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.

Why we blog

MiraCosta Online Teaching Programme

A month or two ago I was approached by Pilar Hernandez of the POT Cert team, asking me if I would be willing to make a contribution to the course in Week 21, which after some hesitation I agreed to do.

This invitation has spurred me on to get involved with the POTCert class which starts next Monday 1st September and finishes at the end of April 2013.  Last night I attended a pre-course meeting in Collaborate in which the course convenors and a few course participants discussed why we blog.

Recording of the Collaborate meetup

The reason for this discussion was that a requirement for the certificate is

  • Weekly blogging on assigned topics, including viewing workshop videos and reading online articles about online teaching as a discipline — posts should include reflections, links, embedded elements.
  • Commenting on other participants’ posts as part of the online teaching community.

Participants are also asked to tag blog posts with ‘potcert’

It could be that some of the 22+ participants already signed up for the course have never blogged before, so how will they feel. This prompted me to look back at my first few posts on this blog (‘Jenny Connected’) to try and remember what I felt like and how I approached this new experience. I am surprised at how short some of those posts are and I can sense from the tone of them that I was writing for me, i.e. I was initially unaware that there is an audience out there. At that time I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be interested in anything I wrote. ‘Openness’ didn’t have any meaning for me, since it was outside my online experience. In fact it was a shock when I received a challenging comment on an early post –  quite a wake up call. After that, I persisted with blogging but became more careful about what I posted. I think that early experience, as well as my own personality and educational philosophy, determined the way I blog and my reasons for blogging, which are principally to keep a record of my reflections on my own learning, and more  latterly to try and share the interesting connections I make through making use of hyperlinks in my posts.

This is a video that I made for the FSLT12 open online course that I worked on in June of this year, which explains a little about why I blog – but there are many different reasons for blogging and different ways of blogging and it was interesting at the ‘meetup’ last night to hear other people’s reasons for blogging and how they go about it.

Here is a summary of some the ideas:

  • to serve as a substitute for a poor memory, by aggregating interesting ideas and links into one location thus creating a personal searchable digital library, e.g. Lisa Lane’s blog
  • to comment on and discuss other people’s ideas
  • to play with tools and ideas
  • for thinking out loud and working with others on half-baked ideas – see Alan Levine’s blog (this is how he described his blog – I am not being critical :-))
  • to share academic writing – I have used my blog in this way
  • for role-playing
  • for personal and/or professional purposes, e.g. a cookery blog, a research blog
  • for developing a personal brand
  • for messaging and publication
  • for networking
  • as a place to openly make and share mistakes and collaboratively learn through this

Blog posts can be as short or as long as we like. They can include images, videos, sound or not, as we prefer. They can minimize the use of text or be an ‘orgy’ of writing, or somewhere in between, as suits our personal learning styles. They can include details about our personal lives or focus only on professional topics, as we wish.

There is no one right way to blog.

For me, I look for sincerity, honesty, fairness and critical thinking around a topic that interests me in other people’s blog posts and that is also how I try to blog myself. I don’t let myself be intimidated by other people’s blogs – but I do explore them and try and learn from how others have done it. Everyone finds their voice and expresses it in a way that is unique to them – thank goodness. It’s the diversity in the blogosphere that makes it such a rich and rewarding learning environment.

Reflective Learning and the Glass Half Empty

I have been told twice, very recently, and quite often in the past – that I am a glass half empty person. In other words I am a pessimist and the implication is that this is not good. Good would be (I have been told) – to be a glass half full person – an optimist.

I have thought about this a lot – as you do when you feel that you have been criticised – and I honestly don’t feel that the criticism is justified – not because it is not true – it is (I am definitely a glass half empty person) – but because I think there is real value in being a glass half empty person and especially in relation to reflective learning.

For me being glass half empty means that I am usually prepared for the worst – so ahead of time I carefully analyse situations, I go through everything with a fine toothcomb, I try to anticipate what might go wrong. I also try to surface assumptions, I ask critical questions and I really can’t be doing with ‘appreciative inquiry’! I come from a science background and science progresses not by proving things but rather by disproving. I strongly believe in learning from mistakes and that as an educator/teacher/learner I have to try and ensure that I, and those I learn with, are not afraid of failure. There is plenty of research to show how inhibiting fear of failure can be. For me a ‘can do’ attitude comes from knowing, through careful analysis and preparation, that it can be done!

I am thinking about this now because the first activity in the #fslt MOOC asks participants

To reflect on your overall experience to date as a teacher; what kinds of students have you taught, what have you discovered from the experience, and what have you most enjoyed in your teaching?

