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About dave

I run this site... among other things.

Rhizo14 feedback results and explanation

Well… we got 65 responses to the week 2 feedback form. How representative is that? We have about 400 folks registered on the P2PU course page, 177 members of the facebook page, 150 members of the google + page over 3000 tweets of the #rhizo14 hashtag. Your guess is as good as mine in terms of how many people that is. I would say that 65 represents a reasonable enough percentage that we can talk a little bit about what people had to say an draw some vaguely warranted stories about what that might mean.

This is real teacher geek stuff… I can’t imagine who’s going to read this blog post… but i love talking about it!

Full answers available here. If you want the spreadsheet send me an email.

Question 1
Are you currently engaged in #rhizo14?
This is a context piece really. Naturally you’d expect the people who respond to the survey for an open course to generally be the people who are engaged. What I was hoping to get a sense of was what number of people who cared to respond felt like they weren’t ‘fully engaged’. I feel pretty good about this result. Even if those 59 people are the only people fairly engaged in the open course that’s pretty solid. I suspect that there are a few engagees who might not have gotten round to filling out the form. So, from what i can tell, Win!

Question 2
Have you made real people connections in this course?
Not a great question in retrospect. I was looking for the sense people had of the value of the connections they had made. I thought it might be interesting to ask the same questions at the end of the course. This one skews slightly towards more real connections, but is probably representative of the inclusion challenges of this decentralized a course. We’ll call this one a draw.

Question 3
Dave is considering shortening the formal part of this course to 4 weeks. How would you feel about that?
Took some grief for this question. Some people thought I was quitting. :) I was trying to understand how much people were attached to the framework of the course itself. If you wander through the answers, you’ll see that that questions were all over the place. It gave me the answer I was expecting – inconclusive. I was encouraged to see a number of different perspectives. I particularly like the ‘That’s help your completion rates’. I think it could have been better asked, but still, I like this one.

Question 4
Is Rhizo14 a MOOC?
I couldn’t help myself. The majority seem to both understand the question and be beyond it. I still feel sad about the word MOOC losing it’s collaborative edge. Maybe it’ll come back :)

Question 5
How would you describe your role vs. Dave’s role in #rhizo14
This elicited all kinds of answers. Among many gems i have to point to one in particular

Somehow Dave got into the room without anyone checking his pockets and there are now frogs jumping around on the linoleum and swimming in the punch bowl. I pick another frog and we hop around for a bit. Seriously, Dave seems ethereal and backgroundy but also attentive like a good tour guide.

how awesome is that? I think if you take the time to look through the question, it provided many with an opportunity to not only reflect on the course, but on the topic of the course as well. There certainly still is a power division there between the roles, but the irreverence must speak to some deconstruction of it :)

Question 6
What would make the rest of this course better?
Never hurts to give people a chance to reflect on improving the format. A fair number of people suggesting that they are having some technical challenges. Some excellent advice about people being explicit about their own learning context rather than talking about ‘learning generally’. Some people not liking the timing of the live event (I hear you, we’ve changed it). Someone suggested an IRC channel.

I think, in many cases, people would like the social contract re-explained. They think that people aren’t accustomed to sharing in mixed environments and don’t necessarily know how to play as well with others as they could. This question of the social contract between participants is extremely important and bears further thought. We have people from MANY different cultures, from all over really. How do we find a common ground in which we can exchange our thoughts freely. It’s a good question.

Question 7
Finally… tell me what you like about this course.
Some folks said some nice things about me… and I thank you. More often, however, people are happy to have met people that help them think differently. Hell. What else could you want from a course.

Rhizo14 – Cheaters guide to week 1

Are you part of the crowd of people who wished and wanted but didn’t quite get started in week 1? Feel like you could be getting more out of the experience? Want to know what’s going on? Read on then…

The gist of the discussions
Our challenge this week was to consider cheating as a lens through which to understand learning. I had hopes that by offering a challenge that was open ended we could dig into our assumptions about learning and approach the rhizome from an appropriately indirect angle. We have one group of people who have taken up the idea of cheating in the ‘hacking’ sense. We had others who dug into the ethics of cheating and explored the social contract for learning.

