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I dwell in Possibility   by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

 

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

 

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

I love this poem by Emily Dickinson, brought alive for me by Al Filreis and his teaching assistants in ModPo, the hugely successful Modern and Contemporary American Poetry massive open online course, now running for the third time.

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In their close reading Al and his team unpick this poem line by line and almost word by word. They also discuss the poem in relation to Walt Whitman and his poem ‘Song of Myself’ .

It has occurred to me that if Dickinson and Whitman were students in the ModPo course, then Whitman would probably get his certificate, but Emily Dickinson probably would not. Why – because Whitman would have been all over the discussion forums like a rash, but Emily would have eschewed this activity. Participation in the discussion forums is a requirement for a certificate of completion in ModPo. (I realise that this is a personal perspective, but that’s what ModPo encourages – alternative perspectives, right or wrong).

In this age where there is almost a ‘tyranny of openness and interaction’, where openness seems to mean we have to be willing to interact with anyone and everyone, I can relate to Emily Dickinson’s resistance to open her house to just anyone. She seemed to recognise the relationship between filtering out unwanted distractions and the potential of dwelling in possibility with others who could engage with her seriously. I am not sure whether she recognised the value of solitude and contemplation or whether this was a necessary part of the age in which she lived, but she seemed to appreciate that selective interaction would for her be more productive. It would be possible to enter her house and dwell with her in possibility, but only through hard work, and then the sky would be the limit.

I would have liked to be able to enter Emily Dickinson’s house. I would have worked hard to gain entry. She sounds like the kind of woman I would have valued knowing, but I also appreciate that from her perspective, she might not have opened her door to me – and that would be OK. For me it would be important to have a mutually respectful and meaningful relationship, not one dictated by the edicts of the age. OK I know that ‘edict’ is too strong a word, but hopefully I’m allowed a bit of poetic license here :-)

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Visiting Venice is an experience I wouldn’t have missed; travelling with a wheelchair user made it all the more interesting.

I hope that this post might help other wheelchair users who visit Venice – a city that is so worth a visit, if only once. However it’s worth remembering that just as each person visiting Venice will have a different perspective from their individual unique position, so too will a disabled traveller. Each wheelchair user will have different needs and different mobility issues. This post is being written from the following perspectives:

  1. From the travelling companion of the wheelchair user – not the wheelchair user himself.
  2. Considering a wheelchair user who can get out of the chair and stand up, with the support of another person, a stick, or wall, or whatever is close at hand. This wheelchair user can also walk a few steps with this support and even climb some steps. If the steps are too high or steep then his feet may need lifting. So ideally this wheelchair user needs to avoid more that one step.
  3. Considering a wheelchair user who needs a disabled bathroom and bedroom with hand rails, strong furniture that can be pulled up on, no rugs/mats or slippy floors, space to move around in, in a wheelchair, and a chair with arms.

Venice, we knew before we even set out, is not wheelchair friendly. That must be why in four days we could count the number of wheelchair users we saw in a massively crowded city on the fingers of one hand and some of those were people with broken legs, or the elderly, who simply couldn’t walk far – not necessarily people whose lives were governed by their wheelchair – although who can judge from simple observation.

So here’s what I learned.

Ideally your hotel should be in a position where there is no bridge (with steps) to cross to get into it. Ours could only be reached by crossing a bridge with steps, whichever direction we approached it from. When booking in advance, we couldn’t find a more accessible hotel, with a room available. But all over the world we have always encountered people more than willing to help. In total we crossed the bridge 8 times (leaving the hotel in the morning and only returning in the evening) and only had to climb the steps twice. On every other occasion a group of kindly volunteer tourists lifted the chair plus occupant over the bridge. Thank goodness for a light wheelchair user who watches his weight!

Your hotel should have access with no steps (when we got over the bridge, there were no more steps to get into the hotel!), a lift (yes), they should be expecting you in a wheelchair (no – they claimed to have no knowledge of this although we had a copy of the prior email communication) and they should have the promised walk in shower available (no – the hotel didn’t have any walk in showers, only showers over baths – impossible for our wheelchair user). But the hotel did provide a big room with plenty for space for moving around in a wheelchair.

Normally, it’s ideal for wheelchair users to be centrally located, so that you can walk from your hotel to see the sights and not have to pay for taxis, which are not only expensive, but also require a lot of effort to get into and out of. In Venice centrally located means Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), which is mobbed by tourists, making moving around in a wheelchair difficult. It would probably be easier to be less centrally located. There are quieter areas which are easy to reach by Vaporetto (water bus) –  and there is always help around to get a wheelchair onto and off the Vaporetto.

