Community as Curriculum – a research project

I’ve been trying to figure out what I would do for the third of the rhizomatic education papers, I had hoped to pull together some of the things i’d learned since the original paper and pull it together with the second piece of writing around guilds and networks. This has lead me to thoughts about how some of the work was being interpreted and what there was to learn from looking out to the idea as it is connected to the network – the idea in its own own environment as it were.

The research project
I want to survey the way in which people have taken up the idea and how it has affected their practice. I want to interview them, and get a sense of why they tried it in the first place, what there expectations were, how well trying it reflected those expectations and what they ended up with in the real world. I have some expectation that the actual in class reality of turning the idea of curriculum into something else probably has a number of practical challenges in different fields, and I’m very interested in how people confronted those, how the learners confronted them, what their opinions were… I’m curious.

If the start align, i will be teaching ED366 again this year. Educational Technology and the Adult learner. I’d like to take the results from the first part of the research and apply it to the course as it stood 2 summers ago and see how it could be improved from the new interpretations.

Not too complicated really

Examples of uses
I’ve found a few very interesting examples of students either studying the rhizomatic education paper or running projects or courses using adapted versions of the content.

English 505 University of East Michigan
The paper appeared to be one of the challenges presented to the learners in the course. As you can see by the wiki, they made some very detailed analysis.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign- Dance Program
The dance program at Illinois appears to be arguing that the idea of ‘community as curriculum’ can allow them to consider their students as experts and allows them to guide what the word ‘curriculum’ means.

We are Media Project
By no means a ‘central’ idea to the great work done in the we are media project, but certainly an idea that was explored as a philosophical shift in thinking in terms of creating a curriculum.

What I’m hoping for
Well… I’m hoping for examples of people using the idea (and hopefully re/better-interpreting it) and having those people make contact with me so i can find out what they did.

I’m also hoping for advice on how to make the research project better. This is the first time I’ve set out on doing a research project without funding or formal structure… so ideas are most welcome.

I’m hoping, overall, to move the idea forward. It was, originally, the story that I put on the things that I have learned while working with all of you. It seems to have been a useful story for others as well, and now i’m kind of attached to it, so I’d like to see it grow.

Rhizomatic Translations 1 – Buying tech for learning

You might call it babble… you might call it context
After i posted an upcoming book chapter (article 2 of the rhizomatic education series) Nancy White asked me what the same article would sound like with a 16-year old audience. This isn’t going to be that… but her comments reminded me why i went on the journal writing odyssey in the first place. I was trying to get clear in my head about what I had seen on the internet, what my experiences meant and how I saw things moving. The intention was ALWAYS to be able to explain in plain language what I was trying to say. To be clear. This is my first try… how do you buy tech for rhizomatic learning.

Catch 22 – I’m buying but for what?
This is the trick. You either have the money… or you have the plan. People interested in education will probably smile at that line, and have probably been in that position many times. They have been approached by people with money (i have $500 i need to spend in the next week… I just got $150,000 to do research), or been approached with the money itself. This doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve probably had the conversation 8-10 times. More often, you run into the need. Before things like Ning, we (at worldbridges) used to host these kinds of projects ( (now defunct) youthvoices (still running under excellent new management)). Excellent learners, or educational practitioners, community members and idea havers just looking for the resources they need to do a specific thing.

If you have the money, you generally do not have a clear idea of how it is going to be used. You cannot line up hundreds (thousands/millions) or folks without any way to promise them that the technology will come through. You can have an extraordinarily detailed plan but if you do… that means that you’ve already pretty much decided what the needs are of the people that you are going to teach… and probably what they are going to learn. It is much, much easier to have a clear idea of the things you wish to purchase if what you are going to do is rigid, top-down – read: clear.

If you have a plan, this probably means that you have already gotten into a learning situation, you are a real learner amongst learners and you know what you need. Then comes the rub… it can take years to identify funding, apply for funding, wait for approval and actually get it in the bank. It can take 100s of hours to do the work, you need partners (who might not have been part of your initial vision) you need, usually, to make concessions to the needs of the funder (it is, after all, their money) and then you can only hope that the needs that you identified is still there and you haven’t lost the hours you spent on the project funding application.

Rhizomes to the rescue
We’ll need to set up a couple of premises

  • In the rhizomatic model, experts do not create curriculum, it is co-created by the learners
  • Educators prepare the context and the scaffold (maybe the syllabus, depending on the situation)
  • There is a surplus of information (lets call them open educational resources) that can be used to provide the content of curriculum, there need not be A resource… any resource will do
  • As we move passed a ‘knowledge economy’ towards one where being creative with that knowledge is more important (or put another way not knowing, but, knowing how to know) facilitating access to collaboration and collaborative skills is key (I might want to say community rather than collaborative)

If you take these things as given, all of a sudden buying the technology becomes a little more interesting. You can look at the affordances provided by each of the technologies and ask yourself if these are the kinds of things that fit with what you are trying to do.

ex 1
The IPad is at the middle of a number of debates right now, but the general consensus is, in its current release (sans camera for instance) it is primarily a consumption/ticking device. It will do an excellent job of allowing you to consume media. It will also do an excellent job allowing you to ‘tick’ things off a pad. I was thinking, for instance of my trainer who constantly has a paper pad he carries around with reps and weights and excercises which he then collates back in his office. Ipad is perfect. If you want a student to be able to write a professional paper, the lack of being able to hold a pdf, an email a website and an image open at the same time is going to be a real impediment. Impossible? no. But the affordances are mainly consumpion/ticking related.

A headset is one of the most useful tools anyone can have (when they already have a computer). It is critical for collaborative participation on the internet. In 5 years of running web based conference type events (webcasts/conferences) the “are you wearing a headset” question is still first and foremost. It allows you to participate in an online discussion without irritating the community that you are participating in and also allows for things like VOIP. It’s cheap and allows for that critical audio connection.

But but but what about training and what about…
Training and support is critical. Just in time technical support is critical. Clear models for how to succeed are critical. These things are also ephemeral. Training and support programs don’t really seem to last, good technical support (that can actually assess the needs of a learner and give them confidence) is tres hard to find, there is NO ONE CLEAR MODEL for success.

You need to be flexible, you need to plan projects with a strong focus on problem solving by the learners. You need to plan your systems for perfect simplicity… complexity is easily added if its necessary (and it rarely is). If the focus of any learning activity is centred directly on the leaners and those learners have technology that provides the affordances they need… you’re going to be able to find solutions on the fly that are far better than pre-planned responses for presumed problems.

A few more affordance examples
For instance…


  • opening documents (gmail will open anything – open office)
  • voice (headsets… can you say headsets)
  • video (a decent webcam takes pretty good video/mino HD provides the simplicity etc)

You could argue forever about what audio recording software to use, but, really… what do you NEED it to do. There are very few cases where someone needs to record awesome audio. Reasonable audio designed to share people’s thinking/learning is cheap and easy to use. Ease of use encourages use.

I’m not sure this has been a very strong start to my attempts at being clear… but, to put things simply, you need not buy (stuff) directly for the plan… but

buy(stuff) for the kind of learning you believe in. I believe in collaborative/community learning.(depending). I need/want to allow people to create, to participate and to understand that they can be part of what they are interested in.

Community as Curriculum – vol 2. The Guild/Distributed Continuum

“Community as Curriculum“, in: D. Araya & M.A. Peters, Education in the Creative Economy: Knowledge and Learning in the Age of Innovation, New York: Peter Lang, 2010.

This text is an extract of a forthcoming book ((Spring 2010) Education in the Creative Economy: Knowledge and Learning in the Age of Innovation, a book edited by Araya and Peters and Published by Peter Lang.

Chapter 23

Community as Curriculum

Dave Cormier

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you – just one word.

Ben: Yes sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Ben: Yes I am.

Mr. McGuire: ‘Plastics.’

Ben: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ben: Yes I will.

Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That’s a deal.

—The Graduate, 1967

This classic scene from the 1967 blockbuster The Graduate illustrates the assumptions and premises of the traditional twentieth-century ontology of work and knowledge. The scene paints a world where access to knowledge is privileged, access to mentors and inside information key, and getting in on the inside of the next big thing a one-time stroke of luck on which an entire successful—and linear—future could be built. The film reflects the prevailing understandings of its era, including that a future could be chosen at the start of one’s career.

In the scene, Benjamin Braddock, twenty-one years old, recent university graduate and star student, stands uncomfortably in his parents’ living room being grilled by their peers about what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. The enigmatic Mr. McGuire lures him aside in a semi-satirical performance that emphasizes both McGuire’s delight in his own power and the bewildering weight of the choice ahead of Benjamin. The magic word that McGuire dangles promises Benjamin entry into a cabal of people who know who hold the future. As viewers, we can apprehend Ben’s dilemma and the critique implied in McGuire’s over-the-top delivery because the roles and the beliefs they were built on still carry power in our culture and particularly in our educational systems, where knowledge as a commodity with structured, gate-kept access paths to success is still a powerful narrative.
Benjamin Braddock has the package he needs to succeed in McGuire’s world. He knows how to access the world of knowledge through the books and journals that live in the library at his university. He knows how to work with experts, receive the knowledge and expertise stored in their heads, and serve that back in a format that meets specific requirements. Ben has acquired an education, and now it can be put to use. He has a store of knowledge and the requisite skills to acquire more. Even as the final act of the film closes with Ben’s rejection of convention and the world offered by Mr. McGuire, viewers are left with the assumption that he will be just fine. Benjamin Braddock is positioned not to fail.

