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This week there has been a flurry of activity on the #gridsgestures hash tag on Twitter as many people have responded to Nick Sousanis’  invitation to draw the shape of your day each day for a week, i.e. to take part in his Grids and Gestures- A Comics Making Exercise.  I discovered this activity on the second day, via Matthias Melcher, who has done some great drawings,  just as I finished reading Sousanis’ book ‘Unflattening’.  It was also Matthias who encouraged me to read the book which has helped to give depth to the exercise.

‘Unflattening’ is a gem of a book. Not only is it visually very compelling – a lovely object in its own right, but the text (which is presented in comic format and is no greater or less than the images) resonates so much with my own work and research. The book is an outcome of Nick Sousanis’ PhD dissertation which he presented in comic format. There is no traditional literature review, but the ideas are informed by historians, scientists, philosophers, educational theorists and artists, many of whom inform my own work.

So what does Nick Sousanis mean by unflattening? The book is about the narrowness and flatness of our vision and thereby of our understanding of the world around us. It is a plea for seeing beyond the boundaries of our current frames of reference, beyond the limitations of text, beyond the borders of the ‘flatlands’. It is a plea to imagine otherwise, to find different perspectives and new ways of seeing.

In support of this, Nick Sousanis points out that we see with two eyes, not one, and each eye gives us a different perspective. There is no one perspective. He reminds us that some of the most revolutionary changes of thinking in our history have come about through changes in viewpoint, for example the realisation that the Earth is not flat, its circumference can be measured (Eratosthenes) or that the Earth is not the centre of our universe but moves around the sun (Copernicus).

Like McGilchrist (whose work I have written about before), Sousanis reminds us that we tend to see only what we are looking for rather than see the whole picture. Others have recognised this. Stephen Downes (2014) has talked about this in relation to research methodologies and Checkland and Scholes’s work in soft systems methodology (2001) was about mapping different perceptions in order to better understand the whole rich picture. Sousanis draws on the work of Dreyfuss, Deleuze and Guattari, Bakhtin, Mandelbrot and others to drive home the point that differences are essential, that we need to hold different ways of knowing in relation, that we need views of our own and others and that we need to overcome linear static views through shifts in awareness. As flatlanders, our vision is limited. We need a different attitude, a different orientation, a multi-dimensional view.

Sousanis  discusses how traditionally words and images are not equal partners (text has the upper hand) and given that language is the means by which we give shape to our thoughts then this defines what we see. He writes ‘While image IS; text is always ABOUT’. In comics words and pictures co-habit. Comics are the spatial interplay between the sequential and the simultaneous. This is illustrated in this image from his book ‘unflattening’.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 20.47.11

Source of image – http://www.comicsgrid.com/articles/10.5334/cg.ax/

Sousanis points out that perception is a dynamic activity in which we see things in relation, we negotiate experience. We create perception from a multitude of views. To experience another’s way of knowing we need to step out of our rut and take a leap of imagination. ‘We need a kaleidoscope of views that convey both our own dimensionality and dynamic capability (p.148) …… Understanding, like seeing, is grasping this always in relation to that’ (p.150).

References

Checkland, P.B. and J. Scholes (2001). Soft Systems Methodology in Action, in J. Rosenhead and J. Mingers (eds), Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited. Chichester: Wiley

Downes, S. (2014, May 26). Digital Research Methodologies Redux. Retrieved from http://www. downes.ca/presentation/341

Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Harvard University Press

Sousanis, N. (2016) Tapestry Keynote. https://youtu.be/7veGaFlu9Xk

For a review of Nick Sousani’s book see: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/215762 

noa-aldebaran

Source of image (see Footnote)

This week I have lost my wonderful personal trainer who has been coming to me twice a week for the past three years or so. She was wonderful because in all that time no two sessions were ever exactly the same, she talked throughout the sessions making them seem like social events rather than gruelling exercise, she knew exactly what I needed to keep me fit and also what would motivate me. She personalized my fitness training. I will miss her, even though I will still have my twice weekly circuit training sessions in our village hall. I might have to step that up to three times a week. The circuit training sessions are for a group; as such they are not individualised/personalized for me.