You don’t need to do a massive amount of research before hand to be able to find your way round Venice, but a couple of good maps will be a real help.

  • First you need the Accessible Venice Map. On it’s own this map is not enough, but it is very useful for showing which Vaporetto stops can be used by people in wheelchairs.
  • This Vaporetto map needs to be combined with a tourist map, which shows exactly where the canals are. It’s no good stepping off an accessible Vaporetto only to find that you can’t go anywhere because you are immediately confronted by a stepped bridge over a canal. Paper tourist maps (which is what we used) are easy to get from your hotel or tourist information when you arrive in Venice.
  • Even the two maps together will not show you where there are ‘steps’. Some streets which have no canal bridges, still have steps. For example, our maps seemed to indicate that we could walk/ride from Rialto to Piazza San Marco with only one canal bridge to cross, but in fact there were lots of steps at the end of streets which prohibited us from doing this.

There are plenty of quieter spaces to visit in Venice where you can still get a real sense of the place. These are the places we visited and found were wheelchair accessible.

Piazza San Marco – this is not quiet. It is mobbed with tourists, but even so, not to be missed. Even the crowds can’t detract from the beauty of Venice. If it rains (we experienced 3 thunder storms in Venice) then the square is flooded – not easy for wheelchair users. The Basilica is accessible in part, if you go to the back entrance, but you still need to get up some steps – so we needed help with this. Thanks again to kind tourists. The Palazzo Ducale is more accessible. We avoided the queues by getting there as it opened on Sunday morning.

Arsenale and Giardini are both accessible by Vaporetto and quieter, being residential areas. There are plenty of streets to walk/ride in these areas without crossing canal bridges and at Giardini is the La Biennale di Venezia exhibition site which is accessible to wheelchair users. We saw a wonderful architecture exhibition.

Rialto on the Canal Grande is accessible by Vaporetto, but is not wheelchair friendly once you get there. The streets are very narrow, there are lots of tourist markets and the place is very crowded. We didn’t stay long.

Campo San Tomà also on the Canal Grande is accessible by Vaporetto and is a lovely, tranquil place to explore, although the churches etc. were not accessible. In fact few of the churches, museums or galleries were accessible, but that’s not a problem if you are happy just to wander and soak in the atmosphere. It’s also worth bearing in mind that some of the eating places are not easily accessible.

Accademia was our final stop along the Canal Grande – accessible by Vaporetto. We were there on a Monday afternoon when the museum was closed  but according to their website this museum is wheelchair accessible. The good thing about this stop is that you can walk right across to Zattere on the other side where you can get a different Vaporetto to return to Piazza San Marco (where we started from) or elsewhere.

Getting to and from Venice.

We arrived by train from Vienna and then got a Vaporetto to Piazza San Marco which is where our hotel (the one with no bridge-free access!) was located. The main thing to remember here is to only take the luggage that you can physically carry – as you will most likely have to manage this yourself and walk some distance with it. In our case this consisted of a full sized rucksack which I carried on my back, a small rucksack for the back of the wheelchair and a hand luggage sized suitcase which we put on the wheelchair user’s knees. It would have been impossible with anything more.

We left Venice by the airport Vaporetto which takes one hour twenty minutes from Piazza San Marco. There is plenty of help getting onto this Vaporetto, but when you arrive at the airport there is a 7 minute walk to the airport. Another reason to travel light.

So Venice is not for the faint-hearted wheelchair user – but it is possible, and it really is one of those once in a lifetime must see places. It is stunningly beautiful and it is possible to see a lot in three days without too much hassle or rush.

See also Venice for the Disabled – a site which provides less personal and more comprehensive advice and there are other websites which provide information, but we found that we just had to go and work it out as we went along. I’m not sure that a lot more prior planning would have helped – but that is a very personal perspective.

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Why I teach

I agree with Gardner Campbell – trying to explain why I teach feels like an impossible task. Not only is there the underlying assumption that we all know what we mean by ‘teaching’, but my many years of teaching experience seems to make the task harder. There are so many ways in which the question could be answered.

Also, like Gardner Campbell, I can remember clearly the exact point at which I realized I wanted to be a teacher. I was at University in my first year studying physiology. Those were the days of chalk and talk. Hundreds of students in lectures looked at the back of the lecturer as he wrote in chalk on a blackboard and we frantically tried to copy everything down. But for physiology we also had a seminar group and we were tasked with giving an individual presentation (no such thing as group work in those days) on a topic of our choice to the rest of the seminar group. We were not given any advice on how to do a presentation. My topic was ‘pain’, i.e. the physical process of experiencing pain. I not only loved researching and preparing this short presentation, but I loved giving it too, and it was a revelation to me that the rest of the group listened, seemed to find it interesting and know what I was talking about. That was the start.