Overall, I was hoping to get discussion going. I think we’re good on that one. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the engagement and the willingness for people to engage with each others ideas. The thrust of the discussion for most was to question and push our traditional assumptions of the relationship between learners, teachers and knowledge.

If you missed week 1 we’ve all sort of introduced ourselves to each other. We’ve also started the process of building a shared understanding. There’s no reason not be able to pick up and engage with us on the topic, just wander around in some of the resources here.

A birds eye view of the course
Rhizomatic Learning – an unlearning camp Pinterest Page – I have clearly not been giving Pinterest the love it deserves. Check out the overview of work done pinned to a course board.

Martin Hawksey’s tagsExplorer – Subject of the preview post, awesome overview of the folks on twitter.

Or, if you like googlemaps…

View Larger Map

We’ve got an ‘old fashioned OPML file‘ from Matthais Melcher.

Comment scraper from Gordon Lockhart

Answer garden presenting some interesting results here too.

Flickr group!

And of course, we’ve got the google group, the facebook group, the twitter hashtag and the course website!

First week introductory video… annotated.

Some interesting posts
I have no way to pick specific posts among the many awesome ones out there, so i will simply pick out the ones that are currently open tabs in my browser.

Confessions of a Cheating Teacher

Penny Bentley and a really nice introduction to the ideas covered in the week.

Chrissi Nerantzi on her view of rhizomatic learning

Some nice stuff said about the course by the P2PU folks.

Keith Hamon introducing us to the rhizome

A string of three from Jenny Mackness – intro, a critique and a summation.

And one more. Time bending and rhizo14

Looking to next week

There’s lots more out there, if you’re interested these are enough pieces for you to find the rest of them. Next week’s theme is Enforcing Independence. Looking forward to seeing the discussion move forward. Post will be up Monday Night (if i’m lucky)

Thanks to everyone for making this such an awesome experience so far.

Connection Activity – how you can help make more community

Five days into the course and I’m thinking that the next few days are critical for those who haven’t been connected to people yet. It’s hard to be new, and often an outreach of a hand isn’t seen in the jumble of a crowd. Now, I don’t really think you can ‘make’ community, but I use the word in the ‘maker’ sense. Making people feel welcome, including them in your work, these things are actions you have to take. Here is a suggestion for a thing that you can do to help include our outliers into the #rhizo14 fun.

Week 1 moving to 2 twitter assignment
The excellent Martin Hawksey has once again blown my mind. (not a great struggle you might argue, but nevermind). Below is Martin’s tagsexplorer uh… explorer. In it you will see all tweets hashtagged #rhizo14 and what connections/replies they got. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find as many unconnected tweeters (five sounds like a nice number but YMMV) as you can and reply to them.

  1. Make sure you’re logged into your twitter account
  2. Click on lonely dot in Martin’s tag explorer
  3. Reply to them
  4. Tell us about it.

It might easier to do this on the Martin’s actual site rather than doing it here. Up to you.

note: I had to take out Martin’s tags explorer here for performance reasons.

Please let us know how it goes. I’ve never asked folks to try and do this before, so if any unforeseen happenings happen, come back here and let us know about it!

#rhizo14 live session – unhangout

I got a chance to take Unhangout for a spin today with some friends. Two of my old cronies from Edtechtalk (@jenm and @schinker), my good UPEI buddy @daniellynds, @mozzadrella from P2PU and Srishti from the unhangout project all took a run through thinking about what a good session might look like for the folks in rhizo14. We’ve got a plan and, as is only right, it’s going to take a little feedback from you folks.


What an unhangout means for you
Unhangout is a neat little project being run out of the MIT Media Labs. Basically it allows you to combine a series of hangouts together. You NEED a google+ account to make this work… I’m sorry about that, but it’s what we’re going to be trying this time. You’ll come to the session, and, at some point, break out into one of the rooms to talk about something you’re interested in. Or, alternatively, you can hang out in the lobby and chat with folks.

