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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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(Click on the image to enlarge it)

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/

Al Filreis’ Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) open course/Coursera MOOC has started again today. This is the third iteration of this course. I didn’t catch it first time around, but I did complete the course last year (2013).

I have just listened to the introductory video, which I realize is the same one that was posted in 2013, but it has still had the same motivating effect on me as it did last year, although it is interesting how this time, now knowing the poets that are being talked about, I have heard different messages.

If you have not participated in ModPo before, then I can recommend it. I know very little about poetry, little more than what I learned in this course last year. I have some poetry books on my bookshelf and I like to hear others talk about and read poetry, but I don’t seek it out for myself. So why would I return to ModPo a second time?

My work and real interest is in how people learn. What I find so fascinating about ModPo is how much of what happens in this course resonates with my own personal interest in how people learn. There is so much to learn from the way in which the poets use language for meaning making.

So what is it that makes ModPo (for me) such an effective learning environment?

A lot of my work and research focuses on open and emergent learning. A Coursera MOOC is, by my definition, not 100% open. For example, I can’t research the learning that takes place in the ModPo discussion forums. That data belongs to Coursera. I cannot assume that the resources within ModPo are openly available (although some of them are). I have to check copyright. I cannot take the ModPo syllabus and remix and repurpose it for my own ends – not that I want to. I am just making the point that ModPo does not fulfill some of criteria for openness that from my research need to be present for emergent learning. But it must fulfil enough, as there is plenty of evidence of emergent and even transformational learning in ModPo.

How does ModPo do this? What is it that makes the environment/course special?

I think a number of factors contribute to this. Here are some that have occurred to me, in no particular order of preference and of course, other ModPoers will have different perspectives. That’s what ModPo is all about.

- A very vibrant community has formed around ModPo with a Facebook site that remains active between courses and an active Twitter stream. This community is full of people who are passionate about poetry.

- ModPo has an energetic, charismatic and very well informed (his expertise shines through) leader in Al Filreis, who is also passionate about poetry and about teaching. I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated. In addition, he has a group of 10 teaching assistants (TAs) who are with him in his videos. These TAs (past students) are also very knowledgeable and add great depth to the discussions about poetry through their alternative perspectives. They also offer office hours on the course, which means that we can contact them directly with specific questions.

- Al has also established a group of ‘alumni’ (community TAs) to help out with moderation in the discussion forums. They are worth their weight in gold, because the forums are overloaded with discussion – so much so, that for me it is too much. Last year one of the community TAs, Carol Stephen, did help me out and interact with me briefly, which I appreciated given the huge number of people in the course (30000+ already this year, on the first day of the course). I didn’t join the forums last year, and I will only be dipping into them this year – but this does mean no certificate, even if you do all the assignments, quizzes and peer reviews – as I did last year. The requirement is a weekly post to the discussion forums. For me, it’s enough to follow along and learn. On reflection I have realised that it is enough for me to connect with the ideas. ‘Noisy’ forums and me just don’t go together – although I might lurk! I’m more of a one to one person.

- The course is also full of resources and content – a huge diversity of resources. PennSound , Jacket 2 magazine and Al Filreis’ website. Resources are also created by participants who share their own poetry and close readings.

- It is a challenging course. To complete it you have to work hard and put in the hours. If you complete it you feel that you have achieved something, not least what it means to do a close reading of a poem. For me a close reading of a poem gives me an insight of what it might mean to close read a book or a journal paper.

- But what really makes this course special for me is the sense of place that it creates. Al Filreis runs his course from a physical location – the Kelly Writer’s House, which last year he took us round by video. We go into the different rooms and meet the students and teaching assistants and see who they are talking to, where they are sitting, what they are eating. When Al does his videoed close reading of the poems we read, all his teaching assistants are around him (Al’s Pals as he calls them), each voicing their own thoughts and modelling what it means to do a close reading. We, as online participants, feel that we get to know these teaching assistants and that we are in the room. I think this aspect of the course must be unique. I haven’t come across it anywhere else. There is also a weekly live streamed meet up in the Kelly Writer’s House, which anyone physically in the area can drop in to and some ModPoers do.