Since then I have taught across all the age sectors, and also been a teacher trainer in Higher Education. My ideas about how to give presentations, how to teach and more importantly how I learn, have of course significantly changed over the years, as you would expect. As others have noted, teaching is about learning.

I wasn’t sure how to approach this task, or even whether to approach it at all. I ended up quickly ‘brainstorming’ the ideas that matter to me, just jotting down words as I reflected over my past experience. I then had to think about how to present these. I wanted to avoid a list (difficult as I am naturally a list person!) which would suggest some sort of hierarchy, but equally I didn’t want a map.

I have been thinking about Mondrian since I went to see an exhibition of his work at the Tate in Liverpool last month.

The exhibition was wonderful and whilst I was already familiar with Mondrian’s work, I had not thought before about the possible significance of the horizontal and vertical lines in his later work for my thinking about teaching and learning. For Mondrian these horizontal and vertical lines related to the elements of masculine and feminine in the world around him. He was looking for balance, equilibrium and harmony, but not symmetry. He was also concerned with space and in particular ‘empty’ space and the duality of opposing elements. For me all these ideas relate to breadth and depth in teaching and learning and the work of the right and left brain (see Iain McGilchrists work on the divided brain). They also make me think about open spaces and multiple paths for learning.

So Mondrian’s painting – Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937-42 – seemed like an appropriate fit for some of my thoughts about why I teach.

This question has been posed in Unit 1 of the Connected Courses. Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed open course. There have been lots of interesting responses to the question. See the Googledoc created by Helen Keegan.

There is a tension between trying to explain emergent learning as related to our work on footprints of emergence, and maintaining an open emergent environment around the topic; something contrary in trying to reify emergent learning?

We are aware that the research we have been working on for the last 5 years or so is difficult to communicate clearly and we had to think very carefully about this for our recent keynote for the E Learning Conference at FH Joanneum in Graz, Austria, and German speaking audience.

We are also aware from workshops that we have run in the past, that we need a more straightforward drawing tool for producing footprint visualizations, i.e. a tool that minimizes a focus on the technology and allows for deeper reflection on the characteristics (factors) of open learning being considered.

To this end we asked a talented friend of my son’s, Mike Harding, who has the technical expertise, to help us produce some software which would enable easier drawing of the footprints. By help us, I mean do it! We don’t have the expertise. I should add that Mike has done this on a voluntary basis.

I do not have time or space in this blog post to explain the footprints. For readers new to this, please see this blog post ‘Characteristics of Open Learning Environments‘ and our open wiki.

Mike’s work is in progress. We discovered at the conference, as we expected, that the prototype he has developed does not yet work on tablets – but it does work in various browsers on laptops and PCs. The huge advantage of the tool is that it contains all the information about the factors (characteristics of open learning environments) within the website. In the past we have used paper templates for drawing the footprints and separate sheets of paper listing the factors with their descriptions. See for example the handouts that Jutta produced for the conference workshop. Handout (1) Handout-Footprint-zeichnen (1)

If you are interested in the development of this software go to http://www.footprintsofemergence.com/, register to create an account and just play. Click on the factor nodes for information about each factor and drag the factor to where you want it to be on the prescribed to chaos spectrum. If you haven’t a clue what this is all about – this video might help (although it refers to using a Word template, rather than this new software development).

There is still a lot of work to be done on the software. According to Mike, the first thing to be done is to sort out the mathematics behind all this. A correction to this would eradicate the pointed and overlapping lines on the footprint drawings, so that they appear more like the originals that we produced in Word.  There are also other developments that we have in mind, which I won’t go into here.

Below is my footprint, drawn using Mike’s software, which reflects my experience of the Graz conference. I have drawn this from the perspective of my experience of the day. Interpretation of this footprint has to bear in mind that I was one of the keynote speakers and speaking in English to an audience whose first language was German. Most of the papers presented at the conference were of course in German, although one was presented in English. Many thanks to Erika Pernold and Maja Pivek (Programme for Graz e-Learning Conference) for presenting their talk about the COPE14 MOOC  in English, so that we could understand – and Jutta Pauschenwein and I collaboratively ran a workshop at the end of the day in both German and English. In between these sessions, I stayed out of the German speaking sessions (unfortunately I do not speak German) and chatted with anyone who could speak English. These experiences obviously influenced the drawing of this footprint.


