Category Archives: Uncategorized

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)

Self-assessment and self-remediation

Driving down the road listening to the Anne of Green Gables soundtrack with my kids i found myself thinking about remediation in rhizomatic learning again. I have this problem in my classes… and it involves how to explain to people who have literacy gaps that they can go ahead and fill them on their own. I’ve been thinking about strategies for building remediation into my curriculum and then throwing them away as antithetical to the rhizomatic agenda (creating independent learners, preparing people for dealing with uncertainty blah blah blah) and then a term popped into my head ‘self-remediation’.

I don’t know quite why i like the term so much… as remediation still suggests that there IS a curriculum and to some might suggest that that curriculum is fixed and stagnant. I do know that some people seem to have a basic sense of what most people mean by words in a given context and others don’t. I can very well look around my classroom and see that some people ‘get it’ and other ‘don’t get it’. I have also noted that there is often not a perfect 1:1 relationship between people thinking they do and don’t get something and whether they actually do :) So i’m basically trying to give people something they can work with… a strategy rather than content… that can get them ‘in the know’ so that they can participate in the community effectively.

A search of ‘self-remediation’ on the googles brought me to an excellent chapter by Janet Gale from a book Independent Learning in Higher Education (1984). Seems I have company in my thinking. In her tidy chapter she lays out five purposes for ‘self-assessment and self-remediation’ that while they are certainly grounded in a pre-internet world, still speak to fundamental concepts that are as important today as they were in 1984. I’m going to go through them and try to spin them my way…

  1. Overcoming isolation
  2. Gale refers particularly to the loneliness of the independent distance learner, but i would suggest that being ‘outside’ the conversation is lonely whether you are embodied or not. It is easy to forget when you are immersed in a field that many people not only lack an understanding of the meaning of particular words, they are excluded from the context. Addressing this feeling of loneliness as a natural part of the process and something that a person can do something about with focused effort might be just the thing that some students need.

  3. Active learning
  4. The text quoted in this section suggests that “Learning is maximized by an active information-processing strategy which requires the learner to respond to and at times reinterpret the information he or she is being provided with.” Imagine how much more important that is when he or she is being provided with a cagillion more pieces of information on the internet. It seems like a vital transition between passive textbook learning and active internety learning.

  5. Controlling learning behaviours
  6. This one is very interesting and speaks to behaviourist research in education which i mostly avoid. Gale refers to research that shows that testing and feedback mechanisms change the ways in which people choose to learn. And suggests that the critically important question of who’s objectives are to be achieved, the learners or the teacher’s. It is something that i continuously struggle with as a course needs some kind of structure if it is to be called a course, and if people are going to be able to pick one course from another… but ideally those objectives would lean more on the learner’s side than the teacher’s. The introduction of self-assessment and self-remediation strategies (and the way it is done) could further reinforce the idea of student control of learning behaviours and suggest a transfer of power from teacher to learner.

  7. Diagnosis and remediation
  8. I’ve spent more time, i think, on the idea of remediation than diagnosis. The author is very clear that these are separate acts. I think of this as a useful distinction as often discovering that you don’t understand what others seem to does not often coincide with the time required to remediate. Encouraging students to create a list of ‘things i don’t get’ and following it up with strategies of remediation would not only be useful for the learner but for the whole community of leaners.

  9. Student responsibility for learning
  10. And this, of course, is what i want in the first place. The chapter is bound by the possibilities of paper. Much of the discussion is of the challenges of creating pieces for self-assessment that doesn’t include prescripted options. We can, i think, allow people to go out on the internet unscripted and allow them to remediate those things that they have ‘diagnosed’ as something they don’t quite get.

In terms of strategies the discussion focuses on planning self-assessement questions and encouraging uptake. I think i would say, rather, encourage the writing of self-assessment strategies by the students. I’m thinking that this should be included in the syllabus as a structuring piece around student reflection… both reflections in the blog and reflection in their own learning plan.

Teaching students how to make good questions for themselves, to ask them in ways that are going to lead to effective searching and learning, is something that should be overtly done. Taking time to specifically say that people are allowed to look at their own knowing, plan their own path to catch up, and that this will allow them to participate more fully in the community.

Top ten things my android phone does for me – a tech/life post

Well.. I haven’t written a technology post in about three years, but I’ve been thinking about trying to make the most out of the supercomputer in my pocket recently, and have been really quite amazed by the technologies I haven’t been using. I resisted the pocket computer when they came out, got an Iphone 3g eventually, then a samsung S2 and now have the Note II in my pocket. It has a hugegantic case on it and, up until a few weeks ago, I was basically using it like a laptop with a camera – browser, photos, videos and Skype. (and, of course, as a flashlight)

A couple of weeks ago i happened upon this little treasure of a post http://techland.time.com/2013/07/01/50-best-android-apps-for-2013/ from time magazine where my new best friend Jared layed out fifty apps that you might want to use on your android phone. I normally turn my nose up on those kinds of posts… until i remember that I don’t put the time into technology that I might have once, and really, really need the hints. That being said, Jared’s post starts with the technology and forces you to scope through it for the uses one might have for each piece of software, I’m going to do the reverse. Here are the top ten things my Android phone (now) does for me.

