Full Circle to Stephen Downes at ALT-C 2013

ALT-C 2013

Stephen Downes is the final keynote speaker at ALT-C this year. His session will be broadcast LIVE on Thursday 12 Sept at 2.00 pm (See the programme here ). Unfortunately I won’t be there, but it will be recorded.

As I mentioned in this blog post the only other time I have been to ALT-C was in 2005 when Stephen was also the keynote speaker.

I clearly remember that talk and in particular that he said ‘Collaboration is the joining together of things that do not naturally want to be joined’, which drew audible sucking in of breath from the audience.

Why did his talk have such an impact on me?

In part it was because I was ready for it. At the time I had just left a job in Higher Education to become an independent consultant. I had been running an innovative online/distance learning teacher training programme, which was described by some of my Higher Ed colleagues as a ‘poisoned chalice’. Online learning in their eyes was definitely second rate, even when the programme was proved very successful. So I was ready to listen to someone who thought ‘outside the box’, and who could see the potential of online learning. It was not the idea that collaboration might not be all it is cracked up to be, but that this somehow epitomized for me that there was a new and fresh way of thinking about education ‘out there’.

So when CCK08 was offered, although I was still light years behind the likes of Stephen Downes, I was even more ready for a completely new way of thinking about learning. By this time I was familiar with Etienne Wenger’s work on communities of practice and I was intrigued by what Stephen was saying about groups and networks.

And that was the start. Not only was I introduced to the principles of connectivity, openness, diversity and autonomy, for learning in online environments – principles which have had a huge effect on my thinking – but CCK08 was also the start of my venture into research. I think it would be fair to say that what I learned in CCK08 has influenced all my subsequent research, and it was good to know from Stephen in a recent online conference talk he gave that our early understanding of the principles of learning in MOOCs was not so far off the mark. There were one or two things which we hadn’t completely understood (as he points out in the presentation) but for the most part, on reflection, I think we ‘got it’.

And next week I am back at ALT-C again, with my colleague Roy Williams, who I met on CCK08. We have come a long way since then and our interest now lies firmly in trying to understand what we mean by emergent learning. Ironically, if there is one thing that we can predict about learning in a cMOOC that follows connectivist principles, it is that the learning will be unpredictable and emergent!

Hope you will join us at ALT-C for our session, Learning in the Open, on Tues 10th Sept at 3.00 p.m to discuss this further, or follow along through these blog posts and our open wiki.

This is my last plug for our session, but hopefully also a plug for Stephen’s keynote  – not that he needs it 🙂

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