This will be by far the most structured event of the week during the course. It is ‘designed’ that way because after having done a few of these, it seems that they are incomprehensible to the vast majority of people if they are left wide open. I heartily encourage all and everyone to organize their own live events and allow them to be as chaotic as they like… this one will be structured (by my standards at least :P )

The schedule

  1. I’m going to do a 10-20 minute jam session of some of the conversations that are going on this week to get us all started off.
  2. We’ll login to the same google presentation document
  3. We’ll break out into breakout rooms
  4. Each breakout room will report back with one slide from the document
  5. I’ll present from whatever you guys have put in the slides
  6. We’ll breakout into different room than we were in the first time
  7. We’ll update the slides
  8. We’ll wrap up
  9. We’ll post the slides for people to critique/remix/steal

What I need from you folks
Each breakout room holds 10 people. The course currently has about 300 people registered in it. Lets figure we have about 35-40 people who actually come to the live event.

In the comments, I need

  • people to suggest topics (figure we need 5 or so)
  • People to volunteer to be the ‘moderator’ for a topic
  • People to support a topic

If that works for people, we’ll go with those topics. If it doesn’t, I’ll make something up tomorrow night.

Your unguided tour of Rhizo14

For some of you (like those who started the course a week early) rhizo14 will simply be an extension of your normal practice on the internet. You’ll find familiar faces who make references to previous learning events online, you already have web places from which you speak, and many of you are already familiar with the material. For other folks this will be a new journey, you’ll be the only person you know in the course and you’ll be, frankly, lost. Most will fall somewhere in between those two places, and you will turn to me for guidance thinking things like

“This is the biggest waste of time ever”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do”
“That dave guy has no idea what he’s doing”
and, inevitably…
“What’s the definition of rhizomatic learning?”

First and foremost
Let’s get something straight right out of the get go… it is true that I mostly don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve been experimenting with online community style learning (which I have, for reasons that might become apparent, called rhizomatic learning) for about 10 years now. This course is my latest experiment with it. You are all joining in with me, in various ways for various reasons, along a journey that will have different results for different people. I have already learned new things and the course hasn’t even started. I’m looking for new ways to explain the things I have come to believe about learning, the nagging sense of what might be true that I just can’t put into words. I am a nomad, not a knower. I’ll do what i can to help or answer, but this is not a situation where i know things that others don’t. I’m hosting a party, not trying to tell you what or how to think.

Orientation information – read this first
There are a number of ‘locations’ that you can use to follow along with what’s going on during the course. You might choose to pick one and stick with it or use several. You are also most welcome to create your own space if you have specific needs or are particularly fussy :). The most important part of your choice is figuring out what is going to fit into your life better. The more you figure out what you’re taking this course for, where you will be when you check in to see what people are doing – the better chance of you having a fruitful experience.

The course is being ‘held’ at P2PU (Peer to Peer University). You can go there and ask questions, find dates for live sessions, and participate in discussion with a wide range of people. This site will probably have the most formal experience of any in the course and will also be a location where you are likely to find lots of people you don’t know. Some comments will also get lost on p2pu. We are nearing 300 people in the course and if we even get half of those people engaged, it’s going to be tough. If you see something uncommented/replied/shared engage with it. You don’t need to agree with it, just add value to it.

Here’s a few tips on using the discussion forums.

Facebook is what it is. There are some things it does well, mostly because lots of people are there. We have a facebook group. I’ve set things up so that all my blog posts and tweets automagically post there. If you aren’t sure where to start, and you currently use Facebook, this is a nice way to start. Same rules here, share, engage and add value when you comment.

Rhizo14 Facebook Group Link

This is my weapon of choice. Following the #rhizo14 hashtag is a pretty good way of checking this out. You can follow along with my discussions with folks and that will probably give you some material to work with. Ideally, of course, as things progress you’ll form your own connections (or more connections)

Google +
There’s a google + community out there for rhizomatic learning. You are free to join it and work through there. Google+ is not a place i ever came to love, but some people do. Each to their own.

You can follow this blog and start discussions in the comments here. There are other folks out there that are blogging as well. These are excellent places to meet people. If you have your own blog, it is MUCH easier for you to have other people talk to you.

Other stuff?
If all else fails, search google. If you create or have found other spaces, let me know and I’ll edit the post.

