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You know what you need… you need a learning contract.

I’ve been away from my dearly beloved blog for the past few months working on twinning recruitment and transitions at my university… more on this another day. Suffice it to say that I opened my big mouth and someone said “oh yeah, that’s a good idea, why don’t you do that” and now i’m trying to do it.

In the midst of a discussion with a colleague here at the university about preparing first-year students for success the topic turned to teaching. She was describing her business class. She teaches a scenario based class where students are expected to learn from each other… both in the way they represent content but, more importantly, in the way that they react and interact. Her story epitomizes the challenges and opportunities of teaching openly – of embracing the uncertainty of learning.

The emptiness of content
- We talked about how it didn’t make sense to have a textbook for this course and how she couldn’t simply ‘tell them what to do’ because what she was teaching them was complex.

In an excellent conversation with Frances Bell a few weeks ago she reminded me that reifications are very useful. Our use of language is at least partially a process of taking things that are complex “a feeling of love for someone” and finding a single word that represents it ‘love’. What I might mean by that word in the context of a hammock that I want to nap in or related to my 5 year old daughter is entirely hidden in the context. This is true of most things. When we teach we are often tempted to reach a little further and ‘define’ those words as if they mean ‘one thing’. Think of the evil ‘blended learning’ as a useful example, and imagine how many separate and often contradictory definitions of it you’ve heard. Think of how we use the word ‘open’ or, worse, read my 3000 word blog post on the subject.

Sometimes it’s very, very useful to think of content in its reified sense. Imagine you are learning introductory anatomy… you simply need to know what some things are called in order to be able to participate in the broader discussion. The same is true for philosophy, if you can’t wrap your mind around ‘a posteriori’ or ‘epistemology’ you aren’t going to understand much of what’s going on. But that’s the tables and chairs of learning… the place settings. There’s no real food there. This is not, in any way i would support, knowing.

It’s a useful shorthand to get you started.

Cognitive dissonance
- We talked about how her course reflected her own experience as a professional

But this shorthand is often what faculty understand as learning. They want to introduce students to concepts from a given field and then have those students prove that they have acquired them. Knowing, then, is the ability to exhibit content the same way for each student.

And this approach is antithetical to what they have learned from their life experience. Any good manager knows that, outside of an assembly line, you want people working to their strengths. Coaches know this. Parents know this. Friends know this. If we’re going on a road trip together, I am not the person that you give the to do list to. No amount of teaching is going to make me the to do list guy.

We all come from different contexts, with different strengths and aspirations, and too often the sameness of the content we are expected to ‘exhibit’ in the classroom tries to turn learning into an assembly line. It’s possible that this was a necessary evil when we were tied to paper books, but that time (given digital access) has simply passed.

Myth of Assessment
- We talked about how assessment tends to control parts of the course, even where she tries to resist it.

A big chunk of the reason we are tied to this empty content is the need for formalized summative assessment. At its best, summative assessment represents desire to be fair to the students, to deal with them all equally, to make the system measurable. At its worst, it’s a cowardly system of control and coercion that stands instead of experience and a willingness to engage.

There are a ton of ways that assessment impedes an open approach to learning, but lets just consider it here in terms of content. In order to be able to fairly assess between two people, you would need to measure them on the same rubric. The more the content is similar, the more equitable the measurement, and the less representative of the learner.

And so we play. I’ll leave a little more room for judgement there and take on the extra 10 minutes a paper that it will cost me in the grading process. I’ll standardize that thing over there, or this will take too long… etc… etc…

By the time its all done, how much are we measuring the students willingness to comply with our demands and how much are we contributing to learning?

Need for a social contract
- We talked about how some hard working students were always confused by the lack of clear objectives… they felt the course was ‘disorganized’.

The most interesting part of open learning, for me, is the need for the establishment of a new social contract. In our traditional learning environment, students are in the business of divining the desires of the teacher. The teacher, in most traditions, is responsible for making those desires as explicit and as clear as possible. I teach. You learn. Learning is defined by what i wish to teach.

In many open learning environments, and certainly in what I like to call ‘rhizomatic learning’, that model goes out the window. We have a planned topic of conversation, and the goal is still learning, but learning is something that happens as an act of participation. I am, an your instructor, willing to take on the responsibility of judging whether you are ‘getting enough’ of something or not, but not necessarily what that something might be, nor by measuring it against a perfect something.

