MOOCs, knowledge and the digital economy – a research project

Sometime in June Sandy McAuley, Bonnie Stewart, George Siemens and I decided to apply to SSHRC for funding for researching the place of MOOCs in the digital economy. We did a little work creating videos to allow people to understand what was going on in a MOOC and decide if it was something they might want to do.

We also did a huge write up that you might find interesting

First paragraph – The MOOC Model for Digital Practice responds to the “Building Digital Skills for Tomorrow” section of the consultation paper Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity by synthesizing the current state of knowledge about Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). It argues that building and sustaining prosperity through Canada’s current digital strengths depends on a digital ecosystem that embraces both infrastructure and the collaborative social networks enabled by that infrastructure. Prosperity in this context requires a citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to turn these factors towards creating wealth. By exploring the relationship of MOOCs to the digital economy in general and their potential roles to prepare citizens for participation in that digital economy in particular, it illustrates one particularly Canadian model of how these needs may be addressed.

MOOC Final Draft

Top 10 Edu News events of 2010

This is year SIX of the fantastic awesomeness of random end of yearishness that is the Top Ten Edu News events of the year. First… a Quick review of the five years that have passed…

# Top 10 of 2009. I like the winner. the Zephoria incident. “will you knock down the tower”?

# Best of 2008… the end of ‘the killer app’. and the ‘end’ of blogging.

# best of 2007? well… tough to ignore twitter going crazy. But i love the Tom Wood story.

# Top ten of 2006? oh Ted Stevens. We’ll always wonder if that dumptruck of internets arrived to your office.

# My top ten edublog news events of 2005. Winner? browser based app. fav? 100 laptop doesn’t exist.

And now, what I’ve been waiting for, the top 10 of two thousand 10

Number 10
Free is dead
We rang in the early part of the year to news that Ning was going to force people to pay for the fine work they were doing and then the year was going out with delicious maybe going into a ‘sunset’. We’re all coming to terms with the fact that people need to be payed for the work that they do.

Number 9
Leaks that were a flood to a website that wasn’t really a wiki. An international manhunt and
a new flag to fly up the ‘internet is dangerous’ flagpole. If there was a story this year that threatens open access to education, this is the one. All that and not for many surprises, rich people in the Caucasus throw big parties and some people in government are kind of annoying. Open still good… but probably going to get harder.

Number 8
Ipads, blackpads and android oh my! (android understanding table) I know i’m a convert, and any of the rest of you caught with any so retro as a ‘laptop’, had better be making a fashion statement.

Number 7
Angry birds bringing the tetris
Angry birds got the mobile devices into the hands of the people this year. All those people claiming to be working when they flipped their iphones over in the meeting room you were in? They were smashing blocks and trying to get their eggs back. But it brought the mobile device, and the obsessive use of it needed to get it into the mainstream out to people. Like tetris and the home computer, angry birds may be the secret weapon that made the mobile computer mainstream.

Number 6
switching to google
The university of Alberta wants you to know that lots of people love the switch to googledocs. (i do too)
As we all move inexorably towards our google overlords its our email that is now moving under its inevitable sway.

Number 5
Old Spice
A marketing campaign that targets the guy who runs the moodle installation in your university. (yup, they responded to a tweet from @kvillard who work at my uni) How does this change the way that kids need to be prepared…? Now there’s a 21st century skill. (How it was done)

Number 4
Pearson to get accreditation and private online schools
So, it seems that all kinds of people are talking about giving out degrees nowdays. I wonder if they’ll get a cut on their book prices?

Number 3
The end of research
It seems that we have lost interest in the word ‘fly’ since we starting being able to do it. It also seems that the words ‘love’ and ‘art’ dip in their use during the first and second world wars. In their ongoing attempt to take EVERYONE’s job, the job of the fearless data researcher is quickly going out the door… slackers like me can now wax philosophical over ideas that we came up with over a pint and ‘researched’ in 10 seconds. Haha.

Number 2
Cable Green, director of elearning and open education for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges rocks.
A real, honest to goodness, open textbook model

Number 1
Netflix. Yes. Netflix.
We’ve seen piles of amazing video this year, and the Ted talks have taken over many a discussion table, and not just those deemed cool enough to be able to attend. In netflix we have a potentially sustainable model for learning video, that could easily replace all those rabid intellectuals who believe that CONTENT is what they’re selling. If learning is about content, then video is the way to put it together, and netflix is the way to sell it. It’s not the education system i want. But at least it would work.

