Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ethics for MOOCs: Provisional Boundaries

Woermann and Cilliers posit four mechanisms that reinforce and promote the critical attitude: provisionality, followed by transgressivity, irony, and imagination. To my mind, mechanism is an unfortunate term, as none of the four seem mechanical; rather, I would call them heuristics, having more to do with experimentation in contact with the real, as Deleuze and Guattari say it, than with a device for reliably and regularly framing the world. These four mechanisms are bricolage for bricoleurs.

Given our incomplete knowledge of any complex system—and I think that all naturally occurring systems are complex as are many human-created systems such as MOOCs—it should be obvious that knowledge is provisional and, thus, the ethics based on that knowledge is provisional. While we must frame knowledge and ethical responses to complex spaces, we must simultaneously hold that our frames are in some way inadequate both when shifted to other contexts and within our own contexts. Let's see how.

That meaning, knowledge, and ethics change when we shift contexts is almost trivial to say. Even children can sense, if not adequately explain, the different meaning in the words "I love you" when spoken by different people in different situations. Indeed, the words don't mean much without a context. Likely when you just read the words I love you, you automatically supplied a context in your mind to help the words mean something. Without context, there is almost no meaning, and different contexts mean different meanings. Most of the world's love stories are based on two people using the same words from different contexts. Much of humor relies on things said or done in the wrong context (this touches both on transgressivity and irony, which I'll discuss later).

But the provisional nature of knowledge and ethics is even more subtle than this as both knowledge and ethics are uncertain even within a given context. Language, knowledge, and ethics never come to us pure, but they are always stained with their use in other contexts. Woermann and Cilliers quote Bakhtin, who says in his 1984 book Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics:
The life of the word is contained in its transfer... from one context to another context... In this process the word does not forget its own path and cannot completely free itself from the power of these concrete contexts into which it has entered. (452)
When we say "I love you", we cannot unsay all the other times we have said the same, for better or for worse, in other contexts, nor can we unsay all the other times the other has heard these words said. We cannot even unsay all the times countless others have said and heard these words. Our boundaries leech. Our frames do not hold absolutely against the outside. Perhaps this is one reason we so often envelope ourselves in emotional frames: to insulate ourselves from the knowledge of other contexts, to focus ourselves on taking the desired action quickly regardless of what we know, to forbid our knowledge and ethics from interfering with what we are passionate to do.

Not only do contexts leech the outside in, they are never complete in themselves. As Woermann and Cilliers note (453), Derrida says in Living On: Border Lines (1979) that "no context permits saturation." Woermann and Cilliers add that "every context is open to further description" and "[t]here are no final meanings that arrest the movement of signification" (453). Even when we position ourselves within a context in order to know what we know and to act as well as we can, our given context is open to further description, further interpretation. We can always know more, and that more always changes our knowledge and understanding.

We are always in trouble. We must make decisions, and the frames that inform our decisions are provisional. Most people do not like this tension, and they work very hard to simplify the complexity of life to render decision-making—which is the heart of ethics—into binary choices, into Thou shalt or Thou shalt not, into nothing can exceed the speed of light or you can understand any phenomenon by breaking it down into its smallest constituents and describing its fundamental interactions. Here is my problem with fundamentalists: not that they do or do not have a different frame than I, but that they insist that theirs is the only frame, the only context. Moreover, the true fundamentalists see it as their job or calling to destroy all frames and contexts other than their own. We have a long history of religions trying to stamp out competing religious frames, but we currently have a strong movement among atheists to stamp out all religious frames. To my mind, both are highly unethical attempts to destroy competing frames and to force their one, true frame onto others.

In a way, fundamentalists want to destroy ethics or to reduce it to a binary choice. Fundamentalism always posits absolute, universal rules, which reduces the complexity of ethics to simple choices: either one honors thy father and thy mother or one does not. A complex ethics rejects simple, binary choices.

A complex ethics also rejects an anything goes relativism that says all choices are the same. This is another way to reduce the burden of ethical choices. If all choices are the same, then just pick whatever is convenient. A complex ethics, however, accepts the constant burden of making choices with incomplete knowledge within restricted contexts.

