Problem: How do we create a free, online introductory physics course for students transitioning into AP (advanced placement) or first year introductory physics?
Solution: Lets get all the physics teachers we can together and build it as a team.
Yeah but…: lots of those folks may be good physics teachers but they haven’t all taught online before.
Better solution: Lets build a four week ‘maker course’ for physics teachers where we talk about the best ways to build online resources and build those together at the same time!
Lets start that on the 4th of March. (Course opens on the 28th of February)
UPDATE: Dave Pritchard has agreed to come onboard to serve as one of the facilitators for the course!!!
The project – Making introductory physics prep together
Our goal is to gather as many physics educators as we can find and make resources. Specifically, we want to make resources that can be turned into a free course for students transitioning into AP or university level physics. Our hope is to end up with more resources than we need and that all participants (and other folks) can find resources and ideas that can help them in their teaching and learning. Want to find other people working on physics? Want to learn to build new things online and/or share the things that you know about building things? read on.
Who should join this course?
We’re hoping for two types of folks in the course.
- People who are interested in teaching physics, whether you’ve been doing it for two years or twenty years.
- People with lots of experience building stuff online.
Bringing together people’s experience and collaborating on our ideas will make the work better.
What’s the fine print?
First of all… the maker course is free. All and any materials created in the course (by everyone, including the course facilitators) will be licenced Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license so that we can all benefit from the work we are doing together. You are free to participate to whatever extent you wish, but if you join a ‘maker team’ you are committing yourself to doing the work for that team. The central part of the course will use the EdX platform, but we will also have facebook, twitter and google + groups. No need to join them all but different people like to work in different places.
It’s a four week commitment. The ‘maker teams’ will each be responsible for one area of introductory physics and will focus on those. Other participants are welcome to help, contribute, and collaborate as they see fit. This is our first time trying this, so the more help we get the better.
At the end of the course we will award a number of scholarships to teachers working in the course. Prizes will be awarded in a number of categories, but only to participants who ‘finish’ the course. We are hoping to encourage completion, on one hand, but also to provide people with the tools and resources in the classrooms to create new and interesting resources to support physics teaching.
This project is the brainchild of Piotr Mitros (Chief Scientist at EdX) and I (dave). We spent 12 hours driving around on a bus together in June arguing about how we could integrate the work that I’ve been doing with cMOOCs with the work that he’s been doing with xMOOCs. This project is our first run at it. Imagine a community of educators coming together once a year for four weeks to work on the curriculum for a transitions course for physics students from all over the world. How cool would that be? Well… if it works, we’ll see
SIGN UP HERE
The University of Prince Edward Island is a successful applicant of a competitive grant competition run by Athabasca University (Principal Investigator: George Siemens). This project, the MOOC Research Initiative, will advance understanding of the role of MOOCs in the education sector and how emerging models of learning will influence traditional education. The MOOC Research Initiative is a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A bridge too far
I keep saying this to myself. For those of you not familiar with mega-cast war films from the seventies, the protagonists in the film referenced in the title try to get the whole war they are in ended in one attack by capturing three bridges. The last bridge, though bravely captured and defended, is lost and the venture is left unfinished. The war continues on. This… is how I feel about week 4. The book thing has not gone as planned – people seemed to think i want to get rid of all books. I do not. I wanted to juxtapose the Nicolas Carr lambasting of google against his enlightenment attachments to books. Google makes us think shallowly. How do books make us think? Is it actually great, or are we just used to it?
Why the book week is important
This course is meant to be a process of unbundling and bricolage. Of challenging the assumptions that underly what we call learning and then, as we come to the closing weeks, finding new assemblages that we can use to help us move further down the road. I see the book as a symbol of the bundled. Of the pre-fabricated. Of centralized, expert driven content. I also see a house of my own entirely clogged with books of all sorts. I challenge ‘book as construct,’ not by wanting to burn them or throw them out or turn away from them, but to take apart the ways in which we see them to see what they are doing to us.
I challenge the book the same way i challenge consumerism – not by wanting to stop being a consumer, I like things, but by thinking deeply about it to understand where it impacts what I am doing.
Book as curriculum
The book in all of its bound paper glory, is a powerful instrument. There are books written by all kinds of people saying all kinds of things. Some good, some bad, and yes, we should be critical about what we read. My critique is about something other than this. Those books were all written by people. Real people. The book is an artifice (often necessary, particularly when those people are dead) a cultural artifact that separates us from the person who’s idea were reading. It is a one to many artifact – no matter how many book clubs deconstruct it. It is broadcast. It is lecture.
I love an awesome lecture. But it is not what i want from education… it should be rare rather than omnipresent because a lecture is very different than an interactive session. A keynote different from a breakout room.
The book is a DEEPLY embedded artifact in the minds of almost all ‘educated’ people.
A book different from a community.
(more on this in week 5)
A dave gone too far – Apologies again to Jenny
I have not done well by the excellent Jenny Mackness’s blog (or by Jenny). I have posted two comments there that have not reflected how i see myself as a participant in the community of learning. I was frustrated with myself for not getting my point across and, I think, that leaked over there. My apologies Jenny.
The rhizomatic learning course #rhizo14 is the first open course I’ve ever taught without affiliation. (though certainly being employed by my university and having an invested and interested partner allows me to have the ‘free time’ to pursue it) I have no partner that I’m working with or no school supporting it. This is the educational exploration I’ve been doing for the last 8-9 years, and I invited whoever may want to join to come along with me for the ride. It is, in many ways, the vision of MOOCs that I have had since we first starting talking about them in 2008. The course participation has been fascinating… and enlightening. Don’t take my word for it, check out some of the highlights for yourself on Cathleen Nardi’s curation page. The course is being ‘designed’, if you can call it that, to expose the concepts of rhizomatic learning through a succession of challenges. The challenges have been developed on the fly based on my sense of what might help push the conversation to a new and interesting place. They are structured to challenge the cultural assumptions that are prevalent around learning and to have people share their responses to it.
Challenge 1 – Cheating as learning
This was a blind opener. I had to have a topic to get conversation started in the first week and this is the place i usually start in my first week of my face2face classes. I started out purposefully vague with this topic with the hope that it would allow for a greater number of perspectives around the power structures that support cheating. That seemed to work. We got power and ethics and lots of fun stuff. More than anything, I was hoping to break down the teacher/student divide and trouble who was responsible for deciding who was learning and how they should be doing that. It might, also, start conversations around collaboration.
Here’s the intro video.
Challenge 2 – Enforcing Independence
This was intended as a counterpoint to week 1. Yes, the student is responsible for learning. Yes, our traditional system is a command and control structure better built for enforcement of norms than for the nurturing of creativity. Sure. We need independent learners. But how do we get there. We’re not starting from a blank slate. We can’t just reset the last 150 years of schooling and start over. We need to create classroom and non-classroom learning structures that slowly move people towards independence. We need to live inside the paradox of telling people to do what they need to do and to judge themselves by their own goals and objectives.
Here’s the intro video
Challenge 3 – Embracing Uncertainty
Encouraging people towards independence is one thing, creating an ecosystem where multiple answers are possible is something else entirely. Uncertainty is a part of most of our real lives, it is very much part of the learning process that we live outside of ‘schooling’. It takes a long time for my students to get over the sense that there is a hidden series of things i want them to believe, and that my attempts to have them create their own objectives is just reflective of sadistic tendencies. I have to embrace my own uncertainty around things, and the uncertainty around the things that I know about, in order to demonstrate that as a goal for learning. Those goals aren’t about knowing right/wrong but rather being able to make reasonable decisions when confronted by uncertainty. If this is the new goal of learning, it fundamentally changes the way you go about it.
Challenge 4 – Is books making us stupid?
I got really strong support for independence and for uncertainty… to strong I thought. I expected a little more pushback. I decided to ask the question in a different way, one that maybe went more to the core of our beliefs about knowledge. Many of us (me included) have been brought up to adore the idea of the book, to revere the smell of one. We have found solace in books, escape, the voices of the past… all kinds of things. But the book is a technology and it has it’s own logic to it. It’s own set of affordances. It is very easy, for instance, to see a book linearly. It starts at the beginning and moves on to the end. Sure… you can jump into the middle and read it backwards if you want, but that is you disrupting the technology.
My hope for this week was to trouble the relationship between printed, unmodifiable text and learning. The responses have been pretty divergent… I’m in no way suggesting that books haven’t had a very valuable historical place. I’m not suggesting that I don’t want to read them. I do, however, think that we have lost a fair amount of value in our cultural move towards the book-type text. Are books ‘more right’? Do they encourage the tendency to look for a ‘correct’ answer? Was socrates right when he suggested that writing would mean people wouldn’t think for themselves that they’d just ‘read it’?
I also think, and I get into this more in the ramble below about Nicholas Carr, that the book heavily privileges people of a certain ‘tradition’.
The question of the book and of its primacy is fundamental to community curriculum… hence it’s placement here in the course.
Note on the title and darker critique and rambling
Nicholas Carr wrote an article called “Is google making us stupid”, in which he critiques our ‘get answers at your fingertips’ google fuelled world. In response to Socrates’ warnings about writing, he suggests “Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).” And I agree with him, those things did happen. But at what cost? We moved from ideas moving towards fluidity to them becoming more truth based. And now I’m suggesting that we can have both worlds, if we leave behind the trapping of the technology of paper. A return to orality need neither be us turning over our culture to mindless interaction nor a complete divestiture of books… just of a primacy of complexity over simplicity. Of conversation over printed-text.
“The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.”
And herein lies the rub. The book promotes independence of thought, our ‘own’ ideas and our ‘own’ inferences. It promotes possession. It reifies the things we are reading and makes them a thing that can belong to a person. There is value in this. But there is also a fundamental difference between an idea that I HAVE that I DEFEND against someone else and an ongoing conversation that develops BETWEEN people.
He quotes Richard Foreman saying the following –
“I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.””
If we look to the life lived by Foreman and Carr’s Dartmouth/Harvard education, it doesn’t take a huge stretch for us to see that the ‘tradition’ that they are talking about doesn’t necessarily include all of us. Much like similar critiques from Sherry Turkle, the ‘we’ might not extend to the rest of ‘us’.
Who does the ‘tradition’ of the book serve?
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” For you… I quote a book that tells of a conversation where meaning is up for negotiation.
