5 points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10

The concept of the Personal Learning Environment in all of its wondrous forms has been one that I’ve struggled with over the last four or five years that I’ve been familiar with it. I’m very excited to be taking part in the PLENK10 course in order to take the time to focus on these ideas and get a clearer sense of what I mean by the word. I would add, that I think this is one of the central values of an open course… it provides the opportunity to bring clarity to a subject in a field… even if we end up with different clarities 🙂

The PLE related to the LMS (LCMS, VLE etc…)
I came to the idea of the PLE as an alternative to the LMS (learning management system, blackboard, moodle, desire2learn etc). There is a sense in which it is the opponent of the institutional sponsored and controlled LMS and as that I am quite fond of it as a student controlled alternative. Recently, however, institutions have been getting themselves (or have considered doing so) into the PLE business and have set up locations for students to have their own personal learning environment (ELGG at athabasca comes to mind). This can take away from some of the advantages of students being responsible for their content and feeling a sense of ownership for their content. It can, however, remove the somewhat tricky task (not to mention digital dividing task) of having a student setup their own PLE location and managing it themselves.

POINT 1. The PLE differs from the general usage of the LMS in that it is not course focused, but rather focuses on the learning the student is doing over the length of their learning journey. By extension it tends to allow for the student to control the way their own work is organized.

Personal Learning Environment vs. Network
There is a difference, I think, between these two things but the difference is often bound up in what people call ‘semantics’. I use the scare quotes on semantics because it is a particular kind of a semantic debate… its mostly about how people use the words environment and network. The distinction, as i understand it, is that the folks who talk about PLN are focusing on the people that make up the learning that they are doing and believe that the PLE people are mostly concerned about the technology that makes up the learning space. (blogs, wikis, webpages, forums, broadcasts etc…)

POINT 2 – PLEs are (to me at least) the ecologies within which PLNs operate

This is not true for all people and in all circumstances. There are people for whom the idea of PLE is far more broad than this and people who might claim that their PLN (say connected via twitter) requires not PLE (definitive place). I’ll be interested to see these ideas challenged over the PLENK2010 course.

VERY Personal PLE – I own and control all my own stuff
I think that this work done by Jim Groom is the most rarefied version of the PLE in Higher Education. Students are instructed to choose their own domain, find a hosting service and create their own blog space. The instructions detailed on Jim’s blog are clear enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the internet and a willingness to make an effort to be able to follow. The PLE, as it is layed out by Jim, is really a space controlled by the student. It becomes a space that can exist outside of the institution that a given course is being taught it.

POINT 3 PLEs need not be supported by educational institutions

The upside for this is, obviously, that the work done by the student will continue on as long as they are willing to pay their server bills… and the downside, is, well, the server bills.

Who put the P in learning environments/networks?
I understand, I think, the PLE/N in the sense of me as a life long learner. I still worry about it when we talk about knowledge being something that is personal to me when we are, at the same time, calling it connective, emergent and/or rhizomatic. How can knowledge be ‘mine’ if it exists in the connections between different ideas? So I don’t like the usage of the term personal in that sense, but if it means that I have a stake in the ground (say this blog, my twitter feed, edtechtalk) from a technical/URL perspective then so be it. I think it takes away from the fact that my work is part of the larger community that i work in… but its not a point that i want to fight too much about.

What I am more interested in is the idea of calling something ‘personal’ in a more formal course. My work online and my work trying to structure good courses for students (f2f or not) has left me with a certain suspicion about the idea of PLE/Ns in formal courses. My problem lies in the double trouble that exists around ‘telling’ someone that this is going to be their personal space, and the other is around the idea that TIME is very short in most courses, too short, really, to create a ‘network’. In a recent course I taught, I explored the idea of a Learning Network Plan, which was a plan created by students which included their long term life long learning strategies/tools/nodes that they hoped to develop after the course was finished.

POINT 4 Ownership(personal) and Time(network) are critical impediments to implementing PLEs and PLNs in formal education. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, just that they need to be addressed.

Assessing PLEs
Oh my. How do we know that any learning happened? How can we possibly organize all the work that students are doing so that they can find each other’s work and so that I, as an instructor, can review all their work? These (and many more) are some of the difficult practical issues around the PLE PLN in the classroom. In the course I linked to in the last section, I put the onus on the students to copy/paste a link to each of their blog posts, to important comments they had made structuring other people’s work (one of our students or not) and important connections that they had made between the information/knowledge we were covering and their experience during the course.

I set a fairly open review policy but learned halfway through the course of another method that apparently everyone but me knows about. A colleague of mine habitually allows students to choose the grades they are going to get based on the amount of work they are willing to cover and the depth to which they are willing to cover it. This, combined the the idea of a PLE/N did a great deal to reduce the stress levels of my students. I created a lowest common denominator and a highest reasonable work quota. The reason for this and one of the dangers of the PLE/N that I hadn’t foreseen, is that with freedom, some students were working way, way too much. Given their own space to work and freedom to choose, they were going too far. unexpected.

POINT 5 Putting the responsibility for reporting networked open work on students is ok as long as you give them a low and high end of the amount of work that is reasonable.

Standards testing keeping us safe from the creative economy

I’m not sure how clearly this post has come together, but I had to get it out so i could get some other work done 🙂 creativity good. how does a standards based approach contribute to this? it doesn’t.

THE question in Education – Why are we educating students

I have annoyed many people in the last five years or so asking the same seemingly simple question… “Why are we educating students?” I’ve asked kids this, I’ve asked teachers, administrators, theorists… I usually get four kinds of responses. 1. That dave guy is just being a smart ass and that’s not a real question. 2. We’re teaching our children so they can learn (a tautology that usually ends with me frothing at the mouth) 3. We educate our students to normativize them to society (teach them the way our society behaves). 4. So they can know things.