I may not actually do this activity but it’s interesting to think about how I might approach it if I did?

Being a glass half empty person, to complete this activity I would probably select a critical incident in my teaching career (and there have been many :-)) and analyse why it was a critical incident and what I learned from it. To do this I would need to do more than simply describe the event – I would need to critically analyse it, looking at it from a number of different perspectives – my own, those of the learners involved, my colleagues and the literature – as suggested by Stephen Brookfield’s four lenses.

But how would I know that my analysis was critical and not simply descriptive? Jenny Moon’s writing on this has been significant in developing my understanding.

In her book ‘A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice’  she includes a number of exercises to help learners develop their reflective learning skills and abilities. One of these activities (which is freely available on the web – search for ‘An example of a graduated scenario exercise – ‘The Park’ A means of introducing and improving the quality of reflective learning’) provides three accounts of a critical incident in which each account becomes increasingly reflective. Jenny Moon then describes the shifts that occur in deepening reflection.

When I worked on Oxford Brookes’ online reflective learning course as a participant in 2007 (and Jenny Moon is a tutor on this course), with another participant Bernie Gartside, we explored these shifts in detail.  I have summarized our work in the diagram below. (Click on the image for a clearer view).

Characteristics of Reflective Writing

So in my analysis of the critical incident I selected, I would hope to see some of the characteristics described in the diagram above.

And finally, what I have learned from John Mason, who writes about the teaching of mathematics, in his book – ‘Researching your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing’ –  I know that I am unlikely to ‘notice’ changes in my learning unless I ‘mark’ them in some way. There are many ways of ‘marking’ learning, especially these days with multimedia at our fingertips, but my blog serves this purpose as I explain in this video, which is also posted on the #fslt Moodle site.

Blog Aggregation

As with other MOOCs, the #fslt12 MOOC offers blog aggregation

From my perspective this has been one of the most difficult aspects of organizing the technologies we are using for this MOOC. How should we do the aggregation and where should the aggregation appear? Ultimately the decision was to aggregate the blog feeds into our WordPress home site. I wasn’t involved in setting it up, but I have been interested in the discussions around what to do and how to do it.

I have been aware for some time of Stephen Downes’ grsshopper aggregator which he openly shares in detail, but recently I have become aware of the Planet Aggregator .

I have also been very interested in the work that Gordon Lockhart  has been doing on scraping blog comments

In the past six weeks I have been participating (as a mentor) in  CPsquare’s   Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop. This is a community of practice on communities of practice. I have been a member since 2007 when I was a participant in the Workshop. Part of the workshop experience is to work for two weeks with other participants on a project of your choice. This year one of the participants, Mel Chua was keen to try out the Planet Aggregator to pull in blog posts about communities of practice or which reference CPsquare.  This is where the project has got to: Demo site

This project has raised some very interesting issues, most notably the issue of tagging. We didn’t want to pull in authors, so much as the posts that relate to communities of practice of specific authors . Obviously people blog about a variety interests, some of which wouldn’t be relevant to this blog stream.

We discovered that some people don’t use tags at all, even if they write good posts on communities of practice.  Others (me included) are inconsistent in their use of tags or use a variety of tags to represent posts on communities of practice. So discussions at the moment are around whether or not only ‘invited’ people can submit their blog to the aggregator and then whether they should be required to use a given tag, for their blog to appear in the stream.

This has led to a further discussion about boundaries. CPsquare has a ‘permeable’ boundary. It has some aspects of it’s work ‘open’ to the world such as it’s wiki and it’s website , but it also has a private members area where there are ongoing private conversations. Members pay a membership fee.  So the question has been whether any of those conversations should appear on the aggregated blog stream, or whether only members should be invited to submit their blogs to the stream. I think the idea is that the stream will include ‘trusted’ friends who write about CoP related issues, but are not necessarily paid up members of the community.

The suggestion from Mel has been that CPsquare will need a ‘planetmaster’ to manage the invitation of subscribers.

Although a lot of hard work has gone into looking through members’ blogs for relevant tags and categories, Mel and John Smith (community steward for CPsquare) seem to have been able to set up a demo site in a relatively short space of time – so it would seem that aggregation of blogs might be easier in the future – maybe even for non-technical people like me?

The Selfish Blogger – A discussion :-)

Its ironic that having said that I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool…

“I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool, for the average person like me. They might be a discussion tool for people like Tony Bates, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others who have a well-recognized reputation and likely a lot of hits and comments on their blogs. But for people like me, my blog is not a discussion venue.”