This idea of learning as something that can be bought, acquired, and then completed is deeply ingrained in popular culture. It is a comforting model. If we are to believe that learning is as simple as this, then at any given time, we can simply find the “way to do something,” pay the requisite fee to acquire the knowledge in question and then go about applying it to our lives. If we are in a field like, say, plastics, we need only be able to tell one plastics knowledge salesman from another. If we are clever or choose a reputable institution of plastic sales, we will have the item that we need and will be able to progress a little further down our chosen path. The model implies that there is a way to know what the answer might be, and that a person (our plastics expert) could have this knowledge, and that the knowledge can then be acquired by a learner. In addition, most importantly, once the knowledge is acquired, the learning is finished.

It is a simple model. Unfortunately, it is false. If it ever worked, it will not work anymore. The promise of the twentieth-century model of knowledge is an empty one today.

As the job descriptions of traditional professions change and diversify, people are realizing that the myth will no longer hold. There will be no more “plastics” salesmen. A manager might also now be a social media strategist, administrative assistants are becoming Web managers, and mechanics are plugging computers into cars. Where once universities and colleges would market to an established clientele and rely on word of mouth and prestige for attracting students, they now market to the globe and find themselves in need of types of literacy that were hitherto the province of embassies and multinational corporations.
In this climate of change and adaptability, where money is being spent on “making things digital” and “making people ready for the digital age,” how does one know how to guide one’s professional course? How can one choose learning opportunities that will contribute to success? How is the policy maker to choose between options, either of which are potentially equally likely to succeed, and both of which are being presented in terms that break current frameworks of judgment?

Often the answer to these questions has been, simply, “more.” More training, more work, more hours spent in the office. More research, more money spent on research consultants. The training is too often too short, too boring, and too old-fashioned. The consultants are expensive, difficult to find, and come with no way to accredit their advice. People turn to passing fads in an attempt to stay current without the necessary experience or context to be able to make informed, professional decisions about them.

This is the climate that is now demanding a new way of learning and a new sense of what it means to learn. The implicit lessons of our educational system are still twentieth-century lessons: being on time, attentiveness, focus on single tasks, completion of tasks outside of context, and, perhaps most importantly, completion of tasks without any sense for why they are being done. These are the preparations for effective labor in the Dearborn factories of Henry Ford in the 1910s and 1920s. These are the skills for the members of a workforce who were not to sit down, not to stray from their task and earn their time in front of the fire from a hard day’s work. They are preparations for the industrial revolution.

Most of us have, in spite of ourselves adjusted—at least incrementally—to this transmission-focused military model of education. There is a sense in many educators’ minds that learners need to explore their way through their learning, and have the experience of learning, of searching out ideas and discovering them for themselves. This process, though, is usually bounded by the learning objectives laid out at the beginning of the course of study by the designer/instructor. There is still, implicit in most widely held conceptions of learning that the instructor, designer, or at least the institution knows what a learner should get out of a given course.

The problem, then, only comes into play when we are not sure what “people should be learning.” What is the curriculum for innovation? How do we impart creativity? Where do students turn to be guaranteed that they are learning what is new and current? These are the questions that face us on a more or less regular basis now. As knowledge becomes a moving target and the canon starts becoming less reliable, we need a new—or in fact an old—model of education drawn out on a new canvas: community.
The answer is to stop trying so hard, to stop looking for a systemic solution, and to return to a human-based knowledge plan. We need to return to community as a valid repository for knowledge, and away from a packaged view of knowledge and expertise. Knowledge can be fluid; it can be in transition, and we can still use it. We need to tap into the strength provided by communities and see the various forms of community literacy as the skills we need to acquire in order to be effective members of those communities.

Community as curriculum is not meant as a simple alternative to the package version of learning. It is, rather, meant to point to the learning that takes place on top of that model and to point to the strategies for continuing learning throughout a career. There is a base amount of knowledge that is required to be able to enter a community, and there are methods for acquiring the specific kinds of literacy needed to learn within a specific community. A learner acquires basic forms of literacy and associates with different peer groups. Networks begin to form and, occasionally, communities develop. Knowledge is created and sometimes discarded as the community interacts. Knowledge does not develop and spread from and through concentric circles. There are no “plastics” to be learned and no canon to consult to ensure that a new skill has been acquired. Knowledge is a rhizome, a snapshot of interconnected ties in constant flux that is evaluated by its success in context.
We need a move toward a more practical, sustainable learning model that is less based on market-driven accreditation and more on the inevitable give and take that happens among people who engage in similar activities and share similar forms of literacy and worldviews.

Learning and Knowing
The rhizomatic view of learning reflects an organic, practical approach to thinking about learning and knowledge. It has a distinct connection to the traditional academic knowledge model, with its interlinking references and people. Each piece of information and knowledge is interlinked and supported by at least one other element, with no one place where knowledge about a matter begins or ends. The rhizomatic model, in contrast to the academic one, keeps the knowledge in the people and in the community rather than distilling it into a paper based product – be it the final publication of a journal, book or other ‘changeless medium.. The problem with the paper publishing cycle is the time it takes to proceed through the entire cycle, and the constraints on time and space that go along with the medium place severe restrictions on the flexibility and applicability of the academic tradition. It is not to say that it is not valuable, just that it does not always—and cannot always, today—respond in ways that meet the needs of learners in a world where what is known in many fields changes from month to month.
If we are working in a field where what is new or current is continually in flux, then we need to have a way of keeping our knowledge up to date. With the huge increase of academic publications, the simple process of choosing has become more difficult, and the sifting through what is out there a significant task for any professional. Our ideas of learning and knowledge need to become more flexible to allow for this mutability. “The term [rhizomatic learning] encapsulates a sort of fluid, transitory concept; the dense, multi-dimensional development and integration of several different sets of tools and approaches, appearing in diverse forms under separate settings, using all the multidimensional networking information technology tools, the social web, etc.” (Szucs, 2009, p. 4). rhizomatic learning distributes the channels of knowing outside traditional hierarchical models and into the social realm, allowing for help in sifting through the flow of information and knowledge. These “social learning practices are allowing for a more discursive rhizomatic approach to knowledge discovery” (Cormier, 2008, p. 3). rhizomatic knowers use a variety of approaches and tools to blend together bits of information and knowledge in order to form what they need. They especially need a learning community to help them test ideas, filter information and knowledge, and seek advice.

The skills that Benjamin Braddock—as a representative for his generation—learned for acquiring knowledge were listening, accepting hierarchy, and learning how to identify sanctioned bits of knowledge to apply to new situations. The traditional testing and identification model that Ben would have been accustomed to operated along principles of “here’s what you need to know and here’s how I’m going to know that you know it.” These notions of hierarchy, sanction, passivity, and external validity are all further victims of the social shift we are currently experiencing. As learning becomes about participation and knowing becomes a negotiation (Cormier, 2008), it is no longer as practical to approach learning with a pre-existing notion of what we are trying to find out. Instead, knowledge production becomes a participatory process based in communities, with members trying to solve problems, tap into existing trends or simply exploring by helping someone else. The problem of how we know what we are taking out of a community environment might be true or useful or might, in some sense, be seen as knowledge is at the heart of the change that is needed to cope with the accelerated speed of change.

The knowing, then, exists out in the networks and should be seen in this rhizomatic way. It should not be seen as a network in a digital sense but rather as a culmination of the connections between people. Knowledge becomes a snapshot in time of what is known in a community on a given issue. Publishing is done in order to crystallize and make knowledge about the community public—as in “public”-ation. Its value is in its ability to reach out from the community to others, not in its inherent knowledge.
In this rhizomatic model, the roles of the expert, authority, and reference in knowing all change considerably. A side benefit of this transition is the expulsion of the plastics salesmen, vendors of the “next best thing” that you simply must think about. Our plastics salesmen can no longer fall back on the old adage “research shows,” or simply show us a major corporation using a given product or method and expect us to want to incorporate it into our work.

This being said, expertise and experience are still critical to the success of any community. Whether one believes in the 10-year-rule of expert-making (Ericsson, K.A., Prietula ,M.J., Cokely, E.T., 2007), a healthy community will work faster and move toward goals quicker when the people living in that community immerse themselves in the specific goals of that community. Novices certainly can come together to learn without the presence of master-style members, but the progress is likely to be slower. Access to pre-existing work on a subject and trial and error experience can be of great value to novices trying things for the first time. The negotiation of knowledge is going to be more productive if the people involved have access to the basic literacies for that field.