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As mentioned above, this footprint reflects the fact that I was one of the keynote speakers. Those factors out in the challenging emergent zone are related to this. But there are also many factors in the sweet emergent zone. This related to the design of the conference. Lots of people knew each other – this was the 13th year this conference has run. There was a wonderful diversity of people from Higher Education, schools, training companies and charities and the conference was led by Jutta Pauschenwein who is committed to open learning and lots of interaction. The conference felt relaxed with plenty of time for people to talk to each other and it has been interesting today to read Patter’s post on unconferences. I think the Graz conference achieved a lot of what Pat Thomson writes about.

It has also been interesting to compare my footprint with the footprint that Jutta produced prior to the conference, i.e. a footprint of her design aspirations.

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There are a number of similarities between our two footprints. Much of what Jutta aspired to in her design, I experienced. Where there are differences, I think they are due to my unique role in the conference and the fact that I was in a previously unknown country where I did not know the language or the culture. This was not a problem for me. I found the conference an extremely enjoyable experience – but nevertheless my footprint reflects my unique experience. There is no right or wrong in this, but it is interesting to make the comparison between the two footprints. Perhaps more useful than this, is for Jutta as the conference designer to make the comparison between her footprint and a series of footprints drawn in the workshop at the end of the day – as she has done in a recent blog post . These comparisons could potentially influence the design of future conferences.

These are only some of my reflections on the very rich experience of the Graz conference. Many thanks to Jutta and her team for making this a memorable event.

Here are the slides and notes for the keynote presentation that Roy Williams and I gave at the E Learning Conference, FH Joanneum, in Graz, Austria, on Wednesday 17 September 2014. This keynote included two interactive activities – see slides below, but  Slideshare does not enable powerpoint animations, so the post below also includes links to the original powerpoint.

Many thanks to the conference delegates for being active, friendly and supportive participants, especially given that we were not speaking in their native language, German.

The conference instigator, Jutta Pauschenwein, has written about the conference on her blog -http://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/elt14-rund-um-offene-lernszenarien-und-ihre-reflexion/ and there are further posts on this blog about our preparations for this conference.

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Notes to accompany each slide:

Keynote presentation notes:

 1. A brief introduction to who we are

Jenny: I am an independent education consultant and researcher and have been working with HE institutions in this capacity since 2005. I have been publishing research since 2008. My whole career has been in education, starting with teaching in schools, and before going independent, working in HE as a teacher trainer. This involved developing and running a distance learning teacher training programme, which in turn led to an ongoing interest in how learners learn in open learning environments.

Roy: I am interested in exploring ways for people to explore, create, reflect on, and share their learning – individually and collaboratively.  I work and publish across several fields: semiotics, critical discourse analysis, epistemology, ecological psychology, politics, narrative, e-learning, e-assessment, knowledge management, synaesthesia, complexity theory, international development, art design & media, and most of all, on open learning.

2. How did we meet and start working together?

This is a cMap, created by a colleague we have worked with in the past, Matthias Melcher, to explain the open learning environment of the CCK08 MOOC. This was the first MOOC on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2008.

We did not know each other at this point and you can see that we did not even meet in the MOOC. Roy for the most part occupied the forums and Jenny worked on the MOOC from her blog.

You can see from the rest of the map that there were many locations to work in on this MOOC and participants could choose where to work from, which paths to follow and who to connect with. This truly was an open learning environment, with participants working autonomously across distributed platforms. The environment encouraged autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction.

We finally ‘met’ (virtually) at the end of this MOOC, when we began to collaborate on two research papers in which we investigated learners’ experiences in this MOOC. These papers were ultimately published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, an open journal. We have listed the full references at the end of this presentation.

3. Why are we interested in emergent learning?

Following our research into our first MOOC experience, we realized that it was very difficult to ‘pin down’ and explain how and what learners learned in the MOOC and began to understand that this was because much of the learning was unpredictable, unexpected and emergent. In open learning environments we (as teachers) cannot know what learners are doing – what they are learning.

An example of this in nature is the way in which flocks of starlings form murmuration patterns just before roosting at the end of the day. In this behaviour, the patterns the starlings make and the directions they follow are always unpredictable. In addition, there is no leader. They are self-organising, constantly changing and adapting their direction as information is passed between the birds through continual interaction. This is a social behaviour.

