person is damaging the communication channels of our community. I want to be able to look to an agreement that is clear, which I can show to someone in “violation” and say “what you are doing is against our communities’ agreements”.

The Draft Agreements

## Agreements

Keep posting relevant to the charter of the tool, no spam (irrelevant or inappropriate messages)
Respect each other, no hate (any form of hate speech will result in immediate removal)

## Oversight

Any ban, blocking, or censorship will be forwarded to the Network Culture Committee Working Group (not yet a thing)


I think this could be much better. If we model it after student agreements, which are agreements that students sign to play in a space, then anyone in that space is empowered to point out violations of these agreements. This saves people like me from having to be the police and from normal users feeling powerless to deal with spammers or bullies.

Please add your suggestions below or, if you are an ALF add comments directly to the card.

 

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Drew and Bear do the Communities Conference

I had the lovely honor of stuffing myself in a car with @bear (and some Point A collaborators) and driving down to Central Virginia to attend the Twin Oaks Communities Conference.

The conference (or con as the cool kids say) brought together a number of intentional communities from around the world. It takes place each year at Twin Oaks a nearly 50 year old egalitarian income sharing community. Both @bear and myself think that intentional communities are very important allies for ALC as they typically already have experience in creating and maintaining the kind of culture at the heart of ALC.

On Sunday we hosted a info sharing session in the “Open Spaces” portion of the conference, which was basically like our daily intention setting and offerings practice.

Our session had about 10 people attend. We structured the presentation around a big kanban board with the column headers what we could do, what we will do, what we are doing, and what we have done. As questions came up or new topics emerged we would add them to the board. I love using the kanban to organize these kinds of meetings because it allows me to organize the meeting in a dynamic way while also modeling the tool.

Community Conference Kanban
Community Conference Kanban

We also used a Game Shifting board to facilitate the meeting space (and model the tool).

It should be said that Bear and I didn’t really “plan” very much of this event, we just shot from the hip and it was awesome!

We covered:

  • Played a connective game
  • What is ALC?
  • Tool: Kanban
  • Daily structure
  • Weekly cycle
  • How do we use this stuff in RL (Real Life) – i.e. how Bear and I used the tools and practices in our daily lives.
  • ALC & Experiential learning
  • Tool: Set the week
  • Tool: Change up Meeting and Community Mastery Board
  • What is an ALF?
  • Tool: Game Shift

I started by explaining the Kanban, then we moved into a connective game where bear had everyone mill around the space, make eye contact, then start saying hello, then stop and share with a person what you intended to get out of the conference. We then moved into playing “yes lets” where people suggest something to do then everyone says “yes! lets!” and we all do it. Our group stretched, jumped like a kangaroo, stood still in silence, sung a song made up on the spot, touched our toes, and sighed.

After the games we dove into what ALC was and then went over the tools and how we use them in real life. The Game Shifting Board was use to manage how we all interacted fairly successfully. We lead a real life Change Up Meeting using issues with the dish line as an example.

I felt like all this information went over very well and that overall the presentation was great! Later in the event I even stumbled upon a Kanban that someone else had made:

download_20150907_233238

Always the sign of a great success. I got this feedback on Facebook today as well:

I made a kanban today to handle the tasks I needed to accomplish. and I’m hooked. I love it. I can totally see parenting using the whole system…and my children and I using the CMB to bring up with citing issues and providing solutions. I can’t wait to learn more. Please keep me in the loop for any trainings or visitation days. Thanks!!

 

 

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How do we make new ALFs and ALCs?

This weekend on the ALF Summer planning call we began talking about what the process for turning people into Agile Learning Facilitators (ALF) and how to establish schools as Agile Learning Centers (ALC).

This post will cover my ideas on these two subjects which are, in my mind, related. I’m going to focus on three ideas. Trademark and protecting the ALC “brand”, what an ALF is and what a process of “entitling” new ALFs should be, and the process for adding ALCs to our network.

At the core my feeling is that an ALF is simply an ALF if other ALFs say they are an ALF. Just as an ALC is an ALC because ALFs say it is an ALC.

Let’s unpack these acronyms!

Agile Learning Facilitator: This is a person who is trained in the methodology of Agile Learning. They are a member of the Agile Learning Centers network and part of the community of other ALFs. The title of ALF empowers that person to participate fully in the community: they are both the custodian and CEO of the ALC network. They are empowered to facilitate and Agile Learning Center.