Community is a kind of network. A learning community is a specialized version that inverts the normal pattern of responsibility from being responsible to oneself to being responsible for the learning of the people with whom one is involved. More specifically, one is connected to these people in a variety of ways, be it professional lives, social networks, or other settings. There is a sense, however, that work goes better when people are working together. They are sharing information, working together to learn new things or sharing experiences. In a professional network, “taking care of oneself” is what is considered appropriate; in a community, lending a hand and helping to make sure that others in the same community are learning is the highest order. This idea of learning, that it happens between people on a relatively flat hierarchy, is the antithesis of the world that our Benjamin came from. In his education, having the right connection and having acquired the right information from the existing canon was critical. In the learning community view knowledge is rhizomatic, and learning transactional.

Joining any kind of community can involve a fair amount of research and time. Communities are about commitment. They are about responsibility rather than goals described by others. There are many interpretations of the word, many of which attempt to call on a possible past full of barnstorming, communal sharing, and mutual survival. There is another version of the word community that calls more to mind the inequality of high school group work, the inefficiencies of the communist farms and the tedium of the weekly meeting. There is no guarantee that a given community is going to work in a way that will satisfy every prospective member. The definition of community used here differs from both of those archetypes in the sense that it is about choice. A choice to be responsible to a group of people and a choice to join in with a group of people who, while they might not share similar distinct goals share equivalent mores, skills, or worldviews. They are, on some axis, on the same part of the long tail.

Conventional instruction is based on a hierarchical model in which those who know teach those who do not know. As Cross notes, “Institutions of higher learning were set up with the express intent of attracting people who know and the tools of knowing into regional settings in order to allow for the building of centres of knowledge. Students would come from outlying towns to come to the locus of this knowledge in order to get access to ‘those who know’” (Cross, 2005, p. 5). Communities, then, become this same kind of regional settings, allowing different kinds of members, some centrally invested and others peripherally so, to interact in centres of knowledge. The difference is, of course, that knowledge is negotiated in time. As this knowledge is negotiated, it is spontaneous rather than reified in books or articles. “Learning together depends on the quality of relationships of trust and mutual engagement that members develop with each other, a productive management of community boundaries, and the ability of some to take leadership and to play various roles in moving the inquiry forward” (Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009, p. 8).
The creation of a community in and of itself is not sufficient to guarantee the kind of life- long learning that promotes creativity in a professional context. Indeed, the creation of a community is often the easiest part of the process. It is important to understand, from each learner’s point of view, the goals he or she is to achieve as well as the available to obtain them.

The two types of learning communities presented here reflect two differing directions for learning. They should not be seen as mutually exclusive but rather as different in control. The first, the guild model of community, offers more control and better options for accreditation and verifiability and is also the easier one of the two options. If a guild style community can be established, then it gives a single locus of learning. The other, the distributed model of community, i.e., multiple membership roles in multiple communities, offers far greater flexibility , though less control. It would be difficult for an employer to track learning in this kind of environment, or for learners to take guidance on what they should learn. A combination of these two is certainly possible, or the path might lead from one end to the other.

Community as Guild
Creating communities for learning is the first path that many people take begin to believe that the Benjamin Braddock model is failing them. They are looking for a connection between the organized world of learning and the new connected world of the Web. Indeed, there is a sense that a classroom can be this way. The community versions of these kinds of classrooms emerge around a particular topic or perspective and grow and adapt along non-institutional lines. We also see the same in different social communities that occur around different topics and fields online.

They do offer a number of very significant advantages—perhaps the most important being quality control. A look at traditional guild models and how they deal with issues of quality control offers an interesting perspective to the current open classrooms and social networks.

It is clear from the records left by guilds that they [guild] were vitally interested in matters of “quality control” and quality assurance. The exclusive right of the guilds to sell certain goods in certain markets, coupled with quality standards written into the guild regulations, assured buyers that all goods under the guild’s jurisdiction would be of a certain quality. The guild “imprimatur,” in other words, took the place of the reputation of individual craftsman as a quality assurance device. (Merges, 2004, p. 7)

The members of the guild, be they a representative organization or a classroom, are constrained by a charter, social contract, or syllabus that defines the things that are done and known inside that community. It both allows for observers of a community member to know what that member is likely to know and allows new members a better sense of how they can get involved. There are observable dos and don’ts that a person can follow in order to be more successful. People need to know who they are in their community. They need to know how to succeed. They need to understand the roles that are available and what it means to participate. Guilds can work, particularly when they are open and people think of them as part of the whole knowledge building structure.

In the Classroom
“ The community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum” (Cormier, 2008)

The ED366H Educational Technology and the Adult Learner classroom, a course I taught at the University of Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2008 was an attempt at putting the guild model community learning into practice. The goal was to create a sense of reliance and a sense of responsibility in each student toward the learning of their fellow students. The goal was not, however, to create some kind of community that would last past the time allowed for the course but rather to instill some of the literacies and demonstrate some of the advantages of community learning in the hope of fostering the desire to join or support community learning in their respective teaching environments.

The course is a accredited by the university and designed to span 35 hours in a two-week period. The constraints of such a shallow time span had a considerable impact on the decision not to create a standing community. The course began with a day-byday syllabus that suggested broad topics of research for week one and broad topics for student lead demonstrations for week two. It took a people centred and, as far as possible within the required structure, a technologically neutral approach to introducing the idea of technology to the classroom.

One of the interesting features of teaching this kind, of course, is that any specific information, terminology, technology, or even approach is likely to be partially or totally outdated by the time the opportunity for the learner to actually use it in the classroom has happened. The focus of the syllabus was entirely on the students learning to rely on each other to find paths through the tasks that were set out. Competency for the course was simple, the students needed to teach something to the rest of the class in the second week that they had never heard of in the first. During this process, they were required to create a textbook, together, of the things that they learned and reflect on the process throughout.

The difficulty with the course scenario, however, is that the forced community tends to fall apart after the course. Many more formal attempts have been made to create this kind of community, but they face significant challenges. A case study made of the Education Network of Ontario illustrates many of the pitfalls of trying to sustain long-term interest and participation in an online community of practice. It was a 12-year project that began in the days of dial-up and, due to the inevitable challenges implicit in sustaining a long-term community, eventually ended in 2005.

Despite the obvious benefits of online networks, the complexities of forming and supporting online communities will need to be addressed if they are to be sustained. Designers will have to balance the needs of the community and the needs of individual members. The success of future online communities will be heavily dependent on: the level of information overload, the tone of the environment (including all of the community building practices needed for a healthy community), and outreach and marketing. (Riverin &Stacey, 2008, p. 55)
The guild style community, however, need not be an end in and of itself. It can be seen as a gateway to a more distributed, more flexible view of learning communities. It can be a safe place from which to set on our own or simply a trusted node in a widening network of trust from which communities tend to form. What the leaders of these guild style communities need to teach people, then, has little to do with content and more to do with actually using communities to learn. The community is, in effect, the whole of the curriculum. Its members need to experience what it can be like to learn in a community mediated environment and take that away with them so that they can continue to be contributing members to their knowledge rhizomes.

Distributed Community
Seeing communities more broadly and taking multiple community and network membership online/offline might be a sustainable community learning model. In a sense, this is what academia has been, as opposed to a simple guild model. The guilds learned and worked mostly with people from their villages or the rare traveler; academics had the written word on books, and they traded with them. They developed methods by which, at a distance, the community could judge the applicability of a given bit of knowledge to the overall field. The methods of quality control by peer review and citation are the distributed community in paper form; adding the Internet, matters start to move faster at a fantastic rate.

The learner and the knowledge producer now can tap into a broad base of professionals in any field at the click of a button. There are professionals sharing their work at the time that it is happening, presentations being streamed online and data coming out from research long before papers are published. With connections through social networks it is possible to query the writers of professional works in order to get clarity, suggestions or confirmation about certain ideas or theories.

We are also able to find other people who have the same degree of interest in a given subject as we ourselves possess. This concept makes Chris Anderson’s idea of the long tail so attractive. If we connect the whole world through social networks, then the people with very specific, very passionate interests will be able to collaborate. In Braddock’s world they would have accomplished their goals—had they been able to find each other, but now even simple searches will reveal people with whom specialists can form strong connections.

The multiple memberships that make up online community participation can be overwhelming. Online participation can, from a technical perspective, include micro-blogging, bookmarking, blogging, Web cast memberships, and a host of other technical formats that require some degree of competency to participate. The key, however, is the varying layers of connection that they allow with the people who are actually present. Simply “using” the technology offers no particular benefit. Being able to participate in live knowledge building on a daily basis with a group of peers, on the other hand, is a privilege of the so-called digital age.

Having members of a community involved daily in activities of the digital age l means teaching them to network first, to assess ways in which their networking can grow into relationships of trust that allow them to rely on people to care about their learning and about their success and where they learn how to judge people’s opinion. They will, in a sense, have to become sensitive to the ways in which knowledge can be acquired, created and validated along the rhizomatic view.