Another example of emergent learning that we wrote of in one of our first papers, which is nearer to our work as teachers, was the example of April, a mature, part-time student of Early Years Education, who worked as a manager of a pre-school. She visited a pre-school centre of excellence and was impressed by how quiet and well-behaved the children were and how there were glass bottles and vases of flowers on the tables. She took this unexpected learning back to her own pre-school where she instigated changes. This learning journey was unexpected and beyond the prescriptive learning programme of her course. This was transformative learning for April.

We have recently submitted a book chapter in which we discuss the relationship between transformative and emergent learning. We believe that open learning environments offer potential for transformative learning.

4. What is an open learning environment?

This image shows some of the characteristics of an open space reaching into the distance, where we can’t see what is over the horizon. But the image only shows one path. In open learning environments there are many paths and the learner is free to choose which path to follow. It might be that the learner chooses to follow a more prescribed path as shown in this image, but equally the learner may choose to go off the prescribed path and out of the sight of the ‘teacher’.

So open learning environments can be experienced as quite safe – by following the prescribed path – or much less safe, e.g. a learner may get lost or fall off the edge of a cliff. On the other hand the learner may really enjoy freely wandering about in the environment. If learners leave the prescribed path they don’t know who they will meet or what will happen. The learning outcomes are unpredictable.

A key thing about open learning environments is that they offer learners the choice of which paths to follow.

These were our early thoughts about open learning environments which we then began to develop.

5. We started to think about all the factors which might influence learning in an open learning environment and quickly realized that these characteristics could be grouped into four clusters.

Two of these clusters relate to the learning environment and the other two to the individual learner. So we started to think about what the structure of an open learning environment might look like and how that environment might promote interaction.

And then we thought about how the learner can take control of their learning (agency) and what kinds of activities the learner might be involved in, to establish a presence in an open learning environment. So the questions we are interested in, in relation to the four clusters are

  • What is the balance between Openness and Structure? (Open/Structure)
  • How is the learning design implemented? (Interactive environment)
  • Do learners develop their own capacity for action, or just compliance with given roles? (Agency)
  • What traces do you make and leave behind you? (Presence/writing)

6. Ultimately we ended up with 25 characteristics or factors organized into the 4 clusters, which we think enable a learner to reflect on their learning experience in any given learning environment.

Why 25? Well – there could have been more, but we consider these to be the most important factors to consider. But this is not a definitive list. There could be alternative factors and some factors might not be useful to some learners, teachers or designers.

This was not the first list we came up. It took us a considerable amount of time to refine this list, but testing it out on various audiences and groups of learners.

The presence/writing was the most difficult set of characteristics to determine, but we knew that we had to consider the trace that learners leave behind them as they move through an open learning environment, or even a more prescribed course.

7. In thinking about how to describe the factors in each cluster, we have recently added an image to each description, thinking that perhaps this might make the factors easier to relate to, for some users of the footprints of emergence framework. These are the images we have selected for the Openness/Structure cluster.

8. These are the images we have selected for the Interactive Environment Cluster.

9. These are the images we have selected for the Agency cluster.

10. These are the images we selected for the Presence/Writing cluster. This was the last cluster of factors that we worked on, when we realised that learners need to be aware of the traces that they leave when they interact in open learning environments.

11. So now we had 25 factors organized in 4 clusters to use for reflecting on any given learning experience, but particularly learning in open learning environments. Whilst we could score these, or write about them in a list, we realized that some sort of visualization would have far more impact on learners and would also help to explain the environment as we understand it.

The animated gif created by our colleague Matthias Melcher, gives a sense of how precarious and unsafe an open learning environment might be and how easy it might be to fall off the edge as many MOOC participants do, i.e. they ‘fall out’ of the course. But the gif gives an impression that you can also fall through the middle which doesn’t happen in our framework. (Slideshare does not enable animations. Please access the link to see the animated gif).

In our framework – you can see a cross section of it on the slide – the central zone (the dark blue centre on the footprint template) is the safe prescribed zone. It is safe and comfortable but also quite restrictive and a learner has to make quite an effort to climb out of the valley and up onto the open plateau, which we have depicted in white in the template (where learning is likely to be sweetly emergent). Here the learner has many more choices about which paths to follow, but the as the learner moves further away from the centre and towards the darker blue edge, the learning becomes more challenging. We have described this as the sharply emergent zone. The learner may or may not enjoy this challenge. If the learner gets too close to the edge, the learning will be experienced as chaotic and the learner is in danger of falling off the edge (the dark blue zone).

We think it is possible to describe any learning environment as being on a spectrum between prescribed and chaotic and have thought about our 25 factors in those terms.