Well… we got 65 responses to the week 2 feedback form. How representative is that? We have about 400 folks registered on the P2PU course page, 177 members of the facebook page, 150 members of the google + page over 3000 tweets of the #rhizo14 hashtag. Your guess is as good as mine in terms of how many people that is. I would say that 65 represents a reasonable enough percentage that we can talk a little bit about what people had to say an draw some vaguely warranted stories about what that might mean.
This is real teacher geek stuff… I can’t imagine who’s going to read this blog post… but i love talking about it!
Full answers available here. If you want the spreadsheet send me an email.
Are you currently engaged in #rhizo14?
This is a context piece really. Naturally you’d expect the people who respond to the survey for an open course to generally be the people who are engaged. What I was hoping to get a sense of was what number of people who cared to respond felt like they weren’t ‘fully engaged’. I feel pretty good about this result. Even if those 59 people are the only people fairly engaged in the open course that’s pretty solid. I suspect that there are a few engagees who might not have gotten round to filling out the form. So, from what i can tell, Win!
Have you made real people connections in this course?
Not a great question in retrospect. I was looking for the sense people had of the value of the connections they had made. I thought it might be interesting to ask the same questions at the end of the course. This one skews slightly towards more real connections, but is probably representative of the inclusion challenges of this decentralized a course. We’ll call this one a draw.
Dave is considering shortening the formal part of this course to 4 weeks. How would you feel about that?
Took some grief for this question. Some people thought I was quitting. I was trying to understand how much people were attached to the framework of the course itself. If you wander through the answers, you’ll see that that questions were all over the place. It gave me the answer I was expecting – inconclusive. I was encouraged to see a number of different perspectives. I particularly like the ‘That’s help your completion rates’. I think it could have been better asked, but still, I like this one.
Is Rhizo14 a MOOC?
I couldn’t help myself. The majority seem to both understand the question and be beyond it. I still feel sad about the word MOOC losing it’s collaborative edge. Maybe it’ll come back
How would you describe your role vs. Dave’s role in #rhizo14
This elicited all kinds of answers. Among many gems i have to point to one in particular
Somehow Dave got into the room without anyone checking his pockets and there are now frogs jumping around on the linoleum and swimming in the punch bowl. I pick another frog and we hop around for a bit. Seriously, Dave seems ethereal and backgroundy but also attentive like a good tour guide.
how awesome is that? I think if you take the time to look through the question, it provided many with an opportunity to not only reflect on the course, but on the topic of the course as well. There certainly still is a power division there between the roles, but the irreverence must speak to some deconstruction of it
What would make the rest of this course better?
Never hurts to give people a chance to reflect on improving the format. A fair number of people suggesting that they are having some technical challenges. Some excellent advice about people being explicit about their own learning context rather than talking about ‘learning generally’. Some people not liking the timing of the live event (I hear you, we’ve changed it). Someone suggested an IRC channel.
I think, in many cases, people would like the social contract re-explained. They think that people aren’t accustomed to sharing in mixed environments and don’t necessarily know how to play as well with others as they could. This question of the social contract between participants is extremely important and bears further thought. We have people from MANY different cultures, from all over really. How do we find a common ground in which we can exchange our thoughts freely. It’s a good question.
Finally… tell me what you like about this course.
Some folks said some nice things about me… and I thank you. More often, however, people are happy to have met people that help them think differently. Hell. What else could you want from a course.
Are you part of the crowd of people who wished and wanted but didn’t quite get started in week 1? Feel like you could be getting more out of the experience? Want to know what’s going on? Read on then…
The gist of the discussions
Our challenge this week was to consider cheating as a lens through which to understand learning. I had hopes that by offering a challenge that was open ended we could dig into our assumptions about learning and approach the rhizome from an appropriately indirect angle. We have one group of people who have taken up the idea of cheating in the ‘hacking’ sense. We had others who dug into the ethics of cheating and explored the social contract for learning.
Overall, I was hoping to get discussion going. I think we’re good on that one. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the engagement and the willingness for people to engage with each others ideas. The thrust of the discussion for most was to question and push our traditional assumptions of the relationship between learners, teachers and knowledge.
If you missed week 1 we’ve all sort of introduced ourselves to each other. We’ve also started the process of building a shared understanding. There’s no reason not be able to pick up and engage with us on the topic, just wander around in some of the resources here.
A birds eye view of the course
Rhizomatic Learning – an unlearning camp Pinterest Page – I have clearly not been giving Pinterest the love it deserves. Check out the overview of work done pinned to a course board.
Martin Hawksey’s tagsExplorer – Subject of the preview post, awesome overview of the folks on twitter.
Or, if you like googlemaps…
View Larger Map
We’ve got an ‘old fashioned OPML file‘ from Matthais Melcher.
Comment scraper from Gordon Lockhart
Answer garden presenting some interesting results here too.
First week introductory video… annotated.
Some interesting posts
I have no way to pick specific posts among the many awesome ones out there, so i will simply pick out the ones that are currently open tabs in my browser.
Penny Bentley and a really nice introduction to the ideas covered in the week.
Chrissi Nerantzi on her view of rhizomatic learning
Some nice stuff said about the course by the P2PU folks.
Keith Hamon introducing us to the rhizome
And one more. Time bending and rhizo14
Looking to next week
There’s lots more out there, if you’re interested these are enough pieces for you to find the rest of them. Next week’s theme is Enforcing Independence. Looking forward to seeing the discussion move forward. Post will be up Monday Night (if i’m lucky)
Thanks to everyone for making this such an awesome experience so far.
Five days into the course and I’m thinking that the next few days are critical for those who haven’t been connected to people yet. It’s hard to be new, and often an outreach of a hand isn’t seen in the jumble of a crowd. Now, I don’t really think you can ‘make’ community, but I use the word in the ‘maker’ sense. Making people feel welcome, including them in your work, these things are actions you have to take. Here is a suggestion for a thing that you can do to help include our outliers into the #rhizo14 fun.
Week 1 moving to 2 twitter assignment
The excellent Martin Hawksey has once again blown my mind. (not a great struggle you might argue, but nevermind). Below is Martin’s tagsexplorer uh… explorer. In it you will see all tweets hashtagged #rhizo14 and what connections/replies they got. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find as many unconnected tweeters (five sounds like a nice number but YMMV) as you can and reply to them.
- Make sure you’re logged into your twitter account
- Click on lonely dot in Martin’s tag explorer
- Reply to them
- Tell us about it.
It might easier to do this on the Martin’s actual site rather than doing it here. Up to you.
Please let us know how it goes. I’ve never asked folks to try and do this before, so if any unforeseen happenings happen, come back here and let us know about it!
I got a chance to take Unhangout for a spin today with some friends. Two of my old cronies from Edtechtalk (@jenm and @schinker), my good UPEI buddy @daniellynds, @mozzadrella from P2PU and Srishti from the unhangout project all took a run through thinking about what a good session might look like for the folks in rhizo14. We’ve got a plan and, as is only right, it’s going to take a little feedback from you folks.
- Thursday January 16th, 2014. 8:30pm Atlantic Time
- You need a gmail account and the event is collaborative
- We’ll be collaboratively working on a shared google presentation as an output
(world time zones, thanks to Jim Stauffer)
What an unhangout means for you
Unhangout is a neat little project being run out of the MIT Media Labs. Basically it allows you to combine a series of hangouts together. You NEED a google+ account to make this work… I’m sorry about that, but it’s what we’re going to be trying this time. You’ll come to the session, and, at some point, break out into one of the rooms to talk about something you’re interested in. Or, alternatively, you can hang out in the lobby and chat with folks.
This will be by far the most structured event of the week during the course. It is ‘designed’ that way because after having done a few of these, it seems that they are incomprehensible to the vast majority of people if they are left wide open. I heartily encourage all and everyone to organize their own live events and allow them to be as chaotic as they like… this one will be structured (by my standards at least )
- I’m going to do a 10-20 minute jam session of some of the conversations that are going on this week to get us all started off.
- We’ll login to the same google presentation document
- We’ll break out into breakout rooms
- Each breakout room will report back with one slide from the document
- I’ll present from whatever you guys have put in the slides
- We’ll breakout into different room than we were in the first time
- We’ll update the slides
- We’ll wrap up
- We’ll post the slides for people to critique/remix/steal
What I need from you folks
Each breakout room holds 10 people. The course currently has about 300 people registered in it. Lets figure we have about 35-40 people who actually come to the live event.
In the comments, I need
- people to suggest topics (figure we need 5 or so)
- People to volunteer to be the ‘moderator’ for a topic
- People to support a topic
If that works for people, we’ll go with those topics. If it doesn’t, I’ll make something up tomorrow night.
For some of you (like those who started the course a week early) rhizo14 will simply be an extension of your normal practice on the internet. You’ll find familiar faces who make references to previous learning events online, you already have web places from which you speak, and many of you are already familiar with the material. For other folks this will be a new journey, you’ll be the only person you know in the course and you’ll be, frankly, lost. Most will fall somewhere in between those two places, and you will turn to me for guidance thinking things like
“This is the biggest waste of time ever”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do”
“That dave guy has no idea what he’s doing”
“What’s the definition of rhizomatic learning?”
First and foremost
Let’s get something straight right out of the get go… it is true that I mostly don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve been experimenting with online community style learning (which I have, for reasons that might become apparent, called rhizomatic learning) for about 10 years now. This course is my latest experiment with it. You are all joining in with me, in various ways for various reasons, along a journey that will have different results for different people. I have already learned new things and the course hasn’t even started. I’m looking for new ways to explain the things I have come to believe about learning, the nagging sense of what might be true that I just can’t put into words. I am a nomad, not a knower. I’ll do what i can to help or answer, but this is not a situation where i know things that others don’t. I’m hosting a party, not trying to tell you what or how to think.
Orientation information – read this first
There are a number of ‘locations’ that you can use to follow along with what’s going on during the course. You might choose to pick one and stick with it or use several. You are also most welcome to create your own space if you have specific needs or are particularly fussy :). The most important part of your choice is figuring out what is going to fit into your life better. The more you figure out what you’re taking this course for, where you will be when you check in to see what people are doing – the better chance of you having a fruitful experience.
The course is being ‘held’ at P2PU (Peer to Peer University). You can go there and ask questions, find dates for live sessions, and participate in discussion with a wide range of people. This site will probably have the most formal experience of any in the course and will also be a location where you are likely to find lots of people you don’t know. Some comments will also get lost on p2pu. We are nearing 300 people in the course and if we even get half of those people engaged, it’s going to be tough. If you see something uncommented/replied/shared engage with it. You don’t need to agree with it, just add value to it.