Edtechtalk As a Model for Community Curriculum—A Piece of the Puzzle

Edtechtalk comprises a community of educators who come together in various ways on a regular basis to share their expertise and experience with each other. It is “a community of educators interested in discussing and learning about the uses of educational technology” (Edtechtalk, 2009).

My community learning experience started with Edtechtalk. My relationship to it and membership in it has changed and morphed over the last four years, but it has consistently occupied a very important place in my learning world. It is both a locus for the guild model of learning in the structured weekly programming and the inner core of producers of shows that works together and is also a distributed model of learning in the way that it becomes a locus for less central members to come together, meet others, and move on to other projects.

The problem, however, is that these are emergent communities. They are communities with no direct goal and have not been created by an entity with the specific goal of “learning.” It is a learning community that was created out of an event are sometimes created out of an existing event, as the Web heads were in 2002 and continue to be a strong supportive community. However, they are difficult to create on purpose to solve a particular problem.

The focus of this kind of community learning needs to be on the people and on the specific context of those people. There may be circumstances where much of this kind of learning would be face to face, where it might go in waves, or where it might be entirely online. This need not have a profound impact on the success of the learning experience. Each venue or platform, be it a Multi User Virtual Environment or a coffee shop offers different advantages and disadvantages. In either case an eventedness is offered to the student who can take them out of their context (Cormier, 2009, p. 545). Certain matters may be resolved easily in one situation, whereas in another situation, the same matter may prove to be a lot more complicated. More specifically, each matter needs to be seen in its individual context.

There are problems, necessarily, with this kind of approach. For example, if a number of practitioners, who are still in need of experience, attempt to band together without access to the “trails” of more experienced practitioners, they could be in for a very difficult and time consuming learning process.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This kind of approach is in no way going to appeal to all people and be ideal to all situations. There are some buttons that are blue that need to be pushed after the yellow one. While there are any number of potentially important community lessons to be learned around this concept (how to sit when doing so, what to do if the yellow button is missing), there are times when the training path is simply a question of acquiring certain simple facts. More broadly, there are objections that affect this kind of learning… as Mr. Szucs noted “We should notice that the strength and the weakness of this approach is at the same time, that the content and the competence are legitimated by the collaboration in the networked system” (Szucs, 2009, p. 4).

The content, in this case information and knowledge on how to accomplish tasks, e.g., grow professionally, choose a new course, whatever the case may be, is legitimated by collaboration and by its applicability to the context of the user. If that user does not return to the community with the results, is not able to assess those results, or is not honest about them, the system begins to get weaker. There is also the significant risk of groupthink. The more a community insulates itself from outside influences (a distinct risk in the guild model), the more it is likely to fall into established patterns and allow knowledge to become defined as “what we happen to be thinking right now.”

Another place where online communities can get into trouble is the over-focus on the digital element. Much ink has been spilled in discussions of digital literacies and how they are critical to the survival of the twenty-first-century professional. Indeed, these literacies are important and are comparable to the effective use of the pen, train, or conference hall in the twentieth century. The digital landscape is yet to be painted, not necessarily in terms of contents but in terms of the medium that is used to “paint” digitally. The medium has a huge effect on what can be done and a more subtle influence on what does get done.

The world that rhizomatic learning commits itself to is a far less secure world than the one presented to Benjamin by Mr. Macguire. He would have us believe that the future is a novel, can be seen, learned about, acquired, and put in the bank against an uncertain future. What we are acknowledging here is that the future is uncertain that we do not know what we will need to know, or who will know it. We are committing ourselves to people, not to specific bits of knowledge or information and hoping that our commitment to those people will keep what we know relevant, and keep us above water.

We can create communities, out there in the online space. By far the easiest way of creating this kind of community is to use find a Web based community that already exists. As the decision of “what” to learn, that is, the problem facing most professionals in the workplace today, it is probably easier to start one’s learning inside a guild community model, where the literacies for community are easier to learn, and while the idea of “knowing you know” is a bit easier to manage.

Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate, 4 (5). Retrieved from

Cormier, D. (2009). MUVE Eventedness—An experience like any other. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 543–546. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00956.x

Cross, K. P. (2005). What do we know about students’ learning and how do we know it? Research & Occasional Paper Series, 7(5). Retrieved from

Edtechtalk. (2009). About Edtechtalk. Retrieved from

Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T. (2007). The making of an expert. Harvard Business Review, (July-August), 5. Retrieved from

Merges, R. P. (2004). From medieval guilds to open source software: Informal norms, appropriability institutions, and innovation. Conference on the Legal History of Intellectual Property. Retrieved from

OJR: The Online Journalism Review. (2006, August 31). Five rules for building a successful online community [Web Log message]. Retrieved from

Riverin, S., & Stacey, E., (2008). Sustaining an online community of practice: A case study. Journal of Distance Education, 22(2). Retrieved from

Szucs, A. (2009). New horizons for higher education through e-learning. e-Learning Papers, 14. Retrieved from

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPsquare.

Open Educational Resources: The implications for educational development (SEDA)

This article will be published in the December 2009 issue of Educational Developments, SEDA’s Magazine (see Many thanks to James Wisdom and Co. for their help, patience and excellent suggestions.

I am not, in any sense, an opponent of openness. I think that an open sharing of ideas is healthy for the thinker and, perhaps more importantly, for the idea itself. In a world where what is known as new or current is increasingly difficult to pin down, a collaborative approach to learning, and particularly learning around technology, is critical to the survival of any practitioner (Cormier, 2008). I see open education as a method of confronting the challenges that face us as people working in the business of education. As open education and open educational resources are moving into their second decade we are moving past the time for evangelism and towards – hopefully – something a bit more pragmatic.

The field of education is being confronted with the need to teach new ideas, new tools and new theories on a seemingly daily basis. The challenge is not, as it has been in the past, the finding of ways to teach these things. The challenge, rather, is in choosing what to teach and which information and content to rely upon in order to make that choice. And even when we do make the leap to understanding these new ideas, the work that we produce is increasingly not solely our own. As our thoughts, our ideas and our content – if it ever really made sense to think of ideas as ‘ours’ – move more and more to the web they will inevitably be seen, used and reused by people far beyond the reach of reprimand or law.

There seem to be two alternative paths to follow when confronted with this mixture of the new and our own loss of control. We can give in to the openness or we can lock down on what we have and what we know. If we can’t protect our work, we can embrace the change and decide to march along with our peers. We can open our work and share it with the world. Or, alternatively, we can take our work underground, hide it behind passwords and hope to protect our investment of time and effort. In the first, we can share in the learning of others, but not benefit directly from the content we produce. In the second, we might benefit from our content, but we lose the opportunity to work together.

Truth be told, we have sharing our work for years, just on a different scale. We’ve been giving away our work for free at teaching conferences, workshops and water coolers from long before the internet revolution. The difference now is the reach that our work can have, the syndication with which good resources can spread around, the lack of control over the distribution. We are not sharing it with one person at the water cooler, 25 at a workshop or 200 at a conference. We can be, as in the case of Dr. Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, sharing it with 10 million (mwesch, 2007). There is a sense, in some peoples’ minds, that this reach is proof of the value of the content, and, because of this, the content should be monetized.

This latter alternative, protecting what is ‘ours’, pursuing legal cause with people who steal our ‘copyright’, is the alternative that has been chosen by many. Regulatory agencies are banding together to hunt down thieves as part of a multinational legal effort (as we are seeing in the music industry (Buskirk, 2009)) to preserve intellectual property. The critical difference between ourselves as teachers and some people in the music industry is that we are still, most of us, being paid the same for designing or teaching courses as we were before the revolution. Most of us were not receiving huge royalties on our ideas. There is no industry at risk. And we are still in demand.

Openness, and particularly in the form of Open Educational Resources (OER), seems to be the way many people are dealing with the new realities. But openness, and the way that people speak about OERs in particular, is a much more complicated matter than a simple confrontation with the realities of our era. OER can be, by turns, a branding operation by an educational institution, a path to grant funding, a hardening of that link to the past of objects and known knowledge and, in the extreme, a potential new thread of nationalism. This article will try to step through some of these ideas in order to separate the value of openness for educational development from the ways in which openness is being used to support other agendas. It focuses on the difference between thinking of openness as either project or practice.

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

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

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

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

It is a story of two contrasting visions of what openness can do for education. On the one side we see large ‘knowledge infrastructure’ projects, dominated by discussions of standards, intellectual property and massive amounts of cash. These are great projects for bringing money into institutions, for raising the bar for professors who maybe have not been putting the amount of work into their courses that they should have, or for raising the profile of an institution. On the other hand we have individual educators working to open their own classrooms, sharing their work with their colleagues and sharing their colleagues with their students. This is a great open method for learning, but using the internet can lead to disruptions of scale and frustrations from students and administrators with more traditional conceptions of learning.

What is an Open Educational Resource? 

By “open educational resources” the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) – Open Educational Resources project means more just “content”. Their definition embraces:

Learning Content (full courses, courseware, content modules, learning objects, collections and journals)
Tools (software to support the development, use, re-use and delivery of learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and on-line learning communities)
Implementation Resources (intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design principles of best practice, and localization of content) (OECD, 2007)

So our formal definition includes the content of individual items you may have produced, the best practices developed for a classroom and the software that might have been created to store and distribute these items.