UPDATE Number 1a
Student fees
Two years ago i first heard someone tell me higher ed student fees would triple on a fifteen year horizon. Two years later, the kids are in the streets in the UK. Is it a right? Is it a privilege? Even Churchill thought it was crazy to shut down the liberal arts schools during WWII. If anything is going to break the stranglehold of the ‘degree’ over society, it’s making it impossible to pay for (if it isn’t already). (via doug belshaw snarking me about US centrism in the comments)

Voice – digital storytelling 106

The reverend – Jim Groom, is going to take his excellent digital storytelling course open and online. It’s a bit of a strange thing to announce, as I know a great deal about his course… due to his openness and onlineness… but he’s going to run another version of the open online ‘experiment’, following in some of the same footsteps that I’ve been dogging for the last few years. This is cool. For those of you wanting more info…

The open online thingy
I note that he calls it an experiment, and not a course, but I’m going to hope that the same rules that I’ve worked on in my own work applies. The path that I have pointed to in some of my own work is orient, declare, network, cluster and focus.

The orient part is covered by me getting my blog posted over at Jim’s site… and getting my blog hooked in. I’ll need to pay a bit more attention when the experiment starts to how it’s going to be coordinated, but time enough for this later. This post, in a sense, is me declaring myself. But the part that’s really important, that is only hinted at in the video above, is that it helps to know what you are taking the course for. The advantage of an open course, is that you don’t necessarily need to take the course for the same reason that it is given.

Why I’m going to join ds106OPEN
Storytelling is the thing that brought me to blogging the first time, in 2003 or 2004. I had started a blog with the intention of writing… not about education, but about life. Of telling stories. I always thought that I would be a writer, I wrote short stories as a young kid, poems when you’re supposed to in your teens, wrote a terribly ‘introspective’ novella while travelling in my early twenties… and then stopped.

I don’t really know why I stopped. I started sharing my ideas in other ways… in ways I suppose that are also important to me… but not in the same sense that I had hoped to do when i was 8 and 15 and 21. I tried again in my late twenties, two more chapters of a different book that I can’t seem to find right now, but most of my type type typing has gone into education over the last 5 or 6 years.

So I’m hoping that this course will be a path back to a different feeling under my fingers when I’m typing. Less about trying to make an idea work, or exploring my practice, and more about trying to work my way through the story. These things aren’t terribly different, I think, but they’re not really the same either. Maybe I’ll figure out how they are different during the event.

My goals for ds106

  1. Write. for storytelling
  2. Remember why i liked to tell stories
  3. Find a home for my stories online
  4. Develop my storytelling
  5. Find a community of writers to write with
  6. Focus on a project

My PLE model is the internet – no more system for me

I had hoped to get this post out last week, but the dissaggregation 2 post came out instead and here I am in the middle of week six trying to combine a post that addresses both evaluation and success… and then i realized… that kinda makes sense. The problem with creating an evaluation model for a PLE is that it will inevitably have a strong impact on the success of the PLE. If the PLE is essentially about emancipation (which Scott Leslie tells me everyone believes in the comments of the previous blog post) then the scaffolding applied to allow for evaluation seems like the other end of the counterbalance.

This post is as much a simple reflection on my own practice… I hope you find it useful.

Presenting The Challenge
In the passed several blog posts we’ve talked about how the PLE can contribute to people committing to learning in a different way. To learning as practice… as a side effect of the work that they do everyday. In a PLE modelled course all the work that you do can contribute to the overall work that you produce, it can interact with work that you’ve done before and, most importantly, it can connect with other people doing great work out there as well. Those connections between your work and the work of others is where the real magic, where the network in the uh… network… really starts to pay dividends.

But wither the facilitator… It’s all fine for people to go out and do ‘real’ work on the internet, but how am I supposed to know that they’ve done it. Sure they can tag it… but what about comments? Sure they can repost in their blog… but that takes it out of its normal context. How do you evaluate work done in a PLE? How do you make sure that you are out there connecting and helping students make connections? How do you provide enough scaffolding to ensure that ‘nervous’ or ‘resistant’ students are coming along? How do I help provide comments? How do i find everything? I mean… in my Moodle course I just press on someone’s name and i find all their work.

Building the perfect system
So… off I went to try and build the perfect system. I started years ago using html, moved to moodle, elgg and drupal (all content management systems of one kind or another).

phase 1. I taught my first online classes on invisionboard, a discussion board software. I had 200+ writing students all working collaboratively in a discussion forum, editing writing, talking shop… it worked pretty well. But I wanted more! I had tried to cobble invisionboard together with a variety of other pieces of software, you know, calendar, assignment tracking… and then I found Moodle.

phase 2. Oh wow, I thought, here’s a system with all of the things I want in the same place. They had forums, and wikis and assignments and a gradebook. Piles and piles of toys. Except all those things were in the same place, and I started finding things constrictive… Where were my students going to put their content when the course ended… I had students coming up to me wanting to continue the conversation. Did i just delete these courses where people were feeling like they were connecting with each other when they were done?

phase 3. And then I found ELGG. It lets people have their own identity. They could blog, they could… uh… manage files. Lots of cool stuff. You, yourself, can live in your own location, you can write to whom you would like, be open or not. Seemed kind of ideal really. But it was kinda hard to use, and people got lost in trying to make connections, they kept expecting the connections to be there… and they weren’t. At the time (elgg has changed a bit since then) there was NO real way to start in ELGG. You couldn’t easily just ‘go to the home page’ and this made people crazy.

phase 4. By the summer of 2008 I thought i had it all sorted out. I would build a system out of drupal, loosely modeled after the interesting work that Funnymonkey had done for/with us for the project. It had a blog, that could be public or private. It had a very simple organization, by date, of the people in your group who had written reflections on their blog, reverse sorted to allow you to comment on those people who hadn’t been commented on yet. It was all in one place, I had feeds coming out of it in a dozen ways. The other main piece of functionality is that I had an ‘almost-wiki’ where students collaboratively built a textbook from the course. It’s still there. No really… I still do the updates on it. I still have it.