The truth is that I really want to know what people think about this question. I think that much of the discord in the educational community is premised on our not having a clear sense of what we are trying to accomplish by locking our children in classrooms for 12 years. Over the last few years I’ve come around to what i think I want Oscar and Josephine to get from the education system in order of importance.

  1. The desire to engage with ideas, combine them and make new ones
  2. The belief that they are allowed to do this
  3. The skills and literacies they need to do it.

I say in order of importance, because with the first can come the second and with the first two the third is pretty much inevitable. Those first two are tricky however, and they are easily confused with ‘knowing things’. I lay NO stock in knowing a particular thing. This is tricky, because I happen to think that knowing a great many things can be very valuable… I’m just not terribly fussed about the knowing of any given thing. It is of no great consequence if Oscar knows the NAME of the not a planet anymore but was a planet of my childhood thing that is really an asteroid and is a great example of how the naming of things is not the same thing as the thing itself thing. Or he might not know the backstory on Pluto, but he might know the name Pluto. If he has either of these things and the three things I”m hoping he will learn, he can get the rest of the story. Keep our friend Pluto in mind as we go forward…

Standards testing
I once had a long debate with an administrator about the value of standards testing, in this case for students. He spoke quite eloquently about how we need measurements, once you reach a certain scale, to be able to tell if our educational policy is working. It’s all fine and good to talk about qualitative assessment when you’re looking at 25 people in a classroom, but its something altogether different when the numbers reach the thousands (let alone millions) that are associated with the bureaucracy of education. I get that. People are trying to do their job well. They are trying to be responsible and accountable (you could say cover their @$$ as well, but either way, they are trying)

The problem lies in what you have to do in order to measure. You cannot easily measure something like creativity, or desire, or interest. This means that we tend to measure specific things. Most standards testing cannot measure for both of the descriptions of pluto described above, and they certainly can’t measure for a deep interest in Neptune, that completely ignored all the other planets, but led to many interesting discoveries about the math of orbits. A responsible teacher, then, needs to prepare a student for the knowing of specific things. The knowing, in fact, of all things. Or, at least, the things that are likely to appear on a test that is standardized by a government administrator who is trying to be accountable to the education system.

This is the difference. The knowing of many things is very productive for creativity. The process of inquiry, of researching, of learning, of being curious leads to the knowing of many things deeply and the awareness of many more things in a superficial way. The knowing of specific things, particularly when we are talking about the memorizing of specific things, is a very different process. It involves repeatedly following the same lines of thinking until they are committed to memory, and in a world where we are thinking of standards testing that means that ALL THE STUDENTS are going over the same things and committing them to memory. Success is measured by the remembering of specific things, a remembering, i will add, that the internet can do for us.

The Creative Economy
So uh… I know that this is a buzzword. But work with me here, and lets take it at face value for a minute. The presumption that i keep hearing about our educational system is “if we don’t have a good education system, we’ll fall behind *enter other country of choice in the news today*“. Lets leave aside all the strange xenophobic nationalism implicit in this kind of talk and think about what it means for education. In the creative economy, ostensibly, the way we would stay ahead would be to innovate, to create, to think of new things and ideas and find ways to bring them to the marketplace in an clever, cost-effective manner.

Creativity, as i understand it, is the combining of things in new ways. It is achieved by being interested in an existing thing, getting to know it better and then finding new ways to combine it with other things. You need, as i described earlier, the curiosity to look into something, the ‘permission’ to poke around it, and the skills to combine it with new things.

If all of our students are remembering the same things, the things that they learned for their standards test, the collaborative work between those students will only differ insofar as they have lived different lives OUTSIDE of school. In this sense, the education system plays NO part whatsoever in contributing to the creative economy. The things they have learned are known, perhaps deeply, perhaps not, by everyone. Creativity is something that is done despite the way the system is constructed. (many educators, of course, find ways to build this in despite the system)

The standards based system will keep us safe from the creative economy. A small number of people, mostly privileged, will continue to create despite the teachings of sameness. Students, like so many i’ve seen hit my university classes, will see education as something you can PASS, a process of remembering and delivering key bits of information back to an instructor, soon to be forgotten. This will continue to have no relationship to the real world and A students will continue to graduate out of our school system to a world where they are not graded, and where they are expected to be creative in a space without clear solutions or guidelines. The factory fit very well with a graded education system. I can measure how many times you turn a lever, or how many bolts you add to a car. I cannot grade your creativity, your willingness to question the system as it is, you ability to overcome stagnation… these are the things we are going to need.

An emerging model for open courses

So… a sea of faces who didn’t really get what i was trying to explain. They were willing to listen, but my presentation didn’t explain it to them. Now, part of that was that i didn’t have a particularly good session, but mostly it’s because i’ve not been able to explain the value of working in the open to people who are not in the industry. This is the challenge that I accepted, in a sense, when Nancy challenged me in March, but it’s one that i’ve taken more seriously this summer. There are a variety of reasons for that, but one of the critical issues is ‘how can the open course sustain itself’.

What I’d like to do here is crystallize my ideas of how to structure the idea of ‘open course’ through the use of three different examples, each illustrating a ‘purpose’ that an open course might serve for a given institution. (be that university, non-profit or for-profit corp) It became very obvious, minutes into the presentation, that i needed more concrete examples for people to understand the concept. The opportunity to talk to people who had no idea what i was talking about was VERY useful.