The idea of resources of this quality and lineage being available to the general public represent a cultural shift, a massive move from the inherent protection of content and the ‘sale’ of knowledge to one where the content itself has no longer has enough intrinsic value to be for sale. The simplicity of the technological part of the creation process, the avoidance of the associated costs of paper make the creation of the resources a practical option whether one is inside or outside of academia. The value of the university as a place of experience and accreditation must necessarily take priority over content, as it seems that this can now be given away.

There is also a difference, one might say, between providing ‘the’ resource and providing ‘a’ resource. If you are creating a basket weaving video with the primary intent of conforming to a branding plan from your university that forces you to contribute in a certain way with certain things to a central repository, then you are probably part of an OER plan that intends for people to find your particular resource. An educator or a group of educators who make their weaving work public or, indeed, work in public for the reason that it makes their work better to have it interact with their peers or even to have their students interact with their peers, is providing ‘a’ resource.

This lack of ‘monetary’ value has often led to one of the primary criticisms of OERs: “if the things that they were giving away were worth something, they wouldn’t give them away”. There is some sense in this. If the universities had a viable, sustainable market for this content, they might not, indeed, be offering it for free. A university may be offering up its courseware to the world, but they are not (unless committed to it through government/NGO funding) offering up the IP behind things like pharmaceuticals. Nor are they offering accreditation exams for free. The defenders of openness will see this as a redress for the way that the world should be, and say that the universities are releasing something that always should have been free. The actual connection of quality and cost, however, have long since been disproven by open source, free projects such as the Apache server software –

So what does this mean for Educational Development?
We are, I think, constantly running the gauntlet between project and practice. There are times when the project serves us more often than we serve it. As we approach new projects and consider approaches to them, the distinction between project and practice can be helpful to keep scale under control. There are some things that simply live on the scale where they should/need to be projects but others, I would argue most, are simply a matter of changing practice. A cautious educator or creator of resources might be well served keeping things as simple as possible and keeping a clear focus on curricular goals.

Overhead – Creating an OER 
The first thing that strikes me about the OER movement is the massive amount of overhead that seems to be implied in an “OER Project.” The consensus view seems to be that in order to be open, you need to be organized and you need to have the investment of your institution. The list of existing OER projects often hail from well heeled and well established universities, with an organizational staff and ‘professional’ archival systems.

Being open need not be complicated, it doesn’t need to be organized, nor does it even need to be funded. It has to respond to a need that exists. Simple solutions may require a 10% concession from the educator, but a small concession to sustainability can be important. Perhaps they need to give up the idea of the content being interconnected, or only available to some people or, again, having professional quality video.

Creating High Quality Resources – The video 
Then again, what is ‘professional’ quality video in an era where the incredible staying power of the common craft videos ( and the introductions produced by people like Michael Wesch have contributed to the belief that video is something that people can just ‘do’. When this inferred simplicity is combined with the desire for ‘high quality’ resources the consultant (be they technical or educational or both) is called upon to easily and efficiently create a video that compares to the one in a million that has filtered its way through the morass of YouTube.

If you’ve not seen the genius that is the common craft videos, they take very simple shapes and, with a clear delivery on an organized script they explain complex technical concepts in transparent understandable ways. The genius, here, however, is in the script. The ‘quality’ of the video is not very high, as it was being produced to be seen through the blurry windows of YouTube.

These videos were created, distributed and made the career of their creator without the benefit of massive underwriting or a university repository. The Wesch videos are the output of a brainwave of an educator pushed to YouTube. They are not, however, likely to be replicated by every person creating a learning object. One in a million successes of this kind encourages the desire to create ‘the’ resource, a dangerous goal for any project. The creation of ‘a’ video that achieves a particular curricular goal is a far more practical goal, and, preferably, the discovery of an existing creation that fits the need.

Legal Issues 
The copyright implications of an open approach cut in both directions. Many educators have materials that they have ‘acquired’ in their repertoire that are not, strictly, theirs. This leads to an understandable reluctance from many educators to make their work open. The reverse legal issue ‘what about my intellectual property’ is manageable in two ways. In the creation of any object, the creator owns a copyright, but it is a copyright in name only. The cost of pursuing a copyright case is huge and not practical for most. This leaves you with two viable options – the use of creative commons or staying away from the internet.

OER projects as new nationalism 
The OER projects, and the potential of significant uptake of programs like MIT open courseware offers another issue for consideration. How are local professors, debating the relative value of their curriculum against the standardizing power of a major university, going to be able to forward their own ideas?

“Imagine a course in ethics or social justice. You could argue, and some do, that this is the reason more people need to open their curriculum. I ask you… how will the majority of people be able to choose between the curriculum of a small town Nova Scotia university and Berkeley. Easy. They’ll either choose the most famous or the one that they were already in agreement with.” (Cormier, 2009)

Take that idea a step further, and imagine this kind of control as part of a national dialogue. There was a time when a national educational policy was about educating people within a nation. It had its benefit for the country in the way in which it was able to live, work and compete given the degree to which it had educated its people. The internet and OERs are opening a whole new venue for the “national education policy.” The recent policy document (Cook, 2009) talks about the English educational system as something that can be exported, indeed, something that should be exported (BIS press statement, June 2009). It seems the call to OER is the call to arms of the 21st century, with knowledge as the new battlefield. Sadly, the knowledge that people will be fighting over will be of the shockingly 20th century variety.


Not all openness is created equal. There is a presumption in traditional learning design that a given trainer is somehow going to be able to divine the needs of a given group of learners before a course is started. Alongside this belief is the idea that there is some kind of ‘best practice’ or ‘one way’ of doing things that can be created, sliced up and dropped into place alongside others just like it and these will serve as the core of what will be needed for learning. These are the assumptions that underlie the idea of a resource repository. All the trainer needs is access to the knowledge, the trick, the video and they will be that much further down the road to success.

The kind of openness presented in our second response to the inevitability of the sharing of our work, the openness of the process, produces no such easily transferable objects. It is, often, a clumsy and dirty process of people coming to know things, of people sharing information, of collaboration. It is remarkably human.

(Cormier references edited)

Attwood, R (2009). Get it out in the open. Times Higher.

BIS press statement, June 2009. Universities set to go online for millions

Buskirk (2009) Forrester to Music Industry: It’s the Consumer, Stupid

Cooke, R (2009) World leader in e-learning

Cormier, D. 2008. Rhizomatic education : Community as curriculum. Innovate 4 (5).

Cormier, D. (2008b), “The CCK08 MOOC-Connectivism course, 1/4 way”,

Cormier, D. (2009), “OERs shining light, new textbook model, or harbinger of a new imperialism”,

Couros, A. (2009). Open, connected, social – implications for educational design. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 26 (3),

Downes, S:

Grant 14/08: HEFCE/Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme: Call for Projects

mwesch (2007)

Netcraft Survey (2009)

OECD (2007) Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) – Open Educational Resources,

Presenting with live slides – OER, literacies, libraries and the future preso

Had a great presentation yesterday and though i’d take the opportunity to lay out what i did and how the process of building live slides works. It’s pretty simple really.

The theory
Well… it may be a surprise to my mom… but i don’t know everything. Not even close. There’s a sense in which being invited to present at a conference, that you are the expert coming in to notify the locals of what they should know. You could also be presenting your own work, or, say, trying to explain a particular point… and live slides might not be best for that. Lets assume you have a broad topic like I was given for this presentation “the future of libraries”.

I’m not a librarian.

So what i decide to do is offer a platform for that discussion and a lens through which it might be useful to examine the discussion. Below are the slides that i put together with a series of questions that are about the work that i do – openness, literacies, digital stuff, learning, rhizomes – all focused towards the topic of libraries. The questions start at a controversial but audience focused (audience was supposed to be mostly librarians) so the first question i asked was “what is a library”.

I took these slides and put them into an eluminate room kindly borrowed from George Siemens and then invited some friends to come along. So, now we have 15 people in a room (i had fifty five on the first go around) and 11 questions on 13 slides. (first slide is a doodle slide to get people accustomed to doodling and the last a participant slide) We go through the questions and the “live slide guide” (me in this case) starts the discussion going. What is a library…? the audience posts their ideas into the slides… I do approx 5 min on each slide and try and present the slides as they are being built, using my own perspectives on the topic brought in through the questions and blending them with the ideas coming live from the collaborators in the elluminate conference. After 50 minutes the slides look like they do below.

At the same time, I was also doing a screencapture of the whole eluminate conference so i could post it later. The fine folks at seem willing to host this kind of stuff for us… here’s the direct link to the big video… embed below.

