Pedagogy First Blog

At the beginning of March I was contacted by Lisa Lane and invited to write a blog post for her Programme for Online Teaching Blog. As with everything Lisa does, this was very well thought through and organized. Here was what she wrote in her introduction:

The Pedagogy First! blog is taking over the main page at the Program for Online Teaching.

We are hoping that we will present the views of those at the vanguard of online teaching as a creative and dynamic process. Through a journalistic approach, we hope to inspire those teaching online, make them think, and give them the tools to develop their own online teaching style and materials. Let’s go till June and see what happens!

She set up a Googledoc with a list of suggested topics, attached to specific weeks and invited us to select one or something similar.

At the time I was thinking a lot about the role of the teacher in online open learning environments, so that’s what I wrote about and it was scheduled to be posted at the end of May and has been posted today .

I so admire Lisa for her unwavering dedication to online learning and to promoting this at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California. Her open Programme for Online Teaching has been running since 2005 and, together with a number of colleagues and volunteers, she must have encouraged many, many teachers to explore the potential of online learning.

I think the next POT Cert class will probably start in September and run for about 12 weeks. In the meantime, what a great idea to keep people engaged, connected and interested, by setting up a multi-author blog. I’m not sure exactly how many blog posts there have been since the beginning of March, but probably about 20. You can find them all on the website

Thank you Lisa for inviting me to be one of the authors.

Academic blogging

George Veletsianos is running a four week open course about networked scholarship and the implications of academics’ presence and visibility online for their work and careers.

The first week is already over and there has been plenty of interesting discussion and two interesting events.

On Wednesday Michael Barbour  joined the course for a day to answer any questions that participants threw at him and he generously shared his strategies for working in the open.

On Thursday there was a webinar with Laura Czerniewicz  who shared her work on open scholarly practice in relation to presence, visibility and branding, including her guide to curating open scholarly content:

An 8-step guide to curating open scholarly content 

and with Sarah Goodier a Four Step Guide to online presence

Also shared in the course was this slideshare by Sydneyeve Matrix about academic branding –

There has been some discussion about whether academics should blog. Some have said that open scholarship means sharing all aspects of your life (I have blogged about this in the past ), but as Laura Czerniewicz said ‘Some people are not comfortable blogging – some people have a blogging voice, others don’t’.

For me it’s not either/or. Sometimes I feel that I can’t get the blog posts I want to make out fast enough. At other times I feel that I have nothing to say, nothing to add to the conversation that has not already been said, nothing that I think anyone would find interesting to read – but sometimes you just have to force yourself and start writing, because as others before me have pointed out, writing is a practice – use it or lose it.

Catherine Cronin has recently said  (I can’t remember where – sorry Catherine) that you can never tell whether something you write might be of use to someone, and you might never know.

Stephen Downes  (a most prolific blogger) has written somewhere (or maybe it was said – again I don’t remember – sorry Stephen) that if you can’t find anything to write about, you must be a boring person, ‘or words to that effect’. I think what he meant was that everyone has something to say – we just need the confidence, the belief that there is someone out there that might want to listen.

This echoes what the poet Bernadette Mayer said in a Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC webinar this week –  ‘You can’t have writer’s block – as that would mean total lack of thought’. It’s not lack of thought, it’s lack of confidence. Various bloggers have written about this (see references at the end of this post).

Bernadette Mayer has provided loads of possible starting points for writers in a long document Bernadette Mayer’s List of Journal Ideas. In the webinar her advice was to find something completely impossible to write about and write about it, such that the problem becomes the material and we use the constraints. Write against the reality that is presented to you – she says.

Bernadette’s advice is for poets, but works equally well for academic bloggers. The advantage of blogging is that it can release you from the conventions of academic writing of the type done for journal articles. You can simply start and ‘let it all hang out’ and include images and multimedia. You can write a line or two or you can write at length. There are a whole host of genres you can experiment with.