Agile Learning Center: This is a school which is facilitated by an ALF using the ALC principles or accepted variations on those principles. An ALC can be a fully fledged school or a program within the context of a school or home school.

So, what if someone calls themselves an ALF or an ALC?

Trademark

A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods.

So there are two basic kinds of trademark. One is the ™ (trademark) symbol and the other is the ® (registered trademark) symbol.

Anyone can slap a trademark on their word, name, symbol, or design and signal to others that “this design object is ours!” So it’s a bit like licking your cookie so no one else eats it. It doesn’t offer many protections (it would seem, I’m no expert).

Trademark does not protect the company from another company that produces a similar product or uses a similar name. If such a thing were to happen, the original company would have to prove that it produced the name or design first, but still may not have a legal defense without a registration.

Chron Small Business Resource

So we could start writing Agile Learning Centers™ all over the place but it doesn’t stop Agile Learning Core from becoming a thing. It then puts it on us to lawyer up and prove we were ALC first and they are trying to be ALC. It seems like a fine idea, giving us a little bit of protection, but (and I’m not a lawyer) I think that we could litigate in that situation anyways, ™ symbol or no.

The threat from without is much less of a worry than the threat from within.

I’ve seen this first hand as a “member” of Occupy Wall Street. Recently a twitter handle that represents OWS, a out reach resource, was litigated over by people who believed themselves to be the more authentic controller of that brand asset. This is a clear break down of the agreement around who is and is not “Occupy”. This from a movement with “official” documents reading:

“The people who are working together to create this movement are its sole and mutual caretakers.  If you have chosen to devote resources to building this movement, especially your time and labor, then it is yours.”

Statement of Autonomy – Nov 10, 2011

Anyone could be “on the inside” of Occupy because anyone could simply start participating. ALC is in a similar situation. All of our knowledge is increasingly being documented to the point where someone could start an ALC all on their own. As such, our intention to make ALC open source becomes a means to fracture our network. All it would take is one divisive thing to break the whole network into factions. This is where I suspect the issue of trademark will enter: two factions of ALFs fighting over network resources such as the ALC brand, as opposed to someone from outside using the brand in a way that hurts us.

Will the ALF separatists gain control of our brand assets?
Will the ALF separatists gain control of our brand assets?

It is the use of these shared resources that make being accepted into the ALC network valuable. However the resources such as branding, which are easy to define and protect, are not the most valuable resource by far. It is the community of which you are a part which gives membership true value.

Therefore, the process of being accepted into the community holds much more importance than how to trademark and protect resources. I do think that developing a frame work for shared access to resources is an important process that needs to happen sooner than later, but it is outside the scope of this post.

Becoming an ALF

In James P. Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games he describes titles as somethings we win from playing finite games. Much like Steve Lombardozzi might have the title of “Winner of the1987 World Serise” for playing a finite game of baseball, so too does an ALF play some kind of game to become an ALF. It is our job as ALFs to figure out what that game is.

I want to avoid answering that question. I think that it will never be answered. Nor do I really think it should have an answer. The game will change as the players change.

My proposal is to create not a set of requirements, but a protocol or set of conditions to becoming an ALF. It’s actually pretty simple. To become an ALF an existing ALF invites you to be an ALF.

add-an-alf

The invite comes in the form of an endorsement. Ryan endorses Abby and the process begins. Abby is now a rising ALF, she becomes an ALF once she receives a threshold of endorsements. More endorsements means a more reputable ALF.

Endorsements could come with caveats, such as keeping trial status of Rising ALF for a period of time. As we define the benefits of full membership the role of trial membership will come into focus.

A key to this process is the ability to update or remove endorsements from an ALF. This is a method of ostracism, which I believe to be a very important tool for any group. The word ostracize comes from the procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. There was no recourse because it wasn’t a punishment, it was simply a command from the community.

The tool of ostracism could be used to remove, even temporarily, an ALF who was working themselves sick or who needed space from the community. It is the ability to remove that I find most important from all of my experience with collective intentional groups.

This is the basis of my entire proposal. ALFs become ALFs when other ALFs endorse them (through a blog post perhaps). Negative endorsements are weighed against positive ones if there is contention around a rising ALF and those endorsements can then be updated to reflect changes in a situation.