This, I think, is a key stance for anyone engaging a complex learning space such as a MOOC. Even within the context of the MOOC, one cannot have complete knowledge, can't read it all, can't know everyone. MOOCs seem to work better if participants declare their own points of view, while opening space for others to do the same. MOOCs seem to work better when participants constantly reassess their own frames in light of other frames. Finally, MOOCs seem to work better when participants are willing to transgress their own boundaries when those boundaries, those frames, become inadequate to accommodate different, insistent knowledge and behaviors. This sounds like a recipe for ethics, but that's a trick of language—it isn't a recipe, it's a stance, a habit of mind, a heuristic, a cultivated tendency. It can happen in a moment, in a flash of insight, or it can unpack and emerge over the course of many MOOCs. It's a practice that is never mastered, never finished. It's a way of acting. It's complex ethics. It isn't the Way—it's a manner of walking. It isn't the Truth—it's a manner of conversing and mapping. It isn't neat and tidy enough to be a rule, but at best, a rule of thumb. It is not a social contract. I'm not opposed to contracts, but that ain't what I'm talking about.

I'll talk more about transgressions next. It seems that they are ethical after all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ethics for MOOCs: Provisional Imperatives

I think I should say something about what I mean by the term ethics, especially as distinguished from morals. In fact, I do not distinguish much between ethics and morals; rather, I follow what Bruce Weinstein says about the distinctions between the two: "[J]ust about everyone understands that both ethics and morality have to do with identifying right conduct and good character. To keep everyone on the same page, and to honor the linguistic history of these two noble concepts, it’s much better to treat ethical and moral as synonymous."

That said, I recognize that some conversations find it useful to distinguish the two:
  • ethics are social standards, while morals are personal beliefs
  • ethics deals with right conduct, while morals deals with good character (or the other way around—I forget)
  • ethics belong to the secular realm, while morals belong to the religious
  • ethics are absolute and objective, while morals are relative and subjective
In this conversation, I don't think I will use these distinctions, but I'm free to do so if the need arises.

At any rate, I'm talking about how people choose to behave in groups, specifically MOOCs. Those choices are both social and personal at the same time. They can also be secular and religious, absolute and relative, objective and subjective at the same time. I said in a comment on Frances Bell's blog that "new structures demand new ethics", and Jenny Mackness questions this assertion in her post New structures (MOOCs) demand new ethics? She raises a vital question. If there is no stable, enduring ethical system, then what prevents us from all simply doing what we want to do? Are we left with a totally relativistic, anything goes melee?

Woermann and Cilliers say not, but does their answer imply a new ethics? I want to explore these two questions.

Woermann and Cilliers avoid an anything goes relativism by asserting a  provisional imperative modelled after Kant's categorical imperative. They begin by noting that "the ethics of complexity cannot do more than generate awareness of the fact that we are always in trouble. In other words, it cannot provide substantive guidelines for an ethical system" (451). This is uncomfortable. What use is an ethics that can't tell us how to behave? Doesn't this leave us in an anything goes situation? They answer that "despite not being able to provide a substantive ethics, it is possible to develop a type of meta-ethical position, which serves to highlight important considerations that underscore the ethical strategies that we employ when engaging in the particularities of situations."