There are others I haven’t mentioned, I made some detours down the wikis paths, and down some other ways. Suffice it to say that I’ve tried a few things on my way to trying to set one of these things up. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Building from scratch – writing your own html is annoying
Using a VLE – moodle (blackboard etc…) a blackbox, no matter how you open it up, its still designed to be top down, it’s not for empowerment, it’s designed to keep work tidy.
Using ‘social software’ – While some of the projects we ran with ELGG (youthvoices comes to mind, now transferred to drupal) were successful, it was difficult for people to get started in it. It was committing to a new country without knowing if you wanted to be there… tough to make that ‘yours’
Building your own – You have to own it. and when you own it… it doesn’t belong to your students.
Overall – These things are about the teacher. Not the students. I don’t know of a way to design a system that changes this.

Why I gave up trying to build a system
So then this summer I looked back at the 2008 course site i was still managing and said NO! I’m NOT doing it again. Everytime i throw away a system, a webpage, a moodle course or something like that I’m breaking up a community (even though the students have likely long left) that I tried to make my students believe was important to build. I’m breaking connections that others may have to my students work… The whole thing works against my philosophy. So i don’t do it anymore.

The internet is my PLE
In the course I taught this summer, I had the students go out into the wild with their work. I asked them to set up a blog on I asked them to get a twitter account. I told them that they would need to keep track of each and everything that they wanted me to evaluate and put it in a googledoc. I said “I”m not going to look for it, I want you to interact with people, keep track of it, and tell me why it was important.” You can see the full plan here… I wont belabour the point… those interested in such things can wander over there and take a look at it. I stopped building systems, and I’m happy about it.

So… what can this mean for evaluation
There’s no way of knowing whether my summer course will replicate itself, but i had the most satisfying evaluation experience of my professional career. My students each handed me in VERY different pieces to evaluate, each reflecting their own style and their needs after the course. They all did 10 or so blog reflections, which fit to a format. They each sent me in a ‘reflection and collaboration report’ which included a grade for them posting in comments they had made and explaining how those comments for formative in that context. They also handed in a “learning network plan” which included things like links they hadn’t followed, things they found challenging they might go back to, interesting people they could follow… things like that. I really enjoyed going through them.

So what can this mean for whatever success might mean
My goal for their PLEs was that they should be as individual and as focused on their own context as possible. I also wanted to make sure that the content was in a format that they would be able to use after the course as easily as possible. Their blog posts are still out there (though some people may argue that this isn’t necessarily great) but in collecting and choosing how to organize all their work, they each seemed to create something that was personalized enough that they could see it as a valuable go forward reference if nothing else. Maybe, for some of them, it was the start of getting networked enough to be able to carry on with the work on line in as professional way as possible.

Disaggregate power not people – Part two: now with more manifesto

I’ve been putting together a short discussion for my university around the reasons that a given professional might want to go ahead and blog. Why put thoughts out that are incomplete, that still need work? Won’t this impact my standing as a professional? Won’t some people misunderstand and think that I’m simply a sloppy thinker?

Some people will see your work that way… and i’ve had my share of that the last couple of weeks ( comes to mind) but the response on the disaggregate people not power post from a couple weeks ago puts the reason why i blog in clear focus. I started PLENK2010 very conflicted in my feelings around the PLE/N, unsure about where the technology ended and the learning begins, but with all of your help, I’m now feeling better 🙂

A word on PLE vs. PLN
For the purposes of this discussion lets agree that the PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a description of the network of people in which I learn. It is a description of people online or offline. This simplistic definition may strike some of you as unfair, but without getting the PLN out of the way, this discussion gets even more complicated.

Two definitions of PLE
Whether in the most significantly edited wikipedia article on the subject, the NRC and @downes run project ‘creating’ one or oft cited research on the subject, it seems clear that the dominant interpretation of the term PLE is a technological environment created to allow students a personal rather than a course based view of formal(ish) education. A technology which, as Wilson et. al suggest

is concerned with enabling a wide range of contexts to be coordinated to support the goals of the user.

the PLE operates at a personal level in that it coordinates services and information that is related directly to its user and owner. However, the PLE can also be considered global in scope as the range of services it can potentially coordinate is not bounded within any particular organization. The user can connect their PLE with social networks, knowledge bases, work contexts, and learning contexts of any size to which they can obtain access.