Here’s a few tips on using the discussion forums.
Facebook is what it is. There are some things it does well, mostly because lots of people are there. We have a facebook group. I’ve set things up so that all my blog posts and tweets automagically post there. If you aren’t sure where to start, and you currently use Facebook, this is a nice way to start. Same rules here, share, engage and add value when you comment.
This is my weapon of choice. Following the #rhizo14 hashtag is a pretty good way of checking this out. You can follow along with my discussions with folks and that will probably give you some material to work with. Ideally, of course, as things progress you’ll form your own connections (or more connections)
There’s a google + community out there for rhizomatic learning. You are free to join it and work through there. Google+ is not a place i ever came to love, but some people do. Each to their own.
You can follow this blog and start discussions in the comments here. There are other folks out there that are blogging as well. These are excellent places to meet people. If you have your own blog, it is MUCH easier for you to have other people talk to you.
If all else fails, search google. If you create or have found other spaces, let me know and I’ll edit the post.
Just kidding. There aren’t any. You can have personal objectives. You can have group objectives. But I’m not creating objectives for anyone.
What you can expect from a given week
In a given week I will host a discussion day on Tuesday. I will write at least one blog post. I will do my very best to tweet and comment as much as humanly possible. I will try and craft some kind of scaffolding for the next week. I will rake in all the cash from this incredibly profitable event.
What you should do in a given week?
Try to forget everything you know about ‘traditional education’ and imagine that you are going to camp for 6 weeks. The first thing i would do is find out where the food is. But that’s me. You might like to just chat with people. You might want to create a map of the premises to make sure you were never lost. You might try to make one really good friend. You’ll notice that some of the people in camp already know each other, you’ll see an eager person in the corner that no one is talking to.
You might have gone to camp to challenge yourself or to just kinda hang out a little. These things are up to you. There are no straight lines and no clear answers coming from me. I’ve been scratching my head about rhizomatic learning for 7-8 years because i think the story is important. These six weeks are me inviting you to scratch your head along with me
Don’t know where to start. Write something somewhere and tell us why you joined. Send us the link, somehow. We’ll care.
I’m running an open course on rhizomatic learning, you can sign up here. Apparently i wasn’t clear about this in my last two posts
In trying to understand what I was trying to do with the 6 weeks she asked me a variety of questions, some pedagogical questions, some philosophical, some technical and some administrative. I’ll get to each of these questions as time passes but I’d really like to address her question about why I think rhizomatic learning is important or, more specifically, what problem does it solve?
Rhizomatic learning is a story of how we can learn in a world of abundance – abundance of perspective, of information and of connection. A paper/location based learning model forces us to make decisions, in advance, about what it is important for students to learn. This was a practical reality – if we were going to have content available for a course, it needed to be prepared in advance. In order to prepare the content in advance, we needed to prepare the objectives in advance. And, given that we know what everyone is supposed to learn, we might as well check and see if they all did and compare them against each other.
What happens if we let that go? What happens when we approach a learning experience and we don’t know what we are going to learn? Where each student can learn something a little bit different – together? If we decide that important learning is more like being a parent, or being a cook, and less like knowing all the counties in England in 1450? What if we decided to trust the idea that people can come together to learn given the availability of an abundance of perspective, of information and of connection?
I wonder what I’ll say after #rhizo14
P.S. Yes. That was a test I once took.
#rhizo14 will inevitably be an exploration of the possibilities of open learning as well as a space for considering rhizomatic learning. One of the challenges of rhizomatic learning is that it’s new for many. When most people think of the word course, they think of a set of objectives that contain the canon of a particular field with a teacher as the arbiter of ‘learning’. Even if people are comfortable looking to themselves as being responsible for tracking their learning they may not have the basic language or literacies (or technologies) to be able to start along with others.
So we need some structure, at least in the beginning, to make sure that everyone gets to play. Some of this structure can take the form of remediation… where you prepare answers to simple questions that allow newcomers to help themselves. We also need to have an effective way for people to be able to ask the community simple questions and ways to effectively mentor people to a place where they can be fully contributing members of the community.
The fine folks at P2PU have directed me to the unhangout platform as a possible method for doing live sessions. The idea of having an unconference model for each of the six weeks is very appealing, but i think it would overly favour folks who’ve been working with rhizomes for a long time. So I’m suggesting something that I’m going to call ‘an unravelling’ until someone tells me what someone who thought about it before me called it :). I’m sure someone else has done it… but I haven’t found it.
The first week will be very structured. Some foundational readings, a little bit of talk about rhizomes and Deleuze and Guattari (though not much) and a strong focus on giving people specific things to do. Write an introductory blog post, state what your goals are going in to the course, post your blog post by Tuesday… whatever. By the end of week 1, people should be able to tell themselves “yes, i have done the thing i was supposed to do”. The live session(s) will have specific topics delineated for people to join (though we might have a pre-session with interested parties to workshop what those might be). This is the ORIENT part of the process.
The second week introduces responsibility but checks in with folks to make sure that people are understanding the orientation parts of the project. Perhaps this would work well with some specifically identified mentors who could lead breakout sessions and help people from a tech/custom/topic perspective to keep conversations on track and facilitate reporting form each of the groups. This is DECLARE week… in order to be a fully functioning participant (and no one is saying you need to be) you should be speaking from whatever platform you like at this point. We’ve unravelled the structure and little… but still lots of support.
Weeks 3 – 5
I’m thinking of these as NETWORK and CLUSTER weeks. We should be able to run unconference type sessions in the hangout and folks should have some sense of what parts of the discussion they are interested in. They might find people to work on a project with, they might find critical friends who will help them push their work further… lots of different stuff. This is where the course starts to really unravel.
FOCUS week. I see this week as full of people’s final projects. What have you worked towards during the course? What have you come up with? What practical application do you see (or not see) for rhizomatic learning. Where will it not work? How does it need to be combined with other things? We have unravelled entirely at this point. The community should be the curriculum at this point.
How does that sound?
note: the Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster, Focus comes from early MOOC work in 2010 by Sandy McAuley, Bonnie Stewart, George Siemens and I. Here’s the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8avYQ5ZqM0
Three weeks from now we’re kicking off an open course over at P2PU on rhizomatic learning. As some of you might be aware, I’ve been working on rhizomatic learning since about 2007 through the Rhizomatic Education article published in the now defunct Innovate Online and now focused on the collection of reading that is slowly working its way into a guidebook for learners in my ED366 course.
Broadly speaking rhizomatic learning is the way i think about learning in an age of abundance. It is based on the work of many folks, but primarily in my somewhat idiosyncratic reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome from their very idiosyncratic work ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The core concept opposes the hierachichal, linear image of the tree against the decentralized, unpredictable rhizome. The difference between a learner following a set, organized path and creating their own map of their own learning. I tried, last year, to write an intro in 300 words… that might help give you a ballpark sense of whether it’s of interest.
The course will be a six week journey through some broad concept that I (and many others) have touched on over the years. I’ve sketched them out on the p2pu page, but they are, like much of this work, subject to change. I’m starting the think of ‘abundance’ as the core concept of rhizomatic learning, hidden in my earlier work, maybe, because it was so obvious. This concept with be a theme I myself will be pushing through the course, but I’m very much hoping that others will emerge.
The commitment of a participant is very much up to you as a participant. I’d love to see blog posts and tweets and videos and other things I’m not imagining critiquing the concept and pushing it further than it has been pushed to this point. I’d like to see ways in which it does and doesn’t map up against the people’s practice. I’d love to see people creating new maps for themselves and learning things they did not expect.
For myself I’m looking forward to running an open course for the pure interest in the subject. To make new connections between my work and the work of others… to make new connections between my own thinking and the thinking of others. I’d like my map to extend further than it does.
No pre-reading required. Join us for part or all of the journey as you like.
Feel free to run on over to P2PU to register for the course.
People used to make records
As in a record of an event
The event of people playing music in a room
- Ani Difranco
I had a awesome conversation last week with a colleague at UPEI. We talked a bit about a new course she’s putting together, a bit about the course that I teach in the same program and, more broadly, about education. She’d been kind enough to come and watch a presentation I’d given on campus and had mentioned that the ‘history of knowledge’ piece that I did at the start of my presentation was the missing piece that gave her better insight into what I’ve been talking about with rhizomatic learning. I realized that I have never actually blogged the piece: it’s something that has developed over the last year, entirely in my presentations.
Note: This is a snapshot of the change of knowing in the Greco-Roman tradition. Were we talking about the Egyptians, the Chinese, India or meso-America the snapshot would, of course, be different.
What it Means to be Recognized as a ‘Knower’
For those of you that haven’t read it (shame on you), Bonnie Stewart’s Techknowledge: Literate Practice and Digital Worlds (2000) is pretty fantastic. It started my long journey from thinking of words like ‘knower’ and ‘learning’ as things that were static and obvious to understanding them as flexible and subject to the influence of context. It emphasizes how everything is negotiated; how things change with time. (As with Ani’s lament above for the loss of purity in the recording.) The focus of the thesis is how there is an intersection of technology and knowledge where the nature of ‘what it means to know’ changes along with the technology. Being a ‘knower’ in 1000BC would not necessarily include being a reader whereas after the printing press it necessarily would. The value of memory hasn’t gone away with the near ubiquity of the internet, but it’s tough to say it’s important in the same way.
A lot of so-called ’21st century literacies’ aren’t actually new, in the sense that we’ve never seen them before: some of them just got forgotten or re-framed in the long history of knowledge and education. I think we’ve been connecting, for instance, for a long time. But as technologies and needs have changed, different priorities and practices have moved to the forefront as important, and others have taken more of a backseat. Take this post as sort of a journey, then, through the last 3000 years or so: I want to look at how the technologies that underpin our ideas intersect with the ways we teach those ideas to each other.
In the Beginning Was The Odyssey
When I think about knowing and how it’s changed, I like to think about The Odyssey. It’s my favourite of the Greek relics (I love this version read by Ian McKellen) Take a minute and think about what the question “Do you know the Odyssey?” would have meant to different people at different times. Take it a little further: think about what the answer “I know it very well” would mean in the bardic era, as compared to now. Then, it meant you could recite the whole poem from memory. Now, it generally means you know what the title refers to, and may know the gist of the story. The the act of knowing (and by extension, the act of learning) is impacted by the technology available at a given time. How would The Odyssey have been taught 2500 years ago or a 1000? A hundred? How can we teach it now?