Open Courses for Strategic Planning
This version of the open course borrows heavily from, as you might imagine, established strategic planning processes. In order to do futures thinking as a strategic planning method, it’s necessary to dig into the organization, get a sense of what their needs are, and then structure a scenario process that allows for the exploration of how the industry trends interact with that organization.

The contribution of the open course is in the value that comes from opening your discussion to the world marketplace. What tensions begin to emerge when you explore these ideas with people from other cultures, other backgrounds? The edfutures process is an example of how an open course of this sort might work… but i think it would need more structure… more like the structured course that I taught in singapore where there are specific streams that people are assigned/assign themselves to and they commit to as part of the process. Some of that was developing by the end of the edfutures, but I think it needs to start sooner.

Open course for training
This is a more traditional look at educating people. The course example that I just described to a person sitting at the table was for ‘improving the social networking awareness of a member group’. I was speaking specifically to their member group, but i never asked permission to explain it. so, more generically…

The open model allows for broad participation and new people to interact with your membership group. In allows for areas of specific interest to find collaborators that might not currently exist inside of your interest group. The participation in the open creates an identity online for a use that allows them to continue their work after the course finishes. A traditional training model creates a one way power structure betweeen trainer and trainee which, in a lifelong learning situation, ENDS after the course does. In an open course, the students are assuming responsibility for their work during the course which offers for a much higher chance of sustained effect.

Open course for research
I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to join the facilitation group for the PLE course this fall that’s being run with George Siemens, Rita Copp and Stephen Downes. The course will assess the field of PLE, take a look at the existing research and dig into some of the critical issues that are contentious in the field.

The offers an opportunity for a variety of interest groups. There are some people who will follow at a distance, simply in order to get a sense for the field, maybe read a few articles, and follow the newsletter. For others, who may be more directly interested, they will study the materials in an attempt to become well enough acquainted with the material to apply it in their practice. For still others, already professionals on the topic, they get a chance to have an open debate on important issues in the field in an attempt to, if nothing else, separate important issues of difference from simple misunderstanding.

So, uh, what’s your point
These are just some draft ideas about how to explain the value of working in the open to people who are not ideologically aligned to the idea. I think there’s a middle ground somewhere where we can bring in people who aren’t exactly ‘opposed’ to the idea of openness to understanding the power of supporting networks and network creation. An open course can bridge the gap between those who are directly committed to an idea and those who are peripherally willing to understand it. It is a chance to create an event… a time to commit to the exploration of an idea, whether the future for strat planning, social media for training, or Bob Dylan for research.

The Open Course: Brand and Community ROI

Well… I expect the title might be a bit of a surprise. About six months ago, I sent in an application to an ‘innovation forum’ in new brunswick on the possibilities of the MOOC or, what I would now call an open course (a mooc being something that happens to you rather than something you can create) to support innovation in the digital economy. Well.. they accepted my presentation. I’ll be going to the conference in October, and I’m still not sure what I’m expecting to get out of the adventure.

On Tuesday I’m going to be presenting to a panel of ‘trainers’ and they’re going to tell me how to do my presentation properly (wonder how that’s going to go 😛 ) They set up an entire training event to help people talk to business people about their ideas. I’m not sure I’m exactly what they had in mind… but I’m excited to learn a bit more about a new process… and to see how some of the ideas I”ve been working on for years sound to people entirely out of my field.

Take a listen if you’ve got the time, and feedback. Even if that feedback includes the word ‘sell out’. 🙂 I think engagement is important, and no one serious about their ideas only presents to the converted. Hope they don’t have any pitchforks

Edactive Presentation

View more webinars from dave cormier.

Open Learning (M)OOCs supporting the Digital Economy. Draft thinking

As you might imagine, I did not choose the term ‘digital economy’ that is in the title of this post. It is the result of some boundary stretching that I’m experimenting with this fall. I have too activities, one a SSHRC grant on the digital economy and the other a presentation at an ‘innovation forum’ where I’m going to be talking about open learning as a support for innovation. It is partially a response from me to critiques that most of the Open Course work has been restricted to the ‘edtech’ field and also an effort to experiment with the medium of open learning. If i find a way to feed the family supporting open knowledge negotiation, all the better 🙂

These are the responses to the six questions posed in the SSHRC grant that I”m working on with @bonstewart @gsiemens and @sandymc. This is very much draft thinking, so don’t expect me to believe all of it tomorrow, but any feedback you might have on it would be very welcome. I find it valuable for me to put out these ideas before i review them too deeply, sometimes the stuff i throw away resonates the best… and sometimes not 🙂

Question Strand 1.
How do MOOCs reflect effective practices within the digital economy?

The MOOC models several practices that are critical to an effective digital economy. The fluidity of content and direction in a MOOC is brought upon by the necessities of being able to respond to potentially divergent student communities and emergent practice during the course. The negotiation of knowledge in a network, among a large group of people, with potentially divergent or even contradictory results is one of the most exciting qualities of a MOOC. Being able to perform as a responsible individual among a divergent, decentralized group is critical for the success of any student in a Massive open course.

Fluidity is a key practice in the digital economy. We have seen successful companies in the digital economy market their work and their company as ‘in beta’. This is, for the successful among them, more than a simple bow to common usage. There is a very real sense in which keeping a given product fluid and responsive can be at the heart of a successful product or service. There is a sense of entrenchment that is a carry over from the pre-digital era and participating in a MOOC can be a good way of deconstructing that entrenchment.