What they are aiming for, I think, are heuristics, rules-of-thumb rather than rules. Strategies that can be employed and adjusted on-the-fly as we traverse new territory, encounter new people, and shift contexts across a complex topography, which sounds like most of the MOOCs I've engaged. They capture this type of meta-ethical position, this critical stance, in a provisional imperative:
When acting, always remain cognisant of other ways of acting.
To get a sense of the distinction and importance of this imperative, it helps me to compare it to Kant's categorical imperative, which Woermann and Cilliers phrase this way:
When acting, always follow only universal rules, or only rules which you will want all other people to follow.
So what is different about a provisional imperative as opposed to a categorical one? First, note that Woermann and Cilliers' provisional imperative is a contradiction in terms, while Kant's imperative is not. As Woermann and Cilliers readily note:
The idea of a provisional imperative seems to suggest that the imperative itself is subject to change, and in this regard we seem to be advocating an impossible position. This is, to a large extent, exactly the point: we cannot do away with moral imperatives, but, if we take complexity seriously, we should also realise that our imperatives are the outcome of certain framing strategies or ways of thinking about the world, and are thus necessarily exclusionary. Thus the provisional imperative stipulates that we must be guided by the imperative, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the exclusionary nature of all imperatives.
To my mind, their imperative embodies the very complexity they are trying to address. It dialogically juxtaposes two terms that cannot be reconciled: provisional and imperative. The one term suggests open-ended change and flexibility while the second suggests closed, unchanging rigidity. Complexity says we are suspended between these two, irreconcilable positions, and our lives play out in the tensions between them. No relief, no exit. Provisional imperative is similar to the phrase assertive humility that I used in my last post: a dialogic that suspends us between equally demanding and yet irreconcilable positions. This is part of the nature of complex systems, for as Woermann and Cilliers quote theoretical biologist, Robert Rosen: "a system is complex precisely ‘to the extent that it admits non-equivalent encodings; encodings which cannot be reduced to one another'" (450). Morin is quite clear that these non-equivalent encodings are part of the core logic of complex systems: "the dialogic is not the response to these paradoxes, but the means of facing them, by considering the complementarity of antagonisms and the productive play, sometimes vital, of complementary antagonisms" (Restricted Complexity, 16).

Neither Kant's categorical imperative nor Woermann and Cilliers' provisional imperative is substantive. Neither gives us explicit guidance about how to behave, but I think that the provisional imperative describes a stance that is more useful for determining behavior in complex systems: act as well as you can within the context you define, but always be aware that others may act in different ways that may be as good or better within the same context and that are quite likely better in different contexts, so always be ready to question your context.

This seems to me a useful ethical stance to take in a complex space such as an rMOOC. I must engage a MOOC within my frame, presented as honestly and as clearly as I can. For instance, when I showed up to Rhizo14 last year, I came with a keen interest in Deleuze and Guattari and complexity thought and wanted to explore how both of these might inform a discussion about rhizomatic learning and the community as the curriculum. Given the title of the MOOC, I thought it was a reasonable frame. As the MOOC emerged, however, Deleuze and Guattari were not the central focus of the discussions. Others brought other frames to the MOOC. The clash of frames disappointed and offended some, causing them to leave the MOOC, and the emerging discussions that were often more artistic than philosophical disappointed others. The reframing of the discussion on Facebook and Twitter at first annoyed me, as I don't like either of those platforms, but the others in the discussion didn't like Google+. I could have stubbornly clung to my original framing of the MOOC, which would have forced me to either abandon the MOOC or try to twist everyone into my frame. I'm pleased that I chose the third way: relax my frame and engage other ways of acting.

I claim no moral high-ground here. I did almost abandon the MOOC. Like everyone else, I'm a busy professional, and I could have easily told myself and others that I was just too busy. They would have believed me. I would have believed me. Of course, now I'm glad I didn't leave, not just because of all the wonderful connections, real friendships, that I've made, but because I learned first-hand Woemann and Cilliers' provisional imperative: When acting, always remain cognisant of other ways of acting.

I should note that I did not exactly abandon my D&G frame for another frame; rather, I enlarged my frame to accommodate the others. I still mentioned D&G and complexity, quite often actually, because after all that is the value that I had to bring to the conversation, but my comments were framed not in a narrow, philosophical way, but in a more general community as curriculum way. In other words, I continued to declare the value that I could bring, but I worked to reframe that value into different contexts. I think it worked for others, and I know it worked for me. I was able to expand my understanding of D&G and of complexity by pushing the discussion into different frames. By the way, I also eventually joined the more artsy discussions, which I had at first resisted as they didn't fit my narrow frame. I introduced the haiku form of poetry, which led to a round of haiku among Simon Ensor, Terry Elliot, Kevin Hodgson, and me. Again, I was able to expand my understanding of D&G and complexity and, more importantly, make some treasured friends.