Last year after I had listened to the introductory video, the poem by John Yau caught my attention and I ended up writing this post.

This year, when the teaching assistants, introduced themselves by talking about their favourite poems, I was able to listen more carefully to what they were saying, because I knew the poets and poems from last year. All the teaching assistants are great and if I could, I would link here to all their introductions to themselves on the Coursera site – but as I mentioned above Coursera is a closed site, so I can’t do that, although I have found this link which lists them all, including the community TAs.

As it is – I’m going to just record here the comments that stood out for me from this video.

Emily Harnett recommended Cid Corman’s poem ‘It isn’t for want’. For her this poem is about the relationship between reader and writer. As a blogger, I can relate to that.

Dave Poplar recommended Jackson Mac Low’s poetry – which he said challenges us to read differently and think differently. I aspire to that.

Kristen Martin recommended Lyn Hejinian’s poem ‘My Life’ and said that this poet shows us that life isn’t lived linearly and you should not have to write about it in a linear fashion. This comment immediately resonated with my recent reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s work (A Thousand Plateaus) and their concept of the rhizome and ideas around starting in the middle.

Finally Al Filreis finishes off with John Yau’s poem, saying

The how of what they [the poets] are doing is the what

How you say what you say is what you say

How you say what you say is more important than what you say

The how of what you say is what you say

Form is content

We are going to read – that is interpret – form

 

In this course we will learn how to undo the way we learn to read

Take this course because you’ve spent too much time thinking of language as a utility and not enough time thinking of language as self-making – the selves you will meet in these poets are languaged selves… it’s time for us to focus on the how of our language.

This is the fourth in a series of 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

In the second post in this series I wrote about the 25 factors that we consider to be characteristics of open learning environments.[1] [2] The evidence from our research suggests that the presence or absence of these factors influences the potential for emergent learning in any given environment.

We have been asked a few times where this list of factors has come from.[3]

The factors are not arbitrary. They are a result of much reflection and discussion and of our combined extensive experience of teaching and learning, and personal knowledge of open learning environments and theoretical influences. Here is the current full list of clusters, factors and their descriptions. Clusters and Factors Mapping Sheet

Experienced educators recognise the importance of prior learning in developing knowledge and understanding. In retrospect, it is easy to see that a career in education means that this prior learning has often been associated with specific learning theories and theorists, even if this wasn’t consciously recognised at the time.

On a personal level, it is interesting to consider which past learning events may have been associated with which learning theories. In the Table below I have attempted to make these links between significant prior learning events in my career and the associated theorists and theories that have probably influenced my thinking about emergent learning.

Image for blog post 4

This Table is necessarily a summary overview, but reflects some of the influences on my thinking and therefore the discussions I have had with my colleagues in relation to our work on emergent learning and deciding on a list of factors. It is not that we sat down, drew up a list of theories and from these decided on the factors. At the start of this work we drew on our very recent experience of participating in CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge MOOC, 2008) and on our experience of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectivity within it. These are the four key principles of learning in a network, which Stephen Downes introduced us to in CCK08.[4] As we shared and discussed our experience, we recognised that we were describing it in more detailed terms than the four principles for networked learning. We realised that the language we were using to describe this experience reflected our past experience and knowledge of theorists and theory.

Discussion also included how to cluster these factors. Pragmatically, and after some testing of different ideas and numbers of clusters, we knew that in order to draw the Footprints of emergence (see the second post in this series for an explanation and example of a ‘footprint’) it would make sense to organise them into four clusters. This works well. We have two clusters that relate to the learning environment – Open/Structure and Interactive Environment; the other two clusters relate to the learner – Agency and Presence/Writing.

The clusters and factors have been tested and refined many times, with different groups of learners in different learning environments. The most difficult aspect of this work has been to develop concise descriptions and associated questions, which we hope will support people who use the Footprints of Emergence framework to reflect on their learning in different learning environments.