Course objectives
Just kidding. There aren’t any. You can have personal objectives. You can have group objectives. But I’m not creating objectives for anyone. :)

What you can expect from a given week
In a given week I will host a discussion day on Tuesday. I will write at least one blog post. I will do my very best to tweet and comment as much as humanly possible. I will try and craft some kind of scaffolding for the next week. I will rake in all the cash from this incredibly profitable event.

What you should do in a given week?
Try to forget everything you know about ‘traditional education’ and imagine that you are going to camp for 6 weeks. The first thing i would do is find out where the food is. But that’s me. You might like to just chat with people. You might want to create a map of the premises to make sure you were never lost. You might try to make one really good friend. You’ll notice that some of the people in camp already know each other, you’ll see an eager person in the corner that no one is talking to.

You might have gone to camp to challenge yourself or to just kinda hang out a little. These things are up to you. There are no straight lines and no clear answers coming from me. I’ve been scratching my head about rhizomatic learning for 7-8 years because i think the story is important. These six weeks are me inviting you to scratch your head along with me :)

See Terry Elliot’s excellent work so far for some additional context. This comment and this post.

Don’t know where to start. Write something somewhere and tell us why you joined. Send us the link, somehow. We’ll care.

Welcome aboard.

What problem does rhizomatic learning solve for me?

Had a wonderful conversation with Mozzadrella from P2PU today about #rhizo14

I’m running an open course on rhizomatic learning, you can sign up here. Apparently i wasn’t clear about this in my last two posts :)

In trying to understand what I was trying to do with the 6 weeks she asked me a variety of questions, some pedagogical questions, some philosophical, some technical and some administrative. I’ll get to each of these questions as time passes but I’d really like to address her question about why I think rhizomatic learning is important or, more specifically, what problem does it solve?


Rhizomatic learning is a story of how we can learn in a world of abundance – abundance of perspective, of information and of connection. A paper/location based learning model forces us to make decisions, in advance, about what it is important for students to learn. This was a practical reality – if we were going to have content available for a course, it needed to be prepared in advance. In order to prepare the content in advance, we needed to prepare the objectives in advance. And, given that we know what everyone is supposed to learn, we might as well check and see if they all did and compare them against each other.

What happens if we let that go? What happens when we approach a learning experience and we don’t know what we are going to learn? Where each student can learn something a little bit different – together? If we decide that important learning is more like being a parent, or being a cook, and less like knowing all the counties in England in 1450? What if we decided to trust the idea that people can come together to learn given the availability of an abundance of perspective, of information and of connection?


I wonder what I’ll say after #rhizo14 :)

P.S. Yes. That was a test I once took.

Unravelling -> a model for an open course?

#rhizo14 will inevitably be an exploration of the possibilities of open learning as well as a space for considering rhizomatic learning. One of the challenges of rhizomatic learning is that it’s new for many. When most people think of the word course, they think of a set of objectives that contain the canon of a particular field with a teacher as the arbiter of ‘learning’. Even if people are comfortable looking to themselves as being responsible for tracking their learning they may not have the basic language or literacies (or technologies) to be able to start along with others.

So we need some structure, at least in the beginning, to make sure that everyone gets to play. Some of this structure can take the form of remediation… where you prepare answers to simple questions that allow newcomers to help themselves. We also need to have an effective way for people to be able to ask the community simple questions and ways to effectively mentor people to a place where they can be fully contributing members of the community.

An Unravelling
The fine folks at P2PU have directed me to the unhangout platform as a possible method for doing live sessions. The idea of having an unconference model for each of the six weeks is very appealing, but i think it would overly favour folks who’ve been working with rhizomes for a long time. So I’m suggesting something that I’m going to call ‘an unravelling’ until someone tells me what someone who thought about it before me called it :). I’m sure someone else has done it… but I haven’t found it.

Week 1
The first week will be very structured. Some foundational readings, a little bit of talk about rhizomes and Deleuze and Guattari (though not much) and a strong focus on giving people specific things to do. Write an introductory blog post, state what your goals are going in to the course, post your blog post by Tuesday… whatever. By the end of week 1, people should be able to tell themselves “yes, i have done the thing i was supposed to do”. The live session(s) will have specific topics delineated for people to join (though we might have a pre-session with interested parties to workshop what those might be). This is the ORIENT part of the process.