So it has been interesting to listen to Stephen Downes and George Siemens talking about personal learning assistants this week in the Personal Learning MOOC. Stephen illustrated the idea of a digital personal learning assistant very well by showing us how he uses an online Food tracker, into which he records the details of all his food intake and his online Fitness tracker into which he records his walking and cycling sessions. The point was that these are his personal learning assistants. He can set targets for how many daily calories he will eat or how much weekly exercise he does, and by inputting his data, he will receive feedback on how well he is meeting his targets. I have to say that my immediate reaction was that I wouldn’t want to spend the time on inputting the data – and as for targets – being interested in emergent learning, targets isn’t a word I easily relate to, although I can easily relate to the idea of challenge.

Not so long ago I bought myself a Fitbit  to count my daily steps – a target driven device. My enthusiasm for it was very short-lived and I didn’t even have to enter data for that – just wear it and it recorded my steps automatically. The wonderful thing about my personal trainer was that I rarely had to provide her with any data, but I received the exact sessions and feedback I needed, there were no targets, and it felt like a social event. This aligns with Stephen’s comment that automation should take out the drudgery.

Stephen and George discussed what automation of personal learning should and shouldn’t do (see the video). Automation should not only remove the drudgery of tasks (for me that would include inputting data!) but also enable choice, honour autonomy, respect human agency, provide appropriate support and most importantly provide feedback. Basically we are talking about what good teachers have always done. This is what my personal trainer did for me. She planned my training sessions, but I was always able to say to her ‘No, I don’t want to, or I am not able to do that today’ and then she would modify the activity. She listened and her plans were highly adaptable. She always left me with next steps, but it was up to me whether I took those steps and she never judged me if I didn’t.

But my personal trainer was not an automaton. I learned as much about her as she did about me and whilst I learned a lot from her, I know that she also learned from me. Could this be the case for a digital personal trainer? Yes I expect so, but my gut feeling tells me that now that I have ‘lost’ her, (she has moved on in her life and I am pleased for her) I don’t think she could be replaced by a machine.

Meanwhile research seems to be turning towards investigating what aspects of a teacher’s role could be automated. See for example:

Bayne, S. (2015). Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 20(4), 455–467. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1020783 – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13562517.2015.1020783

and

Lim, S. L., & Goh, O. S. (2016). Intelligent Conversational Bot for Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004 – http://arxiv.org/pdf/1601.07065v1.pdf

And at the end of his talk with Stephen, George said that he thought that those working on developing machine learning will be the ones to become wealthy in the future, which for some reason at this point in time feels a bit depressing, but hopefully won’t be so.

Footnote

A few years ago, whilst working as a consultant for the University of Birmingham, I saw these robots (the ones in the first image in this post) being used to support children on the autism spectrum in a forward thinking Birmingham school. Research into this programme showed that these children were able to relate to these robots and that the robots helped them develop their communication skills.

Further resources related to Week 6 in the Personal Learning MOOC

Levy, D. M. (2007). No Time to Think. Ethics & Information Technology, 9(4), 1–24. doi:10.1007/s10676 – http://faculty.washington.edu/dmlevy/Levy_No_Time_to_Think.pdf

Halevy, A., Norvig, P., & Pereira, F. (2009). The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 24(2), 8–12. doi:10.1109/MIS.2009.36 – http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en//pubs/archive/35179.pdf 

 

personal learning

This is the question we have been asked to respond to in Week 4 of the Personal Learning MOOC (#NRC01PL). This is a quick response.

The word that immediately came into my mind in response to this question was ‘Freedom’. Freedom to decide whether or not I want to answer that question; where, how and when I want to answer that question. In other words, freedom to learn when, where, how, and with whom I want to. Of course I know that that is a bit of a utopian view. There will be elements of my PLE which may not offer me unlimited freedom. For example, if part of my PLE is a learning management system (LMS), then I will experience constraints within that system, but ideally it will have been my choice to have an LMS within my PLE.