The negotiation of knowledge amongst a network of peers can be one of the ways in which groups of people manage to converge in the larger types of groups that tend to be successful in the digital economy. It is a common practice for different groups and companies to band together to find collaborative ways to achieve success. It can also be a very necessary skill for an individual to have to be able to learn the massively divergent types of things that can be necessary to work in the digital economy. Topics as broad as international trade, technical server requirements and effective project management over space and time can make the learning community essential to success.

Being able to create a space for identity, to be able to exist and interact online among peers is a key strategy for success in the digital economy. The potential increase of reach for the products or services of a given company are expanded exponentially with the inclusion of an effective working network. In order to have a space in that kind of network it is important for an individual to know how to create that digital identity.

What are their implications for knowledge-making and what it means to know today?

The traditional approach for reaching out to find out the state of ‘what is known’ in a given field is to make a call, much like this SHRC application, and have professional researchers go off by themselves and come up with separate and potentially similar proofs from traditional research. They accomplish this by perusing existing research and researchers and drawing conclusions either from existing research or by combining existing research with a new and innovative research enquiry.

With the MOOC research can be conducted on the fly on a given topic by having those researchers engage with the discussion on education directly. One is drawing, potentially, on the same resources, but instead of knowledge being competitive and closed (with all the duplication that that implies) it is open and negotiated. If there are duplications, they get merged, if there are divergences, they get tracked or eliminated as necessary. Knowledge becomes something that is in constant negotiation amongst experts in real time.

What economic opportunities and challenges does the open model of participation bring into focus?

Assessing the opportunities and challenges of the open model of participation brings to the fore the question of why we are doing knowledge work in the digital economy. The economics that are challenged by the open model are those that are founded in the brokering of existing knowledge. They are the purveyors and guardians of the established canon. The opportunities are related to what we might be able to do with the knowledge that can be created out in the open. The one, knowledge for its own sake, the other knowledge to support creativity and innovation.

There are several critical economic challenges that the open model presents to traditional ideas of economic opportunity. It deconstructs the concept of ‘withholding’ knowledge in order to acquire capital. It starts from the premise that knowledge gets better them more open and shared it becomes. The middle-man withholder/publisher becomes obsolete as the true creators of knowledge and consumers of knowledge come together to negotiate the knowledge between them. This does not, necessarily, imply the abolition of intellectual property, but it does problematize the issue.

The opportunities centre around the potential for innovation and creativity offered by putting knowledge out in the open for negotiation. We can take draft research or ideas and use them as part of a larger knowledge discussion that is being negotiated online. The potential is that everyone has a better chance to innovate, create and bring new ideas to the table. It reduces duplication but makes it more difficult to make a direct tracing from participation and work to definable return on investment.

Question Strand 2.
In terms of discourses, literacies, and prior knowledge, what digital skills are privileged and rewarded within the MOOC environment?

The MOOC environment is distributed, iterative and self-guided and this forwards the specific skills that allow a participant to navigate these challenges successfully. In a distributed environment a participant needs to be able to create an identity that can be the locus of knowledge building and they need to know how to blend that identity in with others at need. The iterative nature of the MOOC environment definitely privileges those with existing technical literacies but it also privileges those who are well acquainted with the breadth of the topic being considered. The self-guided nature of a MOOC, necessary in a course that may have thousands of participants, requires that the participant have the confidence and be comfortable with the discourse associated with being an autodidact and a self-starter.

Being able to create an identity in a distributed environment requires the development of several digital skills. The simple skills of blogging/micro blogging, commenting and engaging in a other forms of interactive discourse are key to the initial development of voice. These are underwritten by the ability to quickly being able to scan and filter through potentially vast amounts of other people’s work in order to be able to find the work that can most challenge/complement your own work in order to further your own development of identity, both a distributed network identity that marks a participant as a product of the network they participate in as well as making the work of sufficient interest for others to want to include the participant in their network.

Dealing with a constantly changing environment can put a great deal of strain on a participant. A normal course provides many now transparent points of scaffolding that allow for an otherwise safe place for a participant to experiment. In a MOOC, these scaffolds are stripped away, leaving a participant with more confusion and uncertainty to deal with. Having a basic understanding, therefore, of the topic at hand can be critical to the success of a given participant. It allows them the identity necessary to be consistently interesting, as well as the currency to be able to trade in what can be a back and forth economy of knowledge.

While the ability to be a self-starter is easily folded into simply being aware of the content of a given field and having the ability to create an identity through interactive tools it actually represents a separate series of skills that can be heavily embedded in traditional concepts of gendre and class. The willingness to consistently take an open, declarative position on a given topic, to cross-examine and criticize the work of others and challenge authority so critical to the success in a MOOC are often a discourse heavily identified with privilege. This can be a particular issue when a MOOC is popular across many different cultures that work on very different ideas of respect for power, authority and knowledge.

What factors limit participation?

The factors that can limit participation are varied and often different in different contexts. There are a more or less unlimited number of technical factors – connectivity, skills, technology flaws – that can make participation in a MOOC more or less untenable. Factors associated with prior knowledge of the topic can make participation in a MOOC more or less impossible for all but the most dedicated participant. Either a corporate or a personal connection to intellectual property can also be a heavily limiting factor to participation in an open course.

The technical issues around a MOOC more or less speak for themselves. The lack of universal broadband makes for significant inequalities for those wishing to participate in an open online course. A complete absence of technical digital skills are going to create a broad sense of frustration that are going to make participation limited. Technical challenges of all sorts, from web hosting challenges, computer viruses and other potential problems make participation very difficult.

The ebb and flow of an open course seems to be partially founded in people sharing their own practice amongst each other. When a given participant lacks the range of experience from which to draw to create an identity that can be shared, to comment on others people’s work or to draw connections from the material being explored can heavily disadvantage a given participant. While it is possible that a combination of peer mentoring and communities of beginners may help alleviate this challenge it is a real consideration for using MOOCs with new learners.