For me
I love working this way. I learn from the audience, my prep time is lower, and I think people are far more engaged. Both times i’ve done this people seem to have had a good time. I think we learned interesting things. The title of this presentation changed after we did it… it focused far more on literacies than i was expecting and made some very interesting links between teachers and librarians (actually, several people thought there was really no difference)

More theory
I think this presents a far more realistic vision for knowledge. When asked a question like “what is a library” a single person has to come down to a single definition that can’t possibly encompass the full cultural impact of a word. If you look at the first question slide of the presentation you’ll see a very broad ranging definition created by a collaborative of people… the definition is rhizomatic, created in time, and the record presented here is a snapshot of it… an archive of a live moment of knowledge.

I’m really excited about this.

WIAOC – You can’t collaborate alone: an invitation

So. On May 24th at 1700 GMT I’ll be doing my Webheads in Action Online Conversion Keynote presentation and you’re all invited. You’re all invited, that is, to be PART of the presentation. The topic (and the digital nomad stage of the webheads), I think, deserves a slightly different presentation style for me… I plan to speak from slides created on the fly by the audience of the presentation. The presentation will go as follows

I’ll do a 10 min introduction during which I’ll give a quick introduction to the ideas around ‘community as curriculum’ and what i think that shift means to education and lifelong learning. I’ve tried to do this kind of thing before, and find that if I don’t include this kind of introduction, it makes too much of a separation between the edtechtalk clan that is already familiar with my ramblings and new people I could bore with the same old theories.

The other thing that I want people to do in this part of the presentation is get used to doodling. So slide one will be up and I will be encouraging people to get into drawing and commenting on ‘slide 1’. I’m guessing that this crows will be the kind that will be willing to post interesting stuff that will keep the conversation moving in an interesting direction.

Slide set 1 – Dave’s language
The first couple of slides will address some of the more controversial ideas involved in the presentation. The meaning of community, lifelong learning and curriculum. Right now i’m thinking three straight blank slides with those words as titles, where the audience will be popping in their ideas of what those words mean to them or what they think they might mean in this context.

Slide set 2 – The learner
Once we get a general consensus (or not) I hope to move forward discussing what it means to be a learner inside of this kind of community… How would you find such a community? what are your responsibilities? How do you identify different people and choose to work with them? How do you measure your own learning? How to set goals?

Slide set 3 – The ‘teacher’
I put scare quotes here around the word teacher to signal that this word is a placeholder only. This person might be a community manager, an enthusiast on a particular topic, an institution or someone who has no idea what they are getting into… or a teacher. In this section we will talk about… How to guide conversation. How to exclude things. How being everything can be the same as being nothing. “the lazy professor” stuff that Alec Couros and Dean Shareski talk about. and probably some more stuff about setting up spaces.

Slide set 4 – The community space
In this section I hope we can address some talk about qualities of a space that can promote community and curriculum. What things are important when thinking about space… about the technology and the way that technology gets used. I don’t want to get too bogged down in this discussion (which could easily be a 4 weeks series and not a 10-15 minute section) but the slides themselves (created by the audience) could leave a treasure trove for those following along.

Slide set 5 – Some theory
Yup… didn’t think you’d get out of this without me talking about rhizomes. I’ll spend a few minutes discussing what’s actually different about doing things this way and hopefully get lots of “you’ve got to be kidding” coming up on the slides from the crowd.

Slide set 6 – outroduction
basically thanking the crowd and asking them to sign their names and home city on the last slide for posterity.

What I’m still considering
The easiest thing to do, I guess, would be to just do this in elluminate and them copy out the slides as screen shots and put them into an audio mapped slideshare. (which still doesn’t sound very easy) If anyone has a better idea I’d love to hear it.
number of slides
always a consideration… but I’m worried about slides getting too crowded if this actually works. I guess we can slip into a second slide if the first one on a given topic gets out of control… but i dunno
hoping you guys will come.

Thoughts and feedback welcome. d.

OERs shining light, new textbook model, or harbinger of a new imperialism.

Ok. So I’ve been backchanneling all over the place trying to get my mind around what I’ve been trying to get my mind around this week (really… for the past year). I have a couple of questions that I’d like to explore…

What are OERs good for?
When are they a good thing?
Could they be a bad thing?
Whom do they serve?

Sacrilege? Perhaps… so lets take our time and develop out this idea properly. First we’ll talk a bit about different kinds of knowledge and which ones are well suited to prescripted ideas of content, then we’ll move on to a consideration of how OERs can be imperialistic and, finally, on to some considerations of OERs and scale.


straight knowledge
For those of you who’ve ever heard George siemens and I at the same event, our discussions inevitably descend into the same area… about ‘truth’ and more recently the ‘advancement of knowledge’. (This is an eluminate discussion of same) I’ve been particularly concerned that George’s examples of what he calls knowledge are often in the STEM realm (science, technology, engineering and math) and involve people building planes that don’t fall out of the sky. I am a very, very strong proponent of very stringent approaches to building airplanes, and, while I accept that people can have ‘airplane building communities’ I have no interest in the teaching of airplane building being a choose your own adventure. There are, in much of the STEM realm, clearly identifyable things that are WRONG. Airplane falls out of sky. Hadron collider heating up. Bridge falling down. (seems to be alot of falling here) But you see what I mean… these are things that we can all pull out a finger and point at and go BAD. Let’s call this straight knowledge. Straight knowledge, in George’s sense can ‘advance’. Stronger bridges, faster airplanes.

curvy knowledge
This is not true for what most of us call learning. (i have no research to support this, this is an intuition, that’s why I’m writing it in my blog… if you have this research, I would be very grateful) The vast majority of the things we learn are more subtle than this, have multiple possible solutions and no real ‘wrong ways’ of turning. They involve people’s feelings, their histories, their individual goals, the different ways their brains might work… all things that no group of experts would ever actually agree on. It is for this realm of ideas that ‘rhizomatic education’ was intended. A group of staff members trying to learn new ways to make their company more efficient. A group of 12 year olds trying to connect to history. A community of educators trying to come to grips with how new technologies can and have changed their profession and how they can make the best of it. These are the kinds of situations where I’ve used the idea of a community coming together to create it’s own knowledge. They can’t be ‘WRONG’ in the sense that a bridge falling down is wrong. Some of the content can be wrong, they might have misunderstood what someone in their office does, they might have gotten the date of the Boston Massacre wrong (I know you’re out there John Mullaney) or used a fake email address when they registered for delicious and then forgot their password… but their goals – better working environment – connecting to history – empowerement with the technology – were still achieved. These things are the knowledge, the jobs, dates and passwords are simply the content… things that could be jotted down, or googled for when needed but not really the thing they are there to learn. For these people the community, the feeling of using a community to learn… this was the real curriculum. Let’s call this curvy knowledge. Curvy knowledge does not ‘advance’, it changes… there is no ‘linear existance’ for it to follow.

Hold on a second… I thought you were talking about OERs… do you even know what one is?
I know what Seth Gurrell thinks one is, and I’ll take his definition. He works for COSL (the Center for Open and Sustainable learning) and it is this username (and presumably person) that wrote the definition of OERs used on the Wikieducator site.

The term “Open Educational Resource(s)” (OER) refers to educational resources (lesson plans, quizzes, syllabi, instructional modules, simulations, etc.) that are freely available for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing… included in the many initiatives are

  • developing royalty free textbooks for primary and secondary schools;
  • simplifying licensing of resources for authors and educators;
  • packaging and indexing educational materials so they are easier to find and use;
  • nurturing online communities for teachers and authors; and
  • growing open education as a field and a movement.

Other definitions could be found, and hairs could be split, but essentially we have three big words. Open. Educational. Resources. There are some things implicit in these words that are will bear a couple of words. By Open we mean available with or without copyrights (there seems to be some disagreement about this…) lets call it viewable by anyone to dodge that bullet. Educational means that whatever knowledge may or may not be lurking in the content it has been processed by someone – a professor, an instructional designer, a teacher, a friend – to make it easier for someone else to learn. That educationalizing process is an interesting one… that content is almost always contextualized to the context of the person who has done that. (an important point for imperialism later) And, of course, it is a resource… something in a big old pile that we can draw from when we need something.

OERs and straight knowledge.
Any OER that gives knowledge on how to do something (like build a well) to someone who otherwise would never have access to this knowledge is a wonderful thing. If it helps people build safer cars, earthquake resistent houses, more environmentally friendly office spaces… anything I can point to and go ‘that thing’ I support it. This does not, I don’t think, extend to things like k-12 textbooks. The k12 sphere is not ‘pushing the limits of the advancement of our STEM knowledge’. They might, and that’d be really great, developing new kinds of curvy knowledge, but access to other people’s exclusive knowledge is not necessary for this. If really good free textbooks are needed, any number of organizations could get a bunch of teachers together to write one (and, indeed, this has been done) and then ‘MAKE IT FREE’. tahdah.