I think it would be a shame to think about blogging only in terms of scholarship and academic branding. Blogging is much more than that, even for academics. It is about ‘finding your voice’ and building an identity. As Laura said: ‘So much scholarship is embodied in a person.’

Some references that might be of interest, that I have come across or been reminded of this week are:

Finding your blogging voice: lessons from Jack Kerouac

This morning I found a pingback on my last post about blogging and conscious incompetence. This came from Lisa Lane’s (online) teaching blog and her post –To Not Speak. Like Bonnie Stewart, Paul Prinsloo, me and I’m sure many others, Lisa has been wondering why some bloggers become tongue-tied and lose their voice.

Lisa has said that she needs ‘inspiration for a completely different kind of analysis of what I do’. I agree and recently, to my complete surprise, I have been finding this through participation in Al Filreis’ Modern & Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo), which I am finding challenging in many ways, to the extent that it has more than once pushed me out of my comfort zone. I know scarcely anything about poetry and what I do know has been gleaned from the last 7 hard weeks in ModPo.

But thinking about the beautiful blogging voices (Bonnie, Lisa and Paul and others) that seem to be undergoing, as Lisa puts it, ‘a crisis of confidence’, I am reminded of Jack Kerouac’s  Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.  List of Essentials.

Jack Kerouac was introduced to us in Week 6 of ModPo as one of the Beat poets. These were poets of the late 1940s and 1950s, who worked against traditional conventions and standards of writing poetry. They were counter-cultural in all aspects of their lives, experimenting not only with poetry, but also with drugs, sexuality and alternative life-styles. Kerouac, a novelist as well as a poet, was interested in the concept of spontaneous prose. A term used to describe this is ‘babble flow’ and here is an example from Kerouac:

Aw rust rust rust rust die die die pipe pipe ash ash die die ding dong ding ding ding rust cob die pipe ass rust die words– I’d as rather be permiganted in Rusty’s moonlight Rork as be perderated in this bile arta panataler where ack the orshy rosh crowshes my tired idiot hand 0 Lawd I is coming to you’d soon’s you’s ready’s as can readies by Mazatlan heroes point out Mexicos & all ye rhythmic bay fishermen don’t hang fish eye soppy in my Ramadam give

(My spell checker had a field day with this!)

In this ‘babble flow’ Kerouac is experimenting with the ‘sound’ of poetry. He has let go of literary inhibitions and is making new associations. He writes in the moment without censorship or selectivity of expression and without punctuation or other grammar conventions. He doesn’t wait; he allows an undisturbed and incessant flow from his mind. He is true to his beliefs about modern prose and his list of essential techniques.  This is a long list of 30 points, but there are some wonderful messages in the list for bloggers who are ‘losing their voice’ for whatever reason. Here are some of my favourites from the list.

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

4. Something you feel will find its own form

6. Blow as deep as you want to blow

7. Write as you want bottomless from bottom of mind

9. Be in love with yr life

10. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

14. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

23. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

28. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

29. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

For me Kerouac’s essentials align closely with Stephen Downes’ reasons for his prolific blogging. He writes (see response to Bonnie Stewart’s post):

like any writer – I know that if I stop doing it, I’ll lose it. Being articulate has to be a habit; if you stop, it’s difficult to pick up again. The world moves on; your own internal mental representation of jargon moves on.

In his supportive response to Bonnie Stewart’s concerns Stephen writes:

…. write, Bonnie write (sung to the tune of Run Forrest Run (though I’ve never seen the film so I’ve probably misappropriated it). Write quickly, write forcefully, paint that map and plan a pushpin into it, stake a position, be wrong! But be clear about it.

That’s not to say that blogging needs always to be fast and furious.  I remember that in 2008 I came across the idea of slow blogging and wrote a post about it.

I think there is still a place for slow blogging. There are times when we need solitude and contemplation away from the incessant chatter of the internet, but what I have learned from Week 6 in ModPo is that if and when I find myself in danger of losing my blogging/writing voice, as I surely will – this has happened many times in the past – then I will remind myself of Jack Kerouac’s list and indulge in some ‘babble flow’ to get me going again.