I think this provisional imperative informs Dave Cormier's list of suggestions on Youtube about how to be successful in a MOOC, especially the first three:
  1. orient,
  2. declare,
  3. network,
  4. cluster, and
  5. focus.
We orient ourselves within a MOOC by constructing an initial frame. We anchor to some aspect of the MOOC—a person, a concept, an activity—and look about through our frame. We declare ourselves part of the MOOC and present. Here we can state our frame, our value, our expectations, our point of view. From this position, we begin to connect to others, to network, and this is where we must always remain cognizant of other ways of acting. We must begin working with our frame to accommodate, complement, or stand in dialogical opposition to other frames and points of view.

This, of course, is where the rub comes in. It may be that we find no one to cluster with and we remain alone. We may have to accept that this conversation is not for us. I'm okay with that, but many feel that we should be all inclusive. I may blog about this later, but I'll say here that I don't agree with this point of view. If a group of people wants to play futbol except for one who wants to play baseball, then that one should disengage or decide to embrace the futbol game, and the group should not feel compelled to quit playing futbol to accommodate the one. Fortunately, MOOCs can be large enough to accommodate both futbol and baseball games, if the players will organize themselves that way. What isn't acceptable is for the one baseball player to stay and poison the futbol game. It would have been wrong of me, for instance, to insist that Rhizo14 focus its discussion on Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome metaphor just because that was the game I wanted to play.

Anyway, the provisional imperative may still seem both too vague and too demanding for many. Self-criticality is a difficult, tiring position to maintain and even harder to tell if you're doing it correctly, and so next I want to discuss four mechanisms that Woermann and Cilliers promise will "serve to reinforce and promote the critical attitude, namely provisionality, transgressivity, irony, and imagination."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ethics for MOOCs: Assertive Humility

So in my last post I introduced the idea that engagement of complex spaces such as in cMOOCs requires ethical choices. We must define the open, shifting space to make sense of it, deciding what is valuable and what is not, what is in, what is out, and how it should be arranged. We must frame and arrange the complex space, including ourselves in it, and our ethics are revealed in this framing and arranging. This framing and arranging always unfolds with less knowledge than we desire, less than we usually recognize. In complex spaces, we are always acting on the basis of relative ignorance. This lands us in the first complex ethical issue and characterizes the dialogical nature of ethics within the complex domain.

Think of it as being one locust inside a swarm of locusts, far from the edge, and having to make decisions about your place in the swarm and the proper way to move within the swarm. Frame a space of about 35 locusts including yourself, and call it a collaborative autoethnography to give yourself a manageable focus on the swarm. What is the correct stance here?

The first stance is humility. You will never, ever have enough information within your frame to move with absolute certainty within the swarm. The swarm ever has surprises for you that come from all the swarm outside your frame that, despite your frame, is still interacting with the swarm inside your frame. This is always the case.

Like Woermann and Cilliers and Morin, I believe in general complexity as opposed to restricted complexity, both of which Morin defines in his 2008 article Restricted Complexity, General Complexity. Though many in science have accepted complexity and its concomitant incomplete knowledge, many complexity scientists still hold to the nineteenth century faith that we will discover the rules and structures of complexity given enough time and computing power. This restricted view of complexity still believes in the Theory of Everything (TOE). I do not believe in the big TOE. Like Woermann, Cilliers, Morin, and others, I believe that "Complex phenomena are irreducible, or, to elaborate in the words of the theoretical biologist, Robert Rosen (1985: 424), a system is complex precisely ‘to the extent that it admits non-equivalent encodings; encodings which cannot be reduced to one another’" (450).

Within complex spaces, we must always act from positions of relative ignorance, make our choices partially blind. At best, we are less blind than others—we may see 100 other locusts and not just 35—but compared to the swarm both 100 and 35 are near blindness. This is unlike closed systems such as The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (the APA style guide). Inside a closed, simple system such as APA, we can often act with absolute certainty. We should not presume to act with absolute certainty within a complex system. Our lives are overwhelmingly lived out in complex spaces. Simple spaces are the rare exceptions, won through tremendous social effort. In part, we humans have invented simple spaces to relieve ourselves of the unbearable weight of ethical choices. There may be ethical choices about whether or not to use APA style, but once APA is chosen, the ethical choices are eliminated. One cannot make an unethical choice in APA, one can only make an inaccurate or unskillful choice. Truly ethical choices belong in the complex domain.