The distinction, then, between a VLE/LMS and a PLE is that the former is course or institution based, and the later is person based, irrespective of the courses that a person is taking. The history of PLE wikipedia article cited earlier is a long string of technology projects that detail the ways in which we can create a technology that will increase the global ‘range of services’ that will allow an institutionally supported system to allow the student to set their own goals, organize their learning content and to allow their formal work to interact with ‘the real web’. (this if you’ll allow that in the quote above, the clear distinction is being made between “their PLE” and “social networks, knowledge bases, work contexts… etc…)

Definition 1 –This is personal (as in, given to one person) learning environment (as in, space identified by the institution from which you can then connect to the free web)

Here are some live blogging notes from Michelle Martin while listening to a Stephen Downes talking about his PLE… he speaks of flickr and googledocs and skype and gliffy as PLE. Or, a tad more colourfully

This from Scott Leslie. This is clearly not ONE technology that allows you to work with others… the middle section of the diagram are about the physical location of the learner (say desktop), and then they extend from there. They include technologies, people, relationships, events, from a ‘personal’ perspective.

Definition 2 – This is a Personal (as in, me the person) learning environment (as in, the ecology in which I learn)

So we have two views
In Definition 1 we have PLE as a pedagogical change in education from a course based focused to a learner based focus. In Definition 2 we see learning as irrespective of any formal system, it is a PLE that describes the world as it is… with communication streams be they telephone or twitter, as the ecology in which I learn. In this second definition you will see my rebel yell of education referred to in the earlier Disaggregation post.

Definition 1 as power maintained
In the first definition we have a system that is ‘created for’ students, that is maintained by a university (and, one would imagine payed for by their fees payed to the institution) where lines of connection are created that the student may then fill. It is a software system that locates the students in a concentrated area that makes it easy for them to find each other, easy for a professor to find their work, and makes it easy to get things started. It is preferable to the VLE in the sense that a student gets to keep working on things from one course to another, it provides that e-portfolio style location for their work, gives them an individual presence inside their learning institution.

These are all services provided FOR the student by the institution. Services that, usually, will then be taken away once the student moves on to other learning areas. Now, you might say that I can export the content of my work, or through some SCORMish mumbo jumbo i could move it from one institution to another. It’ll be fine, i’m told, as long as we have good standards. But this version of the PLE is controlled by the institution. The institution holds the switch, they control the pathways that are allowed for learning, the connections that can be made (maybe by decision, by technical ability or by standards imposed guidelines)

While i see this as preferable to the coursed based LMS, it still leaves the learning in the hands of the institution. This means that if you leave, even if you take all your content in some exported format, you lose the connections of your learning. Any links in and out of your work get borked, any habits that people have of coming to visit your work go away, your work at creating a sense of place go away. You do not own it.

(caveat: I am not speaking of learning in the sense of ‘coming to know a thing.’ The majority of introductory classes probably belong in a nice structured VLE. I’m thinking of student ‘becoming’ professionals or, better, those who are already. /caveat)

Definition 2 – disaggregating power
There is a very different power relationship between being given a space which ‘enables contexts’ and ‘allows supports’ for a user and a space that you build and support for yourself. It dodges those institutionally created problems of student mobility, of losing the connections formed in your learning and gives you a professional ‘place’ from which you can start to make long term knowledge network connections that form the higher end of the productive learning/knowing that is possible on the web. The power is disaggregated in the sense that while attending an institution of learning you are still under the dominance of the instructor or the regulations surrounding accreditation, but coming to your learning space is not about that dominance. The power held (and, i should probably add, that you’ve given to that institution in applying for accreditation/learning it’s not (necessarily) a power of tyranny) by the institution only touches some of your work, and it need not impede any work you choose to do.

Here’s where I get to the part about the ‘personal’ that’s been bothering me
The danger in taking definition two as our definition for PLE is that we lose sight of the subtle, complex dance of person and ecology so eloquently described by Keith Hamon in his response to my post. Maybe more dangerously, we might get taken up as thinking that learning is something that happens to the person, and not as part of a complex rhizome of connections that form the basis of the human experience.

Learning (and I don’t mean definitions or background) and the making of connections of knowledge is something that is steeped in complexity. At each point we are structured in the work (written in a book, sung in a song, spoken in a web session) of others that constantly tests our own connections and further complexifies our understanding. This is the pattern of knowledge as i understand it. It is organic, and messy, and subject to subtle manipulations (intended or otherwise) of power. Having a place of ownership within that complexity, whether we call it ‘the personal’ or not, is vital to emancipated thought.

We have created an educational system that focuses on the content to be distributed from teacher/institution to a student. We have controlled curriculums and then told students what, where and when to learn. Students have been taught to obey and now we want them to decide. Definition 1 described above does not, in my mind, leave enough room for that decision, for control of learning. It certainly disaggregates the institutional framework of learning (courses) but it does not disaggregate the power of the insitution. Definition 2 is far more personal, the power is centred in the learner. You can have your own blog, your own place to store your files, pictures, conversations and, most importantly, a place to centre connections.