One can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing. In order to write one must already be writing. (Maurice Blanchot in The Gaze of Orpheus)

Living in a state of conscious incompetence

learning-path2Source of image: http://www.selfleader.com/blog/coaching/learning-to-learn-from-unconscious-to-conscious/

Thoughts about conscious incompetence came to mind in the light of Bonnie Stewart’s recent blog post – The Story of Education: A Grimm Fairytale  in which she recounts her loss of her blogging voice and how she feels that her voice has been ‘wrong-footed and is shaky’. I don’t want to oversimplify her post. You will need to read and interpret it for yourself, but I did wonder whether her recent entry into the academic world of a PhD student – “I did not fully understand the extent to which my own voice and formal Academic Writing did not/would not mix” had pushed her into the conscious incompetence zone. (This of course raises all sorts of questions about academic writing, but I don’t want to go there just now).

I have heard others speak about losing their blogging voice and wonder if they too have been pushed into the zone of conscious incompetence in some way.

I feel as though I live in a permanent state of conscious incompetence and I wonder how much this is to do with working so much online, having Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr and other accounts, following people’s blogs, participating in MOOCs etc.

It seems that I am constantly reminded of what I don’t know and how little I know, in the face of so much information about what other people do seem to know.

The internet is a great leveler. I have worked for most of my life in education, but only online for the last 14 years or so. Before that I worked either in schools, or with students in Higher Education, and was, for the most part, blissfully unaware of expertise beyond my limited circles. When teaching school children, although I could easily recognize those children who were brighter than me and would definitely go further, I had the advantage of age and life experience. Even with students in Higher Education I had this advantage. But in recent years my work has been ‘out there’ in the big wide world and it is difficult not to be conscious of your incompetence.

At the ALT2013 conference which I recently attended, I briefly discussed this with Stephen Downes, who was a keynote speaker for the conference. His response (one to remember) was that there will always be people ‘out there’ who know things that you don’t, no matter what your reputation and level of expertise, but it’s worth holding on to the fact that you will always know something that they don’t. So maybe this is what is meant by the internet being a great leveler and maybe conscious incompetence in these terms isn’t so bad!

ALTC2013 Blogging connections

One of the pleasures of ALT-C 2013 for me was that I discovered/met two readers of this blog who I was not aware of.  These contacts were very meaningful for me and from them I was reminded of two reasons why blogging works for me.

1. Blogging for me is about personal reflection. One of these two readers told me that for him his blogging days had dried up two years ago. I can easily relate to that because I go through phases when I feel that I have nothing to say/write about, which always brings to mind a comment that I once heard Stephen Downes make (or it might have been write) – that if you have nothing to write about then you can’t be a very interesting person. I remember feeling completely demoralized by this – but on reflection I don’t think it’s true. Writing/blogging is not for everyone. There are many ways of expressing oneself and reflecting on practice, and many of these ways will not be in the public eye.

I’m not sure why I persevere with blogging, but at ALT-C I did say to the person who was kind enough to comment that he enjoyed reading my blog, that I use my blog as a place for recording my thinking and reflection. I often feel uncomfortable about it, but for now the benefits seem to outweigh the tensions I feel between privacy and exposure.

And when I’m really on a roll, for me Jackson Pollock’s sentence –  “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing” could equally apply to blogging.

“When I am in my blogging, I’m not aware of what I’m doing”

2. Blogging props up my appalling memory. The other person I met who reads my blog, reminded me of a post which I myself didn’t remember. I have long been aware that I have a very poor memory and blogging is a way of making sure my thinking is recorded – a sort of memory bank. I think Lisa Lane once described blogging as a tool for compensating a failing memory – or words to that effect. I rarely read back through my blog, but I am sometimes surprised in the stats by the posts that people are reading and so go back to remind myself about what I was thinking at the time.