Week 2
The second week introduces responsibility but checks in with folks to make sure that people are understanding the orientation parts of the project. Perhaps this would work well with some specifically identified mentors who could lead breakout sessions and help people from a tech/custom/topic perspective to keep conversations on track and facilitate reporting form each of the groups. This is DECLARE week… in order to be a fully functioning participant (and no one is saying you need to be) you should be speaking from whatever platform you like at this point. We’ve unravelled the structure and little… but still lots of support.

Weeks 3 – 5
I’m thinking of these as NETWORK and CLUSTER weeks. We should be able to run unconference type sessions in the hangout and folks should have some sense of what parts of the discussion they are interested in. They might find people to work on a project with, they might find critical friends who will help them push their work further… lots of different stuff. This is where the course starts to really unravel.

Week 6
FOCUS week. I see this week as full of people’s final projects. What have you worked towards during the course? What have you come up with? What practical application do you see (or not see) for rhizomatic learning. Where will it not work? How does it need to be combined with other things? We have unravelled entirely at this point. The community should be the curriculum at this point.

How does that sound?

note: the Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster, Focus comes from early MOOC work in 2010 by Sandy McAuley, Bonnie Stewart, George Siemens and I. Here’s the video.

Stolen from Jeanne Murray’s blog

Rhizomatic Learning – An open course #rhizo14

Three weeks from now we’re kicking off an open course over at P2PU on rhizomatic learning. As some of you might be aware, I’ve been working on rhizomatic learning since about 2007 through the Rhizomatic Education article published in the now defunct Innovate Online and now focused on the collection of reading that is slowly working its way into a guidebook for learners in my ED366 course.

Broadly speaking rhizomatic learning is the way i think about learning in an age of abundance. It is based on the work of many folks, but primarily in my somewhat idiosyncratic reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome from their very idiosyncratic work ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The core concept opposes the hierachichal, linear image of the tree against the decentralized, unpredictable rhizome. The difference between a learner following a set, organized path and creating their own map of their own learning. I tried, last year, to write an intro in 300 words… that might help give you a ballpark sense of whether it’s of interest.

The course will be a six week journey through some broad concept that I (and many others) have touched on over the years. I’ve sketched them out on the p2pu page, but they are, like much of this work, subject to change. I’m starting the think of ‘abundance’ as the core concept of rhizomatic learning, hidden in my earlier work, maybe, because it was so obvious. This concept with be a theme I myself will be pushing through the course, but I’m very much hoping that others will emerge.

The commitment of a participant is very much up to you as a participant. I’d love to see blog posts and tweets and videos and other things I’m not imagining critiquing the concept and pushing it further than it has been pushed to this point. I’d like to see ways in which it does and doesn’t map up against the people’s practice. I’d love to see people creating new maps for themselves and learning things they did not expect.

For myself I’m looking forward to running an open course for the pure interest in the subject. To make new connections between my work and the work of others… to make new connections between my own thinking and the thinking of others. I’d like my map to extend further than it does.

No pre-reading required. Join us for part or all of the journey as you like.

Feel free to run on over to P2PU to register for the course.


Learning in a time of abundance – historical background

People used to make records
As in a record of an event
The event of people playing music in a room

– Ani Difranco

I had a awesome conversation last week with a colleague at UPEI. We talked a bit about a new course she’s putting together, a bit about the course that I teach in the same program and, more broadly, about education. She’d been kind enough to come and watch a presentation I’d given on campus and had mentioned that the ‘history of knowledge’ piece that I did at the start of my presentation was the missing piece that gave her better insight into what I’ve been talking about with rhizomatic learning. I realized that I have never actually blogged the piece: it’s something that has developed over the last year, entirely in my presentations.

Note: This is a snapshot of the change of knowing in the Greco-Roman tradition. Were we talking about the Egyptians, the Chinese, India or meso-America the snapshot would, of course, be different.