Going to see Molon of Rhodes – Delivery, Delivery and Delivery
Cicero and Caesar were two of the real luminaries of the time of the fall of the Roman Republic. They were mostly on opposite sides of the fight for control of Rome on account of them being members of opposite political parties. Still, they shared a reputation as two of the best orators in the city. While Caesar had made his career through a combination of political connections (his family was ancient, and his uncle Marius the most famous man in Rome) and his astonishing military career, Cicero made his entire career on the power of his voice alone. In that particular time and place, the power to speak, to convince, to cajole, to do battle with your voice was critical.
In their quest to become better orators, they both sought out the same man – Appolonius Molon of Rhodes. Cicero met him in the 80′s BCE in Rome and then sought him out on the island of Rhodes a decade later. Caesar took the dangerous journey to Rhodes himself and was captured by pirates. Here’s what that trip would look like according to the excellent ORBIS project
Caesar was willing to take a trip of 2000KM through pirate-infested waters in order to learn from one man. From one perspective, the things that he was interested in learning were performative… something perhaps better done face to face. At this time, however, most things were performative. Plays were performed. Speeches might be written down but as a record of a performance. Caesar believed he needed to go and find the one person who could help him perform better.
What it meant to know, in this case, was TO DO. To learn was to do better.
The Death of the Argument
Socrates famously lamented that once written, an argument can no longer defend itself. That writing can let someone appear smart, because they can simply read something without actually understanding it. It makes interesting reading if you’re into such things. The point here is that the switch to things being written down, as a matter of course, is a critical turning point in the history of knowing and learning. While memory certainly had an important role to play in the pre-writing period, it changed significantly. Learning became what is called a catechetical act. Read and repeat. Memorize as written.
This is a shift from the discursive model described above. In the catechetical case there is a RIGHT answer. There is a specific given thing that you are supposed to commit to memory, and the most effective means to learn it is to have someone say it out loud and someone else repeat it. There are certainly stories of people who did not learn like this (Peter Abelard for instance) but he is more the exception that proves the rule.
The technology of writing allows for words to be hardened, or recalled. We have an established canon to be learned.
Before the coming of the printing press, the vast majority of learners, whether in churches or in schools, would not have had access to the original text of anything. The crafting of a book (scroll, whatever) was a laborious, specialist process and they weren’t just handing them out to let everyone touch them with their grimy fingers. If a text was handled at all (and not just recalled from memory) it would have been read from the lectern.
This whole process of copy stuff down, commit it to memory and get other people to do that stuff is not a terribly efficient way to teach lots of people. It required someone with a fair amount of knowledge to do the calling out for the call and repeat stuff… and even with the printing of books, you still needed to be able to READ them. Teachers were in short supply. Bring on Swiss educational mastermind Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
Pestalozzi was an educational experimenter in Switzerland. From one venture to another, win or lose, he kept exploring new ways to teach. At a high point of success around 1800 he approached the Swiss government with the idea of trying to teach all the poor people of the country. He wrote a book called “How Gertrude Teaches her Children” in which he described how one might break down the different details of something that someone needed to learn (math, reading whatever) into basic parts so that anyone – whether trained as a teacher or not – could teach someone else.
Within the same broad time frame, the same idea emerged from the mind of one of the more interesting businessmen to ever grace the field of education; one Mr. Noah Webster of dictionary fame. His textbooks, first simple text versions and soon textbooks with PICTURES, were designed to be used by anyone, regardless of their ability or knowledge level (within reason) to teach the material. Raise your hand if you’ve never been or had a substitute teacher who read from the textbook, assigned the questions from the back of the chapter, and never yet understood what they were talking about. Yeah. I didn’t think so.
The textbook has a huge democratizing power in that it can allow many, many more people to learn the same thing. If we are trying to give people a set list of skills that they can reproduce at will, it can be very effective. Think of how efficient a technology the textbook is… it contains the content, the assessment and the pedagogy. All in one pile. Thank you 19th century!
It further emphasizes knowledge as set. As right or wrong. As established.
Bring on the internets
As with the oral traditions, the handwritten period, the period of print so now we have a new technology underwriting the way we communicate ideas to each other. We need not make the 2000km journey braving pirates to get together and talk about our practice. This need not be a one way conversation where I’m reciting the ideas of our forebears to you for you to repeat. Neither was I forced to take a position about open online learning a year ago to allow time for the printing process. I doesn’t actually need to be me vs. you. We can talk to each other, almost directly. Influence each other’s work in the way, I like to think, Socrates would approve of.
What does it mean to be open and online?
What does this mean for words like quality? How much of our desire for perfection in things like spelling and argument are directly related to the finality of print? Are they a ‘good’ in and of themselves or are they a result of the requirements of the technologies involved with print? Should we leave our arguments half finished and release them early and often as some have suggested?
Openness also brings is diversity. When you teach a course in any given city, there are implicit norms that apply to the learning process. It might be in a country where debate is common, or frowned upon. A place where one is expected to be silent, or where people are very physical. A local course, paid for in advance, also serves as a filtering process that can serve to make a more uniform group of learners.
We have none of these barriers here(there are still some of course, but far, far fewer). In an open environment I might have people from all over. I might have people coming from vastly diverse backgrounds and influences. I could have an open syllabus where everyone contributed to the curriculum…
Abundance. Of content. Of perspectives. Of backgrounds. Of potential connections. This is the fundamental change the technology brings to us.
My response to abundance is to try and structure my class rhizomatically. What is yours?
Now that we’ve gone up and down the panic adoption curve for MOOCs it seems like it’s possible to talk about them with a bit more remove. It’s been 5 years since the first MOOC (so called) and my chance inclusion on that first CCK (connectivism and connective knowledge) course by Stephen and George has led to the privilege of participating in many of them and talking to lots of people about lots more of them. There have lots of new acronyms, where people change a letter or two, lots of criticisms about how the new MOOCs are not ‘real MOOCs’, and pearl clutching of many other descriptions. (note below) The simple fact is that there is something about a course designed in the way that George and Stephen designed CCK08 that uses the internet in a way to push education into new spaces. That’s interesting. This is the language we have… so I’m going to use it.
What is a MOOC?
When i first talked to Stephen and George about their course in 2008 I was fascinated about the opportunity of impacting a field of thought by actually learning together. If you could get enough people co-creating knowledge, at the same time, on the same topic, think of the effect you might have. It would be like doing a manifesto writing, except by having hundreds of people talking at the same time. (I jump to wild conclusions in my head at the drop of a hat) I was also quite compelled by the possibility of the possibility of the community being the community for the time the course was going in and potentially continuing to be so after the fact.
The massive, for me, extends beyond the idea of massive in terms of numbers to include, I think, diversity. The openness is not only ‘free’ but also the idea of open syllabus, the space for multiple threads of belief coexisting in the course. The online speaks to the weaknesses and strengths of online connection… both, i think, in the sense that they need to come back to ‘yes/no’ math type connectivity. The course is about structure being applied to the internet. I spent many years working in internet communities… they are the best, but they are also tons of work. A course is like that… just not as cool. Easier to commit to.
XMOOCs… telling people what they might need to know
I had a chance encounter in June of this year that had a great impact on my feelings about MOOCs. I ran into Piotr Mitros (EDx scientist dude) at a conference and by a fine stroke of luck, we both had a surprise Friday off when we were there (to our surprise the second day of the conference was in Spanish). We decided that we would head around the city on one of those ‘jump on’ ‘jump off’ sightseeing buses. We argued for 13 hours. We left there with a few projects we wanted to work on together, and I left convinced that somethings are better taught by xMOOCs. In particular, I started to see it as an excellent way to conquer the gatekeeping courses being taught at our university. A good xMOOC, clearly laying out the common ground in a field, with pre-determined opportunities to self-remediating, could be a fantastic way of levelling the playing field. Imagine a networked textbook, created by lots of people, centralized in a nice solid MOOC-styled LMS.
BrandMOOCs – love me or hate me, we’re here to stay
thesummerofleaarning http://www.thesummeroflearning.com/ experience was my first encounter with what I think of as a brand MOOC. I love the model. A company uses it’s influence to create a course that their clients and service providers can learn from and use. Lots of people get a chance to learn some thing they wouldn’t have otherwise, the brand gets recognized for leadership and development in the field, they get a chance to maybe find some new connections… Everyone wins. I’d prefer it if the content they were using were open source… but they might get there. I think there’s a real opportunity for more companies to get out there and share some of the knowledge they have with others and give lots of people who wouldn’t normally have the connections or the right guidance a chance to break into a field of knowledge. There are far more ways this can go awry than ways that it can succeed (in the positive social sense that i mean success) but this is meant to be a positive posts. The pitfalls of this should be obvious. Fodder for a future post.
cMOOCs – where my heart lies
I love the idea of finding new ways for people to fail together, to cheat from each other and to rob from their betters. If you can go out to a worldwide group of people and have them take your work to task, to improve it, to take bits of it and incorporate it into their own… what could be better? Open research. I’m going to be running my own open course on rhizomatic learning in January, and while i will probably fall short of the threshold of ‘massive’ i’m still hoping that working on it in the open, with friends, will help me see clearer. I’m also really excited by a number of MOOC projects popping up all over the world where people are realizing that they can band together to learn the things that they need to learn. I’m not trying to be coy, but some of the coolest ones i’ve heard of are still under wraps, but they follow a similar pattern – subsection (cultural, political or otherwise) not served by dominant narrative on the internet. Band together to learn what they need to know. etc…
For most of the people i know in online learning, even those complaining that ‘real online learning isn’t being paid attention to’ are being listened to more than they were. Of course… people aren’t really liking everything they have to say “elearning isn’t a silver bullet” “we can’t just take all our courses and turn them into MOOCs”. But I think more people are starting to see that the abundance of knowledge and connection made available by the internet has made things possible that simply weren’t before. I think that’s good. You may not
MOOCs are good for…
They are, maybe more than anything, good as a lens through which we can ask the same questions we’ve always wanted to ask. What is learning? Why do we teach? What responsibility to we have to our students? To society? To ourselves? I have been in more of these discussions in the last two years than in the rest of my career combined. And, for that, I am thankful.