She wants her students to become professionals… but not necessarily the same kind of professional, and not necessarily like her. That requires a re-negotiation of the ground rules.

The Learning Contract
- So i said “what you need is a learning contract.”

The concept of a learning contract was presented to me by one of my students at the end of a course i was teaching. He said “you know, I really like the way you teach, but you need a learning contract to make this make sense. I had one in a class I took a few years ago… you should look into it”. And I did.

The upshot of it is… that you can create a ‘contract’ between you and each student that serves the place of a syllabus, a textbook, an assessment model and a social contract. This is the contract i taught from this year…

I’m fascinated by how so many folks seem to have the same response to it that I did the first time I started reading about it – “this is exactly what i need.” It’s a simple concept – come to an agreement with people about what they want to work on, how much they want to work, who’s responsible for what and what everyone expects from the time you’re going to spend together.

I’d love to see some more models from others… and hear how people arrived at them.

I think of them as a particularly human way of thinking about learning.

Community learning – the zombie resurrection

On January 14th of this year i started a 6 week course to help me explore something I’ve been working on for most of my professional career. The term ‘rhizomatic learning’ is an approach to teaching and learning that is based in the works of Deleuze and Guattari, and presents learning as uncertain, destabilized and both very individual (in the sense that everyone’s experience is different) and communal (in the sense that making sense is a collaborative journey). I’ve been trying to teach this way for many years and have been trying to find a place to talk to others about it so that I too can have that communal experience while I’m working on telling stories about the rhizome.

Well… the course started and about 500 people signed up in way way or another. Some registered to the P2PU site, others only to a facebook group or played around with the #rhizo14 hashtag on twitter. The course was designed around challenging questions (eg. how do we enforce independence?) that are meant to elicit conversations that focus on the messiness of learning… a messiness that is very much at the heart of why i think Rhizomatic Learning is useful to talk about.

The conversation started, and started to pick up steam. Lots of interesting discussions, often taking off in directions that I hadn’t anticipated, or, frankly, that weren’t about what I thought the question ‘should’ be about. In week 2 i realized that this ‘should’ was inappropriate and I just allowed myself to have more fun with the conversations and enjoy the communal atmosphere. The course was to ‘end’ in the middle of February… and then it didn’t.

Zombie MOOC
Always with the zombie trope you say? The zombie is mindless and reanimated (though recently this definition has expanded :) ) and this course came back to life without a ‘head’ as it were. After my last goodbye was sent out to the participants, a week 7 popped up on the website. The participants continued the course, but without any ‘teacher’ filling the role as guide or decision maker. They continued on like this for another 6 weeks, and while activity is now only active in the facebook/twitter/gplus realm (that i know of), the communal learning process continues. The course (now called #rhizo14 by all involved) has refused to die.

It has become that individual/community space that i was hoping for when the course started. People post ideas, challenges and thoughts and others bring their perspective to it… we learn, often in vastly different ways, from each interaction. And then this post shows up on the original P2PU course today -

Very cool/weird, don’t know if I’ve joined the course or not. Lots to learn as the whole rhizmatic learning thing is a new concept/term to me, but very interested none the less.

Invitation to a Zombie dinner party?
Zombie’s aren’t always the best hosts. Well… if you’re not a zombie already. I’m sure they’re fine for other zombies. But this person who has signed up is new to the idea (of RL), open to engaging, and willing to put themselves out there. I love to see a new person admitting their uncertainty from the outset, it often opens the door for lots of good things later on. But do we just invite them to join in the conversation with the zombies created by the #rhizo14 experience?

We decided during the course (before the zombies existed) to go ahead and run the course again next year. I had, at the time, considered it a way of onboarding folks to the rhizomatic learning experience and then leaning on the people from this year to form a layer of community organizers that could enrich the experience for those who were coming in for the first time. And while we do get new registrants to the old course… this is the first person that has actually commented in a month or so. It’s time to decide, how do we get to the next step of this course (if we even should)? More specifically

If we care about community learning, how do we integrate new people into an existing community learning ecosystem? How do we keep the zombies from eating them? :)

Resurrection
So we focus on a new course that will allow the wonderfulness to happen, or, to put it more succinctly from our facebook rhizo14 chat… “dave, what do u want”. And my answer, as it often is with regards to learning, is that it depends.