Perhaps autonomy is a better word, or perhaps autonomy is a result of freedom.

So I have decided to answer that question here on my blog. I saw it first on the EdX course site, then on Facebook. I wondered whether it would make a good Twitter chat. It probably would – but I don’t want to do that. That’s what personal means. I can choose.

To choose I don’t have to be super tech saavy. I am not a technologist. I am not even particularly interested in technology. I have a fairly standard set of tools that I use all the time. These are – in no particular order

  • Email: I use this a lot but I am not overwhelmed by it
  • WordPress: My blog is where I feel at home online
  • Twitter: I use Tweetdeck to follow Twitter streams and private messaging
  • Facebook: I really don’t like Facebook, but it’s the only way to keep in touch with some long-term distant friends
  • Flickr: I am not interested in the Flickr game of promoting photos by commenting on everyone else’s. I use it as a personal photo back up store
  • LinkedIn: Only for professional contact and sharing my CV
  • PbWiki: I have lots of wikis, but only for invited people, so not public. Wikis are where I do all my research work
  • Pinterest: This is a very recent addition to my PLE and only because I have started art classes so it’s a good way of collecting images of art from the artists mentioned in the class
  • Mendeley: I couldn’t manage without this for my research. I have a huge library of papers
  • Evernote: As above. I have collected a whole library of links useful for my research
  • Youtube: I create Youtube videos because that’s the only way I know of getting an embed code for my blog and also because for work purposes it is quite easy to privately share videos.
  • Google+: I only use this to share blog posts. I do not interact there. I don’t find Google+ intuitive. It reminds me of my reaction to Elgg. I always feel lost in it.

These are the tools that currently make up my personal learning environment. But personal learning for me is a lot more than online environments. A lot of my personal learning is not public. Privacy and solitude are extremely important to me. So a lot of my learning really is personal. i.e. for my eyes only, or only for the eyes of very close and trusted friends/colleagues. Ironically some of those friends are online friends who I have never met face-to-face and others are friends/colleagues who I do not interact with online.

So what does personal learning mean to me? It’s complex – and personal!

DSC01091

In Week 4 of the Personal Learning MOOC (#NRC01PL) “Stephen Downes and Helene Fournier look at the research effort that has followed the NRC MOOCs and PLEs through development and deployment”. I didn’t manage to attend the actual Hangout, but I really enjoyed watching the recording and can recommend it to anyone interested in cMOOC history and research.

It was such a pleasure to hear Helen Fournier talking about her work, research that I have followed since 2008, but this is the first time I have heard Helene speak.

I attended CCK08, the first MOOC conceived and convened by Stephen and George Siemens. It was innovative. Not only was it innovative, but it was driven by a philosophical belief that we need a new learning theory for the digital age. At the time, it was a very new way of working. There had only been one or two open courses before this and they had not been on the same scale. It was an amazing achievement that they managed 2200+ learners, a number that was totally unexpected, which from my perspective was largely due to Stephen’s gRSShopper aggregation software.

Since then xMOOCs have become the ‘name of the game’ but they are not pedagogically innovative. They have simply managed to deliver traditional ways of teaching and learning at scale, which I am not scoffing at. It is no minor achievement to deliver a course to 160 000 learners, but the teaching and learning in the initial xMOOCs wasn’t innovative. Since then there have been many hybrid MOOCs – even within the xMOOC groups. So ModPo on Coursera for example is a brilliant MOOC and there have been very successful MOOCs on some of the other platforms, which try and combine the best elements of innovative cMOOC distributed teaching and learning with traditional xMOOC lecture style courses. EDCMOOC  is probably an example of this, but I haven’t attended that one.

Recently I have been trying to catch up on MOOC research so I have read a lot of papers. It was interesting to listen to Helene in the light of this. What comes through from my reading for me is that it seems to be difficult to think in innovative ways about evaluating teaching and learning in MOOCs. Evaluation of teaching and learning in MOOCs seems for the most part to be based on past research into the best practices in distance and online learning. So for example, in the past research has focussed on what best practices ensure that learners have a social presence and complete the course, meeting the course objectives. But do these practices and measures apply to innovative cMOOCs like CCK08? Which best practices from past research can we drop and which can we definitely not drop?