I have recently realized that perhaps I should make more effort to organise my blog in such a way that it would be easier to remember what I have written. This was sparked off by Matthias Melcher’s new blog – where he has a wonderfully organized Contents page.

Since Matthias recently moved his blog to this WordPress site and set up this contents page, we have been discussing how tagging might be able to help me and others find and remember what I have on my blog. I have been aware for some time that my tags are a mess, which is why I don’t have a tag cloud in the side-bar, but I have not yet sorted out a way forward out of this mess.

In the meantime, it has been great to make two new connections through this blog.

Caught between a MOOC and a hard place

The title of this post is a tweet that has just been posted by Lisa Lane. It so perfectly describes what is happening on the Pedagogy First programme that I have pinched it for this post.

The Pedagogy First programme has only just started and I already find it to be full of contradictions.

Lisa has described it as a MOOC – actually a SMOOC (i.e. a small MOOC),  but I’m beginning to realize that this is misleading. The actual course site doesn’t refer to MOOCs. It is in fact an open online course, so more structured, more teacher led, more prescribed, less messy etc. than my understanding of MOOCs.

The programme has been designed to be open, but I’m also beginning to realize that a ‘constrained’ and ‘structured’ openness is what is required. There are good reasons for this, mainly related to helping ‘novices’ to settle in.  It seems that ‘open’ in relation to this course has a specific meaning, i.e. open and free to the world to join in, but not ‘open’ enough to cope with the diversity of opinions presented by a diverse mix of novices and experienced online learners. Experienced online learners are nowadays very likely to have ‘MOOC’ experience and be influenced by this, whereas novices will have neither online experience nor MOOC experience.

The programme requires a weekly blog post, tagged with ‘potcert’ which feeds into the course site. In a recent blog comment Lisa describes her blog as ‘I try hard to keep in mind it’s my blog, like my house. People can stop by, but they don’t live there like I do’.

This is how I think of my blog – my domain to write what I want, but it seems that there are restrictions on what we can write if our post is to feed into the Pedagogy First course site, for example, we are urged to keep our posts short, to not use ‘jargon’, to not discuss things that might be ‘jumping ahead’ in the syllabus, to focus only on the tasks required by the syllabus, to not post anything controversial. If we want to do this, then we should not tag our posts with ‘potcert’ even if we think the topic is related to online pedagogy.

I have worked on enough online courses and MOOCs to understand the dilemma and to recognize that novices can easily be scared off.  In my last post I wrote that veteran MOOCers may need to hold back a bit – but that has to be their own decision. My decision following this discussion and now that I understand how the Pedagogy First course works, is not to tag my posts with ‘potcert’.

I don’t think it works to tell bloggers what they can do on their own blogs, particularly if they have been blogging for many years. Also should we expect some to limit their thinking and writing while others catch up? How would you feel if your child was experiencing this at school?

Maybe a better approach is to focus on the novices, i.e. get the mentors working with them from the word go (my understanding is that the mentors haven’t started yet), make posts which explicitly state what the nature of open courses is, tell them to expect to be confused and find it overwhelming, tell them to pick and choose and so on.

Only two days in and this course has already raised so many issues. I think Lisa is right – the course is currently between a MOOC and a hard place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if many online courses begin to experience this as MOOCs become more commonplace.

The challenge of ‘openness’ in small MOOCs

An interesting discussion on the Pedagogy First course blog has sparked off further thoughts about issues around ‘openness’.  This post is, in part, a response to some of the thoughts posted by Alan Levine, and the responses of others, which have provoked this further thinking.

Martin Weller has said that ‘Openness is a state of mind’.   Overall I agree with this, but is openness context dependent? My mind isn’t your mind, my experience might not be your experience, my location won’t necessarily be your location and so on. How we understand and experience openness is individual to each learner. Carmen Tschofen and I discussed this in our paper  –  Connectivism and dimensions of individual experience.