……there has actually been some discussion about The Selfish Blogger Syndrome, which I would like to respond to with this post.

Heli  has challenged me by commenting:

I greatly disagree, why can’t you be a better facilitator in discussions than whoever? It is not the number of hits that matters and reputation is not same in everybody’s eyes. So my focus is: why that hierarchy? Who needs it, to whom you speak? I was astonished about those words

This made me sit up and think. When I look back over my posts, some of them have generated discussion, but not many and not much depth of discussion. On reflection I find blogging just a bit too distant for discussion. I value it for reflection and thinking things through, but for me discussion – in the deeper sense – happens in smaller more intimate groups away from the public arena.  So my most valuable discussions happen via email or on the research wikis I am working in. Very often a question might be raised in a blog post or an online session – but the discussion continues elsewhere out of the public eye. So Heli – to answer your question – I wasn’t really thinking in terms of hierarchy, more of depth of discussion – and for me, rightly or wrongly, that tends to happen in locations other than my blog.

Jaap started the discussion – and then Tony Bates and Alan Cooper – raised the technology issues around promoting discussion in blogs. Tony wrote:

What’s for sure is that you can’t just apply good learning management system approaches to the looser structure of a MOOC. We need to find ways to better exploit this looseness

And Alan:

I do think that postings in small isolated blogs *can* be integrated into larger discussions. And I would go further to add that if we believe in open, networked learning then we *should* strive to make that integration as effective as possible.

I think Tony’s comment is probably worthy of a research paper and certainly further thought and investigation. And Alan – Yes I always allow for pingbacks on my blog; I also subscribe to comments RSS feeds and I try to provide links to other people’s blogs within my post – but I find myself in a dilemma in the striving for integration. If I am writing about an event that needs (in my mind) to be advertised, then I am happy to click on the FB, Twitter, Google+ links at the bottom of the blog post and broadcast it. But if it is just my post, simply for me, like this one, then it doesn’t feel right to broadcast it. I get feelings of ‘who am I to push this post out into the webosphere?’ It makes me feel uncomfortable. So I don’t do it, but I am very happy if someone ‘visits’ me here. I just don’t want to push myself on people. Blogging alone feels like enough of a push.

And finally, brainysmurf has written:

Overall, I don’t think I would enjoy this mooc (change11 ) nearly as much if I only used one tool to ‘discuss’. To respond to Nancy White’s question during the #socialartist live session yesterday, I seem to use five sources and that’s as much as I can manage (The Daily everyday plus Twitter, FB, SharePoint and my blog less frequently).

And that brings me back to my starting point. How much of this, i.e. Twitter, Facebook etc. is really discussion. For me a real in depth discussion takes a considerable amount of trust – especially if I am ‘discussing’ with people I have never met and have no physical gestures etc. to get a sense of them. My experience has been that in depth discussion usually takes time to develop and for me has extended long after the MOOC ends. Some of my CCK08 discussions continue to this day.  This reminds me that Etienne Wenger writes about the shared repertoire of a community of practice and that community members need to develop a shared history. I definitely need a sense of shared history to feel comfortable with in depth discussion.

Thank you to Jaap, Heli, Alan, Tony and brainysmurf for prompting me to dig deeper into my understanding of what it means to be a selfish blogger and the extent to which discussion can be promoted through blogs.

The Selfish Blogger Syndrome

‘Selfish Blogger’ – This jumped out of the page of Tony Bates’ blog post .  He has been bemoaning the fact that there has been little discussion around his presentation to Change MOOC  – and that the discussion that there has been, has been distributed across people’s blogs and he has had to go out and find it to collate it on his blog. As an aside – I’m not sure that we could class people individually posting to their blogs as discussion. Tony asks:

  • Could I have done something that would have resulted in more comments, more discussion and more integration of the discussion in this MOOC?
  • Or is the topic itself the problem – just not of interest to most people in this MOOC?
  • Or are people just too busy to go beyond the webinar and a short response?

I think the answer to all three questions is ‘No’. I think it is a problem of the design of the MOOC, which actually promotes ‘the selfish blogger syndrome’.  I should say at this point that I am a self-confessed selfish blogger and likely to remain so. Roy Williams, John Sui Fai Mak and I explored people’s preferences for blogs and forums in our paper, which we presented at the Networked Learning Conference in 2010 –   – so I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on being a ‘selfish blogger’.  In my own defense (do I need to defend myself?), I like to think that I am making a contribution, albeit small, in other ways – but perhaps this is over-rationalization 🙂

I should also say that I recognize the effort required to synthesize and analyze ideas from distributed blogs – that is why I am staying here in my blog. If I make my own comments and observations here, then at least I know where they are. So despite Tony’s comments, I am still not inclined to go to his blog and post there. I would rather keep a record of what I think at this point in time here. Sorry Tony!