And they are awful choices, an unbearable weight. Ask the poets and the prophets, they will tell you. What you don't know far exceeds what you do know, yet you have to make a choice. You don't know enough to make an absolutely certain choice, yet you still have to make a choice. This should make you humble.

Woermann and Cilliers define this humility in terms of a self-critical rationality and intellectual honesty "that makes no claim for objectivity, or for any special status for the grounds from which the claim is made. A self-critical rationality is therefore the outcome of acknowledging the irreducible nature of complexity" (450).

But as Woermann and Cilliers are careful to say, this does not mean that anything goes, that one choice is as good as another. We must still do the hard work of trying to understand:
We must still be competent at performing the necessary calculations and considering the relevant information, but we should also recognise that doing the groundwork won’t resolve the complexity and that we still remain responsible for our modelling choices, since each choice gives rise to ‘a different spectrum of possible consequences, different successes and failures, and different strengths and weaknesses’ (102). Knowledge acquisition is not the objective pursuit of truth, but rather a process of working towards finding suitable strategies for dealing with complex phenomena.
We are not likely to find truth in a MOOC, but we might find suitable strategies for dealing with complex phenomena.

I suspect that given the topic of ethics, many will not be convinced if I don't provide a rule, an ethical principle. I think a stance is the best I can do: Be confidently humble, or humbly confident. Do you like assertive humility? We are called to make choices based on questionable, contextualized information, but we are called to make choices nonetheless. Quite possibly another context exists within the same swarm in which our choices would be obviously, painfully wrong. Almost certainly another context will arise someday in which our choices are derisively wrong.

We are in an irreconcilable position: on the one hand, we must act; on the other, we do not have complete information. We are suspended between the need to act and our lack of knowledge. This terrifies many of us. Others reduce their situations to the simple domain. Others have too much confidence in their own knowledge. None of these are the ethical stance demanded of us. We must cultivate our knowledge and value, make choices in experimentation with the real, as Deleuze and Guattari say it, all the while knowing that we may well be in error now and will certainly be in error in some other context.

As Morin often points out, irreconcilable positions are the engines of complex spaces, where we are always poised between life and death, order and disorder—where all the fun is. As he says in Restricted Complexity, General Complexity:
We return again to the logical core of complexity which we will see, is dialogical: separability-inseparability, whole-parts, effect-cause, product-producer, life-death, homo sapiens-homo demens, etc. It is here that the principle of the excluded middle reveals its limit. The excluded middle states “A cannot be A and not A”, whereas it can be one and the other. For example, Spinoza is Jewish and non-Jewish, he is neither Jewish, nor non-Jewish. It is here that the dialogic is not the response to these paradoxes, but the means of facing them, by considering the complementarity of antagonisms and the productive play, sometimes vital, of complementary antagonisms.
A complex ethic does not seek to resolve these complementary antagonisms in some dialectic, but to cultivate the inherent, creative energy in these dialogics.


I think I want to add something more specific. What does this assertive humility say about engaging a cMOOC? It says first that you should not expect to get it all. You can't swallow the whole swarm. You won't know all the people, and you won't read all the content. Neither will anyone else.

Each participant will try to frame the swarm as best they can, many as a traditional classroom, which will cause them much anxiety. Have compassion for them. They are using the frames they know for a space that they don't know.

Very few will frame the swarm as you frame it; thus, almost no one will experience the same MOOC. They will structure, interpret, and value people, content, and events differently than you will. Some will see a white/gold dress, and some a blue/black dress. No one's frame can claim an objective, transcendent, privileged status against which all other frames may be judged or assessed. This is especially the case with the facilitators.

You can join a MOOC such as Rhizo14 expecting to discuss Deleuze and Guattari and even find a few others who share your frame, more or less. Still, the group may frame the content and discussion differently. You should expect antagonistic frames. This is often where the most energy is generated, in the tension between opposing frames. You bring your values and value and present them honestly, knowing that others will bring opposing values and value.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ethics for MOOCs: Complex vs. Simple Learning

I've just written two things that have left me dissatisfied, and both of them had to do with ethics. The first was a long comment on France Bell's post Cycling between private and public in researching Rhizo14 about the recent article she wrote with Jenny Mackness, Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. The second was my last blog post Anarchy as Freedom To. In both, I challenged an ethical position that struck me as inappropriate for education in the complex domain, but I did not provide an alternative. It's too easy to tear down and much harder to build up, so I need to repair myself. I want to start a series of posts that I trust will help me think through an ethical stance for education in the complex domain, which I think is the appropriate domain for connectivist MOOCs such as MOOCMOOC and rhizomatic MOOCs such as Rhizo14.