The question of intellectual property haunts any discussion of openness. For many, who have a binding contract with an employer or with a publisher, for instance, the activity of sharing their work can be a legal minefield. They are constantly challenged to walk the line between contributing to the network and meeting their legal obligations.

How can the MOOC model help engage and develop an effective digital citizenry?

The MOOC model can help develop an effective digital citizenry by supporting skills/literacies development in an environment that is founded on the kind of network negotiation of knowledge and ideas that fosters innovation and creativity.

The digital skills that are the foundation of an effective citizenry are far better developed during the process of contributing to actual work being done in a given field. These skills can become embedded in the practice of knowlege negotiation in a field and can continue unimpeded after the MOOC is finished. Also, these skills are supported and modelled through the work of hundreds and thousands of other participants thereby mitigating the chances of the bias of a single instructor forcing a participant into the box of a single kind of digital communication technology.

The negotiation of knowledge in the open, the permission to be part of the creation of the curriculum for a given course puts participants and citizens in the position of believing that they can be part of the process of innovation. When this is combined with the changing the ‘purpose’ of knowledge from simply creating something that can be traded to becoming a tool in the process of creativity, you could create a citizenry ready to compete and win on the national and international marketplace.

Huh? Open Course – Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge

For those of you who might have been following along with my twitter feed and blog posts over the last 18 months or so, you will realize that I’m a little suspicious of the ideas around PLEs and PLNs. It may come as some surprise, then, that I’m going to commit a decent chunk of my fall to working with George Siemens and Stephen Downes on the Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge open course. The course is starting the 13th of September and follow for eight weeks after that with the last week starting the 31st of October.

If you’re interested, you can sign up here

Why I want to do the course
First, and foremost, the chance of working with Stephen and George again is always appealing. I played a bit part in CCK08 and quite enjoyed it… Too often in educationland we either spend our time shouting from across vast distances or agreeing intensely with each other. Working with Stephen and George always promises neither of these. Both are able to take very strong positions and have them challenged. I always end up a better thinking after having participated in discussions with either… working with both is a particular treat.

I’m also interested in working through my own ideas around Personal learning evironments, networks and konwledge. Up until about 18 months ago I spoke with some conviction about having a PLE, I even created a platform or two where I thought students would be able to create their own. Since then I’ve become suspicious about some of the fundamental premises around the concepts and whether there is a cognitive dissonance to the whole projects which leaves it impossible to pursue. My main concern is in the performance of the individual. I enter the course, then, as someone with a fair amount of experience with the topic, but looking to become more sure of my own position.

Finally I’ve always been interested in the voice of The Gadfly in learning. Too often, I think, we feel the need to agree with the concepts that we are in the process of covering in a course. In a transmission model of learning, things tend to get parcelled out into positions that must be categorized before they can be learned. Objects of learning that can then be transmitted. While it is necessary to have some foundation (in the sense of a shared semantic between participants) I like the idea of being a co-facilitator in a course where I have serious questions about the content and goals. That is not to say, of course, that Stephen, George and Rita are somehow blinded, I’m sure they have their own questions and concerns, but I’m looking forward to trying to think deeply on the topic without the pressure of agreeing with it.

The course
Again I’m seeing the value of ‘the course’ as a tool in my own learning. Alan Levine recently wrote an excellent post challenging some of the ideas and language we are using with open courses. As I approach the PLENK course, I’m realizing that it gives me an event to think around, a way to choose amongst the thousand things i could be doing, an invitation to think deeper… One of Alan’s concerns is the timeframe… the constraint on thinking. Why, he wonders, attached the open network to a fixed course. My feelings are, rather, that its an event for the open network to join into. A thinking party. An invitation to think about this one thing instead of many others.

What I’ve seen in the five years we’ve been doing edtechtalk is that people come and go, they focus on it, they fall away from it… it’s useful to them and then it isn’t. We have some community members who’ve done hundreds of shows, some who’ve done a couple. We have guests who come to many, many shows, and some who return years later after coming to one. This, i think, mirrors your description. We have a fairly large mailing list that goes out with an excellent newsletter maintained by a community team.

However. This, I think, only works for those people who are on the heavy end of the involvement pendulum. It is difficult to ‘try out’ edtechtalk. Many people tend to feel like they don’t really belong… because belonging take a long, open amount of commitment.

Enter ‘eventedness’. Dave White and I came up with the word to describe what the quality (and the effect) of ‘having an event’ had on people’s willingness to invest in something that they weren’t near on the interest continuum.

Many, many folks would not join a ‘futures of education’ community, but would like to know something about it, and so join an open course. This is the ONLY reason to have courses… people who are deeply invested in futures don’t really need one.

Response to critiques of Open Course Educause article and the free economy generally

Earlier this year, while George Siemens and I were working our way through teaching the Edfutures course, we were contacted by the fine folks at the Educause review and asked to contribute an article on ‘the open course.’ I’ve been fortunate enough to run a few open courses now, some inside and some outside of the academy, and while we’ve yet to do formal research on the topic, I felt pretty comfortable taking a run at what is, in the sense that we mean ‘open course’ a very recent development. The article has recently been published, and while there has been some positive response ( willrich45and courosa for instance) one particular blogger has raised some valid concerns about some issues that may have been taken as read for that particular issue of educause… I thought i might address them here.