12. Here is a slide of how we have described the first two factors in the Open/structure cluster.

We have named the factor and given it an abbreviation for ease of reference, provided a graphic image which might help more visual learners, raised a question to prompt reflection and described the spectrum from prescribed to chaotic learning,

This sheet is used when drawing footprints of emergence and users are encouraged to add comments which explain how they have interpreted each factor in relation to their own learning experience.

13. Where have the factors come from?

Well they have not been ‘plucked out of thin air’. In thinking about how learning emerges in open learning environments we immediately drew on complexity theory and ideas of adaption and self-correction.

The influence of Etienne Wenger’s work and his emphasis on communities of practice, social learning, interaction, negotiated learning and identity development can be seen in the list of 25 factors.

Our experience of MOOCs and knowledge of connectivism, from the work of Stephen Downes and George Siemens, has been influential in the choice of factors for all the clusters, factors such as risk, disruption, multipath, co-evolution, self-organization, autonomy, diversity etc.

We think it would be fair to say that most teachers have been influenced by social constructivism; in their creation of experiential learning environments, recognition of ambiguity and liminal space and their emphasis on trust and support.

Finally Gibson’s work on affordances can be recognized in many of the factors. Social media offer many affordances and possibilities for emergent learning. Twitter, for example, allows for many casual, serendipitous encounters, informal writing and networking.

14. Let’s consider one factor in more depth and how it might have impacted on your own learning, by working on a short activity, which will involve discussion in groups of 4

15. This is an outline of the activity in English. We’ll read through it here first, but the next slide has the same information in German. You will have 10 minutes to discuss the questions in groups of four

  • How have you experienced risk?
  • How does risk affect the way you learn?

And then for 5 minutes we will take feedback in English from some of the groups. So one person in each group should be prepared to feedback one statement about how risk affects learning or the design for learning.

16. Activity instructions in German

17. Our experience is that emergent learning will occur when there is frequent interaction between many people and resources, where no-one is able to follow everything, as happens in most MOOCs. In these circumstances people need to be self-organising and independent and the environment needs to be adaptive. Learning will be unpredictable and emergent.

So how do we know what our learners are doing in these environments.

We have created the drawing footprints tool to help to visualize these emergent learning experiences.

18. Here is an example of a drawn footprint.

In the Table is a list of the factors we have already discussed and their associated abbreviations. You can see these abbreviations beside the points on the footprint line. Each point has been placed on the spectrum between prescribed and chaotic learning. So, for example we can see that the factor Experiential in the Interactive Environment cluster was thought to be very challenging and near the edge of chaos.

The image of the palette is there because we view the list of factors as a palette that you can choose from, just as an artist chooses colours to paint with. Not all the factors need to be used.

The footprints can either be drawn by hand or electronically.

19. Let’s have a quick look at some examples of drawn footprints.

A footprint of a standards driven course (e.g. teaching, nursing) is likely to look like this, i.e. very much in the prescribed zone – but this footprint would help designers to reflect on the possibility of making some changes.

20. This footprint shows that it’s possible to superimpose one footprint on another. In this case the footprint show the learners interpretation of the course design intentions (the yellow line) and the actual learning experience (the red line)

Through this different footprints can be compared – in this case a perspective of the design and one of the actual experience. i.e. the experience was far more chaotic than intended.

21. Footprints can also be used to show how the experience of learning changes over time. Here on the top left the learner has drawn her perspective of the design intentions for the course. The footprint top right was drawn at the end of Week 1, bottom left at the end of Week 2 and bottom right at the end of Week 4. Whilst at the end of Week 1 the learner is experiencing what she expected, the experience in Week 2 and Week 4 is far less comfortable.

22. Now we would like you to think about a course you have recently taught or taken. (The animation in this slide and the next one does not show in Slideshare. To see how it works see the powerpoint presentation – Surfacing, Sharing and Valuing Tacit Knowledge 17-09-2014.

Overall would you describe that course as being in the prescribed learning zone, the sweetly emergent learning zone, the challenging emergent learning zone, or was it chaotic, or did you fall out of the course, off the edge.

You can see that when we click this red button it moves along the line.

When we do this again. We would like you to stand up when the red dot reaches the zone which describes your experience and sit down when it leaves the zone.

23. Stand up and sit down now.

24. We see the footprints as a tool for reflective practice. We have deliberately made it a flexible tool. Factors can be used or discarded. They could also be changed. For example if we were working with children, we would need to adapt them. Maybe the children themselves could suggest how to adapt them.

Currently the research into learning experience in MOOCs and open learning environments is focusing on gathering Big Data. We don’t believe that this can capture the learner experience in open learning environments, because much of that learning will be invisible and unpredictable, but nevertheless valuable and possibly transformative for the learner.