@davecormier it was the way that referred to what I read as critics of xMOOCs that confused I think. Pejorative applied to legit critique
— PatParslow (@PatParslow) October 29, 2013
(note: some concern from @patparslow on twitter (see below) that I’m suggesting that ANY critique of MOOCs is illegitimate. This reference is meant to refer to the ‘what about the children, death of education’ type responses to MOOCs, not legitimate concerns from people about xcabcMOOCs)
Driving down the road listening to the Anne of Green Gables soundtrack with my kids i found myself thinking about remediation in rhizomatic learning again. I have this problem in my classes… and it involves how to explain to people who have literacy gaps that they can go ahead and fill them on their own. I’ve been thinking about strategies for building remediation into my curriculum and then throwing them away as antithetical to the rhizomatic agenda (creating independent learners, preparing people for dealing with uncertainty blah blah blah) and then a term popped into my head ‘self-remediation’.
I don’t know quite why i like the term so much… as remediation still suggests that there IS a curriculum and to some might suggest that that curriculum is fixed and stagnant. I do know that some people seem to have a basic sense of what most people mean by words in a given context and others don’t. I can very well look around my classroom and see that some people ‘get it’ and other ‘don’t get it’. I have also noted that there is often not a perfect 1:1 relationship between people thinking they do and don’t get something and whether they actually do So i’m basically trying to give people something they can work with… a strategy rather than content… that can get them ‘in the know’ so that they can participate in the community effectively.
A search of ‘self-remediation’ on the googles brought me to an excellent chapter by Janet Gale from a book Independent Learning in Higher Education (1984). Seems I have company in my thinking. In her tidy chapter she lays out five purposes for ‘self-assessment and self-remediation’ that while they are certainly grounded in a pre-internet world, still speak to fundamental concepts that are as important today as they were in 1984. I’m going to go through them and try to spin them my way…
- Overcoming isolation
- Active learning
- Controlling learning behaviours
- Diagnosis and remediation
- Student responsibility for learning
Gale refers particularly to the loneliness of the independent distance learner, but i would suggest that being ‘outside’ the conversation is lonely whether you are embodied or not. It is easy to forget when you are immersed in a field that many people not only lack an understanding of the meaning of particular words, they are excluded from the context. Addressing this feeling of loneliness as a natural part of the process and something that a person can do something about with focused effort might be just the thing that some students need.
The text quoted in this section suggests that “Learning is maximized by an active information-processing strategy which requires the learner to respond to and at times reinterpret the information he or she is being provided with.” Imagine how much more important that is when he or she is being provided with a cagillion more pieces of information on the internet. It seems like a vital transition between passive textbook learning and active internety learning.
This one is very interesting and speaks to behaviourist research in education which i mostly avoid. Gale refers to research that shows that testing and feedback mechanisms change the ways in which people choose to learn. And suggests that the critically important question of who’s objectives are to be achieved, the learners or the teacher’s. It is something that i continuously struggle with as a course needs some kind of structure if it is to be called a course, and if people are going to be able to pick one course from another… but ideally those objectives would lean more on the learner’s side than the teacher’s. The introduction of self-assessment and self-remediation strategies (and the way it is done) could further reinforce the idea of student control of learning behaviours and suggest a transfer of power from teacher to learner.
I’ve spent more time, i think, on the idea of remediation than diagnosis. The author is very clear that these are separate acts. I think of this as a useful distinction as often discovering that you don’t understand what others seem to does not often coincide with the time required to remediate. Encouraging students to create a list of ‘things i don’t get’ and following it up with strategies of remediation would not only be useful for the learner but for the whole community of leaners.
And this, of course, is what i want in the first place. The chapter is bound by the possibilities of paper. Much of the discussion is of the challenges of creating pieces for self-assessment that doesn’t include prescripted options. We can, i think, allow people to go out on the internet unscripted and allow them to remediate those things that they have ‘diagnosed’ as something they don’t quite get.
In terms of strategies the discussion focuses on planning self-assessement questions and encouraging uptake. I think i would say, rather, encourage the writing of self-assessment strategies by the students. I’m thinking that this should be included in the syllabus as a structuring piece around student reflection… both reflections in the blog and reflection in their own learning plan.
Teaching students how to make good questions for themselves, to ask them in ways that are going to lead to effective searching and learning, is something that should be overtly done. Taking time to specifically say that people are allowed to look at their own knowing, plan their own path to catch up, and that this will allow them to participate more fully in the community.
Well.. I haven’t written a technology post in about three years, but I’ve been thinking about trying to make the most out of the supercomputer in my pocket recently, and have been really quite amazed by the technologies I haven’t been using. I resisted the pocket computer when they came out, got an Iphone 3g eventually, then a samsung S2 and now have the Note II in my pocket. It has a hugegantic case on it and, up until a few weeks ago, I was basically using it like a laptop with a camera – browser, photos, videos and Skype. (and, of course, as a flashlight)
A couple of weeks ago i happened upon this little treasure of a post http://techland.time.com/2013/07/01/50-best-android-apps-for-2013/ from time magazine where my new best friend Jared layed out fifty apps that you might want to use on your android phone. I normally turn my nose up on those kinds of posts… until i remember that I don’t put the time into technology that I might have once, and really, really need the hints. That being said, Jared’s post starts with the technology and forces you to scope through it for the uses one might have for each piece of software, I’m going to do the reverse. Here are the top ten things my Android phone (now) does for me.
Let’s start with an easy one. I can’t overemphasize how often i use my phone as a flashlight. It’s in my pocket, i need to see something, I turn on my Brightest Flashlight Free app, and I’m off to the races. It might even be more useful as a nook looker. Can’t see through that hole in the wall to find out what’s behind it? Shove your phone in, take a picture with the flash on, now you can see! https://www.dropbox.com/s/27szmnpvzaaira9/2013-02-04%2014.42.15.jpg
I have been looking for a task management app that was simple enough for my caveman mind to understand. I don’t want huge complexity, i don’t want a frickin’ gantt chart. I want to remember to call someone. I want to remember to go fix that door in basement. And, most importantly, i want a really simple way to procrastinate. Enter Any.do It has a simple ‘delay this for 1 hour, 3 hours, do it tomorrow’ kind of approach that allows me to keep things on my todo list but put them off over and over again. So far so good. I’ve remembered to do several things that I usually forget to do. That’s what victory looks like on Villa ave.
Text messaging from my computer
I am not someone who carries their phone with them ALL THE TIME. I tend to leave it in my purse when i’m at work, or dragging somewhere around the house. People assume, for some reason, that I have the damn thing with me all the time. I spend alot more time with my computer, and when i do, my phone is entirely forgotten. Enter Mighty Text. It talks to my phone, and lets me know when i’ve gotten a text message, lets me answer the text message, or even manage four of five conversations in one window. Now i don’t miss my messages when i’m in front of my computer. win.
I’m bitter about this one. Turns out half the people i know have been using Trip it for years. And no wonder. It’s fantastic. Email it your travel details, it combs through your emails and attachments for the travel information, organizes it all up, sorts it by trip and makes life on the road worth living. Where’s my hotel? oh wait… i’ll just click that button on trip it which automagically gives me the directions. I tried hard to hate it… and then i bought the $40 pro account so i could have even more fun tools. You don’t need the pro account, but it is cool.
The GPS – finding my way
It’s a basic function of most phones, but i keep talking to people who don’t seem to use it. I use the navigation app that comes with my phone. What i love is the bluetooth integration with my car. I can blast the stereo and when new directions come up, it overrides the stereo and tells me to turn left in 500 Metres. Simple, efficient, and mostly right. Mostly. Because it relies on googlemaps, which tends to fall apart a bit when you are driving through the back woods. And I come from the back woods
My alarm clock
This is probably the thing i use the most… strangely. I have a complicated wake up schedule. I go to the gym at 6am (yes, i know) on some days, some days i need to be up at 6:45, sometimes 6:55 sometimes… well you get the idea. The standard clock app on android is pretty flexible. I have about 7 or 8 configurations that i can turn on and off to adjust to whatever schedule i’m running and I have different volumes of alarm clock, depending on how important it is for me to wake up and how careful i’m being about waking other people up. I don’t care what you say, i’m not obsessive about my alarm clock. IT’S IMPORTANT DAMNIT.
I bought a purse, because i like to shove interesting things in my pocket, and my pockets aren’t big enough for all my interests. Same problem with things i find on the internet. I have been unreasonably thick witted in my attempts at finding one tool to remember web pages i have found. I’ve used most of the ones out there, and they offer lots of functionality i don’t need. I need something i can just shove anything into. Amazingly I found a tool called ‘pocket‘ which does exactly that. I can just shove things into it! From my phone, from my computers… i heart it.
Where’s that picture? Where is that presentation that i did last year? How can i send you this video of oscar eating oysters without posting it on youtube? Dropbox. Integrated on my phone. It solves these problems and more. I started using it when i got this phone about 6 months ago… it’s made a huge difference. It’s worth investing the time to get it setup.
Like many of my peers, i gots lots of things spinning around in my head. That can sometimes mean that at 3am i wake up thinking ‘oh shit, i should totally fix that door downstairs’ or ‘wow, that meeting totally went great now i can…’ or ‘mmm… beer’. Lots of things. But if my brain starts to engage, my sleeping is going to be done for a while. That feeling of being overspun happens sometimes during the week as well. I have a solution. I listen to audiobooks. Of books that i’ve read before. Preferably many times. I use the audible app, have ten or fifteen books of different styles in it at any time, and a headset nearby. Turn on book, plug in headset, put in ear, fall back asleep.
Yup. I read chords off my phone. It’s one of the nice things about the big screen. I use the Tabs app and can find the chords to most any song. From there you hit ‘start’ and it scrolls the words and the chords so you can play along. As i can’t remember the words to anything, it works out perfectly for me. While i still prefer reading out of a song book, and would FAR prefer just being able to remember, having the chords on hand is awesome.
I also use my phone as a phone. I use skype, and use it for a notepad, and as a camera etc… but thought the list of things that aren’t that might be more interesting. Would love to hear about what I’m missing
Earlier this month I was invited to do a presentation for the Moodle MOOC. The presentation included the use of the live slides approach where the audience of the presentation is responsible for creating slides from which I as the ‘presenter’ can try and draw a narrative. It’s an approach I’ve used many times with many different audiences, but in this case things took an unexpected detour. As the participants were given access to the white board, they simply would not focus on working together. Now… this was particularly impacted by the fact that the software we were using had ‘moveable slides’ which allowed them more freedom than i’ve seen before, but it ended up taking about 25 minutes to get things started. You can watch it here.