We need to remember that the ‘personal’ is about emancipation, not about being alone. Learners need to remember that the connections are still needed, they just need to go out and make them, they will not be provided. The side effect to the power granted, is that simply ‘doing the work’ (read: posting my response to my blog) is not the end of the work. The work needs to be connected to others, learning is still about people.

Cluster and Focus -> Surviving week 4 of a MOOC

Had a quite excellent weekend of meetings with George Siemens, Sandy McAuley and Bonnie Stewart regarding our research on MOOCs. We’ve rewritten a good deal of the stuff from the video I released a few weeks ago about how to be successful in a MOOC based on some of the feedback we’ve gotten, some discussions I’ve had with people in the different elluminate sessions and the results of our narrative enquiry. We have four broad steps for success in a MOOC… but as we’re already a few weeks in, I’m going to focus on steps 3 and step 4.

The distributed nature of a MOOC offers a variety of challenges to the participant. PLENK2010 central has a list of suggested readings for the week, two live events and a discussion area for people to connect in. ‘The Daily’ rounds up the posts and tweets from the day and keep people apprised of what is going on in the course. But this is only content. It’s a description of connections maybe, but it hardly satisfies the goals of the MOOC as we’ve talked about them?

We’ve noticed, MOOC after MOOC that weeks 3 and 4 are the most difficult for students. The ‘newness’ of it all has faded at this point, we’ve covered some of the more basic material, and for many participants, its enough time that they start to sit back and reflect on the experience and evaluate if this is something that they are going to be able to commit 6 more weeks to. Why finish the course? Why continue to participate? How do I get the most out of this process?

There are two main questions surface over and over again throughout this course. The first, and most enduring question is

What am I supposed to do now?

Followed closely by the second most common concern

How am I suppose to keep track of all the things that are going on in the course?

Step 3 – Cluster
One of the easiest ways of dealing with the scattershot nature of this course is to pay close attention to your clusters. By this point, if you’ve been participating and working along with others, you’ll likely have found some people that are doing what you are doing, who are interested in what you’re interested in, or with whom your ideas seem to connect easily. This is a natural clustering process that happens in a network… it’s a combination of making strong ties to a smaller number of people, looser ties with a larger number beyond that, and maybe not paying attention to other work that you find distracting or doesn’t fit in with where you see yourself going.

Step 4 – Focus
Any MOOC is necessarily going to need to be directed by the participant. There is not way to do reasonable consultations with 1400 people, and no way to create a set of activities that is going to satisfy the needs of those participants nearly as well as they can do that themselves. So… this week you need to find a point of focus. I think that those who do well in MOOCs are often those who find something in their professional activities, find a particular angle of interest in the learning materials… something that they can turn into their own final project. This might be something that you do with your cluster, and it might be something that you do on your own. Focus. Find it.

The answer…
The answer to the two questions, then, is that by clustering, you’ll be able to concentrate in deeper ways on the work of specific people. For many people this is going to offer a richer experience than trying to loosely follow a hundred people and their work. The answer to ‘what do i do now’ is simple… it’s up to you. The MOOC provides a jumpstart on a topic, some guidance, some access to people who’ve spent a bunch of time considering this stuff… and it provides access to a ready made network for you to borrow and make your own. The success of the process, from there, is up to you.

Of course, some of you just love being in the chaos of it all for ten weeks… and that’s good too 🙂

Web 3.0 video review, and some PLENK thinking

I just watched the quite excellent documentary by Kate Ray on Web 3.0. While I went into the video expecting a celebration of the awesomeness of a smarter web, what i found was a nicely balanced review of the upsides and downsides of the conversation and some quite dissenting viewpoints from the people she interviews. In the context of our discussions in PLENK2010 (personal learning environments, networks and knowledge MOOC) I think there are a couple of relevant points that impact the possibilities for education.

The internet is VERY NEW
In the beginning of the video a variety of the subjects (and they are all quite good subject btw) talk about how people get confused by the massive amount of information on the internet. How people get confused when they are confronted with too many options when they search for the word ‘camera’. This was from Chris Dixon, who described how research says that people are less likely to purchase a camera, and less likely to be happy with that purchase, if they reach that point of confusion.

I don’t see this as very surprising. Every week now, a cagillion people log on to the internet to shop for the first time, to surf for the first time, to tweet for the first time. I think of the feeling I had the first time I walked onto a camera STREET in South Korea. Every shop had cameras… the whole street. How was I to choose between stores… let alone picking out the camera I wanted? How would I know who to trust?

Right now the internet is still very new for most people. People will get better at using things that are scattered

This is where we are with the internet. It is still very, very new to 97% (made up stat) of the population. This is directly related to the ways in which we look at PLEs. People are unfamiliar with technologies, with this kind of social connection… this will come. In time. The drive that I see in development from the technological side of PLEs is to make it easier, more transparent, less work for the student. In doing so we disempower. We separate them from the means of their own production. Give them time. They may adjust.