No place is  it more important to remember this, than in a small course/community/MOOC in which novice learners are working alongside ‘expert’ or experienced learners and where the topic is learning to teach.

FSLT12  was such a course, and so too is Pedagogy First – they are both small open online task-oriented MOOCs  focusing on developing learners as teachers/lecturers/facilitators, with an emphasis on developing an understanding of pedagogy. In addition, both these courses are offered for assessment, so, for example, an assessment requirement of the Pedagogy First course is for regular blogging and open sharing of completed tasks; the first task for assessment in FSLT12 was open reflective writing.

‘Openness’ in these circumstances is no mean feat.

Experiences of learners new to working in online environments have been well researched (Sharpe and Benfield, 2005). Feelings of over-exposure, isolation, inability to cope with navigating the online environment, inability to cope with the abundance of information, the lack of visual cues to support interpretation of others’ comments, feelings of disorientation, not knowing how to balance time on and offline, feelings of anxiety and intense emotional responses – are all common examples of how people new to the online environment might feel.

But in an open course we have people with these experiences working alongside ‘veteran’ MOOCers who are familiar with the chaotic complexity and hustle and bustle of the open MOOC market place. These veterans enter an open network knowing what to expect.

So how do we bring these two groups together?  In the Pedagogy First course, there has been a call for mentors, meaning that there is an expectation that experienced MOOCers will support novice MOOCers.

As part of the Pedgaogy First programme we have been asked to buy the book –  Susan Ko and Steve Rossen (2010) Teaching Online: A Practical Guide (3rd ed) Taylor and Francis – and I am looking forward to reading what it has to say about initiating newcomers into an online course. My copy is in the post!

In the meantime I am revisiting my well-thumbed and very familiar copy of Gilly Salmon’s book ‘e-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online’. In this she presents a 5-stage model for facilitating online learning.

Gilly Salmon 5 stage model

http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/5stage.shtml

In my experience, following this model helps to avoid a lot of the pitfalls associated with online learning. Salmon recommends starting with ensuring access, as has been done in the Pedagogy First course, and focusing to begin with on socialization, which she says helps to ensure the success of an online course.

Socialization will of course continue throughout the course, but it is necessary at the beginning to develop the sense of belonging and trust needed to enable later, weightier and more challenging discussions. Salmon says these discussions happen at Stage 5 –  ‘different skills come into play at this stage. These are those of critical thinking and the ability to challenge the ‘givens’ (p.48).

So how does this relate to ‘openness’ in small connectivist MOOCs such as FSLT12 and Pedagogy First? My thinking following discussions in Pedagogy First is

  •  ‘Openness’ as a ‘state of mind’ takes time to develop. It is not a given and cannot be assumed. It should not even be expected, if we believe in the autonomy of learners, i.e. freedom to choose. But if we want it in our MOOCs (thinking here of MOOCs as ‘courses’ as in the case of Pedagogy First) then we should allow time for ‘novices’ to work through the 5 stages of Gilly Salmon’s model.
  • Veteran MOOCers may need to hold back, or at least carefully consider how their posts might be interpreted by novices. This doesn’t necessarily apply to an open network or even to a MOOC such as CCK08, but I think it does apply to a MOOC that has been designed for novices and where there is a recognition that novices will need mentoring.
  • For me when I facilitate or convene an online course/MOOC I hope that the course design/environment will encourage the development of autonomous and connected learners who embrace openness, alternative perspectives and diversity, and engage in critical thinking, stimulating dialogue and reflective learning. This will not happen if they ‘drop out’ in the early stages. One of the criticisms of MOOCs is the high drop out rate.

Stephen Downes has said, to teach is to model and demonstrate, and to learn is to practice and reflect.  So maybe modeling and demonstrating, practicing and reflecting on Gilly Salmon’s model is not a bad place to start for small task-oriented MOOCs.

And finally, perhaps in the case of small MOOCs it is easier to think of them as open courses rather than open networks. Maybe this would bring a different perspective to the way we work in them and what our expectations might be.