For understanding learning in MOOCs and open learning environments we will need tools that can encourage learners to deeply reflect on their experience. Our experience is that drawing footprints can do this, but they are nor a quick fix. They require time, thought and discussion.

25. We believe that the value of drawing footprints lies in providing a tool for eliciting tacit knowledge and understanding with minimal or ‘light touch’ facilitation/disturbance. Standard evaluation tools such as questionnaires, tend to be for the benefit of organisations and teachers, rather than for the learners and do not encourage depth of reflection. Drawing footprints encourages learners to dig deeper.

26. Here are some final thoughts, which we have only summarised here but which we discuss in more depth in the paper we have submitted for this conference.

Williams, R. & Mackness, J. (2014). Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge in open learning. 13. ELearning Tag FH JOANNEUM am 17. September 2014

The Pedagogy of ModPo

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One of the things I appreciate about ModPo (the University of Pennsylvania’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC ) is that whilst the essential syllabus remains the same from year to year (or has done so far and it is a very extensive syllabus), there are changes to the ‘course’ each year (course in inverted commas for reasons which will become clear below). This year there are two significant changes.

  1. There’s an additional ModPo Plus section. ModPo has a lot of participants who keep returning. This is the second time for me, but some participants are back for the third time. The ModPo Plus section introduces new poems for each week (in a separate section of the syllabus) and encourages people who need to/want to, to move on. I see this as supported differentiation within a MOOC!
  1. A section has been created especially for teachers. The ModPo team realizes that lots of teachers attend the course looking for ideas on how best to teach poetry in their classrooms. They have developed this area of the course to highlight resources that relate to teaching, to share lesson plans and teaching strategies and to facilitate discussion and interaction between teachers. This must be incredibly helpful to teachers who teach poetry.

Within the teaching resource section, I have watched two videos.

  1. The pedagogy of close reading
  2. ModPo and open education

I don’t teach poetry, but I have found both these videos interesting and helpful in relation to my own work as an independent researcher of open, emergent learning environments.

1. The pedagogy of close reading

What I liked about the discussion about close reading was the emphasis on the need to slow down. Close reading cannot be done quickly – unless you are a 600 word a minute person and I do know someone who can do this – and I am so envious!  But for someone like me, it is good to have confirmation that for most people meaning making and understanding requires slow reading. The ModPo team in this discussion shared strategies they use for close reading with groups of students, strategies such as reading aloud, repeating lines, reading backwards, selecting and mapping key words, assigning lines to different students, creating false dichotomies/binarisms on interpretations and so on.

These are strategies that can be used on any text. As Julia Bloch (the lead teaching assistant) said – ‘You can close read a cereal packet’. I know someone who after having done ModPo decided to close read an assignment question with his students – to help prepare them for writing it. I can see that this could be very helpful. Anyone who has set student assignments will know how difficult they can find it simply to read and understand the question.

Al Filreis’ rationale for close reading is that it disperses interpretative responsibility amongst the group – it is more democratic, but also harder than listening to a lecture. The focus in ModPo is on the process rather than the content, although there is plenty of content.

2. ModPo and open education

This was an interesting discussion in which the team discussed their understanding of xMOOCs, cMOOCs, connectivism and where ModPo sits in relation to these.

Dave Poplar, one of the teaching assistants, did a good job of sharing his knowledge and understanding of xMOOCs, cMOOCs and connectivism. He pointed out that ModPo is technically not a cMOOC because in a cMOOC the syllabus is not centralized.

What is a cMOOC? This was how Dave Poplar answered the question. A cMOOC is a connectivist MOOC, structurally created to enable connectivism. (See Stephen Downes’ and George Siemens’ blogs for more information.) This approach recognizes that society has changed. We are confronted with a chaos of information. Knowledge can no longer be possessed by HE institutions and transferred, but is instead the process of forming connections. A cMOOC uses the global communications network to distribute the whole concept of the authority of knowledge and make it accessible to all. In cMOOCs the students drive the direction of the course.

Needless to say this approach to teaching and learning can pose a threat to HE institutions who are committed to the idea that they are the authority, they distribute knowledge and students pay for this. It therefore suited many of them when some platform builders, such as Coursera, Udacity and the like, came along and offered the possibility of taking existing courses and distributing them to huge numbers of people (the massive in MOOC). These then became known as xMOOCs. xMOOCs took the traditional approach to teaching and learning and put it online. Unlike cMOOCs, in xMOOCs there is nothing inherently different to the traditional approach to education.