The post and the context
White i was wandering around looking for responses to the article I came across Suifaijohnmak’s Weblog post (well known connectivism thinker) and the first commenter struck a note with me and it occurred to me that talking a little about the reputational economy, the value of things being free and how ‘capital’ is more than simply throwing bits of change from my bucket of gold into your bucket of gold. I’ve tried to cut out the claims that the critic has made and structure them into three basic questions.

  1. How can we assess ‘value’ to an open course? How is an open course ‘different’ from ‘commodity education’?
  2. What are the motives of people who are hosting an open course?
  3. Why do so many people ‘leave’ an open course?

A few notes on our critic
Our critic ‘Ken’ has gone private on his blog since yesterday, and while I can’t imagine that the reason is because of this issue, it does seem fitting the anti-openness blogger has gone private. I will say that ‘Ken’ has been following this issue for a while as this post from google cache attests, which makes me feel like there is an issue here that is worth addressing. While the tone (as the author himself suggests) could have been a bit more productive

“A short ways into it [the open course article], what I starting reading/hearing was blablabla. (Started to gag).”
and then…
“Perhaps I offended some with my somewhat brash claims?”

The issues are important ones and are critical to resolve if the idea of openness is going to avoid some of the pitfalls pointed to in the Jim Groom and Brian Lamb article in the same educause issue.

The ‘Value’ of an open course

“Because commodities are little valued if they are free.”
“Sure, open courses up, make them free. Then they approach the value that their zero cost would suggest. “I still think that humans place high value on items that are scarce; when commodities become free-ish (I’m thinking about potable water in Canada) we tend to undervalue them.”
“And isn’t education a commodity in our systems?”

Leaving aside the issue of ‘how people are going to make money’ to a later question, what is the difference between the MOOC model and the commodity model. In thinking about an example for this distinction i came back to Socrates again for some reason. In ancient Greece, there was a distinction between the ‘sophists’ who were paid to teach people, and people who would speak to people who would listen to them, Socrates being an example. I think there is a reification of the idea of ‘education’ in Ken’s comments that make the discussion more complicated. Education is a complex word that includes the content of the course, the structure of the institution, the teacher and their expertise, and the accreditation that goes with it. Of these, the accreditation seems to to have the most ‘commoditiness’… followed by the content.

The MOOC model, really the openness model generally, takes the commodity out of the content of education. It does not address accreditation. Maybe it should, but I don’t think we have that sorted… and I’m not sure it should be sorted out.

What are the motives of people who are hosting an open course?

No, this term was actually created by Siemens and Downes as part of the salesmanship in relation to the course. “(Now I’m guessing you’re going to say they don’t intend to get rich from their endeavours!)” “But at the end of the day, aren’t these [gnu/linux, open courses] both still business models upon which some people make a living/profit etc?”

I wont speak to the motives of anyone other than myself. I would love to make lots of money doing the work that I love doing. I have two kids, I love to travel… I like having the income to be able to do the things that I like to do. I have a company that does some consulting on education, and have found that my openness has lead to contracts and connections that have been very useful to me. I am working on a career, and the work that I do in open courses will probably positively contribute to that career.

That being said, there is no specific connection between that and the work that I do on a given course. I freely contribute my time to some courses, and am paid to teach others. I ‘believe’ that working in the open makes my own work better, gives me broader access to other people’s idea and, well, i find it fun.

Why do people not stay in these courses

So bragging about a large initial enrolment number is just b/s and illusory. “The section on filtering that you refer to seems to be merely conjecture on your part. I could equally ‘conjecture’ that participants left the course because it held little value for them. Spinning this as ‘filtering’ seems to sugarcoat this issue.”

I think there are a number of issues that contribute to the decline in participation. First, i think i need to better understand how to facilitate to 1000 people. There are a number of things that we’re starting to believe might work, and I’m part of several research projects right now exploring those ideas and trying to find better ways to get people involved. Second, the goal of an open course is NOT to have everyone finish the course. It’s open, people can choose to take as much, or as little of the course as they like. The responsibility for the course resides with the student. Third, either the open course is ‘not for everyone’ or people are going to take time before they are able to take accept the responsibility for finding their own way in a course. It is a very difficult kind of learning for some people. Fourth, and finally, i think the filtering thing is true. I believe that people take an open course without spending much time considering it, only to find that they don’t really want to study for whatever reason.

Some final thoughts.
Because we want the content to be open, and we want people to be able to participate, does not mean that we are offering ‘charity’. Openness is usually even more valuable to the person being open. Some people call this ‘karma’ and others are more cynical and claim that ‘openness’ is disingenuous. Maybe that’s because those of us who are open aren’t clear enough about why…

I am open because i believe that working in the open makes me better. It makes my ideas better. It helps me professionally. It makes me friendships.

Open Learning – what i have learned.

Ten years ago
Ten years ago, I started using discussion forums as a method for my students to collaborate on their writing. I started using the discussion forums because i had 275 writing students and was psychological incapable of keeping track of the paper associated with that in order to cope with my first job (at a university) that involved keeping track of student numbered grades.

I set up a discussion forum (on a server kindly donated by jeff lebow) and just set up places for students to add their initial writing pieces and allowed them to post as much as they wanted. What i noticed, almost immediately, was that the quality of student writing increased dramatically immediately. Not over the first few months or weeks… but right away. Also, I had some students who wrote 150 entries over that first term. Come to talk to the students and think about it a bit I came to these not too terribly shocking conclusions.

Hypothesis 1 – Making work public makes it better
Working in public makes students think twice about what they are contributing. Maybe for some of them its the audience available, maybe for others its because they don’t want to be embarrassed. There may be any number of reasons, but the work is better.