The scary thing about the web 3.0 semantic extended next web.
I think the scariest part of the video for me was when John Hebeler said “Semantics merely adds extra information to help you with the Meaning of the information”. That’s all. It adds the meaning to connections. “How could you filter the internet so you could get the answers you wanted to get… ” But who is to decide what you ‘want’ from most of the things we ask. What is the best place to vacation on a beach? The best movie for a Friday night?

This is the root of what has always concerned me about the semantic web. If someone is to design a system that is to speak to how meaning is made, then that person controls what things ‘can’ mean. Clay shirky brings up this point near the end of the video, the history of at least western philosophy is replete with people trying to figure out what ‘meaning’ means.

I don’t mind PLEs being messy.

For the PLE, I would rather the connections between people be messy, and force students to take responsibility for their work, than create a system that makes decisions for how things ARE connected based on a method that then allows us to reassemble data later.

Everything need not be for everyone
Another comment by Chris Dixon – “If its indexed in a really unaccessible form, then it might as well not be out there.” One of the premises underlying this is that everyone needs to be able to find every bit of information put on the web. That somehow if an algorithm doesn’t index your material in a way that google can find it, it doesn’t exist. I can understand this position from someone who is in the business of selling things on the internet, but for the majority of people, the algorithms will never find them.

PLEs need not be ‘easily accessible’ (in a searching sense) for them to be hugely important to a learning community

The sharing part of an learning community is exactly like this. The things that people are sharing need not be ‘indexed in an accessible form’ to be useful to the people that they are working with. They could, I suppose, gain sufficient traction to be that someday, but learners on the internet need not see wide accessibility and attention as the measure of success.

The ‘semantic’ web impact, then, would be on the resources that people are looking to use that are outside of their defined social learning community. They would help in the finding of web resources… And sure, it would be very nice if there was a way to get through the chaff to the wheat when it comes to resources on the web.

I highly doubt, however, that the free/open resources that currently exist and are findable will be able to compete with a corporate learning space that suddenly has very accurate and powerful tools in its hands to promote its content.

Two more quotes to comment on
If I would start a news business today it would be designed to produce not one new bit of news. Clay Shirky. While I really saw Shirky as the voice of reason in the video this line struck me oddly. I don’t think that he is suggesting, in this case, that the media ‘manufactures’ news… but if he isn’t, than i would say that there is no ‘producing’ of news anymore anyway. All anyone is doing is popularizing news. The idea that a super-class of people is responsible for finding the news and sharing it is really something that is pre-internet.

John Hebeler “There should be enough information out there that you should be able to ask for something extraordinarily specific” This in some ways feeds into the ideas from earlier about there being a ‘right’ place for a beach vacation, but the idea that that most people are looking for ‘very specific’ things and that they could ask for it strikes me wrong. I would argue that most people only have a vague idea of what they are looking for when they start searching… and that figuring out what they are exactly searching for is part of the knowledge process.

26 centuries of skills

Cross post from dangerously irrelevant. Decided to do a guest post… figured I’d want a copy here 🙂

In the past several years I’ve been very fond of saying that moving into the 21 century has very much been a return to our roots. We are finding words like ‘tribe’ and ‘community’ ringing through the din of post-war individualism and we are turning to each other with words of trust and collaboration. Some of us are starting to see the established (and, pre-internet, necessary) forms of identifying reliability, competence, insight and creativity as outdated and difficult to work with. We are looking to the whole identity of a person, to the ways in which they have built the work and network they have as method of vetting the people we wish to work and innovate with. We are less interested in degrees, in ‘certificates’, as, for many of us in technology or education, these degrees do not actually mean very much. These are not new things… they are very old things… very old words, coming back to us.

26 centuries ago, a now very famous philosopher was bemoaning the advent of writing. Socrates was very much afraid that people would use the text of a written book to simply recall things that were said… that there would be no need for them to understand and engage with the work itself. He very much worried about the ideas that were printed in a collection of pages, that once written down they would not be able to defend themselves, that the ideas would become stagnant and unmoving. He wasn’t wrong, I don’t think, to be worried about these things, as texts have very much become things that are static, that can be stagnant, and they’ve become things that we in education expect people to simply be able to ‘recall’ and not to understand.

800px St Michel de Montaigne Chteau01
St. Michel de Montaigne

5 centuries ago, a quite excellent philosopher was sitting in his reading room at what is a quite incredible Chateau. He was a very odd philosopher in some ways, as he saw working on books as a conversation with the authors themselves, and, indeed, as a long term conversation with himself. He would leave three or four paragraph reviews on each of his books, giving himself or a future reader of the book a sense of what they had to expect from this book should they ever pick it up. He was also fond of the personal essay. He would write of himself, of ethics and morals, of the things that were important to him in an open, easy style, that focused on the audience as much as the ideas. He was, in many, many ways… a blogger

80 years ago, a senate resolution was considered on the banning of dial telephones from every senators office. They claimed that this new fangled technology contributed not one whit to the efficiency or ease of use of the telephone, that it simply complicated matters, and they wanted to return to the manual phone. They complained that in order to efficiently use a dial telephone one had to be constantly concerned about the light being in the right position, and, iniquity of all iniquities, if one did not turn the dial the entire way around, one was connected to the wrong person. It was an impossible situation. And one, I might add, that was only solved by the installation of two entirely different sets of telephone systems running side by side inside the same building. One manual, run by operators, the other automated through the use of dials.