If learners are going to have their own personal learning environments (and many already do), how is their learning in these environments going to be valued? Do they need it to be valued?

These are some of the questions that interest me.

Footnote: The image at the top of this post has nothing to do with Helene and Stephen’s talk. It is simply the sunset I was watching through my window whilst listening to them.

personal learning

There have been a few interesting goings on in the open ‘Personal Learning Conversation’ that Stephen Downes is running. I don’t get the sense that this is a MOOC, i.e. I don’t see a lot of evidence of more than 150 people being actively engaged, but there could be a lot going on behind the scenes that I am not aware of, and since I haven’t been very active myself, there could be a lot going on visibly that I am not aware of.

The Open EdX site went down at the beginning of the week, which I haven’t missed and nicely makes the case for distributed learning and learners having a distributed personal learning network to call on. But I wonder how many people who signed up were relying solely on the EdX site for interaction and resources and I wonder what the impact of the EdX site going down has been on the numbers of people following the ‘conversation’. I think it is fairly well established now that what might start as a MOOC often ends up as a small group. Unfortunately diversity, one of the key principles of the original cMOOCs is then lost.

But for me – it’s all fine, because at the moment I can’t devote my full attention to the course, so I am more of a ‘window shopper’ and ‘sampler’ – two of the labels which have been used to define MOOC groups by some researchers.

Most interesting for me this week have been two videos by Stephen and an aggregation tool that is new to me that is being used by Vanessa Vaile and Matthias Melcher. See http://www.inoreader.com/bundle/0014cd637821 for Matthias and http://www.inoreader.com/bundle/0014cd6377fa for Vanessa.

The video that I most enjoyed from Stephen was not created for this course, but for a talk that he was giving in Istanbul bearing the title The Future of educational media

In this he responded to Contact North’s ideas about the Future of Online Learning, expanding on the ideas and saying where he agreed and disagreed.

A 2016 Look at the Future of Online Learning – Part 1

These ideas related to

  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Handheld and mobile computing
  • Learning Analytics
  • Internet of things
  • Games – simulations and virtual reality
  • Translation and collaborative technology

Stephen said that his own ideas about the Future of Educational Media are based on his own ‘inflexible law of learning’ , which he explains as

‘We have to do things to learn. We can do things now with the internet that we could not before. It’s when we do stuff that we learn, not when stuff does something for us’.

These statements form the foundation of his ideas about personal and personalized learning. In personalized learning something is done for you, you are given the content. In personal learning you do something for yourself, learning is driven by what the learner wants and needs. Here is a really good slide explaining the difference.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.56.38

Source of image – Slide 14

In terms of this view of personal learning, learning becomes context sensitive to me, my needs and interests. I want to be there. I am free to leave if I wish. Assessment will then be a recognition process not a standards-based process. We will be recognised for our performance.

There was a lot more in the talk, which I don’t have time to go into here, but one final important take away for me that really resonates with my own thinking was:

Learning happens in the cracks between everything else that is going on in formal education systems, so we have to make sure that those cracks/spaces are there.

The second video that I enjoyed was The MOOC Ecosystem in which Stephen takes us from meso to macro and back to micro views of the MOOC ecosystem. I think I have seen this video, or something like it presented before, but it was good to be reminded of it.

Final Note: In the absence of the Open EdX site Fredrik Graver  has set us a Google+ group –

https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/111887320512221682950

which is a great help in following what is going on

– and of course there is Twitter #NRC01PL 

personal learning

I have registered for Stephen Downes’ 7 week Personal Learning MOOC – Here is the text, advertising the course, from the first part of Stephen Downes’ Half an Hour blog.