Researcher Dave is fascinated by the problem of integrating people into learning communities. Anything that tests out the possibilities of or develops new practices for this tricky little problem is something that is pretty much at the top of my interest list. The challenge of seeing community as a learning approach is that communities tend to harden a little bit, with shared language and practices, and slowly become more difficult (but by no means impossible) to join. As everyone’s content is mostly their own, i should be able to burn last year’s course and simply start again… from scratch. Researcher dave is not invested in the success of the course, necessarily, but in learning from the process. Bye bye rhizo14 hello rhizo15!

Teacher Dave has slightly different feelings about things. I want the 2015 version of the course to go as well or better than 2014. This includes being fair to both the returning participants and the new participants. How do we integrate the two groups in the most seamless manner possible? How do we ask challenging questions that respect the community knowledge carried over and still allows for there to be new material for people to negotiate knowledge with? Maybe keep the old one on P2PU and then create a second, connect the two…? Simply reopen the P2PU site and keep going? #rhizoforever?

Community Dave thinks that we need to open that question much more broadly and see what the disparate but still engaged #rhizoers think about the subject. The crowd, in this case, could have a fair amount of wisdom to share, and the experience of going through that question could be very valuable in and of itself. I’m not sure what they’d say… but that the whole reason for asking them :) #rhizo?

Leadership in community
So, I guess, this is my attempt at number 3 on that list. I’d be interested to hear what people think about continuing with an existing community and integrating new people. Send along some links to other people chatting about it if you can find it…

One way or the other I will ‘decide’ whether it be by weight of a community opinion, or a last minute shot in the dark. In the end balancing community opinions and the need to actually make yes/no decisions might be one of the critical literacies in a rhizomatic learning approach. Many things can live in complexity and should stay there… but… well, we’ll see how the buts work out. I care about keeping the #rhizo14 community, I like those people, i enjoy the way they interact. How to keep it going…?

Explaining Rhizo14 to Oscar

(this is a draft for a narrative submission, I’m still not a hundred percent happy with the tone, but bear with me – feedback might help :) )

Oscar is my almost-eight year old son. He’s been blogging since he was four, has played around a little on twitter and has generally grown up in a house where his parents have made a fair chunk of their career out of blogging and working online. It is with this as a backdrop that he walks into the room yesterday and asks

Are you in charge of ALL of rhizo14, i mean, all around the world?

You see I received a box in the mail yesterday that had a card, 4 t-shirts and a magnet that said #rhizo14 on it. The artwork, the hashtag and the tagline “A communal network of knowmads” come from a Open Course that I started in January of 2014 now called #rhizo14. The package oscar was looking over had a stamp from Brazil on it which I explained came from Clarissa, an educator who participated in Rhizo14. She sent everyone in the family a t-shirt with the rhizo14 logo on it.

Rhizo14

So… are you in charge of it? My son not being accustomed to me being lost for words, was confused by my lack of response. In that simple question lies much of what I have struggled to explain about the event that is/was #rhizo14. What does it mean to be ‘in charge’ of a MOOC? What was my role in something that was very much a participant driven process?

What was the course now called Rhizo14
I say “now called” because the original title of the course was “Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum” but the people who are still participating refer to it by the hashtag. It was a six week open course hosted on the P2PU platform from January 14 to February 25th. The topic of the course was to be about my years long blabbing about rhizomatic learning. I wanted to invite a bunch of people to a conversation about my work to see if they could help me make it better. Somewhere in the vicinity of 500 people either signed up or joined one of the community groups.

What I was hoping for
Fundamentally i was hoping that 40 or 50 people would show up to the course and that by the end there would still be a handful of people interested in the discussion. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to gather the work that I had done and make it better than it was before. I find the pressure of having an audience is very helpful in convincing me to get things together. I was not precisely hoping that we would get enough people for the course to have MOOC like characteristics, and I certainly didn’t put the time into advertising it in a way that was likely to lead to that. I was hoping that after 6 weeks I would have a better grasp on my own work, and that a few participants would have had a positive experience.