Three simple examples of people being a bit outside of their time. Our poor friend socrates was watching the dialectic, open discussion as the pathway to enlightenement and the refining of the intellect slowly drain away. Montaigne was out there, blogging to us, from 500 years away. And 100 powerful men were afraid to change, nervous of new ideas, and complaining that they didn’t work, rather than make the little adjustments they needed to make in order to live in a world that was changing around them. We are playing out one of the many sine waves of history. Control centralizes, and it moves apart. We need to lock many people up in one location to build a pyramid, then spread them out to ride horses through Gaul. We brought them back together again to work in the factories and are now coming to terms with spreading them out again.

One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is that the old guard is still slow to adopt. They are still comfortable in the ways that brought them to power, and many see any change of the status quo as an implicit threat to the power that they worked hard to get to. And we ourselves have mostly lost track of what we are trying to do when we educate people. Socrates, he was sure I think. We wanted people to understand justice, love, honour. He thought that if you forced people to question their ideas enough, you would come to see the truth. For Montaigne, he saw the sharing of himself, of his thoughts, of his humility of spirit as the best gift he could hand off to his fellow man[sic]. So often, though, education is just about maintaining what we had before.

If we are to teach 21st century skills, what are they for? Are they for the world we feel we know they need to live in, as with Socrates? Are we moving forward with Montaigne’s humility? Or are we simply going to try and make them the things that we understand… the three Rs of remembering and testing?

dave c.

PLE vs. LMS – disaggregate power, not people.

As PLENK2010 moves into week two we are taking on the debate between Personal Learning Environments and Learning management systems. My next post will address the differences between the two, but there is a major point that I’d like to address that digs into my distaste for the use of the word ‘personal’ in education.

The PLE/LMS debate is not about autodidacticism, it’s about the decentralization of power

It is easy to see the transition to PLE as the ‘rebel yell’ of education. The splitter leaving the fold to strike out on their own to a place where they can make their own decisions, commune with knowledge on their own terms, thank you very much, and not be under the evil yoke of a power mongering educator and not have to suffer the ignominy of working in groups with other classmates. The lone learning warrior, learning on their own, without guidance. It is an easy vision to have as the discussion around PLEs is often put in opposition to LMSs and this often degenerates to “institution bad, learn on your own”. While this is a very interesting debate, it is not the same as the debate around learners managing their own learning content.

I see learning as a social activity. I don’t care if you’re engaging with dead white men in a book, it’s still a conversation. (albeit one sided in that case) The problem with the PLE (when contrasted with the LMS) is that it can easily move the focus to THE LEARNER and not THE LEARNERS. In this way the move from LMS to PLE can be seen as a move from with people, to without people. We don’t learn much alone. We need to keep the focus of the discussion on the disaggregation of power, not the disaggregation of people.

My own PLE (if i were to call it that) is very much about the aggregation of people. It is about me having the choice of which people I aggregate. It is a plurality. This kind of plurality, the kind of engagement with the network of knowledge on your own terms is about choice. The traditions of education are not so much about the student having choice but about the institution of education having choice (the LMS). This, in my mind, is the central distinction between PLE and LMS.

When we disaggregate the power in education, we empower individual learners. It can encourage them to learn more than is presented in the curriculum. It can encourage lifelong learning. PLEs provide an excellent venue for this to happen. This does not mean that the role of the educator, the guide or the facilitator has evaporated. The great thing about MOOCs is that it brings focus to the many different things that we are all interested in learning, it provides a community of learning, a community curriculum for us to engage with. This, to me, is what the PLE is all about.

Open Learning – leveraging the web for collaboration

This is a moodle book I’ve put together to give people an introduction to open learning at UPEI… It still needs some work… but there it is.

This topic considers the concept open learning and explores how being open as an educator can increase the chances for collaboration, access to knowledge and promote lifelong learning in students.

UPEI Virtual Learning Environment

UPEI E-Learning Community

Open Learning – leveraging the web for collaboration

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dave cormier

Wednesday, 15 September 2010, 09:48 PM

Table of Contents

1 Introduction to open learning

The term ‘open’, when seen broadly, essentially refers to the idea of sharing. It may be that the content of a given course is being shared, it might be the learning methods or perhaps the course itself.

Why should I care?