Flashlight/nook looker
Let’s start with an easy one. I can’t overemphasize how often i use my phone as a flashlight. It’s in my pocket, i need to see something, I turn on my Brightest Flashlight Free app, and I’m off to the races. It might even be more useful as a nook looker. Can’t see through that hole in the wall to find out what’s behind it? Shove your phone in, take a picture with the flash on, now you can see! https://www.dropbox.com/s/27szmnpvzaaira9/2013-02-04%2014.42.15.jpg

Task management
I have been looking for a task management app that was simple enough for my caveman mind to understand. I don’t want huge complexity, i don’t want a frickin’ gantt chart. I want to remember to call someone. I want to remember to go fix that door in basement. And, most importantly, i want a really simple way to procrastinate. Enter Any.do It has a simple ‘delay this for 1 hour, 3 hours, do it tomorrow’ kind of approach that allows me to keep things on my todo list but put them off over and over again. So far so good. I’ve remembered to do several things that I usually forget to do. That’s what victory looks like on Villa ave. :P

Text messaging from my computer
I am not someone who carries their phone with them ALL THE TIME. I tend to leave it in my purse when i’m at work, or dragging somewhere around the house. People assume, for some reason, that I have the damn thing with me all the time. I spend alot more time with my computer, and when i do, my phone is entirely forgotten. Enter Mighty Text. It talks to my phone, and lets me know when i’ve gotten a text message, lets me answer the text message, or even manage four of five conversations in one window. Now i don’t miss my messages when i’m in front of my computer. win.

Travel coordinator
I’m bitter about this one. Turns out half the people i know have been using Trip it for years. And no wonder. It’s fantastic. Email it your travel details, it combs through your emails and attachments for the travel information, organizes it all up, sorts it by trip and makes life on the road worth living. Where’s my hotel? oh wait… i’ll just click that button on trip it which automagically gives me the directions. I tried hard to hate it… and then i bought the $40 pro account so i could have even more fun tools. You don’t need the pro account, but it is cool. :)

The GPS – finding my way
It’s a basic function of most phones, but i keep talking to people who don’t seem to use it. I use the navigation app that comes with my phone. What i love is the bluetooth integration with my car. I can blast the stereo and when new directions come up, it overrides the stereo and tells me to turn left in 500 Metres. Simple, efficient, and mostly right. Mostly. Because it relies on googlemaps, which tends to fall apart a bit when you are driving through the back woods. And I come from the back woods :)

My alarm clock
This is probably the thing i use the most… strangely. I have a complicated wake up schedule. I go to the gym at 6am (yes, i know) on some days, some days i need to be up at 6:45, sometimes 6:55 sometimes… well you get the idea. The standard clock app on android is pretty flexible. I have about 7 or 8 configurations that i can turn on and off to adjust to whatever schedule i’m running and I have different volumes of alarm clock, depending on how important it is for me to wake up and how careful i’m being about waking other people up. I don’t care what you say, i’m not obsessive about my alarm clock. IT’S IMPORTANT DAMNIT.

Link Management
I bought a purse, because i like to shove interesting things in my pocket, and my pockets aren’t big enough for all my interests. Same problem with things i find on the internet. I have been unreasonably thick witted in my attempts at finding one tool to remember web pages i have found. I’ve used most of the ones out there, and they offer lots of functionality i don’t need. I need something i can just shove anything into. Amazingly I found a tool called ‘pocket‘ which does exactly that. I can just shove things into it! From my phone, from my computers… i heart it.

File management
Where’s that picture? Where is that presentation that i did last year? How can i send you this video of oscar eating oysters without posting it on youtube? Dropbox. Integrated on my phone. It solves these problems and more. I started using it when i got this phone about 6 months ago… it’s made a huge difference. It’s worth investing the time to get it setup.

Brain soothing
Like many of my peers, i gots lots of things spinning around in my head. That can sometimes mean that at 3am i wake up thinking ‘oh shit, i should totally fix that door downstairs’ or ‘wow, that meeting totally went great now i can…’ or ‘mmm… beer’. Lots of things. But if my brain starts to engage, my sleeping is going to be done for a while. That feeling of being overspun happens sometimes during the week as well. I have a solution. I listen to audiobooks. Of books that i’ve read before. Preferably many times. I use the audible app, have ten or fifteen books of different styles in it at any time, and a headset nearby. Turn on book, plug in headset, put in ear, fall back asleep.

Guitar chords
Yup. I read chords off my phone. It’s one of the nice things about the big screen. I use the Tabs app and can find the chords to most any song. From there you hit ‘start’ and it scrolls the words and the chords so you can play along. As i can’t remember the words to anything, it works out perfectly for me. While i still prefer reading out of a song book, and would FAR prefer just being able to remember, having the chords on hand is awesome.

Other stuff
I also use my phone as a phone. I use skype, and use it for a notepad, and as a camera etc… but thought the list of things that aren’t that might be more interesting. Would love to hear about what I’m missing :)