Hypothesis 2 – Some students like to work
Some students (not many) just want to work alot… and using an open space allows them to work as hard as they want to.

Five years ago
In the intervening time I worked around these two hypotheses, tried to perfect some ideas about them, but basically just used them more. I found moodle, which was a public/private solution that was much easier to manage, and allowed me to dodge the ‘everyone can see it’ problem that had been posed to me by some of my colleagues.

Five years ago, I started a webcast with Jeff (same guy). We started edtechtalk as another shot at seeing what could be done with audio online along some ideas jeff has about ‘homegrown webcasting’ and community. Edtechtalk has grown over the last five years, the community has probably done 1000 webcasts, we have a bunch of people registered to our newsletter and the community pretty much runs itself.

I quickly realised that i was learning more, just by being part of that community, than any other educational experience I’d had (with the possible exception of starting my first business…). I started reading and writing about what that meant, for people to just come together, without a specific plan, and learning on a regular basis, and that lead to all the crazy rhizome stuff you see on this blog.

hypothesis 3 – The community can be the curriculum
Planning the content of what you are going to learn is not necessary. The community that you are engaged in can be your curriculum.

Two years ago
Two years ago, I taught a course for UPEI called Educational technology and the adult learning (ed366). I got a chance to try out the ‘work out in the open’ and the community as curriculum in that kind of face to face way where you can really get a sense of what’s happening. I put a significant amount of work trying to create a space where students could ‘create a curriculum together’. It kinda worked, and then they stopped using it.

I had been having a suspicion about technology from my day job and from my own work online. I didn’t think that you could teach any of the practical applications of technology to people, that eventually, guided or not, they just have to take over the learning on their own.

Hypothesis 4 – Students need to own their workspace.
Students need to own their working space. Any time you control the location of people’s work, they will not integrate the work they’ve done into their future learning.

Hypothesis 5 – Adults can learn quickly
Adult learners do not need to be slowly guided to new learning. You can throw them into the deep end. It forces a commitment, a responsibility and greatly accelerates learning.

In the last year
In the last year I’ve had a chance to teach the #ed366 course again, taught a very interesting course on ‘futures’ in Singapore and have done a number of massive open online courses. I also taught an online course in french on emerging tech which did not go as planned. In each of these situations I’ve had a chance to try out some of the hypotheses that are outlined here.

One of the biggest advantages of openness (and it is one of the things that connects all of the points here) is the messiness of the process. It allows for the unexpected good and bad, to pop into a learning scenario. It approximates real life in a way that is sadly lacking from the majority of our educational encounters. There is some relationship, i think, between that desire for ‘clean’ and the prominence of the ‘print’ in our society. When you are freed from the final product, in your curriculum as well as elsewhere, it allows you to do alot more iterative learning.

Most importantly, there seems to be a direct correlation to how open a course is and how much the learning continues when the course formally ends.

Hypothesis 6 – Dealing with learner passivity is critical
learners are trained to be passive. it can be very difficult to break that pattern… mostly it just takes telling them over and over again. If you’re teaching online ‘persistent presence’ is critical for making this happen. Even people who are convinced that they are responsible for their learning, will forget and fall back to not knowing what is expected of them.

Hypothesis 7 – print controls our learning
The historical roots and technologies of print (as in on paper) have a profound controlling influence on how we see education. Deconstructing that allows learning to be iterative, reflexive and and more like life.

Hypothesis 8 – Openness leads to life long learning

The more open a course is, the more students are involved in real communities and real discussions, talking to real people in their field, the more likely they will be to continue the learning they’ve started in a course.

I’m sure there are more parts to this, and I think I’ll break this out into a longer piece that explains these in detail and allows me to ADD MORE (as this blog is pretty print like in the way that it finishes when i’m done) But i think this is a nice summation of where i am in my thinking about learning right now.

Five Year blogaversary – a look back and forward

Sometime in July of 2005 i started blogging at this address, after a couple of aborted attempts at blogging fiction in other locations. I turned to an educational blog because i had a concept I wanted to explore “the feedbook” that didn’t really fit in my other discussion space at the time (edtechtalk). And this post is the 200th that i’ve posted here… about 40 posts a year.

The past – first two years
Those first two years of blogging, my work really separated itself into straight tech stuff, my fledgling work on communities and rhizomes and a variety of online web debates that I was engaging in (detailed here.) It can be very easy, i have come to learn, to be seen as a ‘technologist’ if you’re an educator that talks about technology. I don’t think of myself as a technologist, but learning how to use the technology has been really helpful in the sense that I’ve been able to host my own projects, design my own approaches and have a certain autonomy. It’s also been social capital that i could use to engage in some cool projects along the way.

What happened along the way
I’ve spent most of my day job time in the past five years running projects in the higher education. I’ve spent most of my own research time putting together my own understanding of how knowledge and learning can be seen through the lens of the changes that we’ve been seeing in the last 15 years (basically since I left the lead silver refinery that was my first job). I’ve come to see policy, understanding how knowledge can be constructed, and models of education as areas of interest. I’ve learned about how organizations work and can learn and adapt to change. I’ve learned to manage people’s expectations and make realistic goals that can be not only accomplished but maintained. It’s been a bunch of learning…

The last three years on the blog

I’ve gone over almost entirely to the concepts of education and tracking my own teaching on the blog in the past three years. I’ve been writing about community curriculum, rhizomes, my ‘feelings’ about OER and bunches about open courses. I’ve been working through concepts that thinking that there was something in the new technology that was presenting a new view of the world, a new way of thinking about knowledge and learning.