  1. Access to resources – There are thousands of resources out there for most disciplines freely available for reuse. This can lead to more interesting classes and reduced preparation time.
  2. Access to new approaches – there is, at any given time, likely an educator struggling and overcoming the same issues in the classroom. Much can be learned from reading and participating in their experiences.
  3. Access to new educational experiences – open courses (free to access) have started around a number of topics. This fall, PLENK2010 is studying the research and practice around the usage of PLEs (personal learning environments) and PLNs (personal learning networks) in an educational context.
2 What do you mean by Open

What is openness?

Openness is not a panacea. It will not suddenly teach students or spread ‘good’ education, nor is it free of cultural baggage. There is a vast amount of money currently being spent on open education and some kind of return is expected, even if it is not to be the direct return of actual clients purchasing the content. Many of these projects also seem to exhibit a potentially different kind of openness, and suggest that there are different degrees and ways in which a given piece of content or educational experience can be considered as open. With the language of educational openness now reaching the national level with major OER projects in the UK and Canada the field appears to be moving into the mainstream.

The moniker of openness – like its much maligned cousin ‘free’ – comes in many guises. With the word free, as in free software, we might call it free because the user (as in the case of gmail) does not need to spend any money to use the product. The software is free from inherent monetary charge, but it does have hidden costs in the permission given to Google to search your email data and the subliminal viewing of advertising – an activity that most corporations would have to pay money for. Free, in the sense that The Free Software Foundations uses the word, means that it is not owned by anyone and it is not bound by any licensing that restricts what someone would like to do with it. It is also, usually, free of charge. In common usage both are “free”, but in practice they are very different things.

Openness suffers from the same confusion. A thing can be open in the sense that you may use or interact with the product of a process created by a university. This might be called OER as ‘project’. This is the sense in which Open Educational Resources like the ones at OpenLearn and MIT’s Open Course Ware OCW are open. Rebecca Attwood’s article in the Times Higher (September 2009) mentions that the tuition at MIT costs $36000 a year and claims that this is the worth of the OCW project to its users. Elsewhere in the article she reports that MIT found “it would be impossible to transfer the kind of education it provided on campus to an online environment.” This kind of openness bears a striking resemblance to the kind of software that you can get free of charge. You get access to the cold hard facts of the course, not the heart and soul.

Another kind of openness, OER as ‘practice’, opens up the learning process to the scrutiny of the watcher. It is transparent rather than free of charge. The work done by Alec Couros at the University of Regina (Couros, 2009), and the MOOCs that are being taught at the University of Manitoba, are excellent examples of these (Cormier, 2008b). In these cases, the classes are open for people not only to read the content and the syllabus, but these visitors can be part of the learning process. The role of the institution becomes one of accreditation.

See Dave Cormier, “Open Educational Resources: The Implications for Educational Development,” Dave’s Educational Blog, November 24, 2009,

3 Open Content – Free stuff you can use

The first question that people have about ‘free’ content is – how do I know that it is any good? If they are giving the content away, it must not be worth anything. There is some truth in this… when MIT began giving away their content in 2001 they did so upon the realization that they could not make any money with it. This is an important distinction. There is a difference between things that have ‘worth’ and things with which ‘money can be made’.

The content available online from educational institutions, individual educators and students can have a great degree of value to those using it. There may not be, however, a business model with which those institutions or individuals could make a living selling that content. In some cases, particularly in the case of individual, they do not wish to make money from the content.

The list of Open repositories on wikipedia is a great place to start.

4 Open Teaching

The opening up of the teaching process is an important dimension of openness in education more broadly. Increasingly, educators are able to share and participate in the trials and successes of their fellow educators as they tweet and blog about their work. This process can be as simple as posting ideas for the classroom or as profound as posting daily reflections on the successes and failures of different approaches.

See Alec Couros Open course

Some of my own work opening up an edfutures course

5 Open Courses

In an open course, participants engage at different levels of the educator’s practice, whether that be helping to develop a course or participating in the live action of the course itself. This is distinctly different from the idea of open in the open content movement, where open is used in the sense of being free from the intellectual property stipulations that restrict the use and reuse of content. The distinction between openness in practice and openness in content is significant in cost as well. Creating content requires time, effort, and resources and opens up numerous discussions around intellectual property rights. However, openness in practice requires little additional investment, since it essentially concerns transparency of already planned course activities on the part of the educator.

The PLENK2010 course running this fall is an excellent example of an open course available to participate in both as a participant or to get a sense of how this kind of course works. Feel free to join the course, or lurk alongside by going to the PLENK2010 home page.

Here’s a larger list of open courses from The Chronicle of Higher Education

6 What you can do right away.

  1. Start a blog on to share you work with others in your field by sending an email to
  2. Check out the most famous open content project at MIT. Here’s one on Musculoskeletal Pathophysiology
  3. Find work done by other professionals from your field through the open content links available here.
  4. Join the PLENK2010 course to get a sense of what an open course looks like
  5. Here’s a larger list of open courses from The Chronicle of Higher Education
  6. Here is an introduction to OER from the wikiversity project