OERs and curvy knowledge
This is where i jump ship. I took a cruise through a bunch of courses at one of the flagshipes of the OER movement MIT OpenCourseware (yes, i know some people don’t think this is really ‘open’) I found one in particular that I thought served as a nice example of what I’m talking about “Technologies for Creative Learning. I would call that course curvy knowledge, and no amount of brain research is going to convince me that ‘creative learning’ is a STEM subject… it’s curvy. I would challenge anyone (anyone really… if you’re there 🙂 ) to take a look at that syllabus and ask yourself if you would choose those particular articles… You might. I might not. It’s kinda neat to see what other people use in their courses… I’ve sent some of my own work to other colleagues and have really enjoyed reading their’s… this is a good thing. But. Is it important that this particular list came from MIT? Should it affect the choices that we make when we teach our own courses? How much of an affect will the prestige of the university have over other people’s approaches to curvy knowledge.

Scale and the new textbook
One of my concerns, going forward, is the scale of the process. If, lets say, everyone published their syllabi publicly, along with all of their teaching resources… what happens then? Well, in one sense, we just have the internet all over again. There is no guarantee that because a course is being taught at a institution of higher learnign that the content is going to be good or even correct. More likely maybe, but no guarantee… you’ll find yourself wading in a see of content. This will, inevitably, lead to a number of folks offering to ‘guide people through the sea of content’ some will be free, some will charge and then you’ll have a new economy of people who are collating existing bits of content and/or knowledge into a compendium of things based on themes or categories… LETS CALL THEM TEXTBOOKS.

The new imperialism
The Myoops issue. MITs OER translated in Chinese. The five years I spent living in Asia gave me no end of examples of the reverance with which the American Uber Schools are seen. I have had students for whom the words ‘Harvard and MIT’ (and i do say word… em-ai-tee is a word, not an acronym) are the easiest to pronounce and use in a sentence like – “i want to go to Harvard”. In the places where ‘straight’ knowledge is actually straight, electrical engineering for instance, this is a really cool distribution of knowledge (At least, as far as I know, not being an electrical engineer). In the STEM subjects this offers any number of current and uptodate sources of knowledge that might otherwise be hidden or not there at all. But once things get curvy, the conversation gets more complicated. If the MIT edtech curriculum started being the default curriculum taught in even 10% of chinese universities this gives whatever professor is teaching that course ENORMOUS control over the direction of the industry… and not just in China. Image a course in ethics or social justice. You could argue, and some do, that this is the reason more people need to open their curriculum. I ask you… how will the majority of people be able to choose between the curriculum of a small town Nova Scotia university and Berkely. Easy. They’ll either choose the most famous or the one that they were already in agreement with. This does change the paradigm… I just wonder in what way.

Final thoughts
Freeing knowledge is a good thing. Freeing content, on the other hand, is a bit sketchier. When something is ‘packaged’ into an ‘educational resource’ we’ve left the straight path (however straight you might think that is) of the research process and enter the realm of contextualization. When you design a particular course, you need an audience in mind, a skill set, a number of literacies, goals… you make any number of decisions about how to frame and scaffold that knowledge so that a particular group will assimilate it in whatever way you see fit. If we turn these into tradeable cultural capital, we will, in a sense, not be changing anything at all. The major institution of learning currently do influence a great deal of our public policy. Clever translators of that knowledge (think Gladwell or Friedmann) already make a gazillion dollars oversimplifying the work that has taken others years to painstakingly put together. And we are left to our wits, our time schedules and our demands to judge how deeply we’re going to be able to assess the knoweldge coming in to figure out if there is something in it worth passing on…

All curvy knowledge ends up being like this. For me the last of those list of five goals is of particular intersest. “growing open education as a field and a movement.” This is the part that I really care about… and particular ‘open education around curvy knowledge’. Getting people together to talk about the stuff they need to know… and come out with their own version of it. OERs might be important to this… and they might not… but i just can’t help but think that they will just end up being ‘the internet’ all over again. Who exactly will they serve I wonder?

Thanks to Alec Couros, Jen Jones, George Siemens and Jennifer Maddrell (and others) for pushing my thinking on this subject. (note: by this, of course, i don’t mean to imply that they in any way ‘agree’ with me, but rather, they were kind enough to talk to me which helped me hammer out what i was thinking)

Teaching the second little pig – rhizomatic knowledge, MOOCs and other open things

As previously mentioned here… I was asked by Steve Warburton (congrats on the (nicely named) new project steve!) to do a presentation on MOOCs for the evolve community. This has sent me off on a wild tangent trying to come to grips with the implication of open education and the rhizomatic knowledge model (or, say, some people’s interpretation of connectivism) This is a weird kinda journey… but stick with me if you can.

The Third Little Pig
About 4 mornings a week my mother tells my 2 1/2 year old son the story of the three little pigs. It’s the friendly version, none of the pigs are eaten and the ending is usually some variation of ‘and they all play happily every after’. I’m often struck by the reasoning that the story attaches to the different kinds of houses that the kids build and my mother usually stresses that the third little pig builds his house out of brick ‘so it will last a really long time’. He has to save up all his money (she takes some liberties with the story) so that he can go down to the store and buy all the bricks he needs in order to build a house that is impervious to, among other things, wolves.

The Second Little Pig
Our second little pig is a bit less industrious (so the story implies) than the third little pig. He goes far enough to build his house out of sticks, but it isn’t solid enough to stand up to the rigours of a blowing wolf in the old story (or the rain dripping through the roof in my mom’s version. The house is built too quickly without the rigour of the third little pig.

I’m not so sure. I see the second little pig as a little more balanced than the other two. He assesses the different options, takes his best guess at what will hold up verses what it’s going to cost… The only problem is, he doesn’t have the skillset necessary to turn his quick build into the thing that it needs to be.

Hidden Literacies
One of the interesting things about this story is that all three pigs appear to be able to build houses and they all seem to be able to acquire money and tools to build those houses. They choose to work on their own and, as they journey out in the world, they make the critical decisions that lead to two of them being a snack for a strong lunged wolf.

Rhizomatic Knowledge MOOCs and open things
In thinking about open stuff… these ideas keep popping into my head. I have a feeling that the open course is something that depends on a series of hidden literacies, and that we don’t have any sane way of talking about what they are… or, more importantly what they should be. I’m more convinced than ever, after spending the last eight weeks playing with Stephen, George and their CCK08 team that the rhizomatic knowledge model makes sense. We do kinda project a version of what we ‘know’ from a community house, and those houses are out of date as soon as they are made. But…

We are all building our houses together. And we 30-70 year olds (best guess from CCK08) are all building on a set of hidden literacies that we earned through our (what, 19 years of school for me) schooling. We have all learned to write, to read, to focus, to concentrate, to recognize strong positions when we see them, to obey power, to remember, to record … a whole stream of literacies specifically designed to build a house out of brick.

If, however, our knowledge is becoming more fluid, and transient, then we need to look to our friend the second little pig, and we need to scaffold his learning so that he can build that stick house quickly, but still JUST STRONG ENOUGH to resist the big bad wolf. It’s a different series of literacies… and the models that we are using now, for open courses, for community development, are either going to serve the brick or the stick house.

Wait, what?
The point here… is that there are two different kinds of openness out there. There is the MIT open course openness where we the penitent receive the knowledge from those in the house of brick (ha… now you see where my metaphor is going). There is no confusion here about who are the purveyors of knowledge. This knowledge has been vetted and has been traditionally confirmed… it took a long time, cost alot of money etc… This model is very well suited to the way i was taught… to the literacies listed above.

And we have the other kind of openness, where the path to knowledge is actually open. The rhizomatic knowledge model is meant to suggest that by participating we are actually in the process of creating knowledge. As a member of the community of knowledge building you are RESPONSIBLE for bringing yourself to the knowlege building experience. You are responsible for finding your own path to learning, for bringing building materials for co-creating knowledge, for measuring your own learning, for assessing your own success and for applying rigour.

Whither these literacies?

Massive Open Online Course
So when i look to this course and listen to the struggles that people have gone through in the process of following along and working with us… I wonder… how do we foster these new kinds of literacies. It’s tough for me, I was told by someone who knows me very well yesterday “easy for you, you’ve always been arrogant enough to be willing to judge your own success”. 🙂

The MOOC is a very cool thing, but it brings up all kinds of issues… one of the more interesting of which is the interplay between the ‘defined course’ and the ‘realized literacies’ of the participants. Somehow we need to talk about what we are knowing while we are learning, without it just becoming some weird meta-discussion like a couple of teenagers endlessly repeating how much their relationship is great not realizing that they’ve stopped actually living the relationship.

If we are to move forward with openning the educational system, we need to be able to deconstruct our literacies, the ones that allow us to learn, and lay out how students are going to acquire them. We also need to be honest with ourselves about which of those literacies are about brick houses (which we still need) and which are to help the second little pig make it through the winter.

postscript – don’t bring me any of your straw pigs… post has been up 5 minutes and I’ve had two complaints about ignoring the #$@ing straw pig. He’s the lazy pig. QED

The CCK08 MOOC – Connectivism course, 1/4 way

To the best of my knowledge, the term “MOOC” comes out of a skype chat conversation I had with George Siemens about what exactly he would call this thing he and Stephen Downes were doing so I could call it something for the ETT show were were planning on the subject. We threw a bunch of possibilities around, and I dropped MOOC into the connectivism wiki, and, yesterday, someone asked me to do a presentation on the topic. 3 months. crazy. I’m not going to dial down into specifics of how the course is structured, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about… check out the wiki first.