In the more macro sense, I’m always hoping that a course that I’m working on leads to some sort of community. My work since 2005 has focused on ways to encourage people to see ‘the community as the curriculum’. I’m always hoping to organize an ecosystem where people form affinity connections in such a way that when the course ends, and I walk away, the conversations and the learning continues.

How the course was designed

I made three different attempts at designing rhizo14.

The first was around my own collection of blog posts about rhizomatic learning. This was, essentially, the content of 7 years of thinking about the rhizome in education, broken into six week. In retrospect, it seems difficult to believe that I was considering so instructivist an approach, but it is very much following previous models of open courses I have been involved with. I think that this course design was prompted by my concern that people would be unfamiliar with the use of the rhizome in education and would need structure to support their journey with the idea. It was also easy to just use the stuff I already had :).

Two days later, I had almost completely discarded this model for a new one that was more focused on the process of learning and connecting in an open course. The idea in model two was to ‘unravel’ the course from a fairly structured beginning to a more open and project based conclusion. This design was meant address my concerns about new participants to open/online courses. Over the years we’ve seen many complaints about the shock of a distributed course and, I’ve always thought, we didn’t see the vast majority of the complaints of participants who just couldn’t get their feet under them.

Two days before the course started, I threw that out the window as well. In discussions with the excellent Vanessa Gennarelli from P2PU she suggested that I focus the course around challenging questions. It occurred to me that if i took my content and my finely crafted ‘unravelling’ out of the way I might just get the kind of engagement that could encourage the formation of community. The topic I chose for week 1 mirrored the opening content i was going to suggest but with no readings offered. I gave the participants “Cheating as Learning” as a topic, a challenge to see the concept of cheating as a way of deconstructing learning, and a five minute introductory video. This is the format that I kept for the rest of the course, choosing the weekly topics based on what I thought would forward the conversation.

  • Week 1 – Cheating as Learning (Jan 14-21)

  • Week 2 – Enforcing Independence (Jan 21-28)
  • Week 3 – Embracing Uncertainty (Jan 28-Feb 4)
  • Week 4 – Is Books Making Us Stupid? (Feb 4-Feb 11)
  • Week 5 – Community As Curriculum (Feb 11-Feb 18)
  • Week 6 – Planned Obsolescence (Feb 18-?)

What happened during the course
Saying that I lost control of the discussion creates the false premise that I ever had control of it. From the get go, participants took my vague ‘cheating’ prompt and interpreted it in a dozen different ways. There were several strands of ethical debates regarding cheating. There were folks who decided to discuss testing. Others focused on how learning could be defined in a world of abundance. Still more took issue with the design of the question and focused on this.

My response was to (as i had promised) write a blog post explaining my intention with the question and surveying what people had written. This was the only week that I did this. As the course developed, and new challenges emerged, it became clear that these review posts were being created without my help. They were, in essence, me trying to hold on to my position as the instructor of the course. A position I had not really had from day 1. By the end, I only formally participated as instructor in posting the weekly challenges with a short video and by hosting a weekly live discussion on unhangout.

What happened after the course
My ‘planned’ course finished on the 25th of February. On the 26th of February, week 7 of the course showed up on the Facebook group and the P2PU course page. This week entitled “The lunatics are taking over the asylum” was the first of many weeks created by the former ‘participants’ in the course. This new thing, which it is now safe to call #rhizo14, is currently in week 11 of its existence. In week eight, the community chose a blog post that I wrote several years ago as a topic of discussion. Week 11 is addressing the concern of allowing all voices to be acknowledge (a discussion that was very much present during the first six weeks) in an open environment.

As they began so they continued. The vast majority of the people who participated are now only distantly connected to the course if at all. A core of 50 or so people remain in the discussions, however, and are now identify themselves as ‘part of rhizo14′. For now, at least, there is a community of people who I am happy to number myself a member of.

So Oscar… am I in charge of Rhizo14
Uh… no. I don’t think I ever was. An amazing group of people from around the world decided to spend some of their time learning with me for six weeks. A fair number of those seem to be forming into a community of learners that are planning new work and sharing important parts of their lives with each other. We are creating together.