This course explores the topic of learning in three ways: first, through an examination of research and development issues related to the topic; second, through interaction with a personal learning environment (specifically: LPSS) to take the course; and third, through activities supporting the development of a personal learning environment at a conceptual level.

Course objectives: participants will develop an appreciation of different models of online course delivery, ranging from the traditional LMS through connectivist MOOCs to potential future models of personal learning and performance support.

Course environment: NRC01 Personal Learning will be delivered using OpenEdX and will include text-based content, videos, discussion, and exercises. Participants will be also invited to explore additional learning environments, including the gRSShopper, LPSS.me and Arke prototypes developed by NRC. In addition, participants will be encouraged to explore and work in online environments related to the topics covered in the course and report their findings in the discussion area or their own website. Participants may also be subscribed to a daily newsletter for the duration of the course.

Course Tag: #NRC01PL

Course Registration: https://openedx.lpss.me

Week 1 is coming to a close and has been simply an introduction to the EdX environment. This is the first time I have participated in an EdX course. We have been asked to comment on the environment in terms of ease of use. Yes, it is easy to use, but I did need Stephen’s video to ‘open my eyes’ to a few things. I am not interested in technology for technology’s sake, so I don’t naturally click every button to find out what’s what. For me, a short video pointing me in the right direction always helps. So for example, I ignored the tab ‘Courseware’ because it sounds like ‘software’ and I incorrectly thought ‘that’s not for me’. But in fact the Courseware tab is where the course content is – including the video (a further layer down), whereas I was expecting it to be in Course Info and was wondering where the course content was. I wasn’t worried, because I have participated in enough online learning and MOOCs to know that I would find it on Twitter or via the Daily Newsletter, or via a participant.

I think if I had designed the site I might have had a Home page link above the Week 1 ‘Learning through Practice’ link and had the video there and immediately visible. I would also have the links in a different colour, so that they can be easily identified as live links – but that’s just me.

Otherwise the site is very easy. Some people have questioned the day by day drip feed approach, but it’s fine by me. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly I get a sense of feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t even managed to watch the three videos mentioned on OLDaily yet . Here are the links below.

Beyond Instructional Design: Open Spaces and Learning Places

The MOOC Ecosystem

Design Elements in a Personal Learning Environment

….. or read the recommended article

Downes, S. (2001) Learning Objects: Resources for distance education worldwide. 2(1) IRRODL

although I have read Stephen’s helpful blog post – Personal and Personalized Learning

There are just not enough hours in the day at the moment. But again, I am not worried about this and I’m certainly not rushing around from city to city like Stephen himself is doing. I’ll just pick and choose, as and when. I know that this MOOC is really for research purposes (the first survey has already been conducted and the results posted Personal Learning MOOC Survey 1) but my interest is to see what I can learn about recent developments in how learners experience and manage their own online learning spaces. I’m not sure how active I’ll be, but I’ll be tagging along.

One final thing about the Edx Environment – and this is a personal observation. Although it’s very straightforward to use, I found myself immediately wanting some more colour, i.e. I wanted it to be more aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps we’re not supposed to be attracted to it, and we’ll be encouraged to move somewhere else. Time will tell!

In December (2015) I attended a highly stimulating event at Lancaster University (UK) and blogged about it.

Dark Matters – Interrogating thresholds of (Im)perceptibility through Theoretical Cosmology, Fine Art & Anthropology of science

At the event the research team, Rebecca, Sarah & Kostas, had a video running, explaining their project work from their different perspectives, but there wasn’t time during the event to watch it. At the beginning of this month, the team sent all attendees the link to the video.

Dark Matters – Interrogating thresholds of (Im)perceptibility through Theoretical Cosmology, Fine Art & Anthropology of science from Ourus on Vimeo.

This is a wonderful video, both for its content and its images. I can relate closely to it, because I have stood in the exact locations that the presenters were filmed in – but I can also relate to the idea of the imperceptible, the absent present, and what cannot be explained. I think these are very important ideas when thinking about learning and learning spaces.

If you have 25 minutes to spare, I can recommend watching the video.

There is also more information on their project website

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