We could then set conditions to access certain resources. For instance, to be listed as an ALF on the website you might need 5 positive endorsements and no more than 2 negative ones.

Through this process we can introduce Agile Learning Centers.

What Makes an ALC?

I think that it is the ALFs that make the ALC, because the ALC is a school facilitated by an ALF(s) using our principles and tools. So any school that an ALF is running can be assumed to be an ALC, because we wouldn’t endorse an ALF whom we wouldn’t trust to run an ALC.

It would be possible, and probably desirable, for ALFs to endorse ALCs like they endorse other ALFs.

Then similar conditions could be set for listing on the website along with other resources.

To tie this all together I’ve drawn a diagram of how I see the ALC network right now:

alc_network_sktech

 

The inner ring with red dots are the ALFs. There might be more rings within this circle that signify other roles and responsibilities, all which could be granted using endorsements. If everyone endorsed me to be the Agile King, then it would be.

The outer ring of the middle circle is for rising ALFs and interns. These could possibly be sub divided into people who want to be ALFs and people who simply want to work in ALCs.

The outer circles represent the ALCs each full of students and facilitators, some of which have outer rights (or bumps) with potential (or rising) students.

The ALCs with dashed lines are rising ALCs. I’ve automatically assumed that any school without an “official” ALF is simply a rising, or potential, ALC. This is predicated on my assumption that ALFs make ALCs.

As my diagram illustrates, the ALCs are anchored to the network by the ALFs. Each ALF who is accepted becomes one more anchor point where an ALC can bind to the network.

Conclusions

  • Membership to the network comes from being entitled as an Agile Learning Facilitator.
  • There are no “higher” levels of membership beyond ALF.
  • Persons are accepted as ALFs through peer endorsements.
  • Endorsements can be either positive or negative, no endorsements are seen as neutral.
  • Further roles and responsibilities are granted though conditions based on the content and number of endorsements.
  • ALCs are endorsed by ALFs.
  • Access to resources is granted to ALCs based on conditions relative to ALF endorsements.

Strengths of this process

  • Allows for independent evaluation of ALFs without requiring attendance to programs such as ALF summer. Any ALF can endorse another person at any time. Other ALFs can conduct interviews on their own time to formulate their own endorsements for the rising ALF.
  • The more a rising ALF participates with the community the better their chances of gaining endorsements.
  • Low level of process around inviting and empowering people to be ALFs.
  • Programs like ALF Summer give rising ALFs an opportunity to meet and interact with other ALFs. This strengthens community ties and provides space for current ALFs to have time with rising ALFs to create better endorsements.
  • Minimum bureaucracy.
  • Endorsements can change and give ALFs the ability to both add and remove ALFs from the network.
  • Endorsements can carry caveats such as trial periods or any other features. For instance Ryan might state that he endorses Abby but wants her to come to ALF summer before he is ready to accept her as a full fledged ALF.
  • Provides a measurable figure (positive/negative endorsements) to set certain condition thresholds.

Conditions

Here are some example conditions that can be set for access to community resources.

  • To be a full ALF one must have at least 4 positive and 0 negative endorsements.
  • To participate in weekly ALF calls a person must have at least one positive endorsement.
  • To be listed in the ALC directory a school must have at least 1 ALF and no negative endorsements.

Pitfalls

The obvious issue here for me is negative endorsements. Publicly stating that you don’t feel that someone belongs in a group is hard and feels bad. This, I feel, can be remedied with good communication. Rather that write a negative endorsement I might go to the person in question and let them know what my issues are with them and how they can work to turn my negative feelings into positive ones.

Also creating ways of publicly and privately endorsing people might be a way to help this process.

This also doesn’t completely alleviate the issues outlined above about schisms  within our group. If we get to the point of such in-fighting it might be a sign of much larger issues. Being that we are building an open source educational methodology, we might want to take notes from the free software movement and promote forking.

If we design our resources in such a way that people can “fork” (or duplicate) our systems so as to take them in another direction, this would be ideal. We can then solve intractable disagreements by facilitating the duplication of systems for a “break away” group. This idea of forking is something I would like to explore in future posts.

I would appreciate feedback to evolve this idea. Are there any weaknesses you see in this plan? What are ways you would improve it? Please leave a comment or write another post linking back to this one with a response.