My son, by this point of the conversation, would doubtlessly already be asleep :)

Giving project feedback in open communities

I have wandered around the internet looking for resources that speak to effective ways to give feedback. I have, in my journeys, once again realized what people mean by the word ‘abundance’ as well as what they mean by the difference between ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’. I don’t think that there is ‘one way’ to give good feedback. I think we are all different people, with different skills as communicators, and different ways of relating to each other. That’s cool. That’s life. But I try to leave alot of feedback. I’m going to detail some of the things that I try to do when I give feedback and hope that you will share some of yours.

Golden Rule – Everyone is working hard. Respect people’s work. Approach them from this position.

Obvious feedback
I’ll start with the easy one. Anything that has to do with spelling, obvious grammar (and no, i’m not talking about oxford commas) and clear errors – I commented on. Always. I try to backchannel if i can (send an email etc) or i’ll comment on the work in public with a ‘feel free to delete this comment’ message on my comment. I would far rather know that i had inadvertently added an ‘h’ to the word sit than have people read it over and over again. I’m always nice about it. Some of us have a harder time seeing these mistakes than others. :)

Help out with the obvious stuff… just be nice about it :)

General feedback
I think of general feedback as being the sense that someone gets from an idea. I like general feedback to be specific. I try to never say “i didn’t really understand your blog post” when that blog post is 1000 words long. I try to stick to things like “the second paragraph of your blog post was where i started to get confused about who the audience was.” Sometimes when I’m in a rush or really excited about an idea, i don’t necessarily say things as clearly as i might. That’s true for others as well.

Give general feedback, yes, but be as specific as you can be. Take the time to describe your reaction

Technical feedback
This is where debates can often begin and also where more starts to be required of the person providing the feedback. If I’m going to disagree with how a given concept is explained, how a word is used or how an algebraic problem is… uh… problematized, I try to explain myself as best i can. I explain what part of the field I come from, explain why my point is important to me. If i manage to handle this properly, it’s not usually an issue. Where I get into trouble, as always, is if i make the issue bigger than it is. If i feel like saying something like “this is a common mistake” or other silly things, I put my computer away and comment later.

If you are disagreeing on technical grounds, explain yourself. Offer a new solution.

Conceptual feedback
This is the most difficult kind of feedback and often the most important. We, many of us, come from very different schools of thought. The death of many projects, particularly interdisciplinary ones, in a lack of a common language. This can make it difficult to disagree on conceptual grounds in an efficient manner. While I can leave a comment on someone’s work attempting to explain a conceptual clash, it will involve a significant amount of work if I want that person to be able to hear me.

That’s not to say that I don’t do it, just that you are taking on a significant responsibility if your goal is to actually represent your opinion in a way that will help. Often what I prefer to do in these situations is write something about the issue, in a more generalized way, on my own blog. This will allow a new conceptual conversation to happen on my own turf and allow the old conversation to continue. Both conversations are valuable… i don’t like to get them confused.

Conceptual disagreement require serious thinking. Do it, if you have the time to commit. These are important conversations.

Anyone else?

Open project practices – participating in makerphysics

For those of you not aware, I’ve been working with Piotr Mitros on this idea of encouraging a community of physics educators (and other educators) to co-create a MOOC that can help people prepare for university level physics. We are one week in at this point, and as this is a pilot, it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the practices that might encourage people to participate as effectively as they can… both for the health of the project and the value of the participant.

Give yourself permission
I’m increasingly starting to realize that one of the biggest impediment to any project is that people don’t believe they have permission to do things. Questions like ‘what am i allowed to do” and “what does success look like” are good indicators that people are comfortable participating openly. If you are participating in an open project there is a subtle balance between the organizers and the participants in this regard. We need to make an effort to give people the structure and the room to participate, but, in the end, the participants need to take on the authority themselves.

To be successful in an open project you need to give yourself permission to be a contributing member

Blind sharing
In our course, we have hard core physics educator/programmers who’ve made excellent physics thingies in the past. We have other people who are pure educators without a scrap of physics understanding… and lots in between. Everyone has a role that is valuable. Some people can code, and don’t have new ideas to share. Some people have lots of ideas, but too many of the same ones. Some people just like to work with other people. The trick is, we never know what piece is going to be important. So you need share ideas/thoughts/code as you have them. It is next to impossible for you to know before you’ve shared whether it’s going to be useful to someone else.