I got an email today from the excellent Paul Allison asking about the moodle assignment I was actually going to talk about during that presentation and never got around to. Paul shares my concern about Moodle being a platform that can easily lead to a very hierarchical teacher centric approach to online learning. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but it’s default separation of roles, separation by topic or week, and linear structure can easily guide you to a checkbox, step by step approach to online learning.
I want students to be responsible for much of the curriculum that is covered in the course. I particularly don’t want to create a scenario where the students believe that learning happens when the instructor lays out clear objectives that they are to conquer. I understand that many people think of this as contravening best practice, but i tend to think that it creates a power relationship around learning that can lead to students ‘not’ learning when someone isn’t around to sanction it for them. I think of life long learning as a much messier, disjointed struggle than that. I think that if you are trying to prepare students for confronting decision making about a particular topic, then you need to, in some degree, mirror the uncertainty to daily life so that they can practice that decision making with a guide or mentor close to hand. The course is at http://ed366.com if you are interested. The ‘textbook’ for the course is at http://davecormier.pressbooks.com
So i wanted to use moodle, show my students how a discussion forum worked, but i didn’t want to be controlling it.
So, the goal then was to create a moodle activity that would force my students to find an interesting way to use a discussion forum to address an issue that they were thinking about as part of the course. In order to facilitate this I created a Moodle course and invited all my students into it as teachers. We broke them into groups of from 2-4 and each group was responsible for creating a ‘homepage’ as a topic within the course. That homepage (topic) would be theirs to design, develop and host a discussion on their chosen question.
We did the registration live during the class. There were a few hiccups due to some irregularities with people’s accounts… but no real big deal here. As I am wont to do, i didn’t assign individual groups to numbered topics, I let it be a free for all. Groups had to grab their topic by editing it and putting their subject description in the title. This created a bit of a flurry of excitement and a couple of ‘HEY, we were going to do that one’. I wandered around the class to ensure that each group had eventually got a topic section and then proceeded to explain what a discussion forum was and had them do some basic interactions in an example topic area that I started building in the classroom. I am resistant to the idea of creating a proper exemplar as I’m trying to get students to think their way through what should be there rather than try and copy what is there. I always struggle with whether this is a good position to hold or not.
Here is one sample of an entry from one group. I picked it because it’s the right size to fit in the blog post :). It’s also a good example of the kind of thing i was looking for. Others offered much more or less copy on the page… there was alot of variation. But the space became theirs (as apposed to mine) very quickly.
Outcomes (so called)
The way things turned out in this class, i was going to miss one of our three hour f2f sessions for a conference. This assignment was intended as a replacement for a three hour class, and the students were therefore requested to show up online from 6pm-9pm local time and participate in as many substantive discussions as they could during that time. They were also responsible for monitoring and facilitating discussions in their own section. A few students setup a google hangout to help in their coordination but most simply did their best to participate.
I was pretty happy with the outcome. We got a fair amount of substantive discussion, and some interesting ideas that hadn’t come up in the course so far. We had a feedback session in the next face 2 face class and students spoke with confidence about the possibilities of discussion forums. Many students suggested that they occasionally became over focused on other topics or their own topic and found it difficult to switch back and forth. I was online in Spain during the first half hour or so and did some trouble shooting over twitter with four or five students.
It’s the first time i’ve had this kind of freeforall in a Moodle. I kinda like it. I particularly like the idea of students building their own home and would like to do something where students had to keep going back to improve and refine their own space. Maybe a whole course for each group. Meh. Maybe next time.
Below is the group feedback that i sent to my students regarding the assignment.
Cell phones in the classroom
“Several times last year, when I noticed a student texting while I was giving a lecture, I would stop, stare and wait for them to finish texting, then continue with the lecture, as if nothing ever happened. It didn’t take too long for all to realize that they were being stared at by all. The students themselves then became the “Text Police” My enforcement wasn’t needed.” Daryl
The technology requires an establishment of new society norms. It is, as Sherri suggests, a question of professionalism. That’s going to be different for different classes. But the key is to make overtly clear (as Daryl does very nicely here) about what is expected and what the new normal is.
Twitter and brevity
Do you feel as though 140 characters is enought to say something substancial? Can you pack in lots to communitucate thoroughly? Shannon
It certainly keeps the clutter down! Well, I would say that it can do a lot but, yes, I wouldn’t want to do my dissertation over Twitter ; 0 Mark
A couple of things here. First, I note that Shannon critiqued Twitter’s substantialness in 128 characters… excellent work Shannon. Mark makes one of the two points i would make here a. Twitter is not for everything. The second point is addressed by Andrea when she says that twitter is a place for connections. The corrollary to this is that twitter is NOT, generally, a place for content. If i have something substantial to say i might link to it on twitter… but i wouldn’t try to write it there. It’s just not designed for that.
Finding the need before the tool
I could see us posting a students code and then have students provide feedback on it. One thing that some of this technology provides is a way to do things that some students may be able to get in to using. BJ
I could totally see this as a twitter/pastebin combination. Get students to post the code on pastebin, and tweet it out to everyone else. For that matter… coders have been using IRC for collaboration for a generation. Might be good to get them in the habit of doing that. If you wanted to get real creative, you could setup an IRC channel for students to exchange code with people doing the same type course at another institution.
Kids these days
Spoiled by their parents, which leads to the sense of entitlement and not having to or willing to work for what they want, showing no respect for their parent’s hard earned dollar. Don
I can’t seem to put my hands on it, but i found a quote from about 60BC in the Roman Republic a few months ago that said the same thing as this almost to the letter. This is the complaint of every generation about the one following it. This also doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, but we need to remember not to associate all things into the same problem. Daryl says “he was lucky to have a working wristwatch” a statement that would have been ‘spoiled’ a generation before. We need to remember that it is the adults in society who are responsible for setting norms for the use of technologies, these norms don’t just make themselves. We are entering into a strange period where we have things in our culture that have confused norms associated with them (eg. texting). That’s not the kids fault.
The great higher education money debate
Very cool discussion (and a great way of seeing what a discussion forum can do). I would like to add that when comparing College to University you’ll find different results in terms of ‘lifetime earning’ than you will in ‘immediate employment’. The main theme of the discussion seemed to be ‘it depends on what you want’ which i totally agree with. I eventually ended up with an undergraduate degree in philosophy (after starting in computer programming, which, frankly, i hated). University worked for me – eventually. Anyway, i don’t want to go down the rabbitt hole here, the point is, the discussion forum allows for multiple points of view and it allows for people who don’t necessarily like to break into arguments in class to do so with time to consider what they are going to say.
One of the themes of discussion is related to the comparison of online learning with face to face discussion. One of the reasons i love teaching ed366 is that it gives me the chance to be in a classroom, which I love. I also love getting input from people from different perspectives, cultures and experiences, which is often more difficult in a place like Charlottetown. Our class is not particularly culturally diverse. There are affordances to both modalities… some suit some of us better than others. I agree with BJ that my favourite is a blended model where we can steal some of the advantages from both approaches. It need not be either or though, in most cases.
Interesting to see everyone on the same side of a discussion for once :). It speaks well of our government and our culture, i suppose, that privacy isn’t a concern to its citizens. Don says “if you do the crime, you do the time” – and that works fine as long as you and the people with the power to harm/incarcerate you agree on what is a crime. The catch comes when those things don’t line up. Lets imagine that, like in many, many countries, it becomes a crime to criticize a political party or a religion or some other organization. An interesting discussion. In this case our discussion forum, different from the discussion above on university/college, shows our agreement.
Well… it’s that time of the year again folks. Time for me to teach my Educational Technology and the Adult learner course. I think of myself as being very privileged to teach this course every year. The course is, in many important ways, unfettered by its institutionality. It not connected to any other courses in any registrarial way… no pre-requisite, no follow up courses. I have no other instructor also teaching the course and was not given any material or specific guidance on what or how to teach to begin with. The program itself is full of many experimental, dedicated teaching professionals, so many of my students have already had their horizons challenged in other courses in the program.
And the students are fascinating.
Some have never stepped foot in the classroom as teachers. Some have spent 30 years there. Some spent 25 years working on a job that they are now going to teach to others. Some have never been in the formal workforce before. I had one student last year with PhD in chemistry working with a career pipe-fitter. I mean… how awesome is that? All students are different, and, I think, do better in the end when they are free to choose their own paths… but these folks are different in ways that are easier to negotiate. This makes the ‘we are all different and need to have different objectives’ part easy, but it does present some challenges on the assessment front. As I don’t believe, fundamentally, that learning is something that can be effectively (if at all) measured in the classroom, I’m trying to measure effort. Effort defined quite broadly. Let me know how you think I’m doing
I need to give them all a number grade. Out of 100. so…
When i taught this course three years ago, a finishing student of mine said “you know, I think i understand your whole rhizome thing… but you know what it needs? It needs a learner contract. You should let us pick what grade we want when we start the course and let us work to that”. It was like being hit with a teaching stick. My first thought was “can i really get away with that?” Then I asked him where he got the idea and he told me that it was from the 70′s. I did some research before teaching the class last year and built my first contract
What I learned year one
Many of my students were actually quite familiar with the idea of a grading contract… which I hadn’t expected. Overall most students were prepared for the idea of trying out the contract and choosing how much effort to put in. There were some, I think, who took everything because they expected that deep down they were supposed to.
- It lacked depth of choice. I did that partially because I didn’t want to confuse anyone… but also because I hadn’t really had any experience to draw from. So… more choice.
- Real language. I had all kinds of crazy unnecessary language in there last year(eg. OER). Sure, it’d be cool if everyone knew the lingo, but it made contract choices difficult. Students make contract choices BEFORE the course. This time… Plain language.
What I’m doing this year
Two whole days before we get started and I’m still tweaking the sections. I’m going to lay them out here with the reasoning behind each of them and see if it makes sense all pulled together. Important to realize that this class is formally hybrid, and has only 21 hours of in-class time for a full term course. If it seems like there’s alot here… there is. Also… this is still a ‘suggested breakdown’. I’ll have to talk it over with the students in class two.
I can’t help myself. I have to throw attendance in there. I simply don’t believe that it makes sense to have 25 people come together in a classroom if that classroom time isn’t somehow critical to the experience. Attendance for me is not a ‘physical presence’ it is a way of being. To this day I have never not given someone an attendance mark when they did show up. My job to engage them.
Reflective blog posts on the topic of the week… or something else that came to your mind. I try not to put a number of words on these because people with different literacy sets react to these very differently. However it works out, reflection upon yourself and your classmates as learners is the MOST IMPORTANT part of this course.
grading: 0 – Didn’t do it. 1 – did it but lacked effort 2 – did it and made an effort.