Much of what I will say in the next couple of posts is based on the work of Minka Woermann and Paul Cilliers, especially in their article The ethics of complexity and the complexity of ethics (2012), and on their extensive use of Edgar Morin's work on complexity. I've just discovered Woermann's work, but I've already written much about Cilliers in this blog and even more about Morin. They provide me a fine way to start thinking about ethics in the complex domain in general and about ethics in rMOOCs in particular.

Woermann and Cilliers begin their discussion of complexity ethics with the limitation of knowledge within the complex domain. To understand why knowledge of complex systems is necessarily incomplete, I have to refer to other essays by Cilliers, such as Why We Cannot Know Complex Things Completely (2002) in which he argues to my satisfaction that "meaning is constituted in a specific context where some components [of the complex system] are included and others are not" (86). This contextualization, or framing, of a complex system means that we limit the system in order to understand it, but also means that much, often most, is left outside the frame. That information outside the frame is not irrelevant; rather, it is constitutive of the complex system and leaving it out means that we do not know a complex system completely, cannot know it completely. Unfortunately, knowing it at all, means contextualizing and framing a part of the system to bring it into clarity. The only knowledge we can have of a complex system is incomplete, partial knowledge.

cMOOCs and rMOOCs engage the complex in terms of both content and people. People, of course, are always complex, but content is not, so I want to deal with content first. I teach college composition courses to help students master academic writing, the kind of writing they will do in their college courses. My college requires the APA style for all school documents. Teaching APA style is education in the simple domain, simple content. I do not mean that APA is easy—indeed, most of my students find it difficult to master—rather, APA is simple because it is a closed system, with a finite number of components, and if one is so inclined, then one can know all there is to know about APA. It's just a collection of rules, tedious but doable, and in almost all cases, there is only one right way to do any given reference or citation. This is simple content amenable to a mostly simple way of teaching.

Good writing on the other hand—how to craft an effective and appropriate argument or how to develop an illuminating metaphor—is complex content. You cannot know all there is to know about good writing, and to write anything, this post for instance, you must frame it in a way that privileges some ways of writing and certain language and excludes other ways and words. If I teach academic writing, for instance, I leave out all that I could say—often want to say—about poetics. I can cover APA. I will never cover writing, and I've been teaching it 30 years. APA, then, is education in the simple domain, while writing is education in the complex domain. I must mix both in my 10-week courses.

When Dave Cormier proposed Rhizo14, he posed a field of inquiry about the community as the curriculum and left it to the community to develop most of the content. He did not do this as a clever ploy. He did this because the community as the curriculum is a complex field of study, and he really didn't know how far it extended. We still don't know how far the field extends as we are still exploring, and to my knowledge, we haven't reached any definitive boundaries yet. There may be no boundaries. MOOCMOOC15 posed a bit more of a curriculum, but it is still quite open-ended. Both MOOCs are engaging complex content: open-ended and emerging. We can frame issues within the field of each, but we cannot enclose the field. We cannot exhaust the field, no matter how long we study. We can only grow bored and move on to other fields. In other words, our knowledge of the community as the curriculum can expand, but it is always incomplete. This is education in the complex domain.