Ideas are the lifeblood of open projects. Share them as you have them. Even if your idea doesn’t go forward, it often leads others to new ideas


Engage with ideas

There are two sides to this sharing business. If you see a good idea, say so. If you see an idea that you don’t agree with, disagree with it (professionally :) ). It is much more rewarding to share ideas when someone else is commenting on them. The platform we are working in has both comments and ‘+1′ functions available. Use them as you can. The more interaction we have, the better the ideas tend to get.

Engage with other people’s ideas, it makes them better. It also makes things more fun for everyone

Feedback to the organizers
The reason for running an open project is to get to work with lots of people. If something about the course is bothering you, or stopping you from participating… let us know. You are the reason we’re here. We don’t always know when something is broken, and are more than willing to engage with suggestions for improvement

Let the organizers know how you’re doing, both for what’s working and what isn’t working for you

Building an introductory physics course – cMOOC meets xMOOC

Problem: How do we create a free, online introductory physics course for students transitioning into AP (advanced placement) or first year introductory physics?

Solution: Lets get all the physics teachers we can together and build it as a team.

Yeah but…: lots of those folks may be good physics teachers but they haven’t all taught online before.

Better solution: Lets build a four week ‘maker course’ for physics teachers where we talk about the best ways to build online resources and build those together at the same time!

Lets start that on the 4th of March. (Course opens on the 28th of February)
UPDATE: Dave Pritchard has agreed to come onboard to serve as one of the facilitators for the course!!!

The project – Making introductory physics prep together
Our goal is to gather as many physics educators as we can find and make resources. Specifically, we want to make resources that can be turned into a free course for students transitioning into AP or university level physics. Our hope is to end up with more resources than we need and that all participants (and other folks) can find resources and ideas that can help them in their teaching and learning. Want to find other people working on physics? Want to learn to build new things online and/or share the things that you know about building things? read on.

Who should join this course?
We’re hoping for two types of folks in the course.

  1. People who are interested in teaching physics, whether you’ve been doing it for two years or twenty years.
  2. People with lots of experience building stuff online.

Bringing together people’s experience and collaborating on our ideas will make the work better.

What’s the fine print?
First of all… the maker course is free. All and any materials created in the course (by everyone, including the course facilitators) will be licenced Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license so that we can all benefit from the work we are doing together. You are free to participate to whatever extent you wish, but if you join a ‘maker team’ you are committing yourself to doing the work for that team. The central part of the course will use the EdX platform, but we will also have facebook, twitter and google + groups. No need to join them all but different people like to work in different places.

It’s a four week commitment. The ‘maker teams’ will each be responsible for one area of introductory physics and will focus on those. Other participants are welcome to help, contribute, and collaborate as they see fit. This is our first time trying this, so the more help we get the better.

Classroom scholarships
At the end of the course we will award a number of scholarships to teachers working in the course. Prizes will be awarded in a number of categories, but only to participants who ‘finish’ the course. We are hoping to encourage completion, on one hand, but also to provide people with the tools and resources in the classrooms to create new and interesting resources to support physics teaching.

Project Background
This project is the brainchild of Piotr Mitros (Chief Scientist at EdX) and I (dave). We spent 12 hours driving around on a bus together in June arguing about how we could integrate the work that I’ve been doing with cMOOCs with the work that he’s been doing with xMOOCs. This project is our first run at it. Imagine a community of educators coming together once a year for four weeks to work on the curriculum for a transitions course for physics students from all over the world. How cool would that be? Well… if it works, we’ll see :)

SIGN UP HERE

Grant information
The University of Prince Edward Island is a successful applicant of a competitive grant competition run by Athabasca University (Principal Investigator: George Siemens). This project, the MOOC Research Initiative, will advance understanding of the role of MOOCs in the education sector and how emerging models of learning will influence traditional education. The MOOC Research Initiative is a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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.

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.

Reporting
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!

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?

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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?

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

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

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 http://www.thesummeroflearning.com/ 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…

Awareness
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)