I have always had students do giant 15 minute presentations “as if they were teaching in their own class” in an attempt to give people a practical headstart using technologies in their own classrooms. It has always been a fight getting this message clear and, frankly, I’m giving it up. These presentations will be timed 5 minute “hey I just learned this” demos in the front of class. There was just too much of a discrepancy between those with classroom teaching experience and those without… it wasn’t fair the way i had it before.
This used to be called a network learning plan and is really what I like to think of as learning curation. It’s a way to keep track of the links you’ve found and the ideas that you’ve had so that you remember them later. When learning in a state of abundance (or, say, drinking from a firehose) we lose most of the things we come across. This is a nod to trying to build that curation space. I could use a bookmarking system, I suppose, but google docs are more flexible and easier to understand.
grading: rubric to be negotiated
Group Take away
This is the class’ notepaper. We throw all the stuff we learn in here as a group. It’s a replication, in a sense, of the learning network plan, but it has a different purpose. Rather than everyone throwing 50 mini-presentations into their own plan, it gives us a central sharing space to include all that stuff. Not sure what i’m going to use for this… maybe a wiki, maybe a googledoc. Hoping to decide as a class.
grading: scaled based on number of updates
I’m going to seed the course with Terry Anderson’s (edited) book on online learning. Students are, of course, free to use whatever article they want. I would like them to engage in a discussion (using a discussion forum) on a given article. We might decide to do this as formal group work, or as individual assignments with a ‘reply’ guideline. Not sure… we’ll see what the students say.
Grading: rubric to be negotiated
This remains the same as last year, although the name has changed. Make one web based object that explains a simple, step by step process and another that addresses a complex problem.
Grading: negotiated (but i’m thinking pass/fail)
Thursday? Online sessions
Collaborate sessions devoted to student chosen topics. We’ll meet one night a week and chat… about something. I’m going to have to be on top of this one, because i think that the students might have a difficult time picking topics. But you never know… totally depends on the class.
Yay! twitter chat! Somehow I’ve never done one in a class before. Might do this leading up to the online class or do it another night.
How does all this support rhizomatic learning?
Well… rhizomatic learning (as I’ve been talking about it) suggests that there is not start point and ending. That people come with a variety of thoughts and feelings and connections and need an ecosystem in which they can help grow those on a given topic. If we are going to presume that the map everyone is going to make is going to be different, then the need the freedom to choose. At the same time, if there is no structure at all, it’s difficult to get better at a specific thing.
Taking a course like this is a commitment to trying to get better (or something you were force to take, but lets overlook that ) but it’s not like there is some kind of consensus about the best way to use technologies with any learners. There are many approaches, and many tools, and I believe that people need to become situated in the discussion so that they can become effective decision makers around technologies and education. Fundamentally this course is about practicing making decision, thinking about the effectiveness of those decisions and trying to make better decisions next time. It’s about becoming someone who can make decisions with edtech and adult learners.
Looking forward to it
Because we had nothing else to do, we launched a new (maybeM)OOC this week. It’s called Experience U and it’s intended for first time university students. You can check it out at http://xpu.ca. It will hopefully help address the many, many questions that students have in preparing themselves for the university experience. I tried to run it before, 2 years ago, but i clearly didn’t have the concept clear in my head. I’ve been interested in running a MOOC with high school students, but have been struggling for an approach.
In my last two blog posts I’ve covered the idea of using a MOOC to cultivate a textbook and the different ideas of openness, both, i think, are lessons that inform the structure of this project. From the textbook perspective (from hereon in I’ll call it ‘the guidebook’) it gives us the organizers something to work towards from an artifact perspective. It provides focus for the team. It provides a fall back if the M part of the MOOC doesn’t quite come together. It gives a good solid reason to keep coming back year after year. From an ‘open’ perspective, I’ve spent so much time thinking about open source (even though in cases like gmail and collaborate i overlook it) that I missed the other side of open. The ‘widening participation’ side of open. That’s why we’ve chosen to run the course in facebook this time.
The Open Course (maybem)OOC
We’re running the official part of the course for five weeks starting April 25th. We’ve got some pre-canned videos that do an overview of the topics for each week and are going to do a live session that we are going to post. We are also going to have an assignment that students can optionally do each given week.
We originally had some pieces in a wordpress blog and were going to do a few other things… but we’ve changed our mind. Facebook only. I think the more complication we throw at it the more difficult it’s going to be to keep everything going.
We’re going to try and answer every (most) questions we get with a video response by a student. A student for a student as it were. We’re doing this in part, obviously, because we’d like people to share those videos around, but we’re also looking for that daily content that can lead to people getting absorbed enough in the process to start getting some of the culture of university. I’m hoping that this excess of student voice might provide that for some of the participants.
Getting the word out
This is tricky. We’re running a few facebook ads, some newspaper ads (yes, i know that’s odd) and stuff for this. I got a grant to run this project and am near the end of the funding and am hoping to prove that it has value enough to get more support down the line. The simple fact is that my social networks aren’t so connected to the target market for this course… So it’s making that part interesting.
The Networked textbook
We’re designing a flexible html5-ish design for the guidebook that should be responsive to any screen/platform. We’re going to pull in some of the videos were using the answer straight up questions, but I’m also hoping that we can pull from assignments and discussions to build a richer artifact that both reflects a successful project (he says) and can be helpful to students anywhere on their way into university for the first time.
Having built a hundred webpages to help people do things… having the MOOC there next year as a curation engine is really encouraging. I’ve gotten to the point where i hate building information pages because I always seem to come back to them a few years later to find a pile of deadlinks and outdated info. The goal here would be to run that MOOC ever year and rebuild that guidebook along with it.
Another experiment with the internet to see what we can do with it. I’m slowly getting comfortable with the idea of it all going on on facebook… which, frankly, i was pretty resistant about when we started. My staff convinced me. I always say that you shouldn’t confront people who are only partially invested with two unknowns. Facebook is a comfortable space for the students i’m hoping to work with… this time i go to them.
So I’m writing this book… (with some friends see http://xedbook.com)
And then i go to write the part of the chapter I’m working on about ‘openness’ in education and I ask myself “self, what does open in open education.* mean anyway?”
And then i fell down the rabbit hole. A rabbit hole full of paths from the Open University’s saving by Margaret Thatcher in 1970, to the table around which ‘open source’ was coined in 1998, and any number of debates on neo-liberalism. Fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
This post is a mixture of my own research and lots of v. interesting input I’ve gotten from colleagues on Twitter. I’ll make my best effort to mention those people who contributed… feel free to let me know if I’ve forgotten you.
The story that I’m trying to tell here is about the values that underpin the word ‘open’. I know many of the people involved in open education/learning/educational resources as deeply principled people who are engaged in the idea of openness for reasons that are important to them. In examining these values i have found two strands: one openness that speaks of valuing the creator/teacher/artifact, and another sense of openness that speaks of the user/learner. Most of us, I would imagine, borrow from both sides. But this story is particularly about how the ideas of around ‘open source’ influence a pull towards valuing the creator over the user, and how that pull might affect the field of learning going forward
The brief retelling of how we got ‘open source’
The first article sent to me when I started this little personal quest was the meme hustler – Tim O’Reilly’s crazy talk by Evgeny Morozov. Any of you familiar with Morozov will know that he makes his business in attacking dominant narratives and confronting the status-quo. In this particular post (which is very long, and, I think, worth the skim if you can look passed his anger) he takes on Tim O’Reilly for shaping the techno-discussion of era (and maybe more in the future) through his unique blend of brand development, crafty conferences and publishing supports. Now… I’ve always had suspicions about O’Reilly (see 2006 post) so I’m a little biased… but I’ll leave you to your own interpretations of Morozov’s broader argument, of specific import to this story is the thread of research i never made it to in ’06, and that is the original table around which the term ‘open source’ was coined and put into circulation.
So there’s (still) this thing called the Free Software Foundation. It’s founder/luminary in residence is a man named Richard Stallman. Google him… it’s worth it. Anyway… Stallman was a giant figure in programming in the 80′s and 90′s working on, among other things, a free as in freedom version of the operating system for computers. His views were very much about things being built with the rights of the users being foremost in his mind. He warned that if the users freedom weren’t paramount the software (and the people who designed it) would control things. hem. Facebook. hem hem. Google. hem.
From my understanding, Stallman doesn’t actually have a problem with people making money for a living. His interests in free are famously represented as being about ‘free as in speech’ not ‘free as in beer’. It’s the freedom of choice. He very much wanted everyone to contribute their software in like manner… he valued freedom in a way that was not connected to whether he made money or not, whether the not-free software might be better or more powerful. He judged the ‘value’ of the software to be used by freedom first and other considerations second. The GPL (his free license) and his influence on free software dominated that end of the industry.
After a long battle with Microsoft, Netscape lost the browser wars (yes, we used to say that) and at one point in 1998 a bunch of folks get called together by Eric Raymond (of Cathedral and the Bazaar fame) to talk about what should be done in the light of Netscape releasing (making free) the code to its browser. My interpretation (and there are lots of others out there) is that they were trying to find an angle on it that they could leverage for themselves. Broadly speaking people had decided that Richard Stallman’s ‘free software’ approach was too confusing for business. They needed a new narrative that they could use to profit from the free software model.
“The meeting’s agenda boiled down to one item: how to take advantage of Netscape’s decision so that other companies might follow suit?” Raymond doesn’t recall the conversation that took place, but he does remember the first complaint addressed. Despite the best efforts of Stallman and other hackers to remind people that the word “free” in free software stood for freedom and not price, the message still wasn’t getting through. Most business executives, upon hearing the term for the first time, interpreted the word as synonymous with “zero cost,” tuning out any follow up messages in short order. Until hackers found a way to get past this cognitive dissonance, the free software movement faced an uphill climb, even after Netscape.
[Christine] Peterson [who coined 'open source'], whose organization had taken an active interest in advancing the free software cause, offered an alternative: open source.
Looking back, Peterson says she came up with the open source term while discussing Netscape’s decision with a friend in the public relations industry. She doesn’t remember where she came upon the term or if she borrowed it from another field… http://oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/ch11.html
A shift in values
Take this quote that Morozov cites from O’reilly in 2001
I want to return to the idea of freedom zero as my choice as a creator to give, or not to give, the fruits of my work to you, as a “user” of that work, and for you, as a user, to accept or reject the terms I place on that gift. If that is power, so be it.