What it Means to be Recognized as a ‘Knower’
For those of you that haven’t read it (shame on you), Bonnie Stewart’s Techknowledge: Literate Practice and Digital Worlds (2000) is pretty fantastic. It started my long journey from thinking of words like ‘knower’ and ‘learning’ as things that were static and obvious to understanding them as flexible and subject to the influence of context. It emphasizes how everything is negotiated; how things change with time. (As with Ani’s lament above for the loss of purity in the recording.) The focus of the thesis is how there is an intersection of technology and knowledge where the nature of ‘what it means to know’ changes along with the technology. Being a ‘knower’ in 1000BC would not necessarily include being a reader whereas after the printing press it necessarily would. The value of memory hasn’t gone away with the near ubiquity of the internet, but it’s tough to say it’s important in the same way.

A lot of so-called ’21st century literacies’ aren’t actually new, in the sense that we’ve never seen them before: some of them just got forgotten or re-framed in the long history of knowledge and education. I think we’ve been connecting, for instance, for a long time. But as technologies and needs have changed, different priorities and practices have moved to the forefront as important, and others have taken more of a backseat. Take this post as sort of a journey, then, through the last 3000 years or so: I want to look at how the technologies that underpin our ideas intersect with the ways we teach those ideas to each other.

In the Beginning Was The Odyssey
When I think about knowing and how it’s changed, I like to think about The Odyssey. It’s my favourite of the Greek relics (I love this version read by Ian McKellen) Take a minute and think about what the question “Do you know the Odyssey?” would have meant to different people at different times. Take it a little further: think about what the answer “I know it very well” would mean in the bardic era, as compared to now. Then, it meant you could recite the whole poem from memory. Now, it generally means you know what the title refers to, and may know the gist of the story. The the act of knowing (and by extension, the act of learning) is impacted by the technology available at a given time. How would The Odyssey have been taught 2500 years ago or a 1000? A hundred? How can we teach it now?

Going to see Molon of Rhodes – Delivery, Delivery and Delivery
Cicero and Caesar were two of the real luminaries of the time of the fall of the Roman Republic. They were mostly on opposite sides of the fight for control of Rome on account of them being members of opposite political parties. Still, they shared a reputation as two of the best orators in the city. While Caesar had made his career through a combination of political connections (his family was ancient, and his uncle Marius the most famous man in Rome) and his astonishing military career, Cicero made his entire career on the power of his voice alone. In that particular time and place, the power to speak, to convince, to cajole, to do battle with your voice was critical.

In their quest to become better orators, they both sought out the same man – Appolonius Molon of Rhodes. Cicero met him in the 80’s BCE in Rome and then sought him out on the island of Rhodes a decade later. Caesar took the dangerous journey to Rhodes himself and was captured by pirates. Here’s what that trip would look like according to the excellent ORBIS project

From Rome to Rhodes

Caesar was willing to take a trip of 2000KM through pirate-infested waters in order to learn from one man. From one perspective, the things that he was interested in learning were performative… something perhaps better done face to face. At this time, however, most things were performative. Plays were performed. Speeches might be written down but as a record of a performance. Caesar believed he needed to go and find the one person who could help him perform better.

What it meant to know, in this case, was TO DO. To learn was to do better.

The Death of the Argument
Socrates famously lamented that once written, an argument can no longer defend itself. That writing can let someone appear smart, because they can simply read something without actually understanding it. It makes interesting reading if you’re into such things. The point here is that the switch to things being written down, as a matter of course, is a critical turning point in the history of knowing and learning. While memory certainly had an important role to play in the pre-writing period, it changed significantly. Learning became what is called a catechetical act. Read and repeat. Memorize as written.

This is a shift from the discursive model described above. In the catechetical case there is a RIGHT answer. There is a specific given thing that you are supposed to commit to memory, and the most effective means to learn it is to have someone say it out loud and someone else repeat it. There are certainly stories of people who did not learn like this (Peter Abelard for instance) but he is more the exception that proves the rule.

The technology of writing allows for words to be hardened, or recalled. We have an established canon to be learned.

Gertrude’s textbook
Before the coming of the printing press, the vast majority of learners, whether in churches or in schools, would not have had access to the original text of anything. The crafting of a book (scroll, whatever) was a laborious, specialist process and they weren’t just handing them out to let everyone touch them with their grimy fingers. If a text was handled at all (and not just recalled from memory) it would have been read from the lectern.