So whilst we can each explain how we arrived at a list of factors from our own perspectives [ See 5, for Roy’s perspective], we are doing this retrospectively. At the time, the process was hard work, but complex, messy and unpredictable. It has been what Stephen Downes referred to as design-led research in his talk – Digital Research Methodologies Redux. [6]

References:

  1. 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
  1. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  1. Mackness, J. (2013). Footprints of emergence – so what? Retrieved from: http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/footprints-of-emergence-so-what-2/
  1. Downes, S. (2009). Connectivism Dynamics in Communities. Retrieved from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/02/connectivist-dynamics-in-communities.html
  1. Williams, R. (2014). From here to CAN. Retrieved from: http://k-m-etaphors.wikispaces.com/From+here+to+CAN
  1. Downes, S. (2014). Digital Research Methodologies Redux. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/341

Today has been the last day of the ALT Conference for 2014.

As an online participant, I was able to listen to two really great keynotes, given by two women who are always worth listening to.

  1. Keynote Speech from Catherine Cronin – Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education
 NB: Audio does not start on this video until 4.26.

Inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem, Catherine will explore “navigating the marvellous”, the challenge of being open in higher education. To be in higher education is to learn in two worlds: the open world of informal learning and the predominantly closed world of the institution. As higher education moves slowly, warily, and unevenly towards openness, students deal daily with the dissonance between these two worlds; developing different skills, practices and identities in different learning spaces. Both students and educators make choices about the extent to which they learn, teach, share and interact in bounded and open spaces. If, as Joi Ito has said, openness is a “survival trait” for the future, how do we facilitate this process of opening? The task is one not just of changing practices but also of changing culture; we can learn much from other movements for justice, equality and social change.

  1. Keynote Speech from Audrey Watters – Ed-Tech, Frankinstein’s Monster, and Teaching Machines (See also http://hackeducation.com/2014/09/03/monsters-altc2014/)

What does it mean to create intelligent machines? What does it mean to create intelligent teaching machines? What does this mean in turn when we talk about using these technologies to create intelligent humans? A romp through literature and the cultural history of ed-tech to talk about teaching machines and monsters.

Both talks were powerful and I wonder if that was because they both took a ‘story-telling’ approach.

Catherine talked about levels of openness, quoting Jim Groom as saying that ‘Openness is an ethos, not a license’. We cannot know who will benefit from the resources we share, but we have to take the risk. I don’t think we should underestimate this risk for our students and have discussed the pedagogy of risk elsewhere on this blog. I don’t think Catherine underestimates the risk.

The title of Catherine’s talk Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education was inspired by Seamus Heaney’s poem – Lightenings

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

She used this poem to explain that things that are so normal to us may be marvelous and strange to others – so strange that they cannot breathe – and that the dichotomy of formal and informal learning can make students feel ‘other’ and unable to breathe. She believes that as educators we need to try to understand the spaces that students occupy – physical, bounded online (e.g. VLEs) and open online spaces – and what is possible in these spaces to ensure that students can ‘breathe’ in them all. She then shared many stories with us of the ways in which she and her students are working to come to grips with the process of openness in education.

Audrey also took a storytelling approach. She described herself as a folklorist who is interested in hidden and lost stories – stories from history, literature and science, which she weaves together to illustrate her point – in this case that monsters have been created in the name of Ed-Tech. She drew on the poetry of Walt Whitman and Lord Byron, the history of the Luddites, the science of B.F. Skinner’s teaching machines, the work of Ayn Rand and Mary Shelley’s story Frankenstein, to make a compelling case for the dangers we face from technological monsters which she believes we have created through a lack of care and thought. Near the end of her talk Audrey left us with a quote from Hannah Arendt:

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.

She noted that in an age when many jobs will be replaced by automation, we must love and care for our machines lest they become monsters.

Whilst listening to both speakers, I was struck by the power of a story and was reminded of the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who in this Ted talk  explains, from personal experience, the danger of the single story and says:

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 16.33.13This is not a video, but an image. I have provided a link to the video above

Both Catherine and Audrey seemed to be aware of alternative perspectives; Catherine that her students have ‘other’ perspectives and different stories, and Audrey that stories are multi-faceted and that we can confuse the characters within stories.

As listeners to stories (and keynotes :-)), we have a responsibility to be aware of alternative perspectives and to engage critically with the stories, particularly since they can be so powerful in getting across a point.

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