The two terms[free software and open source] describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values.
In reading this (and this certainly meshes with my feelings in the ’06 post above, in Morozov’s polemic and with stuff like this) I see a value switch from a socio-cultural ideology (freedom) to a something else. A move from valuing the freedom of the user to valuing the freedom of the creator of the software. You might also say, and many people have, that it is a replacement of ideology with ‘practicality’. The removing of ideology from the equation. I don’t happen to believe this. I don’t think that you can ever be ‘without ideology’. We use some standard to judge what we should do, whether a project is worthwhile or which of two things should go first. For some it’s money. For some it’s whether it will help other people…
If you’re interested in more side by side detail about the difference, here are the two philosophies written side by side:
— Scott Wilson (@scottbw) April 7, 2013
The value shift is a subtle one for most of us… it certainly has been opaque for me before i started doing this research. It is further confused by the fact that the ‘user’ in the Stallman case was still likely a programmer, where the user in O’reilly’s case was more ‘customer’. All that being said, I still think there’s a critical difference. The value set attached to the free software movement is fundamentally about user freedom first, product/producer second. In the open source discussion, the product/producer comes first, and the user may, as O’reilly suggests, take it or leave it. The purpose behind the creation and initial spreading of a word may not have forever impacts on its meaning, but Raymonds words are telling “In conventional marketing terms our job was to rebrand the product and build its reputation into one that the corporate world would hasten to buy.” Both Morozov and Stallman credit Open Source as being focused on making a better stronger product. Stallman particularly worries that this is not what you want as your first value.
What the hell does this have to do with education?
Frankly, I’m not sure that Stallman would still be right about his approach in a day and age where 99.9% of computer users are blind users of software. Pure consumers who will never understand code. It may have been better had things gone differently and we had stuck to understanding code and the machines that are so deeply embedded in our lives… but i’m pretty sure that opportunity is gone. Hopefully not so with education.
At many conferences and in many discussions I’ve heard people suggest that the ideas of ‘open source’ have had a deep impact on the open in open education. And my concern starts when that particular model of ‘openness’ is applied to education. In that same twitter conversation David Wiley, coiner of the term open content, suggests that the open of open content is by analogy to open source but different…
— David Wiley (@opencontent) April 7, 2013
How is it different? Does it value the user or the creator? As I’ve said… I care less about this in software (as i think the battle is over) but I care a tremendous amount about it in education.
Lets take a look at Wiley’s recent work with Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons. In their 2012 article on openness in education they claim the following
We discuss the three principal influences of openness on education: open educational resources, open access, and open teaching. From David Wiley and Cable Green in Educause
- The OER influence of openness makes a strong case for “extremely efficient and affordable sharing”. A business case for the effectiveness of open resources and how they can effectively replace (or partially replace) existing options.
- The Open Access influence is about the ability of a researcher to openly share their research and have access to the research of others.
- “”Open teaching” began as a practice of using technology to open formal university courses for free, informal participation by individuals not officially enrolled in the course. In the university context, open teaching involves devising ways to expose the in-class experiences to those who are not in the class so that they can participate as fully as possible.
- posting syllabi in publicly viewable blogs or wikis, where everyone can view them;
- assigning readings that are freely and openly available, so that everyone can access and read them;
- asking students to post homework assignments and other course artifacts on publicly viewable blogs or wikis, so they can catalyze further discussion of relevant topics; and
- using a wide range of traditional and social media, including e-mail, microblogging, and blog comments, to carry on the course discussion.
In each of these cases, we see a strong focus on the creators of the content being central to the openness. The first two of the three ‘principal influences of openness’ are clearly about the creators, and the third allows the user to participate as much as they can by interacting with the content that is given made available in the open. While I certainly would not suggest that the statement is as strong as the ‘take it or leave it’ take that O’reilly offers for users of open source software, I sense a creator focused ‘offering’ to the outside world.
I’m not trying to pick on David (and he can certainly take care of himself anyway :)) but i’m going to continue to focus on the relationship between his work and open source. Here is one of the other resources that David sent me during this discussion around the meaning of open. He quotes “Wiley (2010) assumes common understanding of the term educational resources, and argues that open is a matter of (1) cost and (2) copyright licensing and related permissions”
We have a definition of open that has, as its values, the price of a thing and the ways in which it’s creator can license it. Here is the tie, I think, to O’reilly and Raymond. In an earlier paragraph, the long history of the meaning of openness as imprecise is cited from a 1975 book called “Open Learning: systems and problems in post-secondary education”
“Open Learning is an imprecise phrase to which a range of meanings can be, and is, attached. It eludes definition. But as an inscription to be carried in procession on a banner, gathering adherents and enthusiasts, it has great potential”
Later in the same paragraph Wiley suggests that the meaning of open has changed little in the last 40 years. This would mean, in effect, that openness is about making content available to students for free. I don’t want to spoil the point I’m making by taking too close a reading on someone i look up to as a luminary in our field… but i think there is a pattern of discussion here that focuses on the creator, not the user. To fully make the point, however, we would need to establish the Stallman end of the equation, the ‘user focused openness’, and to do that we must cross the pond.
Open as in “Open University UK”
I have long heard from my colleagues in the UK that there is part of the openness discussion missing and that it involves the Open University.
@davecormier what sort of thing you after Dave? There is an OU history strand to this
— Martin Weller (@mweller) April 7, 2013
This from the excellent Professor Martin Weller author of cool books and many papers, much of which deals with openness in education. So I decided to dig in a little.
Discussion with Dominic Newbould
During my debate on twitter I was sent a few messages from Dominic Newbould, 30+ year veteran of the OU who dropped this on me.
— Dominic Newbould (@DominicNewbould) April 7, 2013
I asked him if he would mind having a chat with me to give me a sense of what he meant. We had a broad ranging discussion (lots of interesting (to me) detail for a future blog post) about the history of the OU and what openness meant to the institution from the early inklings in 1963 to launch in 1969 and through the time he spent there from 1975 onwards. The part of that discussion of direct relevance here are the four kinds of open
- Open = accessible, ‘supported open learning’, interactive, dialogue. Accessibility was key.
- Open = equal opportunity, unrestricted by barriers or impediments to education and educational resources.
- Open = transparency, sharing educational aims and objectives with students, disclosing marking schemes and offering exam and tutorial advice.
- Open = open entry, most important, no requirement for entrance qualifications. All that was needed were ambition and the will/motivation to learn.
This position is supported by a quote from a recent JISC review of openness in the Open University
“The university was given the mission to be “open as to people, places, methods and ideas” by its founding chancellor in his inaugural address” http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/topics/openeducation/JISC_OU_CaseStudy.pdf
Or, to go a little further down the page on that 1975 book quoted by Wiley
“open has many meanings, and the aura of the most of them seemed generous and ‘charismatic’ – open-handed, open-ended, open-hearted, open house, open choice. ‘Open’ as contrasted with ‘closed’ carried suggestions demolishing or lowering established barriers between subject areas; of enlarging and enriching the areas of activity and experience graded as educational. It symbolized a shift in the relationship between teacher and pupil towards that of student and adviser.
Perhaps the most commonly used sense of ‘open’ has been the idea of creating opportunities for study for those debarred from it for whatever reasons, be it lack of formal educational attainments or shortage of vacancies, poverty, remoteness, employment or domestic necessities. Open Learning: Systems and problems in post-secondary education Mackenzie, Postgate and Scupham, 1975
Here then, we find a version of openness that takes as its starting point the user/learner. I certainly sense a shifting of goals in the Open University from its original incarnation to what it became and is becoming… but no matter. What we’re looking for here are core values. How does your openness influence the decisions that you make. Important to remember the comments that Stallman made about the difference between free software and open source “Different Values Can Lead to Similar Conclusions…but Not Always”.
MOOCs and beyond
I don’t mean this article to make any claims on what ‘values’ drive David Wiley or anyone else to make decisions. What I’m speaking to is the way we’ve spoken about openness and the values that one can extrapolate from that. When I coined the term Massive Open Online Course in 2008 the open part of it was the most important element. I don’t think my exact view of openness coincides with the ones that Stephen and George had (designer/facilitator of the first MOOC, so called) or necessarily exactly matching up with my UK friends or anyone else. Openness was very much about ‘demolishing established barriers’ of all sorts. It is a political act, regardless of how unpopular that position is to many.
I do think that with all the talk and work going on right now around the idea of openness and the way so many people are trying to use the word for their own devices that we need ways to talk about the strands of openness that appear in our work and see where they come from.
I think there is something fundamentally troubling about a creator focused value system for open learning. While I understand the ‘value’ of open content, and believe in it’s value, I think the fundamental decision making process needs to be from the position of the user, not the content.
I think the content becomes the neutral ground, the thing that we can all agree on across our politics and our feelings about what a just society could be. The other side, the ‘what do we want to encourage our learners to be’ the social justice side of this is much, much harder.
How do we want to open our society? That, in the end, is the open learning/education that I want to talk about.
Other research referenced in the twitter discussions but cut out of the blog post.
Note: The Margaret Thatcher part of this post I removed as I started writing it before she died, and have no interest in making my post about her. Here is the quote i was going to use and spoke about on twitter.
“quite apart from the political considerations, the unit cost per graduate produced in this new institution could well be substantially less than in the orthodox university system.” Margaret Thatcher on why they shouldn’t close down the Open University, 1970.
Jim Groom Keynote on openness… which is classically awesome jim.
On the value of Open Access and it’s incredible importance.
“I recently met a physician from southern Africa, engaged in perinatal HIV prevention, whose primary access to information was abstracts posted on the Internet. Based on a single abstract, they had altered their perinatal HIV prevention program from an effective therapy to one with lesser efficacy. Had they read the full text article they would have undoubtedly realized that the study results were based on short- term follow-up, a small pivotal group, incomplete data, and were unlikely to be applicable to their country situation. Their decision to alter treatment based
solely on the abstract’s conclusions may have resulted in increased perinatal HIV transmission.” http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/84/5/339.pdf
Briefest, laziest history of Open the word
The word itself seems one of those rare birds that hasn’t changed much in the last thousand years or so. Open as in ‘the gate is open’, ‘public’ that kind of stuff. According to The Online Etymology with the exception of some racy connotations, it pretty much has always meant what we think it means… not shut. My favourite bit is “Meaning “public knowledge” (especially in out in the open) is from 1942, but cf. Middle English in open (late 14c.) “manifestly, publicly.”