This whole process of copy stuff down, commit it to memory and get other people to do that stuff is not a terribly efficient way to teach lots of people. It required someone with a fair amount of knowledge to do the calling out for the call and repeat stuff… and even with the printing of books, you still needed to be able to READ them. Teachers were in short supply. Bring on Swiss educational mastermind Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi was an educational experimenter in Switzerland. From one venture to another, win or lose, he kept exploring new ways to teach. At a high point of success around 1800 he approached the Swiss government with the idea of trying to teach all the poor people of the country. He wrote a book called “How Gertrude Teaches her Children” in which he described how one might break down the different details of something that someone needed to learn (math, reading whatever) into basic parts so that anyone – whether trained as a teacher or not – could teach someone else.

Within the same broad time frame, the same idea emerged from the mind of one of the more interesting businessmen to ever grace the field of education; one Mr. Noah Webster of dictionary fame. His textbooks, first simple text versions and soon textbooks with PICTURES, were designed to be used by anyone, regardless of their ability or knowledge level (within reason) to teach the material. Raise your hand if you’ve never been or had a substitute teacher who read from the textbook, assigned the questions from the back of the chapter, and never yet understood what they were talking about. Yeah. I didn’t think so.

The textbook has a huge democratizing power in that it can allow many, many more people to learn the same thing. If we are trying to give people a set list of skills that they can reproduce at will, it can be very effective. Think of how efficient a technology the textbook is… it contains the content, the assessment and the pedagogy. All in one pile. Thank you 19th century!

It further emphasizes knowledge as set. As right or wrong. As established.

Bring on the internets
As with the oral traditions, the handwritten period, the period of print so now we have a new technology underwriting the way we communicate ideas to each other. We need not make the 2000km journey braving pirates to get together and talk about our practice. This need not be a one way conversation where I’m reciting the ideas of our forebears to you for you to repeat. Neither was I forced to take a position about open online learning a year ago to allow time for the printing process. I doesn’t actually need to be me vs. you. We can talk to each other, almost directly. Influence each other’s work in the way, I like to think, Socrates would approve of.

What does it mean to be open and online?

What does this mean for words like quality? How much of our desire for perfection in things like spelling and argument are directly related to the finality of print? Are they a ‘good’ in and of themselves or are they a result of the requirements of the technologies involved with print? Should we leave our arguments half finished and release them early and often as some have suggested?

Openness also brings is diversity. When you teach a course in any given city, there are implicit norms that apply to the learning process. It might be in a country where debate is common, or frowned upon. A place where one is expected to be silent, or where people are very physical. A local course, paid for in advance, also serves as a filtering process that can serve to make a more uniform group of learners.

We have none of these barriers here(there are still some of course, but far, far fewer). In an open environment I might have people from all over. I might have people coming from vastly diverse backgrounds and influences. I could have an open syllabus where everyone contributed to the curriculum…

Abundance. Of content. Of perspectives. Of backgrounds. Of potential connections. This is the fundamental change the technology brings to us.

My response to abundance is to try and structure my class rhizomatically. What is yours?

Some things MOOCs are good for

Now that we’ve gone up and down the panic adoption curve for MOOCs it seems like it’s possible to talk about them with a bit more remove. It’s been 5 years since the first MOOC (so called) and my chance inclusion on that first CCK (connectivism and connective knowledge) course by Stephen and George has led to the privilege of participating in many of them and talking to lots of people about lots more of them. There have lots of new acronyms, where people change a letter or two, lots of criticisms about how the new MOOCs are not ‘real MOOCs’, and pearl clutching of many other descriptions. (note below) The simple fact is that there is something about a course designed in the way that George and Stephen designed CCK08 that uses the internet in a way to push education into new spaces. That’s interesting. This is the language we have… so I’m going to use it.