Unlike content, people are always complex, though we too often try to reduce people to the simple domain through the use of labels: you are a woman, therefore you must not understand technology very well; or you are a white male of European descent, therefore you must feel unreasonably privileged; or you are an advanced student, you are a slow student. We do this all the time, but as Woermann and Cilliers argue, our identities are complex—they are both particle and wave, to use a familiar observation from quantum physics. They say of identity:
Our identities are neither a priori nor static. Rather, identity is constituted in a complex network, and must be contextualised as both a temporal process of becoming, and as a point in a nexus of relationships (Cilliers, 2010).
My identity in a MOOC is both particle, a point in a nexus of relationships, and wave, a temporal process of becoming. As McGilchrist shows so well in his book The Master and His Emissary (2010), the problem with being two things at once is that creatures such as humans with bicameral brains can see either the particle or the wave view, but not both at the same time. The Uncertainty Principle of physics makes this inability to see two things at once a central tenet of complexity science: we can identify either the position of a particle or its velocity, but not both at the same time. In the daily push and pull, we humans favor the left-brain particle view, which means we tend to reduce other people to their current positions, minimizing or ignoring the right-brain wave view, their stories. I am not either my current position or my trajectory—neither particle nor wave. I am both, at the same time, but you and I can see only one at a time. The key insight here is that we always view the other from a limited perspective. Thus, all our views of the other are based on limited knowledge and contain inaccuracies.

Moreover, our identity is never ours alone, but always a product of our interactions with and within an enclosing ecosystem, itself a very complex structure. Woermann and Cilliers say:
We act on one another in ways that give rise to our personal identities as well as the identities of our social practices, and that leads to the transformation of these identities (Woermann, 2010). We are therefore not only vulnerable with regard to the things that we value, but also with regard to our very identities. My state depends on the state of others (Preiser & Cilliers, 2010).
I can't know you unless I know myself, and I can't know myself unless I know all of you. My knowledge of you and me is incomplete, and while it can expand, it will always be incomplete. This is a monstrous ethical problem that cannot be transcended, but must be engaged.

Woermann and Cilliers say that our incomplete knowledge of any complex system "introduces an unavoidable ethical component into our thinking about complex phenomena", because as soon as "we engage with complexity, we have to make certain modelling choices when describing phenomena. In other words, since we cannot have complete knowledge of complex things, we cannot 'calculate' their behaviour in any deterministic fashion. We have to interpret and evaluate" (448).

Thus, when I engage the people and content in an rMOOC, I introduce an unavoidable ethical component because I have to make certain modelling choices when describing phenomena in the MOOC—when describing the people, the content, the activities and processes and assessing the value of those things. The choices I make in an open field of inquiry reveal my ethics, continue my trajectory, and yet are also influenced by the choices of others.

This is so unlike learning to use APA style, which involves no ethical choices after we commit to using APA. The questions cease to be am I right or wrong and become am I accurate or inaccurate. I do not differ, dare not differ, from others or from the teacher, but I must do APA exactly like everyone else. Conformity is the only reasonable option, the only sanctionable option, in simple learning. Learning becomes, as Deleuze and Guattari say, an issue of tracing accurately, of competence, not an issue of performance, of mapping, which is always an issue of ethics. Most students and teachers like the precision, clarity, and regularity of the simple domain. It's easy to teach here: accurate or inaccurate. That's easy to grade. I suspect that we teachers too often force some topics that are really complex into the simple domain to ease our burdens. It's like writing teachers who base their grades mostly on grammar. They can point to the rules and justify the 74 grade.

I've taken longer than I expected to arrive at my point: learning in the complex domain is an ethical issue. And ethics are constitutive of complex learning, not an add on. As Woermann and Cilliers insist:
[E]thics should be understood as something that constitutes both our knowledge and us, rather than as a normative system that dictates right action. Hence, the ethics of complexity is not an add-on, but inherent to any real engagement with complex phenomena. Otherwise stated, the ethics of complexity is a structural element of complexity thinking. In practice, this means that we should assume a critical attitude when modelling phenomena, where the critical attitude amounts to both the recognition of, and engagement with, the limits of knowledge (Preiser & Cilliers, 2010). (448)
Ethics is not a list of rules or norms or a social contract or a syllabus; rather, it is a critical attitude, complexity thinking, and a way of engaging and mapping an open field of inquiry, such as the community as the curriculum or critical learning. We make ethical choices in education when we are creating new knowledge, mapping new territory, forking a syllabus, not when we are memorizing a list of rules, such as APA. In simple learning, the ethical choices have all been made for us, while in complex learning, we must make the ethical choices through our own engagement with complex others and with complex content.

So what is this ethical stance, this ethical way of engaging and mapping in open terrain? I'll tackle that next.