We had two discussion on edtechtalk about the course before things actually kicked off… We had George, Stephen, Alec Couros and Leigh Blackall come out and share their opinions on the topic. Stephen and George as the course leaders and Alec and Leigh as two of the best thinkers on open courses that I know. The upshot of it was that it really was going to be an open course, and the instructors were going to allow the students to form whatever groups they might be interested in and they would provide the communication stream but not the organizational scaffolding.

Communications – What there is
There are a variety of ways in which learners in the connectivism course are being distributed to the world, and I’ll break down each one and try to establish how i feel they’re working at this point. Overall the communications weight on George and Stephen is huge, they’re involved in a large number of conversations, and have been trying to follow the vast weight of the content that has been produced… not sure this is a sustainable model, nor would it necessarily work as well for a different teacher who didn’t already spend a large amount of time working on the web. (note – i hate googlegroups and am therefore not able to speak to them. haven’t participated, have heard that they exist)

Moodle is a Virtual Learning environment and is being used for one primary (forums) and one collateral purpose (aggregation). The aggregation purpose serves the same goal as the multitude of pageflake, netvibes etc… aggregation page… it helps people see what’s going on. Good so far as it goes. The moodle discussions have taken on that nice tone that I like to see. They are polite, (mostly) and there is an acceptance that it is a public space. There are several exploratory threads that I think have been very useful to the learners… i’ve always really liked discussion forums for co-creation of knowledge. I think this is working… for those who are using it.

The Daily and the blog.
This is the master aggregated list of all the posts related to the course as well as a few plucked out by Stephen as of particular interest to him, and the blog serves as a central stream of discussions (i particularly like Stephen’s round up… agree or disagree Stephen always leaves you with something to think about) I’ve used the Daily as my main way of following along with the course.

The wiki and the readings
I think that the syllabus can be very helpful, but the work there has not really been worked on by anyone other than Stephen and George… not much sense having a wiki when only the administrators end up working in it. Wikis almost always end up this way… This is the main syllabus for the course, and a good way to catch up with the core course material. I’ve not done most of the readings, but they are available here, and I’ve been sampling them occasionally…

The live stuff – eluminate and ustream
I’m not a big fan of eluminate, i think it’s a little clunky, it’s never really liked my microphones and i think it’s far too ‘display’ centric. It replicates the f2f presentation and I think, doesn’t really represent the most realistic way that people participate in front of their computers. I’m biased, i like the ustream format we’re doing… it’s more user focused and I get to talk more 🙂 That being said, these are the most effective parts of the course for me, I really have to commend both Stephen and George for their lucidity and their willingness to be in the firing line every day. I’m loving moderating the ustream and have really enjoyed the questions from the chatroom… still wondering if it makes sense to bring people into the live discussion… so far the format seems to be working with me as the rep. of the folks in the chatroom… would like feedback on this.

Early lessons
I remember George saying something in one our our Edtechtalk discussions like “just getting the course off the ground is what I’m going to consider a success” and I think I agree with him. It’s a huge undertaking, with lots of little bits and pieces and a collosal amount of data. That being said, here’r some of the things that I’ve taken out of the first quarter of the course

Prerequisite Literacies
I think this kind of course needs a very specific description of what people are goign to need to know in order to be able to participate effectively. This might also include go forward models in terms of how people might go about doing that. For those of us who participate in online communities all the time it wasn’t terribly difficult, but i get the sense that more online participation would have resulted from added scaffolding.

Community building
I’m a bit of a community freak. I’m in the online stuff for the community as much as the learning… I like to hear about people’s lives as much as their professional accomplishments, I learn from their mores as much as their knowledge. I would have liked a bit more sanctioned community building directed from the top, to help scaffold the organicness of the groups that are out there… but that’s just me.

Course standards
I’m not sure if this is a lesson or not, because i think it’s been handled pretty well. There are some folks who’ve taken a more combative approach to the course which others have felt restricts the conversation. I HATE ‘what you can do’ standards on the internet generally, but i think the grace with which S and D have accepted critiques speaks well for them and open courses generally.

My own goals going in were to get a better sense of where my own work fits in with Connectivism. I’ve said several times that I’ve felt that rhizomatic community stuff seems like a subset of connectivism, even though I personally don’t go in for the ‘neural networks’ stuff… a science i consider too shadowy at this point to use as a premise for solid philosophical discussion (let alone practical application) I believe i’m seriously at odds with S & D on this and, as they have clearly done way more research on this than I have, I would probably consider taking their opinion over mine. I just can’t help but think that we are at the Bohr Atom stage of our understandings of our brains at this point… we have some models, they are a verifiable narrative, but not something I’m looking to use to guide my policy.

The debate around my article has been interesting (and not least in the way that people were WAY more polite about the theory during the live discussions) … particularly in the ways that I haven’t been clear. I don’t, for instance, think that rhizomatic education is a particularly fantastic way of memorizing things that are useful. I do realize that there are many different ‘real world’ issues out there that make it difficult. That theory did, at least partially, come out of real experience in the classroom and after the paper was released, I actually ran a course by its priciples… that was fairly well received. There are gaps, and many have been very nicely elucidated in the discussions.

Very cool so far. much more to say, but babyland has left me with other gardens that need tending.

Rhizomatic Education course – Technical Lessons

This is number two in an at least three part reflection on my Educational Technology and the Adult Learner course that I completed last week. I’m saving the ‘what i learned as a teacher’ post for last, so that I have all the grades finished and a full reflection is possible. For this particular (and probably shorter) post, I’d like to sketch out some of my tech design ideas.

You can now visit the website, I had to remove two students information (at their request) but got permission from the other students to share their quite excellent work with you all, and hope that it in some way contributes to the ongoing discussion of teacher training, reverse curriculum usages and my own discussion on rhizomatic learning. See

Drupal – the platform
The website was built in drupal six. I’ll post a copy of the build here on the website in a couple of weeks once i’ve cleaned it out for anyone who thinks it may be of help as a start for their own educational websites. It was designed as a site for a single class, with all the navigation intended to serve one class in particular and in no way designed to interact with the outside world. I kept the module selection fairly vanilla, just the usual suspects

      fckeditor (with aspell add on, by overwhelming student request)
      userplus (excellent funnymonkey module)

Design approach
I went for an ‘add don’t take away’ design approach to this website. In the first iteration, the students had access to three navigation buttons across the top –

  • my work (view of all of an individual student’s work),
  • my planning page (rebranded my account page, included personal descriptions, course goals and a literacy plan)
  • reflections for review (a view of recent blog posts, sorted by day then by how many comments they had received)

On the side navigation they had the created content button which offered them book, blog and image options. There was an additional sidebar which had the syllabus in it, and eventually grew into the reverse curriculum document, essentially a book with completely open editing rights.

A few other options were added, the contact button and browse by learner (mostly for me) but the students found the simplicity of options and navigation… well… actually they didn’t say anything about it. Which I take as the highest compliment. They were all working in it from day one, and other than two students who registered with email addresses they couldn’t access from inside our classroom, things went pretty smoothly.

URLS (pathauto/token)
I included the day, week, author name and raw title in each of the urls. I just found this the easiest way for me to figure out where i was at a glance of the url and also to use that to sort the content. It’s easy enough to sort in other ways, but i find url sorting to be very tidy… personal preference I guess.

Weird date thingy on the student projects page
You’ll notice on the student projects section that all the pages start with a number followed by a time. I did this (on the spur of the moment) in order to allow the students to choose their presentation day at the same time. They ‘added a child page’ to the book page and were instructed to use the number representing the day of the week followed by the time they wanted. Worked like a charm… not elegant, but… waddaya gonna do. It makes a really nice reference page AND made it so that they could contribute simultaneously.

I used the chatroom in order to give students a way to co-create knowledge during the presentation of other students. If you flip through the pages, you’ll notice chat records. I didn’t, sadly, end up using the chatroom installed on the site. It seemed to work fine, but i just didn’t feel like i knew it well enough to trust it for student interaction… so i used the edtechtalk chatroom. 😛

I put this together pretty quickly, and spent the vast majority of the time worrying about the syllabus and a very small amount of time worrying about the site itself. It could easily be adapted for multiple classes, but I just wanted a sleak simple interface that would give me my few requirements. Simple user interface. Encourage blogging comments. Allow for co-creation of textbook. Allow for student connections via tags. Allow for personal descriptions via profile. Allow for easy browsing.

overall lessons
My instinct with this build was to stay as simple as humanly possible. No frills, and nothing that could break or confuse the students. Want video? upload it outside and copy and paste the code in. Want editing functions? you’ve got bold, a few more (and i broke on the spelling… wow… did they ever want a spell checker). Some of the students really seemed to identify with the site and the work that they were doing. Most of that was them, some of that might have been my teaching… the website did it’s job… stayed out of the way and structured the habitat within which the real work got done.

upnext – my lessons as a ‘person who stands up and tries to help people learn stuff’.

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