What is a MOOC?
When i first talked to Stephen and George about their course in 2008 I was fascinated about the opportunity of impacting a field of thought by actually learning together. If you could get enough people co-creating knowledge, at the same time, on the same topic, think of the effect you might have. It would be like doing a manifesto writing, except by having hundreds of people talking at the same time. (I jump to wild conclusions in my head at the drop of a hat) I was also quite compelled by the possibility of the possibility of the community being the community for the time the course was going in and potentially continuing to be so after the fact.

The massive, for me, extends beyond the idea of massive in terms of numbers to include, I think, diversity. The openness is not only ‘free’ but also the idea of open syllabus, the space for multiple threads of belief coexisting in the course. The online speaks to the weaknesses and strengths of online connection… both, i think, in the sense that they need to come back to ‘yes/no’ math type connectivity. The course is about structure being applied to the internet. I spent many years working in internet communities… they are the best, but they are also tons of work. A course is like that… just not as cool. Easier to commit to.

XMOOCs… telling people what they might need to know
I had a chance encounter in June of this year that had a great impact on my feelings about MOOCs. I ran into Piotr Mitros (EDx scientist dude) at a conference and by a fine stroke of luck, we both had a surprise Friday off when we were there (to our surprise the second day of the conference was in Spanish). We decided that we would head around the city on one of those ‘jump on’ ‘jump off’ sightseeing buses. We argued for 13 hours. We left there with a few projects we wanted to work on together, and I left convinced that somethings are better taught by xMOOCs. In particular, I started to see it as an excellent way to conquer the gatekeeping courses being taught at our university. A good xMOOC, clearly laying out the common ground in a field, with pre-determined opportunities to self-remediating, could be a fantastic way of levelling the playing field. Imagine a networked textbook, created by lots of people, centralized in a nice solid MOOC-styled LMS.

BrandMOOCs – love me or hate me, we’re here to stay
thesummerofleaarning experience was my first encounter with what I think of as a brand MOOC. I love the model. A company uses it’s influence to create a course that their clients and service providers can learn from and use. Lots of people get a chance to learn some thing they wouldn’t have otherwise, the brand gets recognized for leadership and development in the field, they get a chance to maybe find some new connections… Everyone wins. I’d prefer it if the content they were using were open source… but they might get there. I think there’s a real opportunity for more companies to get out there and share some of the knowledge they have with others and give lots of people who wouldn’t normally have the connections or the right guidance a chance to break into a field of knowledge. There are far more ways this can go awry than ways that it can succeed (in the positive social sense that i mean success) but this is meant to be a positive posts. The pitfalls of this should be obvious. Fodder for a future post.

cMOOCs – where my heart lies
I love the idea of finding new ways for people to fail together, to cheat from each other and to rob from their betters. If you can go out to a worldwide group of people and have them take your work to task, to improve it, to take bits of it and incorporate it into their own… what could be better? Open research. I’m going to be running my own open course on rhizomatic learning in January, and while i will probably fall short of the threshold of ‘massive’ i’m still hoping that working on it in the open, with friends, will help me see clearer. I’m also really excited by a number of MOOC projects popping up all over the world where people are realizing that they can band together to learn the things that they need to learn. I’m not trying to be coy, but some of the coolest ones i’ve heard of are still under wraps, but they follow a similar pattern – subsection (cultural, political or otherwise) not served by dominant narrative on the internet. Band together to learn what they need to know. etc…

For most of the people i know in online learning, even those complaining that ‘real online learning isn’t being paid attention to’ are being listened to more than they were. Of course… people aren’t really liking everything they have to say “elearning isn’t a silver bullet” “we can’t just take all our courses and turn them into MOOCs”. But I think more people are starting to see that the abundance of knowledge and connection made available by the internet has made things possible that simply weren’t before. I think that’s good. You may not :)

MOOCs are good for…
They are, maybe more than anything, good as a lens through which we can ask the same questions we’ve always wanted to ask. What is learning? Why do we teach? What responsibility to we have to our students? To society? To ourselves? I have been in more of these discussions in the last two years than in the rest of my career combined. And, for that, I am thankful.

(note: some concern from @patparslow on twitter (see below) that I’m suggesting that ANY critique of MOOCs is illegitimate. This reference is meant to refer to the ‘what about the children, death of education’ type responses to MOOCs, not legitimate concerns from people about xcabcMOOCs)