What I’m starting to think is that we are actually returning to a long forgotten view of the world. One that we set aside when we discovered the power of print. I’ve got a paper burning up my computer that details this better than I can here in a few words… but let me try anyway. Print, by its nature, forces us towards a finished product. A thing needs to be ‘done’ before it can go to press, and then it can’t be changed. This had a profound impact on the way that we see the world, think about what it means to know and how we feel about learning. These things all have an ‘end’. I point of being finished. Now… we don’t need to be finished anymore.

Moving Forward
Looking forward to the next couple of years i’m hoping to continue on the trajectory of the last couple. I want to follow the ideas around learning and print and start to combine it with some of the institutional work that i’ve been doing for the last five years. If only for time management reasons, i need to bring my day work and my educational work together in some way… to take the informal/occasional consulting that I’ve been doing (in and out of my day job) around how organizations can learn, how post-print/post-digital learning can be organized and how policy can navigate the subtle waters between planning for the future(s) and staying solid enough in the present to keep all the stakeholders engaged.

I’m hoping to put my own ideas in a broader format (yes, i too am trying to write a book) and hoping to combine with a few colleagues to work on some more elaborate plans. All in all, its been an interesting 5 years for me here on the blog, and mostly…

I just want to thank you for reading it, for commenting on it, and for making my ideas better for being here.

Amazing Story of Openness – 2010ED366 a story.

Below is a collaborative piece written by the group in ‘almost’ 20 minutes (we ran a little over) at the end of a two week course entitled “educational technology and the adult learner”. I’ll let them tell you what it’s about. I’ve not read it over… just copy and paste from the googledoc they wrote it in. I hope they say nice things 🙂

Group of Openness

Our Ed366 class began on July 12, 2010. We were a group learners of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some of us had a little Internet experience, some of us had very strong views, none of us knew what to expect. What have we learned and how far have we come in two weeks?

We came to to class on a Monday morning to learn about technology and were thrown into the deep end of chaos. Planned chaos, but chaos nonetheless. We were shown what a social network was and what it could be capable of buy experiencing it first hand, seeing the good, the bad and the ugly about social media.

We used a number of new medias, new technologies and new methods of thinking to create our social network for both a local and an online community. We explored and connected, many of us for the first time through:

  • Twitter – We were a bunch of naysayers at first. Now we might have addictions.
  • Slideshare – We stepped out of our comfort zones and made slides public. Adding a bit of voice over, no problem!
  • Prezi – Maybe a little overkill? Impressive at first. Nice to switch it up from regular old PowerPoint.
  • Ustream and Youtube – We created videos to share our work and posted them publicly as well as within class.
  • PbWorks – Great for individual or asynchronous work. Conflict resolution is problematic.
  • Wikispaces – very user-friendly.
  • Camtasia – One of our classmates in a new expert.
  • F2F/Local networks – We built our own community, lots of help from our classmates in the classroom and during breaks (informal learning)
  • WordPress – Daily blog reflections to showcase what we learned and to reflect on what others learned.
  • GOOGLE (doc, forms, accounts, calendars, sites, etc…) – Google rules the world but most of us are convinced at this point that Google really knows what they are doing so that is ok with us. Google docs has amazing conflict resolution capabilities.

Here are some of the learning experiences that we have shared.

  • We learned how to network amongst ourselves and to problem solve rather than look to the “expert” (instructor)
  • Sharing through blogs and twitter allowed us to not only communicate freely, but learn and associate from other people’s experiences, expertise personalities and the interconnectivity to the community on many different levels.
  • Our blogs were put on twitter (through URL) and open to comments and feedback.
  • We were linked to a group in Maine that were doing a similar course and encouraged to communicate with them on our experience with our course in exchange for info with their experiences.
  • We skyped and google shared internationally which is open communication. This allowed us to talk openly to “experts” in the field of social networking in a give and take situation as opposed to ONE WAY communication! Helped each other with support before and after our presentations with technological aspects. This created a safe learning environment.
  • Our instructor was open to trying new things, and gave us credit for at least trying regardless if we were “successful” as in other courses.This stress was alleviated or at least lessened by the fact that we stressed together! We shared our experiences and did not feel alone in the fact that we were “drowning” and completely out of our safety zone.

We experienced “cranky pant syndrome” and encouraged to network with other people in our professional fields. Our families are happy that we are finished this two week “adventure”!Oh by the way, we were lied to….speaking of being OPEN…..This course took way more than 10 minutes a day! Mainly due to the fact that once you get online it is difficult not to let yourself get sidetracked on all the other information out there. Uncertain of evaluation process regardless of questions that have been asked, and a rubric exercise that still did not come up with any solutions or recommendations.

So how did this all relate to our openness in this course and in a wider context?

  • Had we not had our work in the open for people to see we would have never received the feedback that we did. Collaboratively, if we build it they will come.
  • It increased the network opportunities.
  • Great public relations and media coverage.
  • Openness, we will see many things coming down the tubes.
  • Contacts became personal and approachable.
  • Social networks are just that – Social.
  • This course prepared us for the journey as we leave the doors at UPEI. Everyone is leaving with not only technology skills but networking connections.
  • We saw when using the resources and opportunities which are available to you and you have self direct learning skills things can work for you.
  • You can utilize the technology not let the technology utilize you.
  • Content relationship building. This course would be valuable to so many professions.
  • Use what you have, where you are, in your own context.

We started two weeks ago, not knowing each other and over the last two weeks we learned a lot about our society, community, our co-learners and ourselves. We started on Prince Edward Island, took our learning around the world and brought it back home again. We have been lucky to be a part of this experience. Thanks to Dave for bringing us over to the Dark Side. Thanks for the cookies.