It does feel to me though that this MOOC is missing potential for some deeper discussion. In line with being a selfish blogger, I am not desperate to get involved in discussion forums, but I do like to be a ‘lurker’ in forums – and there are always plenty of people in a MOOC who like to engage in them – which makes it even easier to lurk and not feel guilty. I have recently been reminded of the benefits of engaging/lurking in discussion forums through the Networked learning Conference Hot Seat – where the depth of discussion was very rewarding.

The other thing that is constraining the potential for in depth-discussion in this MOOC, is the speed at which the topics are changing. We get a new speaker each week –  and they have all been great so far – but we scarcely have time to get our heads around one speaker’s issues – and they are big issues – when we move on to the next. This is a shame. Each of the speakers has clearly put such a lot of thought and work into their presentations and have provided us with carefully designed and interesting tasks. It’s just a pity that we haven’t had more time to engage with them.

Then there have been the consistent weekly technology problems. These haven’t bothered me particularly but I can see how they detract from getting into the nitty gritty of the subjects being discussed.

Frankly, it’s all I can do to keep up with being a selfish blogger. I had sort of promised myself that I would make one post each week related to the topic – but when the topic is new, there is little chance of posting anything significant within the week. All I can do is put down some sort of a marker and I am wondering this week whether I will be able to keep up with this minimal engagement.

I have participated in enough MOOCs to know that this is the way it is and also that there is no expectation that we engage with every week’s speaker, but I find myself thinking that the speakers deserve better. I am also even clearer in my own mind that I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool, for the average person like me. They might be a discussion tool for people like Tony Bates, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others who have a well-recognized reputation and likely a lot of hits and comments on their blogs. But for people like me, my blog is not a discussion venue. It’s a place where I post my own reflections. If others are interested in them, then that is great – but I really am a ‘selfish blogger’ 🙂

I have read this through a few times. I don’t want it to sound like a moan about ChangeMOOC. I continue to be impressed by the work that Stephen, George, Dave and others are doing in trying to change the ways in which we think about teaching and learning. I have learned and continue to learn a lot – which is why I hang on in here despite not always being able to keep up 🙂

Autonomy and accountability

Week 8 of the CCK11 course focussed on power and authority on online networks.

Overview
Networked technologies have changed power and authority. This, networked learning has a great deal in common with approaches to learning that focus on personal empowerment and freedom.

The speakers for this week were Frances Bell and Ailsa Haxell. Their session was recorded as was the follow up session by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Both are well worth viewing/listening to again.

There were many thought provoking ideas in these sessions – but the one that caught my attention was the idea proposed by Ailsa that if knowledge and agency are distributed across the network then accountability must also be distributed. She asked, ‘Am I responsible for the ways that others around me act’ and answered her own question with a ‘Yes’ – there is networked accountability.

Given the activity on my blog for the past two weeks I have found this interesting to think about. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about ‘Attacks on Connectivism’ which to my surprise has attracted a lot of attention and comment. The interesting thing is that this attention and comment is not about me or what I have written, but about Stephen Downes, George Siemens, connectivism and those who have something to say about connectivism as a theory.

If we take the metaphor of blogs being a place where we can invite people to come and sit on our front porch, as opposed to forums which can be viewed more as a market place with lots of hustle and bustle*, then my blog has felt a little more like a market place recently – with a number of people visiting and holding their own discussions.

*(see Mak, Sui, Fai, J., Williams, R. & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg (pp. 275-284). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mak.html)

All this has been very interesting for me, but I have not felt the need to be involved in further  discussion about this – so to what extent am I accountable for the ideas expressed in the comments made on this particular blog post and does it matter?

I know some of the reasons for this post attracting such a lot of attention. First the ‘jury is still out’ on connectivism as a learning theory and there are plenty of people out there who are following associated discussions. More than this George and Stephen made reference to my blog post. That always results in increased readers on your blog. But mostly it was Twitter. For some reason there were lots of tweets about this post.  Am I accountable for all this? Am I responsible for the ways in which others have reacted to this? If I am, does this mean that the network has some sort of power over me and what I can post on my blog? How does this relate to autonomy, which is a key principle of connectivism?

Week 8 Readings