ModPo doesn’t think of itself as either an xMOOC or a cMOOC. Although it uses the Coursera platform, it doesn’t believe that this platform is inherently a regressive pedagogy – there is nothing inherently lecture dependent about the platform. ModPo believes it is as connectivist as an xMOOC can get. My experience of ModPo would support this.

The ModPo team do not believe that they offer a course or a text book. Instead they offer a set of resources, synchronously once a year for 10 weeks, including links to a huge number of open resources. They have nurtured a dynamic community which helps with the curation of these resources. It is not ModPo’s intention to replace existing courses.

They believe that the most powerful learning in this dynamic environment can be experienced in the discussion forums and through the live webcasts. For them the advantage of the forums is that the discussion cannot be controlled or predicted. Close reading of poetry is an open activity which requires the collective intelligence of lots of people and in ModPo this is the collective intelligence of a global community of lovers of poetry.

This is the last in a series of five posts written in preparation for an e-learning conference keynote that Roy Williams and I will be giving on September 17 in Graz, Austria.

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments
  3. Emergent Learning in Open Environments
  4. Theoretical influences on the characteristics of open learning environments

Our research [1] [2] focuses on how learners experience complex, unpredictable, uncertain environments, such as MOOCs, where their learning is likely to be emergent.

Over the last two or three years the amount of research into learning in MOOCs has grown. See for example MOOC Research Initiative Reports from the Gates Foundation funded projects  and the proceedings from the European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit 2014 .

Some researchers, like George Veletsianos [3], have questioned whether there is enough emphasis in recent research on the ‘learner voice’. This is a question that also concerns us. We believe that it is essential to encourage and listen to the ‘learner voice’ (whoever that learner might be), if we are to understand the epistemic and ontological shifts and transformational learning that can happen in open learning environments.

The Footprints of Emergence framework is a tool [2] [ See also previous posts in this series], which can be used by learners to surface the deep, tacit knowledge and understanding that is associated with these transformational shifts in open learning environments such as MOOCs. We are interested in learning more about the impact of open learning environments on these shifts by encouraging learners to be researchers of their own experience.

The Footprints of Emergence framework [2] [4] can be regarded as a probe for evaluating learning in open environments. It engages learners in deep reflection, supports them in taking control of their own reflection and evaluation, can be used to encourage discussion and collaboration between learners, teachers and designers, and can be used to visualise the dynamic changes that occur in learning over time.

A difficulty that we have encountered with the framework and drawing tool is that they require explanation and practise in use, i.e. they require time and effort to engage with, sometimes more time than people have and more effort than people want to make. Our aim is to try and simplify the process, without losing the depth of reflection that the current process leads to. To this end we are, through a colleague, hoping to develop some software, which will make the drawing process more straightforward. This would leave the user freer to concentrate on the meaning and use of the factors (see the second post in this series for more information about the factors) and the interpretation of the final footprint visualisation. The development of some software would also potentially make it easier to work with larger groups of learners.

Such a development would enable us to focus on the meaning of evaluation of learning in open learning environments. This has been challenging us for some time. If learning in these environments is emergent, surprising and unpredictable, how can we ‘capture’ it and value it. The common response in current MOOC research has been to try and scale up traditional assessment methods through the use of big data, automated assessment or peer review. Our current thinking is that new paradigms such as open learning may require new ways of thinking about assessment. The Footprints of Emergence framework enables a move away from traditional approaches and puts the emphasis on reflection and self-assessment. This aligns with the view expressed recently by Stephen Downes [5] that we need to move beyond assessment [6] as we know it and put it in the hands of learners.

To summarise the directions in which we are moving: We are interested in -

  1. Exploring further the characteristics of open learning environments that result in transformative learning
  2. Increasing our understanding of how learners learn in open learning environments
  3. Finding new approaches which go beyond assessment and put learning and assessment in the control of the learner
  4. Exploring the notion of probes for assessment and learning design
  5. Developing the footprints of emergence drawing tool so that it can be used more easily with larger groups of learners.

References

  1. Williams, R., Karousou, R. &  Mackness, J. (2011) Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883
  2. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267
  3. Veletsianos, G. (2014) ELI 2014, learner experiences, MOOC research, and the MOOC phenomenon – Retrieved from: http://www.veletsianos.com/2014/02/10/mooc-research-mooc-phenomenon/
  4. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  5. Downes, S. (2014) Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World Jul 11, 2014. 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote). Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/344
  6. Mackness, J. (2014). Blog post – Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World. Retrieved from: http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/beyond-assessment-recognizing-achievement-in-a-networked-world/
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